Essay

Dispatch #082

Dispatches Update

By Alexandra Kostoulas

Well, dear readers. Here I am. Back again after a long hiatus. 

I keep not adding to this blog. Keep hoping that the pandemic will be over and I will be finally able to categorize it in my mind as a stand-alone story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

I started writing this blog post on the Winter Solstice.

Yet, I’ve held back on publishing it. I was going to do one more edit and then hit “publish,” but then something kept holding me back. I want to have the definitive thing to say about what it has been like living through almost three years of a global pandemic, but there really is no easy way to sum it up, and who am I to even attempt to do so?

My voice is just one drop in the sea of voices.

We all have a different piece of the puzzle that make up the mosaic of our lived experience.

As a writer, trying to make new work and chronicle life and states of mind during this time, has been difficult. Having a second baby right before lockdown and then reentering into the world as an artist and small business owner and mother of two under three felt like being hit by a wave over and over again.

I’ve also had a hard time focusing, clearing my thoughts and reading and parsing information at times. I feel like so many of us have been living first and reflecting second.

As much as I’d like to believe it’s over, the pandemic is not over. But hopefully, and I say this with great hope because I am an optimist, the larger portion of the pandemic is now behind us.

As I publish this post, it is the morning of New Year’s Eve. For the past two weeks, and the past two I’ve been ensconced in family life with my kids, making cookies, etc.

Many people are acting like the pandemic never existed. And they are traveling far and wide for the first time en masse to see loved ones over the holidays. You know what? Good for them, but I am not there yet.

When we bought out the grocery stores on March 15, 2020, a small part of me naively thought the surge of coronavirus might only last a few weeks, maybe months. And that we would hunker down and get through it. 

But yet, here we are still waiting for the endemic stage to begin. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Imagine small children in the backseat of a long car ride except that’s the entire world.

Can I bring my 2019 self out now? In many ways, I already have.

At first, sending my kids to school this year terrified me.

I witnessed the other parents–the people in my gentrified neighborhood of San Francisco–walking around unmasked and proud with mild revulsion. My husband and I were the only masked people at back-to-school night at my son’s kindergarten.

Then, even I got more relaxed about it, took my kids trick-or-treating on Halloween and didn’t wear a mask, but mostly kept my mask on inside. And then the week before school ended, masks came back on in my son’s kindergarten class, which I appreciated.

I thought I was on the conservative side of masking but a few of my comments got me in hot water in a still covid-ing group that were not meant to be radical.

I fall somewhere in between the hardcore isolators and the people throwing caution to the wind. I turned down a Christmas party with a bunch of people because I said I don’t want to get Covid, but I put my kid in winter camp. I went to the theater to see a show and ate out at a fancy Greek restaurant on two different nights in December. I took my mom to church on Christmas. But I still haven’t been on a plane. I’m not ready to take my kids to Disneyland.

We’re all doing this complex calculus, trying to gauge the probabilities of will I get sick if I do x? Some of us–many of us–have given up. Or we’re calculating the probabilities.

I think of my grandfather–-a villager in the mountains of Greece–who died when I was three whenever I think of probabilities. He used to do the complex calculus of navigating a minefield. He would bring his goats out he explain to my mother the first time she met him on her honeymoon, that he had a theory to explain the probability of taking his flock out to not step on mines left over from WWII. Is that what we are all doing?

My neighbor and I were talking a few weeks ago outside our apartments on a crisp San Francisco fall night and she was showing me how her car window was broken into. We were lamenting the crime in the city and the number of times people got their catalytic converters stolen.

She compared this time to WWII. I had just gotten back from taking my son ice skating and he had fallen asleep in the car. It was an indoor rink but we were masked. Went with his best friend and his mom, a surgeon, who we knew was covid cautious.

Maybe when I am very old–and my goal is to live that long–my grandchildren will do a report on me like I did with my grandma about the flu pandemic and the depression and ask me to describe this time.

What would I even say? I will remember those little covid test kits the government sent us. The orange boxes and the little white rectangles with the place to put the drops and the telltale red lines. I will also remember how whenever my three-year-old picks up a q-tip, she thinks it’s to swab her nose. And how people posted pictures of their positive test on social media to announce when they were infected and garner sympathy and attention/ share information with others. And that I read those posts somehow and told the person to get well soon and gave them the heart or the caring emoji.

When I started this blog I had a 4-month-old and a 2.5 year old.  Now we’re heading into year 3 of the pandemic and I’ve got both my kids in school. My older child is in kindergarten and my little pandemic baby is three. The fancy preschool I cried about not getting my son into in 2020 let my daughter in and we qualified for a scholarship. The glut of people trying to grab preschool spots and buy out all the baby supplies from Target in San Francisco is less. There is still not enough childcare for infants and toddlers, but a spot opened up for my family.

