When she was performing live right before the pandemic, I felt closer to Amanda Palmer than I ever have. She doesn’t know this of course or about the contentious relationship we have. That I feel equal parts awed by the way she presents herself to the world while also wishing she calmed the fuck down. But I don’t think you can get one without the other, honestly. Her fuck ups are legendary internet fodder which makes my palms sweat just thinking about it. I don’t think I would hold up well under that level of scrutiny and she keeps marching forward. Currently, she looks very grown up goth to me – basic black not too flashy, she wears natural make up, she looks a little tired, her roots show just a little bit, but she’s performing her heart out still and her sound keeps evolving. I find this really relatable, it’s what I’m doing too. Recently I took a deep dive back into my archives and oh dear lordess. What a mess. I think about this evolutionary process sometimes when I’m cooking. I’ve gone from rarely cooking to constant cooking. Not due to a lack of desire previously, but most of my time and energy got sucked out by my day job and hustle. This new life is making me good at unexpected things. Very little food is wasted now, which has been a way to honor my grandparents as ancestors (along with keeping the sink clean).
MFHG and I get together in the morning on some days. He’s one of the few who will tolerate this for video chats. Everyone wants happy hours and evening game nights with the best games from Headphonage. By then, I’m exhausted if I’ve been having a quietly productive day or I’m about to be completely exhausted from whatever fresh hell Jow brings in through the door – money missing from his paychecks (yes friends! This is how we treat our heroes!), food poisoning that he gave to both of us when he cooked dinner one night on his day off (but both he and his doctor are positive is the virus – Spoiler: it was not, as the test indicated), an accidental needle stick and sometimes, just too much death for him to take in.
Lately, they’ve been sending patients home mostly. But it wasn’t like that a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, it ranged from the so absurd it became hilarious to so fucking sad I didn’t know what to say.
I don’t often want to get together in the evening. At the very least, Jow comes home sometime between 4-7p which is a really wide variable when you’re trying to map out your own day and when to make dinner but we follow protocol and I usually keep him company while he does that so by the time he’s done with protocol and I’ve put dinner on the table and sometimes we have a half hour to talk to each other, it’s time to do it all again. This is made a bit easier by all the thoughtful gifts left on our doorstep by loved ones – sometimes cookies, sometimes stew, sometimes cards, sometimes champagne, sometimes flowers, sometimes masks, sometimes talismans.
MFHG will take tea with me early though, which is good because having verbal interaction is probably good for me. I’ve noticed over tea and livestreams that my throat now hurts a little after an hour from talking so much (which PastDeb would find hilarious) He noted that I seemed to be flourishing during all of this, as he is. Guilt crosses both our faces via computer. No one is allowed to flourish right now. You are allowed to be depressed, comatose, anxious about the end of the world, bored and reacting poorly to any and all of this. You are not supposed to be all, game on muthafucka! No one is supposed to be flourishing in whatever new role they’ve taken up, but here I am, a newly minted apocalyptic housewife, mostly thriving. Making elaborate dinners for Jow, moving my body almost every day, shipping orders, spinning and weaving, my house more in order than it’s been probably ever.
He said that I am like a giant squid on the bottom of the ocean that you can only catch a glimpse of through a glass that makes me look smaller and more manageable than the interdimensional elder being I actually am. In my regular life, I look like a modestly sized squid who could fit herself into a mason jar very neatly. In the apocalypse? I’m a goddamn eldritch being shrieking, be not afraid!
During this morning’s tea, I said that I’m stretching my tentacles, so to speak. And I am. I’m still anxious of course. Like, that doesn’t magically go away. But I’ve also never had this much time to myself. I was in school from the age of four to twenty-two and I had part time to full time jobs of various levels since I was twelve. Summer off was not a thing, really. Even when I had a brief bout of full time unemployment, I was a content writer and when that annoyed me too much I became a nanny because I was making myself crazy. At first during this pandemic, I was just screaming, you’re garbage! to myself all day and accomplishing very little.
And then I started stretching out.
While my brain does still scream about the pandemic or whatever fresh hell is going on for Jow as a nurse for one of our state’s virus step down units, it has stopped screaming about many of the things it normally screams about. Being forced to massively simplify life has done that. My brain has literally slowed down so that it’s not constantly speeding and shrieking. It’s given me time to appreciate a long drive on a road that’s usually massive traffic but now feels almost bucolic. I’m taking time to slow down what I’m eating so I can, like, taste the food I’m shoving in my face. I’m asking myself what I want to eat instead of putting a moral judgement on it and I find I’m interested in kinds of tastes and colors verses ALL THE COOKIES EVER IN MY FACE. I’m running low key science experiments in my home and in my body like I did when I was much younger and really being interested in the results (double espresso was a bit overambitious this morning for the record). I’m starting to try to learn to listen to my body’s cues again. I find when I’m not in a constant state of being completely overwhelmed, it’s easier to listen to myself and enjoy my own company even more than I usually do.
I realized that when I did a long walk well a few days ago, I was able to do it because I was wearing ankle boots. I kept thinking if I just walked more, my ankles would become strong. But they never have. I don’t know why it’s taken me until now to then consider, perhaps when I’m taking an extended walk, I should wear ankle supports. Probably getting said supports to experiment with is the key first step here, so that’s in progress. I’m accepting my body in new and different ways. Like, my current SockDream socks mostly fit but they don’t fit the way I want them to. So I should (at some point) get new ones. Things that used to bother me about my house now don’t and things that previously didn’t bother me now do and I’m trying to take note while I’m flowing into all of this.
