Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

― Dan Albergotti

(thank you to Matthew Ogle’s Pome tinyletter for this poem

***

The days roll and mash together. Like the dough for sourdough bread under certain hands. My fingers tap tap at the keyboard and I watch E. make a different kind of dough every day: Dumpling dough. Autumn maple rye dough. Lemon peel blueberry scone dough. Buttermilk biscuit dough. My twin sister, a physician, is being retrained to work in the ICU.

We watch Elton John’s living room benefit concert. We put on musicals in the living room. J. makes a Tik Tok video. We eat cake for breakfast. Every day I have this particular brand of “survivor’s guilt” – what can I do as a knowledge worker who has the privilege of working in the safety of my home? How can I help? I collect ways to help. It doesn’t feel like enough. I know there are people everywhere who need help. I practice my Mandarin to help answer a hotline for the elderly who need assistance. It doesn’t feel like enough.

Nature doesn’t notice, it moves forward anyway: the cherry blossoms burst into song. The rain falls from infinite blue skies. From my window, I can see the red-breasted robins dance together. I watch the flowers grow. My eyelashes fall out. I don’t finish any books, I read a few pages and can’t go on. There is currently no feeling of future except more sickness, more death, so I’m relieved that the same people text me every day. We text about groceries, the rain, the garlic scapes, dating over FaceTime. It is comforting to develop a pattern again. A. reminds me of the three words of intention I set at the beginning of this year: stillness. creativity. abundance.

Here, in the belly of the whale: all of this time, abundant time. Here, in the belly of the whale: all of this stillness, abundant stillness. Here, in the belly of the whale: all of this bread, abundant bread. Out there, people are dying. There will be more soup, E. tells me when I try not to finish the soup. I don’t believe him that there will be more, so I don’t finish the soup.

He makes more soup.

Activites and suggestions for COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine time

I’ve been compiling a list of things we can do together while living apart. I’ll keep this updated! Stay safe, miss you, but there are lots of ways we can keep socializing while maintaining a healthy distance. These are just a few of the things I’m trying.

Virtual Social Activity and Work Ideas

  • Regular on-nomi (digital happy hours with friends)
  • Weekly virtual TED Women in Tech happy hours on BlueJeans/Zoom (h/t Claire)
  • Virtual Pomodoro sprints with Superorganizers on Zoom (h/t Dan Shipper)
  • From tinyletter writers: We’re All Stuck At Home But We Can Still Be Brilliant – a Google Sheets collection of personal projects that can be done at home
  • Virtual book clubs – one method is Book Club by Numlock, but lots of fun manual ways to do this too!
  • Play Codenames board game – free online – Codenames Green
  • Netflix Party Chrome Browser Extention to watch Netflix with friends Netflix Party
  • Create a Slack private instance for asynchronous group chatting with friends!
  • Daily noon meditation on the Waking Up app (free 30 day trial) with a group of tanguero friends (h/t to Avik and Robin) – you can create a group on the app to facilitate regular meditation.
  • Daily writing prompts as a group!
  • Learning fun choreography virtually (yesterday we worked on Ciara’s Level Up)
  • Cook new recipes!

The Arts

Free Exercise / workout offers

Wellness / Mental Health

Addendum March 22, 2020:

From all of us at TED:

  • TED is running a daily series of conversations with wise minds such as Bill Gates, Susan David, and Gary Liu.
  • TED Ed at home is launching to support students, parents, and teachers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sign up to stay updated.
  • TED Circles allows you to watch TED Talks and engage with your friends 100% virtually!

let it be absolutely winter

In February, it is too cold to meander: leisure takes a backseat to power walking through gallery openings. The wind rips through my hat but I try to find the beauty too, like the coziness of being outside looking into a window lit with warm light, watching other people drink cheap champagne and discuss art. There is a German word for this feeling, I am sure of it. The art-goers are nibbling on Chex Mix and in any other setting, the Chex Mix would be cheap but against the backdrop of nocturnal art and winter, it looks like the best damn snack in the world.

I frequent basement jazz clubs more often in the winter. Our coats strain against the random hooks scattered across the walls. This coats-on-hooks thing is uniquely wintry, something I had never experienced before in Texas. The constant scramble to make sure you have all the accessories at the end of the night: Scarf? Hat? Gloves? Multiple sweaters? I’m still not used to it. The orange-brown hue of Old Fashioned drinks illuminated by candles that blow out every few minutes from the opening door. The way the saxophone wraps itself around you like a purring animal – all of this, this can’t be replicated in the heat.

A few months ago, E. texted me that he was out buying a snow blower with his brother-in-law. I responded, “Wow, that’s New England AF.” E.’s response: “…Rose, we don’t live in New England.” (“She’s smart, I swear,” I heard him whisper later. I did deserve that.) Living most of my life in the very southern part of the country insulated me from having to know where “New England” really is, or definitively what the demarcation is. Not that if you had asked me to think about it I really would have made the mistake, but it was an honest snap retort that made us laugh later. I just think of New England as The Place Where There Is Cold Winter. And The Need For Snow Blowers.

It doesn’t ever get easier. Not this season, not these feelings, not this cold. But the light changes, yes. Or, how we see the light. Or how we use it, sometimes even to our delight.

AK asks me if I’ve been writing, and it’s hard to answer that sometimes life moves too quickly for writing. It moves at the pace of note-taking, frantic scraps. Fragments I scribble even when my fingers are freezing in the tunnels of wind. Poems I write down to think about later.

Speaking of the winter and New England, I can’t stop thinking about this:

Part of Me Wanting Everything to Live

This New England kind of love reminds me
of the potted chrysanthemum my husband
gave me. I cared for it faithfully,
turning the pot a quarter turn each day
as it sat by the window. Until the blossoms
hung with broken necks on the dry stems.
Cut off the dead parts and watched
green leaves begin, new buds open.
Thinking the chrysanthemum would not die
unless I forced it to. The new flowers
were smaller and smaller, resembling
little eyes awake and alone in the dark.
I was offended by the lessening,
by the cheap renewal. By a going on
that gradually left the important behind.
But now it’s different. I want the large
and near, and endings more final. If it must
be winter, let it be absolutely winter.

― Linda Gregg