Plague Diary 2020
Last week it all seemed like a mirage, really, I mean we knew, of course, but it wasn’t real if you know what I mean. The map of the world turned red, country by country and I found myself thinking, well, we’re all one color now, dudes, even though you woulda never believed it.
I started getting a little antsy when I heard that the University was sending all the students home, but they were still here, on the sidewalks and in the coffee shop, dressed in their black clothes and backpacks. You still had to be lucky to get a table at Small World. You still had to stand in line at PJs for pancakes on Sunday. Last Sunday.
I bought a TV. That was a couple of weeks ago, at the last of the impeachment days; I don’t know why I thought I would have it but not watch it. The first time I turned it on it showed a smoking helicopter and we forgot the impeachment and masked people in China and we wailed and mourned for Kobe. Us old LA people remember watching him grow up on television. We wailed and mourned some more. I turned the damn thing off and went back to my other stuff.
The second time I turned it on I watched Mitt Romney vote against his party, calling on God with tears in his eyes, sez he knows they will be out to get him and his family for this. Do they call you a prophet when the thing is so obvious?
The third time I turned it on (you think I’m shitting you now, but no…) I saw Chris Matthews announce his (forced) retirement from MSNBC in front of his scheduled guests. I’m thinking maybe I shoulda never bought the machine, y’know whadda mean?
It began to feel like we were walking under the hill into Tir Nan Og, everything began to fuzz out, like Druid fires being extinguished on each hillside one by one. The Y closed—no more yoga classes; all meetings cancelled; OMG the world is out of toilet paper! I woke up one morning and my first thought was, if this is NOT a mirage, I’d better DO something. Or not. Or what.
I went to Whole Foods and bought what looked like 2 weeks of groceries in case we were quarantined. Could that be? I thought of my mom working under Cheyenne Mountain for NORAD back in the Cold War days, how she never let the gas in the car get under half a tank in case the Russians sent nukes over the Dew Line and we all had to get to Nebraska. (Nobody would bother to nuke Western Nebraska.). I went and filled up the car.
The movie theater closed. The library closed. I bought a new book of Sunday Crossword puzzles for the long nights ahead. I turned the TV on and watched the insane, doped-up face of the President of the Greatest Country in the World mouth words meant to reassure: it would be ok, we would stop all sick people at the border, there are plenty of supplies, we’re doing a really good job cleaning up what Obama fucked up.
Two days later I watched the President of the Greatest Country in the World as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Captains of Industry and told us that we should stay home if we were sick but some people could go to work and the numbers were going down but there were millions of tests now available and he was announcing a hewge bailout for Wall Street, then turned and shook hands with every man jack of them. For the first time ever, the pundits stopped their polite he’s-kinda-crazy-but-he’s-just-a-blowhard and said into the camera HE’S FUCKING INSANE. In so many words, sooo many words.
If you were blind, deaf and dumb everything looked like well, it’s survivable.
That was last week.
Day One 3/15/2020
March 12 1,215 cases, 36 deaths
Today 1,629 cases, 41 deaths
Every Sunday I meet my friend at LIllipies coffee shop and bakery. We sit on the high stools and talk over avocado toast and fancy muffins. Well, I gave up bread and pastries for Lent (Don’t ask. Two Lents ago I gave up my husband. Last Lent I gave up my house and home. At the time, giving up bread and pastry seemed the least I could do this year.) so Lillipies presented a challenge but so far, so good. Ha! This morning Lillipies is closed to sit -down customers; all you can do is buy a pastry to go. Hey, this shit’s getting real now.
Oh, well, says my friend, taking her pastry, we can go to the nearby grocery store and sit there. I say ok. She’s a little fussy with the germ precautions when we find a spot upstairs. She wipes the table with an alcohol swipe and places a bottle of hand sanitizer in the middle of the table like a bouquet. She wipes down two chairs. We sit and she takes a bite of her pastry while I sip my black coffee, thinking maybe we’ll be giving up plenty of other things for the rest of Lent, maybe I shoulda bought a scone. In the far corner a man is hunched over a table; to me he looks like one of the Lost Boys of the Homeless but we ignore him…until he coughs. My friend bolts out of her chair and gathers up her things and heads for the stairs in a fit of self-compassion. I, of course, follow.
Standing outside we talk for a minute or two. I make a dismissive noise with my mouth over some disgusting bit of news. and she backs away from me with an alarmed look on her face. I say, I’m outta here, call me if you want to take a walk by the river some afternoon, and get in my car.
I come home and make myself a hewge breakfast and start cleaning house. I change the sheets, rotate the bed, start the laundry, get out the baby wipes to dust. I feel weird and compulsive. I wonder if the University Chapel will have a service—they say gatherings of over 250 people are all suspended, and believe me, that chapel never has that many folks, so maybe. I walk up and its posted NO SERVICES UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE and I think, just when we are all afraid and all need community and all need somewhere to go for sanctuary, they close all the churches. Welcome to the land of the free and the home of the stupid. We may not all die from the virus, but we may indeed die from enforced isolation. (In Iran I hear they’ve opened the prisons and let all the prisoners out. Here, well…)
I sit in the church for a few minutes, feeling the colors and the stone walls, looking at the small lighted cross on the distant altar, playing a couple of songs on my phone that only I can hear. Church in the Holy Season of the Virus.
It gets worse and it’s not even noon. I walk to Starbucks, last bastion of civilization, and find them wiping everything down, preparing to suspend all seating at least, in an attempt to stay open. They set a timer for thirty minutes and when it goes off all the baristas stand in line and wash their hands and the timer is re-set.
I take my coffee and sit in the empty plaza on a glorious Spring day. Fuck a duck.
Day Two 3/16
My brother says that our entire culture and its economy have been based since the get-go on the premise of ON, ON, ON!! And now with a click of some switch somewhere in one or two days it is OFF. Full stop. Amazing, he says, how fast they could shut it down. We. Somebody.
Schools, businesses, events, coffee shops, the works. By 5 pm today. The logic (I use that word while choking on the tongue in my cheek and squirming from the corncob up my ass.) defies description. For instance, all the schools are closed but for the kids who are entitled to free breakfast and lunch, they can line up at a distribution center every day to pick them up. So it makes sense that 30 kids in a classroom is much more dangerous for the spread of the virus than 300 or so kids and their moms and their siblings standing in line for… oh I can’t go on.
I went for a walk yesterday afternoon; the sun was shining and I had an hour to …(Don’t say kill. Don’t say blow either, remember your social distancing.) …spend outside so I walked down to Harrison Street and up to Nassau street. Nobody was out. Well, that’s not quite true (Nothing is nowadays.). I saw a young hetero couple carrying multiple bags of groceries up one of the side streets, and I saw a woman about my age kneeling with a camera shooting the bluebells just coming out of the ground next to the sidewalk. On a Sunday afternoon in Princeton. Last week in what was to be the last meeting of our writers’ group, the crazyperson said, what if there was a zombie community and they were invaded by a human apocalypse? We thought it was funny. That was last week.
Anyhow, coming past St Paul’s Catholic Church and still feeling pissed off at the churches shutting their doors and posting NO SERVICES UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE during a global humanitarian crisis, I walked up to test the door to see if it was locked. It opened and I found myself standing at the back of the church as the priest was standing up front, telling the congregation, we are in troubled times, we must remember to love one another, we must remember that God loves us, we must show compassion to one another as God has compassion for us, we must not fear for God is with us, we must clothe ourselves in God’s love and reach out to others. Honestly, these were the first words of love I’ve heard spoken in a church since Father Peter in the English village church on Christmas midnight saying, with his hand outstretched: We must love deeper, we are called to love deeper, deep love. They served mass at St. Paul’s, no wine, but we were each handed a wafer. I was moved. I think if asked I could almost have put all my politics aside and joined the Church in gratitude for God’s house in the middle of this complete fuck.
Today I woke up thinking, this is not going to end in two weeks, so I went back to Whole Foods for more stuff. I was shocked by the empty shelves. I spent too much money and felt selfish as I brought the stuff home.
I listened to the radio as I unpacked. One cannot use the word unbelievable anymore. It’s like a discordant Quaker meeting now, everyone has a different opinion and no consensus can be reached. Chaos. One esteemed expert says no more than 250 people should gather at any one time, the next esteemed expert says no more than 100 people should gather at any one time. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth says, while surrounded by a dozen or more other esteemed experts, no more than 10 people should gather at a time. In one town all the businesses must close; in another all the businesses except grocery stores and drugstores must close; in another the mayor announces that all the non-essential businesses must close and names the essential businesses as grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations and a handful of others, most likely owned by his brother-in-law. I asked at the hardware store if they had to close and they said no, they were always essential. I asked at the beauty salon and they said, welllll, they didn’t say beauty salons, so they were open. I went by the most essential store in Princeton, the Starbucks on Nassau Street and it was closed. People are gonna die.
Day Three 3/17
I just had the horrid thought that I might one day be writing Day One Hundred Three; at least that’s what they’re saying now. The Mayor of NYC says maybe a million sick maybe 100,000 dead. ARE YOU SERIOUS? (I think of Larry Kramer holding up his 8 x 12 piece of paper every day with the number of AIDS deaths going up and up and up.) This shit is deep. No wonder the entire country has run out of toilet paper. Princeton is on curfew—nobody out between 8 pm and 5 am, oh dear. They really don’t need to say it, since there’s nowhere to go.
I am intimidated by the “hunker down” orders. No personal contact, which means for me I will not be physically touched until this is over. I spent time meditating this morning on hermitage; maybe this will this make mystics of all of us. (Probably not; the people in Colorado are stockpiling guns and ammunition—and toilet paper.) I think, well, I like to write and I like to make art and I have a beautiful place, so why am I intimidated? I think I must practice what I preach: trust, accept, commit, intent. I am sent to this “far place,” isolated from my people, nothing to distract me, no running around, no meetings, no coffee shops. Shit! (Oops, forgot about the toilet paper shortage. My bad.). I tell myself if I allow it this can be the most powerful time in my life to grow spiritually. I pulled Merton off the bottom shelf.
Morning message from God:
1. Do not over-analyze.
2. Do not look for a “fix.”
3. Stay calm and centered and await further instruction EVEN IF it is a long wait.
4. We are in charge of time.
So this morning I meditated at the time of my Centered Prayer group. I made a prayer list of all the people I care about and want to stay in conversation with. I painted on my latest picture—a green queen. I vacuumed the house. And now it’s time for me to go for my afternoon coffee at Small World, and, well, you know…
So I will walk down by the river for a while, maybe walk down to the river.
My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding;
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of god.
Prov 2: 1-5
Lotta ifs there, huh?
Day Four 3/18
Yesterday after I wrote to you, I walked down Washington Street and across the bridge over the lake and then up the tow path to Harrison Street and back to town. I stopped for a few minutes on a wet bench— cuz it had rained all day—and had a think. I looked over the water back at Princeton and I thought, this is how I felt when I was flying off to Scotland. Everything is caught up, all bills paid, all paperwork done, the house clean, now all I have to do is go to the airport and once I’m on the plane I’m free for a few weeks. No responsibilities, nuthin to do. In the beginning I didn’t even know anybody. I had a little room in a small hotel and my days went kinda like this:
6-8 am, wake up, journal, drink a cuppa Via, read whatever spiritual book I was reading; 8-8:45, take a shower, make the bed, get dressed, assemble my pack for the day ahead: coat, hat, gloves, computer, book, journal, art supplies;
8:45-9:15 breakfast, always the same: 2 scrambled eggs, cold wheat toast (They’ll never understand toast.), cuppa very bad coffee (Or coffee.);
catch the 9:36 bus to Calanais;
10—4 walk the stones, maybe more than once, maybe out to Door, sit in the Visitor’s Center writing and drawing and reading, drinking a cuppa espresso, eat a scone;
4:20 catch the bus back to the hotel. Early dinner. Read until my eyes fall out; sleep; read some more. Like a retreat. You know.
So I thought of all those days and weeks and months in Scotland, and I thought, the way to cope with this isolation is to re-frame. Act like I act when on Lewis. Move through the days without expectation of association or deliverables. Walk, write, paint, read. Like a retreat. You know.
Today I woke up ashamed of myself, I mean , I heard myself mewling “I can’t do this” and I thought, geez, girl you sound like you used to sound right after Glenn died, pissing and moaning in Xanthe’s office “I don’t want to do this.” But it wasn’t an option then and it isn’t an option now.
My morning reading from Thomas Merton:
“…I can do nothing whatever for my own salvation or for the glory of God if I merely withdraw from the mess people are in and make an exhibition of myself and write a big book saying, ‘Look! I’m different!’ To do this is to die."
I agreed to walk the labyrinth with Juliana at 10:45 so I left a little early and drove around the block just to see what’s open. Nothing. I drove past Juliana’s house, stopped to look at her email to check the address and saw that we were to meet at 11:45. What to do, so I drove down to Whole Foods and bought Juliana and Dick a pie and me some ground coffee and came back up at the right time. We caravanned to the labyrinth site because we aren’t supposed to get within 6 feet of each other—Juliana and Dick, Ruth and I. We walked separately to and into the labyrinth. When it was my turn I thought about how silly and fraudulent I have been, first of all thinking that when I got to Princeton I would be happy and all would be well and I could say whew! glad that’s over regarding these last 3 years of grief and separation. New start, that’s what I called it, like I had solved all my problems so I could see about teaching classes and writing and all that from a safe, good place.
Well I now think perhaps the dark days were perhaps a preparation for these dark days coming: the news is grim, 100,000 projected cases in NYC alone, lock down for up to 6 months, possibility not just of personal death, but the danger of the simplest act of kindness possibly contaminating someone else. As I stepped into the labyrinth I thought, well I lied, didn’t I? I lied when I said I commit. I lied when I said I accept. I lied when I said I have intent. I haven’t met any of these promises. Instead, I have freaked out about my loneliness and isolation and all and all. I walked into the center saying I wanted to release these lies and this fraud within myself, this failure to pass muster when things are still only 4 days in. I stood in the center and said again I commit and I prayed that I could mean it. I breathed the mantra trust, accept, trust, commit, trust, intent, trustas I walked out. I got lost at one point and re-entered. When I came back out I felt better, more grounded.
I came back home, washed all my clothes, and listened to a Q&A re the virus for an hour while I ate an omelet. Thought I could lie on the couch and read but find that I am still driven to do something. I may walk around the block. Outside is good.
Day Five 3/19
I got up at my usual time and made a list of all the people I care about, here, in Colorado, in the UK, California—about 45 in all, and I wrote to all of them—most with the following message:
Hello dear friend. I am reaching out to you during these perilous times to send you love and encouragement.
I know that in your sphere of influence people will come to you physically and virtually asking for help.
They do this because they know that you are a great and beloved healer.
People are full of fear and anxiety and uncertainty and the messages all around us tell us to hunker down, isolate, shelter in place, don’t touch.
We crave trust and acceptance and love and community and touch—the very methods you use in your practice,
Even if at this time some of this will need to be “virtual," it is still felt by those who seek you out as very real..
Remember always that you are deeply and dearly loved by all of us and by the Creator.
Be compassionate with others, but be especially compassionate to yourself,
for you are bearing a heavy load of caring and we need you.
You are in my thoughts and prayers each day.
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler,
and from the deadly pestilence;
God will cover you with God’s pinions,
and under God’s wings you will find refuge;
God's faithfulness is a shield and a buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
For God will command God’s angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
Psalm 91. We prayed this as a mantra during the AIDS crisis. I hope it guides you this day.
Please keep in touch. RoMa
Through the day several wrote back. I felt good letting people know that I was thinking about them as well as reducing my isolation.
I putzed around for a few hours, talked to Virginia for an hour, then put on my shoes and walked out. I had no real thought about where I was going, went up to Nassau street—everything closed, walked past Small World, closed, walked up James street and kept walking for almost two hours. Slow, no destination in mind, looking at houses and trees and schools. All the streets empty, all the buildings shut, occasionally another person, a few couples, also out for a walk. I enjoyed the walk but when I got back to the house I felt fogged out. Couldn’t really get into anything, even reading. I try to tell myself that I am “on vacation” but I don’t really buy it. I feel kind of useless and a strange lassitude descends. I talked to my friend Eliane here in town and she said she felt the same.
The odd thing about isolation is that one needs the sounds of other people, well duh. So I leave NPR on all day and the TV on in the evening. I tried to watch my Netflix movie, but I guess my subscription has lapsed, who knows, I couldn’t get it up. I read somewhere that Netflix was being asked to slow down streaming so that the internet doesn’t crash. God, this is worse than the apocalyptic fiction I read a couple of years ago: Dog Stars, Station Eleven, The Last Policeman series. I ordered Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Bookand I’m re-reading it, maybe in order to convince myself that this is all fiction.
Even writing this little piece—one day in the Plague Diary—seems like an effort. The news is fucking appalling: the President of the Greatest Country in the World continues to lie, now calls this the Chinese Flu and reassures us that we are well on our way to a cure, drugs for treatment, and for supplies. All lies. He says the Governors should “find their own equipment—the federal government isn’t a ‘supply clerk’ and more bullshit. We find that a southern Senator talked to his people (and dumped a million bucks of stock) weeks before the public heard about all this, weeks before our first case. Ah God. The President of the Greatest Nation in the World just this minute has asked state officials to “hold back” on revealing the (massive) numbers of new unemployed.
You can probably tell that I have the TV on as I write this, as you can see that the announcements pile up one after another. I don’t want to negate my own positive message from this morning, so I will quit for now.
Day Six 3/20
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD.
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words; give me the Spirit.
Celtic Daily Prayer II, p 1039
I spent an hour this early morning going through my daily journal to see where and when I first started to be engaged with the pandemic. It was at Pat’s, during my visit to Missouri, watching the press conference on CNN, when the president said it might get down to 3 or even 1 or even disappear like a miracle. I traced my reaction to the news of each day, my hopes that I could somehow be a hero in all of this, that I would not just “lie around in quarantine.” So naïve.
I talk to God (the only one here besides me) and I say maybe I don’t need to go out and help. Maybe my job is to stay isolated and safe. How is it of benefit to anyone if I go out, get sick and die? Somebody has to be around to help put things together when this passes, as it surely will. Am I right? Or am I deluding myself? I think of Mother Theresa—did she contract leprosy in able to help? I think of MLK—he went out with his people. God (always speaking in the imperial We) answers:
--Amicor, you want an answer, just as the world wants a “fix.”
* I remember David Whyte talking about being confronted with a broken bridge high in the Himalyas, “so I did what one always does in a situation like this—I stared intently at the bridge in the hopes that it would spontaneously repair itself.” That’s me.
--Indeed. Perhaps you can think of this as birth pangs rather than death throes.
* I’ve never given birth so I don’t usually use that as a go-to analogy.
--You talked about martyrdom: Red martyrdom, dying by persecution and torture; White martyrdom, advanced aestheticism and denial; Green martyrdom, leaving your loved ones and the known world behind.
* You’re saying this is a Green martyrdom.
--Yes, and martyrdom is abnegation of self and selfishness—and is painful on the human/earth level.
* You’re saying I am trying to see if I should “lay down” my life/body for the cause.
--And the answer is NO. Return to your study of the saints, write from the voice of the Abbess. Teach as a scribe.
* I have always been afraid of being alone.
--Sword and Buckler, Amicor. You will receive instruction as you go along.
*. I thought I could run away here…
--And you did.
*…and I thought I could start a new life here…
--And you have.
*…and I thought I could describe what that life would look like.
--And you cannot.
* So the message is this?
--The message is this.
* And not know.
* I am a pussy.
--No. You are recalibrating. Don’t rush this. We are in charge of time.
(As I write this, the radio plays Marvin’s “Let’s Get It On.”
There’s nuthin wrong with me lovin you
I ain’t gonna worry, I ain’t gonna push
Let’s get it on. You know what I’m talkin about…
If the spirit moves ya let me move ya. Get sanctified.
Jesus! How I miss Marvin.)
Day Seven 3/21
One can no longer say It’s a strange day or a weird day or a whatever day because we’ve crossed the weirdness line. Black doctor on Rev Sharpton saying we gonna get through this but how scarred are we going to be? Rev says how do you go through a drive thru test site if you ain’t gotta car? How you gonna shelter in pleace if you ain’t got shelter? How you gonna tell a homeless person that s/he needs to go home? How you gonna tell an incarcerated person to have social distancing when you have 6 people in a 2 person cell? He said he talked to the President of the Greatest Country on Earth (now self-designating as the War President) who told him that he was “thinking about it.” Rev Al says, at times like this you have to do things that are outside your comfort zone, adding:
“Don’t serve time, let the time serve you. Don’t serve isolation, make the isolation work for you.”
I put out the word to my friends that I wanted more phone calls and conversations. Some of them are responding: Floy, Nicki, Virginia, Stephanie, Gregg. I heard a nasty rumor that they were going to restrict us from going outside unless we had a dog. I went bonkers at the thought of going bonkers so I went out on my late afternoon walk at noon. Still people out, a couple of runners, young couples with strollers. Then back to Skellig Princeton.
Been painting all afternoon in between watching creative videos—mostly from the UK—that people send me. One of the videos shows a singer on her balcony in Italy singing and all the people on the surrounding balconies applauding, then a singer in Spain singing from his balcony and all the people on surrounding balconies applauding, then a nighttime soloist singing off key in the UK followed by one voice in the darkness saying Shut The Fuck UP.
Here in the Greatest Country on earth we hear the mayors and governors begging for medical supplies and the President Himself of the Greatest Country on Earth saying that there are plenty of supplies and this will be over soon. I suppose if Jesus were to pick this moment to Come Again, s/he would have to come as a Black doctor in a hospital in uptown NYC—or Philly, or SF or Nawlins or Mzippi. S/he could walk around letting people touch the hem of herm robe. Wouldn’t need a mask.
Day Eight 3/22
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
They (the braying asses of the government and media) keep saying, “This is unprecedented! We are in uncharted territory. This has never happened before.” And I think of the AIDS Quilt covering the mall in Washington, for one, just one. Myself, I keep reaching for the Old Testament, the Psalms and Prophets. Every day I recite a Psalm and exegete the Celtic Daily Prayer readings and I think WE may not have ever been here before but GOD has been here many times. I think about becoming a Catholic for their compassionate “preferential option for the poor” and I think about becoming a Jew for their poetry of calamity and faith. It’s Sunday morning sunrise and I find myself missing church.
I have a fantasy of going and sitting on the steps of Univ Chapel with a sign that says
I CAN PRAY WITH YOU
and seeing who stops to join me in the 91stPsalm. (Before I get stopped by the little men in golf carts.). I think of tuning in to the livestreamed mass from St. Paul’s. I think I should create a eucharist here in Skellig Princeton. The morning readings:
Aidan said, ‘Do you not know that it is the Lord who moves the air, raises winds, darts lightnings, and thunders from heaven to incite the people to fear Him, and to put them in mind of the future judgement? Wherefore it is indeed a time for us to show due fear and love.’
