Poet friend, Beth Myhr, named the experience perfectly by writing that the pandemic has taken away our ability to look forward – “…moving from one room to the next in a house with no door.” Yes, that’s it, exactly.
And I remember the longevity advice offered by a 90+ NASA scientist (always have a plan, always have something to look forward to), now shrinking to the shape of each singular day. Tomorrow, I will wake, point my toes toward the ceiling, then to the floor – wash my hands, fill a ceramic bowl, first with yogurt and berries and seeds, and later with pinto beans, peppers, and greens sprinkled with sweet onion – twice I will push my thumb into a peach, releasing the stone – but first I look forward to the glorious ritual of coffee, which includes sitting still between fifteen minutes and a full hour or more – taking note of flora and bird visitors, beetles, moths, and mating walking sticks – and then the unfurling list of tasks may be selected based on energy and motivation, but let’s get honest about how easy diversion is (even in your 40s) when that partially viewed episode of Perry Mason is waiting in your queue, like that friend standing around at the airport. Let’s go somewhere.
Permit me a friendly amendment to the longevity advice, a third ingredient resulting in a holy trinity of a life well-lived, and while the intrinsic value is without question, I’m not talking about Cajun cooking – rather – the hunger, the desire, and absolute need for surprise, for spontaneity. The good kind, lately of which has felt muted. Stifled. The pandemic doesn’t kill spontaneity but shines a light on how much my historical whims involved 1. buying stuff (look at the rusted piece of junk – let’s get it!) and 2. encountering other people – hiking (or rather wandering) a trail or even stopping at a jiffy store on the way to a somewhere without humans. At a bare minimum, I either spent money or navigated peopled places.
Surviving the pandemic chaos means feeling required to dismantle threads I forget I’m part of. I must now hold on by my own thread, and this state of mind is problematic at best, tenuous at worst. Living devoid of direct contact – to seek a humanless day – redefining connection as a face on a screen, digital messages, words in our ears, music beep bopping from the smart speaker, music created in a vacuum. (This is the missing piece that live music offers, by the way – spontaneity and imperfection: wildness.) I am weary of turning sharp corners and tracking cascading details. Weary of avoidance and vigilance. I miss the relief of spontaneity – that sure source of fresh air filling lungs, hair whipping the wind – that sense of you-can’t-fence-me-in freedom, whether ill-founded or not, and yes yes, I must gather these emotions and spin them into gold, right? How do you make gold in a shrinking room? With guileless habits and a house without doors?
I offer no velvet bows or Christmas-in-July answers – just the hope this isn’t all up to me to figure out. The other thread I grasp: trust your creative impulses. Sometimes this means grabbing a bag of barbecue flavored potato chips, getting in the car, burning fuel, and intentionally getting lost down a country road. Sometimes this means feeling no presence of creativity whatsoever, and painted walls become my new best friend, and if I’m lucky, I hear the faintest whisper of water moving under the earth like a stream trickling beneath a glacier. Moving. Going somewhere.