My life in the Times of Coronavirus
By Ronnie Lovler
It’s not exactly akin to the Year of Living Dangerously, but there is something about the current situation that brings to mind that movie. Maybe it is simply the title that makes me think of my weeks of living dangerously, each time I go to the supermarket or pharmacy and expose myself to other people. Or the moments when I really lived dangerously and invited a friend to sit on my back porch to share a bottle of wine from separate glasses while we sat a safe six feet apart.
I, of course, am not living dangerously, not when I compare my relative seclusion and self-isolation to situations those on the front lines confront. However, just like everyone else, my life is very different from what I had envisioned for myself BC or Before COVID-19.
For starters, there were my travel plans, now squelched of course. The journey to Portugal and Spain to walk one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago that was to have occurred in May is not happening. The trip to Baltimore to visit my son in late March and see the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC — cancelled. An editor’s conference in Salt Lake City — is gone with the wind.
During one of my endless days at home when I decided to tackle a small pile of paper clutter, I came across the travel section of The New York Times from Sunday, January 12 with a front-page story that highlighted 52 places to go in 2020. Hmm… I have a lot of catching up to do. So far my list for 2020 includes two city parks, three supermarkets, one grocery store and three restaurants for drive-through take-home meals as a small gesture of support for local service workers.
The park visits occur twice daily, once in the morning with friends at a proper social distance, and again solo in the early evening. Call it waddling for wellness, keeping my Fitbit and me happy as I get in my 10,000 steps. The walks help keep the pounds from piling up too much. I am eating and drinking more, but my meanderings keep me at a break-even point when I step on the scale. These twice-daily strolls also establish a routine, which the experts say is mentally critical to handle the stress of quarantine. They bookend my day — coffee and two miles in the morning, wine and two miles in the evening.
I seek to hold onto the good in a not very good situation. I know I am among the lucky ones; I am not ill nor is anyone close to me, although I do know people at three and four degrees of separation who have been infected with COVID-19. One son is among the nearly 26.5million people who lost their jobs; another son is a federal employee whose job is still safe. I struggle to hold onto my humanity and find contentment, if not unbridled happiness. The presence of two little girls who live in my neighborhood and ride their bikes down the street past my window every day does cheer me up.
I have been in semi-lockdown since March 23, when Alachua County in Florida, where I reside, issued its Emergency Order 2020–09, aptly titled “It is Time to Shelter in Place — Stay at Home.” Of course, large swaths of the nation had been shutting down before that — but Florida was late to the game. Alachua County, home to the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, was ahead of the curve as far as Florida goes, but in the week leading up to the order, I still went to the gym and to restaurants. My son, living in Baltimore was horrified. His comment was “it’s about time” when I told him we had jumped on the shelter-in-place bandwagon.
Since that moment, every aspect of my life has changed drastically. My social and work life revolves around Zoom, a cloud-based video conferencing service. I have become addicted to Zoom, which is my new best friend, because it allows me to stay socially connected, even as I remain socially distant.
I got to know Zoom in a training session at Santa Fe College, where I teach public speaking. We actually learned in person, just before the shutdown, when the college closed its doors “in an abundance of caution” — and we were collectively disconnected and disenfranchised in terms of in-person contact.
I now conduct my classes on public speaking via Zoom two days a week. I have office hours on Zoom daily, which only a handful of students have attended, but I am there. I attend faculty meetings on Zoom. I sat in on a Zoom session about fundraising for political campaigns geared toward getting progressive women elected to office in Florida. I am on the boards of two local organizations and we meet on Zoom. We even hired someone through an interview process we conducted on Zoom.
My writer’s group is meeting on Zoom. I attended Zoom lectures from international journalists covering the global pandemic in the Philippines, India and South Africa. I took a yoga class on Zoom and I am attending weekly Zoom dance parties hosted by a group of academics in Ann Arbor, Michigan. How did I make that connection? By briefing the mother of one of the organizers on how to work on Zoom.
I meet up with a friend three or four times a week to watch Jeopardy together, courtesy of Zoom. His TV is suitably positioned so that he can set up his computer in a way that we can watch and play Jeopardy together. I’ve also raised my glass of wine to my friends during a few Zoom happy hours. I attended Shabbat services on Zoom from my local reform synagogue.