CDP I 360
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire the sound of sheer silence.
Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
1 Kings: 11-13
A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped for the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was dead calm.
Matthew 8: 24-26
Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the mighty waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the storm wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
Psalm 107: 23-30
Virginia Carlson sent me this:
An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans
- Kristin Flyntz via the internet [via Wayne Heupl ]
Stop. Just stop. It is no longer a request. It is a mandate. We will help you. We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt We will stop the planes the trains the schools the malls the meetings the frenetic, frantic rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our single and shared beating heart, the way we breathe together, in unison. Our obligation is to each other, as it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten. We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions, to bring you this long-breaking news: We are not well. None of us; all of us are suffering. Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth did not give you pause. Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan. Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India. You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way, buckling under the weight of your needs and desires. We will help you. We will bring the firestorms to your body We will bring the fever to your body. We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs that you might hear: We are not well. Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy. We are Messenger. We are an Ally. We are a balancing force. We are asking you: To stop, to be still, to listen; To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all; To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition:
Clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition.
How does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition.
Clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, that contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you.
Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness, listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness? As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?
Notice if you are resisting. Notice what you are resisting. Ask why. Stop. Just stop.
Listen. Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.
Gregg and I talked about it a lot on our call.
Day Nine 3/23
Very dark and cold and rainy all day. It’s just after 5 now and I feel like I have been a blob all day. I did take Chilkwell to the printer and ordered more copies, then took an hour-long rainy walk down to Marquand Park and back. I found a coffee shop serving out of a window up on Nassau St so I had my first hot cappuccino in over a week. It felt good to walk along sipping my coffee, getting wet.
Unfortunately, the good feeling didn’t carry me through the afternoon. I hit a wall as far as “doing” anything. Many people would say, well just enjoy the time…blah…blah. But I stalled out.
As of right now I am watching another press conference with our drooling Leader Supreme, who wants to end the lockdown after 15 days. I’m afraid. Very afraid. Back to the human apocalypse in Zombieland.
Day 10 3/24
I felt like I wasted the day yesterday. The high (and only) point was walking to the park in the rain, drinking that coffee. I woke up dreaming that we were to look up something in Habakkuk—odd so I got up and looked it up. Write the vision it says so I get up determined to write. The odd malaise, combination of uncertainty, untruths, isolation must be confronted, I think. I do my studies, forget that its Tuesday and so miss my Centered Prayer group time. I eat breakfast and think about writing for two hours before I go out. I rinse out my cup. For some reason unbeknownst to me I look under the sink. Disaster again. Sink malfunction for the 4th time since I got home Jan 3. I call Mr. Bunting. I call him again. I am pissed off. I call Marty Stockman, the realtor that signed me into this place. I bitch and complain. She gives my Mr. Bunting’s “secret number.” I call and he answers. He’ll send a plumber within an hour he says.
I put on my shoes and walk up to the printer and pick up my copies I had made, go to UPS and mail one to Lucy. Start to send Gregg a birthday gift and she says it’ll cost 26 bucks, I should go to the Post Office. I go home to wait for the plumber.
A van pulls up. I go downstairs and out to the porch. Two guys are unloading their stuff. I’m a bit nervous about this, I say. So are we, they say. Are either of you sick? No, are you? No. Anybody in your house sick? No, in yours? No. We are wearing masks and gloves, don’t worry we won’t bring it in. Watcha gonna do? They come upstairs and put new pipes under the sink. Nice guys. I’m still nervous.
This morning’s reading from Thomas Merton:
We are heading for a ‘new era’ or we are heading for destruction. What do such judgements mean? Little or nothing. Things are as they are in an immense whole of which I am a part and which I cannot pretend to grasp. To say I grasp it is immediately to put myself in a false position, as if I were ‘outside’ it. Whereas to be ‘in’ it is to seek truth in my own life and action, moving where movement is possible and keeping still when movement is unnecessary, realizing that things will continue to define themselves and that the judgements and mercies of God will clarify themselves and will be more clear to me if I am silent and attentive, obedient to His will, rather than constantly formulating statements in this age which is smothered in language, in meaningless and inconclusive debate in which, in the last analysis, nobody listens to anything except what agrees with their own prejudices.
Thank you, Father Louis. I found myself standing in my room wondering if I should go to the PO to mail Gregg’s package or pay the outrageous fees at the UPS, whether the plumbers have fixed my sink but cooked my goose, whether….etc, etc. etc. All my “plans” for the day shattered—so little resilience!
I put my shoes back on and take Gregg’s little piece of wood from Loch Ness and spend 16 bucks to send it to him and start walking. I walk down through the campus residences, down Harrison to the tow path, along the tow path, up Washington. When I get home I’m tired and my head is a little clearer. Merton is right, I cannot pretend to grasp.
So I talk to a new friend on FT, eat crackers, lie on the bed and read for a while. Never did write—unless this counts.
Day 11 3/25
That’s me, standing in the rain just outside the labyrinth, as Ruth, then Julianna and Dick walk the stones. Ruth is confused, I can tell, she keeps stepping over the stones from one path to another, turning around, starting again midway. Eventually she comes out; she is cold so Juianna puts her in their car that is parked just next to the labyrinth with the stereo playing a beautiful piece of organ and pan pipe music they once heard in Chartres Cathedral. I’m feeling like a guardian stone out here. The rain pocks my down jacket. I’m crying. For my country, for my friends, for our immense fragility (oxymoron, huh). Every thing could be the last time for this thing. I feel pierced. When it’s my turn to walk the stone path I say ‘I am discarding fear’ and I picture a poot of bad air coming off my body, like Pigpen in the comics. On the way out I hear the gospel tune “God Don’t Need No Coward Soldiers” running in my head and I smile. I think of me being here, in Princeton, and I think I made it. I made it here. That’s something in the middle of all this, right?
I come home and make soup. It seems like I am always making soup.
Day 12 3/26
That’s me, at a total and complete standstill in the middle of the vegetable section of Whole Foods. Again, I am pierced. I love this place. I love the colors of the food, the displays set to bring on fantasies of possible delicious meals. Tears are running down my eyes. I think about maybe one day there won’t be a Whole Foods. I think of Glenn and how he too loved Whole Foods. I push on.
I’m turning up the cereal aisle and I hear my name called. One of the fellas from the writing group—Ken, the mastermind of the 69-chapter Civil War story. We stand in the aisle, 4 feet apart, him holding his homemade mask up to his face, and talk for a few minutes. Again I get an affirmation that I am here. I am known here. This is home now.
I push on in tears again, pierced with the anguish of this moment in time.
I come home and wash my veggies and fruit. I think of Marie Howe’s poem:
I’ve been thinking. This is what the living do.
We want the spring to come and the winter
to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and
then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself
in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m
I am living. I remember you.
I called it ‘anguish.’ She calls it a ‘cherishing so deep.’ God bless all poets
Day 13 3/27
One month ago—one month! The esteemed Leader of the Greatest Country in the World told us the number wouldn’t go higher than 15, especially if we didn’t let that infected cruise ship dock. This morning the number is over 83,000. One month.
Some of my more positive friends are calling this the Correction. Well I can believe that, certainly I can see the necessity of it. But the governments at all levels seem to have missed the memo. Today one of them suggested that all the “old people” go back to work in order to “save the economy.” Boggles what is left of my cotton-pickin’ mind.
Day 14 3/28/20
Rainy dark day. I do my studies—Psalm 82, as I read them one a day, this being the second time through. God had taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement. I sorta like the idea of God sitting at a seat in the Situation Room deciding what to do next. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth most likely wishes he could be at the table, maybe thinks he is at the table. No, he is in Virginia, blessing the good ship USS Mercy as she sails for New York to act as a hospital. (112,000+ today, but who’s counting?) While on the deck of the Great Ship of State, flags flying behind his gorgeous orange head, he proclaims a quarantine for the states of NY, NJ and Connecticut. A semi-permeable membrane, I hope, since all the “essential workers” (the Black and brown people) travel freely between in their garbage trucks and ambulances and all. Everybody else, STAY HOME, he glows except me of course because it is important for the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth to be here for this photo op, I mean opportunity to celebrate our brave first responders. Why am I thinking of Dubbya on the aircraft carrier in San Diego harbor, declaring victory in Afghanistan? Anyway, I digress.
After a long walk in the rain to fill a prescription, I ate a take-away donut at Lillipies to fuel the wet walk home. I gave up pastries and bread for Lent back when the world was still the world and not an intergalactic petri dish. At the time, I figured that in Lent 2018 I gave up my husband and in Lent 2019 I gave up my house and home, things I loved most, what could be the equivalent? Pastries. After this there is nothing left. But the world is ending anyhow, and God’s busy in the Situation Room, so one little chocolate donut can’t hurt. (I think of Eve in the Garden; if it hadda been a chocolate donut hanging in the tree, she wouldna needed the snake.)
I talked to Ed for a long time later in the afternoon while my soggy jeans, sweatshirt, gloves, hat, socks and jacket were in the dryer. I told him I am lonely. I felt like a whiner, and a needyperson, but there you have it. I told him I have not touched or been touched by a human being for a month; I have not had a conversation that has not involved electronic media—phone, text, email. Me, who writes best in a crowded library, who reads by the hour in packed coffee shops, me who is happiest tuning in to my own work amidst the clatter and bang and cacophony of others at work. I asked if we could set up a Zoom happy hour with gin & tonics sometime. Not that I know how to use Zoom or have any gin on hand, but conviviality for chrissake.
I talked to Philip and Stephanie for about an hour on FaceTime after that. We laughed and bitched about international politics. The Mastermind of 10 Downing Street has tested positive for the virus. And Prince Philip. OMG, the Queen! God save the Queen. We don’t want Kate Middleton to be the Queen, do we? Glack! Philip asks me if I were God, wouldn’t I think that a little virus would be just the thing to stop the madness of our civilization? I throw up my hands—eek! I don’t want to be God, I say. I remind Philip that the Psalms and the Prophets tell us that God is on the field, has always been. Ends the discussion. I think Philip thinks I’m a closet evangelical, funny coming from the Chosen Chief, eh?
I hear the swish of rain on the streets. I’m sad tonight. Must be somethin I ate.
Day 15 3/29/2020
Spoiling an otherwise good day by watching the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth lie his way through another press conference. Why did you do that? you ask. Well, the fact is my life depends on this—it comes home to me when he predicts that 100,000 more deaths would be a “good number,” why if it haddna been for him it would have been 2.2 million people dying. He rolls that number by us several times. Let’s us know that he alone has just saved 2.1 million lives all by his own brilliant and brilliantined self. It comes home to me when they extend this isolation for at least another month… OK I started to go on a rant here and so I’ve turned off the TV.
This morning I got up early. It was grey and misty. I poured a cup of coffee into an old re-used Starbucks cup, pulled a sweatshirt on over my pajamas—no need to dress anymore, really— and walked out. The birdsong was so intense and loud and beautiful that it was like being inside a CD of “Dawn Chorus, British Woodland.” The streets and sidewalks were absolutely empty; I could have been walking in a dream. Eventually I turned into the silent University and wandered to the Chapel. The doors were not locked; the little gentleman who was there the last time nodded sweetly when I entered. I suppose he is a custodian or something—if he is real. You don’t know these days. The chapel was so huge and beautiful and still that I was again overcome by a feeling that I had fallen into a dream or alternate universe. I prayed. I knelt and prayed, I sat and prayed, I stood and prayed. I don’t know how long I was there. Long enough to start thinking about food, which pretty much destroyed the dreaminess, so I came home for breakfast, stealing daffodils from the gardens along the way.
These notes seem boring to me as I write them. I talked to several people during the day and mentioned the sense of lassitude and/or a crankiness that comes over me, reminiscent of a young child: I don’t wantto watch TV; No! I don’t wantto paint; I don’t like the book I’m reading; I don’t, I won’t, you can’t make me! Nothing pleases me and I feel like I can’t get up any energy to do anything about it. My friends tell me that they—we all—feel the same way. I can’t imagine what families are going through. I did paint for a while, I did work with Ed to learn how to Zoom, I paid the bills and transferred some cash into my account. I went for another walk. I cooked a rather tasteless dinner. I made the colossal mistake of turning on the press conference.
I write this as if someday someone will read it, or I will. By that time things should have become immeasurably worse or immeasurably better—I just want to convey today’s reality: beginning of day, it’s beautiful and musical and almost holy; end of day, I’m sad and cranky and bored and boring.
Day 16 3/30/2020
Hail guest, we ask not what thou art;
If friend, we great the, hand and heart;
If stranger, such no longer be;
If foe, our love shall conquer thee.
Ancient Celtic welcome. CDPII 1210
Would it be possible to greet the virus in this way? Some are saying that it is a she; some say she is bringing about the Correction; some are saying that she is an enemy, bent on destroying us. Could we believe that our love shall conquer her?
Oh, what a world, what a world! How could a little kid like you destroy my beautiful wickedness?
Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard of Oz.
I’m wondering if we are going about this all wrong. Western medicine, war metaphors, xenophobia, nationalism, state-ism. What if we were to use another approach? Tend and Befriend instead of Fight or Flight or Freeze? I have no idea how to do this, mind you. I’m thinking natural medicine, acupuncture, holistic healing, compassionate death.
Just as I am wondering if I am doing the right thing “sheltering in place” when the need is so great. Am I better able to serve by staying here and writing a blog, or should I call up Princeton Medical and volunteer as a Chaplain? (The morning bells ring just as I finish that sentence.)
Day 17 3/31
Mid-day I received a text from a friend: ‘I’m going for a walk. Do you want to meet me on the corner of Wiggins and Jefferson? We could talk.’ This is how we live now. We stand on street corners 10 feet apart and we say hello, I miss you. We walk for a bit, maintaining ‘social distancing’ that doesn’t seem all that social. I go to turn back and ask if I go down this street will I end up on Witherspoon? Sure, this street ends in a path, follow the path all the way through, it will cross one more street but continue on to Witherspoon.
Thus I enter the magic kingdom. The path leads through a forest along a burbling stream. I almost do not believe this. Have I entered Tir Na Nog? I feel an ecstasy walking along, keep looking at the water, yes it is real, yes it is moving, yes this is a path, yes this is me on the path. I cross another street where an old man sits on a bench alone. Hello, I say. Beautiful day, I say. If he answers I can’t hear it. Once again, the path leads through the forest by the stream. A dad and three girls pass on bicycles as I stand aside. Thanks, he says. I go on. When I get to Witherspoon I get my bearings, just the other day I walked down the other side of this street. So, I’ll go on this side. I come to a magnificent magnolia in brilliant pink bloom, take a selfie to prove to myself that I exist embodied and send it to Gregg for confirmation. Two houses down I see a sign out front: Buddhist Center. Labyrinth in the rear. All welcome.
Can this be? I walk around the house and there is a perfect labyrinth made of shining white stones. I walk the path to the center where I call the quarters and chant Awen, then walk back out. I feel like I have been led to a wondrous place.
I come home and watch the briefing: now expected 100,000 deaths in the US. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth crows that if he hadn’t acted there would have been 2.2 million. 2.2 million, he repeats—in a single sentence he has claimed to have saved 2.1 million lives. Jesus, if you are watching, turn off the set, we don’t want you to give up on our sorry asses.
Day 18 4/1/2020
Over 200,000 now. Complete chaos and Fuckup City over supplies and shipments of supplies. Bumblebutt, the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth gloats that his daily lie-fests get better ratings than the Bachelor. Imagine. He’s having his miracle, alright, just as he predicted in what seems like a century ago.
I have my list of people. I look at it every day and mark down who I have talked to or written. I talk to Pat for over an hour. A long circuitous conversation: she names and claims her dementia, I co-remember with her. She tells a story, interrupts to ask me, You remember Bunky, don’t you? Yes. Another story, You remember Jackie, don’t you? Yes. Another story, You remember Bunky, right? Yes. Another story, You remember the house we used to live in on Angeles Crest, right? Yes. Do you remember Jackie? Did I tell you this before? I think I must have told you when you were here. I putter about, dusting the living room, folding the laundry. I remember, I remember, I remember.
Adam calls from England. We talk for another hour. About writing in coffee shops. About the obsessive need for caution. About how he loves dogs, how dogs come up to him but he can’t touch them. About how he’s training to be a Celebrant (in Druidry). Meandering through topics, as if we were in that coffee shop in Lewes.
I paint a geometric theme-less picture while listening to Teri Gross and some scientist talking about how unprepared we are for the pandemic, what we coulda, shoulda done. Everybody reacting to Fumbledore, the Greatest President of the Greatest Nation on Earth who has the Greatest Ratings, better than the Bachelor.
I walk, back up to the little creek. Walk the little Buddhist labyrinth. Make a dinner that looks better than it tastes, but at least it has fresh vegetables. Try to find a movie on Netflix, no go. Gregg calls for a Happy Hour. I pour the second -to-last jigger of Scapa into a cuppa tea. He gets a little drunk, laughs, bursts into tears, sobs.
We are lonely, we people.
Day 19 4/2/2020
Today, like every other day we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
I send this out to Adam and Gregg.
I walk the labyrinth in the forest with Juliana and Dick. They are both well in their 80’s—Julianna has a walking stick, Dick is frail, waiting for heart surgery that keeps getting postponed. Their hair blows in the wind as they walk the winding stone path. I am struck by their beauty that seems holy to me. The breeze blows pink and white petals down; the noon sun casts shadows of their branches that look like brain maps on the ground.
When it’s my turn I walk in casting out fear. In the center I cast the quarters and chant Awen under my breath. There’s a tree stump next to the labyrinth of a VERY old tree that had three trunks. A triple goddess figure. I come to know that the virus is female. Maybe Mother Gaia, maybe Mother Kali, pure yin, rescuing the earth from our madness. I bless her at the triple tree and vow to make friends with this time we’re in, however strange and long. I get lost going out, end up in the center again and thus have to walk out twice.
When I meditate this week I have a recurring vision of myself kneeling on hot sand before a very old woman—brown and skeletal, wizened, bald, with thousands of wrinkles and long, long fingers. A Desert Mother. Abba, I say to her, teach ,me forgive me. She gathers me to herself and places one hand on my head. I am not worthy.
Abba Theodora said, ‘Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms, cannot bear fruit, so it is with us: this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of God.’
Celtic Daily Prayer II, p 1433
Teach us. Forgive us.
Day 20 4/3/2020
We are each and all afraid. I feel tired the moment I get up, check myself—Do I have the chills? Do I have a fever? Am I nauseated? Have I coughed? The virus is a snake made out of smoke; she writhes her way around our feet and hands and enters with a breath. Has she entered me? I lay on the couch all day, drinking turmeric tea, so much that it seems I have to pee every 20 minutes. Is this it? All kinds of fantasies play out, I hesitate to give them voice. So I won’t.
We are not utterly alone.
Someone has inhabited this risky place.
We are alone together.
CDP II, 1457
Day 21 4/4/2020
I down an occillolococcinum before I go to bed and lay all night wrapped up in pajamas and socks and sweatshirt and layers of covers. I worry—is this the beginning? I wake up this morning and check again: do I have a sore throat, do I have a headache, am I nauseous? I think of the lepers on Kauai, checking their bodies every day. I take my temperature: normal!!!!! So I declare myself well and go to the Elder Hour at the grocery store.
Now we all wear masks (The CDC requires it, the President of the Greatest Nation in the World proclaims it from his lectern, adding that he won’t wear one himself. Acourse not.) and gloves. Outside Whole Foods we stand in marked-off lines. Only a certain number are allowed in the store at a time; a staff member stands at the exit door and radios “Two Out” to the staff member at the entrance door who says “Two In.” Neither is wearing a mask or gloves. The checkout line is long, since everybody is shopping for multiple weeks or multiple people or both. I put my cart and I in my little taped-off square and do yoga for half an hour. Feels good.
The checker is a woman about my age. I say, How’s your family? Lazy, she says. We share a laugh. She tells me that one of her kin is a musician and is making videos at home. Her husband likes to watch Hallmark movies over and over again. I spend $200; I could have saved if I hadn’t bought the little green frog candle. On my way out, she thanks me for “being nice.” Shouldn’t that be the fucking norm?
I come home and wash all my fruits and vegetables, wipe down all the boxes, make myself a coffee and start washing everything in sight. Outdoor clothes, indoor clothes, socks, slippers, towels, sheets. If it isn’t nailed down I wash it. Covid OCD. Also contagious.
Day 22 4/5/2020
Palm Sunday. I have a picture in my mind of Jesus on his donkey riding into Jerusalem for holy week, Jerusalem in lock down… Hey, wait a minute, where is everybody?
300,000+ but who’s counting?
There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl calling
far off and a fox barking
miles away. It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake, listening
to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and falling
wave on wave on the long shore
by the village, that is without light
and companionless. And the thought comes
of that other being who is awake, too,
letting our prayers break on him,
not like this for a few hours
but for days, years, for eternity.
RL Thomas, Etched in Silence
I walk to the bank and put some $ in. I walk to the University Chapel and sit in silence for a long while until the phone finds me—James, Glenn’s uncle, who got me through the darkest days, now on duty again. I walk to the drugstore, I walk to the liquor store. I feel dis-oriented, disconnected. Gregg calls and we talk for a long time. Ed and Jacqueline call and we have a Zoom happy hour.
Now I have reached the time of day where I lose my bearings. I think I should not have tried to write at this time.
I think we all feel this way. Sort of lost.
Day 23 4/6/2020
On the 27 of March (Day 13 of this journal) we had, what did I say, 83,000? Today, 10 days later we are at 364,000 cases, 171,000 of which are in New York and New Jersey. A few things to do here, a long walk with Eliane. She says she thinks she should make a schedule for herself because “the days are just slipping by.” I am not so sure that a schedule will help. I think we are all just unmoored, or to use another analogy, our rootball has come un-entangled. We are like an ecosystem that is broken. We are not connected in the same way. Geez. Three weeks into “social distancing” with at least 6 weeks to go. Eliane says she keeps hearing from people she knows who have died, some years ago. I tell her I have the same experience—people I didn’t even remember coming in close. Maybe they want to watch the show, I say. I can sorta see the old aunts and uncles and 4th grade teachers and cousins and lovers all pulling up chairs like the Ecumenical Thanksgiving service in Ashland. Peering over the ledge between heaven and here, nudging each other, jostling for a better view. I spose they don’t know what’s going to happen next either. Maybe?
