Cover Your Bases 1

May 26, 2020

Hi, welcome to the first Cover Your Bases. Let’s dive right in, okay? This week: A reflection on something personal and reflective. Like COVID-19.  

I am so fucking angry about this virus right now

The idea that my life might end in the next 2 years because I caught a virulent new virus that killed me is hard to accept, and yet the reality is that I am over 60, 25 lbs. overweight, and have controlled hypertension. I also live with people who make their own way in the world, with different issues, and while we  totally agree on all the main safety protocols, being out and about has risks.  And, as Dr. Erin Bromage says, the most likely way to get sick is in your own house, from someone who unknowingly brought it home. So much we don’t know. 

For the first 60 days of the quarantine, I strove to be compassionate, kind, practice Buddhist non-attachment and acceptance. I bit my lip with annoying behaviors on Zoom work calls, focused on eating healthy food, and got engaged with my new sourdough starter and the fattening comfort foods I could make.  Bread, waffles, pita, flatbread, pancakes, English muffins--treats every other day. 

But now, 3 months in, I realize that what I’ve been shoving down with food is that I am fucking angry.  Angry and mourning the loss of how I expected things would be, which they will not be back to for a while, if ever again. 

Here in California, we’re starting to reopen our cities, but the reality is that the only thing that has greatly changed since COVID-19 started to propagate in our area is that we don’t have an impossible surge, so it is possible to get a bed in the ICU and no hospitals have run out of ventilators yet.  We also have testing, kind of, but it feels more like-- Not Really,

What this means is that people are going to continue to get sick and die from COVID-19 for at least the next year, and that we’re not going to flatten the curve so much as exhaust it.

 I worry that I will be one of those people who does everything so carefully right now, and then gets caught in an ugly second wave in the fall or later in the winter.

I worry that I’m not going to be able to get on a plane to travel cross country to see family in New York, or see my frontline worker adult child and feel safe if we hug.

 I worry that my life is going to have these constraints that I honestly recognize are so much more privileged than so many other peoples’, and yet this is going to be how it is until I get sick and die.

And then I wonder if I am more afraid than other aging people I know, or if I am just willing to say all this because I am so fucking mad. 

Mad at our country, mad at how we came to this, made at the privilege and systemic racism and fat phobia and awful healthcare and lack of a living wage and oppression--so many things--that life with this virus blew a huge hole in, exposing the dirty spots, the rot, and the failure to repair our toxic, throwaway culture.

And yet, in another way, the only response to so much anger is tenderness.

As much as I rage against what is, I also lean into the sweetness so I don’t burn out: my grown son and I texting about the pizza dough we’re making (he’s coaching me), the love of my partner and family here in Oakland, the incredible generosity of neighbors, the old friends where strong ties have resumed, because who knows what the future will bring, the new economic fabric my colleagues and I are knitting together because we’ve learned that the way to get it done is to do for ourselves. 

I am so fucking angry, but I am also so fucking humbled, because, goddamnnit--this virus.

Quick takes: Good reads

COVID-19 and our lives: The virus is here. How do we assess risk as we go out and about?  The always spot-on Dr Erin Bromage, a biology professor, is spot on once more. With diagrams.

Queerness, reading, creativity: Poet and writer Miah Jeffra has a terrific post in The Rumpus about What to Read When You Can’t Invite Your Queer Family Over for Dinner.  This is a great list, with some of my most favorite ever books, such as the devastating and unforgettable A Little Life by Hanya Yanahigara and A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, but there are also unfamiliar books this makes me want to read--Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg, and the writer’s new memoir, The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic!--The well-written descriptions in their post make me plan to add all the books new to me to my Overdrive queue.

Sourdough starter, and not following the rules: I’ve loved Tamar Adler’s writing ever since I scarfed down a copy of her book, An everlasting meal: cooking with Grace and Economy,  Like my beloved MFK Fisher, Adler is both an expert cook and a pragmatic improvisor, the kind of cook who is clear they don’t want to always follow a recipe.  As a new recent slave to a sourdough starter named Florida (almost as demanding as a cat), Adler’s recent New Yorker essay about using her starter to make everything but bread thrilled me-- and her foodie improv, like good jazz, is inspiring.

