Renew & Restart -Coronavirus Diary Part 12

I’ve been reflecting on the dramatic changes to my life, pre-pandemic, to the life I’m living now. If you had told me in early March that by May, I would be a mask maker in a pandemic, I would’ve thought you were nuts. But here we are. Making masks. Writing blogs. Living history.

I feel like I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, too. The stay at home order flattened the curve and now we’re able to start slowly venturing out again.

New York’s PAUSE expires Friday. I’m not sure how much life will really change for us for the foreseeable future. Restaurants are still take out only. Retail is still divided into essential/curb side pick up only/ or closed (Peter Harris, I miss you!). We can’t travel anywhere or do much of anything. But things are starting to open up finally.

Jumping Jacks opened (but then they closed again after issues with their phones), ice cream stands, drive in movies, and the dog park did too. These are all the seasonal markers Upstate New Yorkers look forward to every year — confirmation that winter is over and finally the best part of the year (for the warm weather lovers among us) has arrived. You can almost feel the deep, collective sigh of relief when this happens each year, but especially now, after the spring we’re had (capped off by a freak May snowstorm). I think I speak for all New Yorkers when I say we’re just screaming into the void at this point. We need these things in our lives right now. Bad.

It’s not surprising that with so much returning to normal, my quarantine appearance started to bug me. I needed to go to the salon in January. In the fall, I dyed my hair red, and most of it faded out except a stubborn stripe around my head. I kept putting it off because I didn’t have the money for a $100 fix. I wanted red hair, damnit, but not if it mostly washed out leaving weird red stripes in random spots.

Then, as news of Covid-19 spread, I decided to severely limit my non-essential trips out of the house. There was no way I setting foot in a salon. Then PAUSE happened. And as it stands, salons won’t be reopening for a while still.

My hair was starting to look tragic. A line of natural ash blond striped with grey, then that stubborn stripe of red, plus last year’s highlights. Jeremy, God love him, said it looked just fine. But it was sooo not fine.

Perhaps this is melodramatic, but we have a pandemic on, and I didn’t want to possibly die with this hair. If I have to go out, and I have a choice, it won’t be looking like this.

I considered Loreal Preference, but I have skin reactions to all kinds of things, had never used it before, and now is not the time for a bad reaction to anything. Plus, I am one of those people who can never rely on *anything* to go on and, on my face and hair, stay the color it was intended to.

Purple lipsticks turn pink. Pinks turn orange. Reds turn coral.

I once dyed my hair what was supposed to be blonde with a touch of copper and it went burgandy.

So no way was I picking a hair color based off a photoshopped model’s picture on a box. I wanted to fix my problem, not create a new one.

Henna seemed like a solid option though. I’d tried it once before, with my host sister when I was living in Hungary, and remembered liking the results. Being plant based, I wasn’t likely to have an allergic reaction, the color is permanent, it covers grey hair, and it’s cheap.

So I ordered some. While I waited for it to arrive, I read a bunch of henna hair dying tips. Then I ordered a bunch of disposable plastic caps and gloves because it is MESSY.

While I was attempting an in-home spring makeover, there was the issue of my eyebrows, which were a hot, hot mess. I have never had any success with in home waxing kits, but tweezers are the devil’s own torture device, and I was getting desperate. I ordered this kit.

I decided today would be beauty makeover day. After sewing masks feverishly all day in order to get to the post office before closing, I started with the eyebrows.

Y’all, I don’t know what magical elixer went into the wax, but it was the easiest, most pain-free eyebrow wax of my life. I’m never going to a salon for eyebrows again.

Bouyed by new optimism I tried the henna. Whatever I did once in Hungary, it was not this. You cannot begin to imagine how messy it is.

I started with a green powder of crushed up natural henna. Added boiling water. Stirred until it resembled the consistency of yogurt. Let it sit an hour.

The glop in the bowl turned brown with a vague greenish tint–like guacamole that’s been sitting out all day. After an hour, I coated all my hair in what looked like a baby’s diaper explosion, covered it in two plastic caps, and let it sit for 2.5 hours. It has a decidedly planty smell and felt like I had a wet mud pie sitting on my head. Not the best sensation, to be sure. But also kind of fun to guess what kind of redhead it was about to turn me into.

