Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Up until now, I’ve avoided booking myself a ticket on the COVID-writing bandwagon. The internet is already full of homeschooling (gone wrong- will 2020 be the year teachers finally get the raises they deserve?) stories and baking tutorials that I could never hope to live up to (I realized yesterday I didn’t even own ketchup- I apparently have the kitchen skills of a sad 13 year old) and first-person essays about how we all need to learn a new skill and come out of isolation as better people.(Who needs new hobbies? I prefer Friday night Quarantini Zoom calls with my former Caracas-crew where I get pro tips about convict workout videos available on Amazon. Spoiler alert- they are heavy on the pushups and you have to supply your own teardrop face tattoos.) (Additional important information- I just looked these up and they are FREE with an AmazonPrime account. This changes everything…) But as it looks like it will be longer and longer before I book a ticket anywhere else, maybe it is time to join the masses with a post for all seven of my loyal blog-readers. (We’ll not talk about the tickets to Taipei and Kuala Lumpur and Accra and Ho Chi Minh City that had I to cancel this spring. That discussion would go in a direction that we’ll deem “mentally unhealthy” and bury away for another day.)
Travel used to look like packed REI duffle bags (purple and monogrammed, of course!) and international tickets (see above parenthetical about voided trips) and a Jansport (pink with lots of pockets) full of books. Then just getting to Main State became a bit of a daily adventure with a llama-covered lunch bag (pb&j, cheese stick, and Cheez-Its), trains running on reduced schedules, and a Jansport (gray polka dot with just two pockets) loaded with my to-do list and planner. Now that I am fully ensconced in the “work from home” life, travel looks like a phone tucked into the waistband of yoga pants, a pair of Nikes, and Shell’s HotJamz on Spotify.
Oh, how the world has changed in four short (long?) months of one Blursday after another. As much as it pains me to admit it, on more than one morning as I brushed my teeth- the one necessary hygiene undertaking that MUST be completed before logging into work- I have had to ask Alexa what day of the week it was before she played my morning NPR updates. Hair brushing and face moisturizing happen on a mid-morning break and a swipe of mascara and pinch of blush only brighten my face if I’ve got a Teams call on the docket. (Side note: Always give your colleagues a 15-minute heads up if you are going to video call. It’s only humane. I can do a quick “tra-la-la-la-la” when my phone rings at 10AM and I realized I haven’t spoken out loud yet and don’t want to sound like a crazy old man grumbling into the line, and then answer as if I’ve been holding high level conversations all morning, but when that video call unexpectedly pops up on my screen, I cannot run to the bathroom, bust out the Caboodle and throw together enough face to not look on the brink of death in the time it takes before you hang up. 15 minutes. It should be a rule as sacred as the 5-second rule for food on the floor.)
The stir-crazy hit hard today. I don’t know if it was the gorgeous sunshine coming in through my sliding glass door or Diet Cherry Pepsi I have been mainlining or the really productive video call (I know, right?!) at the end of the day, but when 3 o’clock rolled around, I needed out of the “office.” (The office right now has two main spaces- a gorgeous desk that I am going to claim I built, which is “kinda’” true, but was mostly a matter of some basic hex key turning, pulled together with a flamingo-printed swivel chair and sitting on a high pile carpet on my living room floor, folded between the couch and the ottoman like a deformed pretzel. I vacillate between the two spaces, mostly dependent on where the current kinks in my back lie, but also occasionally by where my laptop is plugged in and how close to dying without a charge it is.)
Regardless of why, I had ants in my pants.
So, I changed out of my day sweats (differentiated from my pajamas only by the fact that they are what came out of the dryer first this morning) and into yoga pants, tied up my green and pink sneakers (I’m kinda’ dying for a new pair of brightly colored kicks..maybe a post-isolation treat) and headed out the door to stretch my legs for a bit. Opting for music over an audiobook (I needed something that required less brain power), I chose the aptly named “Shell’s HotJamz” station on Spotify and headed out. I must say, the curator of that playlist deserves a raise. She deftly maneuvered from Bon Jovi and Madonna to Nirvana and Cake with a fun swerve into Nick Jonas and Maroon 5. And, not to be left out of the menagerie of genres, an occasional Clay Walker or Reba McIntyre made a showing in the rotation as well.
I was that crazy person this afternoon that you switch sides of the road to avoid. (Luckily, any sidewalk changing can be chalked up to social distancing and is now not only appropriate, but encouraged!) Walking through the gorgeous neighborhoods of highly manicured yards in Aurora Hills, I air-drummed along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”, fist-pumped to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and finger-wagged at TLC’s “Scrubs” with the best of them. Luckily, the only real witnesses to this momentary madness were the beautiful red cardinals flitting between sculpted shrubs and the bushy-tailed fox that meandered up the road, as if social distancing were his cue to retake the Washington D.C. suburbs.
