A Pandemic Journal
A running journal of thoughts and feelings compiled during the stay-at-home period of the coronavirus outbreak.
Yesterday I finished packing my U-Haul pod to send my things to the new house in Austin, and in ten days I’ll begin the 1,400 mile treck myself. It is a daunting undertaking, and leaving J behind in L.A. will be the hardest part. (She is hanging back in CA for family reasons but plans to join me there by summer.) But the prospect of getting to the house gives me some comfort, because I think in my heart I am not meant for city or apartment living. I’ve felt for years that I wanted a more serene, open environment peppered with trees or a lake. Having grown up in a bedroom community on Long Island, I think suburban living is in my DNA. I came to Los Angeles after college to pursue a TV writng career, and was lucky enough to work in that field for most of my adult life. But I remember sitting in my office on the Warner Bros. lot during my Night Court days and thinking “I don’t want to still be here in my fifties.” Ten years later, I acted on that instinct. My move to suburban Atlanta in 2001 was my first foray into living in suburbia, and I loved it. But circumstances brought me back to CA and I’ve been repressing that urge ever since.
My house in the bedroom community of Valencia, CA filled that need for 15 years, but when I sold it I told J I didn’t think I could stay put in L.A. much longer. We lived together in her beautiful Santa Monica townhouse for another six months before she sold it. We had already been scouting locations for our next move – considering suburbs of Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Austin, and Ashville NC before settling on a quaint town outside Austin named Georgetown. But during my eight month search, I always found I responded best to houses with a lot of land, scenic views, and relative seclusion. If it had a cabin style design, so much the better. (I fell in love with one log cabin home with mountain views outside of Denver but by the time I was ready to make an offer, it was sold.) Even after narrowing our search to suburban Austin, I found the houses that caught my imagination always had a great view, lots of trees, and often a greenbelt behind it that made it feel expansive.
The house we ultimately bought doesn’t have that kind of expansive view but it’s on a very pretty street with towering living room windows overlooking a manicured backyard.
Now, like a bee drawn to its queen, I feel compeled to get there and live in it. Expecially now that we are all living under house arrest for the forseeable future. I didn’t quite understand that gravitational pull until I joined a Facebook group called View From My Window. As the name implies, it’s a place for people to post photos of their view, and as I scan the page, I always feel jazzed by the ones overlooking a lake or unending trees or a mountain range. In their home photos I’ve come to realize that what I’m seeking isn’t abnormal or bad. I’m not abandoning my loved ones by making this move. I am in a very primal sense going back home. Whatever it is that compels people to live outside of the confines of a city, to seek space and nature, it is a perfectly normal life choice that millions of people make. It may not be a choice that my loved ones fully understand or embrace, but it feels right for me. And as I approach my senior years, doing what’s right for me has to finally become okay. It’s okay to make Kevin a priority. It’s okay to feel at home in my home.
I hope this house and this town brings me what I am yearning for. It’s not as secluded or expansive as others I looked at, but it’s a lot more space than I’ve eve had before. I hope I find my solace there. If not, there are many more hilltops to explore.
Yesterday was by far the best day I’ve had since the pandemic lockdown began. On the personal side, I enjoyed a long walk with J, had some good meals, and had positive discussions with her and her son about the possibility of J and I traveling to our new home in Texas in a few weeks, with him bringing in a friend to room with him here in LA. I don’t know that she’s “on board” yet for the trip, but she’s at least considering it. I found toilet paper and paper towels in the market. Bernie Sanders offered a full-throated endorsement of Joe Biden. And the icing on the cake: Wisconsin Democrats unseated the conservative Supreme Court judge their state Republican party tried to shove down their throats by rejecting a vote-by-mail primary. A really great day.
Today I am seeing more upside on the Dow and considering if it’s time to trim back some of my positions before the inevitable downturn (or crash) happens again. I’d rather lock in some modest capital gains losses than wait and wish I’d acted when the Dow is back in the teens again.
I’m watching Susan Rice being interview on CNN for the umpteenth time in the last two weeks, and it appears to me that she’s really angling to be Biden’s vp running mate. Of course she brings the right gender and demographic balance to the ticket. But would that make the ticket too much of a throawback to the Obama administration?
I guess the message of today’s post is, it’s nice to be thinking about setting up the new house and who should be Biden’s running mate, and not about how long I have to live. That makes it a very, very good day.
