Not Reentry Ready

I’m not ready. Are you?

Apparently the pandemic is coming to a close. Only four episodes left before the 3-hour series finale with limited commercial interruptions sponsored by Progressive Insurance. Streaming live. Tweet about it with your friends.

Aside from the hours and weeks spent paralyzed by palpable dread and anxiety, that sure went by pretty fast! And here I am rotating my three pairs of soft pants (denim? Isn’t that the new Coldplay album?) and finally realizing my childhood dream of being able to sit on my hair. Is this all I have to show for myself? Split ends growing their own split ends and a slavish devotion to stretchy, breathable fabrics? It’s like, what have I been doing this entire time?  

All this talk of reopening malls and movie theatres and Chuck E. Cheeses has me in a bit of pit sweat because, honestly, I’m so behind. I haven’t started a podcast and my closets are full of the same junk they were in 2012. I haven’t used a funny or ironic or vaguely offensive Zoom background and now I fear I’ll never “accidently” click on something that turns me into a pig or chicken during my congressional hearing. I’m still buying my bread at the grocery store like it was 2018 and have barely made a dent in my toilet paper reserves. Slacker, thy name is me.

While we’re on the subject of abject failure: I didn’t write the next King Lear. I know. I KNOW! I had over a year of mostly uninterrupted time–it was practically a retreat, right? If that retreat was held in the scorched remains of a dystopian nightmare novel—to write a book or screenplay or opera (also set in the scorched remains of a dystopian nightmare novel), but have come up empty handed. I’m a flop, an embarrassment to creatives who are thinking, feeling humans and not cyborgs like William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton and, I’m guessing, everyone at Apple (even a pandemic can’t slow the rollout of tech junk we don’t actually need). While there’s still some time left, maybe I can master watercolors or learn Farsi—you know, knock a few easy things off the list so I at least have something to talk about at all the cocktail parties I’ll feel obligated to attend.

That reminds me of something else that I’m not ready for: peopling. How do we say words in the right order toward other humans while also reacting, wait, responding, wait rejoindering (new word?) to the mouth words coming out of their face spaces? Can I still put you on mute? Can I put me on mute? WHERE IS THE MUTE BUTTON ON THIS THING? Once I have it sorted out on how to do the peopling talk-talk again, that brings me to my next worry: What do I say? Of course we will both want to rehash in great and painstakingly finite detail the nuances of our experiences weathering PANDEMIC 2020 (Anderson Cooper and Tina Fey sit down with the entire cast following the series finale—don’t miss it! YouTube with your friends!). What’s left? I suppose there are old standbys of polite chit-chat like climate change, reproductive rights, and baseball (Boy, those Ravenclaws are going to have a tough season without Gandalf pitching. Am I right?). What I’m saying is I feel ill-equipped to downshift out of conversations related on how to get Icelandic citizenship to ones about the avocado shortage. A Pandemic Reentry Guide to Successful Reentry would be helpful. I’d write it, but I only have a few months or weeks left and this sci-fi screenplay about King Lear and Isaac Newton isn’t going to write itself.

It feels like a lot. The pressure to expel yourself back into the world. Not just to a movie or a reopened indoor restaurant, but to vacation in Bali, to commit to the pilgrimage to Mecca, to cash in the 80’s Heavy Metal Rock’n Cruise voucher and get back out there. Go big and do not go home, this is the message I’m receiving. Because we’ve suffered so much and gone without for so long, we deserve to let loose, spend all the money on non-essential items, and crack some ribs hugging people again. I want that, too. I’m just not all the way there yet. Aside from finally getting around to fixing the chimney and falling in love with the art of scrapbooking, I simply feel poorly prepared for reentry and all that comes with it. I don’t know if I want my memory wiped like a new SIM card. I guess I didn’t do much, but I’d like to hang on to what I learned.  

So maybe we can pump the breaks, just a hare, a scooch, really. Maybe there is a reentry-lite option that exists somewhere between MTV Spring Break Booze Beach House ’97 and going to a place that isn’t the grocery store or post office. And maybe it would be enough if we could still wear soft pants while sitting just a bit closer together and laugh more easily and still listen to the birds and talk about the million different nothings or maybe not talk at all and instead just be okay with being okay together.

365

In the last 365 days I have seen more wildlife than I have in all my years on the planet—eagles, cardinals, herons, swans, deer. Some of them incongruously skulking around the city.

In the last 365 days it seems pretty clear that humans are the incongruous ones.

In the last 365 days I felt the air grow sweeter, the silences open up to allow us to hear again, the natural world become softer and more like its wild self.