2.5 hours later, I hopped in the shower and starting rinsing the henna out. After I got the majority out, I used A LOT of conditioner to work out the last of the paste. Then I rinsed it again (no shampoo), brushed it out, and dried it with a hair dryer to set the color.

I am really happy with the end result. It’s not unlike a $100 salon job, but this won’t wash out EVER.

People keep talking about what people have learned/discovered from being in quarantine and how this newfound self reliance will translate to a post-pandemic world.

I know I’m going to do my own eyebrows and hair color from now on. This was so much cheaper AND so much easier that going to a salon. I will not, however, be attempting to give myself haircuts. That is just a bridge too far.

Coronavirus Diary Part 10

In a perfect world, I would be using time in quarantine to very productively write something magnificent. Because, seriously, what else do I have to do in these never ending stream of endless days?

I wish it worked like that, but alas…

My brain is a soppy mess of ennui. The fitful bursts of creativity I can eke out intermittently are mostly spent inspiring my whimsical mask designs. I have nothing left for stringing thoughts together. Especially the kind of elevated fancy-pants thoughts, and constant mental whirling, needed to write fiction. Everything in my brain is disjointed. A series of train tracks, with sections missing, on precarious trestles, liable to collapse under the weight of the heavy nothingness in the air.

And then I hear from a literary agent who requested my full manuscript.

I will admit that sometimes when I hear criticism of my book, my hackles immediately go up, and my overwhelming thought is “Fuck that shit. You’re an idiot.”

I have heard all types of critiques about my novel: that it starts too slow, that it starts too fast, that the plot is edge-of-your-seat-stay-up-all-night-reading exciting, and also deadly dull. My characters are vibrant, fun, and highly enjoyable, and also straight out of Beverly Hillbilly central casting. That my Appalachian dialogue is rich and authentic and entertaining and also nerve-grating and headache-inducing. The romance between my protagonists is realistic. Unrealistic. Requires spicing up. Needs toning down. That I do a fine job of showing versus telling and also that I use too much exposition and don’t let the novel unfold visually.

You get so much conflicting feedback that the only way to press forward is to trust your instincts and write what feels true.

You never feel like it’s perfect. But it’s good. As good as you are capable of making it at that moment. And you have to be content with what you’ve done, while always balancing the doubts that you haven’t done enough.

When I started querying my novel, I still had doubts about certain aspects of the story. But since the reactions to it never reached a consensus, it was hard to pinpoint what more I could do to improve it.

So anyway, the literary agent read the entire book. And then wrote me an incredibly lovely, long, detailed email about all its shortcomings, with very specific editorial suggestions that might make it something amazing. She called it “a gem in the making” and I am holding that very close to my heart.

And immediately her suggestions resonated with me. I read every one of them, my heart leaping out of my chest, thinking “YES! YES! She’s so right! She gets this book! She gets what I’m doing here! And I absolutely agree! I should start writing immediately!”

And then I immediately think “Oh my God, it’s too much right now. I can’t think about writing right now. I have one and a half functioning brain cells right now.”

And yet, I find myself deconstructing my novel– I liken it to tearing a puzzle apart, fitting pieces together in different ways, curious about the new picture that emerges. And, in my head at least, I’ve constructed a MUCH STRONGER beginning. A stronger beginning that frames all the other changes I’m going to make. I’m actually getting excited about writing again.

And that’s saying something, if it can cut through this heavy cloud of sadness hovering over everything right now.

I decided to buy new fabric. Some people are eating through their stress, others are drinking, some are crying, or binge watching Netflix. I’m stress crafting, and 100% cotton is my drug of choice. The Joann’s Fabric in Queensbury (47 miles away) had some garden gnome fabric I HAD TO HAVE. I also found some other awesome happiness-inducing fabrics, So Jeremy and I trekked up to the Back of Beyond for my fix.

They do no contact delivery–you drive up and they stick your bag in the trunk of your car–and off you go. So it wasn’t until we got home that I discovered that my gnome fabric wasn’t in the bag.

(Never fear, I found it on ebay and bought 2 yards.) But I was more than slightly displeased.

Since we hauled ourselves all the way to Queensbury, we stopped at the Target there. Pre-pandemic, I think Jeremy and I went to Target nearly every day. Neither of us had set foot in a big box store since early March, but Queensbury has far fewer cases than we do, so it seemed safe enough.

We donned our (now required) masks. Big signs posted on the doors said masks were mandatory and not to set foot inside the store if you felt at all sick. It was like something out of a Spanish Flu documentary, only it was in color and not black and white.

