In Pursuit of Stillness: Dispatch #003 From Day 7 in Quarantine

At the end of every week, Abie and I play a game called Week High, Week Low. It used to be that we only did this after family vacations or exceptional instances that called for reflection, but at the end of 2019, while I was doing the millennial self-improvement thing and filling out charts about my internal happiness and external desires and dreaming up who I wanted to be the following year and so on and so forth roll-your-eyes-mine-are-rolling-too-stick-out-your-tongue-to-connote-existential-nausea-and-disgust-blech—I surmised that completing any week, point-blank, is an exceptional instance and as such, worth a review. So last night (Friday 3/20), as we used crackers to scoop the last bits of hummus out of a bowl, we played Week High, Week Low. Abie’s high was getting to the end of the week. His low was the ongoing pressure that trailed him like a demonically possessed shadow.

My high was the roll of cookie dough I picked up from my favorite coffee shop before they closed on Tuesday. My low could have been a laundry list—but that would have defeated the purpose of the exercise, so I evaluated the events of the previous week. Memories marched by, starting with the present moment punctuated by the twinge of self-consciousness that has veiled every thought, every move, every decision I’ve made since quarantine started.

What am I doing? Who wants to hear from me? Why am I sharing anything at all? When I read the news, I can almost feel myself shrinking into an insect so small even I wonder whether I’d notice if someone accidentally stepped on me. But what is this sensation—the feeling that if I don’t communicate, I will erupt. Is it frivolous? Indulgent? Is it even helpful? What is “it?” I can’t seem to get to the bottom of how I feel because every time I try, I’m interrupted by the musical sound of my kids’ knuckles tapping on my door, or the tender thumping of their feet, or the squeaking of their voices. And when that happens, I can’t keep asking the questions for long enough to be able to acknowledge that I’ve taken for granted the answers to these questions all this time, and it’s never stopped me from making stuff. I’ve had enough confidence in my recognition of the tiny incisions that sizzle within the flesh of what makes the human experience so raw.

They’re slowly losing confidence in what I promised all three of us would always be true: I am home.

But yeah, when my kids call, it’s like I have to put on a mask. God, the irony. I forget whatever I’m thinking about and pretend it’s two weeks ago. If I don’t, they sense it, and when they sense it, they act out and I know what they mean when they start to act out—when they refuse to eat, or throw themselves on the ground, or reject my pleas to build castles, or read their favorite book. They’re slowly losing confidence in what I promised all three of us would always be true: I am home. And home will always be safe. I guess what I have not been clear about is how I define safe. For the purpose of right now, the definition is stable.

And let me tell you, I do not feel stable. And this comes back to not knowing what I feel. Is that happening to you? I started 2020 revved up like one of those obnoxious cars with an extra loud engine. There were opportunities on the horizon that were so palpable I could hold them. I felt grounded in my shoes, so sure of who I am. I don’t think I’m any less sure now, but grounded? I don’t know. I feel mixed up—my hopes and expectations are jumbled together like white and colored separates swirling around the same washing machine. I’m just watching and praying the colors don’t bleed into the whites.

But maybe they need to bleed. What’s the worst that happens? I lose my favorite shirt? Okay. So what? I’ll find a new favorite shirt—maybe not now, maybe not for another year. Or two. Maybe through the pursuit of finding a new one, I’ll encounter plenty others and these shirts—the width of their collars and the lengths of their sleeves and the tapering at their waists—will serve as, I don’t know, conduits that bring me closer to finding that new favorite. I’m weighing the odds that I’ll like the new shirt more—so much so that I can’t even remember the one that got ruined all that time ago.

All of which is to say: I’m nervous as hell. I wake up every morning to the sound of an internal home alarm system. I doubt every thought that runs through my head. I know my husband is nervous too. He’s been asking to talk when we wake up in the mornings, and under regular circumstances, he prefers to limit soul-excavating communication to the office hours of 8 to 10 p.m.

Last week, I didn’t slow down. Instead, I only sped up through a growing fog that got heavier as the days went on.

I don’t know what the ripple effect of this virus is going to mean for any of us. I don’t know who is safe and who is not. I don’t know how I’m going to help and I don’t know when it will be over. But I do know one thing and it is what constituted my Week Low. I need to slow down.

Last week, I didn’t slow down. Instead, I only sped up through a growing fog that got heavier as the days went on. I tried to jump higher off the ground instead of sitting closer to it. I let a series of knee-jerk reactions comprise the tableau of Decisions I Made. I didn’t check in with my guts, and as every day passed, I got more frustrated.

I think that’s what happens when you speed up when you know you should slow down. So, yeah, I’m trying to adjust. We are all trying to adjust. And the best I think I can do for now is to change my speed. That’s it. Just promise to take my time. When I do, I can see that I’m trying to give stability to my kids, but that putting on what I have called “a mask” might actually derail the more important work of recognizing that I cannot protect them from the world, I can only give them the tools to first manage, then thrive in it.

I can see the silver lining of a bunch of white laundry getting mixed up with color.

I can see how all of this “social distancing” has made me distance from myself, too.

But I can’t really let that happen. I need myself. We need ourselves.

Yeah, I’m going to slow down. I think I have to.

How are you?

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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