As protests against Stay at Home orders have ramped up over the past two weeks, the US death toll has surpassed that of US deaths in the Vietnam War. The juxtaposition of these two realities has left me spinning. I can’t help but place images of armed quarantine protesters against the non-violent anti-war protests of the Vietnam era. Both groups protesting the same government: one group protesting needless deaths in a war that made no sense and one group protesting restrictions meant to prevent needless deaths in this pandemic.
What they have in common is fear of government overreach. They share a reaction to unknown/unpredictable timelines--the feeling of no-end-in-sight to something Awful. The big difference is that the government actions in one were perpetuating deaths, and in the other are an attempt to prevent deaths (and the other negative health impacts of this illness).
I get that it is hard. That the financial impact of stay-at-home-orders is huge, especially for small business owners who have mounting overhead costs without regular sales/income. The mental impact is huge: it is hard not knowing how long we are supposed to shelter in place, or how long we are supposed to avoid contact with other people, or when it will be safe to feel fully Human and Connected again. But the impact of this virus if we pretend it isn’t happening and go back to life as it was Before Covid would be far worse--and doing so would come with its own additional economic and mental health impacts.
Witnessing the disrespect by protesters of healthcare workers who daily endanger themselves and their loved ones to care for the sick, is maddening and heartbreaking. On this day, when this headline populates over and over again in my news and social media feeds, the speed with which America is turning on itself makes sense--it took years for this many US deaths to occur during the Vietnam War, and years for the anti-war movement to develop. This pandemic has been a (rapidly) moving target from the beginning, compounded with often unreliable information coming from sources we collectively want to turn to in times of crisis. It is much easier to lash out at people than to lash out at a virus--people undoubtedly provide a more satisfying response. The condensed timeline, high levels of uncertainty and fear make it easy to understand why people are coming unglued.
When I started this blog project, I was most attached to the drawing aspect of it. Unfortunately, days on end of holding a drawing implement (especially one as heavy as the apple pencil) has flared up old pain in my elbow/forearm. Over a decade ago I had such severe tendonitis in my elbow that the surgical intervention included entirely removing the non-functioning epicondyle tendon and rebuilding with the smaller tendons of the arm. The recovery from this was further complicated by a radial nerve pinched by scar tissue that caused seemingly unexplained pain that wouldn’t go away--and then a second surgery to fix that. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to use my right hand or arm at all which, as an artist, was devastating. Fortunately, I had a dedicated team of doctors and occupational therapists who helped me get it back.
In the years since, when the pain has flared up due to overuse, I have alternately worked through retracing the steps to heal it or acting out of anger at the pain--forcing it to do things the pain was telling me not to, just because I was mad that it hurt. This never goes well, and always sets me back further than need be. Somehow, it is a lesson I have yet to fully learn. I am working on it.
I am trying to let it be okay that I am frustrated at having to redirect on my redirect… just accept the feelings, work through them, and accept and adapt to my changing reality rather than fight it or abandon the project altogether. I am continuing to take photos to document our life, and will return to drawing at a pace that is more sustainable, when a return is possible. In the meantime, I am proud of myself for continuing to write, for fighting the urge to walk away from this thing just because it didn’t go exactly as I had envisioned. If I take nothing else from this time in quarantine, I hope it is this willingness to adapt, and seeing my ability to redirect as needed as a matter of victory rather than defeat.
Loss in isolation feels unreal, and hard to process. Loss that is unrelated to this pandemic other than its timing, feels especially strange. Last week my Ella, and this morning, news that my mom’s two year old puppy died of bone cancer. I oscillate between feeling too numb to process any of it, and feeling like accessing or being present to one grief opens a portal to the vast sadness of collective loss.
In some ways, the creative thinking mandated to find safe ways to take care of both the safety and health of veterinary staff and the needs of families to be present for end of life care of their beloved pets, was a blessing. My mom said that when the time came to end suffering for her pup, the rules made it impossible for her and her partner to enter the clinic. Instead the vet staff brought the care outside. Using a 6’ IV line, they stood a safe distance away while my mom and her partner cuddled with the pup on a blanket under a beautiful spring sky until it was Over. She told me that a brisk wind kicked up, and a flurry of snow squalled around them, as her sweet Frida slipped away. She said it was an option she would want to have in the future, after the danger of this virus passes, to have this kind of moment close to the earth and outside of the clinic setting.
I know that the distance is no greater than normal, that I live on the opposite side of the country and wouldn’t be able to be any closer for something like this particular loss even without the pandemic. Somehow, the mandate to maintain distance, not to get Too Close even if I could, enters my psyche anyway. My brain has started to filter even the desire-to-hold someone outside of my own quarantine, perforating that yearning with anxiety.
