I can’t get away from myself these days, though I’ve made the usual tries: television, food, books, writing. The pandemic caused “Blacklist” filmed in New York, to become part graphic art, part cinema. That was interesting. By far my favorite escape is books and as soon as I got home I grabbed my copy of Emma by Jane Austen. I’m deep into the activities of three or four families in a country village.
My non-fiction book, the book I read at night to ease me into sleep, is Pema Chodron’s new one: Welcoming the Unwelcome. Pema is a Buddhist nun, but this book seems written for everyone on the planet at this particular moment. Because…the pandemic is the most unwelcome thing ever, at least in my life. Traveling home through the pandemic was challenging although there were more cars in the Starbucks line than on I-75.
Once home, I got busy using my three most missed machines: washer, dryer, and dishwasher. One way to appreciate something that seems like drudgery is to do without it for awhile. There was never a happier sound of all three of my mechanical helpers cleaning things all at once.
And that’s one of Pema’s lessons: appreciating whatever is in front of you. For me that would include this husband who is suddenly with me all the time. Dropping judgements and negative labels and just let things be as they are between us. I haven’t worn make up in two months and I think I may possibly never wear it again. I am 65 years old. I see myself just as I am. And I’m okay with that. Al is too.
What comes when society is moving, with lunch dates and dinner parties and sitting on the patio in the sun chatting with the neighbors is this need to “put on my face” like every other female in the room. One of the lessons I want to fully take in during this time is wanting to know myself, my authentic self. I’m not saying makeup and hair and a lovely pair of jeans plus cute sandals are not okay.
It’s not either/or, it’s both. Female dressing up is great. So is not dressing up. I’m dropping judgement on this topic. It took the pandemic to make me really see that I don’t need to “fix myself up” because I’m fine just the way I am. And so are you. Buddhists believe everyone has a basic goodness under the fixed ideas we have of ourselves and others.
So I’m letting go of some of the concepts and labels I’ve attached to myself and to Al, too. They no longer serve me. Instead I will really look at what’s right in front of me and appreciate fully exactly what and who that is.
Life feels flat these days. Too little to do in too small a space. Yes, I’ve been reading a lot, and writing some, but I can’t wait to get back home to Michigan. I love Florida and want to move here permanently as soon as possible, but we have unfinished business in Michigan, which is the least evil thing the murderous pandemic has halted for now.
We could fit this entire Florida condo into our basement at home. And that basement in Michigan is full of furniture and everything I ever thought I needed and then after awhile decided I didn’t. Al’s going to finish the basement, something he’s talked about since we moved in. “When I retire…” he always said. Okay, that’s now. But first we need to clean out and box up what will go into the eventual estate sale. Organizing the basement is the one part of the plan we CAN take action on now. And it will help deplete our pent up energy.
Funny that a chore I have avoided for years seems almost like something I want to do. I’m editing my book, too, but all other choices are limited, no matter where we live. Driving home will be a possibly dangerous adventure. I have heard from others that the highway rest stops are spotlessly clean and read numerous articles that swear hotel chains are stepping up their high-touch area cleaning game. As added protection, we have our masks and gloves and a very large jar of hand sanitizer.
After Saturday night, I knew I needed to get out of the house. I needed to see the water, and people, and downtown. Isolation has been fine, except when I’m not reading a book. My recently retired husband is very good about my writing and reading habits. He has the same habits, in fact. I love how the two of us, each with our own writing and reading material, sit scribbling the mornings away. Yesterday he explained his writing and research to me. He’s forecasting financial trends which involves many numbers and those pesky stock market abbreviations. Henceforth, I will admire him with pen in hand from afar.
But we still have to eat. And cook. And wash the dishes, as we have no dishwasher here in St Pete. This is really where things started: me washing, Al drying. He dropped a large pan on the ceramic tile floor Floridians favor, and the clang it set up caused me to startle. When I startle, sometimes I scream. It depends on my anxiety level and with Covid, and Staying Home, and grocery shopping with a mask, I’m never really completely free from anxiety. So I screamed. Then I felt ashamed and ridiculous. I said sorry to Al, which he doesn’t require as he knows this part of me, he knows I don’t mean to do it. It’s my fight or flight response.
This time, for the first time, I could not calm myself down with deep breaths and my anxiety built into panic before I could swallow any medication. Then I sat breathing, apologizing, worrying a neighbor would call 911, until the pill did its magic. Al, wanting to help, asked “What were you thinking happened when you heard the sound of the pan falling?”
I explained again that the response comes before thought, involuntarily. In that moment I was a cave woman alerting her man of danger. Some of us have a bit more cave woman left in our reptile brain than others. But I did say “I need to get out. Let’s go for a drive tomorrow.” And then I went to bed with my book.
