Time is a funny thing these days. Days that blend into one another, sometimes with a grating feeling and a noise like static. Sometimes with a beautiful swirl of color like a sunset of cirrus spring clouds.
Time before was routine. One large routine made up of a thousand little ones. Wake, run, eat, brush teeth, shower, dress, drive, work, eat, work, drive, work, eat, work, brush teeth, sleep. Sprinkled with all the “need tos” and “should dos.” It was the proverbial “busy.” The kind of cop-out answer I always gave when my mom asked me how I’ve been. “Oh, you know, busy.”
Time now is a mirage. Or a cleverly constructed façade. Or a bone-marrow feeling that tells you with some authority, “Get out of bed.”
In some ways, it is a relief. No dentist, no jury duty, no traffic, no three-ring circus that is my Monday through Friday 9-5. Instead, I wake with the sun, go for a run, and then sit for 9-12 hours in my house in the company of spiders. When the sun goes down, I play at being productive for a few hours before falling asleep. The spiders spin their webs at night. I leave their handiwork, hoping their soft strands and pillowy white cocoons will serve as homemade dreamcatchers for all the nightmares I’ve been having.
In some ways, it is surreal. My brain can’t connect the dots, and I hit refresh on my news feed too many times, trying to virtually pinch myself into believing. I feel useless and disconnected, trying to tell myself that being home is how I can help. Trying to imagine what it is like for those who don’t have that luxury, like my husband who leaves me sitting at my desk every day to head into work at the hospital, to breath stale air for eight hours through a shabby, padded mask.
I jot down words and phrases I hear in conversation, trying to make sense of my own response to events: crushing worry. uncertainty. no way out. most bizarre. need grounding. pause button. day at a time. the last face they see.
I learn new things. R0 – R naught, a measure of contagiousness. Some viruses aren’t alive. People don’t really like chickpea pasta. Toilet paper shortages are the running joke of the year. It takes three days for the furniture in my house to become dusty, probably quickened by my shedding of millions of skin cells in the 22 hours a day I am now inhabiting this place. A squirrel’s nest is called a drey. I watch a squirrel build one every day for two weeks, with mouthfuls of leaves, twigs, and debris from my yard.
It feels good to laugh at the absurdity of some things even as I suppress the anxiety that buzzes at my core.
My house is so quiet I can hear the seashore in my ears—no seashell needed. And I sit in the same chair, by the same window, for the same 8-10 hours every day, working from home. I have to remind myself to eat, to move, to occasionally speak, to put on music to break up ocean silence in my ears. I am thankful for my autonomous nervous systems functions, like breathing, that keep my lights on.
For fun, I inventory my survival skills and find myself woefully lacking. It’s almost comical how unprepared I would be if I had to survive an apocalyptic event. I play it out as a sitcom in my head: here’s me trying to darn a sock; here’s me trying to can a vegetable; here’s me trying to take a birdie bath of boiled water off the stove; here’s me trying to survive a riot; here’s me trying to chart an escape route to the mountains, fleeing the chaos of a city broken under the weight of the dead. Some episodes of this sitcom are darker than others.
It’s admittedly odd the places your brain can take you when you have a bit too much time on your hands. I use my imagination to exercise empathy—for the sick and dying, for those who will lose someone they love, and for those who are struggling with other painful realities caused by this pandemic. I cut my imagination off when it starts taking a dark dive, or I try to quickly divert it to the page to write—not all the “what ifs” of the world need to play out in my brain, I decide.
There certainly are plenty of uncertainties to dance around, and only time will give us the full picture. Time, that disorienting, cyclical phantom. In these days, I am a sun-driven phase shifter, measuring time by the rings of a spider’s web.
And even as I feel adrift in these days, I find bright mooring points and cling to them. Video chats with family and friends. The many laughing and loud children playing outside in my neighborhood. The friendliness of 6-foot distant strangers I pass while running out on my local paths, their salutations a gentle connection point in passing. The gratitude of companionship every evening my husband returns home. Taking the time to watch the grass grow.
If my world has shrunk due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing, it has also concentrated. In the tiny realm I inhabit, the emotion and the meaning are condensed, and I have to confront my loneliness and my limits. In this house that is my home that I share with the spiders, I have to find in myself, for now, a world that is enough.
Kristen Arendt is a writer based in Niwot.