The national baby formula shortage started right after I weaned and didn’t directly affect me. I’m not sure if it is still going on, but last time I went to Target, all the baby related things like formula and Pedialyte popsicles are behind a locked glass and you have to ask somebody who works there to unlock it for you, and they will only allow you to buy four of the same baby-related item at a time.

All year I wondered if we were going to hit a recession.

I’m still not sure if we are in one but here are some signs: The price of gas went through the roof. The price of food did as well. Between August and December, we now spent all of our pandemic aide money that we had been holding in our bank account. It went toward food and other basic supplies.

One of my creative writing students had her catalytic converter stolen out of her car twice in the same month. Last week, I was in line at the Walgreens when a man slipped out the back door stealing a huge amount of toilet paper. Another man complained, “Isn’t that terrible! He’s stealing!” I told him, “If he has to steal toilet paper, he probably really needs it. Just let him go.” Nobody in the store chased after him.

I just read a notification on my phone that said that this year the stock market had its worse year since 2008. So does that we mean we are in a recession or not? For those of us who still have bad memories from the 2008 recession, it’s a fair question.

I’ve been humbled by my own experience of the last few years of the pandemic in more ways that I have been able to share in this blog. At this point, I am just glad to be alive and to have a mind that is able to think clearly enough to write.

As I writer, I am finding new ways to work. Getting up early, trying to put myself out there more, trying to stick to a writing plan. Writing before the kids wake up and when they are at school. Trying to synthesize and put everything in perspective.

I find myself thirsting for authenticity more and more. I don’t have time for fake people and I’ve limited my interactions with things and people who don’t affirm me and I don’t feel guilty about it. I’ve unfollowed and muted a lot of people from my social media who stress me out.

I am finding a new way to be–choosing my friends with greater care and trying to live life with intention. Working hard to carve a life for myself and my family amid this stressful and difficult time. 

I’ve often wondered if to be full integrated in this society, do we need to hide our fear and trembling? I’ve watched friends online post about how great their lives are, and they have a carefree attitude that I think must be fake or some kind of bourgeois coping mechanism. I’ve disconnected from friends who didn’t take covid seriously and acted like it was stupid during the height of the pandemic, and like I was crazy for thinking it was a big deal. They made a mockery of covid and during the surges posted photos of themselves having dinner with twenty friends along a long table. It’s hard to take these people seriously now.

Yet, at the same time, I think it would be nice to go to a dinner with friends sometimes. I yearn for camaraderie and community. And I wish I had somebody to invite me to a fancy dinner and take selfies with perfect makeup. But when I do go out, I enjoy the moment and forget to take any.

I know we are all in our own separate private challenges and that for all intents and purposes this is still a dark time. The point of this blog when I started writing it is to try to chronicle my experience of living through the time of coronavirus. It quickly became a chronicling of the collective experience via a literary blog sponsored by the SF Creative Writing Institute and we received submissions from all over the world. I am going to spend the first part of next year publishing all the backlog of our accepted coronavirus submissions.

As I hit “publish” it is is now just before 10:30 Pacific Time on the morning of New Years Eve.

Goodbye 2022.

This is the end of a long year.

It was the year I went back the most “in-person” but also the year I felt a large part of me was still hanging back.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Let’s see where it goes.


If you’re reading this far, dear reader. I am happy and somewhat mystified to announce that this Dispatches from Quarantine project received a 2023 grant from the California Arts Council and the funding period has begun.  

That means everything we do related to this project now gets us paid! It’s like we’re suddenly legit.

As this project has become part of the SF Creative Writing Institute we are using the funds to turn it into some public hybrid online/in-person performances, discussions and creative writing workshops that all talk about the same thing:

How has Covid-19 affected creative writing and storytelling in our current era and culture? We will ask this question many different ways and hopefully redefine it as we go. 

Hopefully as we go from the pandemic to endemic stage we will begin to answer that question. 

We will continue to publish poems, essays, short fiction, and other creative work on the theme of the current pandemic era. In the coming days we will publish a piece a day. I hope you will subscribe to our youtube channel to watch our performance series when it airs or show up in person to one of our events when they happen. 

Subscribe to this blog to receive updates. Submissions are always open with preference to the 2022-23 stage of the pandemic. You can email them to submissions[at]dispatchesfromquarantine.co. We look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Thank you for reading.

1 reply »

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Alexandra! Life is not back to “normal” for me either. The pandemic is a whole additional element in the way the world is. I want to dance! but I haven’t gotten to the place where I can feel comfortable in a group of non-mask-wearing people. My friends keep getting sick “+” and they isolate until they’re “-“. I started going to yoga classes this week. I’m the only masked one in the room. It’s because I’m afraid of Covid. I don’t want to get it.
    Thanks for sharing poetry and congratulations on the grant. I’ll submit soon.

    Like

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