On Sunday I felt much better and we set out for Gulf Blvd to see what, if anything, was afoot. Our beaches and restaurants were still closed yesterday (they opened today) but except for the yellow tape blocking off parking and the large signs reading BEACHES CLOSED, you wouldn’t know it. It was a lovely day (as is most every day here) and people flocked to the beaches. The patio seating at the few restaurants that braved opening early were packed with people shoulder to shoulder hoisting beers.
We tut-tutted from the safety of our car. Further down the Gulf, we passed the elegant Don CeSar. The parking lot was almost full, so I suspect they were serving brunch out back where the water views are splendid. Don CeSar is a hotel, very old Florida, so hotel guests would be exempt from the beach closures. We were going to dine there on my birthday, but that didn’t happen. I’m sure Al is secretly pleased because they are the kind of place that don’t have prices on the menu.
By the time we got downtown, cruising Central Avenue, which is on Tampa Bay, not the Gulf, we saw people walking, enjoying the day, eyeing the yachts in the Bay. These people were social distancing in groups of two or three. But the one restaurant open downtown, off Central on the pier, was jammed. Yachts and other luxury boats bobbed on the Bay. And why not? No ordinance against that. Still, we were dismayed that every single shop on Central, and every restaurant, too, was closed. We knew it was for the best, we knew it was the rule, but we couldn’t help speculating how many of our beloved local businesses would never be able to open again and would be snapped up and turned into condos.
As we headed home, we decided to stop at Target for a few essentials. We slapped on our masks and filled a cart with lettuce, avocado, and chocolate. The chocolate was for me, as I deserved a treat after my odious evening before. Also, we purchased ice cream. Same reason. At home, Al helped me enjoy these treats and then he had a healthy salad. On a final note, about half the people in Target did not wear masks. And there was no hand sanitizer to be found. But there is a happy ending!
Old St Pete Distillery, on 31st Avenue, has turned many vats once used for liquor mixing into hand sanitizer cauldrons. They have distributed free sanitizer for weeks to medical and other needy institutions. And they sell it to consumers. With every bottle of booze, you get a free travel sized vial of hand sanitizer. This is all done through their website. I ordered a few bottles of my favorites and a large (1.75 liter) bottle of hand sanitizer. For when Covid returns because people are not abiding by the safety rules!
Luckily our order, we were informed by email, is ready for pick up. Coconut rum does wonders for my worries.
Al and I had our first big fight last week. Lasted all day. It was stupid, too. Not insignificant, but I had to look back in my morning pages to remember what happened. The day that should have been happy (I got my first edits! I was excited to dive in!) ) started out wrong. I just wanted to get to work but I got an early text from a friend in dire need of whatever advice or comfort I could muster. It was pretty heavy stuff, not mine to share.
But it was there, inside me, weighing on my heart. I was just going to have to take my heavy heart into the guest room, where I’d set up shop for editing…but first Al needed some information from me. Just a password and user name. We’ve both applied for our retirement paperwork down here in Florida and that might not have been so smart. Everything has to go USPS to our home in Michigan then forwarded down to Florida.
Who knew this would be so difficult and inefficient? Me, that’s who. I’d heard from friends how easy it is to do all this stuff either online or in person. I wanted to do it last November! Al said not to worry, he had it all covered, he’d been to see the benefit rep at the plant. I pretty much put it all out of my mind. Then the paperwork began. Almost immediately, things went wrong. All along the process, we did our usual thing of saving names and notes from phone calls, new passwords from websites, doctor and drugstore names and numbers, we had it all and we filed it.
Except I misfiled one password that Al needed right that minute. He was online and he had to pay a bill. I looked in the files. Nothing. I tried to log in. Nothing. I tried a few other things. Nope. This system had never heard of me although I’d spent the day with them quite recently. After about an hour of searching, I gave Al the bad news. He was tense and his short fuse blew. At me. How could I not save an important password? Etc. I gave him one final sheet of paper with a unique user name and password.
“It might be this,” I said, sure I’d found the correct way into the system. I couldn’t resist reminding him of the benefit rep’s words: “Don’t worry about your wife, it’s you we need to get set up first” (which turned out to be incorrect as I am a couple months older than Al). Before he could retort, I held up my hand like a stop sign. Then I went into the guest room where work awaited. I took those inflammatory words “Don’t worry about your wife” in there with me. I’m not as healthy (mentally or physically) as Al, and my delicate constitution absolutely requires worry, upset and medication.
