May 13, 2020

More Reports from the Isolation Front: Readers Weigh In

Today we hear from Michigan and Southern California

By Ed Goldman

The May 4 edition of The Goldman State featured reactions to the pandemic lockdown from our (gratifyingly) far-flung readership—from off the coast of Washington, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from San Diego and from the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region of Italy.

More reactions have arrived—from Michigan and from Southern California—that offer “takes” both lighthearted and poignant.

Jay Zarowitz. Photo by his computer.

Jay Zarowitz, who’s about to retire as a teacher in Michigan, at first semi-jokes that having to teach from home caused him this regret: “I do miss getting my steps in during in class lectures.” A day later, he gets a little more serious about it: “My wife and I as empty-nesters have not been able to go out for a sit-down meal.  I need a haircut, and would like to golf, but I’m not willing to die for those. As we open up, get my haircut, golf, and go out for a sit-down dinner, many of the servers have become like family to us, so it would be nice to see them.”

Char Gould. Photo by Blake Gould.

I heard from two other retired teachers, Char and Blake Gould, who live in the Orange County city of Lake Forest and have been happily married since shortly after man began to walk erect. 

Char says, ”I miss the  opportunity to be spontaneous. We’re experiencing a pervasive mode of crisis management—lowering risk while accepting  a ‘new normal.’ I’m looking forward to doing what appeals to me in the moment.” 

Blake Gould. Photo by his very self.

Blake says he most regrets his “not being able to run out of my house like an eight year old and hail down the ice cream truck.” (I probably should have written “Blake quips” instead of “Blake says,” but I’ve known him since even before he and Char were married and I think his may be a very serious response.)

Jasmin Iolani Hakes. Photo by Chantel Elder at Eleakis & Elder

Jasmin Iolani Hakes divides her time among Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Hawaii. Her marvelous debut novel “Hula” is scheduled to be published by Scribner in early 2021 (yes, I read an early version of it). She took the time to create an evocative—one might even call it novelistic—sketch of her impressions.  

“As a writer, I’m a creature of both habit and routine,” she tells me. “I work from home, and my office is in my head. Some of my most productive days have been while alone in a cabin deep in the woods with no cell service. 

“So when the order to shelter in place came, it didn’t seem a lot to ask. Then the days began to blur. I noticed an increasing heaviness of step while out on my runs that hadn’t been there the day previous. I teared up when I’d hear about some great act of kindness, of which there are so, so many, and openly weep when reading news coverage of overwhelmed homeless shelters and food banks. I cried equal amounts of tears for the staggering numbers of deaths and while watching a movie where people walk with ease through populated areas and greet each other with kisses and hugs.”

“I wondered at my aggravated emotional state,” she continues. “It took about a week for me to realize the origin of this newfound touchy tenderness. I was mourning. There’s a difference between sadness and grief. Which is maybe why it took me so long to figure out what was going on, and why.

“Pre-Covid, I thought I had a moderate understanding of the way the world worked. I had a graduate degree from the school of hard knocks, learning the ropes of life the way one learns how to swim after being tossed overboard. I knew how to survive. I understood there were no guarantees to making it but had a general sense of what the odds were and how to play them. I thought I knew what I needed to be careful not to lose, what to pay attention to, and the emergencies that one should prepare for. Life was an ocean, and I knew how to swim—or, at the very least, I’d learned how to fake it well.”

But, she says, “The pandemic threw everything upside down. No one can say for certain what comes next or what tomorrow will bring. We didn’t before, not really, but our assumptions and guesses were pretty educated. Rules and restrictions change by the day, sometimes the hour. They vary by city, state, and country. The financial market has become a jack in the box in which none of us can really say what’s going to pop out. Posts on Nextdoor and Facebook read like dystopian novellas. Hypotheticals from experts on how we emerge from this feel like eerily familiar science fiction plots. 

“What I’m mourning is my sense of the world and my notions of predictability. What I’m adjusting to is my lack of control. What I’m focusing on is what I’m profoundly grateful for. These waters are uncharted, this ground unfamiliar, but the sun feels the same as it did and my daughters still make me laugh. I remain full of gratitude for the relative safety and stability of my circumstances. I’m working on my sea legs.”

Hakes says her elder daughter has been sheltering with her in LA “but my second-born is in the Bay Area with her father—and while we’ve made the most of technology to deal with the reality of that geography, we’ve started spending much of our calls daydreaming up all the things we’re going to do when we’re able to be together again. What’s interesting to me about our conjured adventures is that they’re pretty simple: we can’t wait to get outside, to hike through the forest, to go to the beach, to take a long drive, to have a family dinner.

“If I’ve observed anything during this time, it’s how much we value our public spaces. Environmentalists have been trying to get the attention of the world for years, but it has sadly taken a completely severing of access to our beaches, trails, parks, and pathways for us to come to some sort of universal acknowledgement that being outside and being together plays a monumental role in our mental health and sense of wellbeing. These were things we never considered to be on the chopping block of things that could be taken away, or at least not so suddenly.” 

She says it’s not all bleak, though. “In my neighborhood, I see silver linings to this every day,” she points out. “The families taking walks together before dinner. The books being read. The seedlings rising up in our newly sown garden. The slowing down is like a catching-up on being still. I see glimmers of bigger silver linings too. The discussions and proposals to widen sidewalks, increase bike lanes, prioritize a more sustainable approach to our food sources, and staggering days to close down exhausted beaches and public spaces to give nature the occasional day off from being tread so heavily upon. 

“It gives me hope that perhaps some good will come of this after all.”

Amen to all that. My sincere thanks to all of you who shared your views. Hope to see you all on the outside.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).