One Year In, Everything’s Looking Good

Now that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of lockdown/quarantine/variable pandemic conditions, and multiple vaccines have miraculously been developed, and news reports now include vaccination rates alongside infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths, it seems like a great time for a message of uplift. If anyone has one, please send it in.

And in the spirit of end-of-year lists, I just want to review a few highlights. I am lucky, so I have been working from home since March 13, 2020. Both of my kids have been distance learning the entire time, except for one three-week period when one of them went to school two days a week, and then stopped after some positive cases involving international travel cropped up. Another thing that is true is that not one of my coworkers has school-aged children, or children under 22 years old, and one of my coworkers uses the term “Covid-out” as a verb to complain about colleagues within the larger institution whom she deems not productive enough. Two of my coworkers have described dog ownership as equivalent to or in fact harder than having children. Which is entirely true, because it’s hard to find a financial institution that has Dog 529 plans, and most dogs don’t speak, so when it’s 1 a.m. on a school night and your dog wants to interrogate you, again, about the nature of death and the meaning of life in the face of death, all your dog does is pant, and it hard to really dialogue. Also all the dog suicides during the pandemic are very concerning. So I sympathize.

One thing I did last year was… I made a countertop death trap for fairies. I just wanted to reuse a tin, and a good reuse seemed to me to be to capture bacon grease. The number of times a small person saw the tin and asked excitedly about making a fairy garden, replete with moss and beads and topiary and sparkling tiny furniture, only to get a whiff of a pig’s last stop and then slink away, disappointed and angrily pointing out that fairies would drown in that grease, was a lot. It was a lot of times. It was a lot of times because many of the days were the same day. What to do with bacon grease… smear it on a tree mixed with seeds for birds? Use it to ensure you can’t recycle a tin? I don’t know. The tin full of grease just lived on our counter. I had lost the top. The kids seemed to have been trained by the magical world’s equivalent of OSHA, but also to have amnesia. They kept coming at it from the same hopeful, credulous angle, which is commendable, but also makes me afraid that they will believe it when their friends post things about how they are always empowered and always killin’ it and having a great time vacationing somewhere lovely and enjoying wearing funny outfits for the 64th Spirit Week of the school year, the school year which keeps getting interrupted by a potentially fatal virus or is taking place on their unmade beds.

It is possible that I angered a fairy with the death trap and that fairy pressed her small sharp wing-ends between my eyes every night, creating wonderfully pronounced eleven lines that suggest I am always angry, or always very concerned, in a way that prompts a we-will-not-be-new-friends-you-concern-monger response when I meet someone these days. It is also possible that the jumble of baby teeth I keep amongst my earrings is an offense to nature, or the laws of humankind, or the tooth fairy, and thus I am justifiably punished by looking older than most of my older siblings. It just feels odd to throw away baby teeth. If you don’t believe me, try it now. Get a bunch of chiclets or peanuts or sunflower seeds and hold them loosely in your fist, and imagine that you are holding teeth that were once shining out of the pink gums of a small, adorable person, and that you made a big show of leaving the tooth under the adorable person’s pillow and then you combat crawled into their room in the dead of night to swap out the tooth for a toy car or some loose change. And then just drop those teeth in your bathroom trash, and later, sense them knocking around in there amongst the tissues as you roll the bin out to the street or drive to the dump. You will feel like a murderer.

At times over the last almost-year, the year in which 538,571 Americans (by the time you read this it’ll be higher) and 2,611,523 total people died from Covid-19, I have attempted to be cheery. Around Christmas 2020, I made: a gingerbread house from scratch, a balsam wreath, ornaments, a lot of lemon curd, a lot of peanut brittle, cookies, cakes, cards for medical providers and hospital patients, and some other stuff. Whether any of it incurred cheer I do not know, because this is what I did with the gingerbread house:

It looks like a satanic altar, does it not?

Currently, I am attempting to bestir myself by backpedaling away from Meaty Cheese Mountain, home to the Salty Chip Forest. It’s not a cleanse or a detox, it’s just an effort to claw up out of physical and mental slackness and tv butt. If you just put a pumpkin in my chair during the frequent Zoom meetings held by the group I volunteer with, it’s possible the pumpkin would have more to contribute. I need to perk up. Last spring, I engaged in a cleanse called “shush” in which I tried to only talk about multiple simultaneous crises with people who had specifically agreed to talk to me about those things instead of yawping from narrow experience to the world at large. That plus donating beyond my means to people and groups who had already devised sound approaches to crises was helpful. The shush lasted until December, when I started making Yule-themed satanic altars.

