My brain, wee hours.

Hey, are you awake?

Hey, do you want to be awake, though? I know it’s 2:25 am, but I thought now might be a great time for us to reconnect. It’s been…

Ahem. Hey. Have you ever thought about that one really embarrassing but also still heartbreaking thing that happened years ago? 

Oh, you have? And now you’re awake? Welcome! So sorry to pull that trick, but I missed you.

Yeah, so, do you want to think for a while about that embarrassing/heartbreaking thing? We can definitely ruminate on that until about 3:30. As you know, that’s more or less my specialty. 

Or, if you prefer, I could bring up your Rolodex of old grudges and we can just flip through that sucker until dawn. Ha. Do you remember Rolodexes? I do. I’m glad you do too, now. Want to think about that for a while? 

Oh, you’re still stuck on that embarrassing/heartbreaking thing? Sorry about that. But if that’s what you’re into, I can definitely serve you up lots of details about all the terrible stuff that happened that somehow doesn’t seem bad at all when you think about it by daylight but at this time of night is like unimaginably awful. Cool? 

And also hypotheticals! Like maybe we can think about what if everyone else is still out there thinking about that thing too? Like, what if everyone else equally remembers the thing and talks behind your back about how embarrassing and also sad that was for you! 

See, I’m here to serve. Maybe we can also imagine some really cutting, elegant speeches you could give to those people who are definitely all still really focused on that thing about you, and you can completely demolish them. 

Wait, what are you doing? Are you trying those relaxation techniques again? Honey, you know that doesn’t work on me. I’m still over here. Maybe I can bring up that old annoyance again? That really got you going last time. Or, ooh, maybe I can give you some really paralyzing fresh anxieties? Like what if everyone you love suddenly…

Ha! I knew the relaxation techniques couldn’t take me out. 

I mean, hiiiii, you’re back! I know you hate it when I do that but baby this is just what I do. I like to spend time with you. And you are always so busy during waking times, either working or doing your projects or consuming Content, that we don’t get all that much time for me to just chat at you. 

I mean, chat with you. How are you doing, by the way? I feel like I’ve just been blah blah blah, talking a blue streak, sorry! But right now I have lots of ideas I really think I ought to share with you about how you can improve that piece of writing you’ve been working on. Do you want to get your phone out and take detailed notes? No? Okay, I’ll just repeat them over and over so you’ll be sure to remember when you wake up.

Hey, I can see you’re trying a body scan, and you’ve already made it up to your knees. You must want to get rid of me pretty badly. It’s a little past three. I get it. I’ve heard you say that you don’t “like it” when you’re “exhausted.” I want to find a happy medium for us. 

Say, what about this? Want to think about what it would be like to ride a dolphin while it’s porpoising? Imagine hanging on as it leaps high out of the water and splashes down into the sunlit sea. So fast and so exhilarating! Look at the sparkles on the water. Feel the swells rushing by you, and the power of the dolphin as it kicks and dips. But how would you hold on? Yeah, let’s think about that for a long time. How would you hold on? 

Yeah, good idea, sugar, you probably should immediately write out that dolphin idea. And while you’re at it, I have several more I’d like you to jot down. This shouldn’t take more than two hours or so.

I love our time together.  

Quaroutine: Work from Home

After waking up, the next thing that happens is work. Is this ideal? God knows. But as we established, in this time it is possible to wake up at any late hour, and it is also possible (even patriotic and good) to stay in bed and just get right on that laptop.

Night bleeds into day, and we clock in.

Here’s how it happened to me:

DAY ONE: I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I put on clothing, sit on a chair, and open the laptop. I look at the emails. They seem to be written in Greek, or perhaps in some forgotten abyssal tongue. I know some of these words but I have no idea of how they hook together. I don’t know how to do my job. I fake it by moving documents around and using as much jargon as I can muster. There is synergy; there is circling back; there is blue-skying; there is right-sizing. Thusly, like an octopus inking a predator and skedaddling, I buy myself some time to remember what the hell it is I did Before.

Day Two: No need to overdo it. Laptop in pajamas. I could have the TV on. There’s probably no law against that. I could do all manner of things—procrastibaking some brownies, playing a video game, reading all the news, cleaning the counters, reorganizing the closet, lying on the floor for quite a long time. I panic at 3pm and furiously work until 5:30. This reminds me, bittersweetly, of the daily post-procrastination panic back at the office Before, and I am left in a strange funk. 

Day Three: It’s a new day. No more of that time-wasting. I have made myself an hour-by-hour schedule:

  • 7-8: draft today’s post
  • 8-9: emails
  • 9-10: Work Task 1
  • 10-11: stretching, breathing exercises, staring out the window
  • 11-12: Work Task 2
  • 12-1: lunch
  • 1-2: Work Task 2 (overflow)
  • 2-3: walk
  • 3-5: finish work tasks, close out day
  • 5-6: yoga
  • 6-?: make homemade hand sanitizer like a true prepper, read a book, free time, contact everyone I know, contemplate existence, plan the next novel I write, clean the floors, etc.

Day Three is basically perfect. I’m thriving. This is living. This is balancing work with life in a sustainable, healthy, human, vibrant way. I can keep this up forever. Eureka!

