Hi folks. As some of you may recall, I used to write a column for this paper about the movies. I’m a writer and independent filmmaker and have worked in the theater and television. But now, like all of us, I’m at home.
And granted, as a writer, I’ve always spent a lot of time at home in my office behind the house. But I was also used to popping into New York once a week for a few days of meetings and events. I teach a lab for women filmmakers at New York Women in Film and Television. I’m raising money to make a feature. I go to the theater and to screenings. I network and hang out with my friends. So a big part of my life has come to a screeching halt.
And with it, my peace of mind. As an artist, I’m a high-strung human and I learned long ago that since I have no control – or so I’m told - I need to do yoga and swim and meditate every day. Basically I’m a part time job. And it worked. I was fully functional and fit for human consumption.
Until suddenly it wasn’t safe to go to the gym, which meant not only did the pain I have from two serious accidents start gnawing at my neck and knee and shoulder but I was carrying around the two duffle bags of stress I used to dump in the pool every afternoon. I stopped being able to sleep through the night. I was glued to my phone, yelling at the TV, researching vitamins and tonics and tinctures. In short, I was flooded with anxiety.
It’s a terrible thing — anxiety. It’s not as clear as fear. A car veers too close to you or your stove bursts into flames — that’s fear, something outside you triggering a very clear emotional and physiological response.
Anxiety comes from within, from the mind going into overdrive in an attempt to control that which it can’t. Or what it doesn’t even need to… yet. Because the truth is, I’m fine. I realize not everyone is fine but at the moment, I’m fine. I’m in my house. There’s food in the fridge. I just face-timed with my daughter. My husband is watching yet another episode of Law & Order. It’s all good. So what I’m feeling — my shoulders up around my ears, my breath stuck in my throat, my heart pounding, my stomach churning — is anxiety.
I tried walking. Everyone I passed was on a phone or staring grimly at the ground. I tried reading… and found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over. I tried cooking. Fact: my entire freezer is full of home-made chicken stock. Which is good. It means that if and when someone gets sick, I’ll have home-made chicken soup at the ready. Who even knows if chicken soup, i.e. Jewish penicillin, works on the corona virus but I happen to like my chicken soup so at the very least I’ll have something to eat that I enjoy as I slip into a coma because all the hospitals are full and there’re no more masks and all the doctors are dead — STOP THAT, ELIZABETH! You see what I mean? Anxiety.
As a writer, I have a very over-developed imagination. I have to — it’s a tool of the trade. And it can certainly get in my way — see above. But it’s also sometimes useful. I knew this was coming. I did. So last week I got a hair cut and a pedicure because at the very least you want to be able to look at your toes and feel a little bit of joy. I painted them a particularly bright shade of pink — like something Twiggy would have done in 1967. Every time I see them grinning up at me I laugh.
Laughter is good. We know it releases endorphins. And just the very act of laughing loosens the shoulders and the ribs. But the problem is lots of things just aren’t funny at the moment. And this isn’t just because things are serious out there.
There’s just this weird cognitive dissonance. A newscaster has just told you to stay six feet away from people, wear gloves and sneeze in your elbow — and then you go to commercial break and a man pretending to be a dog is licking Tina Fey’s face. It’s jarring. And not funny anymore. Which is a big problem for writers. Everything I’ve been working on suddenly feels irrelevant. Because the world has changed. Maybe not forever — I hope not forever — I hate dystopian movies. But it has changed for the immediate future.
So what do we do?
I was in Stop & Shop a few days ago grabbing chickens — see above — and a man at an aisle full of apples said, “Good morning.” I looked at him – did I know him? No. But he kept looking at me. And then he said it again. “Good morning.” So I said, “Good morning.” And suddenly realized that this was the first civilized moment I’d had in public in a week. And yes, he was wearing gloves and I was wearing gloves — in March, in a store, six feet apart. But we’d had friendly eye contact. And it felt… normal. And my shoulders dropped and I took a breath that traveled all the way down to my stomach. We had a nice conversation and I thanked him.
And then I went through the store saying “Good morning” to everyone I passed. They were as startled as I was but agreed it was a good idea. I then thanked every clerk I could find — they were also startled having received nothing but abuse for the last week. (Please be nice to the folks at Stop & Shop. They need our support on a good day so please be kind. They’re working their butts off.)
Anyway that’s my first idea: that we say good morning and thank you — yes, from six feet away — and that we reclaim our humanity one courteous greeting at a time. Because while this itty bitty virus is wreaking havoc, we are still human beings and while we may not be the crown of creation, we certainly have a lot to recommend us. And being courteous and civil and humane is what makes being human worthwhile. So pass it on. Say, “Good morning.” And feel your shoulders drop.
(I welcome your thoughts about life during the pandemic. This is not a column about politics so dump that someplace else – this is about how we are coping with our changed circumstances. I want it to connect us and perhaps give us a few coping skills along the way, a chuckle or two, and maybe even a little hope. Email me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com)