Intellectually, I know that if I stay-the-fuck home, wash hands, don’t be an idiot, my chances of contracting covid-19 are slim. Despite this, I’m aware of a new feeling, an anxiety that I have never felt before scrabbling deep in my gut. It’s like some kind of bad energy marmot living in my belly–an uncomfortable ruffling sensation. Marmots are giant squirrels. The smaller one’s just don’t fit the feeling for me. Imagine either of them in your belly. Feel odd? You might have a different animal, like a porcupine, or a walrus as your distress animal–something; I know that I am not the only one experiencing this. The marmot is reminding me that, no matter how jaunty and advanced I think I am as a human, I am still an animal–mammal, bone, meat, whatever the hell is going on with that hair. Feelings in the gut normally intimate fear, acknowledgement that something isn’t right. My intellect is processing the fear, but it cannot override it; I can’t get in my own way here and fluff what shouldn’t be fluffed. Fucking marmot.
Each of us is coming to this battle as we are, the centre of the universe; it’s all about us. Before you get all precious and leap to correct me with "we’re all in this together," you’re right, but hear me out: it has to be us at the start. It is our uniqueness, our distinction that makes human interaction fascinating. I say “hello” to you, from six feet away, and my greeting is subtly dusted with gravitas from my past. I have arrived to meet you, roused at this particular point in my story, my adventure. It’s real. All of it. Life is not a drive through; you can’t avoid going inside on some level. You can’t not be yourself with your particular DNA, your experiences, wounds, victories, and desires. Even in some dark mental illness where you are not yourself, you actually are. Sometimes more so. Covering your ears and humming in an attempt to avoid? That’s still you. The larger influence, the game-changer that you develop in your centre seat is rooted in the level of your innate drive to consider others: Can you be vulnerable for them? Can you connect deeply? Do you know how to listen and therefore be present? Lack in some of these abilities might make you an asshole. Awareness might make you a saint. Neither of these traits overrides the marmot, at least not initially.
There was never a time during my life when I was not aware of the rest of the world, but certainly as a kid it was more of a curious backdrop than anything that tripped me up during my day. Whatever was happening in Vietnam or the Middle East played on the TV news–a square of repetitive, moving wallpaper that concerned the adults around me, but did not threaten any plans that I had, or affect our privileged lives. Years later I was married with two young children when 9-11 happened. It shook me; it was horrific, heartbreaking, but still far away. Everywhere, there was nightly news with murders, stories of lack and want and missteps both political and not–Buffalo was always on fire–but they were stories about ‘other’ people. And now we are here, self-isolating in this pandemic. Even me. Even you.
No, I don’t have time for this. I still haven’t found my ‘thing,’ and isn’t that just too bad? “If I could just–––, then I could finally––––!” Covid-19 says “No.” We’ve all thought this because as humans, we have an awareness of the future and in that, we have the ability, the need, to plan. The problem is that when plans tank we feel shitty, cheated. WTF, and why bother then? There’s a compelling tenant of Buddhism that involves acceptance of impermanence–the acknowledgment of the ending of things and yes, awareness of our mortality–we will die someday. As scary as this can be in a fleeting, unsupported thought, I find it a relief in broader contemplation. I’ve used it many times, when things feel pointless. “Well, if the worst that can happen is that I will die–and I’m going to do that anyway–perhaps I will risk not getting in my own way and do that thing (write something, make a tree fort, eat a doughnut) because why not?” Life is stupid. Also, it’s not. There is nothing else. Depends on the day and how healthy the marmot.
Pulling back, there are several frames through which I consider life. Some are helpful, others less so:
–We are walking goo on a planet. We are stardust. We are the reason for velour. We are meant to work as a collective though glorious in our individuality. If we can get over ourselves, which also means being nicer to ourselves at the same time, then maybe we can get through this without settling. Eat the rich, but with good manners and a well-paired wine. Share the chocolate afterward. Please quote me.
–I have this body that I have to keep healthy. For some reason, I am driven to it, so in my deepest depression and shadow, I sense perfectly with these organs and limbs and my gloriously low resting heart rate. It’s like an enabler, a dealer, that in my perfection, makes me suffer. And I do. I hate this. How is it that I’m alone in a semi-retirement apartment, looking after my mother? This was not the plan. This body is annoying. And NOW there’s a marmot living in it. With it, I hold tension, and sigh, and try, fumble, sleep, try, fumble, sleep, yoga, yoga, try not to drink, fumble, hike, hike, hike, sleep, okay, try not to drink too much then, cycle.
