march 22, 2020—field notes from a pandemic

One thing, of countless things, that you did not plan for is that your dog poop bag supply will eventually run out while you are—what are we calling this state of being? Social distancing? Self-quarantining? Self isolating? Sheltering at home? Do they all mean the same thing? Are there degrees of progression? Maybe it’s now slid into self-loathing territory? Or other-loathing? Maybe someone has a glossary of terms for a pandemic—no? Because we’ve never been here before? Then perhaps someone should write one. Like right now. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

In the meantime, ponder from where where your next poop bag might come. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where the domesticated poop bag crop is still plentiful—those crusty old Star Tribunes sheathed in plastic husks that weren’t pick up all winter—pry them from frozen lawns, extract the hardened paper burrito from its husk, recycle the paper and tuck the plastic sheath in your pocket. Collect all you can find—no one cares, it’s old news. Gingerly extract various and sundry loose plastic bags from shrubs and gutters, noting that “various and sundry” is redundant. Ponder its linguistic history—why wouldn’t anyone notice that various and sundry mean the same damned thing? Why do we perpetuate this inefficient word madness? Because in undetermined isolation, we have the luxury of time to ponder such things. Shriek with delight when the poop bag gods bless you with a miraculous clump of plastic Pizza Hut bags—enough to last at least a week—that appear like a miracle from nowhere in the intersection of Dupont and 24th. Pluck the clump from the middle of the street with a victory dance that will please the gods, reveling in the simple things.

IMG_2240Take your hunt to the next level: head out to the woods, where ferrel poop bags are rare as truffles in the wild. Pull into the parking lot of Afton State Park and be simultaneously overjoyed and horrified at the sea of cars before you: ahhhhh, people….AAAAAHHHHGGGG, PEOPLE!!!!! Remember a remote path over that way, that you rarely take because of all those books about serial killers and criminal profiling that you read back in the 90s. Today, take that path, noting that our current social isolating culture has the potential to turn a lot of us into serial killers.

Collect data: compare the behaviors of overachieving isolators, who not only avoid eye contact, but take great pains to exceed six feet between bodies, that they practically fall in the ditch when you pass, to those who still keep proper distance, but also smile, look you in the eye and say more than “hi” and it feels like they want to keep talking—you do, too—it’s been over a week since the last time you actually sat next to someone, when did you last hug another person? Your dogs strain on their leashes to touch noses, but you all know that’s too risky—you all could get tangled up in each other, and then you’d all be dead, yet there’s there’s a palpable desperateness in the air and you wish you could tangle up together and fall into the mud and laugh about it, make a game of this strangeness, but you all know the rules that you’re already testing simply by being out here together. You say goodbye and keep going your own way. Observe how sad this parting ways makes you feel. Remember other times in your life when you have been this alone; there haven’t been many, thank god, but remember how those times nearly broke you. Remember to call your sister and tell her to add Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, and Traveling Wilburys’ Handle Me With Care to the growing Pandemically-Acceptable Playlist she’s creating.

Break your rule about cell phones in the woods, because now is the time where rules must be broken. Take a phone call from this sister, an empath through and through, who is also holed up alone, who had a two-week head start on the rest of us, because she got slammed with pneumonia just before pandemonium struck land, which doesn’t make her better at this, she says, instead, worse. She’s deeply feeling the adverse effects of self-isolation—in between her heaving gasps, you remind her, that no one knows what the hell is going on or what to do, because no one’s ever been here before, but every single one of us is doing the right thing (except the hoarders—there’s not a damned thing right about that). If your’e staying at home, it’s the right thing. If you’re curled up on a ball crying, you’re doing the right thing. If you’re calling your sister in the throes of a panic attack, you’re doing the right thing. If you’re staying on the phone with your sister as she’s sucking in deep breaths, you’re doing the right thing. If you’re able to help a neighbor, you’re doing the right thing. If you have to move in with your ex, you’re doing the right thing. If you’re playing Hot Lava! in the living room with your kids instead of going over lesson plans, you’re doing the right thing. If you’re sharing yourself on Facebook Live for the first time, or sitting on the toilet during a Zoom meeting because you’re kinda new at this but now you’ve taught the whole world a lesson in video conferencing and you deserve a HUGE raise! then you’re doing the right thing. No matter what you’re doing right now, you are doing the very best you can, with what you have right now. That is all that is expected of you.

You might want to remember that you have faced other hard things in your life. Really shitty, hard things, utterly foreign things that no one on the face of the earth except you could do, and you did. Probably not gracefully, or with a game plan, and sure as hell not with good hair or a professionally edited Facebook Live clip and maybe you did it while staying in bed a lot of days and not showering for others, and you probably broke down more than a few times, but I hope you are able to look at those times and say, “Hey, take a good goddamned look at what I did.” And find grace and strength and solace there.

And when your *other* sister calls you while you’re still in the woods, also hysterical, but this sister is saying, “We’re all going to die! Everyone’s going to take their guns and come looking for food and toilet paper and—“ and you interrupt her to say, ‘’If that’s what the human race reduces itself to, then we deserve to annihilate ourselves and start over.” You will be met with precious silence, then laughter, and you will be proud of yourself for your on-the-fly crisis intervention skills, and think you should set up shop like Lucy from Peanuts, with a little sign that reads, “Psychiatric help, 5$ (adjusted for IMG_2243inflation) The doctor is IN”

And when you get back to the Jeep, stuck in the bushes, next to the parking lot, is a
bluebird-blue, unused dog poop bag, just waiting for you. Take the signs when they appear, y’all. they’re everywhere. xo!

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