I have decided to write a note to all the people on my “daily” list and give my credentials and say, If you know anybody that needs to talk to somebody, I am here. No proselytizing, no advice, no fee, just listening, just connecting. Tell them I will listen to them, communicate with them. I told Nic about this idea and she said I’d be swamped immediately. Well, we’ll see. I want to set something like this up when I do my website and blog, but between WordPress being overuitilized and the RoMa Johnson Patented Procrastination Machine, that may take a while. Why not put it out there now?
Tomorrow, I tell myself. (See what I mean?)
Day 24 4/7/2020
Gregg sends me poetry by Shelley:
I am the daughter of Earth and Water, And the nursling of the Sky; I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores; I change, but I cannot die. For after the rain when with never a stain The pavilion of Heaven is bare, And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams Build up the blue dome of air, I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, And out of the caverns of rain, Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb, I arise and unbuild it again.
I did send out my “I am here for you and your friends” letter. Getting some responses during the day, one referral as of 5 pm.
I watched about 7 minutes of the President of the Greatest Country on Earth’s press conference. Hard to recount: he has fired the Inspector General in charge of distribution (for telling the truth about shortages after he said there were none), he has decided to de-fund the World Health Organization (They called it wrong,), he is touting an antimalarial drug as the cure (He owns stock in the company.) despite the scientists saying it’s not approved. After that much, I could not stomach any more.
Today is the full moon. According to Lucy these next three days will be a bitch—planetary conjunctions, etc. Well, a bitch among bitches, I say. I have put all the crystal balls in bowls of saltwater for the event. I used the big copper crystal pendulum on myself this morning. When in doubt go woo-woo. Sometimes I forget that I spent the majority of my adult life in California. If I think about it too much I get very nostalgic. Imagine walking along Venice Beach at sunset, watching for dolphins in the first wave, seeing the pelicans air surf. I used to walk along and talk to the ocean, most every day. How could I have left that? Did I think it would be forever?
My prayer list is expanding—I try to remember each one every day; I check to see who I have not communicated with lately and reach out. I miss people. I think I do this to reassure myself that I am connected as much as anything. I pray that I can be a funnel for God light. In my head, out my heart, repeat. Send it through. As if God needs a channel, but hey, I need to be useful. This seems useful.
Day 25 4/8/2020
We’re Allowed One Walk per Day
I walk, and the path is strewn with petals;
I walk and the path is lined with people wearing masks.
I walk and the path is strewn with bodies;
I walk and the path is lined with heroes.
I walk and the path is filled with naked emperors;
I walk and great birds of pretty wheel overhead.
I walk to the river and weep.
I look up and see others walking;
I take up a sentinel post and offer an un-gloved hand to those
for whom the path has become too steep.
I am here for you.
I am here for You.
Gregg calls this my bodhisattva heart energy. I had my first call today. Eliane’s grandson, 24 years old. Struggles with no work, being alone, turning to beer and crack cocaine. We talked for around 40 minutes. Conversational. I asked a few questions. Afterward I pray for him and hope I helped. Later still I realize that I don’t have to help. I am not here to fix or counsel or rescue. Just companion.
Before our call I walked the forest labyrinth with Juliana and Dick. I found a little circle of stumps set in the woods and I stood in the center, called the quarters, chanted Awens and said the Druid Prayer for a while. I didn’t get lost in the labyrinth this time.
I came home and painted on a strange picture using cutouts of flowers, birds and insects. Looks like a strange game board found in an old box with no instructions inside. But I kinda like it.
Day 26 4/9/2020
I am acutely aware that it is Holy Week, that this is Maundy Thursday. Remembering this night last year in St. Andrews Cathedral, Inverness. How moved I was when everything was taken off the altar and the candles were blown out. Thinking about how it felt like my move, which I was in the middle of. Everything dismantled, closed, donated, discarded or shipped. How I felt the last day, sitting in the sun for a few minutes by the pond. End of a lifetime. I remember crying in the church, walking back to the hotel along the River Ness. Looking forward to Iona, looking further forward to Princeton.
That felt so huge at the time. I had such a sense of loss and yet a sense of pride that I had not been broken, that I had survived, that I was going to start a new life.
And now, and now. The plague. Breath of Kali. Snake of Gaia. I don’t like the scientific name-it sounds mechanistic and masculine. I just figured out the numerology of covid19=72=9.
Ok, I digress. I could not get started on anything this morning, so I decided to take myself out for a coffee at a favorite coffee shop. Here is how you do this in this new age:
How to go out for a coffee:
· Call the coffee shop. See if they are open. Yes.
· Place your order and give them your credit card over the phone. Tell them you’re walking so you’ll be there in 20 minutes. (It’s a mile away and you have to look like you’re exercising, NOT going out for coffee, for God’s sake).
· Take off your inside clothes and put on your outside clothes.
· Put on your outside socks and shoes.
· Strap on your fanny pack with phone, ID, glasses.
· Get your gloves and facemask and hand sanitizer.
· Put your facemask on under your chin and your gloves in your pocket.
· Find your housekey.
· Take off, walking down the middle of the empty streets. Pull your face mask up if you pass anyone, (but you don’t, mostly).
· When you get close to the coffee shop, sanitize your hands.
· Upon arrival, stand outside, pull your mask on and wave through the window.
· Identify yourself and wait for them to pour your coffee and get your labelled bag with its 2 donuts.
· Stand in the doorway as they unlock it and reach in for them.
· Smile (with your eyes) to thank them.
· Stand outside the window and wave goodbye.
· Walk to the sidewalk, stand (DO NOT SIT ON ANYTHING!) with your delicious treats.
· Pull your mask down and take a sip of coffee. Fabulous. Take a bite of one of the donuts. Absolutely divine.
· Walk slowly home down the middle of the streets, eating your donut and sipping your coffee.
· DO NOT wipe the sugar off your mouth. DO NOT lick your fingers.
· Try to look like you’re just out exercising.
Day 27 4/10/2020
Today is Good Friday. Yesterday afternoon I walked to the Univ Chapel to see if the doors were open, nope, closed up tight. I walked through the empty campus that has started to lose its “energy.” Hard to define, but the buildings now look like an unearthed archeology dig or some fantasy sci-fi movie set. No words. No words. I came home and performed a small eucharist. I read a chapter in John.
Here’s a poem I found in CDP II. Talks about going out, but could certainly apply to staying in.
You leave home. You don’t know why.
You sell all of your belongings. You buy a one-way plane ticket
to a far away place. And then you leave.
You meet new people.
You hear new languages. You try to speak them too.
You fail in ways you’ve never had to fail before.
You lose yourself. Yourself becomes a complicated subject.
You discover what it means to continue on past the point of
You ache, you feel lonely, you feel lost. And yet, somehow,
you welcome these feelings too.
Day 28 4/11/2020
Silent house. Sunrise in one window. Moonset in another. Day before Easter.
Thinking about Easter. Thinking about coloring Easter eggs and plaiting Easter baskets out of construction paper. Thinking about Dad shining our shoes and Mom putting pin curls in our wispy hair after our shampoo bent over the kitchen sink. Thinking of new dresses and little feather hats and socks with lace on them and gloves(?). Did we have gloves when we were little? I remember as teenagers we had hats and wrist-length white gloves. I’m thinking about church in Fremont, but also thinking about looking for our Easter baskets at Grandma Gregg’s house in Wallace. Two different times? Surely. Thinking of all the cars and trucks parked in the gravel drive outside Grandma’s, about the men throwing horseshoes in their white shirts with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. Thinking about cousins and food. Ham, of course, creamed corn, green peas just picked and shucked. I want to talk to my sister Jodi and ask her about the gloves—how old were we when we started wearing gloves at Easter? I wonder why Jodi and Glenn were taken at the same time. Who ya gonna call?
Yesterday I talked to my friend Hilary about Passover. She told me how she cooked all week for the Seder—brisket and matzo ball soup and half a dozen other dishes. How she and her husband ate it all alone. She’s the one who asked me about Easter. This nostalgia is all her fault.
We’ve hit over half a million cases now. Well, depends on who’s counting. One media outlet says we are overcounting, hyperinflating the numbers to take down The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth. Another media outlet says we are undercounting, keeping the numbers low to protect The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth. Image of a pinata. Can you see it? the Fat Orange Fuck tied to a tree limb and all of the blindfolded pundits swatting at it with bats and broomsticks? No sports on TV, so we watch this and award points to our favorite team. Or how about this image: Armageddon United vs. Science Infallible. Tied and going into overtime. Or cutesy images of white people stuck at home with their obnoxious kids—and the dog!—homeschooling past their intellectual capacity (Who remembers 3rd grade math? Geez.) vs. videos of brown EMTs in green plastic, driving yellow ambulances to take away Black and brown bodies from the red brick buildings of the Bronx. (We did over 200 runs today, just my guys, 16 hours.) The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth says we will be open for business soon. Very soon. It’s gonna be over. Very soon. We are doing great things. Amazing things. We’re going to re-open our country. [Half-screen feed: People stacked up in nursing homes, the staff all gone home (They just don’t come to work anymore.). People in jail using FaceTime on smuggled phones (They are leaving us here to die.).] Amazing things. Very soon. We have a great economy. The greatest in the world. We’re going to re-open our country. I talk to people all over the country and they tell me we’re doing amazing things.
I remember one Easter—2012—Thelma and I were in Glastonbury at the little Episcopal church in the High Street. The vicar had hidden Easter eggs all through the church, in the corners of pews, under hymnals, everywhere. He called all the little kids to the front steps and said, What do we say on Easter? Hallelujah! Can you say Hallelujah!? They chirp Hallelujah!. Now I want you to go and find the eggs, and every time you find an egg hold it up and say Hallelujah! real loud and bring the egg up here and put it in this basket. Ready? Go? The little bodies flung themselves into the congregation and soon there was a multitude of up-thrust arms holding eggs and a chorus of voices shouting Hallelujah! One little boy found an egg right in front of where Thelma and I were sitting and held it up and squeaked Hallelujah! his face lit up like a sunbeam. Oh! his dearness.
So tomorrow is Easter. Today it’s just the tomb and the ‘hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes’ and the linen swaddling cloths. I want to feel holy, I really do. I want to make pancakes (I don’t have the makings) and call the family to the table (I don’t have a family) and watch my Dad eat the ears off a chocolate bunny he’s cadged from one of our baskets. Hey! Dad!! That’s mine!
Silent house. Sunrise in one window. Moonset in another. Thinking about Easter. Maybe this is what passes for holy these days.
Day 29 4/12/2020Easter
Early Easter morning I set out walking. The streets are absolutely empty. I walk up Nassau Street, the “Easter Parade” consists of the shadows of me, a garbage can, a tree and a scraggly bush. I text a picture to Gregg, who calls it the “Procession of the Invisibles.”
The numbers, you ask? 550,000 cases in the US. Did I really start this diary less than a month ago? Shit.
I walk around the block and turn into the cemetery. It’s about 7:30, the sun just up, the birds in full morning song. Peaceful. I walk for a long time among the graves, past Chinese, past Jewish, past Russian, past Italian. The Jewish gravemarkers have little stones placed along the top of them; I assume this happened in celebration of Passover. Lots of people from the 1800’s, lots of old folks, lots of families. A whole row of “little angels,” babies who stayed just days or months before they flew home.
I feel strongly that I must stay here in the village of the dead until I figure something out. I sit on a bench and write the thoughts that come over the next hour. Here they are, unedited:
1. I have had this date—Easter—in my head since I was at Pat’s on Ash Wednesday. I thought I would fast. I gave up pastries. Like giving up a potato chip on the beach with the tsunami at one’s back.
2. When I heard about going into isolation I thought it would be for 2 weeks, then two more, then “until Easter.” I didn’t think I could stand being so alone.
3. I need to re-commit. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself.
4. I need to think through a new plan. I need to envision myself en-isled, like someone who chooses to live on an island alone, like a monk who chooses to go to Skellig Michael, like a Saint going to sea in his little leather boat, like an astronaut climbing into his capsule, like a polar explorer strapping on his skis. I MUST CHOOSE this time and make it holy.
5. I need to walk out of this cemetery into my pod, my capsule, my coracle, my uterus, my vehicle.
6. I need to own my solitude.
7. In order to do this if I need to resort to my old coping tricks, like setting a daily schedule, so be it. [As I write this, the Easter bells start ringing.]
8. I need to choose to LIVE.
9. So I commit to another 40-day fast, from now until May 22. Fasting from loneliness.
10. There will come a time when the pod opens, the capsule lands, the boat comes ashore, the uterus can no longer hold me, the vehicle will have arrived.
11. I do not have to know. I do not have to fix.I do not have to become.I do not have to end up with a product.
12. I do not have to be accountable to anyone but God.
13. I can, on this day, embrace my Christian roots. I can picture Jesus sitting at the edge of the garden just here, saying ‘Don’t touch me, I have not yet gone to my Father.’ I must not be afraid of going without touch.
14. If Jesus is risen today, then I must rise today. Or let him lift me, get rid of all my old feminist, New Age antagonism toward resurrection. (Jodi, I know you are saying I told you so.)
15. Ego commiterre. (I use my phone to look up the Latin) I commit.
Day 30 4/13/2020
Day 1 of Lent II. My early morning readings speak to me:
God to Moses: Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. Ex 3:5
Jesus to Peter: When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go. John 21:18
… a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Ecc 3:5b
Shall I take my tiny coracle
across the sparkling ocean?
O King of the glorious heaven,
shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?
Version of the Brendan Prayer, CDP II 1463
Lord, you have always marked
the road for the coming day
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.
Crazy weather. Lashing winds and pouring rain. The New Jersey version of “foundering seas and impenetrable fog.” I go out in it to a doctor’s appointment. These days doctor’s appointments go like this. Call first and tell them you’re on your way. Park your car and call us when you get here. OK. Drive through the storm, tree limbs in the road. Park in the almost empty parking lot. Call to say you are here. OK come up. Put on face mask. Find the outer door propped open so you don’t have to touch it. Press the elevator buttons with your elbow. Exit eleveator and find the doors to the doctor’s office are open. Greeted by a woman in hijab and face mask and gloves. Undress and weigh yourself. Down 6 pounds. Doctor arrives wearing a face mask. Brief chat and examination. Papers left on the counter to pick up on the way out. No one in the waiting room. Elevator down and out into the storm.
Well, now the storm is in full force. Streets running with water, huge wind, raindrops so big they plop and splat on the windshield. Hey, I think. Wait a minute. This is a perfect day to go to the grocery store! And so it is. No lines, few shoppers, mostly the shoppers for the food delivery. I buy more than I need. Or will I need more? Stories on the tv about food rotting in the fields for lack of workers to harvest. Tulips left unpicked in Holland.
I put a peach pie on the front porch of Julianna and Dick on the way home. By the time I get to the apartment and unload the groceries in the rain, I’m starving. I make myself a big spinach omelette. Down to the last three crossword puzzles in my book. What do you do while you’re eating if you don’t have a puzzle? This is getting grim.
After I eat, all my big plans and ideas for the day turn from bright thought bubbles to sagging water balloons. The Ooze, I may start to call it. I used to call it lassitude, but that seems tame. The storm continues, though, with the windows banging in their frames and the rain running down them so hard I can’t see out. I lay on the couch and finish my novel.
I paint for a while, green and purple mountains in a blue sea. A cairn on the top of one. A tiny house on another. An almost invisible stone circle. I talk to Brendan for the best part of an hour. He says he wanted peanut butter, but couldn’t find any so he went online. Somebody on ebay selling a jar of peanut butter for $20. (War profiteering now—FEMA taking medical supplies from the states and selling it back to them at a profit. Jesus. Jesus.) I talk to Ed. He tells me about a couple in a sailboat in the Caribbean, down to lemons and cilantro, no-one will let them dock to buy food. (Whatcha gonna do when the tequila runs out?) Jane and I on our weekly chat fest: We’re boring, we say. What do you talk about when you don’t doanything?
I walk in the diamond streets when the storm passes.
The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth melts down during his nightly pressfarce. I can’t watch. I turn on CNN and they describe it. Now I wish I had watched. Morbid fucking fascination. The President of the Greatest Nation on the Earth has declared imperial powers. HE will decide when to open the economy and it will be SOON. He can do this because he has the Constitutional Power. He will order it, and it will be SOON and it will be BIG. “When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total,” he mouth mushes into the mic. The governors are forming regional coalitions to refuse the order. I can’t bear the hysteria in the voices of the pundits, can’t find the energy to turn on my Netflix movie. I brush my teeth and crawl into bed.
Day 31 4/14/2020
Lent II, Day 2. (Perhaps this need to date and label is a sign of control slippage? Nobody knows what day it really is.) I remember this date in years past when there was a car queue around the block at every post office, folks getting their taxes in at the last minute. Today’s image: car queues around the block for food handouts. Fuck taxes.
I am pretending that I am on a 40-day writer’s retreat in a beautiful place. No expectations, just enjoy and let the creative process work. It works pretty good today. I paint in between little chores. I clock in for the Centered Prayer meeting, feel my body quiet down, but thoughts drift by like little boats in the storm runoff. That’s ok. I’m on retreat. It doesfeel different, thinking this way. No guilt if I am not working on a project. While I was walking I set my revised goals. Three of them:
Stay healthy physically.
Stay healthy mentally.
Sample text stream during ‘the Pandemic” (as we affectionately call it. Like a nickname, like Panda).
~How are you doing my dear?
*OK. Tired of myself.
~I can relate. I’m tired of hearing my thoughts.
*I have discovered that I am essentially boring. Others may have already known this. Voyage of self-discovery.
~This is something I have always feared for myself, afraid I may be coming to the same conclusion on my own voyage. What a shame, and here we were thinking we were absolutely intriguing.
*And mysterious and fascinating.
~Now it’s just bleak, boring, and bland.
*Don’t forget blah!
~Oh yes, we mustn’t forget blah!
*We’ve forgotten so much…
~Yes! I feel that very strongly.
Day 32 4/15/2020
Lent II, Day 3. Well, yesterday’s little flutter of euphoria was comforting. Right up until I went to Julianna and Dick’s to walk the forest labyrinth. She came out on the porch and handed me a mask and gloves and a folder of photographic images. “You'll like these.” I stand in the driveway and turn the pages. All of Scotland, mostly Mull and Iona. The turquoise sea between. The Hebridean sunset. Well, fuck me, I melted down completely. I wept during the drive to the labyrinth and as I waited my turn, and as I walked it. Soooo homesick for Scotland, for Lewis, mostly for Calanais. Wanted sooo badly to stand with my back to a stone and feel the deep thrum. Wanted to touch Glenn’s Monk Stone. Yikes. As I was walking Julianna collected a huge bouquet of daffodils, which she handed to me as I came out. She thanked me for the pie. “You know,” I said, “I found out that pie with a friend is a special treat, but pie by yourself, well it’s just food.” I told her that I lost my sense of taste for months when Glenn died. She looked at me and said, “Perhaps you’ll love again.” I said, “I want to love again.” She said, “I didn’t think I would love again after Jim died. You may find love again, just don’t look for it.”
So I cried all the way home, took the long way ‘round, got lost on some back roads of NJ, turned back at a DETOUR with the GPS screaming RETURN TO THE ROUTE. RETURN TO THE ROUTE. RETURN TO THE ROUTE and me screaming FUCK YOU every time while I looked for a place I could turn around. Came up to Skellig Princeton and ate the rest of my pie. Tasted like cardboard.
Day 33 4/16/2020
So I called my dear healer friend John and spent part of the afternoon in a telemedicine call. Working with him I am able to see where I am stuck. With his help, I realize that I feel an acute sense of failure when I have a day like yesterday, when I feel like I should be able to press on, get through this, and don’t.
I have two writing projects that I was working on in January and February. I liked both of them and felt good about progress. I have not been able to get jack shit written on either of them during this isolation. John helped me to see that I can set them aside, put them away, let them go for now, confident in their “being there” at a later time. I feel an instant relief.
The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth, with the numbers (630,000 cases, 35,000 deaths) listed on a sidebar, announces the way we can get our Great Country Back Again, due to his excellent leadership. And it’s going to be bigger, better, and smarter than before. Oh, from your pursed, pouty lips to God’s ears. Whereas two days ago, he was going to be in charge of it all, today he is telling the States that it’s on them. Oh, and he as de-funded the World Health Organization. Of course.
Day 34 4/17/2020
I do as John suggested—I take my writing projects and put them aside. I find a beautiful crocheted doily that my grandmother made and placed it on the writing desk and create a mandala of crystals upon it. I look at the picture I have been painting for a few days—beautiful Scottish hills, the sea. Yesterday I added a starry night sky. Today I cut out little orbs of blue and white and place them in the sky. I create a spaceship with little round windows and dither a bit about where on the page I should put it. I like the spaceship—I like the idea that something is coming in.
I talk to Ed on Zoom for an hour, tell him about this experience. We talk about the changed world. When I hang up, Philip calls and through a very poor connection with an enormous fuzz of video and a 5 second echo-y lag, he manages to convey that he wants me to submit for the next Mount Haemus Award!!! Write a paper on Christianity and Druidry, prepare to present it at the next Mount Haemus conference, publish it online. O res mirabile! It is as if the gates have opened and the way is clear. I have a JOB, one of my own calling, a project so much bigger than the ones I just set aside. I am so flabbergasted that I can’t even contain myself.
I put on my shoes and start walking, almost running, down to the bridge, across the lake, along the towpath. I’m striding along, singing and saying Yes! Yes! Over and over. I almost bump into a huge blue heron just off the path. I screech to a halt and start taking herm picture. I stand there and watch herm walk a few paces, wait until s/he lifts off, get a blurry shot of herm wingspan. An omen? An affirmation? A visitor from beyond my comprehension? I feel the Awen flooding through me as I stride up the Harrison Street hill into Princeton.
When I get home I start pulling books off the shelf, start scribbling notes on post-its, in a writing journal, on a yellow tablet. My mind is working like a search engine, scanning everything. You know one of my projects that I “put aside” was called Theology of Immanence. And this is it.
Day 35 4/18/2020
Wake up with my brain on fire. It’s like watching a speeded-up film of Dumbledore in his office, pulling books off the shelf, strewing papers on the floor, working frantically, with his tall wizard hat sliding to one side of his head, his beard splattered with ink, his writing hand holding a quill, his off hand holding the sleeve of his robe away from the pile on his desk. That’s me! I think. Dumbledoreena—Warrior Queen of Skellig Princeton.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swing finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoor each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
“As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Gerard Manley Hopkins
I sing along.
Day 36 4/19/2020
Yesterday’s ebullience flickers in the darkness of the day’s news. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth is encouraging people to break out of the “political correctness” of quarantine. He tweets “Liberate Wisconsin,” “Liberate Michigan’” “Liberate Virginia.” He says that we are “losing our second amendment rights,” the call to arms. There are millions of people out of work, thousands in line at food banks, just when you think it can’t be worse, it gets worse. Fomenting revolution. Armed, angry, hungry, out-of-work people defiantly marching together in the streets, waving MAGA posters (to which the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth coos, “I think they like me.”) in the empty streets outside the closed stores. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth brags that he has saved the lives of millions of people. (I shit you not.)
