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DANCE MONKEY

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

March 27, 2020



Hard to believe but there are compensations.  The compensations can even be plentiful. Sometimes (once or twice a day) I even like this time. Or at least I’m trying to. Today I walked one of my dogs for more than an hour.

This one, Rafael, is the oldest of the three and the dearest to my heart, and I have felt far from him since my partner and I adopted 12-week-old sibling pups this fall. (Like all babies, they claim so much of our attention that there's very little left over for patient Raffie.)


Spring is especially radiant this year and my neighborhood is bursting with daffodils, pink magnolias, delphinium, cherry blossoms, and the brilliant forsythia I have actual cravings for during our dark winters.


Normally we get these lavish rewards later in the spring. The thought that this early and exceptional spring has arrived to comfort us through COVID-19 feels like a balm.


But in case that’s not true, I’ve gotten adept (so fast!) at creating comforts for these long, slow, anxious days. So much of what we normally do for pleasure isn’t available, of course, what with next to no income and the whole world on hold. (I admit it, when I first heard we might be homebound, one of the first things I thought of doing was online shopping. As if it would be just like one long, sleepy Sunday morning. Then I realized I’d be using resources, like trucks and at-risk delivery people, that were needed for things like getting supplies to hospitals and grocery stores. So there’s been no shopping except groceries.) At first, I also thought of inviting people over for barbecues on our deck, or walking with friends in the park. But as we’ve discovered that outdoor socializing is dangerous too, those ideas dissolved.

I finally realized that right now I can only focus on my partner, Stephanie, our four animals, and myself. Right now my offline world is that small.

There’s so much we can’t control right now but if we’re lucky and if we make an effort, we may be able to find some pleasures to make the time pass. Or maybe even just a break from the dread and panic.

At least twice a day I cook. I’m a cook anyway (I even make homemade food for my dogs) so I was lucky to have a lot of ingredients already on hand before shortages became the thing. We don’t have much appetite — no surprise, I guess, but of course we have to eat and we can’t go out, so I cook. A few days ago I made a New Jersey deli feast consisting of salami and provolone, roasted chicken with basil aioli, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and olives, served with both water and wine like they do in Italy (in our case, chianti and lemon seltzer). Another day I made brunch at 2:00 in the afternoon: berry pancakes with sausage, fresh fruit, and Irish tea.

I serve these few meals on our outdoor deck, or in the living room with a white cloth, like in a restaurant. Well after all, why not?


This is one period of time I don’t need to remind myself to practice gratitude. Anyone who’s healthy today is probably swimming in gratitude. Maybe cooking like this is part of knowing we’re lucky. We’re alive and in a house, not a hospital. We have food in the kitchen. The virus strikes randomly and we haven’t been struck. At least not yet.

So as the Italians say — mangia! I write every day now — projects I’ve dreamt of starting, projects that have long been stalled, and new projects (like this blog) I’d never do except I suddenly have the time and opportunity. I even wrote a poem yesterday. I was trying to help Stephanie, a special needs PE teacher, plan an online curriculum and I thought a rhyme about fitness, which the kids could recite to themselves outside of school hours, would be fun.

Now working from home, Stephanie’s task is to get her home-bound k-8 students to stay active, upbeat and unafraid during this hard time. Many of her kids live in apartments, sometimes without even a balcony for fresh air. Without seeing their teachers and classmates, without the normal structure of their days, these students could easily fall into states of fearfulness, detachment, depression or lethargy.

Steph set the poem I wrote to her favorite song, “Dance Monkey.” The kids loved it. She had them marching in place, doing stretches and jumping jacks, and even making their beds (throwing their pillows in the air and shaking out their blankets), all to music and a lot of laughter. The faces of curious parents, siblings and parents kept appearing at the edges of the monitor. It somehow made the whole thing more fun, including the whole family in a child’s phys ed class.



So part of yesterday I didn’t have to remind myself to smile and breathe. I didn’t have to consciously push away thoughts of contagion projections, the coming recession, states and nations on lockdown. 

