Cloister Commentary, Day 1: “Happy Anniversary, Here’s Your Pandemic!” (March 21, 2020)

My good friend Ken Shimamoto, probably remembering that, in 2012, I began documenting daily what I then thought was my last year of teaching, suggested yesterday I do the same for this science (non-)fiction fix we’re in. That seems overwhelming, but I’m going to take his advice and just write what comes to mind and not fuss.

My head is daily spinning. Its preoccupations have grown from the immediate (“What’s the best way to teach these kids remotely?”) into the long-term (“When will I see my friends and family again, and how will this change us?”), from the rational (“This too will pass.”) into the paranoid (“How will we be exploited this time?”). My revelation-flickers have been both comical (“I need to at least have a stretching routine!”) and horrifying (according to Brecht-Weill, food is the first thing morals follow on). I have more ideas than I know what to do with, but for once I actually have plenty of time to do them, so to speak. In a weird way, and I know I’m not alone, in the explosion of change I feel more alive and more clear-eyed; for a second time in recent memory, a big national scab has been ripped off, and it is time to deal or die. But then there are also kitty litter boxes and windows to be cleaned! Don’t scoff at mundane rituals: what the tortoise sees as sustenance, the hare hops past unwittingly.

I’m lucky to be cloistered with my soul mate–it is our 28th wedding anniversary today. We have always liked spending time with each other and have hardly been averse to seclusion, so we seem to be well-equipped for the task at hand. Reading together in silence we both find exciting, we share music and viewing preferences (reggae and Rickles roasting yesterday), and we are immune to each other’s imperfections (#snorers). But the first 7-10 days of this adjustment have brought us to the necessity of rituals–not just exercising, but writing, meditating, working (new kinds of work), and especially helping. We’ve joined a local Facebook group that is networking concerned citizens in order to help each other and wrestle with COVID-19, and a crowd-funded effort to keep our local healthcare heroes well-fed seems to be in the offing. I’ve volunteered to mentor local students (kids or adults) who need reading or writing help, because I am not sure classes will ever resume in person before summer.

One of my biggest worries is if, as a nation, we are equal to the level of personal discipline required to arrest this virus as quickly as possible. All I can do is make sure I’m trying and succeeding.

From Mary Oliver, some worthy words:

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last! / What a task / to ask / of anything, or anyone, / yet it is ours, / and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.

And: Streaming for Shut-Ins.

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