Day Four: I don’t remember Day Four. Somehow I ended up covered in chip crumbs and it was dark outside.

Day Five: The same as Day Three, but I overslept. I follow the schedule, but in a random order and make sure to switch tasks every two minutes (highly recommended).

And now, somehow it is the weekend again. It feels as though it has been about twenty minutes since Monday, but also somehow, twenty years.

Is “later” now?

Exhibit A: I used to take all kinds of things from the law school cafeteria in my pockets. Tea bags, an uneaten half of a bagel, single-serving peanut butters, fruit. This was technically not allowed, but the thrill was worth the risk. My little law-school dorm room desk filled up with crumpled tea bags I kept on hand in case of any caffeine emergencies. Just to have. For later. 

“For later” has haunted me for a long time. 

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Claim 2

“Good afternoon, you have reached Embarrassment, how can I assist you today?”

“I’d like to file a claim, please.”

“Very happy to help you today,” said the grim voice grimly. “Please describe the nature of your claim.”

“Oh God, do I have to?” she cringed.

“I’m afraid I can’t assist you without details about your claim.”

“Well, God. Okay. I’m working from home, because—well, I assume you are, too? Like, we’re all…?”

The grim voice at Embarrassment neither confirmed nor denied this.

“So, anyway, I’m still getting used to calling into meetings via video chat.”

“Oh,” said Embarrassment, readying himself to win the office pool over which agent would first reach 20 claims for accidental video-call nudity. He and Susan were neck-and-neck at 19, and he could use the $20. 

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Quaroutine: Wake Me Up

We’ve been told for a long time: routine is important. But now that the metaphorical heavies of fate have kicked the metaphorical scaffolding of structure away from the metaphorical buildings of our daily lives, it’s high time to make some routine for ourselves. I’ll be sharing tips from my own routine-making and -keeping process here with you, in a series that I am tearfully obligated to call:

QUAROUTINE

First, waking up. 

Perhaps you are, as I once was, an alarm person.

Behold. WHAT DO THEY MEAN? WHY AM I YELLING?

But during my long walk with pneumonia, it was more important for me to rest and heal than to wake up at my usual time. This meant no alarm. The current social-distancing situation has made no-alarm life basically permanent here.

I recommend it. There’s a thrill that money can’t buy every night when the lights go out, thinking: when will I wake up? Will it be 2 a.m.? 4? Will it be 6:30? 8? 10? We just don’t know! Maybe in the old world that wouldn’t sound too exciting, but I tell ya, at this point it is an unparalleled HOOT.

Now, upon waking, I find that I like to lie there for several minutes bargaining with reality. Perhaps eventually this will successfully result in being able to stay in bed indefinitely and a maidservant materializing to open the curtains and provide a breakfast tray (just call me Lady Mary), but so far my negotiations have been fruitless. 

As soon as it feels like another minute without going to the bathroom will result in imminent death, I recommend getting up. 

The next few minutes are important. Somehow one must simultaneously put on the coffee, open the shades, remove any sleeping implements (if applicable, as they are for those of us who love grinding our teeth to dust in our spare time), make breakfast, put on clothes that wouldn’t result in jail time if we accidentally activated the video option on our next video call, and log on to work.

Sometimes, in the face of these tasks, it helps to sit in the dark and do the crossword for a while. 

Now, I hear that some people have different morning routines involving fifteen minutes of uninterrupted creativity before they check email, or a yoga practice before coffee, or they run a marathon or something before putting on their shoes, but you know what? I find that I just feel a lot better if I drag myself to full consciousness just in time for my post-lunch nap.

And that’s fine.

Hang in there, everyone. 

Feeling that.

“And where do you feel that in your body?”

I had been describing some feeling, some anxiety, some distress of some now-forgotten variety, to my spiritual director. At the time, I’m sure I wanted her to respond with either “You’re wrong; just think about it this way and it’ll all be fine, dummy” or “You’re completely right; everything is hopeless.”

But instead, she came back with this completely puzzling question: where do you feel that in your body?

My immediate reaction was to want to say: “In my head, where my brain lives, because that’s where my synapses happen,” but I figured that might sound pretty condescending. Plus, can I really feel my synapses? I’m not sure how I’d know. 

So, slightly more politely, I asked for clarification. 

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Self-care during quarantine

In this strange time of isolation and upheaval, it’s more important than ever to take good care of oneself. I’m therefore inspired to offer up some of my favorite time-tested tips for feeling one’s best.

This doesn’t have to be a big production. Even something as simple as putting on a cleansing face mask first thing in the morning can be a calming message to the frayed nerves: you are cared for. I recommend taking out that dusty tube of charcoal face mask that’s been languishing in the back of your medicine cabinet, reading the instructions, and plopping some on. It says to put it on your face and neck. Indeed: the neck—that’s nice. We all could stand to take better care of our neck skin.

See—things like this. Taking care of all of oneself. This is what will help.

Another critical part of self-care during this time is taking walks. Ideally you’d do this before you slather dark gray-black goop all over your face and neck, and ideally you’d be wearing something other than sweatpants that now are covered in charcoal handprints, but it’s okay if what we are able to achieve now doesn’t quite meet our ideals.

