Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Mary Laura Philpott in the Time of Corona: The Dreams! The Dishwasher…

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Mary Laura Philpott – author, humorist, cartoonist, mom – stops in at Bacon today to have some fun. I had so much fun!

(Was it good for you too, ML?)

Hi Mary Laura! It’s great to see you! I mean, it WILL be great to see you, at our favorite lunch spot… 

One day!

Nashville allowed restaurants to open at half-capacity a few days ago. When do you think you’ll go out?

I miss lunch with friends, but I’m not ready to go sit in a restaurant around people yet. I’m OK with moving around town, wearing a mask, staying several feet away from other people, basically keeping to ourselves wherever we are as we do the things we need to do. Do we have to go to the grocery store at some point? Yes. Do we have to eat our salads at a table right next to other people eating their salads? Nope. Takeout works just fine while we still have a virus flying around.

When the time comes: which restaurant first, and why?

I keep thinking about having a glass of wine on the patio at Emmy Squared, because that’s where my husband and I always met friends for supper before a movie. When I reminisce about leisurely get-togethers with buddies, that’s the place I picture.

I am desperately dreaming of restaurants right now. I’m super tired of my kitchen, especially loading and unloading the dishwasher. What are you super tired of?

Oh my word, the dishes. I just unloaded my dishwasher for the second time today, and it’s NOON. Also, is it terrible that I’m tired of looking at people on screens? I think my eyeballs have Zoom-fatigue. I’m finding myself strangely nostalgic about the very beginning of our isolation, when meetings were just plain canceled, not rescheduled as video calls.

Can you draw me a penguin of how you feel right now?

I would if I could find my iPad, but I have no idea where it is. Best guess: buried somewhere under the pile of books, dog toys, and pastel paper money from an unfinished Monopoly game in my living room. HELP.

How did you feel yesterday?

As I write this, “yesterday” was cloudy. It rained for hours and hours, and I felt angry and full of despair from the moment I woke up until I went to bed again. But today the sun came out, and my outlook is brighter. I’ve always carried around a mix of anxiety and optimism, and lately it seems the weather has a lot to do with which one takes the lead.

How you will feel tomorrow?

I’d feel great if I read a news story announcing a vaccine. But if that’s not in the cards for tomorrow, I’ll probably keep bouncing back and forth between “everything’s going up in flames” and “it’s all going to be OK.”

What feels scarier, staying at home indefinitely or tip-toeing back into the world?

Neither of those situations makes me feel afraid as much as uncertain. We just don’t know so much about what lies ahead, and that’s frustrating. I feel vaguely nervous and unsettled about pretty much every scenario. (To be fair: “vaguely nervous” was my default setting already.)

What’s been the hardest thing for you about Safer at Home? The best thing?

Staying home works just fine for me. I do my work at home anyway. I am bummed about missing some of the paperback events for I Miss You When I Blink that can’t happen now. But there’s also part of me that feels relieved whenever anything is canceled — like, “Oh good, I can sit right here and pour another cup of coffee!”

Selfishly, what I’ve loved most about this time is having my kids home. They’re teenagers, so we’ve been in that phase of life where it feels like the world has been taking them away from me more and more with each passing year. Now all of a sudden, I have them here for lunch every day, just like when they were little. It’s like I’ve stolen time back somehow.

Of course, I don’t like the reason they have to be home. And I can see that they’re sad. They’ve lost so much that they were looking forward to: graduations, proms, camps, etc. They miss their friends. As much as I’ve adored having them home, I’d rather they get to enjoy normal life and the milestones that people their age ought to enjoy.

Speaking of families, have you found a hiding place in your house or your yard?

I’ve taken to lingering in the garage for a few minutes every now and then after I take out the trash, just sitting on the stoop in silence.

How are you sleeping? Are you having the vivid dreams that a lot of people are talking about? 

The dreams, OH LORD, the dreams. They’re so weird. I think this gets back to the feeling of uncertainty. If you’re the type of person who gets a sense of peace from tying up as many loose ends as you can before the end of the day, this is not a great time for sleep. All the ends are loose! My mind won’t shut off at night.

How are your healthy eating habits? Your exercise? But please only tell me if it’s not going to make me feel too bad that I don’t fit in my jeans.

My dogs get extra walks these days, which means I do, too. But still, my jeans don’t fit either. Why?? Isn’t there something about stress and inflammation? Maybe I’m just inflamed. Or maybe it’s the Cheetos. I guess it could be the Cheetos.

Woodstock dog at rest

Eleanor Roosevelt dog reading the newspaper

What’s your best case scenario for “the new normal” over the next 6 months or year…

So much progress would be possible if we could all agree on some basic behaviors and guidelines. I get disheartened when I look at how difficult it is to get our splintered country to behave as one when it comes to… well, anything. When I try to picture a “best case,” it requires imagining great cooperation. If we all followed the advice of scientists, made data-driven decisions, and if there were a centralized, trustworthy effort to disseminate accurate information and recommendations out to the public, it seems we could at least make some reliable predictions and hope for better times ahead.

Worst case? Or maybe I shouldn’t ask.

Take your pick of anything from my apocalyptic fiction shelf! (Severance by Ling Ma, for example – there’s a worst case.)

What worries you most right now?

I lie awake a lot thinking about all the people and things I want to save: my kids, my parents, my neighbors, starving people across the ocean, starving people across town, polar bears, honeybees, schoolchildren everywhere, Broadway theatre, local radio… It all worries me. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we keep moving and keep hoping in a world where there’s so much to worry about. Sometimes it’s so much, it feels paralyzing; but we can’t just sit still and freak out. That’s no good. We have to be able to locate a sense of hope and meaning.

What brings you the most pleasure or contentment?

Walking outside on a sunny day. Talking to Frank, our wild yard-turtle.

Watching my kids make dinner together.

“Turkey meatballs (early on in this isolation experience, I got tired of my kids asking me for this or that for dinner, so I said, “If you want it, figure out how to make it.” Now my son cooks dinner at least a couple nights a week!)”

Finishing a thought and turning it into a sentence. Finding something to laugh about. (I send a little newsletter a couple of times a month, and I always try to find something funny to throw in there. My latest fave is this famous sportscaster narrating his dogs’ adventures. Have you seen these? Andrew Cotter)

What are you reading/watching/listening to?

Watching: As a family, we’re doing a re-watch of “The West Wing”. I haven’t re-watched it since it originally aired, and OH MAN, it’s so good. Bonus: it serves as a daily homeschool civics lesson.

Reading: This is the part where normally I’d rattle off a dozen great novels I’d just finished, but my attention span for fiction is a little out of whack. I’m taking comfort in science and facts lately; so I’ve been reading more nonfiction: the Atlantic online; Bill Gates’ blog; upcoming books such as Clean by James Hamblin (July, Riverhead).

Listening: One of my kids just made us a playlist of classical music to pipe through the house starting in the late afternoon when everyone gets grouchy. It helps!

And here’s the million dollar question: what are you WRITING?!

I try to write a little bit every day. (I wrote this a few weeks ago, and that felt good: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/well/family/virus-teenagers-family-quarantine-togetherness.html) Some days it works; some days it doesn’t. Some days, I manage to put down a teeny-tiny micro-fragment of an essay. I’d rather be churning out pages at a time; but I know from experience that little pieces add up. All I can do is keep trying to make a little progress every day. Which is all any of us can do, really.

A little progress, yes. Thank you ML!! xoxo

 

Home Studio, “A Word on Words”

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For more from Mary Laura, from her alma mater (Davidson), click here!

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