Evolution


Cover of The New Yorker Sept 21, 2020 issue by Artist Chris Ware: “I live in the quiet, relatively diverse, and leafy “village” of Oak Park, literally across the street from Chicago, and all summer long I’ve seen neighborhood almost-but-not-quite get-togethers, not unlike what I drew here…I think vastly more people still try to get along in America than not. Our cities aren’t exclusively anarchic blast zones, and the suburbs aren’t all xenophobic cloisters. Yet, now, the weather is cooling, and we’re all heading back inside to await the results of what will surely be the most contested election of our lifetimes. The real fear is what may result: not a democracy or a republic but something that somehow stifles both.”

Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts

The scent of sun-dried sheets fresh off the clothesline can completely change my state of mind. Like the sense of well-being that comes over me when a song from my youth is playing on the radio, the smell of line-dried sheets takes me home to Alabama, back to a time when all my beloved elders were still alive, still humming as they shook out a wad of damp bedsheets and pinned them to the line.

This summer I have repeatedly washed not just our sheets but also our 20-year-old matelassé coverlet, whose scalloped edges are now beginning to fray. I have washed the dust ruffle for possibly the first time in its entire existence. Once the linens are reassembled, I crawl between the sheets, breathe in, and feel the muscles across the top of my back begin to loosen. As my friend Serenity’s mother is fond of saying, “There are very few problems in this world that putting clean sheets on the bed won’t improve, even if just a little bit.”

These days it’s truly just a little bit, even when the clean sheets have been dried on a clothesline in the bright summer sun. Everyone I know is either suffering terribly or terribly worried about someone who is suffering. When will they ever find work? What if they get sick at work and can’t afford to take time off? What if they bring the virus home to the people they love? How will they work and also home-school their children? Will their parents die of the coronavirus? Will their parents die of loneliness before they can die of the coronavirus?

For months now, all my phone calls and texts and emails have begun, “How are you, really?” or “How is…?” Sometimes I’m the one who’s asking and sometimes I’m the one who’s being asked, but every exchange begins the same way.

Without even thinking about why, I engage in useless compensation. Bringing a few swallowtail caterpillars inside to save them from the red wasps. Repotting eight years’ worth of Mother’s Day orchids. Buying mask after mask, as though this color or this style or this pattern will somehow protect me and those I love. I am getting through these days primarily by way of magical thinking, and sheets billowing on a hot August wind are my talismans against fear and loss.

In June, after 25 years in this house, my husband set to work on our 70-year-old kitchen cabinets, chiseling out layers of paint, planing and sanding warped edges. When he was finished, the cabinet doors would close all the way, and stay closed, for the first time in decades. If you ask him why he went to all this trouble, he has no explanation beyond the obvious: For 25 years it needed to be done, and so he finally did it.

But I think it’s more than that. I think he was worrying about his lonesome father, quarantined in an efficiency apartment, and that’s why he fixed those cupboard doors. He was worrying about our oldest son’s pandemic wedding and our middle son’s new job as an essential worker. He was worrying about whether our youngest son’s university would make the inevitable decision to hold classes online before we had to sign a yearlong lease for an apartment our son might never set foot in. My husband can’t control any of those things, much less cure Covid-19, but he can by God make the kitchen cabinets stop flying open and knocking us in the head while we cook.

The other day, I posted a picture on Facebook of our masks drying on the clothesline. “At some point I’m going to have to stop buying masks with flowers on them,” I wrote. “I don’t know why I keep thinking a new mask with flowers on it will solve everything, but I keep thinking it anyway.”

My friends began to chime in. “In case you are wondering, ice cream doesn’t seem to solve anything either, but I’m still collecting data,” my friend Noni wrote. “I confess I have not picked up an iron in years, but I now iron our masks each week,” wrote Tina. “It’s important to get the pleats just right. For some reason.”

We know the reason. In Margaret Atwood’s 1969 debut novel, “The Edible Woman,” a character named Duncan copes with chaos by ironing: “I like flattening things out, getting rid of the wrinkles, it gives me something to do with my hands,” he says.

A few days later I was still thinking about Tina ironing those masks, so I asked, outright, what my Facebook friends are doing to manage their own anxieties. When I checked back a few hours later, there were more than 100 comments, and every one of them was a lesson, or at least a needed reminder, for me.

My friends are giving themselves difficult and absorbing assignments: reading classic novels, learning a new language or a challenging song on the guitar, working complicated puzzles. “I am doing so many puzzles because it feels good to put something back together again,” my friend Erica wrote.

They are throwing themselves into the domestic arts: preparing complex meals, learning to make paper flowers and, yes, ironing. “I’ve been ironing my pillowcases,” wrote Elizabeth. “They feel so crisp and cool on my poor menopausal cheeks.”

They are putting in a garden, in the suburban backyard or on the city balcony. They are feeding the birds and sometimes the turtles, rescuing orphaned opossums, walking in the woods. They are sitting on the porch — just sitting there, listening. At night they are going outside to look at the stars.

They are taking care of others — adopting puppies and lonely neighbors, coaching elderly aspiring writers via Zoom, breaking their own rules against pets in bed, taking the time to get to know their U.S. Mail carriers. They are meeting friends — outdoors and from a safe distance — and making a pact to talk about anything but the coronavirus. They are reveling in the slower pace of family life and falling in love with their partners all over again. My sister, who still lives in Alabama, is sending boxes of Chilton County peaches to faraway friends who have never before experienced the taste of heaven.