When I moved across the country at 19, and lived on my own for the first time, I worked in a coffee shop. I recall so vividly, the day that a customer’s hand touched my own as they paid in exact change, and I felt a shock run through me with the realization that it was the first human touch in longer than I could remember. Discovering this new filter, that fear-tints even the unattainable-desire-to-hug my mother on the east coast after she lost her puppy, feels every bit as jarring as the realization that day. How had had failed to identify the ache I felt from persistent Lack-of-Touch? Having identified this filter, I want to be aware of both its usefulness and its peril moving forward--I hope to only hold it as long as it is necessary to keep me safe, and to be able to lay it aside without anxious residue when its usefulness has passed.
I have been falling down the social media rabbit hole a lot. I moderate what I take in according to what I feel like it’s doing to my blood pressure--some things make me too angry to process, others lift my mood, but their all on the same stream so I have to learn to filter, unfollow, sometimes I let things in that I shouldn’t because I feel like I have to know how crazy people are out there. I have engaged with the plethora of riddles and word problems my friends are posting, just to have some form of interaction (and to please my inner middle school Mathlete). I do my best to source check anything before I accept it as a news source, but I do allow my social circle to help me curate which news I seek out.
Today’s gem was Miss Tabitha Brown and her Carrot Bacon. We are the proud new owners of an air fryer, and I think Facebook Knows. This video came across my feed and made me laugh with pure delight. It also made me curious--as a vegetarian who loves the smell and crunch and melt-in-your-mouthness of bacon, the idea of something that gave me even half of that… and that I could make in this snazzy new air fryer… I was in. Next time I go to the store, you can bet I’m getting carrots, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and the spices on her list! She made it look so good… fingers crossed that it goes better than the Dalgona Coffee Experiment.
Today’s black hole, was surpassing 40,000 US deaths. These numbers bounce around in my head, roll down my spine, and rattle like painful rocks in my shoes. I am fortunate, thus far, that no one in my immediate world is among them. The same is no longer true of second and third degree relationships: friends of family, friends of friends, coworkers of people I know… I have enough friends in places that are current hotspots or growing hotspots, that I cannot expect this to remain true. We have gone from 10K to 40K in less than two weeks. Today was the first time that I remember seeing the percentage of cases newly listed as “recovered” as being higher than new deaths--I try to hold onto this.
I measure this day with perspective. As we surpass 40,000 US deaths and approach (or pass, depending on where you may be) the mark of one month in quarantine; as healthy people in quarantine begin to fatigue in our collective efforts to do our parts by social distancing and staying home, there is something else happening too. We have reached the point where the number is hard to comprehend. If we are lucky enough not to have felt the direct impact of one of these deaths or illnesses, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the impact. In some ways, a smaller number of deaths is easier to identify with and mourn, fear, or react too. This feels especially clear to me on this date, which has been seared into my memory since I was in middle school.
It was on April 19, 1993 that fires ended the months-long siege at the Branch Davidian complex. And two years later, on this day, Timothy McVay linked that event and anniversary of the start of the American Revolutionary War 220 years earlier, to his attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City. These tragedies both included the deaths of children, which made them more immediately accessible to my young mind. These were not abstract concepts of war in far away places, these were Kids Like Me, in my own country. My teachers used it as a teaching moment, encouraging us to look for times and ways that history impacted the present, to look for the connections and patterns. My brain latched onto the specific date of April 19th as a touchstone, a date to watch the news, a kind of litmus test for Where Are We In History Today. A few years later, in 1999, I remember telling my best friends I had a bad feeling, and to watch the news. I went to bed uneasy, and woke the following day to the Columbine Massacre. I never sorted out what to feel about that sense of abstract dread being met by something so dreadful.
That these three mass killings occurred on essentially the same date, were anchored to history, and all occurred in my formative years, has granted them an elevated presence in my consciousness. I don’t think a year will ever go by that this date doesn’t rattle me. This year, as I think about the collective outrage and grief spilled by this country for these 259 deaths, I am aware that they felt so specific. Perhaps it is that they all died as a result of violence, but I feel that it is also that if you put all of their faces up on your computer screen, especially if split into the three events, you could still see People.
As the number of COVID-19 deaths soar past 41,000 the number is too high to comprehend. It is diffuse because of the incomprehensible number, and because it has happened over days, weeks, months. To try to find perspective, to make it specific and concrete, I have started looking at venue capacities. As of tonight, the US alone has lost as many people as fill Madison Square Garden--TWICE. We have lost this iconic venue filled to capacity, twice, Zero Survivors. Or. More than 13 times as many as died during the 9/11 attacks. That day changed this world indelibly. For better or for worse, there was no return to Before--it has become impossible to expect a Getting Back To Normal after this. While I shelter in place, and extend my gratitude to essential workers, and health care workers, and stay at homers, and researchers, and try to stay grounded, this kind of perspective is useful to me. I try to live in my own skin, safe at home, checking on those I love, but it is hard not to let thoughts of those we lose haunt me.
