How has the pandemic changed you?

By Caitlin Kelly

I can’t recall a year recently — maybe the crash of 2008, 9/11 — that has so radically and permanently changed our world, and how we experience it.

I was an adult for both of these and both affected me deeply, as it did for millions of others, even those who did not lose a loved one to 9/11. I’ve never gone down to the memorial in Manhattan. I have enough memories of it.

This terrible and relentless year has shifted so much of how we think and behave and what we expect from government and one another.

Here’s some of how it’s changed me:

I’m more fearful.

I hate that! I’ve always prided myself on being bold and up for new adventure. But when everyone around you can be an invisible vector of disease? Not so much.

I have to calculate risk every single day, not just on rare occasions.

We live in New York state, where the current infection rate is a reassuring one percent. But for how long? I have eaten inside a restaurant a few times, with tables far apart and people masked when not eating. But a recent meal, even far from the table of eight, left me worried after they sang Happy Birthday, since singing spreads virus. Now I have to hope their celebration won’t sicken me.

I’m short-tempered and tired

Who isn’t?!

We don’t even have to home school children, but we are two self-employed workers sharing an apartment with no office space. Constant mask-wearing drives me mad, even while I do it and know it’s necessary. I’m sick to death of the political incompetence and lies that has killed 200,000 Americans and the fools who worship the man who made it happen.

If you haven’t read it, this is a smart analysis of how we feel and why.

An excerpt:

It was, as I’d soon describe in an emotional post in a social media group of professional colleagues, an “anxiety-tainted depression mixed with ennui that I can’t kick,” along with a complete inability to concentrate. I spoke with my therapist, tweaked medication dosages, went outside daily for fresh air and sunlight, tried to force myself to do some physical activity, and even gave myself permission to mope for a few weeks. We were in a pandemic, after all, and I had already accepted in March that life would not be “normal” for at least a year or two. But I still couldn’t work, couldn’t focus, hadn’t adjusted. Shouldn’t I be used to this by now?

“Why do you think you should be used to this by now? We’re all beginners at this,” Masten told me. “This is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s expecting a lot to think we’d be managing this really well.”

My social circle has shrunk

It’s minuscule. Gone are the friendly quick moments of banter in our apartment hallways and laundry room, at the grocery store or gym. I speak to a small handful of people by phone and restrict my access to others. We hosted a couple a few weeks ago for the first time in six months — on our balcony, with a breeze. When winter forces us all indoors again, I dread the isolation.

I don’t make plans for the future beyond a week or two

This is deeply unsettling. But who can?

My greatest pleasure is usually travel. Not now.

I went away for four days — planned to be six — to an inn in Pennsylvania but left early, bored and restless and alienated by Trump signs for miles.

When every encounter now carries physical risk, the reward had better be amazing! But because of COVID, so many experiences are smaller or diminished and altered in ways that are just annoying, that, for me, sap the joy and spontaneity out of the whole endeavor.

I’m even more reliant on my husband than ever.

When we’re now able to see so few people, our marriage has to be a source of daily sustenance in ways it never has. We’ve been together 20 years and really enjoy one another’s company. But it’s a lot to expect of one other tired, cranky human being!

Routines matter much more than they once did.

When the world is in such daily and mismanaged chaos — floods, fires, hurricanes, daily political malfeasance, racism, violence — even the simplest routines become deeply grounding and comforting. For me, it’s everything from two newspapers a day, in print, to Netflix binges at night or my 4:00 p.m. pot of tea. This is not a good time to feel untethered.

How has it changed you?

A perfect afternoon

By Caitlin Kelly

If there’s one activity I’ve missed more than maybe any other thanks to this pandemic — it’s hosting old friends for a delicious meal and hours of great conversation.

Finally, yesterday, we did, and a married couple — both journalists — came up, and with us outdoors, with lots of breeze, it was pure pleasure!

They live in the city but we hadn’t seen them in six months, and a parent had died in June and we had a lot to catch up on.

