The biggest disappointment in all this is that even though I thoroughly inspect my refrigerator every 20 minutes, no portals have appeared. There are no alternate realities to hide in, no Narnias or platforms to a wizard school to coast through this strange world we have found ourselves in. The start to this new decade could be put up against the majority of fictional dystopias and come out a real contender.
But, all that said, regardless of the fact that the same carton of soy milk and half an onion greet me every time I attempt to stress-snack, that I have located no gateways to Wonderland nor 2015, I really don’t mind being stuck at home. The writers I have connected with over the years remind each other frequently via social media that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine during the plague. And while I honestly don’t need that kind of pressure, I’m inclined to sit at my computer as often as possible. I’m taking even longer bubble baths than usual and using my phone to put time into projects that have been on the back-burner so long they’ve boiled over. I’m using these moments to turn their mush into risotto.
While it’s all very scary in certain ways to have our lives disrupted, to have our events cancelled or rescheduled, to see the late-night shows we’ve come to rely on as a constant, go dark, there’s something about this full-stop to regular life that feels like a gift. The opportunity to reevaluate what we think of as important. And of course, there are actual terrifying parts. The risk of people we love, or people in general, not surviving if they come in contact with what I’ve heard called The Boomer Remover, The Hype, and The Rona.
Because if there’s any best part, the memes and commentary have been great. There’s something about this period of time that has made us embrace our own dark humor as a coping mechanism. We create group chats with our families and friends and as an alternative to starting every morning asking if everyone is okay, we send pictures of toilet paper cakes at sold-out grocery stores. We talk about who had a bidet before it was cool. Someone sends a video of a Dolly Parton song with the words of Jolene changed to “Covid,” asking her not to shake our hand instead of not take our man. We do our daily damage report by messaging each other Netflix recommendations, sharing quarantine recipes, making sure no one is going out to a store to punch anyone in the face for antibacterial soap or reaching a point in their cabin fever that they have forgotten what a joy it can be to just simply exist in your own home.
At one point with my group of friends, someone said, “Who started playing Jumanji in 2020?” Someone else replied, “Yeah, this episode of Black Mirror sucks.” Then someone pushed the wrong button in our chat and we unintentionally FaceTimed. Going against our millennial instincts, we stayed on the video call, showing each other what our cats were doing and how happy our dogs were to have us at home. We were all in sweatpants and pajamas, laying on our carpets, reminding each other to rebel from our queer DNA and not touch our faces. It was a fantastic accident. To remember they were all still out there, still real people with smiles that I love—people I will soon see again in person. Not that we know when, but at some point, it will happen.
What we’re doing may be called social distancing, but I’ve communicated more with my family and friends in the last week than I have in months. Because for most of us, this is the first time in a very long time we haven’t had to work. Aside from my siblings in the grocery industry and the medical field, the rest of us have been deemed nonessential. If we can’t do our jobs from home, then we don’t do them at all. Which is not great from a financial standpoint, but it is also entirely out of our control. And while there may very well be a substantial hit to not only our personal expenses but the economy in general, there seems to be this kind of calm that comes from knowing this sudden unemployment can be a sort of funemployment. That we can sleep in and snuggle with our pets, watch everything streaming, crack open those brand new books we bought but never had time to read (because we were too busy making money to buy more books we wouldn’t have time to read).
I’m fortunate that I’m not sick at this point. I have food in my house and resources to keep me entertained. There’s some worry, of course, that when we do come out on the other side of this, I will have a lot to figure out money-wise, but I’ve decided that’s a problem for future me. The me in the present is enjoying the art and comedy coming from people I feel comfortable staying six feet away from. The amusement of members from my Seattle community, before going into precautionary quarantine, remembering not to shake as a greeting and offering curtseys, bows, and jazz hands instead. The opportunity to live through this moment in history.
Right now in Seattle, the bars are empty. They’ve been ordered to shut down. The restaurants are only legally allowed to offer delivery or take-out. There are no theaters, concerts, or movie venues. The people have been erased from a typically vibrant scene of entertainment and commerce. It’s eerie to see the footage of people painted out of their communal scenery. To wonder what the businesses relying on patronage will do to stay afloat. But if seeing the community here come together in a collective moment of stay-the-fuck-home is any indication, by the time we’re all allowed to go outside again, we’ll be there buying extra beers to pull these local institutions back into the green. We’ll be standing in lines waiting to give independent restaurants and shows our money. Throwing five dollar bills instead of ones at the feet of drag queens and slipping our favorite bartenders or hairdressers extra tips.
Until then, maybe one of us will write the next King Lear during this time of isolation, or something even better. Perhaps some artist will finally find the moments they’ve been needing their entire life to bring the world something beautiful, some story they’ve had inside them while they were working their service industry or entertainment job. I know I’m going to keep working on finding that fantasy world behind my orange juice and ketchup, and if it never does appear in my refrigerator, then I’ll just have to write it down. Bring it into existence before I lose this time.
So create new recipes, make music, film a TikTok in your living room, build a fort, keep working on crow pose, design a board game, organize your pens in alphabetical order by color and call it an art piece. Whatever you create, I can’t wait to see it. As humans, we may be clawing at each other for the last jar of peanut butter in a Kroger or charging each other $67 for a bottle of half-empty peony hand sanitizer, but our stories have always been about heroes as much as they are about villains. Our reality is a strange world with more plot points than could fit into a seven book series. And, right now, we have the time to tell that story. Let’s tell it.