Plague Diary III
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 real after 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 AM the 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,