Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Elusiveness of Normal

I’m not sure I can be normal again.

I’m fully vaccinated, about to leave 29° snow behind for a vacation in Maui, and these are my thoughts: Should I take some calming medication before sitting on a crowded airplane with a mask on for five hours? This is a plane where everyone has had to have a negative Covid test within 72 hours, but that’s not it.

I’m not scared of Covid; I’m scared of realizing that normal is no longer possible.

I look back at the past year; I’ve made a family recipe art book, tackled art projects, organized an online theater-watching group, read a bazillion books. I even was incredibly excited about getting a chocolate-dipped ice cream pop!

But now, I wake up adrift. Plans don’t excite me. I’m sick of snow, sick of skiing, sick of Netflix, sick of cooking, sick of grocery store pickup ordering, sick of my computer. I started posting poetry on signs on my yard, and now I’m sick of poetry. Sometimes I actually don’t feel like reading, which is truly cataclysmic. Vaccination has been like spotting a finish line and totally sagging before you cross it.


We just restarted our athletic club membership so I could swim again … and I haven’t gone. I’m not worried about catching Covid at the club, not worried about germs. I’m worried that swimming won’t feel good.

Early on in my Third Third, I discovered the Big Three that were necessary for a happy Third Third:

Without teaching at the Alaska Literacy Program, without in-person classes with OLÉ, my days have become sort of adrift. My ability to adapt has petered out. The only schedule I have is on the computer: a writing class, author interviews, recorded theater. Only occasionally am I “of use.” My community is on Zoom.

Our daughter quit her first job, one she had loved. For the last year, I characterized our phone calls as her trying to convince herself she was happy with her job. She faced workplace issues complicated by working remotely, and she was valiant in framing things positively, but her heart was no longer in it. It became just too hard and she quit. Hooray! She radiates happiness now. I’m a big supporter of eliminating negative conditions quickly and decisively.

But the ones I’m in – the ones we’re all in – just aren’t quickly and decisively going away, and I’m losing the ability to convince myself that “X will be fun; let’s do X!” Or even “I feel like doing X.” Or even “X has to be done, suck it up and do it.” I don’t suck it up anymore; I just drift.

I know that my negative conditions don’t include illness or death, job loss, or eviction – as many people’s do – and I’m grateful for that. I know that the snow I’m sick of covers a yard I may appreciate when the snow melts. For goodness sake, I’m heading to Maui! (stop whining!) But I also know that the Big Three for a happy Third Third have been disrupted, and it will take time to re-create the Third Third that works for me.

We’ve had our first fully-vaccinated guests for dinner, been guests for the first time in someone else’s fully-vaccinated home. Both those times felt just like the old normal once we were in them. Really. But they took some psychic lifting to actually do them. They’re still not a new normal.

We may have landed in this pandemic suddenly, but I think we’re going to have to lift ourselves out of it with baby steps.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Collateral Damage

My inanimate objects are suffering from Covid-19, and it’s not just my car. The latest victim: my beanbag chairs.

Yes, yes, I know: nobody has beanbag chairs anymore. Nobody in their Third Third. Nobody who has trouble getting up once they’ve gotten down. I have that trouble, too. But when the TV proved too hard to see all the way from the couch, it was easier to drag the beanbags out into the middle of the floor, closer to the TV. 

(Why do they insist on using text messages on detective shows? You have to race for the pause button and get right up to the TV to see what crucial bit of information the detective has just received.) 

But now – compliments of Netflix and Prime and Hulu, Disney+ and HBO Max and PBS Passport – the beanbags are pretty squashed and flattened. I’m not sitting on beans anymore; I’m sitting on floor.

I sewed my first giant-size beanbag chairs back when I had my first apartment. They have a muslin lining so I can wash the outside, and there have been many iterations of the outside as they wore out, were faded by the sun, or just got tired. Now the outsides are fine; it’s the insides that have Covid.

The issue is the filling: Styrofoam pellets. They start out round and roly-poly, but they flatten. Then you have to add more. That was easier in the ’70s. Since then, it’s been a challenge.

I filled my first beanbag chair in Berkeley, California. I’d driven there in my little Datsun and stuffed it full, really FULL. It was like an early version of air bags, I guess, but as if they’d already exploded. I ended up spending the night, and when my friend Jenny saw the car the next morning, she marveled that no junkies had broken in thinking it was some incredible bounty of drugs.

When I lived in San Francisco and my brother worked the early a.m. shift as a trolley coach driver, he used to show up at my place, settle in the beanbag chair in the sun, and fall asleep. So when he turned 50, I made him a beanbag chair and flew down to San Francisco in September 2001 with a bag and liner. I called all around and discovered a plastics place for the pellets.