We baked a salmon and I tried out two new recipes from my Gordon Ramsay cookbook — a green bean/almond salad with honey/mustard dressing and a fantastic cooked lentil salad with roasted zucchini, red pepper and sun dried tomatoes.

Plus our favorite champagne and a bottle of sauvignon blanc and two gorgeous creamy cheeses and baguette and chocolate cake…

The weather was perfect and, with the change of seasons, the balcony was still in shade by 4:30 as they left…it had been sunny by 2:00 p.m. just a few weeks ago.

Our friend was a Times colleague of Jose’s who since re-trained as a medical yoga instructor. Her husband is mostly retired but does translation work. We’ve all covered major stories, have lived in different countries, have shared memories of work and our families.

A deep friendship takes time.

It takes attention.

It takes remembering.

Luxuries/Necessities

IMG_6173Luxury!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Like some others I know, this recent New York Times story, about people toughing out their pandemic in their second home, left me annoyed with its timing…with millions of other scared and broke Americans now facing eviction.

As they say — read the room!

Yes, I know there are rich people!

I know many of them read the Times.

But really?

While living full-time in places that usually get much less wear and tear, these homeowners share many of the same difficulties as anyone dealing with the coronavirus lockdown — working in communal spaces where their children now are present 24-7, discovering items in their homes that need updating, and then renovating a home while they are living in it. In addition, these homeowners must adjust to living in relatively unfamiliar towns, often far from friends, family, or creature comforts like a favorite bagel shop or longtime barber.

People assumed this must be a parody.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how much we can — and now must — forego.

Any form of amusement in a shared interior space? Gone!

Worshiping en masse indoors or not socially distanced outdoors? Gone!

Haircut and color? Gone, still, for many.

Massages, tattoos, other forms of out-sourced grooming? Gone!

Libraries? Gone! A few have gone to interesting lengths, from curbside delivery in brown paper shopping bags to home delivery by drone.

Oh, and travel? Forget it. In-state only, and even then only if you live in a state (only 16 left now in the U.S.) not devastated by huge numbers of COVID cases. New York lost more than 20,000 people to this virus, but thanks to millions of others who dismissed all those morgue trucks as a fantasy — we’re all now shut inside the borders of a nation in economic ruin. Awesome!

So it’s been a powerful lesson, beyond food and shelter, in what we once might have considered necessities — and know now for sure are luxuries.

 

 

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A while back, I gave some insider advice about writing a book to an MD I follow on Twitter, something I normally charge for. I didn’t. A bit later, he dropped a really nice gift into my PayPal account and I splurged for these!

 

A few luxuries I appreciate have remained possible: fresh flowers (now often from our small balcony garden), perfume and some new clothes and sandals, ordered by mail and a few bought in-store, and a quick four-day trip upstate to visit a friend and two nights’ hotel.

 

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I treated myself to a subscription, in print, (which I keep for years!) this magazine that’s hard to find here, and am in heaven swooning over 16th century cottages and gorgeous gardens, a happy substitute until, someday, I can get back there.

All of it wonderful.

For parents, certainly of multiple small children, not being able to rely on out-of-home childcare or schooling is a huge stressor with no calm, competent leadership anywhere on this in sight. STILL.

How absurd that education and childcare — both absolute necessities for a functioning economy while also safeguarding health — have suddenly become luxuries, with the most privileged snapping up teachers to teach locally-formed pods.

We’ve been very lucky to have steady work, bizarre in a time of such privation, but very aware of how lucky we are, especially as two full-time freelancers.

We’re very lucky to have savings.

And, for now, our health.

These are the necessities.

 

Everything else is now a luxury.

 

Soldiering on

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By Caitlin Kelly

One of my favorite films is Dr. Zhivago, with an unforgettable scene of a long line of exhausted, worn-out soldiers trudging forward.

To “soldier on” means to keep going, doing something that’s difficult, not giving up when you’re tired and discouraged and just fed up.

(It’s also a non-profit group dedicated to ending homelessness for veterans.)

It’s now been five months since COVID began to dominate our lives — with more than 137,000 Americans dead, thousands more soon to join them.

