These days, there are many new sources of stress in my life. Going grocery shopping is the biggest one. I went last Wednesday — a trip that I postponed from Monday, because on Monday and Tuesday, our water was off. It’s not so easy to wash your hands when your water is off, although it can be done. The night before the water went off, we filled up a ton of bowls and pots with water, and the bathtub, which, with the help of another bowl, we used to flush the toilet. But this made hand-washing a two person job: one person would pour water over the other person’s hands while they washed and rinsed. It was a whole new level of togetherness as a couple that we really didn’t need, which also involved notifying the other spouse when one us was about to use the toilet to prepare them for the imminent hand-washing. But due to the limited supply of water and the fact that Covid-19 hand washing is so much more stressful, we decided we wouldn’t leave the house for those two days. It also led to some acrimony with the co-op board of our apartment building, because a number of us proceeded to get pissy with them on the building’s group e-mail list for only giving us 24 hours’ notice about the water shut-off — which isn’t really enough in a pandemic, when you’re running out of food because you’re trying to go grocery shopping as infrequently as possible so the last time you did it was two weeks ago.
So that became a digression about how stressful it is when your water is shut off under already taxing circumstances (something else you get to do when writing a blog during a pandemic: use thesaurus.com to look up synonyms for “stressful”), but back to the grocery shopping, no matter how many precautions your store takes, people will behave like people. Yes, we were required to wear masks, and sanitize our hands when we came in, and sanitize the carts we were using, and we were told to limit aisles to four people at a time to maintain six feet of distance. Well, that lasted all of 30 seconds once you actually entered the store, where everyone just regressed to their normal behavior of reaching over you to get their carrots, or pushing past you while you waited for other people to pass because, somehow, they were in such a hurry to get…where??? I gestured at one man and said, “I’d like to get through,” and he said “Sure, go ahead,” without moving one inch to allow me to do it, meaning I’d have to pass less than one foot from him. And this wasn’t malicious, of course, it’s just not normal to think about space in this way in New York City, where we are so used to having none of it. They kept making announcements over the PA system to chastise/remind people about how they should be behaving, but this made no difference whatsoever. In addition to all that, I was buying a ridiculous amount of stuff, because we are at home for three meals a day now and I want it all to last so I can shop as infrequently as possible, and I have two quarantined friends for whom I also was buying stuff (they seem to be doing okay. One of them has had every horrible symptom for going on three weeks now but has not had to be hospitalized, and the other had a much milder case and is almost out of quarantine, thanks for asking). My shopping cart was literally overflowing, I had to start putting stuff into bags and carrying them so that I wouldn’t leave a trail of bagged spices and basmati rice. And even when I managed to get out of there and load my car and get everything into the house in my granny cart, I still can’t help thinking about the nice guy who was stocking, who pulled down his mask to talk to me about toilet paper. Again, totally normal instinct if not in a pandemic, and we were probably six feet away from each other, I think, but…will this be the moment I look back on in two weeks when I’m struggling to breathe, and think, Why didn’t I just walk the hell away, instead of listening politely to what he was saying, the way humans are expected to do? I think we are all going to have to grow some new habits and fast if we’re going to live through this. And add on to that the anxiety that occurs after you get home, even when you’ve pre-divided your groceries into everything that needs to be put in the fridge and everything that can sit on the floor and not be touched for three days (or should it be five for glass? Luckily I only bought one glass jar: mayonnaise). Because the stuff that has to go in the fridge, like produce in plastic bags, you can try to organize nicely, but when your fridge is as small as ours is, there’s no way you’re going to get through the next three days without touching those things you didn’t want to touch, which means a lot of spraying of surfaces with Tilex and additional washing of your already dry and wrinkly hands (thank goodness it’s finally spring, but still), and even then, is it enough? Again, you’ll only find out in ten to 14 days when you start to have a dry cough, which turns into a fever and weakness and maybe ringing in your ears and losing your sense of taste and every other scary side effect you’ve heard about.