My mood is a little better, though I am still wrestling with the surreal nature of our new world. My home envorinment has calmed down after some early interpersonal frictions, and J and I are getting much better at not letting our dour moods or different perspectives create conflict. I think we have each come to understand that under all this stress, we are not always seeing the best version of our beloved partner, but that that’s okay. We don’t need to be our best selves all day long. We just need to be understanding.
I have become fascinated by the ongoing debate over when and how to re-open the economy and our society as a whole. From my dialogues on Facebook, it seems that most people are resigned to staying inside and unemployed for the next year or two. I don’t think that’s feasible, and I’m reading as much as I can about what “opening things up” might mean. The NYT ran a great 5-person discussion by a panel of experts from medical to economics to bioethics. They all seemed to agree that we will eventually have to accept some tradeoff between saving lives from coronavirus versus the damage to the economy and lives if we choke our economy to death. As they noted, the Great Depression may have given us many great social programs, but it also gave us Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. And the extended poverty caused by a stay-at-home society could kill lots of young people as well as old. The Treasury Dept. can cut stimulus checks for a few months, but they can’t feed the population for a year or two.
I’m still trying to figure out when the right time is to move to our new house in Texas, if that’s even possible. The house is empty; no beds or furniture, no TVs, no internet, no food or kitchen supplies. I think I’ll be able to rent some furniture from CORT if they are still in business by then. And I can get most of what I need to live on one big shopping outting at the H.E.B. But can I convince J to go with me if it means leaving her son in LA? And how will our neighbors react to strangers with California plates suddenly showing up on their street? It’s a thorny equation all its own.
But all in all, things seem more rosy than they were a few days ago. This will be a long and winding mental health journey for me and everyone. But I’ve chosen to embrace the good days. They’ll help get me through the tougher ones.
(Frist entry, three weeks in.) Feeling a little vulnerable tonight. Maybe because I watched the latest episode of The Plot Against America, which was excellent but really brought home the danger that white nationalism and a naively compliant populace poses to America today. Especially in our new corona era social isolation and ideological vulnerability.
It’s funny, but before this whole pandemic turned our world upside down, I considered myself a rather optimistic, positive guy. But the news has worn me down these last three weeks, and now I’m feeling a bit depressed. Maybe it’s due to the lack of control I have over my destiny. Before coronavirus, I figured if I drove safely and kept my wits about me on the streets, I was generally going to be safe. Not invincible, not immortal, but as safe as anyone can be on this planet. Now I feel that every surface I touch and every doorknob I open is plotting to kill me. And that it may never go away. I’m hyper-aware that even once we get passed the so-called “plateau” period and national trends start to improve, this virus will always be out there lurking… looking for a careless, guard-down moment or chance opportunity to infect and invade.
My fiancé and I just bought a house in Austin, Texas, a purchase agreement we entered into two weeks before the virus overtook the headlines. Our plan was to make it a dual home with our L.A. apartment, going back and forth until our kids went back to college in the fall and gave us the time and space to plant roots in Austin. Of course, as they say, “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” My goal now is to find a window of opportunity in which I can safely traverse the 1400 miles of highways and hotels to get there, then somehow furnish it with the minimal necessities of life and hunker down in that big, spacious house until our world gets back to something resembling normal. But I’m also well aware that like the pioneers of two hundred years ago, I could perish from the journey. It’s still unclear whether my fiancé will be emotionally ready to make that arduous drive with me in a month or two, so I have visions of going it alone (or with a driving companion), and then being holed up in that big empty house, possibly with no cable TV or internet for months on end… no friends there, no neighbors to count on, and no human contact other than the ocassional FaceTime call with J and my kids. I see myself as a modern version of Tom Hanks in Castaway, talking to myself as I wait for the day that civilization returns to find me.
Or, worse, coming down with the virus and spending my last days and hours alone, isolated, helpless and afraid. Not afraid of death; I don’t yet suffer that foreboding fear. I’m afraid of never seeing J or my children again. Facing mortality alone, a mere statistic for the news to report and the history books to document. No one will care that I’m gone. Few will mourn. My sons, being as stoic as their dad, will find a way to persevere and go on. To others, I’ll just be a sad saga of the chum that has to be thrown to satiate the sadistic hunger of this wretched man-eating virus.
So, yeah, I’m a little glum today. Maybe tomorrow will be a little better. But six or nine or twelve weeks of this? That feels like a life sentence to me now.
Kevin Kelton is a former television writer and the cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast.