Sunday, January 30, 2022

I don't know the people who live across the street

or the people who live behind me, although I do notice them sometimes, letting their dogs out, puttering around in their yards, someone's child shrieking in play, but if I did run into any of these people, say, at the grocery store, I wouldn't recognize them as neighbors, 

which I never thought about before until the other day when I read this disturbing story in the news about people in Ukraine preparing for war--not soldiers, but just regular people trying to live their lives--and this came down to stuff I'd also never thought about, like, what should we do if the water gets turned off suddenly and do we have a way to heat our home and what about cooking, charging our phones, dealing with injuries, medicine... 

The story went on, with comments from other places where people had gone through similar horrifying experiences, and then someone wrote, Forget about all of that-- the heating sources and food and medicine-- your first order of business is Find your community, 

the actual human beings who live around you, because when the shit hits the fan and communication goes down and the power snaps off, those are the people you're going to have to depend on for help. Those are the people you will help in return. So, okay, maybe I'm in trouble, 

only knowing the immediate neighbors on each side of me, but not the people who live in the houses across the street or in the houses behind me, their backyards touching mine but obscured by fences, even with all of the dog walking I do, the long meanderings up and down streets, the dog snuffling out the free dog treats-- where is the actual human connection? I don't know, except here's something: 

one morning, early in the pandemic, I was out on my front porch, pajama-clad and with my coffee, the only person awake as far as I could tell, when suddenly walking down the center of the street were three deer, one of them huge and with the antlers, just ambling along, before traipsing off into someone's yard to graze on the hostas, so strange and out of place, I wondered if I'd just seen what I'd just seen, 

so I stepped off my porch, holding my coffee, and ambled into the street myself, noticing at that same moment a human person drifting toward me in their pajamas too and also a coffee drinker. We walked toward each other, and even with the ever-present virus on our minds, and silly in our pajamas, we clinked our coffee cups and said hello. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

My weather app says it's snowing but it's not snowing

Weird, because when I click on the radar, a blue blob hovers over my house. 

Outside my house, in reality, still, no snow. Someone's fallen down on the job. The weather person, the radar man, the sky. Five years ago I joined a crowd of 500,000 people in the DC streets, so many of us you couldn’t see where we began or ended, the group I was with holding hands so we wouldn’t lose ourselves. I have never been a part of something so massive, for one brief moment 

the bodies around me lifting my feet off the ground, the swell of voices, my heart. I thought something transformative had happened, but when it was over, we unclasped hands and went our separate ways. Driving home we ate at a quiet hotel restaurant, our pink knitted hats tucked away in our small suitcases and the world kept turning, snowing 

when the weather app said it was snowing, or not, and no apologies either way. Who is in charge of this place? Not me that's for sure, but once I was a person who packed a knitted hat, took to the road. Look. In the time it took me to write these random thoughts, snow has started to fall. Outside 

the world, finally, rightly, catching up with the radar. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022


Another day, another mask-less patron at the library explaining to me why masks don't work. I'm sitting at the desk, nodding how I always do during one of these confrontations. The patron has just come out of the bathroom and has just washed his hands. I know this because when he comes up to the desk, shaking his wet hands, he announces:

"I just washed my hands." 

"Good to know," I say, nodding. 

"People used to make fun of me for being a germaphobe," he says. 

"You were ahead of the trend," I say, nodding. 

"Exactly." He smiles and touches his bare face with his freshly washed hands and launches into a rant on the worthlessness of masks. Something something microbe particles. Something something Dr. Fauci, and I keep nodding.

I glance over at my co-worker. She is nodding politely too, while at the same time doodling up a storm. She's a big time doodler. 
"I had covid." The patron says. "January 2020. It wasn't a big deal and now I'm completely fine." 

"Wow," I say, "you're so lucky." I'm sorta messing with the guy now and I'm not proud of it. It's the situation. How absurdist it is. Nearly two years into a global pandemic and here we are. The signs on the door to the library that say PLEASE WEAR A MASK. The maskless patrons parked out at the computers, one of them presently coughing up a lung. 

I'm going to catch this. It's a miracle I haven't already. This week alone three people I know have gotten sick. I send them soup. I should be a paid spokesperson for this soup company. Paging SPOONFUL OF COMFORT people: let me be your official influencer in Columbus Ohio. Meanwhile, I am second-guessing every one of my sniffles, every twinge of throat scratchiness, every sneeze. 

I take a home test. It's negative. But can I be... positive that it's negative? I read all the health articles in the news. They range from: We're All Going to Get This! to Try Not to Get This! I wonder if I should be more afraid. But the truth is I am long past being afraid. This is the world now. 

"Forget masks." The patron is still going on. "You want to know what the secret is?" He leans over my desk. 

I scoot my chair back and nod. 


The laugh bursts out of me before I can stop it, and then I apologize. "Good to know," I tell him. He walks off, and I reflexively reach for my hand sanitizer. "What the hell is a nutricicle?" I whisper to my doodling co-worker. 

"No idea," she says. She's finished with her doodle. She holds up the picture, and we both laugh into our masks. 

                                        --artwork by Emma Root

Sunday, January 9, 2022

In the moment

Ten minutes before the library closes, I take a call. What time do you close tonight? The caller asks me. 

Five o’clock. 

A pause. Oh, she says. Do you think I can make it if I leave now?  

I muffle a laugh. Lady, I think to myself. I have no idea where the hell you are. Honestly, I have no idea where I am most of the time. Here, of course, but not always. Not really. I’m working on this! It’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions. 

Be in the moment.  

Over the years I’ve resolved to work on variations of this same theme. Be present. Be IN the present. It's a tough one for me. I tend to drift off. Daydream. Sometimes disappear entirely. I used to think it was a funny quirk of my personality. But it’s not actually all that funny. It’s an adaptive mechanism, a response to trauma, something that once served me well, for safety purposes, when I needed to disappear. Now, though, I’d like to stay.

Stop forever rummaging around in the past. Stop always worrying over the future. Hold the moment I’m inhabiting and just, I don’t know, settle into it. Is that a thing? I tell the caller the library’s hours of operation and invite her to visit us in the morning. Ten minutes later, my co-workers and I are shutting down and heading out to our cars. 

Someone’s been inside my car. The seat is pushed back all the way and… I have a full tank of gas? I remember that my husband told me he’d come by during my shift and take the car to wash it. If there is a more romantic gesture than this, I can’t think of one right now. Home, and he’s already picked up dinner. After we eat, we watch our new favorite show, Emily in Paris. 

This is such a dumb show, and yet, my husband and I have binge-watched the entire first season in the past three days. The premise is an American girl, who doesn’t speak French, goes to work in Paris for a year. She’s a complete ding dong, but she’s adorable and her clothes are very fashionable and all of the French people she works with are varying degrees of crappy to her, but slowly she wins them all over by being so cluelessly joyful and charming and gushing over everything French. 

Maybe it’s all the bright colors and the lovely scenery of Paris and the sitting out at cafes and everyone drinking wine and/or eating French pastries. Watching the show makes me want to travel again and eat croissants and learn how to speak another language. 

Oh my God, I turn to my husband, Couldn’t you just so go for a croissant right now? 

A pause. How about a Triscuit? he says. 

That’ll do. We eat Triscuits and watch another episode of Emily in Paris. I speak to the dog for the rest of the night with a French accent and she looks at me like I’m a complete ding dong. 

This being in the present moment thing… I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. 

The dog also enjoys watching Emily in Paris

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Driving home through fog and this is not a metaphor

but actual fog, a thick curtain of mist. Actually, it's more like a cloud. And there I go already, speaking in metaphors. The thing is we want to believe that we know where we are going. The lines on the highway, the GPS. But this fog is impenetrable. Two nights ago my family was all together for the first time in more than two years. It was remarkable in its absolute ordinariness. 

Walking the dog with my son. Browsing a bookstore with my daughter. A cup of coffee. A puzzle. We have to take pictures, I kept reminding my husband. How else can we hold this moment? A card game. A bottle of wine. We’d planned this trip for months, but a week before we left, the risk seemed almost too high. 

All of the moving parts and pieces and potential virus vectors. Not just our own family coming together, but another family too. We didn't meet up last year. The first New Year's in twenty years apart. But here we are, taking a chance, even as so many people we know are sick, and everywhere we go, it is a changed world. 

The masks, the outdoor restaurant seating, the sanitizer stations at every store entrance. The weather itself, too balmy for winter coats, too warm even, for sweaters. But lovely for walking and outdoor dining. Just look at us adapting!

What are the odds we make it through unscathed? What are the odds we don't. I have never been good at math. In college Probability and Statistics was the only class I ever dropped. Still, I learned enough to know never to count on lottery tickets. At midnight we clink our glasses together in person, then drift outside to watch fireworks bursting above the tree line. 

Each one of us hugs each one of us before we part. On the way home the fog envelops the car for miles. But when it lifts, it's cold outside, just how it's supposed to be.