When I was growing up, my family lived in rural New Hampshire. Over the past two decades my brothers and I have scattered to various places around the globe, and have never been very good at staying in touch. I am quite convinced that were we not family, we would not still all know each other. Lately, I am grateful that we do. I have had more contact with my brothers since the Pandemic began, both via text and Facetime, than the sum of a few years of birthdays and Christmases. There is something about sharing that common foundation and family network that feels unusually soothing right now.
I exchanged dozens of messages with my older brother about Chinese and Japanese cooking today. I was looking for a good recommendation on a wok for our kitchen, and knew he had a passion for Asian cuisine, so I reached out. Under other circumstances, I might have just used google and amazon type reviews, but something made me reach out to Connect. We compared experiences with filing for CA unemployment--he was recently "released" from his job at a grocery store for demanding that management provide access to PPE for employees. I am selfishly glad to hear that he is out of harm's way, and grateful that he was standing up for the safety of his coworkers. It is infuriating to me that any business remains resistant to doing Everything Possible to mandate the safety of their employees (and customers) as we work through this.
I woke early this morning to a text from my dad telling me of your passing. Today the grief has come in waves. Yours was not a life cut short, and so part of my heart just wants to celebrate your full life that spanned just short of a century. I cannot begin to fathom what it must have felt like to watch the world change from the 1920s until today. I remember sitting in the farmhouse kitchen when I was 12 or 13, getting you to tell me stories about how you came through Ellis Island as a toddler, to a family farm in New Jersey, and what it was like to grow up then. Your descriptions were so vivid that they still dance like paintings in my mind: your Uncle’s farm, the long walk to school...
You married my O’Pa when I was small enough that I don’t remember you not being my Ella. I think I was nearly grown when I realized that Ella was your given name and not a term of endearment like O’Pa or Nana. I am sorry that I didn’t do more to figure out how to share our lives in my adulthood, and that I relied on updates from my dad rather than being better about contact. You were always so warm to me, and in the few times over the past few years when we connected I was so grateful for your grace and understanding of my very Yager failures at keeping in touch.
The news of your passing during quarantine, knowing that you would have faced your last days in isolation, breaks my heart. Dad said when he visited the last day that you were allowed visitors, that you slept a lot; and that later you took great comfort in the arrival of your recliner from your apartment. I imagine the perspective and grace I am sure you had as you faced a world wrought with COVID-19, as your body failed you quietly. I don’t yet know how to have the same grace as we wait for some post-pandemic reality in which those of us who loved you can gather for a ceremony of remembrance. I cannot help but feel the collective grief of all who have lost someone during this time and cannot gather to remember, love, grieve, celebrate life, and be together.
You were my Ella, and you were the last grandparent in my life, so this loss is also weighted with the end of that chapter. I had not prepared for the impact the final loss of this generation in my family would have on me. I was so blessed by the love of my grandparents, and was so fortunate to have had the time we shared. I am doing my best to bask in my gratitude for this rather than sink into the cumulative loss.
I hope wherever we go After, you have gone knowing how much you are loved, and how much your love has always meant in my life.
It’s been nearly a month since we have been under a stay at home order, and about two weeks since the potential exposure at a restaurant. At best we probably manage a few hundred steps a day in the apartment, and both of our bodies are starting to complain. Between feeling unsafe going outside where there are still dozens of people walking the immediate neighborhood unmasked much of the day, and living on the second floor, we have found plenty of excuses not to work out.
Since it doesn’t look like this will be ending anytime soon, we decided yesterday that we should break out one of the more rigorous routines from P90X3. Oh. My. Gods--Everything Hurts. I had no idea it was This Bad. I am reminded of the time I was helping an elderly family member talk to a visiting physical therapist who was helping her transition home from a hospital stay. The therapist told us that each day an elderly patient is bed ridden they lose on average about 30% of their strength (and up to 5% of lean muscle mass) per DAY.
Now, this was for someone over the age of 70, with all sorts of complicating factors. As a healthy younger adult who isn’t bed ridden but just suddenly far less active, it is not as dramatic as this. That being said, when it feels This Hard to get through a work out, and I suddenly get winded coming back up the stairs after bringing the trash to the curb once a week, it feels important to remind myself to move.
