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COVID Diaries 4: Together Together (But Apart)



The calendar on our fridge still says April.


I guess six or seven weeks ago we must have imagined a return to normalcy or we wouldn’t have flipped over from March. If you look at the calendar you see the things we were expecting to do last month. My wife’s flag football and ball hockey matches. Soccer matches TBD. There were a couple of gigs on the schedule for me in what was admittedly going to be a quiet month.


Turn over to May and you would have found me in Europe, doing the night-after-night-after-night grind with Sarah Smith and loving every minute of it.


And that would have been normal life. One possible future, as Kyle Reese so eloquently put it in The Terminator. For the record, I’ll state again that the first Terminator movie is by far the best and most powerful of them all. You can keep T2. You can keep all the ones that came after. The real magic – the real darkness – is in the first movie. Arnold as villain is far more effective for me than Arnold as hero. It got too cheesy. It got too cute. It got too popcorny.


It chose a possible future and lost its soul.


So there’s the future on the fridge and maybe other futures we could be living if you believe in quantum physics and parallel universes and all of that stuff. If you believe in the Mandela Effect. You can think yourself inside-out with those ideas if you want to – just as you can think yourself inside-out about Kyle Reese going back in time to father his future boss. Talk about nepotism!


(Aside about fridges: When I worked for the public school board, someone was looking for a used fridge and posted an ad on the corporate swap shop with the headline, “Good frig needed.” Could I have been the only one of 7,000 employees who laughed out loud at that? What a difference two letters can make.)


I had pretty good intentions when it became clear that this was not your ordinary pandemic. There was the initial suspension of school and then the implementation of social distancing (cue unverified photos of Los Angeles without pollution). What was supposed to be a couple of cautious weeks started to project into a couple or more cautious months. There would be no Euro tour. There would be no flag football matches. The gigs I had on my calendar all the way into June toppled like dominoes and I realized an opportunity in this future we didn’t expect.


I suddenly had more time on my hands than I’ve had in years and years. Time to apply myself to something. Time to improve myself in certain ways. As a drummer I usually spend most of my practice time getting ready for gigs. I work on learning people’s music so I can nail it on stage. With no gigs to prepare for I could focus on really bringing up my weaknesses. I’ve been as diligent as I can be about that under the circumstances, and I’ve actually seen some improvement.


That’s not to put pressure on you, of course. Early on in self-isolation the memes started going around about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague quarantine. The message was to take advantage of this time by producing something great, but voices of dissent rose up in protest. “We’re all freaked out and afraid to leave our homes for fear of death,” the voices said. “Stop pressuring us to do anything other than breathe and not lose our minds!”


So I worked away on my foot and my hands and tried to see everything as an opportunity. But the bubble didn’t shelter me, dear reader. I’m a feeler. That may surprise you, but it’s true. The first time I went out for groceries after social distancing really took hold, something changed for me. The tension out there was palpable and it hit me pretty hard. The customers standing in line outside the grocery store. The kid wiping down carts with disinfectant. People try so hard to be courageous about this. I could see the outline of cautious smiles beneath face masks, but I could also see fear in those eyes bravely twinkling. Most of us shared a kind of a collective resigned shrug – a promise to hold it together together (but apart) – but it definitely shook me up.


In those days, the recommendation was to clean our groceries when we got them home. So there we were in the kitchen, wiping down cans, removing what we could from packaging, washing produce in the sink. Sometimes the way around an impending mental crisis is to put your head down and cling to distraction. We washed clementines. We disinfected jars of pickles. What a lot of work. Thankfully the recommendation was rescinded by the time I went out for groceries again.


(Aside about shopping: I saw a very funny meme that pictured a post-apocalyptic warrior in full gas mask, armed to the respirator beneath a sky thick with smoke and fire. The caption read, “I’m going to the store. Do you want anything?” Dark humour. It sustained the troops in the trenches of World War 1 and it’s sustained some of us throughout all of this too.)


This was supposed to be about a calendar. The calendar that still sits on April on the fridge door. It’s not that we feel trapped in time. It’s just that there was no reason anymore to look at May. What I think we’ve been good at is not lamenting things. And not lamenting things tells me that we still hope life will resume as something like how it used to be. I don’t know when that will happen. I’ve been reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now and it seems an appropriate book for the occasion.


If nothing else, the COVID has forced a lot of us to live more in the moment, whether that’s minding our boundaries out in the world or being at home with no other plans. We can anticipate a future, but it’s hard to be specific when we don’t know what that future will allow. We have only possible futures, like Kyle Reese. And I can’t speculate on when we’ll roll that calendar over again. August? November? New Year’s Day 2021?


Today it doesn’t matter. Today what matters is that I feel like we will roll the calendar over again eventually. What we do between now and then is, I suppose, up to us. And if we can see it as an opportunity, that might help.


Therefore, time to post a blog.


Therefore, time to become a better drummer.


Therefore, time to start writing a smashing play around this idea I have about a doddering old king with three daughters … oh, wait. Right.

© Copyright John Huff 2017-2020