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Life on Two Levels: Monumental Catastrophe and Daily Minutia

"My mind runs from the quotidian (I wonder when/if I’ll have another manicure) to the profound (Anne Frank and 9-11)," says Lesley Dormen.

The coronavirus pandemic will certainly be a defining experience of our lifetime, much the same way the Great Depression and World War II were for an earlier generation. It will forever alter our sense of vulnerability and our sense of  our country and the world. There may be difficult transformations (for ourselves and society) as we recover, but there might also be bright spots and hope.

Each of us is experiencing this crisis differently based on our geographic location, job status, personality, and a hundred different elements, yet many of our feelings and fears are the same. We are going to be regularly publishing stories from readers that let us see how others are getting through the crisis. We think sharing lightens the burden for us and can help others too; knowing you’re not alone (even when you might be physically alone) can be calming and fortifying.

Please tell us your story here; we’ll send you a BOLD tank top as our thanks. 

Here, we hear how Lesley Dorman, who is in quarantine with her husband in Manhattan, is managing in her new normal.

What was your life situation and routine before coronavirus hit?

Not very different, actually. I’m a writer. Not leaving the house is my usual M.O. My husband and I did attend a fair amount of theater, and I miss that. Just before the lockdown began, I had my hair cut so that’s good (for now). Various doctors’ appointments have fallen by the wayside. I take my dog out and get fresh air every day.

I think of Anne Frank, of her containment (in her father’s workplace). I worried most about missing my Barre3 studio classes. Now they’re online; I take class more often than I did before. The only hassle is remote teaching. I teach creative writing (fiction) and those classes have been, for the most part, a nightmare.

What is your state of mind right now?

Surrender. Even to Trump. He’s been my most life-sapping force for almost four years. Now I’m just waiting for him to completely self-destruct, to go up in smoke like the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz.

I think about the dailiness of life, about the quotidian life of people living through other disasters, wars, and sickness, and I am marveling at how our dailiness insists on itself even if we can’t remember what day it is. That parallel existence fascinates me. I guess our minds can’t hold the hugeness of a pandemic (or a war) for very long. Our dailiness insists on itself. Daily.

Having lived in NYC through 9-11 was similar. I still don’t feel we’ve “gotten over” that, processed our grief and awe of it. So my state of mind runs from the quotidian (I wonder when/if I’ll have another manicure) to the profound (Anne Frank and 9-11). One thing I know is that we won’t be the same in the After. Will we be awakened in some discernible life-enhancing way? Maybe. The internet is saving us in its own way instead of ruining us, as I used to think (in the Before).

What is your biggest fear/concern at the moment?

Illness, I think. I don’t want my husband or my brother or my dear friends to fall ill (so far so good, knock on wood). I don’t want to see the inside of a hospital myself. I worry for the healthcare workers and small business owners and workers whose lives have been truly upended.

And at the same time, I worry that the longer this goes on the laxer I will become about using our limited supply of disinfectant to disinfect. I worry that with the weather growing warmer and the trees blossoming I will long for the outside. We’ve canceled our annual summer plans, a disappointment, if only for the privileged. I actively worry about having our air conditioners installed before it gets warmer. (They’re stored every winter.) With the lockdown, the guys can’t bring them into our apartment building.

I worry that I’m not working on my novel. Theoretically, wouldn’t this be a perfect time? Apparently not. Yesterday afternoon, out with the dog, I stared, rapt, at a flowering tree (maybe cherry blossoms),at the vivid pink insisting on itself even now. I felt lost inside the blossoms.

Read More: My Corona: “I Can’t Imagine We’ll Both Survive.” A Worried Wife’s Story

If you’re sheltering with others, how is everyone getting along?

I’m sheltering with my husband and our Labrador Retriever. We lost our older dog (she died) a month or so ago. At first, in the confusion of being housebound with new routines we were snappish with each other. That phase has (mostly) passed. I’m shorter fused than he is; I’m trying to learn his more non-reactive style. We are very compatible occupying the same space, always have been.

What is your daily routine now?

I love luxuriating in bed while my husband takes the dog for her usual long morning walk just after dawn. He does this every day. I try to schedule my streaming workout for mid-morning. Then we’ll have coffee and read the paper together, maybe discuss the day’s grocery strategy. We have them delivered, but it’s touch and go. Hard to snag a good time slot, and you can’t count on everything in your cart being available. We have always shared cooking, alternating weeks, so that hasn’t changed.

Afternoons seem to fly by, reading or drifting. I always take out the dog midday and whoever isn’t cooking takes her out in the early evening. Some evenings I teach my class. There are always snags and this makes me crazy. I’m usually one-eyed about electronic problems, determined to fix them, but this classroom business makes me feel like a three-year-old mid-tantrum.

What is the most important thing you do for yourself everyday to maintain your mental health?

I work out. I make sure to eat breakfast and make the bed. I try to think about the new draft of my novel and at least make some notes. I try to text friends, even briefly. I speak to family by phone. I read poetry, especially the Polish poets of the WWII generation.

How often do you go outside and for what?

I go out now only to walk the dog. I go out masked. I try to keep my distance from other people.

Read More: 11 Ways to Get Through the Coronavirus Crisis, NextTribe Style

What’s the first thing you want to do when life returns to some kind of “normal”?

Manicure/pedicure. I look forward to seeing my friends in the flesh. Streaming workout classes has introduced a new intimacy with the people I “see” in class. It’ll be interesting to see them in the flesh again.

How do you see yourself changing from this pandemic experience?

I can’t “see” myself yet, so I don’t know. I do know I feel lucky. But do people really change after such experiences? I have always known my own feelings about death. I feel strongly about euthanasia. I wonder.

How do you see society changing because of this pandemic experience?

I’m reading a book about the 1918 flu pandemic. So far I don’t see society much changed since that pandemic. Society, composed as it is of human beings, doesn’t always change, at least not visibly. 1918 wasn’t all that long ago. Great medical leaps were made then, yet here we are with a shortage of tests and ventilators and leaders unworthy of the time they live in. One step forward, three back. We tend not to remember these experiences let alone learn from them. Which will get us first: Climate or contagion?

By Lesley Dormen


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