Tears welled up as I read their stories, and by the time I’d reached the end, I was openly weeping. It felt like nothing less than a blessing, in this hurt and hurtful time, to remember how creative human beings can be, how tender and how kind.

We may be in the middle of a story we don’t know how will end, or even whether it will end, but we are not helpless characters created and directed by an unseen novelist. We have the power, even in this Age of Anxiety, to enfold ourselves in small comforts, in the joy of tiny pleasures. We can walk out into the dark and look up at the sky. We can remind ourselves that the universe is so much bigger than this fretful, feverish world, and it is still expanding. And still filled with stars.

—  Margaret Renkl, “A Reminder to Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts” (NY Times, August 24, 2020)

Miniature Worlds

Tatsuya Tanaka is a master of turning everyday objects into miniature worlds that seem larger than life. He’s been doing it daily for almost a decade, and in the midst of the COVID pandemic, he’s started to integrate some all-too-familiar objects into his work. See more here: Photographer Turns Masks And Toilet Paper Into Intricate Miniature Worlds (3 Quarks Daily)

Sad


Back to School by Dave Pollot

Lightly Child, Lightly

We are looking for new spaces, but what we are really looking for is retreat, clarity, to escape our internal chaos.

For the days not to feel glued together.

— Kate ZambrenoDrifts: A Novel (Penguin, May 19, 2020)


Notes:

  • Photo: Image source here. (via Mennyfox55)
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Come on People.

I see them too.  Everywhere. As Marie Fazio explains in recent NYT article. On beaches. Floating in Ocean. In parking lots. On sidewalks. Gloves. Wipes. Kleenex. Masks.  Discarded everywhere. Sickening, really.  Come on People.


Experts say the risk of catching coronavirus from a discarded mask is minimal, but the litter is causing concern for other reasons: Used masks and gloves, which cannot be recycled, pose a problem for the environment.

Disposable masks and gloves aren’t necessarily better or worse than any other kind of litter, according to experts.

Like other waste, a mask could be mistaken for food by wildlife. Or a heavy rain could wash it into a storm drain or a river and eventually the ocean, posing a risk for marine ecosystems.

“It’s quite alarming where these are ending up,” said Gary Stokes, founder of OceansAsia, a marine conservation group. “It’s not just the beaches. We’re getting them out in nature, but also downtown; you see them on the streets, in the gutter, on public transport.”

In February, on a routine trip to the uninhabited Soko Islands off the coast of Hong Kong, Mr. Stokes collected around 70 masks along roughly 100 yards of beach.

“We’ve seen it already with whales and turtles with plastic bags, and with masks it’s the same thing,” he said. “Another piece of trash for the next generation.”

Like drinking bottles, fast-food containers and other plastic material that ends up in the ocean, masks collect algae, attracting small fish that in turn attract larger fish, he said. A dolphin or whale could mistake a mask for food, and the mask could get caught in the animal’s digestive tract, which could result in death.

Over time, plastics in the ocean can break down into smaller particles known as microplastics. Those particles become coated in toxic substances and are eaten or absorbed by marine life and could eventually make their way into human food, experts say.

Around eight million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean annually, according to research, and environmentalists fear that P.P.E. litter, as well as more home delivery packaging, will worsen the situation.

A University College London study found that if everyone in the United Kingdom wore a new disposable mask every day for a year, it would result in 66,000 metric tons of plastic waste, plus 57,000 metric tons of packaging…

~ Marie Fazio, from Your Used Mask Needs to Make It to the Trash Can.  They’re on beaches, in parking lots and on sidewalks. You probably won’t catch the coronavirus from a discarded mask, but the litter poses a risk to the environment. (NY Times, July 25, 2020)

T.G.I.F.: Riding Metro North


Working from home but missing Metro North.

(Source: u/czmanix. Thank you Ray.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The Good News.

There’s no morning drive to Work. No 40 minute commute home in traffic.

There’s no one hour Metro North ride into the city for Manhattan meetings. No one hour return trip on packed commuter trains jostling for an open seat.  There’s no walk to/from the commuter trains in suffocating humidity.  As Jeffrey Eugenides puts it: “It was one of those humid days…you could feel it: the air wishing it was water.”

Today, the commute from Bed to Breakfast to Office is less than one minute. Air conditioning cools, a steady 71° degrees.

The Less Good News.

Work Hours: Up ~20% per day. Calls, emails, Zooms, conference calls. Add the pandemic anxiety to the tonic, and you have a giant Boa asphyxiating its prey, as I sit, sit, sit, and sit some more — from daybreak to late dinner, and again the next day, and the next and the next.  And the body, and the mind Scream: You’re sliding Pal, things gotta change. These Home Office walls are closing in.

The Pivot. [Read more…]

Tuesday, January 5, 1999

We’ve all heard of that future, and it sounds pretty lonely. In the next century, the line of thinking goes, everyone will work at home, shop at home, watch movies at home and communicate with all their friends through videophones and e- mail. It’s as if science and culture have progressed for one purpose only: to keep us from ever having to get out of our pajamas.

— Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Staff Writer in the San Francisco Chronicle, published Tuesday, January 5, 1999


Notes:

somos la luz

mural

“Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada spray painted a 27,000 s.f. giant mural as a public memorial dedicated to a doctor who died from COVID-19. Each life is important, unique and incalculable, especially during the global pandemic, and the work memorializes essential workers. The mural is titled ‘somos la luz’ – translated as ‘we are light.’” (Read more @ Design Boom)

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