It’s been a long time to readjust, albeit immediately, to a world we never wanted: terrified of catching a disease that, if it doesn’t kill you, can radically damage your health for years to come. A world where parents, somehow, have had to school their own children or supervise their online learning in addition to earning an income in a full-time job.

And there’s no end in sight.

I live in New York, now one of the few states that flattened the curve because we listened early to the directions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Is it fun to isolate?

To stay home most of the time?

To avoid all social gatherings?

To postpone medical, dental and grooming appointments?

Let alone to miss culture-in-person — dance,  music, museums theater, movies.

Hell, no!

And the single greatest problem with being a soldier right now is the stunning lack of leadership, of a general with a clue, with a strategy and tactics. We’re fighting the virus with very few weapons — masks, social distancing, ventilators, proning, remdesivir — and losing what feels like an endless battle.

Still.

I often deeply wish that the veterans of WWII were not so old, the few left alive, to share more widely and consistently the shared sense of sacrifice and solidarity that somehow got them through it all.

The enemy, Nazism and genocide, was clear(er) then and the fight, however long and expensive and bloody, was one most people agreed was essential to win, no matter the personal sacrifices. It was a matter of pride, then, to share the sacrifice, to know what you were doing to help really mattered and your colleagues, friends, family and neighbors largely agreed.

Not to whine that a mask contravenes your liberty — just like blackout curtains or rationing once did as well.

Today, somehow, a lethal virus is still not as clear an enemy — and thousands refuse to believe it even exists, like the 30-year-old whose last regretful words were: “I thought it was a hoax.”

 

But soldier on we must.

What I miss now — and what I don’t

 

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Early March,  Middleburg, VA. My last breath of freedom for a while. I miss travel!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been two months now of self-isolation, at least here in New York.

It will last at least another month, maybe two.

I only go out for walks and, maybe once or twice a week, to buy groceries or go to the hardware store or pharmacy.

It makes me feel normal, even though, of course, I’m wearing a mask.

Here’s what I miss most:

 

Leisurely, spontaneous chats, whether at the gym or on the street or in the hallway or lobby of our apartment building.

Spin class, three mornings a week. Super-fun, energizing and social. Helps with weight management.

Going to movies at my favorite local art film theater, sometimes three times a week, with popcorn.

A lazy afternoon wandering a few blocks of Manhattan, usually with a good meal or a drink.

Browsing stores. I rarely buy stuff, but I do enjoy looking.

 

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Grand Central, taken from the balcony restaurant Cipriani

 

Grand Central Terminal, the station I commute from to our suburban town. It’s truly gorgeous, a cathedral of bustling elegance.

Having friends over for a meal, setting a pretty table to welcome them.

Sunshine! We have had truly depressing, terrible weather, week after week, with rain and temperatures in the 40s.

Our gorgeous, quiet, large, sun-filled town library with its tall ceilings and windows. I love sitting at one of its long wooden tables and savoring the silence.

Dressing well — make-up and decent clothes and pretty shoes. Not much point now!

 

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Our last big trip, a week here in June 2019

 

Travel! It’s normal for us to always be planning our next trip, whether upstate to visit friends or back to Canada or overseas. I really really miss it.

A decent head of hair! Ohhhhh, I miss the hair salon.

What I don’t:

 

The New York subway, dirty and crowded.

Driving everywhere all the time. It’s not healthy for me or the environment, but also typical of suburban life with lousy public transportation and towns without sidewalks.

 

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Too many magazines — we’ve drastically cut back on our subscriptions and I feel less overwhelmed.

Constant airplane and helicopter noise. We’re on a flight path to Westchester airport and live near the Rockefeller estate, so normal life adds a daily barrage of inescapable aviation noise.

Traffic! The streets and highways are practically empty.

Stupid public relations pitches. Normally, I get probably a few dozen every day, none of them of any interest to me. I find it really annoying. Now I get many fewer. Yay!

Robo-calls. Also much diminished.

Oddly, my friends. I’ve stayed in close contact with the people I value most, by phone or email or Skype. The rest? No time or energy anyway.

 

How about you?