The internal Starbucks was barricaded closed. Everyone was in a mask. It was not the fun, breezy shopping experience I remembered. It was, instead, unnaturally somber. We were greeted at the door with a big sign stating what essential items were and were not in stock. As it happened, they had both toilet paper and paper towels–two items we had been unable to get in our grocery orders for the last month at Shoprite (despite weekly requests). So we headed to the household essential items and played supermarket sweep grabbing things we knew we’d need–laundry detergent, dishwasher tablets, sponges, pine-sol, and then hustled back up to the front of the store and waited in line to check out, six feet from other customers, waaay back between racks in the children’s section. Before we were allowed to go to the self check out register, an employee disinfected the ENTIRE checkout station.

It’s a surreal experience to be sure.

Then I was checking Twitter on the way home and saw that armed protesters had entered the Michigan statehouse and were demanding the state reopen.

There’s a similar protest scheduled for tomorrow in Albany. We live in scary times.

Coronavirus Diary Part 4

We may have gone out for the last time in a while. New York’s new laws took effect last night at 8pm. In a nutshell, we’re allowed to stay in our houses, only to leave for groceries, medications, emergencies, and walks, alone. The military has arrived. There are videos of their big trucks convoying at Crossgates Mall. Everything is closed–even businesses that can stay open.

We got takeout from one of our favorite Mexican restaurant yesterday. It has a foyer before you enter the actual restaurant. The door was barricaded by a table AND the hostess podium. One lone guy was working the takeout orders. He told us that even though their takeout business was okay, that they’d be closing that night and not reopening until this was all over. He said they were having supply issues, things were completely up in the air, and being a family-run business, if one of them got sick, they’d all be sick. We wished him well, and said we’d be back for celebratory drinks when they reopened.

We got back to Scotia and our favorite Chinese takeout place was closed until further notice too. You can still order things online, but there’s no telling when things will get delivered. Our next door neighbor is a truck driver, and he said that NY has suspended all regulations and they can now work a 120 hour week. He advised us to get some extra dog food–that he foresaw some uneven availability of things in the future. He said if we needed anything to leave a note on his door, and he’d try to find it for us.

All the little bright spots are fading out. The world is getting very dark. But I have to say, our little community is trying it’s hardest to keep it together.

Everywhere you look, people have posted rainbows in their windows. It reminds me of all the American flags that appeared after September 11th. Everyone is hungry to help each other. Social distancing is the pits. The rainbows are a great way to tell your neighbor I’m thinking of you. I care about how you’re feeling. I’m sending you love. We’re going to get through this. You can read more about it here: https://blog.timesunion.com/…/518-rainbow-hunt-grows-to-20…/.

I’m cheering myself up by going through my craft supplies and making rainbows too. I found these wooden cats in the attic–a Halloween project I attempted that never came to fruition. They’re being repurposed for some front porch cheer.

Yesterday I saw on Facebook that my friend is making cloth masks for healthcare workers. My sewing machine is broken at the moment, and in truth, I’m not much of a seamstress (I’ve always preferred hand sewing). She was looking for elastic. I had elastic. We drove over and put it in her mailbox so she could keep the masks coming. American ingenuity is a thing. As a nation, we don’t like the word “no”. The lack of testing and supplies for medical workers is completely unacceptable, so as a nation, we’re taking matters into our own hands. It’s great to see so many people stepping up and coming together.

I guess I’m doing my part by keeping my butt at home. Inaction isn’t very satisfying, but right now it’s necessary.

We’re supporting the community however we can. While the grocery stores are nearly filled to bursting with people, we’re trying home delivery farm share. I’ve got to say, Upstate New York has A LOT going for it. We are perfectly located to hop back and forth from urban/suburban/rural all the time. Our farm share supports local family farms. We don’t have to worry about national supply chain issues. Maybe we can’t get everything in the known universe, but we can get a good variety of things–without stepping foot outside the house.

While we’re stuck inside, I’ve been getting my Holly Homemaker on–dehydrating apple chips in the dehydrator and making banana bread, crafting up a storm. I should probably clean the house and organize the closets, but I haven’t gotten bored enough yet. I’m going to repaint the bathroom at some point too, but I’m not motivated enough to tackle that either.

Even when things are crazy, it’s nice to know some things will never change. 😉