That walk I took with Rafael was good for both of us. I let him sniff, whereas normally I pull him along — because there’s stuff to do at home, because I left my phone on the porch and I’m expecting an important call, because I have to get to the Staples to pick up a printer cartridge, and on the way make more stops, try not to text at stoplights.  Like you, I bet, I used to start every day with a timetable in mind and then cram tasks into it. I wrote lists and struck things off of them, used my phone as my personal assistant, juggled multiple projects and goals and appointments and priorities, and forced too much action into too few hours. But no matter how much I accomplished, I always felt like I was at least half an hour behind where I should’ve been, if not three hours. So I was often a little cranky (or a lot), and would worry late at night, when I couldn’t fall asleep, that the minutiae of my days was obliterating my actual life. All that stopped in the first week of March. Stephanie and I caught a stomach bug — unpleasant but nothing to worry about, certainly not compared to the coronavirus, which was already looming in our area. We decided to stay away from people while we had this stomach flu, without actually calling it a quarantine. We stayed home for two days, started to improve, then relapsed and stayed home till the end of the week. On Sunday evening we learned we might have been exposed to corona by someone who had just returned from upstate New York. We then learned that corona can (though rarely does) present as a stomach virus, rather than the respiratory version that’s mostly talked about. Finally, we found out our next-door neighbor is ill, and whatever he has definitely sounds like corona. For all these reasons, Stephanie and I thought we should get tested. But of course no one would give us a test. I called around. My primary care doctor told me to call the ER, the ER told me to call the health department, and the health department told me to call my doctor. No tests anywhere. I’m asthmatic and over 40 and wondered if it would be wise to go back to my regular routine. I cancelled commitments, even jury duty, that were scheduled for the first two days of the week. I felt fine but was hesitant to go all the way back out into the world. In the end I just waited. One day, two, three. I stayed glued to the news and it changed every hour. Meanwhile our neighbor recovered from whatever he had. Stephanie went to a 3-day staff training in New York, washed her clothes and herself as soon as she got home each night, and began her quarantine as soon as it was over. And it slowly dawned on me that I was where I was going to be for a while. Maybe for a long time. Now, like everyone else, I struggle to adjust to this bizarre new lifestyle. The hardest part is missing people. Probably the second hardest part is worrying. Worrying has started to become a full-time job. It isn’t just corona itself, it's everything corona has caused or complicated. Three people close to me, all in different states, had to have surgery in early March. I worried about all of them, and about people I care about who live alone. I worry on a broad scale (what will happen when this virus goes into the poorest areas of the poorest nations? Why aren’t we hearing more about Russia? What impact will all of this have on the economy?) And I worry on an narrow one: will there be anywhere to buy seedlings for my garden? Will my favorite neighborhood restaurant survive? I miss driving my car. I miss going out to eat, shopping, going to the gym (I just joined in February!), taking the train into Manhattan. Because I didn’t realize I was entering a long quarantine, I didn’t do and buy things I now wish I had. But I keep being surprised by the compensations. With only the rare plane overhead and almost no traffic, I hear birds all day. The air seems cleaner and I’m sure it actually is. I see birds and squirrels everywhere (how much have we, in our cars, with our crazed energy, been sucking up all the available space? Or are they doing what they always do, except we don’t notice them because we’re never still, never off the phone, so consumed with our own self-importance that we barely register the changing seasons?)  It’s only been, what? Three weeks, going on four. But now when I exercise, when I cook, when I walk my dogs, when I write, I am focused. I’m not thinking about the next thing on my list or when I can finally stop for the day. I realized this week that I’ve never experienced this much unscheduled time in my entire adult life. Maybe we've needed a quarantine. I mean, obviously, we didn’t need a catastrophe. But what else could have stopped us in our tracks? Didn’t we sort of need to stop? For all of the people chafing at this interruption, are others waking up to themselves, their families, the inside of their houses, the neighborhood, the squirrels? Or is it just me? The inside of my head is quieter. I know the worst is probably still to come, I know that. I see the charts and I hear the predictions and my insides constrict with dread and fear: what if there aren’t enough ventilators? How can we protect our health care workers? What will life look like a month from now? A year? But I keep trying to find a little light. Last night we ordered in food for the first time. Inside the delivery box, someone had written “Think of someone you love.”

Whether we hate or love this time, I know none of us can dwell on the virus every minute. Even the mental health experts are saying that. Sometimes we have to turn up the music and do some jumping jacks to “Dance Monkey.” 


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