An Epic of Biblical Proportions: the Old Testament prophets rise up as angels descend. Cecil B. DeMille should film this: Gone with The Wind II.
Even I succumb to pessimism, which I express only here (for people don’t want to hear ‘bad news’ and ‘negativity’). I sense war. I look over my beautiful apartment with its art and flowers and windows streaming with morning light and I think how long?
Day 37 4/20/2020
Whenever I have a big writing project I go to the nearest library or co-working space and find a large white board. I scribble and write and draw lines and change colors as my ideas flow out and bump into each other. This morning there is no library; there is no white board. The computer screen seems too small, little scraps of paper cannot be wrestled into any kind of corral. I take out a large sheet of art paper and with a sharpie write
THIS IS A WHITE BOARD
across the top. Trying to fool my brain. It worked, almost. I spent the morning writing, then converted the notes into outlines.
I have another session with John: strategies for keeping myself from the logismoi of inadequacy that takes up residence in my brain whenever I start a big project. I listen to a podcast that Gregg sent—a physicist, Nassim Haramein talking about the holographic universe, telling us that you have the feeling first before you have the proof. By honoring the feeling, you connect with the energy of the entangled universe and the proof will come. I don’t get all of it, so I will listen to it again.
I take a walk to Marquand Park, sit for a minute under a tree canopy, “writing” my story line out loud. It floats out from me like a cartoon word bubble, uncaptured.
I turn on the TV (When Will You Ever Learn, Dufelina?). The news is so horrific that I cannot bear to watch. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth telling His People what an excellent job he has done against side bars of blackpeople death statistics, whitepeople riots, talking about gun rights and rattling off key word sound bites purloined from Fox News. He says of the rioters: I look, and I see American flags. I’ve never seen so many American flags. I think they like me. I switch it off after less than 5 minutes, and sit, stunned at the magnitude of it all.
I talk to Jane on our Monday call. (See, I can still tell what day it is. OK, I lied, I look at my phone to see what day it is. We all do.) We lament that all of our “human” interactions are mediated. Computer, phone, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, podcasts, Netflix. We lament that we don’t wantto use this time to enrich our lives with online yoga or online book clubs, or online bridge games or online meditation or online church or online Suzie Ormand lectures on our Money. We laugh like we think it’s funny.
Day 38 4/21/2020
Some days come in pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle. In the morning I think I see the picture on the box, but as the day empties out, it fragments: I have an early online consultation on the writing project; one errand run of three stores and a drop off to a friend; three healthcare related phone calls; one thank you call from the HomeFront, where I sent half my stimulus check; a scheduled call with a friend; an unexpected call from Philip rescinding (?) delaying(?) or extending (?) the writing submission, a walk to the river to process this, a phone call with Gregg while walking, and an online meeting with the writers’ group. Haramein talked about the universe as a fractal. I’m feeling like I’m out on one of the smallest, most distant tentacles of a gigantic, invisible, livingpattern. I’m totally insignificant and intrinsically important and caught between the two.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, while I am trying to stick to a disintegrating commitment to get some of my writing done, the sky turns black, thunder and lightning roar, the wind bangs against the windows, and the rain comes. They’re playing old Blues tunes on the radio. I put down my pen and dance in the darkening room.
Day 39 4/22/2020
I stand in the Spring sunshine waiting my turn to walk the labyrinth. This gorgeous day: blossoming trees in full color—pinks and reds and white—standing like ladies in their Easter dresses; flowers of yellow and white and blue and crimson carpeting the green grass, trees humming as they sway in the breeze. I stop and name the people I know who are happy during the current state of affairs: Gregg, who does not have to suffer his two-hours + per day commute on the 405 freeway in LA, who doesn’t have to be in the same room with his neurotic boss; Nic, who is severely asthmatic, who hasn’t had to use her inhaler for a week because the air is clean and she can breathe unaided; Ed, who consults with people around the globe without the endless hassle and exhaustion of airports and hotels; Julianna, standing just there in the sunshine, holding a bouquet of daffodils. I want to be one of the happy people.
I am conflicted, of course. I am acutely aware of my privilege. Here I am surrounded by the glory of nature while just outside this gorgeous bubble thousands and thousands of people are suffering on an epic scale, personally, nationally, globally. Is it hubris to accept this proffered gift of happiness? Is it selfish to acknowledge it, celebrate it, as if I deserve it? I’m arguing with God, of course, Goddess if you prefer. I project judgement on myself, regardless of which way I turn: How dare you be unhappy in all this beauty, you ungrateful thing? v. How dare you not suffer when everyone else is? I lean against a huge, ancient elm, chanting Awen, chanting Awen, as I watch my beloved, frail, ancient friend walk the turns and twists of the labyrinth path, her green cape blowing around her, her hair alight. When it’s my turn I pray that I have the strength to accept this enormous gift of joy in the face of unspeakable despair.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Day 40 4/23/2020
860,000. Time to open up America, says the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth. He’s bored, his minions report. He’s restless. He wants to go outside. He wants to go play golf in Florida. Having a two-year-old in the highest office in the land is wearing on all of us. Give the sucker a swat on the butt and hand him his bottle. You! Go over there and SIT DOWN. Here, watch some kiddie porn or the 1979 Super Bowl. But SHUT THE FUCK UP!
It is a sure sign that the pandemic is merciless that he is seemingly immune. Proof that he is not human, that he is a Golem, created out of the clay of our sins.
I spent an hour on a ride-along phone call with my dear friend in California as she drove the long way home from getting a covid test. Oh, so you could get a test? sez me. Well, she sez, you have to be symptomatic and you have to make an appointment, so I called and they said there’s a cancellation for this morning at 6:30 am. I said, that will be hard, when is the next one, like 2 pm? The next opening is next Thursday. Oh, ok I’ll come at 6:30. So I thought I would have the 6:30 appointment but I was one of the 100 people in the 6:30 appointment slot so there were all these cars lined up and we had to wait with the windows up. So you’re symptomatic? sez me, scared. My friend has every known risk factor. Well yeah, I spiked a fever. So that’s the way it is, talking with somebody you love who has a fever who has to drive an hour and spend an hour in line and drive another hour home and wait 5 days for a result. We told jokes and dissed our old boyfriends and what all and what all, until she made it home.
So, after a long walk to the river I come home and turn on the TV. A sure sign of imminent insanity and the need for a telementalhealth phone call. Just in time to hear the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth tell people that perhaps they could inject disinfectant into their bodies to get rid of the virus. Oh, and the Governors of the Democratic States should just declare bankruptcy. There was more, but my barf bag overflowed and I had to disinfect my body with alcohol.
Day 41 4/24/2020
Dear Covid: I don’t mean to be presumptuous and interfere with your beautiful wickedness, but could you show the love to our President and give him a big hug and a juicy kiss from all of us? Thanks. R
Day 42 4/25/2020
934,730 cases in the US. 53,280 deaths. Just looked back to Day 1 of this journal: 1300 cases, 141 deaths. “That’s too many,” the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth said at the time. Thank God he cancelled flights from China (to all but 40,000 people subsequently).
Last week the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth said we have to open up our country, that he liked the protesters in the streets. Today he has hedged his bets, saying he doesn’t agree with “some” States who have opened up “too soon.” He “could tell them what to do because I can, but I can’t because it’s their decision”.
So the Governor of Georgia is opening hair salons, gyms, spas and tattoo parlors. (Makes you wonder what he’s wearing under that suit, don’t it?)
One of the amazing (Only one? you say.) things about this time is that it is SPRING in the Garden State. Fucking beautiful. I walked through a “poetry garden” with Eliane today. Beautiful setting with grassy trails and placards of poetry every 10-15 yards. Lovely to walk along reading poems. We sang when we got to Joni Mitchell’s “Clouds.”
Day 43. 4/26/2020
Rainy Sunday. I got my times all mixed up, thought I was doing something with Gregg at 8:30 so got up and got ready, then remembered that 8:30 for him was 11:30 for me, so I putzed around until then, but at 11:30 he wanted to move it to 5:30, oh dear, oh dear. None of us can keep time or date straight these days. No Mondays, no weekends, no clocks in the virtual world.
I drank the last of the Scotch I had saved for the ceremony and painted as I waited, listened to the Sunday shows on NPR. All of the programs were about Loneliness. Every single one of them opened by saying, “Many people are experiencing loneliness.. Today’s program will be about loneliness. If you are isolated and feeling lonely, know that we are in this together.” PEOPLE, please, are you LISTENING to yourselves?
I call it the impermeable bubble. I struggle against the bubble, you know. Even when I know I can’t pop it from the inside to release myself. I project my thoughts of future liberation onto coffee shops: Everything will be ok when I can walk to get a coffee. I confess that I have an old (now ratty and barely holding its shape) cardboard Starbucks cup that I sometimes fill and walk around the plaza early in the morning. I keep hoping someone will come up to me and say, Where did you get that? but of course, we don’t “come up to” each other these days, we cross the street to avoid each other, we don’t initiate conversation. I am going to allow myself a moment of self-flagellation here, if you will indulge me:
I HATE THIS FUCKING SHIT!!
OK, I’m done.
At 5:30 we did hold a Tibetan Sheetro (sp?) for the dead. This consists of an hour-long chant to help the dead pass through the Bardo and re-unite in the Oneness. We did this ceremony weekly for a year for Glenn after he died. Today I wept as Gregg chanted, for my family, for all those connected to them, for New York and the inestimable grief emanating from the city, for me. I felt weird when I prayed for myself, like who am I and really, is it all about me? I got a funny response from the Cloud of Witness saying, Of course it’s about you, dear, you’re the one still separated from us., you’re still there.
Steph sends me video of all the “wild” animals who are in the cities now. Funny and magical and dear.
Day 44 4/27/2020
I have found a new route down to the river and back. Down the side streets past elegant Princeton houses with their manicured lawns, down past school playing grounds and a large open space inhabited by Canadian geese and robins, down around a corner to a forest road, over a stream, on to the tree stump where I sat on my first walk to find the river a year ago. Beautiful all the way. I sit on the stump, look at the river (a lake, really, at this point) and make odd scribbles in my little pocket notebook.
After banging against the isolation bubble all weekend, I have a people day: four long calls, several hysterically funny videos from afar. My friend and healer, John D. works with me on my problem with stalling out when I write. I tell him I can be working along, making progress, when the slightest thing—bathroom trip, coffee re-fill, blues song on the radio—causes me to stop for a minute or two AND NOT BE ABLE TO START AGAIN. Like flying along in a little bi-plane and the engine starts to sputter and you know you’re going to crash. And you do. And you can’t get going again, sometimes for the rest of the day or even two days. Not quite writer’s block, because the text keeps flowing into my brain, but the gas line is clogged, and the plane goes down. I tell him I think it is because I have no feedback. Nobody cares if I write or don’t write. No one is reading this.
An old Jewish joke: A blind man is handed a matzo, turns it over in his hands and says, “Who writes this shit?”
John helps me access a companion, gives me a three-step process to use when I feel like I’m about to get stuck. After the call I work for three straight hours.
We’re probably going to hit 1,000,000 cases tomorrow. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth is stalling in getting test kits to the States. I think he doesn’t want the numbers to go up. If we find out there are more cases, and especially if we find out we’ve massively undercounted deaths, he won’t be able to claim that he has saved 2 million lives by closing off air travel from China, “except for Americans. We had to bring them home.” (Americans could not transport “Chinese” viruses, you know.) From “War President” to “Savior” in one easy press conference. One of the newscasters has tears in his eyes as he asks the camera, “When will this end?”
Day 45 4/28/2020
The Vice President of the Greatest Nation on Earth visits the Mayo Clinic. There he stands in all his coiffed glory, surrounded by masked doctors and nurses AND PATIENTS in the hospital. Great photo op, hey? Can’t miss this. The Vice President of the Greatest Nation on Earth, did I say in the middle of the MAYO CLINIC?—stands amid them all without a mask. He justifies this by saying he doesn’t have the virus, he feels fine, quotes an arcane, proven irrelevant CDC statement that the mask is to protect you against the spread, omits the CDC’s current statement that the masks are to keep YOU from infecting OTHERS you officious TWAT.
We hit a million today.
Covid 19, 2020
In a way, we don’t want it to end,
not the sickness but the silence.
We don’t want to come out from our exile
if it means the animals will disappear again.
We don’t want to break our isolation
if we lose this., this holy moment,
its bright clear air,
green unobstructed rivers,
vistas of the Himalayas from India,
St. Kilda from Lewis,
stars from Fraser’s porch in Inverness.
We miss each other, we lovers,
but we hate as well.
We hate up to those in power,
we hate down to those who pluck our chickens.
Some get. Some don’t.
If I get sick, I don’t want to get.
If I don’t get means I don’t get food, I don’t want to not get.
We hate the cities
with all their death,
we hate “foreigners” who brought this to us,
we hate the scientists for not making a cure.
We hate the governments
and the self-crowned princes.
We hate, and the list goes on.
Yet in a way we don’t want it to end,
this bird call unmuted,
this fox on an urban street,
this outrageous sexy blossoming
this joyous, preposterous epiphany who slithers under doorways
and kills us.
Some of us get fat, some starve.
Some look in the mirror and notice their waists thickening
and their eyebrows bushing.
Some look in the mirror and see
1200 cars behind them at the food bank.
Some of us are sick and tired of our kids.
Some of us are running out of diapers and formula
In a way we don’t want it to end.
What that means is, we don’t want to witness the end.
We want our lives back—not their lives, ourlives, let’s be clear—but
we want this glistening day without us
to go on and on.
Those of us afraid of death salute the “heroes”
who keep us alive.
Yet some of us, anyway,
the some of us that includes me and mine,
some of us want Nature Gaia to win.
Day 46 4/29/2020
The Estimable Son-in-Law of the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth, totally expressionless, totally wrinkle-free, totally clean looking, like a blow-up dolly after a bath, stands before us to proclaim, of their handling of the covid crisis: “It is a great success.” Again, I ask, Who writes this shit?
Riots in the streets. People with flags and Uzis and sleeveless tees showing pit hair and muscles, proud and loud and jubilant in their courage, sing out that they have lost their liberty, that they are locked up by deep government against their will, that they are forbidden to work. (I want to say that it is sorta amazing that they now love work.). It’s been a monthyou tattooed wusses. One month. By what standard of bravery and patriotism, what historical measure, what comparison with Andersonville, the Somme, the Sands of Iwo Jima or any other glorified “sacrifice for the land of the free,” by what conceivable American hero myth does one month hold aught but derision? So you cash your “stimulus check” from “deep government,” and you use the cash to buy gas for your jacked-up red truck and bullets for your big dick gun and a coupla gigantic red-white-and-blues, and you go outside to riot for the right to go outside. Put your cock back in your pants and go feed your kids. Jesus.
Day 47 4/30/2020
The eve of Beltane. Two years ago Beltane, I walked up the Tump with a bunch of hoo-ha ebullient Druids, watched the men fake a sword fight, shared mead from a passed cup. Not this year. Oh well.
I spend the entire morning cleaning my apartment. Everything. Bathroom. Ugh. Dusting. Big Ugh, always hated dusting. Change the couch cushions around, put a new cover on. Laundry. Compelled to honor the change of season. I take my big crystals out of their sock pouches, where they’ve been since Calanais in December. (For years now, I haven’t taken my crystals out except at Calanais) Now they are recharging in a bowl of water mixed with Purple Heather Salt I bought at a weird little Highlands store with Fraser. I was supposed to go to Scotland this weekend for a month. Homesick.
Once the house is clean and the crystals are cooking I take a walk around the block. A storm is brewing up. Wind gusts in the 30s. The sky is a strange silver color, like it’s trying to send a message: when it comes, baby, it’ll come. Once back inside, I lay on the couch and read the New Yorker and damned if I’m not homesick for New York now.
There is a mystery here somewhere: homebound and homesick. The answer lives at the bottom of Grendel’s lake, I spose:
At night that lake
Burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom,
No wisdom reaches such depths. A deer,
Hunted through the woods by packs of hounds
A stag with great horns, though driven through the forest
From faraway places, prefers to die
On those shores, refuses to save its life
In that water. It isn’t far, nor is
It a pleasant spot!
Beowulf,trans. by Burton Raffel (found in Robert Bly’s News of the Universe)
I turn off the radio and put down the magazine and listen to the silence. Wait for the rain.
Day 48 5/1 2020 Beltane
I write to Philip: In your Tea you noted that although it is Beltane we are having a Samhain experience. True here in Princeton where although the earth is in full, glorious bloom, the grief emanating from NY and NJ is palpable. Like a psycho/spiritual pole shift. We go out into these gorgeous days and find ourselves in the garden of Sheol.
I spend the middle of the day writing a lesson on Immanence and Imminence and the worldviews of the pre-Christian Celts and the early Christians: relationship to God in Nature and direct relationship with God as man. Later, on my walk to the river I think about what I have written. I imagine if one had to choose a theology, between Immanence: God in and of everything, me surrounded by God, inside and outside.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Ps 27:13
Look at the animals roaming the forest:
God’s spirit dwells within them.
Look at the birds flying across the sky:
God’s spirit dwells within them.
Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass:
God’s spirit dwells within them.
Look at the fish in the river and sea:
God’s spirit dwells within them.
There is no creature on earth
in whom God is absent…
When God pronounced that his creation was good,
it was not only that his hand had fashioned every creature;
it was that his breath brought every creature to life.
Look too at the great trees of the forest:
Look even at your crops.
God’s spirit is present within all plants as well.
The presence of God’s spirit in all living things
is what makes them beautiful;
And if we look with God’s eyes,
nothing on the earth is ugly.
Imminence: God’s coming, God’s awareness of me, God willing to come to me in my time of trouble.
Ask and you will receive John 16:24
Why are you afraid, have you no faith? Mark 4:40
I thought if one did have to choose wouldn’t one opt for the Celtic world, the immanence of the gorgeous natural world? BUT, if God is in and of everything, then God is in the virus. And when the virus is with us, we feel that God is far from us, we reach out, praying fervently for imminence, for God to come, come Lord Jesus, come save us, come and take us into your care, come, take this plague from us and heal us. As if God were waiting to be called, and we are waiting for deliverance. Any minute now.
In these covid days, I walk and think: simplistically, Immanence is a world in which I have Trust in the created world around me; imminence is a world in which I must have Faith in a better world to come. Is that it?
Day 49 5/2/2020
A lovely day. Too nice to stay indoors. I walk to Lillipies and meet Eliane for a donut picnic. We sit in the sun and talk for a long time. About religion, about sin, about stuff. I walk home, snitching a couple of sprigs from a lilac bush in someone’s yard on Hamilton Street. I purchased a loaf of beautiful, crusty German sourdough bread at the bakery and could hardly wait to get home to toast thick slices. Alas, I forgot that I don’t have a bread knife. I spend what must look like a rather hysterical fifteen minutes trying to cut the bread with a little paring knife. Everyone in the world is making home videos right now, here was my chance to be a star.
I talk with P and S on Zoom. I talk with Gregg on FaceTime. In between I walk out into the Princeton cemetery and look at headstones and trees. Comforting to walk among all the dead people, their headstones evidence that they were once loved and remembered, but 120 years have passed here for many of them, and now they are simply weathering,
1,100,000 cases in the US now, 1000 times the number when I started this journal 49 days ago.. Should I stop recording this?
I turn on one of my favorite TV anchors, Rachel Maddow, who gets thinner and shriller with every broadcast, looks like she is having a mental and emotional meltdown in front of our eyes. Gregg says it’s because she can’t do her schtick anymore—the brave investigative reporter, the crusader—but is relegated to repeating the same sad story night after night from a fake stage in her home in Massachusetts. Cut off from New York, angry, grieving.
Another anchorman, Anderson Cooper, has a baby boy. The Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, has a baby boy. Two little fellas coming in right in the middle of all this. I have always been conscious of the fact that I was born a week after D-Day. Coming in against the enormous wave of people going out. Here’s to you, little ones.
Day 50 5/3/2020
Early, early in the morning, misty, almost raining, sun sleeping in behind the overcast. I go downstairs in my pajamas and tennies, take a cuppa coffee in my Highlands cup, sit on the top stair of the rickety porch, and listen. Mourning doves flirting on the wires, house sparrows making a racket from their bush—there must be a hundred of them in there., sounds like a Bronx hi-rise on a hot Saturday afternoon. Robins puffing their colored bosoms as they trill to one another. Or maybe like snake-charmers they are singing the worms up. Nobody speaks Robin around here, so we’ll never know. I walk across and break a twig of pink blossoms off one of the neighbor’s trees, stand in the empty street, last human alive.
I never do turn on the fucking television.
Day 51 5/4/2020
I write a letter to my friends:
Hello my dear friend. In answer to your enquiries I thought I would give you a “report from the field,” like a foreign correspondent writing for a paper back home. Indeed, in a strange way, that is how I feel—far away from home. Which is odd, since I have been in lock down for over 7 weeks.
Here in Princeton the earth is in full, glorious bloom, every tree and flower in full blossom, every color you could imagine of tulip, varieties of daffodils, magnolia trees in pink and dark pink and white, dogwoods, cherry blossom, flowers I cannot name. The river and the canal are full of placid green water. Birds are everywhere—there must be over a hundred sparrows in the pricklebush outside my window, bluebirds, Canadian geese, herons you can walk up to as long as you maintain social distance. The dawn chorus, heard in the absence of traffic, is loud and intense. I walked into the empty plaza, which is shaped like a U of buildings, and one bird was singing to his own magnified echo, like Pavaroti warming up for the Met. A fox appears in my neighborhood. I walk for miles every day, marveling at the intense beauty.
Ever present, the grief emanating from NY and northern NJ is palpable. We go out into these gorgeous days and find ourselves in the garden of Sheol.
Stay at Home. Maintain Social Distancing. Shelter in Place. Wear a mask if you must go out. Wear gloves if you must go into a store. If someone is coming toward you on the sidewalk, cross to the other side of the street. Do not gather. Sanitize regularly, even though hand sanitizer, wipes, Clorox, alcohol, paper towels, toilet paper, gloves, and masks have not been available since mid-March, use them regularly to keep yourself safe.
I live in a beautiful apartment in the center of town. Within a two-block radius there is a Public Library, a small movie theater, an independent bookstore, a Starbucks, another trendier Small World coffee shop, and a huge magnificent world-famous prestigious old endowed Nobel Prize winning international cutting-edge research institution—Mother Princeton. All of these are closed and empty. It is possible to get takeout food from Panera and one or two other places but you have to call ahead, pay on the phone, and walk to pick it up (and it is generally cold, bland, and almost too disgusting to eat.). I go to Whole Foods every 10 days, where I encounter live human beings sometimes for the only time that week.
