Self-Quarantine, Day 19: I am already coming to the end of all the “good” content in my various streaming services, and so am now turning to podcasts for entertainment and distraction from my otherwise more pressing responsibilities.
In her new series “Sugar Calling,” Cheryl Strayed interviews authors over the age of 60 who have inspired her personally and professionally. In the inaugural episode, she interviews George Saunders, one of the many authors in the perpetual King-of-the-Hill bloodbath that is my reading list.
Since the quarantine began, I’ve been forced to face a lot of things I’ve been trying very hard to ignore and/or minimize. Missy is 13, now, and Azreal just turned 14 this month. They’re getting older, and they’re starting to fall apart. Missy has a hitch in her step, and is deaf as a post. She shakes for no reason, and is showing the early signs of dementia. Azreal—once an exceptional athlete, even for a cat, and, for fourteen years, always the smartest person in the house—has to pull himself up couches and armchairs by his front two legs, since his hips are in constant pain from an old injury. Some days, you can barely touch him without causing him pain, and every time he yowls or hisses, I can hear the sadness of what he’s lost. My miniature panther is no longer a prime example of physical prowess, and my little fox dog is gradually losing her mind to senility. My animals are slowly dying, and I can’t fix it.
During his interview, Saunders tells Strayed that we are living on the back of a sleeping tiger. Every once in a while, that tiger wakes up, and something terrible happens: a pandemic occurs, a loved one dies. We’re left reeling, recovering, and praying that the tiger won’t wake up again any time soon.
The tiger is waking, now, for some more than others. We’re losing friends, family, and jobs to complications surrounding the virus, and those of us living paycheck to paycheck are facing eviction. While my job and loved ones have been, so far, graciously spared, the tiger is preparing to take my panther, and my baby girl.
Aside from practicing social distancing, Saunders also said that, as writers, it is up to us to witness this to the next generations, and to those too young now to remember the events as they get older. We must keep records, Saunders said, as detailed and accurate as possible. You never know what tiny detail will make the bizarre and panic-stricken nature of this pandemic real to someone in the future.
I’m no stranger to cataloging the past. When my family was falling apart, writing was the only thing I had. If I write it down now as precisely as possible, I told myself, I can write about it later, or at least remember how I was feeling right now.
I’m not entirely sure why this was so important to me—why I felt then like someone would want to read about my life in the years to come—but it wasn’t for me to decide. It was very nearly a compulsion, a kind of hypergraphia that distracted me from the trauma and chaos around me. I had to write, then, just as I should be writing now.
For years, I have not kept a journal. I don’t know for sure, but I think it very likely started when Aaron and I were going through the divorce. He forged a journal entry that admitted to the affair, even signing and dating it with a timestamp, as I always do. He turned it in to JAG, who then called me and asked about it. I told them I’d never written anything like that in my life, and offered to send a handwriting sample for proof. The possible charges of infidelity were dropped.
It wasn’t the first time my meticulous entries had gotten me in trouble: they were also the reason my mom used to kick me out when I was 18. I think seeing my writing become a liability made me want to avoid making myself vulnerable. Every day I was recording, signing, and dating my secrets, and it only took a curious and malicious person to be able to use them against me.
Saunders’ interview made me think of my writing habits, and why they’ve changed from when I was a teen. The self-quarantine this pandemic caused gave me the valuable opportunity to outgrow some bad habits I didn’t realize I had acquired. I plan to continue cataloging my experiences—either long hand or online—in the hopes that I can eventually write about this in a more level-headed, eloquent way. And maybe, when the tiger wakes up again, I’ll have something to remind myself that this is only temporary, and that the feelings I’m experiencing right now are normal, and natural.