Making: Food, gardening, and doing things

Lockdown has led to pandemic cooking and baking in my house.  Over the past 70 days I have made 6 sourdough pizzas, 5 batches of sourdough flatbread,  4 batches of sourdough English muffins, 3 failed sourdough loaves, 3 batches of oatmeal raisin cookies, 2 simple vegan chocolate cakes, 2 Apple Sharlotka, 1 1970’s Tassajara Bread Cookbook coconut carrot cake, incredibly dry until I doused it with doughnut-style maple glazed icing (and wow, was that tasty).  I have also made 4 batches of The First Mess’ Ginger, Sweet Potato, Coconut Milk stew with Lentils and Kale, 3 batches of Melissa Clark’s One-Pot Mujadara With Leeks and Greens, 2 batches of Kim Severson’s Quick Pickles, 3 batches of cornmeal polenta, 1 with sauteed mushrooms, 2 batches of Shrimp Creole (with fresh and then frozen okra), and countless batches of salad dressing, assorted green salad, many with toasted pumpkin seeds and feta on top, eggs in every form and temperature, and bowls of greek yogurt with toasted oats, chopped pecans,a few golden raisins and a tiny bit of honey or jam. 

Miraculously, until last week when I dug into a few too many batches of anchovy/garlic dressing and homemade sourdough pizza and gained 4.5 salt-laden pounds,  I hadn’t even gained weight.  But wow, have I been in the kitchen. 

I know part of it is seeking distraction and control while being at home, another is enjoying making things to share with others (both my at-home family and friends at work and the urban farm I visit once a week to pick up my CSA box), but I think it’s also a form of labor whose routine feels comforting. 

 In a time when our President makes insane contradictory statements several times week, some people believe wearing a mask in public interferes with their freedoms, and the progress toward bringing down the number of COVID-19 cases in Alameda County seems slow, knowing I am going to get up and make coffee, make breakfast, prep a salad for lunch, plan dinner and maybe slip in some sourdough or dessert baking has a familiarity I crave. The structure that my routine of  #pandemiccooking imposes becomes welcome, because its hypnotic repetition makes me feel secure.

What about you?  What routines are helping you to stay sane? What are you not doing that you said or thought you would?

PARTING BITS--This week, it’s Aging

Train with Joan: As an over-60 person, I am always looking for role models,  inspiring stories and health tips.  The journey of Train with Joan, a now 74- year old woman whose 49 year old bodybuilder daughter helped her lose more than 60 lbs and reshape her body, health and fitness inspired me when I heard it, and does still today. #badasss, especially on Instagram.

Elderhood: My response to reading  Louise Aronson’s recent book, Elderhood, was more mixed; I appreciate the wise insights on how physicians need to not erase the elderly as they consider medical research and treat aging patients, but the book also made me feel sad about the state of older people and health-care in America and I had trouble finishing it.  Have you read it? What did you think?

Girls of a Certain Age:  While I have wandered away from it a few times, I deeply enjoy fashion. My go-to addiction is Girls of A Certain Age, a blog by Kim France, the founding editor of Lucky Magazine, and now also a podcaster, with the new Everything is Fine.  Kim is over 50, not over 60, but she has a great eye for timeless fashion and style, a much-appreciated sense of fun, and a community of loyal readers who share on her site. #GOCA

You made it this far, so here is one more thing, by the brilliant Katherine Finney--a post called I Built It. And Now I’m Moving on, about her departure from digitalundivided, one of the very first incubators and fundraisers for tech projects by women of color. In this essay about her departure, she writes: “ To be a black woman builder and innovator — to be me — in the nonprofit world is to be constantly undervalued.” So much in this essay rings 100% true for me, a white woman with privilege, and someone who recognizes this as an ally (vs. have experienced it directly as Finney and so many other women of color have.)  I am excited to see what Finney--a woman of power and skill--does going forward.  I know what it is like to move on from something you gave 20000% to build (Hack the Hood, for me), so I also wish her time to recharge. I bet whatever is next, she will dive right in.

Have a great week!  Send me some feedback (susanmernit@gmail.com) and enjoy spring.

Best, Susan

Bonus image, the hummingbird, one of my spirit animals, and the subject of a great documentary narrated by David Attenborough, whose voice always puts me to sleep.

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS--Maybe you?

Who are the friends and readers who might like to contribute occasional posts to Cover Your Bases?  If you’d be interested in contributing occasionally (and there is a loose format and guidelines I’d share with you), please drop me a line with some ideas and possible timing (soon, later, very much later). I have ideas about posts friends and colleagues might contribute, and maybe you do, too.  

Also, if you have questions you want answered, or ideas for posts, send them along.

Thanks for reading #1!