All socializing is mediated. I talk to people on Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, FaceTime, text and email. Everyone appears from the waist up, a myriad of beloved talking heads. (I have to go outside to see a whole bodied person.) Sometimes someone will call on the phone which feels realafter all the screen time. I have not been touched by another person for 51 days.
I take yoga classes and attend a writer’s group meeting online. My brother and I have Happy Hours and get somewhat plastered together—3000 miles apart. The NPR station broadcast a whole day of programming on “Loneliness.” EVERY program started and ended with the cooing voice of the presenter saying, “If you are lonely, we want to let you know we are there with you.” Jesus! This may go down as the oxymoron of millennium.
Prescription for Stayin Sane*
1. Have a routine. Get up and dressed each day as if sojmeone is watching. No one’s watching.
2. Have a project. Something you have wanted to get done and haven’t had time. It is possible to vacuum under the refrigerator.
3. Avoid excessive online shopping. Not counting new bras and crossword puzzle books.
4. Find a creative outlet and pursue it. Art supplies are available online.
5. If possible (meaning you a viable credit card) order your groceries online—stay safe at home and let the delivery people take the risk for you.
6. Take a class. Zoom classes are fun, watching all the people trying to make Zoom work, seeing all the neckage.
7. Learn a language. (There are basic classes in every language, including Fuckthisshit on YouTube.com)
8. Reach out to your loved ones. Especially those who are sheltering in their patios with their dogs and a glass of wine.
9. Exercise every day. Dancing to the Blues on jazz radio counts. Avoid “Lonely Avenue” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Trust me on this one.
10. Eat healthily. We suggest a daily menu of kale and noodles. Or kale and rice. Or kale soup. Monitor your kale supply. Order more on Amazon’/Whole Foods online.
11. Drink moderately. But drink, for God’s sake.
12. Practice meditation or Centered. Prayer. Entering the silence in your silent apartment is therapeutic.
13. Learn to tweeze your own eyebrows and pedicure your own feet. You can do this.
14. Limit screen time. Prioritize Zoom, YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, FaceTime, Netflix, email, texting, and the Rachel Maddow evening meltdown. Avoid briefings by the War President of the Greatest Nation on Earth.
15. Stay informed. Watch videos of rich white people on the Upper West Side talk about how hard it is to take care of their own kids.
16. When you start talking to yourself excessively, tell yourself to SHUT THE FUCK UP.
17. Whatever else, DO NOT, repeat DO NOT attempt to get a covid test because there are none, and for God’s sake, DO NOT go to the hospital if you are sick. Stay home and treat your own fucking self. (See steps 1-16) (You can’t get in without a covid test anyway.)
*None of these work.
I love you and miss you. Expecially from the waist dowm. You can come out of the computer now, I don’t bite.
RJ. Princeton Cinco de Mayo 2020
Day 52 5/5/2020
1,200,000. Cinco de Mayo. Ah the good old days of tequila and lime and chips on the beach in Venice. Cheap joints. Flip flops, baggy shorts, Spanglish as the mother tongue. Gunshots in the night as partyers fired into the air to celebrate. East LA one big felicidad. Nobody in their right mind would drive after 4pm.
I wake up revved and ready to go. I write, I study, I take a yoga class, I write some more. Late in the afternoon I take a super long walk, too long really, because I am so tired when I get home I skip my online writers’ group and crawl into bed.
It’s funny, this isolation. (My sister always used to ask, “Funny ha ha or funny weird?” Not funny ha ha, definitely funny weird.). No matter what the day brings, the inner Committee meets to analyze and score my behavior. Did I accomplish anything? Did I keep my morale up? I seem to follow myself around with an invisible checklist that will be evaluated at the end of the day. I think I don’t want to give in to the virus, to the news, to depression, to mourning. I’m in a battle with my own self, since I don’t have anyone else to do a check in. How was your day, dear? Fuck.
Day 53 5/6/2020
The opposite of yesterday. Couldn’t get going at all in the morning. I did my yoga class and then spent most of the day on the couch. This gave the Committee a lot to talk about: Am I sick? Is this covid? Or am I just old? Or am I depressed? What about my promises to myself to dosomething, yada, yada, yada.
At 4:00 I got up and went to Whole Foods and Trader Joes. It was rainy so nobody was out. How bloody weird is it that a trip to the grocery store is a BIG DEAL. Reminds me, alas, of the last weeks of Glenn’s life when going to Whole Food was the only thing he wanted to do. Please, let’s not go down that road!!!
The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth has disbanded the Coronavirus Task Force, no wait! He’s decided to re-open it because somebody told him it was popular. He’s out travelling now, bragging about how the States are bravely re-opening our economy, The Best in The World, even though the CDC says we can anticipate 3000 deaths a day if we aren’t careful. WE will have to endure some pain, says the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth; as, unmasked (Masks make you look weak.), he bravely changes the estimate of 60,000 more deaths by August to 100,000. You will have to decide how much death and suffering you are prepared to bear in order to get back what you want for normality, says Dr. Fauci.. We’re pretty sure Fauci will be fired soon, he has already been banned from testifying to the House of Representatives. Ve Vill Haff No Bad News.
Someone said if the Aliens landed now, what a shitty thing it would be to hear them say
Take me to your Leader.
Day 54 5/7/2020
Headline on the morning feed:
Woman Killed in Alligator Attack Was Manicurist on a House Call During South Carolina Lockdown
Now I know that God has a sense of humor. C’mon, 3,232,061 cases and 264,356 deaths worldwide, 74,581 in the Greatest Nation in the World, and she gets eaten by an alligator. I hope she was wearing a mask.
Day 55 5/8/2020
The War President of the Greatest Nation on Earth has now announced, using his pursed pink lips as a megaphone, flirting right into the camera, cock assumedly standing at attention, that those of us who die as the Greatest Economy on Earth re-opens are WARRIORS.Like all good and brave generals he proudly offers us to die for our country. Us. Let’s be clear on that. Us WARRIORS. Us black and brown and white-haired WARRIORS.. Over the top and into the fuckin’ fray. There’s even kid WARRIORS now. Let the Blue Angels fly over our deeply honored and highly stacked bodies.
I can’t go on.
Day 56 5/9/2020
Ok, you may not believe this, but here’s what the War President of the Greatest Nation on Earth said when he found out that one of the people in the White House tested positive for covid:
I don’t understand. She tested negative the day before and the day before that. Something must have happened.
My friend Stephanie says, “You can’t make this shit up.” To which I respectfully respond, “At this time, and henceforth, there is absolutely, quintessentially, no need to make anything up.”
Me, I’m ordering a shitload more art supplies.
Day 57 5/10/2020 Mothers’ Day
Acutely conscious of the distress of Mother Earth this day. Fragment of a morning conversation with God:
~~ Tried to watch TV last night but couldn’t take the unending stream of bad news, false prophets, conspiracy theories—some quite frightening. The War President of the Greatest Nation on Earth launching his re-election campaign of disinformation and vicious lies to stoke the fires of hatred. I feel like I am spending all my energy re-organizing and re-mapping my days, my projects.
---You are “spending” your “energy” (capitalist conception) on meaning-making. Trying to make sense of the enormity outside and the uncertainty inside. Know this, beloved, you will NOT be able to SOLVE this or FIX this or UNDERSTAND this. This is the predicted polar shift, the tsunami, the Right Hand of God, the Grapes of Wrath. If at all possible, and of course with US everything is possible…
~~ I lost the thread.
---You have automatic limitations (veils) that drop into place when the concepts are incomprehensible to your mind.
~~To understand I would have to die, right?
--- Beware of thinking that the death of your body will somehow “free” you, allow you to get out of this mess and observe safely from the bleachers on the other side of the river.
o Those on the “other side” are working strenuously, passionately and compassionately with you and with Mother Earth at this time.
o Leaving your body, acceding to the disease, would be a form of martyrdom. Stay where you are.
o You do not have to “be prepared to” die. You have already died—many, many times. Assume that and take up the burden of these “times” in this “place.”
The human mind may devise many plans,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.
Proverbs 19: 21
Today’s morning reading contained this wistful poem:
One day people will touch and talk perhaps easily,
and loving be natural as breathing,
and warm as sunlight;
and people will untie themselves,
as string is un-knotted,
unfold and yawn and stretch and spread their fingers;
unfurl, uncurl, like seaweed returned to the sea.
And work will be simple and swift
like a seagull flying;
and play will be casual and quiet
as a seagull settling.
And the clocks will stop, and no-one
will wonder or care or notice,
and people will smile without reason,
even in the winter,
even in the rain.
A.S.J. Tessimond. CDPII, p 1480
Day 58 5/11/2020
Well, let’s see. We haven’t checked the numbers for a few days. Not quite two months since we were at 1,200 with 147 deaths, we are today at 1,345,307 with 80,239 deaths. Covid now in the White House—some gigantic lady in an ankle-length choir robe just whooped, Hallelujah! I know, I know, that wasn’t nice. And being nice is so fucking important right now.
I write, I walk, I think. Today is a two-crossword-puzzle day. Slippage. I’ve worked my way through all the novels in the house, re-read some of Moriarty. Oh, for just an hour in the Labyrinth Bookstore. But…
Big news. I ordered two new bras and they came. And they’re purple. Not old lady purple, Black girl going to the parTAY purple. I’m thinking of putting one on and walking back and forth in front of my window, or, wait, maybe wearing one and taking the trash out. Somebody notice me! Look! A purple bra!
Oh, never mind.
Day 59 5/12/2020
Of late I have been envious of my friends who are busy all day. So today I have a busy day: morning studies, Centered Prayer group (virtual), yoga class (Zoom), talk with Ed (FaceTime) in the morning. I work on my project all afternoon—still thinking and re-thinking and re-shuffling the parts. Around 5, I go outside for the first time, step aside to avoid a person on the sidewalk, who calls me by my name. (You have no idea what a phenomenon this is.) It’s my neighbor from the bird people across the street. We stand, the requisite 6 feet apart and chat for a few minutes. I walk on, heading north along Witherspoon until I find myself in front of the little pizza joint they told me about. Well hey, I can order a pizza. (You have no idea, etc., etc.). So, I stand outside and order a pizza in a fraught phone call to the fraught lady inside, then sit on a bench by the little creek to wait for it, listening to Peter Owen-Jones chanting evening prayer.
I return to the pizza place and there are other people waiting. Masked. Two of us wait outside because there is another customer inside. A man comes along and pushes past us and goes in. The new American normal: fuck lines, fuck polite, just get me in and out of here (ahead of you bozos). Well, I get my little pizza eventually, but I am uncomfortable in there. A woman next in line pushes up close to me while I am checking out, eager to get herpizzas. (They should make tee shirts saying, I AM THE NEW NORMAL so we will know to step aside.) I tell her to stand back. She bristles. I take my pizza box outside and start to walk home down the middle of the street. The box is warm in my hands. A hawk circles above me, circles and looks, circles and looks. Come out, my pretty little mousey.
The pizza is cold by the time I get home, but I eat it anyway with a glass of wine. I can attest to this: pizza with people is celebratory; pizza alone is just food.
As I eat, I watch a bearded, bedraggled Senator harass Dr. Fauci in a (virtual) hearing. Fauci says it ain’t over, and it will get worse due to opening up too soon, he’s deeply concerned, and now 137,000 deaths are predicted by August, and the Senator leans into the microphone and says, ‘Who do you think you are? Do you think you are the only one who gets to say what it is?’ Fauci says, ‘I’m a scientist.’ The estimable Senator says, ‘Well that doesn’t make you get to be right all the time.’ I’m proud to be an American at times like this, watching erudite, learned men in thoughtful , respectful discussion working on a major major major major problem in close collaboration. I think I will order the Senator one of those tee shirts.
Day 60 5/13/2020
Some models are predicting 147,000 deaths by August. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth has announced that the CDC is “inflating” the current numbers (3.3 million, 84k deaths) and must revise them down. Too high. Not good for re-election. We must have freedom, we must open up, we must have rallies!!! Is there a pit of vipers nearby where we can toss this guy? I had a friend a long time ago that liked to play a cocktail hour (read dope) game she called the Lava Drop. Imagine that there is a pool of molten lava—who would you like to drop in? You took turns, naming most politicians, most exes, most exes’ mothers, and warned the guy who was bogarting the joint that he might be next. Well, I think a lava drop might actually be better than just a puny pit of vipers. We could get more people in. That raggedy-assed Senator for one. Mitch McConnell. Yum.
We are starting to go out. Little picnics outside, six feet apart, masks down. Feeling daring.
I go to the labyrinth in the forest with my two dear friends. Another ancient wonder from the women’s group comes along. We meet up to drive over. She wants to ride in my car. Eeeek! We’ve been told not to get close to people, not to expose them unknowingly. I haven’t “sanitized” my car (not that we can get sanitizer, alcohol, wipes, or anything yet). I am trepidatious. But I can’t say no to her dear eager face with her lopsided mask. So we ride over together, talking. In the forest labyrinth, the day is gorgeous, dappled light caressing the stones, little drifting petals marking the paths. I look over as I walk and see my ancient friend lying down out in the middle off the sun-bright field of grass. At first I think, oh no, she’s collapsed, maybe she’s dead, but no, she is watching clouds. I’ve talked to her. She’s not afraid to die lying in a field with clouds, I shouldn’t worry. On the way home in my car she asks, Where are we going? I say, back to J’s house where your car is. Oh, she says, and I’m glad she didn’t drive out there by herself.
Day 61 5/14/2020
I think I have writer’s block. I struggle to spend time on my paper, look at it across the room and thrash myself for not working on it. I talk to a friend in Colorado who has just finished his book, and I lapse even further. I listen to a radio program where an expert of some sort is talking about stress. She lists the symptoms of stress: lack of focus, lowered attention span, vague feelings of unease, inability to complete a task. A light comes on—I don’t have writer’s block, I have stress. Life in the bubble of these beautiful spring days does not mitigate the looming horror just outside of it. There is a subliminal stress in keeping all that horror at bay and concentrating on the positive. I tell myself to lighten the fuck up.
The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth says he’s questioning the need for tests. Why? Because “the more tests, the more cases.” We just need to open the economy NOW, get a vaccine produced at WARP SPEED and let this HIDDEN ENEMY “go away.”
Note to future readers: I have said this before, but I must re affirm: I am not making this shit up.
Day 62 5/15/2020
The season turns. Suddenly it’s summer. 85 outside and sunny. I wear shorts. I have two “picnic” meetings. Real human contact. Real human conversation un-screened. I sit in the funny wooden chairs on the edge of the campus and laugh uproariously with my friend Ryan, whom I have not seen for weeks. I meet my yoga teacher Shirin and another woman from class at Lillipies for a donut out in the shopping center plaza. Here’s a funny thing: Lillipies is the name of a little boutique bakery. I think I talked about it in this journal at some point. Anyhow, you know how when you text someone, your phone auto-corrects? Well, I got a text from a friend that read LET’S MEET AT LILLY’S THIGHS. So now we call it Lilly’s Thighs and laugh. Feels good to start laughing with people.
I turn on the news in the evening. The pundits on both CNN and MSNBC are openly calling the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth ‘idiot,’ ‘imbecile,’ ‘incompetent,” ‘immoral,’ ‘unfit,’ and without human compassion, etc. etc. etc. These sentiments have been the undertone for a long time. Now the words are spoken aloud, facing the camera. Though I agree with them, I am not sure this will help. I’m not sure what will help.
I think this is the sticking point of my paper—I no longer am content simply to look back to the mythic Celtic past, to the little saints in their boats, without offering up some way to tie this in to where we are now, where we are going, what’s to be done, where we long to be. My paper seems somewhat iterative and nostalgic without a path forward.
Day 63 5/16/2020
I meet a friend at Lillie’s Thighs for a donut. Beautiful breezy morning. I wear a brand-new pair of shorts that I bought the day before all the stores shut down. We chat. Lovely. I spill half a cup of coffee on my new shorts. You can’t take me anywhere.
After morning yoga, I set out to write on my paper again. I work for a couple of hours and feel frustrated. Take a break. Philip calls. I tell him I don’t like the paper, I’m not happy with writing a nostalgia piece about a world in the mythical past. I tell him I have been thinking about not finishing it. I tell him I am angry and want to write about how this relates to NOW. He says, “Brilliant!” What?? Could you repeat that please? Maybe about twenty times? Fifty? I’m so charged up by this that as soon as we are off the call I put on my shoes and practically run to the river. I stridealong the tow path saying Wow! Wow!
Day 64 5/17/2020
Still excited by my project. I take the notes from Philip’s call and sit on the porch in the early morning sun and make notes. I work upstairs for 4 hours without stopping—working on pull quotes, making an invisible “box”—topped with a crystal ball—for each section. I gather all the books for a bibliography. I don’t actually write anything, but I am thinking, thinking.
I take a break at around 4. My friend Nic calls from California. Full of news and laughs (recent article says covid can be transmitted by farts) about her Extinction Rebellion Zoom calls, her need to take half a day off to re-decorate the ferret room. (She’s bought them new comforters.) I miss California.
I take a walk in the late afternoon along Nassau Street. Lots more people out, even though we are still under shelter-in-place rules. Some wear masks but lots don’t—well hey! the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth, speaking from his golf course, says they make you look like a wuss. You don’t want to look like a wuss, now, do you? C’mon. It’s over. Death toll now north of 90,000.
Day 65 5/18/2020
The best part of the day is sun-up. The light fills the room gradually, the birds chirp louder and louder, the smell of coffee wafts, the little candle glows. Everything en potentia. Today I will do this. Today I will study, I will be productive. Today I willcreate.There is room for all of this and more this glorious day. Delicious.
Does anybody remember Cootie Catchers? We used to create them by folding and refolding pieces of paper, then putting our fingers in the folds and manipulating them like a “mouth,” like Pac-man, to capture cooties—undefinable bad things from other kids mostly. Well, if you don’t remember, that’s ok, but I would say that each day becomes a cootie catcher, snatching intention, motivation, purpose, even inspiration out of the air until at some point there’s nothing left of the glorious glow of morning and I find myself in the “flattening of the curve” of the afternoon and the ennui of sundown and the self-critical paralysis of evening.
I’m not the only one dealing with a Cootie Catcher. Running from the Cootie Catcher makes us want to break out, open up, return to the way it was. There’s a guy in a silver pickup with a gigantic flagpole in the truck bed on which a gigantic American flag streams as he drives up and down and around the empty streets of Princeton. He can feel the maw of the Cootie Catcher nipping close behind, I’m sure. I am also sure that his wife is massively grateful to have him out of the house for a while.
Day 66 5/19/2020
Sometimes during the creative process, I can feel “the feed” coming in, like a string of light-words flowing in from somewhere else and pushing to get out. I’ve started illustrating my journal with little cartoons of me with a hole in my head and a hole in my chest. The light-words flow into my head and out through my heart. I have the feed all day today: can’t stop it during Centered Prayer, end up making notes and more notes during the session; can hardly concentrate during yoga, turn my chair around the wrong way more than once. I head out right after class and walk through to the end of the cemetery and back with the wind blowing and clacking in the trees. When I get in I write for 4 hours without stopping. Only when I stop do I realize that I, who has fought silence for weeks, never turned on the radio.
Day 67 5/20/2020
Another day bumping along in the ruts of the road called creative process. Like driving out to the farm in my Grandpa’s truck—what makes me think of that? The old vehicle rattling and banging, slewing around the deepest ruts in the dirt road, a pheasant flashing at the side off to the side, dust following us like a contrail, announcing to neighbors that “Someone’s coming, we better heat up the coffee pot.” “Oh, that’s just George going out to the farm. Same as always.” I remember looking at my Grandpa’s hands on the wheel, so big, then at my own, so girly. That ride was heaven for me. I can still smell the Nebraska air. Writing isn’t heaven; I’m pushing, pushing. Driving the truck, not riding in it. I think I need to change my perspective, “enter the kingdom as a little child.”
At the end of the day I find myself at loose ends. I can’t stand the news (conspiracy theories and lies interchangeable, each more strident and phantasmagoric than the last), don’t want to watch my movie (Who cares how it ends?). I crawl into my bed at 8 pm with The Left Hand of Darkness and travel with Mr. Ai to the land of the Foretellers. In my sleep I hear the phrase, ‘we cling to our dearly held isms.’ Not sure that that’s supposed to mean.
Day 68 5/21/2020
OK, remember when I decided to go through a “Second Lent?” Well here it is, Day 40. So I guess it’s Easter II. No colored eggs, though, no surprise Easter Basket.
I wake up with a scratchy throat. I look in the mirror and my eyes are puffy. My nose is stuffy. In another time I would think ‘summer cold’ or ‘allergies,’ of course this is not that time, so I think ‘uh-oh.’ I get up and take a Claritin to see if this clears it up. It does. I take my temperature. 98. OK. Still, I bail out on the day’s plans to go for a ride with Eliane on her birthday. If it is uh-oh, I don’t want that to be my gift to her.
Day 69 5/22/2020
We are in shit trouble. Like watching a car accident, only we ARE the car accident. The President of the Greatest Nation on Earth, otherwise known The Laughingstock of the Known World (or the Orange Antichrist) commands, demands loyalty. Commands, demands that the “numbers are too high” so we must change them. Demands, commands that we go back to work. Fires anyone who does not agree with him, fires all the Inspectors General who once provided oversight. Hawks unproven medicines. Says they work, he’s taken them, forgets to add that he has stock in the company that makes it. Continues to spout that he “went in early” when he “closed off China,” when new studies show that his magical thinking and refusal to deal with reality caused up to 80% unnecessary deaths. He tells the people that the virus is a plot of the Democrats to keep him from being re-elected. He says we are going to come “roaring” back. The death toll (by all accounts undercounted) is over 96,000 and will no doubt cross 100,000 before June 1. Apocalyptic. It’s important to have rallies, he bellows, we need sports.
The CEO of Amazon has made $43 billion so far this year. 40 million Americans are out of work.
Foundering seas and impenetrable fog.
Day 70 5/23/2020
I write most of the day, pushing on, pushing on. I feel the call to go out into the soft wet day but stay in my scriptorium until 5:30. It is hard imposing discipline without the old rewards: Meet up for a beer after work? Who’s cooking tonight? Wanna go for a walk when you’re done? Why don’t you read me what you’ve written today while I fix us a drink? Oh, how great is the need for companionship at this time. Settling for masked donut picnics 6’ apart is better than it was two months ago, but not the real deal. If I laugh, no one hears me. If I cry, no one says, Don’t cry Dufelina.
Teryl, my yoga teacher in Colorado for so many years, and Rorie’s teacher for years before that, died in the night last night.
