Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 1: Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy died from COVID-19 today. He was only 52. His songs, even the ones that are 25 years old, sound so fresh that they could’ve been released yesterday. Hooks to burn. So many that he fueled a power pop band, a side band that more than flirted with electronica, massive TV and movie soundtracks, Broadway, and so much more. I wasn’t a die-hard fan or anything, but Fountains of Wayne had a bunch of great songs and I really liked Ivy a lot.
Fifty-two doesn’t sound particularly old to me. It’s only six years older than I am now. Less personally, it’s not that far below the cutoff point people have cited as a demarcation for “high risk” or “low risk” prognosis in all of this.
I suspect that a lot of that talk about age from a couple of weeks ago was wishful thinking, frankly. I know that young people have died and some old people have survived. I know that there are a million complicating factors beyond age that need to be taken into account — things like underlying health and immune system status — and I have no idea if Schlesinger had any underlying issues that made him a more susceptible-to-death from this scourge than your typical 52-year-old.
But it does make all of this seem closer and more random than the powers-that-be wanted us to conceive of it not all that long ago. It makes those “this only kills the old, the sick and the weak” proclamations of early March and the “maybe that’s OK” sentiments that have been oozing out from under the rocks in the darker corners of the right wing world in the past few days seem all the more obscene.
Rest in peace, Adam Schlesinger.
Since my kids’ viral fame — can we still say something has gone “viral?” — a lot of people have asked me how they’re dealing with the world shutting down. The answer: about as well as anyone else is.
Anna downloaded Animal Crossing the other day so I don’t see her much. Carlo downloaded the new version of Doom, so I don’t see him much either. Their school has been pretty proactive about keeping them remotely engaged and I can see if they’re getting their school work done, but as as long as that’s happening I’m OK with them killing time with video games. They come down for meals and then quickly retreat, so at least I know they’re getting sustenance.
The other day I made a point to teach Carlo how to do the laundry. He did two loads but I’m about 95% sure he made sure to forget everything I told him the second he was done with it. Today I made Anna do the laundry. I think she retained it a bit better, but she also spent more time arguing with me why she shouldn’t have to do it than it would’ve taken for her to just do it. That girl is so much like I was at her age that I almost feel bad for her sometimes.
Her main argument — Carlo changes his clothes more often than Lady Gaga, meaning most of the clothes are his, so maybe he should be doing it more — was well taken, but I didn’t let her know she had a point on general principle. I can’t let her leave home in a couple of years without knowing how to do her own laundry. When she does, and she doesn’t have to deal with 11 of Carlo’s t-shirts, five of his hoodies, and always, always, a bunch of mismatched socks every few days, she’ll almost feel like laundry is easy.
I took the kids to their mother’s house late this afternoon. As I’ve mentioned, she has Wednesdays and Thursdays and this is her weekend, so I won’t see the kids until Monday. It’s a strange feeling for me given that, when school is open, I see them after school even on my “off” days. My ex and I split up over eight years ago but this “go a full five days without seeing the kids” thing is new to me. I don’t like it, even if they do just lock themselves in their rooms and play video games when they’re here. The house feels different when they’re gone. Not always bad, mind you — Allison and I are used to our couple of evenings and every other weekend alone after all of this time and enjoy our alone time — but it definitely throws the rhythms off. Walking by their empty rooms never feels right.
Just before we left to take them to their mother’s my son and I got into a brief argument over something dumb. He didn’t want to take his jacket with him. I said it was cold. He said it wasn’t like he was going anywhere outside of the house. I said he had no idea what might happen in the next five days, so take the jacket. He decided to dig in with some attitude, I decided to raise my voice and make it clear that I wasn’t going to take the attitude. I won, he grabbed the jacket but he huffed and puffed as we got into the car. Anna, who was right next to me during the yelling, was quiet.
Most of the drive to their mother’s house was quiet as well, with Anna looking out of the passenger window next to me and Carlo in the back seat with his headphones on. I didn’t like that. I hate it when tension lingers and, this time, knowing that I wouldn’t see them for five days — and with how uncertain the world has gotten lately — I felt particularly awful about the possibility of leaving them on a negative note. I forced some conversation by making a joke about a billboard we passed. That prompted Anna, as it often does, to make a joke of her own to top mine. We bantered a bit.
Not long before we turned into their mother’s neighborhood, Carlo, unprompted, offered up his own joke and then mentioned a couple of funny memes he saw that were related to the general topic. As we pulled into the driveway we were all laughing. I still don’t like not seeing them for five days, but I felt a lot better about it than I had a few minutes earlier.
A friend that I only know online checked in with me via direct message tonight to see how I was holding up. After that we had a nice conversation about how we’re each dealing, how our parents and friends are dealing, and what this strange new life really means. It was very sweet of her to do that. I felt better after she checked in than I had before she did.
Still, it made me wonder if all of this journaling is making people worry about me. And as soon as I wondered that it made me wonder why I should think it so notable that someone is checking in with me to see if I’m OK in the first place. Isn’t that what people do? Like, actually good people who care about others?
I’ve lived a very isolated life for a very long time now. I am close with my wife and my kids and a few people I encounter in the real world on a semi-regular basis, but the vast majority of my life is spent either online, which is not always real, or inside my head. I do not think of myself as a lonely person, but I spend a lot of time physically alone by virtue of working from home and I spend even more time mentally alone because writing for a living — and for pleasure — often requires it. I’m not complaining. I actually like it. It works for me. But it does make me forget how important actual human connection is.
Especially at a time like this. In the face of a mortal and existential threat, personal connection is not just important, it’s absolutely essential. Ironically, because of the specific nature of this existential threat, personal connection is hard to come by.
I guess all of this has just thrown my balance off. I usually think of personal connection as a luxury, but it’s not now. I’m going to have to adjust to that. I’m going to have to be better about connecting with real people than I have been for many, many years. I don’t think I’ll make it if I don’t.