The thing about filling beanbag chairs is that Styrofoam pellets have static. They stick to the plastic bag you’re emptying, to your hair, your clothes, to the bag you’re putting them in. We looked like a popcorn popper had run amuck with us inside it.

Once the bag was filled, planes flew into the World Trade Centers and my sister-in-law buried herself in the beanbag chair in front of the television. It was comforting: beanbag chairs hug back. She liked it. She said, “This is nice. You’ll have to make one for your brother some day.”

But now I have Netflix-flattened beanbag chairs, which means a Quest, a Quest for Pellets. I’ve been led on wild goose chases to Fred Meyer, Walmart, a bigger Walmart, a different Fred Meyer. Salespeople say, “Oh, yes, that’s in Crafts.” Crafts say, “We haven’t had them in years.” Salespeople in the front of the store have seen the pellets in the back of the store, but that is only a figment of their imagination. This happens in every store.

The Quest moves online, where – no, no, no! I’ve done this before! – I lose myself in the customer reviews of pellets.

This is too much complexity for my Covid brain. The floor is just fine.

Friday, January 22, 2021

My Car/My Covid Self

My car and I are experiencing Covid in parallel. Not “together” because mostly, I don’t go anywhere so I don’t drive anywhere, but we’re still tied up with each other, both liberating and traumatizing each other.

Sophie tells us that the Covid experience is markedly different if (1) you have a backyard and (2) you have a car. I am incredibly grateful to have both. So my car meant I could Get Out and About. I was free! Thank you, car.


I’ve already explained here that this is a car with gizmos, that it has “features” that are supposed to enhance my driving experience. That’s what happens when you replace a 1998 car with a 2017 car.

One of the “features” of this car is that it goes dead. When I go away for a month, it is dead when I return. But with Covid, the car was going dead every other time I got in it. We were Tim was constantly jumping it.

When I take my car into the repair shop, I tell them I am a woman who mostly drives alone, so it’s up to them to make sure my car will NEVER break down, never leave me vulnerable in some dark, deserted place. That works. I have only had very reliable cars.

Until mine started going dead. A lot. Mostly, it went dead in the garage, but then it went dead at the grocery store.

Barbara/Car Covid Parallel: Both of us are having trouble leaving the house. No matter how much we may want to be part of the world, we’re retreating. We just don’t go.

Apparently, according to the battery man, I have to drive my car enough for it to recharge the battery. Driving it once a week, maybe to the grocery store five minutes away for pickup is not enough. I have to drive it at least eleven miles.

Barbara/Car Covid Parallel: It seems that neither of us is getting enough exercise.

So I take a Big Excursion to Target, which is only 7.3 miles away, but I stop at the library and keep the car running during curbside pickup, so I think that counts. I happily find birthday cards for my sister … and in the parking lot, my car is dead as a doornail. It is dark, cold, and far from home.

Barbara/Car Covid Parallel: We are both traumatized, paralyzed with anxiety.

I ask the friendly Channel 2 News anchorman who has unluckily parked next to me if he would jump my car. I pull out my handy dandy jumper cable case with the instructions on the outside.

Nothing doing. I phone Tim and stand in the now-vacant space next to my car, waving away all the other people who want that space and who think I am an asshole. I explain and one guy offers to jump it.

 “No, thank you, my husband is on his way.” (I want my husband!)

Tim conquers 7.3 miles of rush-hour and bad weather, arrives, hooks up the cables, and sits with his engine running, giving my car an infusion of energy. I vibrate.

Barbara/Car Covid Parallel: Little by little, both of us calm down and can now direct our nervous energy toward Getting Home. We can start. The clock in the car is now two hours behind. I am not sure what day it is; my car is not sure what time it is.

Once home, Tim says, “Tomorrow we can take your car in.”

Barbara/Car Covid Parallel: Now that we are safe in the garage and safe at home – kissing the ground! – we are not leaving.

Days go by, and I eventually take the car into my trusty Subaru mechanic. J-T tells me that these newer cars have so many security features and special electronics, that they are always draining energy. The little red light that’s always blinking is the sign that the car is monitoring itself. If you don’t drive it enough, it won’t recharge enough to be able to start up.

Barbara/Car Covid Parallel: I am constantly ruminating over every little issue, monitoring my mental health and my awkward social interactions. Now I know that my car is doing the same thing! Are my fluid levels good, what about my tire pressure? Did I embarrass myself on that Zoom call, how can I feel purposeful again?

But J-T has a solution: he installs a little Battery Minder in my car. Kept plugged in, it sends a little trickle of energy to my car while it sleeps. My well-rested car is now happy and eager to start up and go.

I need a Battery Minder.

Sharing Button