With all of these new sources of stress/worry/fear/hardship/tension/trauma (might as well use ‘em all!), it was easy to miss, for a while, the one thing that doesn’t stress me out any more in this weird “pause” that we are experiencing: time. I have no job, so I don’t have to get up at any certain hour in the morning — which, when I’m working on set, is always too early, except when it’s too late, meaning you’ll be working until some ungodly hour on the other end. I don’t have to worry about being on time, or not being on set when I’m needed because I lost track of time, both of which are a huge deal in the film business, because getting behind in the day when every minute costs a ridiculous amount of money is a cardinal sin (even though it happens almost every day, because, especially in commercials where the budgets have gotten tighter and tighter, we always have too much to shoot), and you can’t afford in any way to be responsible for that. “Waiting on sound” becomes, for those in my department, the most painful sentence in the English language, which will always earn the AD who says it glares of death — and they know that, which is why they only say it when they’re being total dicks. Overall you can fuck up at your job a fair amount when you’re starting out in the business, because everyone knows you’re learning, but fucking up when it comes to time is pretty much inexcusable from day one. When I have editing gigs it’s obviously different, but time is always an issue there too, because someone — usually someone without loads of cash, because I’m not at that level — is still paying me for mine, by the hour. Also, with the political projects I work on, there is usually some urgency, because we work on issues that are topical, that in the current news cycle could be forgotten in maybe as little as two days, or, in my most recent work, which has been Coronavirus-related (trying to pressure Trump to activate the DPA, or raising money to make PPE gear for desperate medical personnel), it’s actually about life and death. Plus, I always have projects of my own that are backlogged. I have interviews that I did for the Mobilize podcast months ago that I need to edit. I have a novel that I’ve been working on for years that I try to work on for a few hours every day I have off, but often have trouble seeing the progress in. I have screenplay ideas that I say I’m going to get back to after the novel, and updates to my website, and tax stuff to get together and send to our accountant, and jobs to apply for, and this blog which I never seem to feel inspired enough to write when stacked up against all of that, not to mention exercising and grocery shopping and laundry and housecleaning, which inevitably falls to the very bottom of the list. And I really feel all of that, all the time: this sense that I am barely keeping my head above the water of all the stuff I could be working on at any given time.
Now, though, that’s mostly gone. I don’t have to go to work. I never put on my watch. I don’t have deadlines (although hopefully I will have one again soon if I can get some paying editing work). This week I actually finished a draft of that novel — which leads to a whole new stress of sending it to my friend who is a book agent and is going to respond to it at some point, perhaps positively but at the very least with some unfavorable notes that I’ll have to deal with — but still, I finished an entire draft. I’m exercising more than I was before (though walking less than I used to do in my normal life, so that’s probably a wash). I’ve finished editing one podcast and have moved on to the next. I actually was able to enjoy editing the GIFs I made the other day for NYC Makes PPE because, while they were important and urgent, and I had to use Photoshop and After Effects, two programs that I’m still somewhat learning, I could 100% focus on making them the way I wanted without thinking, Is there something else I should be doing right now? I haven’t done any cleaning yet, but I probably will actually clean the bathroom this week. And I’ve been writing more blog posts, close to one every ten days, which is what bloggers are actually supposed to do. It’s bizarre, because it feels like way less is happening in my life to write about, and yet, somehow the fact that that pressure valve has been released is making it possible for me to step back and think more about what is going on — without constantly questioning whether it’s good enough for me to spend my time on. Because, for now, I have all the time.
I know this doesn’t apply to medical personnel and first responders and other essential workers who are spending more hours doing their jobs right now to enable us all to literally survive, and for whom we should being doing whatever we can, whenever we can. It also doesn’t apply to the vast number of people who still have jobs that they can do from home, and who are, oftentimes, trying to do that work while also trying to homeschool their kids or at least keep them out of their hair for what has become 24-7 childcare. But for those of us who are thoroughly unemployed right now, in the midst of all the pain of this pandemic, and the stress of not having an income (maybe an unemployment check that isn’t really enough), and the fear of an unknown future, I just hope that you, too, are managing to feel some small awareness of and enjoyment in this slightly different relationship with the clock. Whether it’s spending time with your family, or talking on the phone/video chat with them and your friends, or texting weird GIFs or funny articles to them that help lighten the load; whether it’s taking the time to literally smell the flowers or listen to the birds when you take your daily walk; whether it’s doing more writing or painting or sewing or photography or whatever creative endeavor you enjoy; whether it’s getting politically involved over the internet/phone or volunteering to help your local food bank or mutual aid group in some no-contact way, or just cheering for your frontline workers at 7 pm every night; whether it’s reading your backlog of books and New Yorkers, or doing the crossword puzzle you never had time to do, or catching up on movies or TV shows you didn’t have time to watch before; whether it’s baking and cooking more, or just getting satisfaction from making your house cleaner than you’ve ever seen it (I’m not that person but you might be)…I hope that you are able to appreciate the abundance of this one commodity that, at least for me, always seems so hard to come by.