Over the past week, I’ve felt like the digital user equivalent of a rat scavenging for crumbs on the sidewalk, sniffing around various websites in my quest for heartfelt personal content. The more days I spend cooped up in my apartment, the more I crave opportunities to immerse myself in someone else’s thoughts. I yearn (yearn!) for the first-person perspective to the extent that even just the sight of the pronoun “I” makes me sit up a little straighter at my kitchen table or on my couch… or on the floor in my bedroom where I’ve been going to sit every time Austin and I have concurrent conference calls. In May 2017, The New Yorker‘s Jia Tolentino declared the age of personal essays dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if social distancing brings them back.
I tore through Molly Fischer’s essay “A City of Bodies” in The Cut, where she traces how quickly things shifted for New Yorkers in the course of a single week, and how eerie it was to witness the swift transition from jokes about not hugging to learning the phrase “catastrophe medicine.” Even though I don’t have children, I immediately clicked on an essay about “The Heartbreaking Reality of Parenting in the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Emily McCombs, a writer I’ve followed since her tenure at xoJane. I snuck into the backend of Man Repeller to read Leandra’s essay “This Is More Than Working From Home” in draft form because I was too impatient to wait until it was up on the site.
These are mere morsels, though, and what I really want is a giant slice. A deluge, if you will. I saw people on Twitter penning passionate pleas for movie studios to release films like Emma on-demand early, so we could enjoy them in our cooped-up limbo, and while I’ll admit that sounds nice, my passionate plea is for the release of something else entirely: more! personal! essays! They don’t need to be perfectly composed, or visually stimulating, or tied up in a neat bow. Better, actually, if they’re somewhat messy—a true reflection of the disarray that pervades this unprecedented juncture in our human lives, something akin to diary entries or mental ticker tapes.
I suppose what I’m asking for are essentially blog posts. Give me the internet of 2012 but give it to me in 2020. Give me shower thoughts and off-the-cuff revelations. Give me comment sections. Give me headlines that don’t give a hoot about SEO. Give me the Wild West of the digital world, when throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck was pretty much the prevailing modus operandi. I’m greedy for thousands of words that cater to this initiative, but I would settle for just a paragraph, as long as it attempted to comply with the standard of no-standards—heart unbuttoned, an exposition of the seemingly mundane.
Here, I’ll go first:
Never in my life have I experienced the surreal feeling of walking down the West Side Highway—or anywhere, for that matter—knowing full well that every single person who passes me is thinking about the exact same thing. It’s unnerving, to be connected by this common thread of anxiety, and to be pushed apart by it simultaneously—by the safety of an invisible radius we have tacitly agreed to maintain during our brief bouts of fresh air. It’s unnerving to be cooped up in an apartment with the person I’m supposed to be marrying in three months, wondering whether that will happen on the planned date, already engraved on our wedding bands.
It doesn’t feel like we’re spending time together, even though we are spending nothing but time together. I miss him even when we’re in the same room. Or maybe I just miss the conversations we used to have that weren’t about the indefinite clearing of our calendars, the worried texts and phone calls from our parents, the oscillations of fear and gratitude. Because in the midst of this uncertainty we are, above all, grateful—that for now our lives and our work appear capable of bending around the shape of whatever is looming.
I quipped sarcastically last night about whether he’ll even want to marry me at the end of our shared quarantine. “Don’t joke about that,” he said, so fast the beginning of his sentence overlapped with the end of mine. The sound our words made when they met there settled over me like something soft. “Okay,” I said, and it seemed like it would be, in that moment. After we finished dinner, I stretched my legs out beneath the kitchen table whose surface I’ve memorized like my own reflection over the past five days, resting my feet on the lip of his chair.
Graphic by Lorenza Centi.