This current operation is nothing like, say, the Master Cleanse, because I tried that once and it was as if I had willingly climbed into an airboat that brought me deep into the most fetid swamp, filled with swimming snakes and alligators AND crocodiles and pus balls and pus blobs and pus clouds and langorous slimy things and creepers of all kinds and then just stagnated there, simply ceased to move or matter or flow into the general collective life force. The Master Cleanse, which is lemon juice and water and maple syrup and cayenne pepper, is just a way (for me, anyway) to languish. No change occurs, and your tongue is always sore from the lemon juice. While doing that cleanse, I had very vivid flashbacks of every embarrassing thing I had ever done, and they retained such a powerful immediacy that I would just shout out loud in agony. This current thing is just an attempt to eat a lot of vegetables at every meal and whole grains and fruit and to avoid cheese and meat and maybe sugar, though sugar is basically in everything. I never came to a ruling on alcohol, but the idea is not to swill it. Coffee remains necessary and important and need not be discussed. And what is happening is that my body has grown frantic. “Where is the cheese?” it asks me. “WHERE IS ALL THE CHEESE?!” And while I am making a quesadilla for lunch for the second-grader because we are out of bread and options on Day 356 of Let’s Just All Be Home Together Nonstop and I Only Shopped Thinking about the What Not to Eat, I begin to actively salivate and then I stare at my 8-year-old child, hoping some quesadilla is left for me to eat before his break is over and then I sit next to him at while his sent-from-heaven teacher reads a text about the rainforest. Emergent, Canopy, Understory, Shrub Layer. Meanwhile, the fifth-grader is toasting a marshmallow on the gas stove, and this is perhaps dangerous, and I have thoughts about our energy use, and while I am thinking about how to approach this, the second grader begins to read a book called something like “I’m a Goddamned Dope” while his teacher is reading the rainforest book, so I actively choose not to address the energy/fire hazard/incipient pyromania situation and scold the kid–who has had to experience second grade and the end of first grade in his bedroom or our dining room–because he is taking in two books at once. That’s exactly right, right? To emphasize waiting painfully for information to drip to him digitally rather than encourage him to activate a bunch of his brain with two books?

The “cleanse” (I don’t know what to call it) has involved brown rice and steamed broccoli with ginger tamari sauce, which is among the only sauces from the Moosewood Cookbook that doesn’t include a pound of cream cheese and three cups of mozzarella. On night two of my one-person new approach to eating, when things were getting a little fragile and I was making two separate meals for the four people who have been constantly together since March 13, 2020, my husband offered me a meatball and an eight-ounce glass of Tempranillo. I believe I shouted at him that he was “the pusher man.”

I think that for those of us who have accepted the lethality of the coronavirus all along, and how tremendous the calamity of millions of individuals dying alone is — being lonesome while in great pain and at the point of an unwilling departure, and without comfort or ritual — becoming furious at people’s misplaced generosity or comradeship has been the theme of the year. Offers to gather for holidays, visit from out of state, drive in a car together, share a meal, etc., or to make oneself more audible by pulling one’s mask down, create in me the most purified rage, especially since it means other people, medical personnel and frontline workers, are forced to star in the snuff film we are creating, because we don’t care about the social contract but they are upholding it for all of us.

It is possible this new approach to nutrition has darkened my general vibe. But I think just shrugging off my protective cape of cheese reveals that I am, psychically, the equivalent of a hairless cat. You know what I mean:

In addition to hiding rendered fat in a treat box, another mistake I made this year was substituting technology for concerted effort. There are many examples of this. But here is one: Because we are lucky to be able to get local oysters easily, we ate a lot of oysters this summer. In the past, I’ve managed to properly shuck oysters with a butter knife, but I bought a fancy oyster knife, the kind that is both lovely to regard and hold, and then barely made any effort to prepare the oysters with it. I handed my husband an oyster that had shallots and hot sauce on it, but that I hadn’t really loosened from the shell. He knocked back about an ounce of hot sauce studded with raw onions and got just a hint of oyster-flavored brine. That oceanic hellfire’s only payoff was a seared throat. I had also managed to chip the oyster shell, so bits of shell got lodged in his gullet while the oyster just remained, so stolid and mocking for such a squishy thing.

Some problems I do not try to solve. We have an antisocial pet rabbit who chews wires and is partially responsible for about 700 typos in my work emails because she won’t let me pet her but will jump onto my laptop if I’m working from the couch and haven’t gotten up in 15 minutes. She will eat plants, wires of all kinds, yoga mats, books, and blankets. She will also eat whole carrots very slowly. Now I sit near her on the floor and also eat whole carrots very slowly. We are not friends. We are not friends but I dig it, because as a prey animal, with eyes set on either side of her head, she can’t just stare at me head-on, like we are in a Zoom meeting. I regret that I now have a memory bank full of Zoom meetings, four seasons of Zoom meetings. They are my required viewing: plotless shows, cast very carelessly, and televised every single day. And then when they are done I have a new list of tasks.

Well. I really did want to express some gratitude here, but it went pear-shaped. However, here is the poem I was thinking of when I remembered what I did with the tin of grease, a poem which you can find at poets.org by Kenneth Koch:

One Train May Hide Another

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line--
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it's best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person's reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you're not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
     Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another--one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
     may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple--this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother's bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter's bag one finds oneself confronted by
     the mother's
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
     or the same love
As when "I love you" suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when "I'm full of doubts"
Hides "I'm certain about something and it is that"
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
     Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading 
    A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you're asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
     foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you'd have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It 
     can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

And here is a rabbit regarding you, sort of:


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