In the last 365 days I fell in love with my neighborhood, my local surroundings. I met Magnolia trees, with their pink, sugary blossoms, in the yards of houses just blocks away. I discovered footbridges and wooded trails and sunrise views I never knew existed and will not forget anytime soon.

In the last 365 days I have seen our best selves on display. People showing up for one another in big and small ways. People caring about strangers living on another continent. People remembering what it means to be human.

In the last 365 days I have seen our worst selves on display. People turning away from one another—angry, huddled behind a barricade of fear. People hurting and so hurting other people. People willfully blind, stubbornly prejudice to the simple fact that there is no you without me.

In the last 365 days I have seen way too much litter that wasn’t in play before-c’mon, now, folks. You can despair the end of days and pop that Poland Springs bottle in a receptacle. This is not that hard.

In the last 365 days I have cried more often than I’ve laughed. This math is no longer acceptable.

In the last 365 days I have accessed a deep well of anger I didn’t know I had.

In the last 365 days I wanted to unsee banners and signs and effigies in praise of a morally bankrupt human tragedy. Even more, I wanted to unfeel the disappointment with you, camped out over there on the wrong side of history. And maybe, what I really wanted was empathy to be easy, connection uncomplicated, understanding a zero risk endeavor.

In the last 365 days I witnessed the next evolution of the civil rights era arrive on a wave of white hot pain, rage, anger, and grief. I was challenged to reconcile with my privilege and position and role in the long drama of injustice. I am still rising to and falling short of that challenge.

In the last 365 days I realized I know very little about so very much.

In the last 365 days I surrendered to the cult of soft pants, and I am never looking back.

In the last 365 days I deeply regretted not investing in some video technology company called Zoom.

In the last 365 days I wondered how it was ever going to be okay.

In the last 365 days I realized there are still worse problems, bigger tragedies, and more terrible, toothy beasts under the bed than this shared health crisis. And that made me realize over and over again that perspective is more than just something you learn about in art class.  

In the last 365 days I saw how we repurposed the scraps of rituals and celebrations to make new forms of joy. One day from my upstairs window I watched as a line of cars slowly snaked their way in front of my neighbor’s house. Pink and white balloons trailed from open windows. Streamers fluttered from tailgates like tails on Chinese dragons. The street filled with the sounds of car horns. I saw the young woman, the fiancé of my neighbor’s son, come out on the porch. With one hand she cradled her baby bump. With the other she wiped away tears. One by one people got out of their cars, yelling, waving signs, blowing kisses as they gently laid cellophane wrapped baskets and gifts papered in cheerful patterns on the front lawn. The world may have stopped, but love did not.

In the last 365 days I realized we haven’t forgotten what’s important.

In the last 365 days I deeply appreciated the hard work and dedication of the toilet paper manufacturing industry.

In the last 365 days I wore the mask, gladly. Finally, no one was telling me to smile more.

In the last 365 days I worried over the very real possibility of losing American democracy.

In the last 365 days I understood in ways that I never have before what it takes to preserve and fight for this democracy. The short answer: it takes all of us.

In the last 365 days I did not join the cult of the sourdough starter.

In the last 365 days I drifted a little from some friends and a lot from others. I am working my way back.

In the last 365 days I have never felt so grateful or so indebted to the people who have made it their business to make us laugh and think and laugh some more—Sarah Cooper, Trevor Noah, Randy Rainbow, Caitlin Moran, Sarah Silverman, Alexandra Petri, the entire cast of Schitt’s Creek, the GIF-makers and meme-creators and Tik-Tokkers, the people gleefully sharing their Zoom filter fails. Funny people are right up there next to all the other heroes without capes.

In the last 365 days I let go of a lot: grudges big and small, habits that wasted my time, beliefs that didn’t serve, parts of myself that I used to think were essential, but were just taking up space (sort of like an emotional appendix), expectations, demands, and haircut appointments.

In the last 365 days I discovered that clearing clutter is not just reserved for closets.

In the last 365 days I stood in awe of the resilience and unrestrained joy of children.

In the last 365 days I multiplied my respect and reverence for teachers and child raising people into the triple digits. Coffee providers of the world, four words: Free. Java. For. Life.

In the last 365 days I slowed down. I went dark. I retreated. I unraveled some days and on others I glued the pieces back together. I stopped looking for answers and started finding acceptance. I sent my roots down, searching for nourishment, seeking something to hold onto in the free fall.

365 days later we are still falling.

365 days later we are still standing.

365 days later we are still here.