Would we ever get our retirement life settled? I popped half a Xanax before anxiety and anger spiraled into fear and tears. There in my temporary writing room, with my beloved things around me (books, laptop, phone, notebook, pen, desk with beautiful chair) I piled pillows and propped myself on the handy bed. I checked the time. Not yet noon. Perhaps the day could be saved. I checked email. And Facebook. And Instagram. Also Twitter. Since I don’t tend to spend a lot of time on those sites, I felt like I’d accomplished something. Everybody knows writers need to use social media. Why? Hmmm. Not promotion, exactly. Just to keep in touch. Especially in a pandemic.
Then, all caught up online, I read a little bit from the Regency romance novel I was then enjoying. (I have been on an absolute Mary Balogh binge for months now.) There was no joy. So I tried to take a nap. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t even meditate. Naturally, all I could think about was Al not worrying about me. Ever. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I hadn’t even looked at the document I was supposed to be annotating. And I hadn’t eaten anything.
I sailed through the living room where he was reclining on the sofa, perusing his iPad, and into the kitchen. Dirty pots and pans and plates and bowls and coffee cups lay on every surface. Really? He couldn’t even do his own dishes?! I grabbed a yogurt and went back into the guest/writing room. We didn’t speak. I didn’t even look at him. But I was seething. After yogurt, I decided to get down to work. Then I noticed it was getting on to 4 o’clock when my dear Nicolle Wallace reports the news on Deadline White House.
We have a guest room television, but somehow it was already a little after 4 pm. and her opening monologue is my favorite part of the show. And we only tape shows in the living room. So I went out and happily Al had gone on his daily walk. I sometimes go with him, but no invitation had been forthcoming on this day. He probably thought I was working. Earlier in the week, he’d moved my desk into the one room in the house he had no reason to enter. He knew I’d gotten my edits, he knew I had a plan.
A plan that had been thrown a curve. Plans have been doing that a lot since the onset of the 2020 great lockdown. I watched Nicolle. She was wearing one of her colorful tops. Even in her basement, she is brilliant, pithy, and impeccably detailed. She cracks wise at appropriate moments to ease the tense news of the day, smiling wide. When the world seems like it’s falling apart, Nicolle will make you think things are maybe going to be okay again someday soon. Meanwhile, here are the facts and don’t forget we’re all in this together.
After the news, I went back into the writing/guest room and opened my document. I worked on it for a few hours, and Al peeked his head in the door. “David?” he asked. That’s what he says when he wonders if I’m ready for the national news. David is David Muir. I like to compare how cable news and national news report the stories of the day. It’s amazing how much David leaves out, but he faithfully reports the bullet points.
“Okay,” I said. We walked down the hall toward the living room. “Do you know what I was doing today?”
“Yep.” I said. “What did you do about the payment?”
“Oh that. I mailed it.”
I went into the kitchen for a glass of wine. Which I felt I had earned. The kitchen was spotlessly clean. I pulled together some cheese and crackers and fruit, too. Of course I made enough for both of us. First fight as a retired couple in-a-pandemic-with-edits-due over.
PS I finished my edits the next day and got them to my editor. She said they look fine. Our next round will be in a few weeks, when we’re back in Michigan. And I have a real writing room.
Before we Floridians really knew what was happening with the virus, Al and I took our final beach walk in late February. We saw this shark, washed ashore, maybe slashed by a boat motor. I like to walk just in the water where the tide rolls in and out, so this stopped me in my tracks.
I scuttled to dry sand a few feet from the Gulf of Mexico’s foam. My photographer (Al) snapped this photo. He wanted to take it from the other side, which was even more disturbing, like maybe birds had picked the guts clean but left the bones. There was no sign of a head.
We had gone to Madeira Beach that day, and we both decided next time, we’d stick with our cute Treasure Island beach just a bit south, at John’s Pass. Not to be confused with Sunset Beach, also on the shores of Treasure Island, where we like to go for dinner and catch the sunset. This is just a little bit of beach with no hotels or condos behind it. It’s cleaner and there are less people.
Although to be fair to Madeira, that’s the first shark I’ve ever seen washed upon any shore.
Where we live in Pinellas County, there are 35 miles of white sand beaches. Mostly they’re all lovely. I’m not saying one town’s beach is superior to another, because it’s not true. But there are specific areas of beach along those miles we like better than others. Especially during tourist season.
We didn’t go to the beach after that day we saw the half-shark. Al tried to talk me into it, but little bits of news had started to seep out about the virus in the USA and I was spooked. It was like the shark body part had been a harbinger of things to come.
Soon after, we saw one of our northern beaches portrayed as a decadent Spring Break haven full of partying young people. That’s not unusual, except the information on the virus was now more in the news and we’d learned the term “social distancing.” Soon Pinellas County closed its beaches. All of them.
Despite some beaches recently reopening (in Jacksonville and Miami), in Pinellas County, where we live, they’re still closed. And we’re still staying home.