Day 71 5/24/2020
I set out to work on my project before I go outside. In my journal I draw a cartoon of me standing in the doorway with the green outside and the piles and books and computer inside. But I stay. I end up finishing a draft of the last of the “blocks” I set for myself and feel triumphant as I walk to the Lillipies picnic with Shirin and Miranda. I am pumped and talkative about my progress; Shirin laughs and talks about getting her online classes set up. Miranda says, Oh I don’t have a project. I just do what I want. Today I stayed in bed until noon. I wanted to shake her, say, NO, the virus eats sleepy people! Of course that isn’t true, and immediately I felt my own busyness-as-pushback syndrome. My own fear of “sleepiness,” of giving up, of incipient depression. I’m not writing, I’m fighting. Me, who wants to sit on a beach on Maui with an umbrella-ed drink in my hand, lazing and fucking away an afternoon with Glenn.
Covid19: we reached 100,000 deaths today and there are parties in swimming pools and bars all across America. You connect the dots.
Day 72 5/25/2020 Memorial Day
The New York Times prints 1000 names of the dead on its front page. Shocking to behold. And that’s only 1%. They would have needed 100 pages to name them all.
There is a certain rage. Nothing else to say. Rage. Born of fear and death and imminent food wars. I can feel it; it is in me as sure as the virus is in the world.
I go to Whole Foods and buy groceries. Good, fresh vegetables, coffee, the last package of noodles on the shelf. I spend $239. I unload my car and carry the food upstairs and as I unpack it and stuff my refrigerator I feel guilty and bad. Who am I? Who am I to have this luxury food when others wait in line for hours for a box from the food bank containing who-knows-what? My brother calls from Calfornia in the middle of the morning. He’s in his car. R, he says, ‘I just went grocery shopping and spent $500 and now I feel so guilty I can’t even take it into the house; I ate a breakfast burrito at the store and it was soooo good, and now I feel so bad. ‘ My friend John calls later in the day from Colorado and says, ‘R we went to Costco and bought all this food and on the way home I felt sick and sad and told my wife, how can we have all this food?’ I sit in the park and eat the Donuts of Privilege; and they taste so sweet and then turn to dust in my mouth.
The virus—the “hidden enemy,” the President of the Greatest Nation on Earth calls it, as he plays golf and tweets venom and plays golf again—the virus feels not like a disease but like sin. The noxious evil-smelling morass of our history. There is a certain rage. I pray, harder that I have ever prayed before.
Day 73 5/26/2020
Someday maybe, maybe on my 100th birthday, maybe, I will go back and read this plague journal. I think I am doing better about the isolation than when I didn’t think I could make it for two whole weeks without the library. Or Starbucks. But, as evidenced by the last few entries, I am angrier. Not How-dare-you-lock-me-up-and-take-away-my-freedom-and-make-me-wear-a-facemask-that-makes-me-look-like-a-wussy angry, but more like molten-lava-about-the-giant-cluster-fuck-of-it-all-especially-you-know-who angry. I get a morning feed from the NY Times on my phone every day. Every day they feature food porn pictures of yummie delicious-looking food you can prepare at home. Only they don’t mention that millions of people are in line at the food banks waiting for a box of who-knows-what, one per family, please, I know, I know, you have 8 kids, well you should have thought of that. Next, please. They don’t mention that the utility bill went unpaid and the power is cut off and you can’t cook, exactly. Or homeschool your kids on the computer with the wifi now dead. And, speaking of dead….well…
I sat in the plaza yesterday evening and edited my paper. There were small groups of onesy-twoseys at the tables. As I turned the pages and scribbled, I overheard a conversation between two men about football. Did you get that? I overheard a conversation. You know, people talking. Like at the table next to me. O res mirabile!
Day 74 5/27/2020
After a morning online yoga class I work all day on my writing project. I feel like a runner who can see the finish line, even though it is a long uphill away. John D and I talked about this. He’s been coaching me and he just finished a book of his own. The question? What to do after this project has ended. Aren’t we just fucking insane?
Another Black man murdered by the police.
The Orange Antichrist sits in his ovoid office and tweets conspiracy theories like a teenager on meth. Vulgar, lowlife, unsubstantiated but totally successful at diverting the media away from reporting his mental derangement and unutterable failures at managing this crisis. What if nobody reported nuthin’ about him, no pictures, no tweets, no nuthin’ for a fortnight. I wonder if he would melt from lack of attention. I wonder if they would find him babbling and drooling in front of his mirror, saying I AMthe fairest of them all. I AM. I AM. I AM. I AM. I AM.I AM. I AM. Everybody loves me. They all love me.
Day 75 5/28/2020
Looking at this I am flabbergasted that I am still “inside” after 75 days. I thought I would have lost it by now. Princeton is slowly opening up. More people on the sidewalks, more eateries selling take out from windows and doorways. More people sitting in the plaza, more little groups. Elsewhere in the state and in other states there is absolute madness with people crowding into pools and bars like it’s 1999. And maybe it is. Maybe a whole bunch more need to die. Or maybe the whole thing will slide away and disappear. Somewhere in the High Councils of the Angels and Archangels there is a case being presented before God. Can we all just please get a haircut and a mani-pedi before we are condemned to our fate?
Day 76 5/29/2020
Act II. The Riots. The Mad King tweets: “when looters, get shooters,” calls the enraged and grieving population of every major city “Thugs.” Time to call in the military, he says. Time to pad his cell, I say.
Day 77 5/30/2020
The riots intensify and spread to other cities. They show the video of the cop kneeling on the Black Man’s neck. Over and over and over. The white man kneeling on the Black Man’s neck as he says “I can’t breathe.” Over and over. And dies. And four cops stand around for 3 more minutes. Over the dead man. With people screaming and filming. THIS is America. The trumpets are blowing and the walls are coming down. And they show the video of the triumphant space launch. 3 minutes and they’re up. A triumph. I wonder if they passed the Black Man on the way, looked out the window and saw him climbing up the stairs. They don’t say. Rich enough to send people into space. But no money to feed our children. THIS is America.
You ask if I am bitter? Damn straight I am.
Day 78 5/31/2020
Millions of people on the march. White supremicists in among the throngs—they have a name, the Bugaloo Boys or some such hideousness. They come from all over to throw bottles and break windows and get the cops riled up. Their manifesto: to start a race war between the Blacks and the whites along the way to ethnically cleanse the country. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is a fact. The You-Know-What inside the asshole of the Beast tweets encouragement to them, says vile and despicable things, like We’re going to get Vicious Dogs, to the thousands of people in the street outside the White House, then hides in the bunker underneath.
I sit in the park with my yoga teacher and a white lady from the class. They make the mistake of asking what I think and I go OFF. Well, I say, here we are sitting in the park eating donuts and children are hungry in Newark and Trenton (15 miles either way). Well, she says, we CARE, but we don’t know what to DO. Send your $1200 stimulus check to the food bank, I say. Well, she says, I thought about it, for a minute but I didn’t. They say we white people don’t care, but we DO. I bet I couldn’t get 20 white people here to care enough to do something, I say. What do you mean? That’s not true, she says. What would you ask them to do? Send their stimulus checks to the food bank, I say. Oh, she says and says, I gotta go, and pedals away on her bike.
Hundreds of thousands of people marching. Every city in America is lit up. Another triumph: The Most Lit Up Country on Earth.
Am I het up? Oh hell yes. Think of all the baby Glenns getting beat up, tear gassed, shoved into walls, stomped on, cussed at and sent to jail tonight. Think of the cops accidently shooting a few, ooops!
If there’s a light somewhere,
turn it on
If there’s a lantern to be held high,
strike the match
If there’s a candle near the bed,
let it burn though the night,
for the forces of hate march
hand in hand
with the soldiers of lies.
If there’s a breath of air called peace,
let it seep from the crack where it is hidden.
If there is a Woman’s Way,
let women chant it now
for we grow ever more fearful.
Along the edges of the dark plain
men count the heads of the enemies they will slay
and bless the god who rides with them to battle.
What holds at the center of the circle?
if there’s a lamp to be lit,
bring an ember from the hearth…
set it to the wick…
breathe softly as the darkness creeps away
taking all these ghouls and madmen with it.
If there’s a lamp to be lit,
Day 79 6/1/2020
How do you write about the un-writeable? How do you speak about the unspeakable? How do we open our mouth if all that comes out is a shriek of lament? I believe, no I BELIEVE that what we are seeing is the filth of our underlying racism, no, RACE HATRED, coming out through the pores of our nation, oozing onto the screen, showing us WHO WE ARE and dear God, WHO WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN. A nation built on genocide, apartheid, lynching and institutionalized, systematic, unconscionable acts of sin perpetrated by the persons in power who look like me. I am sick and hurt and guilty and privileged. Millions of people, black and white, demonstrate in the streets of our cities, walking in shorts and tee shirts, cuz it’s summer. Out of those millions, a few throw stuff, break into a store, spray paint a building. Now those millions are “domestic terrorists” and the picture shifts. Footage of looters and arsonists and headlines about unleashed crime. And the self-proclaimed “Law and Order President” sics three sets of cops into a peaceable crowd, teargassing them, riding horses against them, driving cars into crowds, throwing fire bombs, tear gas, shooting rubber bullets to clear the way for His Fuckness to walk in a stately manner surrounded by a hundred guards to a church across the street to hold a Bible upside down in rubber-gloved hands and vow that he will bring the US military to bear against its own people. Hear Jeremiah witness the agony of God (Jer 4: 18-22) and weep.
Your ways and your doings
have brought this upon you.
This is your doom; how bitter it is!
It had reached your very heart.
My anguish, my anguish! I write in pain!
Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent;
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
Disaster overtakes disaster,
the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are destroyed,
my curtains in a moment.
How long must I see the standard,
and hear the sound of the trumpet?
For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;
they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.
Day 80 6/2/2020
I take a “house” day. Pay bills, dust, take my lease and the rent check down to my landord, pick up a coffee at Small World, work a puzzle, drive to Whole Foods for groceries. My concentration is shot. The tiny little man hides in his bunker and tells the Governors to DOMINATE the protesters and if they won’t DOMINATE, he will. Get out the studded whips, girls, we’re gonna party tonight, come here you bad little boy. What self-respecting leather queen can hold her head up tonight?
Abba Antony said:
The time will come when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane they will attack that person, saying: ‘You are insane, because you are not like us.” CDP I, 418
2000 years later, and the time has come.
Sick, sick, sickedy sick sick.
Day 81 6/3/2020
I walk up to Nassau & Witherspoon at 5 pm for a rally for George Floyd. We are going to kneel, so I’ve brought a small mat from the house. There are hundreds of us there. Mostly young, all colors. When it comes time we all kneel on the street for 8 min and 40 seconds, the time the Black man took to die with the cop’s knee on his neck while other cops watched. I’m on my little mat—I move to the side of it and offer the other half to the man next to me, who declines, as does his woman partner. I’m telling you that 8 min and 40 seconds is a very long time. A very sad long time, and all the Black people I have ever loved looked on, most of them from Heaven, since that’s their ‘hood now. At the end as I struggle to get up, the man next to me reaches down and takes my hand and pulls me up. His bare hand to my bare hand. So there it is. The first human touch in over 10 weeks and it’s a Black man in the middle of a vigil.
And there you have it.
DAY 82 6/4/2020
I spent the day editing and correcting and re-writing. Sent it off to Emma for formatting at 5. Philip called, said he was eager to see it. Me too.
I leave the radio off all day now, and only watch a bit of news after 9 pm. I am deeply moved, more than words can express, when I see the sea of marchers in 450 cities around the globe, the moving flow of millions of people walking walking walking day and night, day after day, night after night. It is magnificent to watch and as painful as a knife in the heart. We come to this.
Look, for the last 5 months we have seen pictures of covid patients struggling to breathe, plugged into ventilators, standing in line to get into the hospital: I can’t breathe. Now we have millions of people marching in the name of George Floyd, a man of color who died under the knee of a Fuck “under colors.” What does he say? What do the people marching chant day after day after day? I can’t breathe. This goes beyond irony.
My brother weeps as we talk late into the night. I watch as he receives a call—to go into the prisons and spread love. He talks of Ramakrishna. I think of Jesus.
Where am I going with all this? Hell, I wish I knew. I have poured my mind and heart into a paper that I call Confluence. I send it out as my manifesto, I suppose. My “papers” as well as my paper. This is me. This is what I think. I struggle to quell the voice that asks, Is it good enough? And God answers, Am I Not Enough?
Note to self: You cannot outwit God. Shut the fuck up.
Day 83 6/5/2020
My friend the astrologer texts me: Be very careful today. Full moon 3:44 pm eclipse Venus retrograde and other planets are unsteady. Even wild animals have no control. Be very careful. May run through all weekend…no safe place 15 degree Sagittarius and Gemini.
So I go blithely about on my day while cops beat up, shoot, and gas demonstrators for the 11thstraight day and night and the You-know-what of the Greatest Fuckup on Earth says the murdered Black man is looking down from heaven to smile on the drop in unemployment (“George is smiling down. It’s a good day for George.”) to only slightly higher than the Great Depression and the deaths from covid top 106,000 and there is an earthquake (tiny, just 5.5) in California and a hurricane bears down on Florida and an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building is set to pass tomorrow night. All is well.
Of course at 3:44—I didn’t even have to look at my watch—I completely crashed, totally emotionally freaked. Sat on the couch sobbing. Called my beleaguered brother who talked me down from the cliff: Don’t jump, you don’t want to miss the asteroid.
More bad news and live action appearances of ghouls from my sordid past until late at night I call my astrologer friend who is so reassuring: I told you so.
Day 84 6/6/2020
As a clear sign of my disintegrating mental health I read the news feed on my phone before I get out of bed. The Great Unnameable tells the interviewer, “I’ve done a lot for religion.“
Ja, sure, you betcha.
I listen to the ceremony of Philip transferring the Chosen Chief role to Eimer. It is so moving. I cry. But I have been crying all day by then. If this is Venus transiting, well, she is kicking my ass. I pour myself a wee dram at 3:30 in the afternoon and text Stephanie. She says she just poured one for Philip. This is the great boon of the virtual age: We can drink and cry together thousands of miles and an ocean apart.
Day 85 6/7/2020
A funny strange day, mostly worried, I s’pose. I paint a picture, take a walk. Sort of aimless after such a big push. Around 5 pm I go out for another walk and stop to say hi to my neighbor across the street. He invites me to come have a glass of wine. WHAT?!?! Socializing? With humans? Off screen? Lawd, Lawd, Lawd. So I sit in their back yard, yes we are careful to stay 6’ apart, drinking Two Buck Chuck. Eventually eating a rather horrid broccoli casserole. But we sat and we talked IN PERSON.. I’m telling you, 85 days is way way too long to stay isolated. We’re still very restricted here, 12,214 deaths in New Jersey and counting. But we sat together and laughed and talked and drank drek wine that tasted like heaven, halle-fuckin-lujah!
Day 86 6/8/2020
Again I worried. The paper still isn’t back from Emma. I am at loose ends. How bad is it, well, let’s just say I washed all the indoor windows and pulled weeds out of the pickle bushes out front. I walked down to the coffee shop and got an iced latte. Sat in the Catholic Cemetery and drank it amid all the dead Catholics, reading the foreign sounding names of long-dead immigrants. Stone angels. Shade trees. The gardener snoozing in his pickup with the motor on to run the air conditioning. Not a bad place to be on a summer day. No tv, no internet, no quotes from the Twitter-twat. Four former Commanders in Chief have denounced him publicly today. Who wants to hear all that? Who wants to watch police snuff videos? I start a new painting of a teeny tiny city with huge UFO’s coming through interplanetary space toward it. Waiting for the spacecrafts to dry I make an iced wine and fizzy water and take it to the plaza and read for a while. At 9 pm Emma sends the draft of the paper. Too late to start on it tonight.
Day 87 6/9/2020
The paper looks beautiful. I hold it to my chest and walk through the apartment crying.
myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I finish the picture of spacecraft coming in through the darkness of space.
I make an appointment to get a haircut on the first day the salon opens.
So, you see, the isolation ends, the paper is finished, things are returning to normal.
Oooops, another Black man is choked to death on camera.
America, America, God shed his grace on thee…
You know the rest.
Day 88 6/10/2020
Early. Muggy. Promises to be a hot sticky day. And fulfills that promise righteously. I walk out early with a cup of coffee in my hand. My summer habit—get out while the gettin’s good, as my Dad used to say. I walk up Nassau street. This is the week that New Jersey is supposed to “open up.” Come back with a roar as the cowardly lion in the White House likes to say, holding up fiddled numbers and altered charts. We gave up verbal truth months ago, but “the numbers don’t lie” t’was said. Well, now the numbers lie,
I digress. I walk up Nassau Street where stores have been closed up for months, only now there’s a difference: They aren’t closed up. They are CLOSED. Windows papered over, fixtures removed. The weird little shoe shore, CLOSED. Panera, CLOSED. The strange cigar store with a genuine Cigar Store Indian out front, CLOSED. A couple of storefronts that I can’t even remember what was in there, EMPTY. OFFICE SPACE AVAILABLE. I walk along and come to Starbucks and lo! And behold! It is OPEN. Iliane, the dancing barrista, standing behind a plastic sneeze shield, dispensing take-out orders. Around the corner Small World Coffee is OPEN. Come IN and get your take-out order, NO MORE THAN 4 PEOPLE IN THE STORE AT A TIME.
There was quite a bit of partying on Memorial Day weekend when the wee little emperor declared that AMERICA IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS. Then the demonstrations started (and continue). Now, of course, there is a surge in covirus cases in 19 states. (NJ isn’t one of them, we’ve BEEN surging—12,600 deaths so far.). Dr Fauci, who is now seen as a pariah says the US could reach 2,000,000 cases by August and deaths could top 200,000. Well, who knew?
Hold that thought: WHO KNEW?
Day 89. 6/11/2020
I put all the books back in the bookcase, take down the self-contract from the wall. It feels like I am packing up to leave my magical Writer’s Retreat in the Mountains, cleaning my cabin, getting ready to take my suitcase down to the bus stop. I probably should not have put a timeline, magical or otherwise to the retreat construct. Because, although I have tidied up, there is not suitcase. There is no bus stop. There is no bus.
I realize dimly, fuzzily, that I cannot nap my way through this. I can only take so many walks. I think of what’s next and I draw a blank. I think of Merton in his cabin next to Gethsemene. His aloneness. I think I should embrace this aloneness as my life and stop fighting it. Only Merton went to the Abbey for prayers and work, commuted from his loneliness, so to speak. I hesitate to say this, but I still think there’s something yet to come and the self-absorbed me wonders if it is just another magical construct.
For now I am drinking another cup of coffee.
Day 90 6/12/2020
And the weirdness continues. I had a long talk with a friend on WhatsApp. She told me that she had a few out-of-the-blue interactions with friends present and past who had “issues” and brought up ancient stuff, ending in altercations and painful processing. I told her that I too had been receiving “bad news and live action appearances of ghouls from my sordid past.” Little did I know. My friends and my brother arranged to have a Zoom party to celebrate the completion of my paper. I got dressed, put on makeup even, walked to the liquor store and paid $25 for a small bottle of champagne. I won’t go into a whole lot of description about the 2 ½ hour gathering, except to say that we got into a discussion of race and race relations and things were said—It’s not our job to make white people feel comfortable, for instance. I got increasingly uncomfortable and felt dissed. And maybe I was, who knows? Anyhow I called my brother right afterwards and he yelled at me and we got into a lopsided stupid painful argument, totally unexpected. Hurtful.
No need to reiterate emotionally charged details, so I will just say that this is happening all over the place. The protests and riots continue unabated, the money is about to run out, the coronavirus is spiking in new parts of the country and the world. The strain of the last few months has left us drained and exhausted. We reach down into ourselves for our reserves and find the dregs and detritus and fossilized shit of our individual and collective histories instead of brilliant internal courage and resilience.
I think of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz after the flying monkeys attacked him: Flopped on the ground with his stuffing coming out.
I’m mad. I wanted to be silly. Singing.
Day 91 6/13/2020
“Good gods, this looks superb!” Philip’s response to the paper. I sit on the couch and cry. Release, relief, gratitude. Spend the rest of the day outside among people—long lunch outside with Eliane, long walk to the river, long drinks with the neighbors. Feel content, less strained, less hung up about the events of yesterday. Come in late and turn on the TV while I eat a salad.
Oooops, another Black man is shot in the back—to death—by cops, on camera.
… and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
Day 92 6/14/2020
I go for a drive. Funny how this used to be something not worth mentioning, especially in Colorado where you drive to the mailbox down the street. And those long high drives up and over the pass and across South Park, the bottom of a prehistoric sea. Past buffalo, past dinosaur tracks, past old ranchhouses deliquescing in the winds of winter. 100 miles to get a cuppa coffee at the Brown Dog Café.
Anyhow, I go for a drive to Lawrenceville where they have a drive-thru Starbucks. I try to explore the back roads coming home, but end up in a loop back to where I stopped for coffee. I carry on up the road to Princeton and there on my left is a lavender farm. No, not a farm painted lavender, but a farm growing lavender. Rows and rows of lavender. I pull in and buy a lavender bouquet, a lavender sleep mask, lavender honey. The woman asks me if I want to walk down to see the goats. (Why would she ask that?) She says they are down there, pointing, wait, I’ll walk down with you. So, she closes the door on the little shop and we walk down a path that smells like lavender to the goat pen where 7 or 8 baby goats press against the fence for treats. I hold out my hand and feed them, they lick the salt from my fingers. The sun is shining. Where has all the terror gone? Where is the seeping virus, the civil unrest, the wobbly head of state who can’t lift a glass to his lips? It’s just goats and sunshine and lavender and a new friend walking with me.
Day 93 6/15/2060
I walk up to Mother Princeton with my morning coffee. I sit in the sun in the garden, profuse with flowers and birdsong. An elderly couple walks past holding hands, smiling, wishing me good morning. I swear they look like Adam and Eve. Shining. I realize in that moment that I am happy. There was a time not long ago when I thought I would never be happy again, followed by moments in these recent days of feeling I would expire from isolation and loneliness. So, what am I doing, sitting here being happy? The world is fucking falling apart, darling.
I think about the Declaration of Independence asserting our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuitof happiness. Why not the right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness? Maybe it’s the pursuit that’s killing us. Our endless pursuit of growth, profit, more of everything. I wondered if I could disassociate myself from this and just be happy. Immediately I think, How can you be happy when there is so much suffering in the world? And that too is a guilt mechanism designed to keep us striving.
I sit in the garden and I think about being happy. I swat at the logismoi that want to measure if I deserve it, if it is a zero sum game and my happiness is somehow depriving another of theirs. Circle me, Lord, the old Caim Prayer;
Circle me LORD
Keep loneliness out, keep happiness in
Circle me LORD
Keep striving out, keep contentment in
Circle me LORD
Keep angst out, keep this holy moment in
Look, if the coronavirus can seep and creep and ooze unseen, unsmelt, undetectable among us, what if the ooze of happiness were let loose? Just sayin’.
