It’s not exactly akin to the Year of Living Dangerously, but there is something about the current situation that brings to mind that movie. Maybe it is simply the title that makes me think of my weeks of living dangerously, each time I go to the supermarket or pharmacy and expose myself to other people. Or the moments when I really lived dangerously and invited a friend to sit on my back porch to share a bottle of wine from separate glasses while we sat a safe six feet apart.
I, of course, am not living dangerously, not when I compare my relative seclusion and the appeal of seductive self-isolation giving me time for myself to the brave and selfless actions of health care workers, first responders, and essential service personnel like grocery store, pharmacy and supermarket employees among others. However, just like for everyone else, my life is very different from what I had envisioned for myself BC or Before COVID-19.
The park visits occur twice daily, once in the morning with friends at a proper social distance, and again solo in the early evening. Call it waddling for wellness, keeping my Fitbit and me happy as I get in my 10,000 steps. The walks help keep the pounds from piling up too much. I am eating and drinking more, but my meanderings keep me at a break-even point when I step on the scale. These twice-daily strolls also establish a routine, which the experts say is mentally critical to handle the stress of quarantine. They bookend my day — coffee and two miles in the morning, wine and two miles in the evening.
I seek to hold onto the good in a not very good situation. I know I am among the lucky ones; I am not ill and do not personally know anyone who has been infected by COVID-19. One son is among the nearly 17 million people who lost their jobs; another son is a federal employee whose job is still safe. I struggle to hold onto my humanity and find contentment, if not unbridled happiness. The presence of two little girls who live in my neighborhood and ride their bikes down the street past my window every day does cheer me up.
Since that moment, every aspect of my life has changed drastically. My social and work life revolves around Zoom, a cloud-based video conferencing service. I have become addicted to Zoom, which is my new best friend, because it allows me to stay socially connected, even as I remain socially distant.
I got to know Zoom in a training session at Santa Fe College, where I teach public speaking. We actually learned in person, because ironically the sessions took place in person, in a classroom, where we sat within shouting distance of each other – although still six feet apart. This was just two days before the school closed its doors “in an abundance of caution” – and we were collectively disconnected and disenfranchised in terms of in-person contact.
I now conduct my classes on public speaking via Zoom two days a week. I have office hours on Zoom daily, which only a handful of students have attended, but I am there. I attend faculty meetings on Zoom. I sat in on a Zoom session about fundraising for political campaigns geared toward getting progressive women elected to office in Florida. I am on the boards of two local organizations and we meet on Zoom. We even hired someone through an interview process we conducted on Zoom. My writer’s group is meeting on Zoom. I attended Zoom lectures from international journalists covering the global pandemic in the Philippines, India and South Africa. I took a yoga class on Zoom and I went to a Zoom dance party hosted by a group of academics in Michigan. How did I make that connection? By briefing the mother of one of the organizers on how to work on Zoom.
Zoom helps keeps me sane. I don’t feel bored, I am as busy as I was when I used to be outside, but I don’t have to waste money or time on getting from Point A to Point B. Now I don’t have to go anywhere; I don’t have to dress up (except when I have class, and only from the waist up; the camera doesn’t see my ever-constant sweat pants.) I do not have a partner and live alone, but I don’t feel like I am in solitary confinement, in great part thanks to Zoom. You can talk and meet as a group or one-on-one in real time. The gallery view on Zoom is like the clip from the movie Love Actually. I love seeing everyone’s face and hearing their voices. I relish being alone together.
I even had a Passover Seder of sorts on Zoom on April 8 with my two sons. Mike, who lives in Gainesville, hasn’t been to see me since the stay-at-home decree was issued. He is a bartender and is taking the warnings seriously. He insisted we meet al fresco, on my porch. We zoomed with my son, Tiffen, who lives in Baltimore. We had our own family Seder with matzo ball soup and other Passover staples at our respective locations. Zoom facilitated two wonderful hours of family time.
I do have other diversions. My friends and family share funny videos that are Coronavirus related. One I particular like is a montage of videos clips, most likely from Spain that include scenes of people playing ping pong from window to window in an apartment building and a man hiding behind the cushions of his couch when his daughter comes looking for him. I also liked the photo of a woman who was simulating curling her hair with Crayola crayons with a caption that read, “Coloring my hair.” A student doing a class assignment related to Twitter shared a Tweet that said, “I don’t use LOL anymore, I have time to write out ‘laughing out loud.’”
My favorite minstrel is Chris Mann who does parodies including one moaning the lack of toilet paper and others lamenting different aspects of being stuck inside. Then other videos shared that are truly extraordinary and moving like the French National Orchestra playing Ravel’s “Bolero” with each musician at home. Other offerings have included the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly free opera streams from its encore Live in HD presentations. Andrew Lloyd Webber is giving fans a chance to view some of his biggest musicals by streaming them free on YouTube. CBS has jumped into the game by organizing musical potpourris where artists like Brad Paisley and John Legend perform live from home. My personal favorite was the living room concert by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
What else do I do to pass the time? I maintain social connectivity outside of Zoom with one or two lengthy phone calls each day with a friend or family member, frequently people with whom I had lapsed in terms of staying in touch. The calls are intentional. Again, the experts say this is important to keep from feeling isolated and after a lengthy chat on the phone I do feel good.
I have signed up for French and German classes on Duolingo, a language-learning app. Sometimes I wonder why I am spinning my wheels to try to learn some basics of these languages when travel to countries where French or German is spoken is definitely not in my immediate future. But hope beats eternal.
I also read books and watch movies and binge on series. I have about 30 books lined up to read both online and in hardcover editions. I have subscriptions to Amazon and Netflix and get HBO and Starz with my cable subscription, which I had been about to cancel until the pandemic kept me home. I also just rediscovered Turner Classic Movies and am enjoying film noir from the 1940s and 1950s. My plans now include the TCM’s Home Film Festival in mid-April.
There are, of course, moments of sadness and stress. These come with the news, as we watch the death toll spiral and collectively shake our heads at the lack of leadership exhibited by our president, whom the author of an opinion piece in the Washington Postrecently labeled as the worst president ever. I am annoyed at being hailed as a “superhero” just for staying at home. I wanted to do something to help. I went to a local website looking for volunteers but was hit with the news that if you are over 60 you are at risk and we don’t want you. Stay at home! I get it. but for the first time, I really did become aware my age. But I rebelled in a fashion by walking over to my local blood bank to make a donation. I left behind a pint of my blood, which has allowed me to make plans to visit there again at the very end of May when I have met the requisite eight-week lapse between blood donations. So at least I am not too old and at too much at risk for that!
So that’s my coronavirus story and I’m sticking to it. Here I am going to borrow from the 1948 film and later television series The Naked City, which ended with this line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." In our times, there are tens, if not hundreds of millions of coronavirus stories to tell, and this is one of them.