I feel more myself, I’m stepping forward into my inner Emma more, so to speak (now with deep sea tentacles!). Not quite match making (though Jow will tell you that all that’s keeping me from running a successful version of Married at First Sight is obtaining a few binders), but brainstorming, lending support, coming up with plans, advising people about stepping forward to the things they want, running interference in familial squabbles, keeping loved one’s spirits up, offering an additional perspective for sticky situations (upon request), organizing this new daily life, listening to research books, centering myself in gratitude, moving my body almost every day. When I don’t move my body, I’m so much more anxious and depressed. When my lips are chapped and I have roots, I’m often more depressed. When I don’t put effort into what to wear, I’m often more depressed. So I’m trying to do those things more. I bought a basting brush for my Overtone hair color conditioner and that’s been working out really nicely.
I find myself enmeshed in simple rituals. I had the nicest Beltane I’ve had in recent years because usually I’m exhausted from tax season and I still frankly want to die. This year, I did a livestream making one of my best floral crowns to date. I pranced around outside in it for a little while. I gave our very fancy black madonna a jaunty May crown. I made a bouquet of flowers. I made dinner with spring flavors – baked brie with Sicilian marmalade and acacia honey with fresh pears and challah, roasted fresh asparagus, hollandaise sauce, grilled lamb, cauliflower gnocchi, cinnamon bread with creamy berry gelato and May wine that I infused.
At the same time, the inability to offer physical support for difficult situations ties my brain in knots right now. You can’t go to a funeral service, you can’t run to someone’s house to drop off a casserole, you can’t visit anyone at the hospital, you can’t have any parties to celebrate anything, you certainly can’t lay your hands on anyone for healing, you can’t help anyone move, you can’t even take your loved ones out for drinks so they can catch their breath. It’s frustrating af to have your hands tied like this.
An example of this would be when G. lost her mom earlier in the week. One of the few things we can do right now in our state is walk outside. So, I dragged her out of her house. I lost my dad when I was eighteen, I can’t imagine having no respite right now. But that’s what’s happening – birthdays, deaths, Mother’s Day, it all keeps marching forward and apart. When we got our park privileges back –
You have to understand. We’re one of the hardest hit in the country. It can be hard to wrap your head around all this when you aren’t physically seeing it happen at your door. But I don’t have any other choice than to see how bad this pandemic can get. That’s my lens with where I live. With Jow having his hands in it literally every day there’s no way for me to be like, oh this is no big deal. It’s changing the shape of the world, so that’s a pretty fucking big deal.
Am I personally afraid to go to stores that are open or parks or beaches? Not when the simple act of my husband coming home every night is a bigger risk, honestly. I wear my mask, I wash my mask regularly, I wash my hands, I take the proper precautions. But even if I never left the house, Jow brings home that risk every night. We live in a tiny rabbit burrow. There’s no way for me to avoid this.
The beaches reopened, officially. The boardwalks too. The benches are taped up, you’re supposed to surf or walk and keep it moving. I find myself wishing for a surf board, admiring a bright blue house by the shore with a wet suit outside drying. I have found that if you are willing to go early in the day, it’s not very crowded. Many people are working from home or home schooling their kids. Most people don’t want to get up early on the weekends. It’s not very crowded anywhere early, typically.
Going to the beach felt forbidden. Too much joy! No one is allowed a moment’s respite. Not from grief, not from the virus. But I know intimately how needed it is to function in the face of grief. And how sharp that joy is to remind you that you’re still breathing air. You need that sharpness to keep moving forward. I wanted to give that to G.
When my dad died, my friends took me out shopping and cut school with me so I didn’t have to sit through class all day and instead we could drive with the top down and eat fries at lunch and try on too-short skirts. It sounds frivolous af and it is. But so is life. And you need that balance in grief to keep yourself upright.
I coaxed G. out, the next day it would be raining and it wouldn’t be nearly as nice out. She said she could go but only if we headed out right away. I fished two small bottles of rum from the freezer for the Ocean Mama and stopped at the store to pick up flower offerings, vitamins that I’ve been bothering G. to take and the fairy cookies that I love for her to try. It’s also her birthday because sometimes this is what life looks like. Happy birthday! I brought offerings for us to give, pills I’ve been nagging you about and allllllso fairy cookies!
It’s hard to read her with our masks but eventually, I start to get the hang of it. We make our offerings of white roses and rum to the Ocean Mama and my boots are predictably covered in seawater. I consider taking off my shoes and going in like some of the others, but I decide to wait for next week. It feels so good to just walk and walk and see and smell the ocean. I see tiny omens everywhere. G. asks if they are good. I say that it depends on what you are looking for. I see a witchy woman sitting on a mediation cushion on the beach and I think what an amazing idea that is, I see a surfer chick taking off her wet suit happy and smiling, I see seashells on the beach (a rarity in New Jersey). Soon, by happy happenstance, we run into a friend of ours completely unexpectedly and march up and down the boardwalk some more.
The ocean always makes me feel amazing, like my best self. My hair is always good, my sunglasses are cute, I’m hungry for seafood on the way home and sleepy and relaxed when I get home. It feels like anything could happen, in the best possible way.
I wish that for you too. May your hair be good, may you have enough food to nourish your body, may you dream lovely things, may you sleep well tonight with the sound of the ocean in your ears.