Marty is so helpful
The bloom has, shall we say, fallen off the shelter-in-place rose.
I am enormously privileged during this time of COVID-19; that fact does not escape me. My parents are in New York City, which is frightening, but they are being careful, and are healthy. I have friends who have fallen sick, but all have recovered. I have a porch where my children can grow a garden and breathe the ocean air. I have the ability to teach them – not nearly at the rate requested by their teachers, of course, but I also have the sense to know that we are all doing the best we can, and that is enough. I am an introvert, vastly prefer my couch to a bar stool, and have worked from home for most of my adult life, so puttering around my house for most of every day honestly feels like more of the same.
Given all that, my initial reaction to the crisis was to feel anxiety for others, of course, but not a whole lot for myself. I was fine! Couldn’t complain! In the early weeks, I had an odd sensation of thriving, even – which is embarrassing to admit, but also true. Apparently zen-in-the-time-of-coronavirus is a strangely common phenomenon being experienced by many people who suffer from anxiety disorders – and when you think about it, it makes sense: Living with anxiety is an enormously isolating experience, and all of a sudden we’re not alone. Can’t you just…go to sleep?, people ask the insomniac, not knowing that it’s all we want, we would surrender a limb for the ability to simply close our burning eyes and rest. If you can’t do anything about it, why worry? As if it were that easy. If only.
And now, it’s like the world has caught up, and others can hear the noise in our heads for themselves. We are, all of a sudden, normal. Even more than normal, some of us have spent years – perhaps decades – developing techniques that we’ve learned help us cope, and so we deploy them now. Coping with this situation almost feels like more of the same.
But it’s not the same; not at all, and the more time that passes, the more that becomes apparent. I can feel the not-the-same-ness in my body, because where before there would have been panic, now there is apathy. I watch my finances crumbling in real time, and whereas I once would have gone into overdrive, and sat up until the late hours strategizing, worrying, figuring it out, now I shrug my shoulders, close my laptop, and pick up a book. I nap. I make wildly involved soups, the making of which consumes hours of my day. I ignore my emails, even the important ones. This is not me.
I’ll come back, I tell myself. This is just a weird moment; the world will right itself, and I’ll right myself along with it.
But really: I’m just trying to make myself feel better. Because I honestly don’t know.
Of course, I never did. None of us ever knew what was coming, or what the future might hold. But now we know just how little we always knew. Maybe it’s comforting. Maybe not. What I feel when I think about the future is an emotion I haven’t been able to label yet.
Here is another strange thing: All I want to do right now is sit at my dining room table in front of a puzzle. I’ve been doing them at a record pace – one every couple of days – which is both wildly unproductive and really quite expensive, but I don’t care: It’s become something of an obsession. I was trying to put a finger on why – I’ve never particularly enjoyed puzzles, and they are the very definition of a time-fritterer. I am, as we have established, not someone who ordinarily fritters time. But nothing right now is ordinary.
Then it occurred to me: Why, of all things, the puzzles. In a world where we have control over virtually nothing – where the vastness of our powerlessness has been placed under a blazing spotlight – there is true satisfaction in even the smallest sense of completion. You sit still, in the silence, placing piece after piece in just the right spots, and watching something beautiful emerge. Then, it happens: The last piece clicks into place, and you get to think to yourself, I did that. And now I am done.
It’s just a puzzle, of course. All you’re going to do with it is look at it, maybe take a photo of it for Instagram followers who don’t care, and then break it up and put it back into the box for another day when you have nothing to do. But in the meantime, it is something you did. And in these unordinary times, we do what we can.