I have moved to drawing on my iPad at my easel to give my body a break from sitting (and all of the strangely contorted self-cuddling postures that I pour myself into on the couch when I work there). I am trying to imagine doing some gentle stretching or yoga, but even the thought of it hurts right now… but the extent of this soreness is just evidence that it is necessary to commit to it.
When we started planning faith’s birthday in January, we were hesitant to book flights to NYC because of anxiety about how close Trump seemed to be to starting WWIII with the Iran crisis. I remember calling my mom and weighing the risks of waiting to buy tickets and watching prices escallate vs the unknown of what the world would look like by April. But we wanted to go on a trip together to celebrate, to be with her family, to enjoy playing Pokemon Go in Central Park…
We couldn’t have fathomed how much would change in the three months or so between booking the trip, and the day we were supposed to leave. The change was incremental: First we cancelled the flights and replanned for gathering with LA area family; then the Stay at Home order excluded even private gatherings of more than two people from different households. Believing in the science, when it goes against what we wish could be, when the threat is invisible and the letdown on their faces is not, is Hard. Finding the balance between making room for the sadness of birthdays spent in isolation and gratitude for the fact the threat is invisible because we are all still healthy, is Hard.
April 3rd, I made my weekly grocery trip with special birthday foods in mind, and with a turn of luck I was able to get everything I needed. Over the weekend I made Boeuf Bourguignon, with sauteed spinach and onions, an un-rationed abundance of floofy white rice, entirely too many cannolis for the two of us (discovered there was such a thing as too many), a giant pot of lelot, homemade chocolate truffles…
As big and scary as the pandemic is, for a weekend we let it fade to the edges. We focused on being present with each other, where we were safe and healthy and able to celebrate in a way that felt authentic to our homebody-, foodie- selves: We feasted for days, blocked out the news and most social media, and managed to feel somewhat grounded and re-centered.
[I had, by this time, established a practice of grabbing a screenshot of the day’s numbers as published at infection2020.com so I would have an easy resource to refer to as my memory began to blend days and weeks together. I swallowed hard when I saw the deaths surge from 9,666 just 24 hrs earlier to over 11,000, but put my phone away. Nothing really changed as the deaths crossed the threshold of ten thousand, its significance is perceptual. Nonetheless, this marked an order of magnitude, and as such left an imprint on my psyche.]
The walk home from the diner on the Day of Exposure gathered dread with each step, and my emotions felt deeply incongruous with the beautiful day. The juxtaposition rang like an echo of the ominous dread that tinted the air on that beautiful tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001. Surely there have been many days in the nearly two decades between these moments where the sun has been this bright and the sky this blue, but these two have been recorded in my mind as oversaturated blue blue skies etched with caustic fear into something that hangs somewhere between hyperreal and surreality.
In the history of art, the introduction of the Camera Obscuras in the 16th century transformed the quality of images captured by painters. There was a sudden leap in realism as this technology employed a pinhole projection of a brightly lit outdoor scene on the wall of a dark enclosed room, that could be essentially traced to mark position and relationships between objects. This method created an image that was brightest at the center, with progressive lack of focus and light toward the edges. The image was projected inverted (flipped both left/right and upside down), making it hard to make sense of on the one hand, but easier to trace accurately without the brain filtering the image with ideas or symbols.
The images created with Camera Obscura techniques tend to have a similar light quality, a mixture of overexposure and under an indistinct and detached shroud of darkness. This can likely be explained by the bright light required for adequate projection, and the strangeness of reading/painting the colorful projection in the dark. It feels like an apt metaphor for the way this world feels right now, oversaturated information filtering in through various pinholes often distorted, upside down, backwards, easy to misinterpret, and shrouded in the darkness of pandemic anxiety.
Inside this box of our apartment, with information filtering in through various fiber optic channels, we have sprouted greens in the windows, share the air with only each other and the cat, and I am bumbling forward with my effort to create art. Part vivarium, part camera obscuras; life observed, lived, cherished, and mourned in the shroud of darkness and uncertainty of this time.
Prior to the pandemic we had purchased an N95 mask with replacement filters for upcoming international travel. Last week I made a second mask that fits the replacement filter from an old bandana, some fusible interfacing, and velcro. Yesterday I braved the grocery store with it and gloves. I was shocked at how many people were clearly ignoring all social distancing practices, and had to figure out some evasive maneuvering to deal with people who kept encroaching. Most maddening were people who were in the store, coughing with no attempt to cover their face at all--I don’t care if it’s just a little cough from the dry air, cover your damn mouth! There were no eggs, no rice, no flour or sugar, no frozen veggies… produce was hit or miss, but I got most of what we need for the next couple of weeks.