I never expected quarantine to last so long. Naively, I thought this was a chance for our country to unify. I joined other crafters in making masks for family and friends. When local photographers offered porch portraits to raise funds for charities, we picked one raising funds for Meals on Wheels. When our stimulus arrived, we saved some but also splurged a little on local business. We wanted them to survive until they could fully reopen, presumably in a couple months. We are lucky. My husband, an animation artist, works from home.
But I floundered. I started obsessing over the news, looking for answers that were never there. When would there be a vaccine? How do we juggle work, domestic, and school life in a single space? I lost 60% of my work as a dance instructor as studios closed. I filled time with puzzles, board games, walks, and too much baking.
I was anxious about teaching my remaining classes over Zoom, but it became a lifeline. I look forward to seeing my students’ faces on the screen. I hope I brighten their day, too. I enjoy our chats before class, where they hold up toys to share with me or tell me where they went with their parents or even play an instrument. My husband and I kept rearranging the living room several times a week to make space for my teaching. When quarantine persisted, we dedicated the dining room to dance.
One of my daughters blossomed with distance learning. With fewer distractions, she learned more efficiently, breezing through assignments. She could have taken on more. My other daughter struggled. With little structure, she dawdled over simple tasks, didn’t always submit assignments correctly, and frequently submitted them late. Her marks declined, and I was dejected.
But then I recalled my parents’ stories of living through the Great Depression and World War 2. My Mom had to quit school at 17 to start supporting herself because her family couldn’t afford her anymore. Dad was drafted at 18 to serve in the Navy. He learned to operate the room-sized computer that sighted the big guns of the U.S.S. Pensacola, which saw battle in the Pacific against the Japanese. (Now, many complain of government over-reach for requiring us to wear masks. I don’t get it.)
My parents during World War II
My parents’ experiences, in which they navigated through years of poverty and war and still held on to their slice of happiness, give me a perspective on current events. I decided that my daughter’s fall semester grades were not the most pressing concern in the grand scheme of things. After mentally drifting for a few months, I began to feel that if my parents could be resilient and productive through those other extraordinary times, I could be, too.
We began to explore our region. We hiked Angel Island, which I had not visited in decades. We picked cherries at a local orchard and kayaked around our island city of Alameda, both of which I had never done before. We bought a tent and went on a magical camping trip to Mt. Diablo. My daughter asked to go night-hiking there. Walking by moonlight and also above and through clouds felt other-worldly. The park is just an hour away, and we were only gone a few days, but it felt like we really escaped.
I joined a Zoom writer’s group and made new friends. I also joined a political action group, and we meet over Zoom to write get-out-the-vote letters. Social isolation isn’t the right term. I feel very cyber-social. However, there is physical isolation. I don’t get to hug my elderly father anymore.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” — Gandalf
I am in a split-screen state of mind. I miss dancing with friends, going to the theater, and travel. I worry about our health and the future of our country. However, there is also time to explore new horizons. I am treasuring the beauty of our region. I am becoming more politically active. And I finally have time to pursue a passion project, which is revising the manuscript of my mother’s memoir. For this, I am grateful.
A shortened version of this story appeared in PBS American Portrait. You can see it here: https://to.pbs.org/3geAVMN.