Day 94 6/16/2020
With the submission of my paper my mental construct of the 40-day writer’s retreat ends. I wonder if I should set up another 40 days. In some ways this feels like a prisoner scratching on the cell wall to remind himself what day it is. Even though I no longer feel like a prisoner, I continue the habit. How many other such habits have we, singularly and as a nation, formed during this last 3 months? It seems to me that we are all more than a little mentally unstable. The wee little emperor stumbles and falters as he walks down a gentle ramp, has to pick up his water glass with both hands. Is this apocryphal? Are we all losing mental and physical muscle tone?
I walk down to the river and sit on a stone bench, writing , as people in little kayaks float by. Honestly, it looks like so much fun, but the people are not smiling and laughing. Why? I don’t want to go all Jeremiah and negative here, but feel compelled to acknowledge what I feel as the Lurk. The Lurk of the pandemic, the Lurk of civil unrest, the Lurk of instability, the gentle pinprick hole in the dyke.
Day 95 6/17/2020
Jesus, now they’re finding Black men hanging from trees. In several States. Ruled suicides. I dunno….does a 20-year-old Black man crawl way out onto far limb of a tree holding a noose in one hand? Does he tie the rope around the limb while he struggles to maintain his balance? Does he slip the loop around his neck and ease himself to the edge of the branch and then jump? I can’t quite get a grasp of the mechanics of this. And when there are two found together, did they help each other out setting up? I climbed a lot of trees when I was a child, always with a book in one hand. I’m telling you it’s not as easy as it looks, climbing a tree with a book in your hand, and I never could climb out to the far end of a limb. Of course I was a girl.
Day 96 6/18/2020
Every once in a while I am flattened by a book. Meaning I have to lie down and read it and can’t get up until I reach the end. So today it’s James McBride’s Deacon King Kong. Flattened. I never get off the couch, finishing it just as it becomes too dark to read.
And I think, inspire, now there’s a word. Breathe. When all the messages in all the media are screaming, “I can’t breathe!” whether it be the voice of the coronavirus patient waiting for a ventilator or the voice of the Black man under the knee of the cop, or the millions marching in the streets holding signs.
And I think about the Creator God breathing life into, breathing into life. And I think maybe the antibody is breath, and breath is inspiration, and inspiration is not just God blowing life into us, but us inhaling.
I take a yoga class. My teacher says, over and over, Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Day 98 6/19/2020
Juneteenth. The celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. Well, what can we say? The end of slavery AND the day of the most egregious ethnic cleansing in American history as an entire Black township in Tulsa was burned to the ground and 350 of its people killed by a rampaging white mob. So, who do you suppose is going to Tulsa to have a huge rally of 19,000 unmasked people in a closed space, shouting, during a virulent pandemic spread by people crammed together in closed spaces breathing heavily? Wait, I’ll give you three guesses. …
OK time’s up.
So we watch on our pretty little color TV sets as the two crowds of people claim the same streets. Then we get scared and turn off the news.
Day 99 6/20/2021
I’m writing this early in case the world comes to an end. The summer solstice, a full ring of fire solar eclipse, planet X approaching the earth, all the really juicy stuff of a full apocalypse. (I just mis-typed, and wrote apocalypso, so maybe we’ll dance our way into oblivion), Mayan prophecies. The Vision of the Pope. A possible sink hole swallowing up the city of Tulsa in a matter of seconds, no survivors but the CNN crew. (OK, I made that up.). A few minutes on the internet is all it takes to convince you that you don’t have to clean house after all. And fuck the bills.
So that leaves me with the day off on the last day of Earth. I’m going outside.
Day 100. 6/21/2020
So, the world did not come to an end. And the little emperor’s rally (“Millions will come!!! Millions!!!) was a flop which provided some glorious images of the little feller talking to an empty theater. There is a God. But we knew that.
My friend takes me on a walk in a magnificent woodland. In and under the full canopy of trees, “green bathing” as Philip calls it. 2 hours of Earth time in the Enchanted Forest. Life inside the bubble is good. So what if the epidemiologists are gravely concerned and the sociologists are predicting total societal collapse? The birds are singing, sunlight is streaming. I think I’ll take Scarlett’s advice and “Think about this tomorrow.” (Pssst, don’t tell the Trickster.)
Day 101 6/22/2020
One of the lessons one learns when grieving is that you cannot make it stop, nor can you make it disappear, nor let up, nor magically provide a re-do or a re-write or a return to halcyon days. Nor can you even hold on to clear memories of halcyon days, for that matter. Did I say, “one of the lessons?” And go on to list several? Well OK, my little grammarian friend. But as I was saying…. Which leads me to my brilliant insight of the day: America is grieving. The whole country collectively and individually is grieving, and we are acting out. We want it to stop. So our fearless leader simply declares it stopped. We are OPEN. We can all go out again, why, we don’t even have to wear masks if we don’t want to because we are FREE and FREE people can’t be made to do what they don’t want to do (like wear masks). We CAN make it disappear because we can play an elaborate (and deadly) made-up game of half peek-a-boo, half Russian roulette. We can have a re-do by simply forgetting the “do.” We can stop the coronavirus easily, says the Brilliant Mind on the Hill, easy-peasy, we just stop testing. Cuz you know, if you test, you get cases. Then the numbers go up. So I am ordering the government to slow down the testing. If those damn numbers would just stop going up, you would see what I mean.
I’m thinking instead of opening parks and restaurants we should erect a Wailing Wall in every Main Street plaza in the Greatest Country on Earth. Shriek for a while. See if it clears our heads.
Day 103 6/23/2020
Ok, so here it is, folks. The New Normal. Of course, that is a hype message. Meant to make us believe that we have triumphed over the present and can re-embrace the past and assume the future is rosy. Well, we’ll see. Right now our attention is diverted by the complete disintegration of our Justice system: corruption, resignations, firings. It finally dawns on me that the wee little man doesn’t want to be President again (because it’s not fun anymore) but he knows that the minute he steps back into private life he will probably go to jail. He has bought off and fought off and fired and re-hired and it’s starting to box him in. Problem is, even if we get rid of him we don’t have a plan of what to do next. We need some blue-painted Druidesses to stand bare-breasted on the shore and shriek.
Enough. And now the good news. My paper was published yesterday AND I got a haircut and dyed my hair blue again. I went to my favorite coffee shop and bought a latte and a scone and sat on a bench outside with real people coming and going on the sidewalk next to my bench. So ok, the New Normal looks weird with everyone wearing masks, and the eyes of the wait staff and hairdressers and shopkeepers above the masks look worried. So we step into the street to avoid one another and we don’t smile. Why bother, no one can see.
Still, we have “opened the economy.” Right?
They’re pulling down statues all over the place. Bye bye Jefferson Davis, bye bye Teddy Roosevelt, any day now they will topple Ozymandius, King of Kings.
2,360,000 cases in the US, 122,000 deaths and spiking.
Day 104 6/24/2020
A very slow start. I do my studies, but can’t make it through 20 minutes of meditation. I wander, I read a bit, I take a nap. (It’s summer in Jersey. Naps are compelling and frequent.) At some point I look in the empty cupboards and think if I don’t get a green salad I am going to die. End of the soup-after-soup-after soup days. So, I go to the grocery store to get a head of lettuce and buy so many fruits and vegetables that my refrigerator looks like a farmer’s market.
I watch the news, catch the Cuomo brothers, Chris the CNN anchor and Andrew the Mayor of New York. At first it’s an interview, by the end they are talking about Pops, the former Governor, how he has guided them through this time—“Just do the right thing.,”—end up telling each other that they love each other, Chris openly crying. I’m tellin’ ya….
One of you-know-who’s former henchmen, Bolton the Fuck, has written a tell-all book, letting us know all the things he refused to testify at the impeachment hearings. We’re shocked! We’re outraged! We are angry at HIM for being his true fucked self, refusing a subpoena and cashing in on his $2M book deal. All the attention is on HIM, while the disheveled Mastermind of the Once Greatest Country in the World stands behind the scenes and slaps his dick, pretends Great Rage, and appoints his 200thjudge, ousts all farm workers and food processors on green cards, and makes it OK again to dump industrial waste in rivers and run leaky pipelines directly under the flyways of the migratories.
Ah God, I can’t keep suggesting we shriek. If we tear out our hair the Beauty Parlors will all go out of business again. (Millions of stylists out of work just as the assistance checks dry up.). We can go around toppling statues until we run out of them I s’pose, but we can’t topple the White House. The Great Pink and White Blob promised to “drain the swamp” in order to get into office. Well, the swamp is drained, and guess who lives at the bottom? Grendl’s mother.
Day 105. 6/25/2020
Hot and Sticky. Welcome to New Jersey summer. Lots of people are outside now. They’ve taken Witherspoon Street down to one lane and the restaurants all along have set up tables and umbrellas in what used to be the parking lanes. The plaza is now half its former size with the two eateries pushing out halfway across. All across America bars and pools and tanning salons and hairdressers (This is who we are, I guess, drinkers, eaters, partyers, lookin’ good.) are teeming with sweaty unmasked throngs of people pushing up against one another. We’ll see, I s’pose. The Governor of Texas has a freaked look in his eyes cuz he let all the hoo-has out with a clarion call to save the economy. (I seem to recall that he was the one who said some of the old people would be willing to die for the economy.) Well, we’ll see.
Day 106 6/26 2020
OK, we’re seeing. Largest single spike in cases EVER, even in the heyday of New York. 44,702 new cases in one day yesterday. And it’s not the old people giving their lives to save MacDonald’s, it’s the young people leaving the bars to line up at the hospital. The Governor of Texas closes the bars. (That there is dang’rous bi’ness in Texas. Them Longhorns will die of starvation if they have to live on food and water for a week.). The Governor of Florida has closed the beaches again. (So much for the new thong bikini I just ordered on Amazon. Dang! Those spacesuits they wear in the ICU are just so unattractive.)
I tell you it’s gotten (My father just rolled over in his grave hearing me use that word. But, as the Drag Queen at the Pride Parade once said to me when I said my father was rolling in his grave, “Well that’s OK, honey, cuz at that stage it’s about all the exercise they get.”) so bad they had to release all the children they had locked up in cages at the southern border.
People in another state held a meeting, excoriating (See dad, I just used a bigger word.) the DEMOCRATS who are taking away their FREEDOM and VIOLATING their FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS. OK, whoever is writing this movie has simply GOT to back off the Adderall. (Symptoms of Addwell abuse include, being overly talkative, unusual excitablility social withdrawal, financial troubles, aggression, secretive behavior, exhaustion, memory loss, incomplete thoughts, relationship problems, decline in personal hygiene (Listen up, Texans,), overwork or overconcentrating, disorientation, mania, impulsive behaviors.)
Day 107 6/27/2020
I have to go have a covid test today in order to qualify for my cataract surgery.
Day 108 6/28/2020
OK, so here’s the question: I sat in the Univ garden this morning, amid flowers and birdsong. Peace everywhere. And I drew a diagram of a circle in my notebook with a yogi-meditator (me) in the middle, legs crossed, hands in prayer position. Om Shanti Peace. Around that circle I drew another circle in which from every direction were arrows labelled “fear” pointed at , attacking , attempting to penetrate the inner bubble. Around that circle I drew a third circle in which I wrote the names of all the “facts.” Coronavirus pandemic joblessness political mismanagement social unrest rampant racism nationalism white supremacy closed schools food shortages. I thought that we (I) should stay “in the bubble,” stay peaceful, exude goodness and not let the “outside” world attack and thus be some kind of “spiritual ballast” in a reeling world.
Later I watched a lengthy Zoom meeting put on by environmental activists, instructing people how to perform an “action” or disruption or street theater, if you will. Complete with detailed instructions put out by the ACLU and Lawyers for Action telling people how to stay safe at a demonstration: what to wear (goggles!);what to have on your body (the phone number of the lawyer group written in indelible marker on your arm); what to carry (id, immigration status); how to behave when stopped, when questioned, when detained, when taken in, when arrested; a complete and detailed list of your rights as a citizen and how to say the right words to the police; possible outcomes, penalties; personal protection gear against tear gas, spark bombs, and other police armament. I listened to people telling their experiences at actions against the war, corporate greed, environmental degradation, animal extinction. “I was at Occupy Wall Street for weeks, “ said one man, “the longest time I was ever away from my cat.” American people, going to the streets.
I talked to a friend later in the afternoon, mentioned my bubble meditation, and he said what if it is all a bubble? What if it is allan illusion? Maya. Like reality is on another plane or chronosyncrastic infundibulum as Vonnegut wrote. .And we need to achieve realization of this. Or some such. I have to admit I don’t completely remember his words, but I could see the spiral nebula in my mind.
So, OK, you say, you started off saying “here’s the question”. So what’s the question, already? Did I say that? Oops, sorry, I’m sure it was important..
Day 109 6/30/2020
I meet Ed and Jacqueline at Lillipies Plaza for a picnic. I hadn’t seen them in person for over 100 days. We were masked, Jacqueline fastidious almost to a fault, me and Ed less so, but her fastidiousness wore us out in a way, and we left our masks on even though we were outside six feet apart. When they walked away afterward, no hugs, no nuthin’ I felt bereft. I had a weird feeling of abandonment. Wait! I want more. Don’t go, don’t go.
Dear Doctor Faucci tells us now that it will get much much worse, possibly 100,000 new cases a day. The whole nation lit up. People wielding guns at protestors walking past their houses. Me, I write a little story of a child born in a spaceship, reminiscent of my own birth memories. Trying to decide if she is a Mabon or the Plague.
Day 110 7/1/2020
Well, there are miracles and then there are miracles. You probably don’t remember that I had entered a third Lent a while back so yesterday was Easter III. I was trying to decide if I should call this next 40 days Lent IV, but decided to call it Pilgrimage I. I wrote in my journal about the “abandonments” one experiences on pilgrimage (thinking of yesterday’s picnic), drew a little line drawing of a pilgrim climbing the Tor.
And the phone rang.
Bea and David calling from the Chalice Well Garden. Oh my God, my Goddess, my God, here in the fountainhead of pilgrimage. They walk through the gardens with their camera, they introduce me to a passing pilgrim, a woman who is carrying a candle in a lantern like the Hermit card, it’s her birthday, she’s going to climb the Tor, says she will carry me with her.
I weep as I carry the phone through the apartment, bringing the sound of the well water into the rooms. I see the gate of the yew trees I have entered so many times, I see the Excalibur over the Michael gate, I see the flow where I have always bathed my crystals. How did this come to be? How did this come to me? What a gift, what a gift, what a miraculous and wonderful gift.
I paused to give my weary brain a rest
And ceased my anxious human cry.
In that still moment after self had tried and failed
and tried and failed again
There came a mighty vision of God’s power
And Lo! My prayer was answered in that hour.
Old Unity prayer
Day 111 7/2/2020
I have cataract surgery in the morning early and spend the rest of the day resting and trying to remember not to bend over, not to pick anything up that “weighs more than a gallon of milk.”
Two of my new friends help out, driving me to the surgicenter and home, one brings me a delicious lunch. So, I can stay self-absorbed and not at all concerned about the 87% surge in coronavirus cases causing the epidemiologists to say we have perhaps reached the tipping point—and they don’t mean in a good way.
And I don’t have to look up from my blurry crossword puzzle to learn more about Putin’s Bitch knowing about his lover paying cash bounties for the killing of US soldiers. So here’s the visual: a round pink plasticine lump on a lazy-susan, twirling, twirling, singing (to the tune of Row Row Row Your Boat)
I di’n’t even know,
I didn’t even see,
Merrily, merrily merrily, merrily,
I concentrate on ME.
Day 112 7/3/2020
When I was a kid we went to Alliance Nebraska for the Fourth of July. My father’s family held a huge family reunion in the park—oh my goodness, you have not tasted food if you have never attended a family reunion in Nebraska in the 1950’s. Potato salad, fried chicken, corn on the cob, baked ham, jello salads in all colors and varieties, baked beans redolent of molasses, coleslaw dressed with home-made mayonnaise, devilled eggs, pies, oh the pies! Apple, Cherry, Peach, Strawberry, Rhubarb, Blackberry, ambrosias made fruit floating in clouds of whipped cream . Root beer floats. Cakes—oh the cakes, layer cakes, yellow cakes with chocolate frosting, angel food cakes dripping with strawberries, chocolate cakes, white cakes with butter cream frosting. Huge picnic tables put end to end to make one long trestle down the middle of the park. Every morsel, every bite, every concoction made out of food from the farms, even the chickens, even the ham.
Nursing mothers sitting in the shade. Men playing horseshoes, kids running rampant everywhere, dirty from sliding into home during pick up softball games, sticky around the mouths and fingers from all the dessert sampling, tee shirts stained with spilled Kool-aid. A skinned knee or two. Then the music—guitars come out, old Swedish songs and Hank Williams songs, country songs, Old Country songs. Ballads of longing: If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly… My dad and Uncle Gib singing rowdy songs: There was an old man and he had an old sow, rowseldy, rowseldy row, with an oink and a snort and a grunt and a snuffle, rowseldy dow. Us kids gather around them and giggle at the noises, pretty soon we are all oinking and snuffling as the tune is sung over and over.
Little kids sleeping on blankets under the picnic table. Ladies gossiping. Old farmers talking about crops and weather and stock and water, their thumbs hooked in their suspenders. Courting couples sneaking off behind the trees for a kiss and a promise and maybe the beginning of the next generation, hints of wedding right after high school graduation. The scandalous town girl who dares to wear short shorts in front of all these boys and men.
And the fireworks! Uncle Rudy (who refuses to go to the reunion, claims it’s because he hates pickle relish) stays on the farm, drives his tractor up and down the rows of sugar beets—we bring him an ice cold root beer float out to the field during the middle of the day and return to the park) saves all year and spends a fortune on a box of fireworks that comes from Michigan every 1st of July. We all go out to the farm for the fireworks. Little kids are given sparklers and poppers and “worms” that can fizzle under the mothers’ feet and make them scream. Uncle Rudy puts lit firecrackers inside an old oil drum and we ride it while they explode, call it our “motorcycle.” Rudy and his son Karl (all of us girls of all ages are madly in love with Karl) and a couple of other older cousins set off the Roman Candles and Fountains, bursting up and up and over the fields of ripening corn. Somebody starts cranking the ice-cream freezer, we all take turns as it gets harder and harder to turn the handle. When all the fireworks have been set off, there will be homemade peach ice cream.
We kids get “over-diddled” as the saying went, cranky and hyper. A hand reaches out, a bottom gets smacked, doesn’t matter whose hand or which bottom. A cautionary thwack. A pout appears, a finger points—it wasn’t me---another hand reaches down and plunks another random kid on a lap until it stops wiggling and whizzling.
Stars come out, there’s coffee “up at the house.” Long after dark, if one can keep one’s eyes open long enough, one can see the line of cars driving out along the farm roads.
So why am I telling you all this? I’m thinking maybe thisis what all those folks up at Mt. Rushmore want when they go to see a carny man in red, white, and blue as he emerges from a gypsy wagon disguised as a helicopter, walks up to a podium draped with American Flag bunting, and preaches a Return to Glory, Honor for our Heroes, Death to our Enemies— who are just there, just outside the gates, waiting to destroy our history. Maybe in their heart of hearts, their strands of DNA, underneath their MAGA hats, they want that family picnic in the park, those fireworks out by the barn, homemade peach ice cream. And that wanting, that yearning, that deep nostalgic hunger may well be what the wife of Lot felt when she turned her gaze backward, and we know how that turned out.
Happy Fourth of July, America.
Day 113 7/4/2020
What’s to say. You want to make fun of the BRAYING ASS but it’s not funny. You want to crack jokes about how he doesn’t read and only plays golf, but all the jokes are old now. “The coronavirus is disappearing. 99% of all those who get it recover.” It’s old news to show the teeming hospitals in Houston and run sidebars of statistics and dire warnings from scientists and doctors. I find that sarcasm is falling short of my burgeoning anger. I find myself hoping that when the New Lincoln builds his Garden of American Heroes that there’s a spot reserved for a monument to him and that it’s a headstone.
Day 114 7/5/2020
Quiet here. Hot. I work on my story for a few hours, then make a homemade iced latte (Starbucks has yet to ask for my secret recipe. Oh well.) and walk out into the cemetery.
Find a bench under an old tree where there is shade and sit among the Pryor family, who are, by the way, social distancing responsibly.
You-know-who has divorced himself from Fox News. You might think that’s a good thing, but the Jeremiah in me says he’s opening a path to stepping out of the race and starting Trump TV. (Which was his plan when he thought he would lose the race in 2018.) He wouldn’t be able to sign executive orders or appoint judges, but he would have free reign to foment revolution. The dissolution of the Union, brought to you live, 24/7 on The Donald Show, the Ivanka Show, the KellyAnne Show, the Eric Show, the Don Jr. Show, the Weekend Spectacular Jared Kushner Marathon! Brought to you by Purdue Pharma, creators of the OcciCocktail.
Somebody in the 60’s told us to destroy our televisions. Why did we not listen?
Day 115 7/6/2020
Sometimes the days slide by, like riding an innertube down a sleepy river, trees hanging into the water, baby boulders coming up from beneath. Dappled light. Past a bend where the kids have hung a rope swing that takes them from the bank to the middle where they scream and drop into a pool; past the picnic-ers on blankets, past the lovers sitting with their feet in the water, past the older boys hiding their six-packs in the water to keep cool, past a group of fellow tubers in a water fight of wet silliness, past and under a walking bridge, past the red stones on the Eastern bank. When you come to the end of the day, come up out of the water to the waiting bus, you think, what? It’s over? How did it seem so long on the river and so short looking back?
A lot of us can’t remember what we did yesterday.
Day 116 7/7/2020
Total cases, 3,000,500. Deaths 133,000. Somebody called the prisons “petri dishes” of the virus. So the hospitals in the surrounding areas are refusing prison transfers. Ah, the humanity!
A man in my writers’ group reads a poem he’s written that starts off with flowers and dogs and summer and stuff and then says the demonstrations have “gone on long enough.” My friends say they are moving to Portugal as soon as possible. Well, I think we all dream of moving to “Portugal” when “this is over.” We all want this virus to listen to us when we say it has gone on long enough. Like the virus is a naughty—very naughty—child who needs strict discipline. Like if we bellow “Enough!” it will slink off to its room and peace will descend on the house. Like we will wake up tomorrow and all the demonstrators will have not only left the streets, but cleaned up after themselves. Like the tickets to Portugal will arrive by Fedex. Like the White House will be the house of Job after ‘a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the people inside and they all died…’
I mean, it’s been three and half MONTHS already, we’re sick of this shit. C’mon!
