Over the past months I’ve managed to meet obligations noted on my calendar– although they don’t exist in the scope of a day or even a time of day. They simply are appointments which must be tended to. Rough translation: if it’s not on my calendar it won’t happen. Because something had happened the second week of the month my entire life or every Tuesday for years doesn’t assure it cutting through Covid self-quarantine fog. Even trash and recycling days must be marked on the calendar. In fact, every day is Saturday in the sense of hours untouched by the strains of external life. Although I’ve yet to miss a meal.
That’s not to say I haven’t been productive. I’ve turned a manuscript in to my agent, and have advanced on details of two other ideas. I’ve also learned how to bake many forms of bread and manage to tend to my own sour dough starter. How can I remember to feed sour dough starter when I can’t remember to do much else without a prompt? Perhaps the answer lies in the ‘not missing a meal.’ There’s a psychological study in there somewhere, along with the psychology of toilet paper. Recently I read that when paratroopers were outfitted for jumps in World War II they were given, among a long list of extremely vital items, 50 squares of toilet paper. I’d read that list before but paid more attention to the description of knives and medicine and other tools of war. This time I immediately calculated how long that supply of TP would last in full hoarding mode versus merely being cautious.
During self isolation I’ve also taken time to read, although never again will I wish for time to do nothing but read or write, a sentiment I’ve heard echoed down the corridors of social media posts for weeks now (okay, months but, again, I’m having trouble judging time.)
Last week I read Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018, Penguin Press). I suspect that pre-March 2019 I would have taken the title at face value. The delight of a year of rest and relaxation! The luxuriousness of hours with no calls upon my time. Spa days and picnics came to mind, books scattered on sun warmed blankets . . . In the midst of Covid I picked up the title with an apprehension much closer to the protagonist’s. If you haven’t read My Year of Rest and Relaxation it revolves around a protagonist who can’t face the world and who has the financial resources to ‘escape.’ She withdrawals slowly, the steps both inevitable and carefully chosen. Eventually she arranges to use her escalating reliance on pills to descend into a stage of carefully staged sleep for several months on end.
The unnamed protagonist’s desire to be alone might have resonated with me in earlier days. Not her near continuous drug-induced sleep, but the time alone to – in that perfect world we construct in our minds – read and write and only do what I wanted. In fact, my Covid lesson is that aloneness is only appreciated when it is a barrier against distraction. When aloneness is carved out of quickly passing time and we hold it close to enable rest, relaxation, or a frenzy of greatly anticipated activity it is welcomed and cherished. Today’s Covid ‘aloneness’ is the other side. It is isolation and the mere fact that it is necessary makes it something to push back against.
It is said that human capacity to adapt is infinite. Hopefully I’m reaching my moment of adaptation where isolation begins to feel like a gleefully greeted aloneness. Perhaps I’ll even begin to remember what day it is. I do know that it’s not yet time to feed my sour dough starter.