My fears have nothing to do with running out of toilet paper, the solution to which seems obvious; it fits nicely into the analogy of “deal with your own shit.” I’m not afraid of being “sheltered in place.” I’ve been practicing social distancing as a preference for many years. That’s why I’ve lived in tiny places on the fringe, and why I feel like I “fit” in the SLV, a community of natural social-distancers.
My fears aren’t particularly focused on dying of the dreaded virus, as I’ve already signed off on that form, the one presented to me on a clipboard before my craniotomy that spelled out all the possible side effects: stroke, paralysis, coma, death. Sensei Glioblastoma has already laid claim to me, so when Sensei Covid-19 comes knocking on my titanium door, I imagine Sensei Glio will say “fuck off. This one’s already mine. Go pick on somebody else.”
I am afraid of suffering, not too much for myself as for Henry, my family, my friends, my community, my horse. We were planning a road trip to California in April to see loved ones and the David Park retrospective at SFMOMA, but of course those plans are now in the compost pile. I dread not being able to say hello… and possibly goodbye… to my family, some of whom have plenty of health issues they are already dealing with without Sensei Covid jumping on the pile. I dread not being able to remember the last time I saw my brother, my sisters, my cousins and nieces and nephews and their beautiful families.
I had a bad dream about my horse the other night. I should never have read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In the dream, my neighbors, most of whom are armed and not skilled at gardening, became increasingly desperate as the shit really hit the fan. They determined that what’s growing in the greenhouse (a feast to us) wouldn’t even be fit to garnish a steak, and then they began to view Esperanza and her field mate Stormy as those tasty steaks. I wondered if I should call up the wonderful horseman I’ve asked to give Esperanza a forever home when I die. Should he come now, or later? Should I just ride her out to the wildlife refuge—where’s there’s plenty of feed and the Rio Grande—and let her go? My fearful mind frets like picking cuticles until they bleed. My heart and body say no, not yet. I need to see her, touch her, hug her every day.
I dread facing all this alone, especially without Henry, should he succumb. I would miss his silly antics, his warm and gentle hands, the feeling of working as a team, our secret language, our shared memories, our nest and our dreams.
I fell in the hole of depression the other day and started unraveling the thread that holds together my whole being. Why bother making any more paintings or sculptures? No one will want them, or if they do, they will be unable to pay for them, so why am I even bothering? But the logical end to that way of thinking leads me directly to drinking the Kool-Aid — you know the kind I mean.
Thankfully, some greater, wiser part of me refuses to go there. I feel my Aikido senseis, my sculpture mentor, my parents and my tough New England heritage, and all who have already passed over to the other side. They steady my hands, put me firmly back my body, get my feet walking out to the studio where I turn on the lights, pick up a piece, and get to work. I can’t not do it. It is who I am.
I think about the women in prison with whom I worked in the early 90s. They would make elaborate and detailed braids in each other’s hair. They would make pencil or pen drawings in which there were more strokes of the pencil or pen then there was empty white paper. I remember asking them the same question that is often asked of me when someone sees me carving stone. “But doesn’t that take an awful lot of time? I would never have that much patience. Or time.” The women in prison would look at me, the irony arching in their penciled eyebrows, and say “time is what we’ve got. Having a project that takes a lot of time makes the time go faster.”
I worry about my incarcerated students living through this panic-demic. When the prisons lock down (which no doubt they will if they haven’t already), will they also lock down the mail? Because if that happens, there goes ASU’s Prison College Program, and there goes my job. And there goes our income. When Sensei Glioblastoma first beckoned me, I played a morbid game called “what could be worse than brain cancer?” Having brain cancer in prison — that was my first response. Having brain cancer in a locked down prison with the virus on the loose and no medical treatment available. That would suck too.
Meanwhile, during this giant “timeout — go to your room,” Mother Earth has a chance to repair some of her many, many wounds and the abuses caused by humanity’s excess and addiction to squandering. We must grow up and take responsibility for what we have mindlessly, recklessly, selfishly created, whatever our original intentions may have been. Change or die. We may enjoy ragging on our narcissistic, cavalier, and predatory president, but the truth is most of the first world is narcissistic, cavalier, and predatory in relation to Mother Earth. It’s got to stop.
There is no going back to normal. As Bruce Cockburn sang many years ago, “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” There is no “normal” that will be handed down, restored, or sold to us. The truth is we don’t know what will happen. We each must get okay with not knowing. We’re all responsible for our own sanity. We each must find that equilibrium, that thing that makes us tick, that brings us joy, that births beauty and love and connection into in the world. We each have to practice Tikkun Olam. Pick up the broken pieces that you alone can see and reach, and mend them as best you can into a new and possibly glorious mosaic world.
The sky is clear, the birds are singing, and the dolphins have returned to Venice.