In the middle of all this I get an invitation to Sophie and Adam’s wedding in March and I dare not think that I won’t be able to get there.
Day 117 7/8/2020
The bookstore opens today! O res mirabile! You have to have a 20-minute “browsing appointment,” but I must look like an orphan, a pitiful book-orphan, so they let me in. Temperature check, hand sanitizer, yeah, yeah. I feel like I have entered the sanctus sanctorum. I try not to run between sections. I pull out 2 books of poetry, 2 books of theology, and 2 novels, pay my money, and walk home feeling like I did when I was 5 years old on library day and I got to pick out 5 new books. The delicious terrible dilemma—I felt it in my tummy—of which one to read first. Not wanting to hurt the other books’ feelings by choosing. I was that kind of kid. Same thing here, only now I hide the book of poems beneath the sight-line of the next Zoom meeting, furtively tasting words—
And sea, dear mother,
retreating with long stealth
though I lie awake—
Day 118 7/9/2020
I sit in the back garden at my neighbors’ house across the street. Hot and lazy, drinking Two Buck Chuck, hoping for a breeze as the sun goes down. Ha! This is New Jersey, darlin’, get a grip! And the woman says, “What do you think of (she names the President of Princeton)’s decision to re-open in September? He says he is going to bring the Freshmen and the Juniors in for Fall semester, then the Sophomores and Seniors for the Spring semester in January. I’m irate! What do you think about all those kids coming from all over the country (All over the world, her husband interjects.)? I mean, what are they going to do? That’s 1500 kids, supposed to keep social distance, no parties, nothin’ to do, most of their studies online? They’re going to come out here (her hand makes an arc to indicate the town, the neighborhood), that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to come into my neighborhood. What do you think?” I try not to answer. My first thought is that she thinks Princeton is in her neighborhood, and I think we are in itsneighborhood. I have a passion for education, can’t bear to think of the University shutting down, keeping students out. I can’t bear to think of all those bright minds losing their educational trajectory, can’t bear to think of this nation without schools and Universities. I want the students to come back.
I’m not—I hope—crazed like the Large Pink Blow-up Dolly who screams for schools to open in spike zones, forget rules and precautions, too expensive, just get ‘em back in there. Holding my glass of Two Buck Chuck, trying not to let my hot sweaty hands warm up the already noxious wine, I try to think of an answer as my neighbor again says, What do you think? It’s so hard, I answer. She doesn’t want my answer anyway, she wants agreement. I see her viewpoint, her side of things—danger in the pandemic, strangers carrying the virus back in, all true—and yet her shrillness sounds like the old us vs. them of racial paranoia, fear of the stranger, war rationale, and I balk at it. What do I think? I think we are in shit trouble, stuffed into a crisis too big for us. I can’t separate my own nostalgia from her paranoia. And I think the entire nation is riding on this.
Day 119 7/10/2020
Huge storm. Beautiful massive WET huge storm that lasts all day. I go out twice during what I think are lulls between bursts and am fooled both times, coming in soaked to the skin. I strip naked and dry my clothes in the dryer with the sopping window towels. More than once. I am caught up in the magic of the storm—I make myself a cuppa tea with a wee dram of Glenfiddich in it and settle on the couch to read the new books of poetry and I think I am in heaven.
On my second trip out I walk to the Coffee Shop and there in the doorway just under the eave as the rain pours down in front of them is the ancient couple I used to sit near at church and the movie house. Her beatific face lights up as she recognizes me—in her way, of course; she has no memory, so she recognizes only beloveds. Her husband-guardian stands smiling next to her, and they look like two shimmering, happy ancestors appearing just behind a waterfall.
Oh, hello, I say. How are you?
We’re alive! the man answers, smiling, like he’s just revealed a miracle.
Yes!she beams. And they laugh toward me standing there so drenched, so in love.
Day 119 7/11/2020
It is my birthday. It feels portentous and I write:
I am pregnant
Standing here on the knife edge
All my friends hereare virtual
All my friends thereare liminal
and I hold in my belly
this yet to be life
From where I stand I can see all
the glitterings and sorrowings of
the road to get here
from this fearsome footfall I can see
all my strivings and callings out littering the roadside
just missing the bins put there
for the purpose of collecting them
I am pregnant
not yet seeking a place to lie down
coming one direction
while the Magi come from another
a pillar of light before them as they set out
the very moment a horny archangel
penetrates me in that garden
I am pregnant
and like Sarai
I am old and laughing for the child I carry
Ahead is the flight to Egypt
the wedding wine
the rumors of the intent
to murder this being yet unborn
the foot of the cross
the overland trip to Rosslyn
See how I connect with Her
see how I sense midwife Brigid near to hand
for when my time comes
see yon inns
their lobby doors pasted shut with handmade signs
Closed due to Covid
You’re reading this and thinking
I am mixing metaphors
that’s the way of the world now
a white-haired woman on a foot bridge
thinking of the child to come
Day 120 7/12/2020
I call my friend Lucy who is an astrologer—I’ve told you about her. I say I wonder why we’re here on earth at this time, what’s our job? To witness? She says we witnessed the sinking of Atlantis and the disappearance of Lemuria, so we’re here because we “know how to do it” and can help others (survivors?).
Nic sends me a fact sheet in answer to the claim of not to worry there’s only a 1% mortality rate:
The US has a population of 328,200,000. If only one percent of the population dies, that’s 3,282,000 people dead. What about the people who survive?
62,358,000 people hospitalized;
58,076,000 with permanent heart damage;
32,820,000 people with permanent lung damage;
9.846,000 with strokes;
6.564,000 with muscle weakness;
6, 564,000 with loss of cognitive function.
The US economy cannot survive everyone getting covid-19.
I want to rave, shriek, pull out my hair (after I finallygot it cut and colored), except that I’m not sure raving, etc. is worth anything if you don’t have a plan for an alternative. I don’t have a plan—I’ve seen Atlantis, ‘tis said—so I confine my raving to these pages. Maybe the next Ignatius Donnelly will find and use them for the sequel to Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. (Which was labelled Catastrophism and Pseudoscience by the great minds of his time.)
Let me just say, that it’s hard to witness money being spent to “save the bars and restaurants” while money can’t be allocated to open the schools—too expensive.
Perigrination anyone? Friends say they’re emigrating to Portugal. Oops, we’re not allowed in Europe.
Day 121 7/13/2020
I sit outside the Small World coffee shop, sipping a latte. It’s hot, midday, most people are somewhere else. Two girls in the shortest of short shorts stroll by, wheeling their bikes. Last summer the streets were packed with girls in short shorts (I was new to Princeton, I remember asking my friend Ed, Does anybody in Princeton wear underwear?), boys in tank tops, lines out to the street in front of the five—count them—ice cream shops within a 4 block area of where I live. And music! Well, every ice cream parlor had a band playing outside, with little kids and toddlers dripping ice cream all down their faces and arms, dancing in circles to summertime rock and roll. Today its just two girls and me and a few desultory diners in the sidewalk café across the street and it feels, well, just off. Like somebody shook the etch-a-sketch and we can’t get the picture back.
I don’t like the poor me, nostalgia of what I just wrote. Think about erasing it. But that’s the problem top down these days—if we don’t like it, we just shake the facts and talk about something else. Fact is we’re pretty much screwed. No, that’s fake news. Fact is we’re totally screwed. Coronavirus cases spiking in 37 states. Now averaging over 60,000 new cases every day.
Day 122 7/14/2020
If I were a kid I could build a fort for my toys with all the books I have brought home now that the bookstore has opened. They’re everywhere. Fun to have all these choices, so I walk around as if I’m at a luncheon buffet and sample a little here, a little there, a little poetry, a little physics, a little theology, a smattering of novels. The Orange Wunderkind is giving a “Covirus Update” only he’s talking about how bad a job Obama and Biden did on fixing roads and bridges. Ok, that’s pertinent in an alternate reality. I want to stay informed so I stop watching after 5 minutes, approximately 3 minutes after CNN cut him off. Back to the books.
Day 123 7/15/2020
I’m busy with my books. In Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time I read
We have shaped an idea of a “human being” by interacting with others like ourselves.
I believe that our notion of self stems from this, not from introspection. When we think of ourselves as persons, I believe we are applying to ourselves the mental circuits that we have developed to engage with our companions. . . . We are the reflection of the idea of ourselves that we receive back from our kind. (p 176-77)
And in Christian Witman’s My Bright Abyss I read
Christ comes alive in the communion between people. . . . I am pretty certain that without shared social devotion one’s solitary experiences of God wither into a form of withholding, spiritual stinginess, the light of Christ growing ever fainter in the glooms of the self. (p 20-21)
We find ourselves by interacting with others, not from introspection. We find God (however we define herm) in communion with people or else wither. And I wonder what “social distancing” will do, is doing, to us?
Evolution, or madness?
Development, or withering?
I find both in myself, I gotta say.
Day 124 7/16/2020
I go in for my second cataract surgery. The courteous, cheerful, niceness of the staff at the surgi-center is reassuring after the confusion and fuckityness of the scheduling and paperwork and callbacks. One example (there are others who shall remain nameless): In the late afternoon of the day before the first surgery (two weeks ago) I still hadn’t heard what time I was scheduled to have my procedure. I called (to shorten this, I use “called” as a euphemism for dialing, holding, losing the call, re-dialing, holding, re-routing the call, dialing, holding) Office # 1. We don’t do scheduling here, you’ll have to call Office # 2. Ask for Andrew. So I repeat the above litany of “calling.” Finally, I get a disembodied voice saying this is Andrew, leave a message. So I say, cheerful, courteous and nice, Hello Andrew. I am scheduled for surgery tomorrow and I don’t know what time to be there. Please let me know. No return call. So around 6pm I call the number again, only I don’t ask to speak to Andrew, I just leave the somewhat fraught message that I need to know when to come tomorrow. A voice—embodied— interrupts me, saying, We do not have the schedule yet, we will call you. Wait, wait, wait, I say, it’s for tomorrow and it’s the end of the day and you will be closing soon. Oh, no, says the courteous cheerful voice, we’re open until 7. Well, can’t you just tell me now? I’m…not…a…scheduler…ma’am. (I know when we get to ma’am, we’re going to hit the wall.) Please, I say. (I remember when travelling with my mother, when we hit the wall trying to book a room or get a meal, I would say, OK, mom, start drooling.) I start drooling. I’m old, I live alone, I have to arrange transportation, I am pitiful and needy and you are so nice and cheerful and courteous I’m sure you can help me. Hold just a minute. (Translate: 17 minutes.). Ok, you’re bored reading this rant, I know, but I just want to tell you that Andrew did call me back—10 days later—two days before my second surgery, to say, “This is Andrew, I understand you have called to reschedule your surgery.” Rinse and repeat.
But the surgeries are done, the world is indeed a brighter lighter place. All’s well. With me. The healthcare workers are somewhat forgetful—let’s see, did we do the drops? I think we did the drops. Hmm, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, yes, it says so right here, what time is it now?; the registrar is pulling up stakes (Three more days, Friday I’m outa here) and moving to Georgia; under their masks you can see that the doctors have neglected shaving—who’s to see? I get a ride home from the girlfriend of my Starbucks friend—nobody over 50 wants to go near any healthcare facility. I give her a treat and without thinking (in my head) and straight from my heart, I hug her, before I remember that we’re standing on over an abyss.
Day 125 7/17/2020
I’ve taken up semi-permanent refuge in the University Garden. There’s a bench there that is up a short path among huge trees, then up three steps. It looks like a throne. The first time I found it I approached it in awe and asked permission to sit there. I felt like I was in the guest of honor’s chair, I even stood up looking out and greeted the invisible audience before I sat down. Now I go there every day, mostly in the morning. I take my latte and my morning bun from Starbucks and spend an hour or more in the Queen’s Chair.
I watch a squirrel’s tail upright and waving through the vines below. The squirrel itself is under the foliage, but the erect tail moves hither and yon. Funny. All kinds of birds make a racket in the trees. It is beautiful here, just out the corner of my eye I can see the flowers in the formal garden, but this is my spot.
For so many months now, people (including all the tv talking heads) have ended each conversation with “Stay Safe.” Well, it isn’tsafe outside the periphery of this little forest queendom. The very admonition to stay safe is an irony sometimes hard to bear—parse it, “stay” means hold fast, impossible to do given the momentum of change; “safe” means secure, untouchable, virus free. I guess I come to this imaginary throne room in a castle of trees to feel that word “safe.” Contingent upon “stay,” for the moment I go out into Nassau Street both words become if not inoperable, certainly out of immediate control. Maybe we should end conversations with “Be Lucky,” followed by “Control Your Stupidity.”
Day 126 7/18/2020
I don’t look back anymore to earlier journals to confirm what I know is true: there was a time when 7 new cases a day sent a shiver, 70 new cases a day caused a ripple, 700 cases a day started the then hopeful stay-in-place orders. I’ll skip a factor here and get to my point: 70,000 new cases a day in the US of A. Where’s Springsteen when we need him? His mournful voice rasping a rhyme of tragedy, his music unlocking our clenched hearts, making us drive down “down to the river” with tears streaming, blurring our vision in the oncoming headlights.
Day 127 7/19/2020
I read a book called The Virus in the Age of Madnessand hear my own observations and fears writ large. The author goes even further into the paranoia of state-control and digital invasion and police state. Hard to swallow, and one wants most desperately to believe that he is exaggerating. Until one turns on the tv and sees federal troops storming the streets of Portland and hears the I-Will-Be-Re-Elected-if-I-have-to-Kill-Every-Last-One-of You Head (and I use this word in the Naval sense) of State saying he will be the Law and Order President and sends more troops into cities with Democrat mayors. Lord, you can’t make this shit up.
Day 128 7/20/2020
“You can’t make this shit up.” How many times have I written that over the last 128 days? I am thinking of stopping this diary. I take a vote of all in the room. We agree. (I had a boss once, true story, who used to pontificate endlessly, saying at the beginning of each pronouncement I think…. then blithering on to the end, closing by saying …and I agree.)
I fear it has come to that. What started out as a documentation of one person (me) in the middle of a plague has become same person (me) agreeing with myself. Maybe I should stop and let history write the rest.
Day 129 7/21/2020
The feeling persists. I guess one comment in the above-mentioned book struck me to the core. He talks about people writing plague journals while in confinement and how none of them are “literature” on a par with Camus, etc. etc. Well, maybe that’s aimed at me. I take a vote of all the people in the room. He doesn’t know you, they say, somewhat snarkily I think. So we’ll see.
I have decided that I need to go to Phase 2 of “opening up” myself. I am going to go out more, take more risks in talking to people, reaching out, making friends. No one is going to come knocking on my door, so I need to find things that are happening and get in there. Maybe this impetus goes along with ending the Plague Diaries. I think I will carry on until August 3, see what happens between now and then if I put myself forward. I hear the disco beat and the song I’m Coming Out. I am not sure what I mean, but I mean it.
I do my daily readings as the sun comes up, turning the room into a spiritual sauna and read the words
Because you have asked this…
Have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,
I now do according to your word.
I give you a wise and discerning mind…
I Kings 3: 11-12
Okay, okay, so there’s more than just me in the room.
Day 130 7/22/2020
Pentagon budget $758 billion per year. Coronavirus in US tops 4 million.
Day 131 7/23/2020
The Smartest Man in the World brags that he can remember 5 words in a row. Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV. Says he did better than anyone else. He aced it. Why, because he’s “cognitively there.” (No explanation as to exactly where “there” is.). He repeats the words over and over in front of the interviewer. Perfectly, with very few hesitations. “And the doctor told me that’s amazing because not that many people can do it.” He repeated it so many times that now every American is able to recite the 5 words: Person, Woman, Man…Camera, TV. Is that right? oh wait, I’m getting confused.
Day 132 7/24/2020
Remember back in the old days when we stood around in groups and complained about the weather? I miss that. There’s so much to complain about. Hot and more hot, humidity and more humidity. But so what? I wonder if the magnificent Goddess of Storms misses hearing her evilness discussed by so many smart people: physicists in Princeton, economists at Wharton, linguists at Harvard, and all and all, standing in the hallways of knowledge and erudition discussing hot and more hot, humidity and more humidity.
I have a feeling that everybody in the entire world is wishing they lived somewhere else today. Certainly everybody in Jersey.
Day 133 7/25/2020
Gad! The Pundits and Math Wizards of the mess media have Done the Math and figured out that there are 100 days until the election! These Very Smart People who are So Much Smarter than the Cognitively Aware Person lay out in stunning detail all the possible scenarios of how he will cause a disruption, suppress the votes, refuse to accept the outcome, declare martial law, Putin-ize himself into an eternal presidency. I mean, they are giving him the game plan, right? What if they spewed all the ways it could go right, all the great celebration, all the fervor for happiness, all the liberation from this dark corruption? No, not even—they call in more experts to lay out even more do-able scenarios: Here Mr. T, here’s a way you can make this happen. Who needs conspiracy theories when we’ve got CNN?
Day 134 7/26/2020
The house is unbearable. I say “house” as an expression, of course I mean “apartment.” I don’t want to write those words. I love my dwelling place. I have filled it with art and books and plants and millions of crystals everywhere. I have made small “rooms” within its one big room—an art studio, an office, a library, a living room, a yoga studio. I have put pictures all over the walls, so that wherever my eye rests I see beauty. This is the perfect place to spend a wintry day, moving between spaces and projects, taking tea breaks. So when I say this place is unbearable I mean HOT. The brilliant windows that let in so much light also heat the place up like an egg on a skillet. I have to close the blinds, turn fans in every room, run the AC and the de-humidifier. All of which are noisy. So even if I manage to cool the place down I can’t stand the noise. So I go outside. Blah, blah, blah. How does this relate to the saga of the plague in America? It exacerbates and intensifies the crushing isolation. No more mythology of my own little writer’s retreat or my Skellig Princeton. I blow a conversation with a neighbor—the only un-Zoomed conversation in days—and I wonder if I have forgotten how to have a fucking conversation.
Am I sounding bitchy? Well, I’m hot.
I won’t mention the crying jag I endured this afternoon, I don’t want you to think I am going crazy.
Day 135 7/27/2020
I went to the local swimming pool with my neighbors, sat on the edge and dangled my feet in the cool water for two hours while they and half the senior population of Princeton floated and kicked on their pool noodles. Pleasant. Totally surrealistic.
Now all the news is about re-opening the schools. The Emperor of Covid has pontificated (or can only Pontiffs pontificate?) on the needto get our children back in school by the end of this month. It will be ok, kids don’t get the virus. What about all the kids who are getting the virus, you might ask. What about the 19 babies in one small town in Bumfuck? Not those kids, says the E of C, school kids. What about the teachers who are refusing to go back into the classroom for fear of carrying the virus home to their kids, you ask. We are not talking about selfish teachers who are shirking their patriotic duty, we’re talking about our children who need to be in school. So, says the E of C, rising to full pontifical stature: I hereby un-fund all states’ education allotments for the Democrat states who are not opening their schools this month.
The estimable and revered Senator John Lewis lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Are you going to pay your respects, Mr. P? No, I have meetings and work and things to do about the economy and other things, I work hard, I am a busy man. (Photos at ten: Federal troops in full riot gear throwing tear gas bombs at the Wall of Moms and the Wall of Vets in Portland; Stately Masculine Man standing at attention next to his golf cart.)
Day 136 7/28/2020
After my fairly prolonged crash over the weekend I finally ask John D. to send me some CBD and herbal drops. I tell him I can’t “will” myself out of this grief tsunami. He asks me about Glenn—what did Glenn bring to my life? I said Spontaneity and Silliness. I said now there is no spontaneity—everything is planned. Every conversation is calendared. And silliness went away with its tail between its legs and has not been around since…hell, who can remember? I know I am not alone in this, I say, plaintively, but I feel like I have lost my edge.
I hear that one of the therapists who moved in downstairs—all happy and glad, and then three weeks later had to desert their offices and go “virtual”—the one I liked the most, has descended into alcoholism and lost his practice and his money and all and all.
Day 137 7/29/2020
I strike up a conversation with the woman who owns the beauty salon where I go to get my toenails painted bright pink. (First attempt at silliness.) I ask her about the business community in Princeton, about her business in particular. There was a surge when we first re-opened, she said, but now, people are afraid again. I can feel it in the salon—nobody having a service but me and one other woman, the owner walking around straightening already straightened chairs, emptying already empty trash cans, tidying up supplies in a tidy cabinet. Suspended animation: waiting for the old normal to return or the new normal to come or the end of the world. Door #1, Door #2, Door #3. I pay extra and tip big and walk up Witherspoon to the coffee shop. Same deal.
Day 138 7/30/2020
Today’s reading, about Brendan the Navigator—always my favorite:
What kind of Christ would call Brendan into the wilds of the sea, where the waves pounded and the winds blew? This is a sea-going Christ, a Christ who beckons without compass.
The peregrini set their eyes on Christ, not on their sails. God sent the wind that directed their future. God was not so much the ‘God of where they had been’ as the ‘God of where they were going.’ Like the rest of us, they knew they had only so long to live, so they measured their days by trusting the remainder of their lives to ‘the God of what’s left.’ CDP II, 1526
I walked by the Univ Chapel yesterday. Hot. Thought about what would it be like to have a big pitcher of ice water and sit on the steps of the church with paper cups and give water to the overheated people walking by? Come, drink, be refreshed, you cannot come in to worship the God of where we had been, and we’re not risking covid to let you in to worship the God of where we are going, so here, refresh yourselves out here with the God of what’s left. Selah.
Day 139 7/31/2020
It is raining! I set this down in writing to commemorate a miracle. It’s cooler! I feel little pops! inside my head as my brain cells re-activate. I
I am going to stop this Plague Journal V (as promised) today. Time to let this phase go. No need to tell you that the wee Strongman has already contested the election that has not taken place, has already refused mail ballots, has already said that the results will have to be arbitrated in the courts and can take years. Forcing him to stay in office until it is decided. Good on you, Mr. P, while the economy loses 30% of its value and the Estimable Senate led by the chinless chihuahua of a Speaker has decided that giving people $600 a week in unemployment is too much, will make them (implied: the worthless riff raff and all those Colored People) decide not to go to work. Oh, and the eviction suspension has timed out, so it’s ok now to throw those people out on the streets. If they misbehave we will be forced to send in federal troops to keep America safe.
You see why I have to stop, don’t you? I am not exercising Positive Thinking. Om Shanti Om.
But it is raining and it is cooler. In the olden olden days they put a tower in the vineyard and posted a sentry. To keep thieves out, you say? No, to look ever to the horizon to see if there is a coming storm. Think of this journal as a letter written from the sentry tower. Think of its scribe turning her face to the East and watching for the dawn.
February 18, 2021, 9:24:36 PM