From a distance

Sheltering in a Frankenstein place where nature has been overwhelmed by landscaping.

On day whatever of the worldwide change of plans, notions of productivity grew tenuous. At least around here. Things are getting done, if without urgency, and there is no one else so I must be doing them. How, I do not know, as it happens when I’m not paying attention. Slowly, by mysterious means, items on the mental checklist tick forward or complete. I seem to spend more hours waiting than doing, usually waiting for some provider’s support team. Each evening many things are not yet done but a few things are.

There’s a lot of waiting for response from support. Of the services on which an indie publisher depends, few currently work as smoothly as one might hope.

Bigger distractions are pandemic stress and a tendency to dwell on the plan in progress when normality collapsed. Back in February I expected that the end of May would see me in the pipeline to different circumstances in a different society and another language. This was going to be the great leap to carry me out of the pit of the previous great leap, at the same time fulfilling a cherished goal.

The slapdown was enveloping, if impersonal. I have no confusion about a truth hard for some to grasp: the crisis is not about any of us; it’s about all of us. But personal or not, instead of settling into new routines, I perch in an under-the-table sublet, a person of no legal fixed address. Days come and go with rational lists of things to do turning into scratch pads of struggle to focus, struggle to follow through, struggle with being trapped in the United States the moment I hitched up britches to strike for a far horizon.

Because I have been asked, let me note that the plan is not to flee the United States. I’m horrified by this country, but I have been horrified by this country my entire adult life. The interrupted move has been nursed for years. First I talked about it like pie in the sky. Then I talked about it as something I would do when “everything is right.” Then I realized there was a way to do it. I began the leap. Then there came a virus.

Physical distancing has not been a problem. Being reserved and distant, untouched and untouching, describes the rules of ordinary life. A slow-learned lesson has been that the nicest thing I can do for neurotypicals is leave them alone. They reach out if they have a reason. There is no lack of things to fill the meantime.

More emotionally corrosive than distancing is the polarization beyond the walls. Threat of infection from venturing out is shadowed by threat of partisan abuse. Traffic is picking up, and the feel on the road ranges from passively to openly aggressive. The window of this way station looks onto a park, where more and more gather, few with masks, ignoring the need for distance. This past weekend there was a pool party. The women hugged everyone they greeted. All the men shook hands. It looked like they were making a point of it.

When I do go out, there is an edge to some of the unmasked that is clear in sharp glances at my mask, in the remarks they seem on the verge of making. Possibly I am granted forbearance because my hair is mostly white and I use a stick when I walk for exercise. A mask does not hide wrinkles around the eyes. Social tension, however,  doesn’t need to ratchet up much before age will be no protection. Militias of self-gratification seem determined to manufacture provocations to shoot. Any sense of minds meeting, of exchange of ideas, of a public discourse that might inform and uplift policies and politics, has evaporated. All that is left are name-calling and memes and camps and universal foreboding. Those who cannot run make easy targets.

It’s possible I magnify tiny issues while cluelessly wandering a neurotypical world. I do that a lot. Either way, these are the robber thoughts that steal focus when I suddenly lose the mental picture of what I am drawing. Or when I pick up the zouk and suddenly music seems unimportant. Or when I watch a cursor blink in a chat window while waiting my turn for a response from support. There is no lack of things to fill the meantime, if only I could remember how to be productive. When borders reopen, I shall begin again.