The Quarantine Paradox (Revisited)
It’s been a year.
I had no recollection of writing these words; I found them in my drafts, rediscovered when I logged in to make some edits on my site in preparation for a soon to air podcast.
Though it’s tempting to finish this piece and make more meaning of it, to reflect on who I am now and who I was a year ago, what we’ve done, who we’ve been, who we’ve become, it feels as exhausting as everything else has felt this year. I stopped keeping track of the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases on May 9, 2020 when I realized that life as we knew it, for the foreseeable future, would be canceled.
I’m okay with posting this unchewed and unfinished. I’ve got other writing to do, and leaving it as it is feels like a gentle completion, to turn the page, share, and let it go.
I hope you are safe, healthy and well. xo, Karen
Every morning when I wake up, I check three websites. First, the global Coronavirus Dashboard. Second, the Los Angeles Times. Third, the New York Times, specifically to see the map of California and how we’re doing at flattening the curve. After I look at the data, I update a spreadsheet where I track the daily totals and growth percentages.
When I started tracking on March 18, California had recorded 636 cases. As of today (4/21/20), the total is 33,879. For a couple of days, the data showed what looked like a flattening of the curve, though we had heard the worst was yet to come. The spike in the number of cases, assumed due to additional testing and reporting shows a spike in the curve. I know just enough about statistics to know that the spike may be an anomaly and also enough to presume that we won’t know more until we know more. (How’s that for the science related content you were hoping to read from me?)
After I remove myself from the news, I go about my day the best I can.
I want to be hopeful. I want to be reassuring and confident, especially to my kids who are living a nightmare of cancellations and separations. I want to know how and when this ends.
As I think about what I’m missing, what we’re missing, how terrifying this is, how much people are suffering. I begin to fixate on the little things.
Is it the things I can control?
I look at my eyebrows in the mirror as I’m about to insert my contact lenses and I can get a good closeup.
Whoa! I’m looking a bit more like Eugene Levy than I used to. Time to pull out some tiny scissors and trim these caterpillars masquerading as my eyebrows.
For what though?
In the absence of people to see and places to go, I consider how much time, energy and money I have spent on my appearance. Manicures and pedicures (my chipping nails tell me it’s time to put some attention there), haircuts, highlights, waxing, laser treatments, facials, massages and even an eyelash perm. Do I do this for myself or to look “a certain way” around other people? Who am I trying to impress? Am I bored? Is this all necessary? I don’t know.
More questions I can’t answer.
I spent a few dollars online to extend the color of my hair when I noticed my now constant messy bun looking a little too blonde at the ends, but too blonde quickly went to WHERE’S MY BLONDE? I DON’T EVEN LOOK LIKE MYSELF ANYMORE as the golden brown coloring conditioner (which smells like spearmint) transforms my beachy inspired locks into something more muted. I don’t hate it, but it’s not familiar. Nothing is familiar. Life is muted.
Zoom calls have me staring at my face more than I used to, and I notice the lower part of my face beginning to sag – I’ve heard this phenomenon described as marionette lines. What a horrible comparison, this natural process of aging, a fight against gravity, reduced to puppetry. Ew. Why do we do this to ourselves? Am I trying to look younger? Am I fighting a losing battle? Is there something I can do about this or is it another thing I have to accept that I don’t like. Why am I fighting at all? Who is winning and who is losing?
Then a couple of weeks ago (weeks? a month? who knows anymore), in my mask at the grocery store, I was carded. Flattered, shocked, I wondered how much evidence of my 49 years is concealed behind the mask? I gladly handed over my ID (bless your heart). Is this something to be fixed, or simply acknowledged? Maybe I need to sleep on my back? Maybe it’s too late? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the clerk is being monitored for checking IDs per store policy and it has nothing to do with me or how I look?
We are living in the ongoing unfamiliar, which was technically always true, but the norm felt so predictable and now I’m staring at data sets and playing amateur epidemiologist sitting in the waiting. Staying safer at home, physically distanced from all the comforts and routines we took for granted.
So what does matter?
Every time they complain about what they’ve lost (is it complaining or just stating a fact?), I tell Jake and Ellie I imagine this compares to living in wartime except now we have the joys of connection through the Internet! We aren’t really isolated at all, we are globally connected. I say this while cursing under my breath that all that global connection landed us in a freaking PANDEMIC. Ellie, studying world history in 9th grade, tells me about the comparisons to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. I see this in my drips of news, specifically including warnings to not end the quarantine too soon, trying to prevent a second surge. The cities that acted fasted had the best containment. I wonder what the history books will say about this, about us, a hundred years from now?
I’m trying to use the time to do all the things I am supposed to do. I even set up a gamified and incentivized experience of a “wellness challenge” to inspire my kids to take on hobbies and self-care projects. I failed the challenge after the first week. Personally, I hated learning the ukulele, but they seem motivated to do something, which is better than nothing. At least I think it’s better.
I hear people talking about “coming out stronger” but I don’t know what that means. Right now, I want to be safe. I want my family to be safe. I want my friends to be safe. I want my city, state, country and world to be safe.
It’s not looking good. Does that make me a realist or a pessimist?
I feel guilty for how lucky we are to be who we are and to live how and where we do. Rafe’s business is essential, mine was always virtual. I love spending more time with the kids but it feels like we’ve pirated the time and this forced cohabitation is ill gotten booty. This doesn’t stop me from loving hearing the noises of their lives and seeing everyone’s faces and cozying into home together. And I hate that they have to spend time with us, especially at ages where they should be spending time with their friends and on their own developing all the skills they are supposed to have to “adult.” I never expected “adulting” to look like this.
I love that I got to adapt my gym routines to meeting my trainer on my iPad in my garage. I love that we moved into this house in 2017. Living in our old house would have completely crushed my spirit….
Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash