It’s been a spell. I figure everyone’s thinking, writing, talking about this quarantine life that’s lasted almost five months. A writing series I enjoyed from my futon said that writing a novel about the pandemic will be a tough sell: it’s hard to make something novel when everyone’s experienced it. Fortunately, I’m not a novelist. When people ask me what I write about, I say “I write about myself.” Then I laugh.
It sounds kind of cocky.
But in fact, it’s the opposite. Myself means a day in the life; I write about strangers I encounter and a short, meaningful conversation; I write about the yellow, pink, red, blue, and purple flowers flanking the Caribbean island I’m marooned on while our confused captain tries to MacGyver our irreparably clogged Power Cat engine. I write about the little things in life, simple moments that color waking hours not necessarily dedicated to mastery or accomplishment or the next big thing.
Lately, I’ve had too much time to work with. One of my grad school professors wisely observed, “Give a writer all the time in the world and watch him implode.” I get that. My working world’s always been a dance between safeguarding flexible schedule and free time and finding work that’s steady and worthy. During the pandemic, the piecemeal gigs have faded to black, like the end of a movie–after the outtakes, after the credits roll, when the last of the soundtrack stops and the theater’s silent and you sit there, waiting for the lights come on.
My stay at home alone time has gone through phases. The first 30 days, I sunk myself into steps. There’s a gorgeous stretch of trails through the nearby state park and walking, not running, felt better during pollen season. I’d get up early for me, at the park by 7:30 or so, and catch the cacophony of bird chatter that kicks off the day. Linking up the trails, I found myself clocking 12,000 odd steps in just over 90 minutes. Time mattered not, for I had it to spare, but that step count intrigued me. My pedometer app became a source of distraction. Anything past 10,000 steps triggered a festive burst of phone-generated confetti, an extra little thrill for my new constitutional. I enlisted friends every now and then, and we’d physically distance along the trail. Having a walking partner helped close the emotional distance building between me and the outside world.
Comparing and contrasting Pandemic Life, I soon realized we’re all having our own experience with this. I’m single–no kids, no pets, and I live alone. Going on Month Five, I can report these have been tough stats. I’ve always enjoyed alone time, but I’m far from an introvert. Undersocialized is the word I’ve coined these days; I’ve felt out of practice with live voices and physical proximity. And yet, friends with kids were/are going nuts in their own way; while I fantasize about surrounding myself with family-filled chaos, I’m fairly certain they’d relish a large chunk of time (or however long this thing’s going to last) sitting on my porch with a book and a tumbler of whiskey, strategizing best angles for reptile footage.
Watching lizards slither across the deck and hide under the wicker chaise lounge and creep down the railing to the sweet spot for jumping onto an overgrown tree limb has been a serious source of quarantine levity. As a rock climber, l can’t help begrudge those lizards a limitless ability for pushups and darting up sheer faces devoid of hand or talon-holds. Talons isn’t accurate perhaps, but I do get a visual. Those lizard toes strike me as serious tools of magic and cunning.
I sit in the faded porch chair with my feet on the faded ottoman and sink myself into the afternoon sunlight. Way into my book, I barely notice the flash of activity. My peripheral vision caught something though, the latest of lizards darts. Like me, lizards seek sunlight– especially on these early spring days. Nestled into the perfect corner for sunlight absorption, he closes his eyes. I grab my phone and stand up, quietly, quietly, hoping to grab some footage in the stillness. They’re sensitive, those reptiles, spooked by shifts in air or floorboard energy, so I try to be stealth. I am Elmer Fudd, hunting fo’ wabbits.
I may or may not have laid face down once (or twice) for the best shot of sleeping or slithering or show-off pushups. And then there’s the red ballooning throat move they do during their ‘strutt your stuff’ season. Gross, yet fascinating. Classic reptile.
I was inside one day at the kitchen table, gazing out at the trusty long leaf pine who watches over the side porch. A flash of green and then bam, those lizard toes, their suctions splayed across the sliding glass door. Like a window decal that catches the light or alerts the car next to you that your honor student’s on board. Lizard plastered himself the glass and become the view.
I say ‘he’ and ‘him’ because my lizards strike me as fellas. They’re curious yet skittish; bold and nervy, emotionally aloof. They make themselves at home, but they don’t talk much. Strong, silent, and hard to pin down–my lizards are definitely guys.
It’s an ongoing love affair: I with them, they with my porch. There’s one spot they love, rain or shine, where they sleep, hide, and pass their sun time nestled between soft cushions. It’s a weathered wicker chair, one lopsided leg propped up by the backside of an oyster shell. The chair’ is angled slightly east, toward my long-leaf pine, but it catches the sun as it shifts west. I used to sit there, but it’s too risky now. Now it’s the Green Seat, where lizards lounge, lurk, and plot the next dart.
I long ago learned to lift any cushion up before settling into any spot because like me, lizards are nomadic and tactile: they respond to soft cushions in sunny spots the world, or deck, over. If I were a betting gal, however, I’d wager there’s a lizard burrowed between the Green Seat cushions all hours of sunlight. Sometimes the top cushion flops over like a slice of bread and when I shake off leftover rain or morning dew, I discover some sort of lizard sandwich. The eyes watch me, almost tame– they know I’m just fine with reptile squatters. They don’t write, they don’t call, they don’t pay rent. But they meander toward me, sometimes inches away–though emotionally unavailable, they’re reliably present. Lizards don’t social distance, and for that, I salute them.
But on really rainy days, I’ve noticed, the lizards shelter elsewhere. In their place, I find tiny tree frogs aka Peepers. I turn the cushions over and they pogo stick into the air, like a manic Pez dispenser shooting out tablets, or a Tiddlywink firing into space. Rainy days, frogs: sunny days, lizards. All green, all the time. Got it.
And so, I’ve surrendered the Green Seat. It’s the best spot for panoramas, but I hold no grudge. Plenty of other places to sit.
If you like to slither, dart, stick to windows or fly onto tree limbs, the Green Seat’s for you. But you may have to wait your turn.