Playlist for the Pandemic
The dream of working remotely has been realized, but there are strings attached. It’s come during a period of quarantine. It’s become harder to maintain a healthy work-life balance. And it’s made me question the love affair with my 13 inch mac, to which I am tethered non-stop for nine hours. The overall experience? Let’s use the word nuanced. Fortunately, music is always there to make it better.
8:00 a.m. The iPhone plays its morning tune and I open my eyes. Eight hours of sleep. Good. No commute means more sleep – a silver lining, for sure. I hear rain on the roof, but does it matter? I’m not leaving the house. I throw on an old pair of corduroys because the idea of working in thermal underwear has lost its allure. On my way to the kitchen, I pass my laptop. It beckons. No no, my friend. Not yet. Boundaries.
8:45 a.m. I kiss my honey goodbye and watch him leave. It’s important that we hold onto our rituals. I don’t see him again for another three hours. The cottage where he does telemedicine in private is 20 feet away from our house. I pick up my iPhone and open iTunes. What playlist to select today? Probably “All 1970s Music” again; it has almost 2,700 songs. I press play, and first up is The Carpenters. “We’ve only just begun … to live …” Karen, we’ve all just begun to adjust to a new normal.
10:00 a.m. The rain has ended and the sky is bright. The eastern sun paints glorious shadows on the road. I grab my camera and run outside for five minutes. The sun feels great on my face, as does the cool breeze. The crocus are in bloom – bright purples and whites and yellows – and the insects are already out in full force. I look up at the silver maple near the road. The tips of its branches are red with buds. A reminder of growth – and life – is important right now.
11:23 a.m. “Reach out and touch … somebody’s hand … make this world a better place … if you can.” Good advice from Diana Ross, but there is no touching in the current climate. The WebEx video meeting starts out well. Camera and audio are working for everyone, and I get to see my co-workers – it’s just like old times. The head of our department explains that social connection not only makes us work better, but fundamentally it makes us better people. As such, these video meetings take on a new level of importance. 23 minutes into the meeting, the WebEx program crashes my computer. The person onscreen is frozen in place, like an opera singer holding a note for eternity. Fortunately I can still hear what is being said – I’d asked WebEx to “call me.” But then the charge on my landline phone handset runs out. “Call me … the moment … you get there.” Sure thing, Aretha. Let me restart the mac …
11:50 a.m. My boss and I chat about the technology we are using to communicate. These conversations often start with “Gil, it’s really easy” and often end with me feeling like a dinosaur being dragged into the 21st century. My boss understands all of this technology backwards and forwards and back again. I am in awe of him.
12:00 p.m. It’s lunch time and I close my mac. Discussions about branded email communications and newly passed laws give way to questions like “Have you defrosted the pork chops?” and “Can you wash those dishes?” As we sit down to eat, Barbra Streisand comes on to sing “Cabin Fever.” We laugh uncontrollably.
2:00 p.m. Every day in the news, we hear about someone who is sick … people I’ve heard about but not people I know personally. Until now, when a text comes in about a friend whose wife has a fever. I pause for a moment and close my eyes. They are over 60. She will be tested tomorrow. I hope for the best. The roller coaster continues. The next string of text messages comes from five friends, each sharing inappropriate memes. Gallows humor is alive and well. I am using my personal cell phone for work, and all of these interruptions are annoying. But I say nothing. Friends have become more important than ever. After a bit, it’s another text. “Babe, I know you’re busy, but can you make me coffee?”
3:00 p.m. The bad news: The built-in microphone on my mac is useless; it generates static during WebEx video meetings. The video component works fine, but no one can understand a word I say. More bad news: AT&T cell service here is awful – no incoming or outgoing calls. Even more bad news (but suddenly it’s good news): Years ago, the local phone company required that we install a land line first just so we could access the internet. The good news: WebEx is able to “call me” on that land line. The bad news: Our land line telephone requires electricity in order to function, and the cordless handset only holds 1.5 hours of a charge before it craps out. More bad news: I have back-to-back video meetings scheduled for today. The good news: I locate and connect our old-school trimline telephone; its body and handset are connected with a physical cord. More good news: It doesn’t require electricity or Wi-Fi to function. Blondie comes on. “Call me … on the line …”
6:00 p.m. I used to escape to the house after a crazy week at the office, but quarantine has changed that. Now I desperately need to escape from the house. Every evening without fail we go for a long walk. It is our only form of exercise, our only time away from the news, and the only thing keeping our sanity in check. The sun will set in an hour, so we try our best to leave on time. The horizontal light is golden, and the country roads are empty. The only sound I hear is the wind, or is that a car in the distance? More people are taking walks these days, and everyone seems to be a lot more friendly. Another silver lining.
7:00 p.m. Our time outside has restored us – for the time being, anyway. We pass the telephone pole in front of our house. It’s the actual pole with cables that deliver electricity and telephone/Wi-Fi to our house. I look up at it with newfound respect.
7:30 p.m. It’s time for Billy Joel to sing about Brenda and Eddy. “A bottle of white … a bottle of red … perhaps a bottle of rosé instead.” It’s also time for our virtual cocktail hour. Gin and tonics are mixed, and a cutting board of cheese, olives and nuts is tastefully arranged because … yes, it is a competition. I dial our friends on FaceTime, and my heart skips a beat the moment they answer. Seeing them framed by a 13 inch screen makes me miss them even more. We toast to life. We discuss politics. We discuss which local supermarket has early hours for folks 60 and over. We discuss COVID-19. We discuss what we’re cooking. We discuss show tunes. We show off our plates of appetizers. Just like old times. I really really miss them.
As Joni Mitchell wisely stated, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”