A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.
HANK WILLIAM’S ADVICE
I asked Hank Williams, how lonely can it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song. (Leonard Cohen)
My tower is actually named after a British city and it doesn’t have that many stories. I don’t write songs, but I could perhaps answer the question.
In the beginning, I actually feel lonely, abandoned, bereft. Sometimes I cry. Once or twice I howl. By Easter that has pretty well stopped. I am like the baby who figures out crying is useless.
Day 31: Easter arrives while it is still hard lock-down. Although I’m not a church-going Christian, I am still a cultural one. Easter is the most important church festival. It has always been a family time. My sister’s family is large with children of all ages. We usually drive north to Barrie where the long table is loaded with every vegetable available and roast ham. There is wine and laughter.
This year my sister, my niece and I are in our separate dwellings a few blocks apart. My niece has a sore throat. She is isolating to protect her mother. Normally, they treat each other as a family cohabiting. I order dessert from Sweet Things. The Door Dash delivery guy even comes up to the 14th floor. I drive to my sister’s, call her, she comes down in her N95 mask and I hand two desserts to her. I come home and eat my key lime pie.
At a certain point, I feel so unseen that I am disappearing.
Day 2 – Day infinity: What to do? What to do?
The eastern sages that live in caves advise us that even the contemplative life must have a routine. I can do that, I think. I go to sleep at midnight, after reading in bed for an hour or more. I get up at 8. I pull myself together. I exercise as much as my body and a 950 Sq. ft. apartment permits. I eat breakfast while I read the news on my phone.
The rest of the day? What was I doing before? I was actually writing two books, a second memoir following Never Tell and a second mystery following Hour of the Hawk. The original two need to be marketed on line. https://www.joycehowe.com/books Many people are reading e-books with libraries closed. So go for it! Are you kidding? The world is ending, at least the world as we knew it. Why does it need another memoir of my abusive birth family? And now that woman has been pushed off a cliff in Kern County in my second mystery, I have no idea who did it? It took two people to get rid of her car, but what two people?
I’ve furloughed my cleaner. She also works in an essential retail store. So I have to do my own cleaning. It takes her 2 hours. It takes me 2 hours times 4 days. But I celebrate that I can do it at all and thank Cymbalta. I also decide my sister is right – an ironed pillow case is divine. The next thing I know I am ironing sheets and shirts and masks. Stop now!
I watch television. At first CNN is on all day. At lunch and dinner I watch Netflix, a documentary called Pandemic, which shows in six parts how ” tireless doctors and scientists” have been working for many years to learn how to make a vaccine for novo viruses. Each episode is episodic featuring several teams and one home-schooling anti-vaxxer and her many children. I take a vow to have the flu shot this year. I stopped getting shots because they make me sick, possibly because they are egg based. But this year, I’ll put up with that AND I will get a Covid shot as soon as I can. The scientists in the show spend a lot of time in full gear in bat caves. In general, it builds confidence, especially in Bill Gates’ money. I also watch Tiger King. God help me! Then I turn from Netflix to Acorn, which streams British, Australian and New Zealand shows. I love a good mystery. Whereas Netflix has taught me German, Finnish, Swedish and Russian, I learn Welsh English, even Welsh, Cornish, Irish and heavy, heavy Scots. I already knew how to decipher Australian and Kiwi.
I read. On the serious side, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The power of introverts. Probably I’m an introvert at heart. I needed to rest up after a day in the classroom before I could get dinner and relate to my family; however, I was able to avail myself of the ‘free trait’ and act out of character on the stage or in front of a class or even at dinner. Being introverted is an excellent trait to have when you have to stay home for months.
I frog march myself through John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened, bending my brain around references to American foreign policy. I am testing a theory – is Donald Trump as incompetent as he seems. Then I read Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. Even without his suggestion that we ingest bleach to cure Covid, these two books confirm my opinion. I am terrified of coronavirus, and I am terrified of this man knowing the nuclear codes. As time goes on and the U.S. cases start to climb in Florida, Arizona, California again and Texas – oh my babies – the two anxieties come together.
I trade mystery titles with my California daughter and find them on my library’s website. I run through all of Mick Heron’s MI 5 books, which are satirical and funny and intriguing and sad. https://115journals.com/2020/04/19/slow-time-slow-horses-the-slough-house-spies/ I write a blog post about them. I read the SoHo mysteries, set in different countries: Thomas Perry, Dan Fesperson, Ken Bruen, Denise Mina, Mark Pryor, Colin Cotterill, Stuart Neville, and thus I travel to the British Isles, Germany, Russia, the U.S., Thailand, Laos. I read to rest during housework or cooking, but the last hour of the day is sacrosanct reading time and I end up lying my head down at midnight.
I don’t know Alice. What was the question?
As Alice lay dying, she seized Gertrude Stein’s hand and said, “Oh, Gertrude, what is the answer?” Gertrude replied, “I don’t know, Alice. What was the question?”
Then there is Leonard Cohen’s answer in The Tower of Song, “Dum de dum dum, de de dum dum.”
Alice wanted to know the meaning of life. Curiously, that becomes an urgent question as we contemplate death. Part of what Aunt Mae taught my sister and me was that a person could have several possible exit dates. I have had a few close calls, which led me to read Robert Thurman and Sogyal Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama and Rumi. Now the shocking death tolls in our local long term care homes wake me up.
I had forgotten.
I know the way back – gratitude for the helpers, who are risking their lives and dying to help the sick, empathy for the dead and the dying and the ill – all isolated from their family’s support. I can leap on that train and ride it until I disappear into a universal cloud of love. In the morning, energy too low for that, I recite the Twenty Third Psalm by King David, for whom I named my son. Especially the last lines ground me:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
A Hundred Days of Solitude still to come – those darned visions