Years back, in the Before, a friend came up with a hypothetical: Would you rather have to eat the same soup for breakfast lunch and dinner and be free to travel the world, or be able to eat whatever you want, but never leave Brooklyn?
We appear to be living both sides of the thought experiment.
The soup is this, doubled, so lunchtime is not an ordeal. With limited Seamless and less childcare, in the past month I have very often thought, Ah, so this is why housewives were always sticking their heads in ovens. They were probably just craving a change of scenery.
But there have been bright spots. I spite googled one of my neighbors, who, after three years of small talk, recently beheld me with her eyebrows knit and asked if I lived in the building.
My google results revealed her to be a clown. A bowling-pin-juggling, Penny-farthing-riding, stilts-walking-clown. The image was the exact thing you crave to see when doing this kind of search: your petty nemesis dressed in full clown regalia. So gratifying.
In the pandy, every day bleeds into another, and at the end of each (exhausted, limping across the finish line of snoozing through a Bravo show before lights out at 9:30) I have a hard time figuring out what actually happened.
This is another casualty of the great plague—my memory.
It hasn’t been all that hot since my son was born 18 months ago, but right now is at an all-time low. I’ll be brushing my teeth, plotting my next move, will walk into the bedroom and poof it’s gone, sometimes not retrievable til much later, sometimes vanished as if it never was. It has got to be a stress response to the current moment but wow it’s pretty frustrating. Maybe my clown neighbor is experiencing something similar.
So I have come up with an accounting system for what actually happened all day. It’s part memory gym and part spiritual practice. It’s the opposite of a to-do list.
I recommend: a Did-Do list.
A To-Do list suggests a debt. A Did-Do list is a pleasing accumulation.
On my Notes app, I will list the things I did (what I remember, of them at least). Instead of feeling like a big nothing, this exercise shows it was a something. Here’s a recent example (with helpful annotations):
Read [half a New Yorker article before Theo started cawing]
Meditated [lied on floor for ten minutes while he was napping before falling asleep myself]
Journaled [a litany of complaints, could be called Liz’s Burn Book]
Three loads of laundry [barf]
Tweezed eyebrows [and mustache]
Made tuna salad [not soup!]
Minded Fudge [we call our son The Fudge because he is sweet and dense, in other words I kept him alive all day when life’s work seems to be to maim himself]
Dropped a book at friend’s house [at a safe six-foot distance, of course]
Donated to a bail fund [the very least I can do]
Went to park [looked at my phone while Theo tried to do the aforementioned maiming]
Went on a bike ride [glorious, best part of day]
Made dinner [ugh]
Took a bath without distraction [I sometimes listen to a podcast but lately my phone feels like a devil machine, so I just stared into space]
I also have an addendum to the list called Didn’t-Do, which includes:
Click New York Times app on several occasions
Check email before noon
Burn house down
It’s not much, but it’s something, and something really is something these days.
Here’s what else I recommend to prevent one’s head from finding its way into the oven:
A Room of Someone Else’s: The only thing better than having a country house is having a friend who has a country house who then leaves her apartment vacant. I’ve been working a few hours a day from my friend’s apartment and my god. Just to have new things to look at. Highly recommend.
Find a pen-pal: As you celebrate Pride month and defund the police, won’t you write a letter to an incarcerated LGBTQ person? The organization Black & Pink connects people in the free world to queer people in prison, as letter writing is a simple and effective harm reduction tool. If your name gets read at mail call, it means someone cares about you, ergo evil doers might think twice before messing with you.
Buying new sweatpants at Target. Nuf ced.
Connell’s chain: I don’t have a ton to say about Normal People—the tv show on Hulu—beyond hubba hubba, and if you enjoyed the book, or care a wit about the mercurial throbbings of youth, you’ll like the series. But I bow down to the brilliant costuming choice of giving Connell a chain.
That thin piece of silver around his neck unlocked a Proustian swirl of adolescent yearning, particularly for the dirt bag boys I grew up with who wore some version of that damn chain!!!
I feel like an utter perv watching the show
because they are supposed to be like 16 or something when it starts (do you want to hear something really rude? The actress who plays Connell’s mom is…wait for it…ELEVEN YEARS HIS SENIOR! ELEVEN! I mean, Anne Bancroft was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, but she was not his mama!) and they are in various states of undress all the time, the chain front and center. As a class signifier, it does a lot of work.
I watched an episode on my laptop in the bath the other morning (you don’t know my life (it was Sunday, ok?!)) and it was an ecstatic experience. Particularly a quick shot of the girls in college drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in someone’s back garden in the waning afternoon light. That sensation of feeling oneself sharp, in the creative communion of conversation, of time suspended and laughing…. it just about brought tears to my eyes.
Italian soundtracks: Usually I’m hardcore into podcasts when I’m out in the world. And if I’m not listening to Brené Brown or The Read or Tarot for the Wild Soul, I’m choreographing obscene dances in my head to Bunxx Up, etc. But these days my brain cannot absorb another syllable. Lyrics and interviews just feel like more ambient chatter.
If you are feeling similarly, might I invite you to Italia with me?
The soundtracks to The Talented Mr. Ripley (I’m a psycho on a yacht!), The Great Beauty (I’m an aged aesthete!), and My Brilliant Friend (I so want to claim Lila, but, like most of us, I am firmly and unfortunately an Elena) have been painting the mood of my walks—jazzy, operatic, sprightly.
Upon realizing that the achingly gorgeous theme for My Brilliant Friend is a recomposed version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I wanted to sink to my knees and weep. I mean, it’s too perfect: the familiar rearranged, the girls throughout the seasons of their lives, the dissonant competing violins…Instead I shut my eyes and ate a piece of a brownie as the sun did its dappling thing through the leaves and I imagined I was anywhere else.
I hope these and more fill your Did-do list. ❏
Elizabeth Greenwood is the author of PLAYING DEAD: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud.
Photo by Glenn Carstens Peters