WHEN I’M FEELING LOW, I write. When I’m feeling anxious about circumstances that are beyond my control, journaling helps me to clarify my thoughts and process what is happening. This pandemic is an enigma for the ages. My age, my times. I wanted to record my feelings about it.
January 6: A few years ago, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise helps. I walk most days, but joining a gym would be better. My doctor agrees and wants me to work on flexibility and balance. My husband, Dave, joined a gym for his back issues and takes a Tai Chi class. He invites me to try it. Why not?
February 4: Dave’s class is not for me. I find the Tai Chi moves too slow and complicated. Instead, I join a warm water exercise class. Both classes are scheduled at the same time so we drive to the gym together. I love the warm water. It feels good on my joints. It’s a good decision, and I’m proud of myself, although my new schedule will take some getting used to.
February 18: My class size is dwindling, and it’s a shame because I’ve just started to make new friends. It’s definitely the coronavirus. People are afraid of germs. Although I watch news reports and am sad about what is happening in China, it feels unreal to me. How could that happen in America? Our gym is taking precautions, and I am too. If I use equipment I wipe it down before and after, and I wash my hands often. I feel like exercise is essential to my health. If the gym remains open, I’ll be there. Pamela, our instructor reminds me of a younger version of my Aunt Annie with her lively personality. Just being around her is a positive experience.
March 10: It’s a warm day outside. I’m hiding from the heat indoors. I went to the bank and Pet Co. When I came home I scrubbed my hands. It’s getting to me, the coronavirus germs. I keep reminding myself and my husband to wash up after being out. When he doesn’t remember, I tell him. I know I sound like a nag, but he doesn’t worry like I do. I’m constantly looking online for how long germs stay on surfaces. Am I bringing home germs on my shoes, my clothes, my carpeting? How do you make your own disinfectant wipes? Instead of heading to the gym early to exercise, I run around to the stores during senior hours. I’ve never had to compete before to find common items like toilet paper and paper towels. It’s depressing to see empty store shelves. I feel like I’m in the middle of an apocalypse movie.
At the bank, an employee opens the door for me and explains how I should proceed. She tells me to wear my mask inside but lower it for a moment when the teller asks me to. What am I, a bank robber? I forgot my pen and ask to borrow one, but before handing it to me she sprays it with a ton of disinfectant. Maybe she doesn’t mind because she’s wearing gloves, but I’m not wearing them and it’s disgusting.
March 13: Synergy Health Club closed today. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know when. It’s back to long walks. At least I can talk my pal into coming with me. Dave misses Tai Chi, but his instructor says there are online classes. Today he figured out how to hook up the classes online to play on our TV screen, so now our living room doubles as a gym. I still don’t care for the Tai Chi moves, but occasionally I join in for a stretch or two. It’s mostly to encourage him to continue. It helps that there’s no one else here but him, so I don’t feel as awkward when I goof up.
March 20: It’s our anniversary. Dinner out is canceled. It’s safer to stay home and cook a fancy meal. We barbecue steaks and steam artichokes. Dessert is a store-bought cheesecake, my favorite kind, swirled with strawberries.
March 31: My granddaughter, Riley, is two years old today. Poor baby. Her parents had planned to have a birthday party with her little friends. Instead Grandpa and I drove by and dropped off her gift. We watched her delight as she opened her gift on the porch, a tool set to help Daddy work around the house. I’m teary-eyed now because I wanted to give her a big hug. There will be other birthdays, but she’s only two once.
There are idioms for each generation. I’m a Baby Boomer. My two sons in their 30s are Millennials. Generation Z is for the 20-year-olds, and what will Riley’s generation be called? Generation Sanitation? She’s just learning to talk, and I’m sure one of her first sentences will be, “Wash up everybody!”
April 22: I’m taking some time to write before attending a Zoom meeting. It seems I’m listening in on and being invited to more and more virtual meetings. This time it’s a book launch, but my writer’s critique group has been meeting on Zoom once a week since February. I’m surprised at how innovative everyone is. These meetings online suit my personality. I’m an introvert so I don’t miss going out much. Maybe I’m starting to notice that this pandemic has a silver lining.
May 7: Yay, I’m published in the Napa Valley Register! Our local newspaper was looking for stories about how artists are handling the shelter-in-place order, so I wrote a First Person article, and shared how I’m learning new technological skills to promote my children’s book, The Bunny Poets. Dave helped me film a reading online for YouTube. The article includes two short poems. Maybe I’ll start a collection of pandemic poetry.
June 5: I turn off the news some days. The violence in the streets is depressing. People have been idle and forced to stay indoors too long. Music is soothing. Alexa is helping me find soft classical, jazz and rock radio stations.
June 12: Before, I enjoyed hopping in the car and running downtown just to window shop or have lunch with a friend, but now I plan essential trips. Stores are open, but a face mask and social distancing are still required. I needed to buy a birthday gift the other day, so I went to Kohl’s. I saw an outfit I wanted to try on, but the dressing room was off limits. I know it’s the right thing to do, but shopping isn’t a joy anymore. I’m saving money because it’s not fun to spend.
Normally, I’m soft-spoken, but voices are muffled under a face mask. I find myself almost yelling at store clerks. The silver lining here is that I’m learning to speak up.
With businesses opening back up I am feeling more hopeful. We are on our way back to a healthier normal. I don’t like the phrase, new normal. That’s scary for me to even think about. Are we becoming a different species?
My journal helps me to find the silver lining in all this. It’s uplifting to hear stories of how folks appreciate each other more. Not just healthcare workers, and first responders, it seems we are all kinder to everyone. I’m also finding it reassuring to know that nature and the change of seasons still give us an occasion to smile.
Out for a sun walk
up the lane way
Much better than
by how the sun glows
on emerald leaves
and how the birds
fly in twos
A pair of starlings skip
ahead of me
flash white-speckled wings
between olive trees
Gray doves coo
atop a telephone wire
and goose and gander
honk to clear
a path of blue
In one neighbor’s yard
beyond a rock wall
and rooster calls
In the garden here
a tiny lemon tree
laden with fruit
to pick for free
Mingling colors bloom
on a painter’s palette
on a meadow green
A sun walk
nothing stops spring
Barbara Toboni is a writer, blogger, and poet. Her published works include three collections of poetry, Undertow, Water Over Time, and Light the Way. In 2018, The Bunny Poets, a children’s picture book was published by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing. In addition a variety of her short stories and articles are printed in anthologies and online including: Cup of Comfort, Wisdom Has a Voice, and Sisters Born, Sisters Found. She is a mother and a grandmother and lives in the Napa Valley with her husband. http://www.barbaratoboni.com
Note: This essay is part of Writing Through Change, a series of posts and guest articles about life and writing in unsettled times.