Nerissa’s Pandemic Diary, Day 1 or Maybe Day 11

posted March 24, 2020

I haven’t been posting because every time I have something to say, the world changes to make my insight obsolete. We don’t know what is going to happen, how long this pandemic will last, how devastating it will be. It seems absurd that two weeks ago I sent out an email telling my writers that my studio would be safe for them as long as we all stayed six feet or more apart, as long as I had the place cleaned thoroughly, daily. It seems absurd that as recently as ten days ago I was trying to figure out a way to hold my youth choruses. It seems absurd that as recently as early last week, Katryna and I were going to suggest to a Connecticut venue that we go on with the show, but cap the audience at under 100–what was, at the time, the limit the state had put on groups. Mid-week, that number was 10. Today, we are all in lockdown, or shelter-in-place.

Button by Jan Sabach

As I scroll through my 2019 expenses to figure out what we owe the government, I am struck by the lifestyle I led as recently as two weeks ago. The coffee I bought for the retreats. Movies at Amherst Cinema. Trips to New York, or my sister’s house two blocks away. Even clothes at my favorite second-hand store. Now, I won’t be spending money on much besides food and Clorox wipes.

New losses dawn on me hourly–everything from how I won’t be able to continue to color my hair, and therefore my hair will go grey-brown and my beloved hairdresser Patrick will have no income; to how there will be massive deaths among the nation’s homeless and destitute; how whole industries will go out of business. And close to home–what about The Iron Horse? What about Paul & Elizabeth’s? What about the Haymarket? What about Broadside Books?

I am not (usually) worried about myself (besides my hair). I worry about my friends who are in the danger zone because of pre-existing conditions or age. My parents are super conscientious, and taking this very seriously to the point of having informed me that I should no longer have a newspaper delivered, because how do we know about the germs on the plastic? Still, they are over 75. I worry about my son who has asthma, though I understand I shouldn’t be. I am worried about our health care providers. I am worried about the grocery store workers, the pharmacists, the millions of people living on the margins in the best of situations. I am worried about the people of the world; I am worried about our Democracy.

I cut my daughter’s hair.

In my selfish little life, the loss of performing with my sister and my band is so painful, I try never to think about it. When I do, I start to cry. When I sing, I start to cry. When I play piano or guitar, I start to cry. When I listened to Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” I had to lie down on the carpet, as if the music flattened me. I am getting desperate. Not making music, not singing, not playing–these things are food and water and air to me. I can sustain myself with writing for only so long. But something in me is blocking my voice.

I need to reschedule our shows, but it depresses me to even try. Once this pandemic has lifted, what kind of world will we emerge into? Will people have the money to come see us? Will we still remember how to play?

A walk between families before the 6 foot rule.

I am trying to focus on the blessings: with so much less plane travel, car travel, truck movement, excess, Mother Earth might heal some. People can sleep late. People can talk with their friends on the phone, though they can’t hug them. House projects are getting done. My husband and I are getting along remarkably well; we are one of those couples who bicker when we get too busy and don’t see enough of each other. That’s not exactly a problem right now. Lila painted her room and the stairwell and the living room. Johnny is learning Dutch. I am secretly thrilled to have this time with them. We are doing jigsaw puzzles together. We are having Zoom lunches with my parents and sisters and their families. Abigail is teaching a Zoom class on Modern European History (she is a GREAT teacher!!!) and Lila is her student. Im teaching new Youth Creative Writing and Songwriting Zoom classes. I’m talking to my parents almost daily. Our income is slashed, but then again, there is way less to spend money on. No restaurants, no theatre, no live music, no clothes (who cares what I wear on Zoom?)

I am also trying to focus on what we still have: cognizant that we might not get to keep what we have discovered in this new normal. We are alive. We are, to the best of my knowledge, virus-free. We have plenty of room. Spring is here. We can walk and run outside. Never have I been so glad I don’t live in a crowded city. So far, there is food in the stores, though in both groceries I visited today there was almost no chicken. I got the last pound of sugar at Whole Foods. And there is no bulk anything. So far, the Internet hasn’t crashed. What would we do without it now?

Because kids not in school, we painted the living room.

But music. Hugging friends. Singing with my youth choruses. Last night I dreamed about my youngest chorus, a group of about 30 five-to ten-year-olds. I miss them so much. I miss their smiles, their sweet voices, their eagerness to learn new songs. I miss my older kids–sitting in the middle of my studio surrounded by their three-part harmony. Most of all, I miss singing with my sister. I see other musicians on Facebook doing virtual shows, but Katryna and I have chosen for now to visit each other only in the park, where we walk with our families and dogs, keeping a six foot distance between families. When it gets warm enough, maybe I will go over and we will try to sing on her porch. If, that is, I can get through the song without sobbing.

The Comments

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  1. Greetings from New Paltz where we have been holed up for 16 days. Journaling my ass off but it’s not as visceral as your writing is. We will come out the other side but things are broken.

    Maybe we will see you again at Unison some day.

    Stay well,
    Larry Feldman
    Gardiner NY

  2. Oh, this resonated. And I miss hugging you in person too. Virtual hug in the meantime and sending lots of good vibes out to the world for safety, healing for those who are ill, and strength and tenderness for all of us.

  3. I find Mary Oliver poems calming at a time like this. Be safe and stay healthy! Look forward to hearing you and Katryna sing together again.

  4. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, for making yourself vulnerable so that we who read you can feel a little stronger by knowing we are not alone. I read this post after overhearing bits and pieces of the creative writing class my daughter is taking with you on Zoom. I’m in awe of the positivity and encouragement you shared with your students, even while feeling the sadness of being unable to sing and perform with your sister right now. I’m grateful for your voice, however you choose to use it.

  5. This is a surreal time. Your songs are taking on new meanings (for example, “You can’t hurt me, not while I’m here in this little room…” and “I need a doctor!” and all of “Tyrants Always Fall”). But I especially keep thinking of “Dave Hayes the Weather Guy” and the idea of metaphorically bringing community together by knowing when to stay home. <3

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