Zoom helps keeps me sane. I don’t feel bored, I am as busy as I was when I used to be outside, but I don’t have to waste money or time on getting from Point A to Point B. Now I don’t have to go anywhere; I don’t have to dress up (except when I have class, and only from the waist up; the camera doesn’t see my ever-constant sweat pants.)
I do not have a partner and live alone, but I don’t feel like I am in solitary confinement, in great part thanks to Zoom. You can talk and meet as a group or one-on-one in real time. The gallery view on Zoom is like the clip from the movie Love Actually. I love seeing everyone’s face and hearing their voices.
I relish being alone together.
I even had a Passover Seder of sorts on Zoom on April 8 with my two sons, Mike, who lives in Gainesville, and Tiffen, who lives in Baltimore. We had our own family Seder with matzo ball soup and other Passover staples at our respective locations. Zoom facilitated two wonderful hours of family time.
I do have other diversions. My friends and family share funny videos that are Coronavirus related. One I particular like is a montage of videos clips, most likely from Spain that include scenes of people playing ping pong from window to window in an apartment building and a man hiding behind the cushions of his couch when his daughter comes looking for him. I also liked the photo of a woman who was simulating curling her hair with Crayola crayons with a caption that read, “Coloring my hair.” A student doing a class assignment related to Twitter shared a Tweet that said, “I don’t use LOL anymore, I have time to write out ‘laughing out loud.’”
My favorite minstrel is Chris Mann who does parodies including one moaning the lack of toilet paper and others lamenting different aspects of being stuck inside. Then other videos shared that are truly extraordinary and moving like the French National Orchestra playing Ravel’s “Bolero” with each musician at home. Other offerings have included the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly free opera streams from its encore Live in HD presentations. Andrew Lloyd Webber is giving fans a chance to view some of his biggest musicals by streaming them free on YouTube. CBS has jumped into the game by organizing musical potpourris where artists like Brad Paisley and John Legend perform live from home. My personal favorite was the living room concert by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
What else do I do to pass the time? I maintain social connectivity outside of Zoom with one or two lengthy phone calls each day with a friend or family member, frequently people with whom I had lapsed in terms of staying in touch. The calls are intentional. Again, the experts say this is important to keep from feeling isolated and after a lengthy chat on the phone I do feel good.
I have signed up for French and German classes on Duolingo, a language-learning app. Sometimes I wonder why I am spinning my wheels to try to learn some basics of these languages when travel to countries where French or German is spoken is definitely not in my immediate future. But hope beats eternal.
I also read books and watch movies and binge on series. I have about 30 books lined up to read both online and in hardcover editions. I have subscriptions to Amazon and Netflix and get HBO and Starz with my cable subscription, which I had been about to cancel until the pandemic kept me home. I also just rediscovered Turner Classic Movies and am enjoying film noir from the 1940s and 1950s.
I do have my personal traumas. I have some dental issues, which I had planned to address in June — finally, after putting things off for way too long. Turns out, June hit me in April when a bridge in my mouth popped out. But it’s not considered an emergency, and I can’t get a dentist to see me, except for one who wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers to have on hand if I need them. The dentist told me they are worried because they are at the bottom of the list right now in the health care field and can’t order replacement personal protective gear for when they are allowed to see patients again.
There are, of course, moments of sadness and stress. These come with the news, as we watch the death toll spiral and collectively shake our heads at the lack of leadership exhibited by our president, whom the author of an opinion piece in the Washington Postrecently labeled as the worst president ever.
I am annoyed at being hailed as a “superhero” just for staying at home. I wanted to do something to help. I went to a local website looking for volunteers but was hit with the news that if you are over 60 you are at risk and we don’t want you. Stay at home! I get it. But for the first time, I really did become aware my age. I rebelled in a fashion by walking over to my local blood bank to make a donation. I left behind a pint of my blood, which has allowed me to make plans to visit there again at the very end of May when I have met the requisite eight-week lapse between blood donations. So at least I am not too old and at too much at risk for that!
So that’s my coronavirus story and I’m sticking to it. Here I am going to borrow from the 1948 film and later television series The Naked City, which ended with this line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” In our times, there are tens, if not hundreds of millions of coronavirus stories to tell, and this is one of them.