These days are exhausting, fucking sad. But also, in moments when I’m able to pull back, this is a mind-blowing experience.
The remaining frames exist in the things I pay attention to:
–There’s an escapist romance Netflix series that I watched. I have no real life romantic leads right now and am no longer young(body)but the feeling, that longing for connection is so strong that I wonder if it might burst into flame one of these days. This has nothing to do with sex. It has everything to do with love. I wonder what it would be like to be self-isolating with someone that I loved; talking about books, making soups, trying to edit farts. I am not foolish enough to think that we wouldn’t disagree on things, but I would like the chance to navigate that problem. This is soul-specific and is at the centre of any will to live.
–Literature, and all of the books that I read my way through up to this point, full of character friends and authors who moved me, initially had gone quiet during this time. But then a David Foster Wallace clip came up on my computer. If you have not heard, "This is Water," I will link it here. The emergence of this clip at this time is why I wonder if there is something bigger going on that we can’t see. This kind of thing happens all the time for me–something, or someone helpful is put in my path. There is rarely nothing. I am constantly learning. Never relaxing. Did I mention that I’m exhausted?
–Getting out into nature, whether walking or cycling(body, again), I delight in, and am envious of the more primal animal species that live and die without passwords and the fuckery of having to invest for retirement. Life should be simpler than it is; I blame zippers and shoelaces. There are too many of us. We never should have left the equator.
–The sounds in this building and the awareness of my mother nearby and my duty to look after her. She is emotionally draining and I wonder what it would be like to care for someone whom I adored, who was inspiring. Oh GOD, just the thought! It’s remarkable how difficult tending her has become, perhaps because I know of other mothers her age who are making an effort for their children, even if it’s just making phone calls. She has made her nest–never reaching out to others in an effort to nurture friendships, and has smoked so much that she is almost blind (macular degeneration), yet I do feel sorry for her. I will always be there for her.
–Comedy. I feel like a master of the imposter syndrome each time I make someone laugh. I gird my loins and commit to launching some kind of project, and then my girding comes undone and catches on my nightstand. It’s the only way out. So, there is no way out.
–Psychotherapy, which has saved me and I’ve been considering accreditation, but I had an email letter the other morning from a school chum. Both of us had fathers who committed suicide. I had written him about mine some time ago, and the other morning received his story. I was almost nauseous. It wasn’t the grim description of his father’s passing, but it was more my friend’s pain that I seemed to be able to feel. This caught me off guard. I knew I was a sponge, an empath, but was surprised at how much. Is this sensitivity partly why I am so remarkably unsettled at this time? Am I sensing the collective anxiety? Would being a therapist be too much for me?
–The past, set in stone as it is. Fuck.
–The future and my own children. Sigh…
–Underlying all of these frames is this new world of preciousness/meanness, on a planet third from the sun. And the sun does not care. There is no point to us. All of this garbage behaviour is a wank. Why someone doesn’t just throw a bucket over Trump’s head, I will never know. We’re all dust–why be mean? Why be terrible? There is enough velour for everybody.
–Looking away from it all. The other day, after grocery shopping for my mother and myself, I took some hunks of plasticine and made two human hands of actual size for fun. There was no need for this. It was just a fun thing, and while trying to get the fingers right, the real world went away for a while. The problem is that it always comes back. There is always an abyss waiting to be stared into. It has all the time in the world. It is the world right now.
I look forward to this pandemic being over with, whatever that means. Consideration of mortality can be terrifying, but if we can somehow grok this we may be moved toward the world becoming a nicer place. Perhaps rephrasing it as ‘acknowledging our fragility,’ makes it easier but it doesn’t have the same power. I’m not suggesting that we dwell on it; that’s not healthy, but in this shitstorm, such parsing might be the thing that convinces the bad kings to stand down, the mean spirited throngs to rest their hackles, and gives the shy, shunned geniuses opportunity to speak. Our common rituals need to change or we risk continued, grasping, pointless suffering. We can do this if we summon the will, but my marmot is telling me that we’re not quite ready yet. And it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. But it would be very nice.