Do I know that these long walks, meandering through neighborhoods that I will never be able to afford are good for me? (Ironic, right?) Of course. Do I make it out each day to get lost trying to find a route to the Air Force Memorial without getting run over on a freeway? Nope. I always have good intentions, and yet some days it is easier to log off work and curl up on the couch with a new book or the latest episode of a reality TV show. The hard truth of it is that some days I am going to “HotJamz” it around the District and others I’m going to “warmcuddlz” under a heat blanket on my sofa. As long as I’ve not broken down and started doing “Convict Conditioning” in my workplace (because, you know, my living room would have to do triple duty for relaxing, working AND gyming), I’m chalking it up as another successful Blursday.
I was raised by a high school woodshop teacher. And we had a woodshop in the backyard. And in the summers my parents sold their woodworking creations at art shows around the Pacific Northwest. I spent endless hours in those shops- the one at the high school and the one next to the field that housed cows and llamas over the years. With this as my heritage, it wouldn’t be crazy for you to think I had some minimal creation skills.
Unfortunately, while it wouldn’t be crazy, it also would not be correct.
You see, in all those evenings spent hanging around the shop, most of my time was devoted to sanding. I am a champion wielder of a hand sander to round the edges and shine the surface of beautiful handcrafted salt and pepper shakers. And I can sand cuttings of wood into lovely magnets that would put any vendor on Etsy to shame. Most importantly, I was a pretty stellar player of the “who can hold their finger on the belt sander longest” game. (This game was played only when the shop was vacated by anyone over the age of 10. I think we were probably supposed to be sweeping up sawdust or maybe feeding the chickens. We were definitely not supposed to be sanding off our fingerprints in a bid to be toughest.)
All of this is to say, I should have some minimal tool skills.
I do not.
Switching gears to three decades later, in stark juxtaposition, rather than running around the yard in short shorts with the white piping (all kids of the 80s had those, right?) and using the fence as a balance beam, I am holed up in a small DC-area apartment, social distancing with the best of them. Green grass, spray planes, and thongs (in an era when that word meant a totally different piece of clothing) have given way to concrete, Pentagon helicopters, and yoga pants (lots and lots of yoga pants with not a downward dog to be seen).
As a part of this grand social contract where we are isolating ourselves from families and friends and neighbors and colleagues and DoorDash delivery saviors, I am now working remotely 100% of the time. This means my apartment (that same small one reference above) is my home and my office. I am here. All of the time.
I teleworked on occasion before COVID came into our lives, but it was just that. On occasion. It did not precipitate the ownership of any office-like trapping beyond my laptop. Work happened leaned against my headboard and then shifted to the floral chair/ottoman combo in the corner of the bedroom, and then once hunger struck, to the dining room table and maybe an afternoon laying on the living room floor. That works for a day. Or even two.
It does not work for a month. Or two.
Feeling slightly guilty about online shopping and creating what might be deemed unessential work for warehouse workers and delivery people alike, I broke down and ordered a desk from one of the many (many!) household good sellers on the internet. (Anyone else notice that these places all have the exact same items with different names and different price points?)
Side note- the line between essential and unessential is quite thin and blurry at times. Somethings are obvious. DC folk- you did NOT need to crowd the seafood market at the wharf last weekend. There is nothing edible from the sea, even in the best of times. Stay away. Or pickup basketball dudes in the park- I know, we all want to get out when the sun is shining, but sweating on/near each other and breathing on/near each other is not essential. Go for a solo jog or do some cartwheels or learn to do a backbend. There are lots of physical options that do not entail sharing your germs with others. These are easy to parse out. The more complicated ones are whether purchasing a desk that you know is going to cause someone else to work is essential because it means you aren’t going to deform your back to the point where a chiropractor seems like a good idea, when your one clinical interaction with a chiropractor convinced you the entire “specialty” is fake news. Where is the line?
But back to my larger point. I ordered a desk online. Online desks do not come looking like desks. They come looking like a cardboard box filled with Styrofoam and pieces. Lots and lots of pieces.
This is when those minimal tool skills I mentioned above that I do not have would have come in handy.
But they do not exist. Yes, my index finger prints bear the mark of a not so smart “game” we played as kids (this has been seen on many a fingerprint card/reader, but I’ve gotten pretty good at just pressing harder…maybe I should have opted for a life of anonymous crime), but I retain little more from those days.
So here is the equation. Me + box of parts + a hex key (that tells you the level of skill needed) = ?
(I’ll be you didn’t see that one coming!)
In less than an hour (including my in-box break) I had the desk deboxed, parted, assembled, locked together, and ready to Wednesday morning service. I don’t think that means I have any more skill than I banked on having going into this quarantine project, but I do think it means I have a bit more than my dear siblings and friends (and mother!) gave me credit for. (Think about that for a moment. How little faith in me do they have that they thought I would be bested by a small piece of furniture held together with a handful of washers, screws and a few twists of an Allen-wrench. None. No faith at all.)
With coronavirus still spreading its lung-busting plague around the United States and the world, I’m doing my best to responsibly obey social distancing guidelines by working from home (all hail Dr. Fauci!), but also not end up with a pretzel-shaped back from hunching over my laptop for endless hours day after day. Hopefully this desk (and the flamingo-patterned chair I bought to go with it, that will also need put together when it arrives…) makes isolation (literally) a little less painful.
Severance by Ling Ma