Plus, looking this way as we tour the neighborhood will help keep those important six feet of distance between us and our neighbors, who (speaking of self care) are suddenly walking away from us at quite a clip. Great hustle, Charlie! Keep that heart rate elevated!

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Love is Blind, and now so am I

Last week (or maybe it was two or three weeks ago; time is inscrutable these days) I was in the midst of my pre-quarantine quarantine in the final (?) throes of walking pneumonia.

It seemed like a good idea to watch “Love is Blind” on Netflix. So I started it. And then next thing I knew, three days had passed and I had watched all of it.

Today, an investigation: What happened to me?

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Claim 1

“Good afternoon, what is your claim number?”

“Seriously? I already gave it to the computer. Twice.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I need your claim number to assist you.”

She sighs heavily. Repeats the 22-digit string. 

“Was that 4206 at the end there, ma’am?”

“42706.”

“I do apologize, but I am unable to find it.”

A deep breath. “Shall I repeat it a fourth time?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do advise that you do.”

She does. 

“I do apologize for any inconvenience, ma’am. I can confirm that I have now located the claim. How can I assist you today?”

“I want to cancel my claim.”

“All right, I’d be more than happy to assist you with that. I understand that you want to cancel your pending claim for,” a pause while she reads the screen, “a defective boyfriend, remedy sought: breakup, for a claim amount of $2,000. Can you please tell me in a few words why you wish to cancel this claim?”

“I—well, just didn’t need to make the claim. I just want to retract it.”

“Can you be a little more specific, ma’am? I see that this claim was filed 48 hours ago, so it is in the processing queue set to be paid out and the relationship terminated in under 24 hours.”

“I don’t understand, I can’t cancel?”

“Correct, ma’am, unless one of the available cancellation options is selected, at this stage of processing, the system will not let me cancel.”

“I see. Uh, I guess my reason is that I regret starting this process and I want to wipe it from the system.”

“Ma’am, I’m afraid that’s not a listed reason.”

“So there’s like a drop-down list of acceptable reasons to cancel?”

A slight waver of disloyalty in her voice as she admits: “Yes, ma’am.”

“Can you just read me the options and I’ll tell you which one is right?”

There’s a longer pause on the other end now. It tolls the death knell of the sacred secrecy of the drop-down list. But it’s 5:55, and the call center shuts down at 6:00 or when all open calls are closed out, whichever comes first, so she says, a little quieter, “For this category of claim the options are ‘romantic argument resolved (bilateral),’ ‘couple’s counseling scheduled (bilateral),’ ‘flowers/date night/grand romantic gesture offered (unilateral),’ ‘apologies for making a big deal out of nothing (unilateral),’ or ‘sudden death of one or both parties.’”

“Oh, definitely the one about unilateral apologies. That’s it.”

“All right, I can assist you with processing that cancellation reason. Can you please tell me which party initiated the apology for making a big deal out of nothing (unilateral)?”

“Me.”

“All right, ma’am, I will record that. And on which date did you issue that unilateral apology?”

“Today?” she says, as though it’s a question. 

It’s 5:56. “Are you sure you didn’t apologize within 12 hours of the breakup request?”

“Am I…”

“Yes, I’m wondering if you actually apologized within 12 hours of the breakup request. Because if that’s what happened, this claim won’t go on your record and your premium will not increase.” She drums her nails on the desktop.

“Oh, absolutely, you’re right now that I think about it, it was definitely—you know—just an hour or two after I filed the claim.”

“I do thank you for your answers, ma’am. I will be happy to put in a cancellation request on this claim. You should see a confirmation email in your inbox shortly, and a courtesy copy to the other party.”

“Oh, no, please don’t send one to him. I—isn’t there a note in my file? I requested this claim to be kept private, just to me.”

“Unfortunately I’m not seeing that request, ma’am. I’m showing that the other party was copied on notice of your breakup request.”

“What? When?”

“I’m showing that it was sent this morning.”

“Shit.”

The line goes dead. 

She pulls off her headset with her left hand while finishing out the claim with her right. Confirm no email to other party (good luck to her putting that cat back in the bag. That’ll be an old-style breakup in no time, with no compensation. You hate to see it.) Confirm cancellation, confirm cancellation reason in acceptable time window, no penalties. Turns off the lamp. Grabs her coat, steps out into the rain and hurries to the hole-in-the-wall burrito place for some takeout.

Spring sounds

As I’m guessing you’ve noticed, the world has gone a little quieter. This is one of the blessings popping up like stubborn shoots in the chaos.

Here’s another:

Via NASA

If you, like me, find noises in general objectionable, now is a great time to open a window and listen. The birds are going absolutely bonkers. Are they always, this time of year? Probably, but now there are fewer cars and trains and crowds to drown them out. Maybe it gives their tiny ears a break, too. 

(Excuse me for a second while I Google “do birds have ears.” This is a well-researched operation, folks.)

Just now there is one making a bona fide ruckus somewhere outside. It’s echoing off the buildings. I’m very proud of her, whoever she is, screaming out her cause. 

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