About halfway through our zoom cocktail, we get to the part of the conversation I, weirdly, always enjoy the most. Things We Miss.
Because we’re both professors, we talk about Things We Miss On Campus. “I miss running into a colleague who, say, had a great class, “ says The Women’s Studies Prof. “They’re glowing from it. They tell me what made it work. Secretly, I stash away their ideas to use in my own classes.”
“I miss leaving work after a challenging class, I say. “Going outside, it’s evening. I breathe in some fresh air. I walk four block to the streetcar, maybe pick up some takeaway from this little joint on Church St, and on the streetcar I decompress, plan dinner, maybe phone a friend.”
The Women’s Studies Prof pauses, thinks for a moment. “All the things we’re talking about are transitional moments. Between classes. Between work and home. We don’t have that now.” And we who can work at home are the privileged ones.
The liminal. The spaces in-between. Right now, in-between means going to pee between Zoom meetings. Watering the plants. Making lunch. These transitions are largely unpeopled.
But living alone, I have to people my world. Those walks to the streetcar, the coffees at the queer bookstore (oh, how I miss Glad Day Bookshop), meetings at the queer theatre (sigh!) were ritualistic in their way, if rituals are regular, repetitive events that help us to mark the passing of time.
It will soon be 9 months since this strange, silent time began, since we sacrificed hugs and theatre and work and community for the greater good. Or was it? Not to say that the virus, and science, aren’t real, but that there were different paths, different branches of science, and governments chose this one, the longer one, perhaps to hold onto their greasy, unjustified power. That our western governments could not learn from the east, or the south, as to how to effectively quell a pandemic, is an old story now.
But so much has been lost. Small businesses, restaurants, bookshops. Goodbye, Nish Dish and Gatto Nero, The Beaver and my beloved Flying Pony and Elvy and Flo Cafés. The randomness of human encounter; the longlost friend rediscovered at the queer theatre, amid so much history and awkwardness; the former student, met at a protest, who tells me how much my teaching meant to her. Disappointment and reward, sometimes in a single day, part of the Before Times’ great human experience.
Loneliness depletes us, and our immune systems. Those liminal encounters broke the solitude of writing, or of prepping for class.
So, my weekly walks, with The Anthropologist and The Knitter, respectively. Anthropologist works all day, so our walks trace the contours of night: we savour light displays, and the comfort of illuminated windows, gold light spilling onto the street. With the Knitter, it’s Saturday mornings, and meeting at an outdoor café. Lane walks for now, as I recover from surgery. We are fresh with resolve for creative projects or cooking plans.
My weekly Pandemic Salon, with a group of like-minded women artists. We mourn and analyze and comfort, together.
Dinners with the people ‘in my bubble’, usually just 2 or 3 people at a time. The Ukulele-Player ups her meatloaf game, uses lamb instead of turkey. The Slavic Femme brings purple carnations, that remind her of Ukraine, and a tiny poinsettia, that we all agree is the only kind of poinsettia that’s acceptable. I fill our wine glasses. The aroma of the pear crisp I made at the last minute fills the kitchen. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts.
I’ve had gourmet Greek food with a view of the Acropolis; I’ve sat at a linen tablecloth in a Roman trattoria, eating boar ragout with homemade pasta; I’ve inhaled chocolate orange tart in a restored Art Nouveau Parisian bistro; the best roast salmon ever, in Kharkiv, Ukraine. But the ordinary has become extraordinary. I appreciate these shared pandemic repasts more than any of those travelogue meals.
Funny how we’re living in the moment, experiencing gratitude in new ways. My senses, deprived of novelty and liminality all week, drink thirstily, notice meaningfully. Dinner is theatre, now. Tacos Tuesday, Pizza Friday, Sunday soups. A walk with a friend is a sensorium: the smell of leaf mold, of coffee from a takeout joint, of rain.
Things We Miss. Things We’re Appreciating Instead.
It’s awful, this pandemic, and social injustice is the other virus that threatens to destroy our civil society. We have to fight the power. And, we have to care for ourselves in large and small ways. How do you transition, or create ritual? How do you people your world?