A Quarantine Interview

Colin: So, how long have you been in quarantine?

Also Colin: Two weeks exactly.

Wow. How are you doing?

Funny how that most reflexive, inane question is now so loaded, isn’t it?


“Two weeks in quarantine.” There’s a sentence I never hoped or expected to utter. But as for how it’s going, I can’t complain. I have a place to live, food, water, and internet. And we just got a small resupply box yesterday. I haven’t been so happy about a new t-shirt and a fresh pair of socks since I spent a month in the Wyoming backcountry.

Small victories, eh?

Goodness knows I’ve read enough books about people in extremis and the behavioral psychology of more mundane existence, and they all seem to agree that a lot of little wins is the way through. A month ago, waking up healthy was so expected as to be taken for granted. These days, it’s a win. And, if there’s a clean pair of socks to wear, it’s a win-win-win-win.

Right: you’ve got three people with you in corona camp.

Yep. One of them I was planning to move in with. We did that, but our stuff is still mostly in boxes in our new apartment. We’re two weeks into a weekend to catch our breaths — hence the limited sock selection. The other two (plus their cat) kind of came with the deal.

How are you managing?

As lightly as possible.


C’mon, I can be kinda overbearing if I’m not careful. Ask my brothers. But, once again, I’m grateful for NOLS. After four weeks sharing tents and camp kitchens with rotating groups of four, sharing an entire house with a floor for each couple and another in common is no bother. And I miss having a gas stove, but five burners, two ovens, and a sink is really hard to argue with. And that’s not to mention the coffee maker or the beer fridge.

Yeah, I’d take the house, too.

We also have the ultimate COVID commodity — toilet paper. We haven’t had to resort to rocks, leaves, or snowballs yet in this house. Snowballs can be luxurious, by the way.

I was wondering, but I wasn’t asking.

Happy to share.

This is starting to sound idyllic, to be honest.

Well, it’s like being imprisoned in paradise. You can’t beat the view, but you also can’t change it that much. Ditto the company: it’s the Groundhog Day of dinner parties. Since “quarantine” sounds a lot more clinical than our situation feels, I’ve taken to calling it extrovert hell.

Right. But you kept wishing for a slower pace, extra sleep, and time to write.

C’mon. We all wish for a slower pace till we get it. The gods punish men by granting their wishes too completely. Look at me: this blog used to rail against meetings and now it’s creative writing class.

What’s the worst part?

Easy: having to organize and occupy my days. I think and write about that a lot, but it’s really hard. Darn near broke me when I first tried it by accident a year and a half ago. Now the rest of the world is getting a taste of the peculiar joys of working from home.

Best part? There’s got to be one.

That’s harder to choose. We’re outrageously lucky. But I’ve got to go with quarter-ounce packets of active yeast.

Active yeast?

I wasn’t much of a baker till I had hours to practice every day. And sure, truly great bread is a magical, ineffable art form. But do you know how easy it is to make pretty-damn-good bread in your own kitchen? There are only four ingredients, and the one that’s least familiar to most of us is sold in little pre-measured packets for the price of about two slices of Pepperidge Farm. How great is that?

Pretty great, apparently.

It is. But it’s not as great as the sort of crack in the universe.

The what?

You know, the one Leonard Cohen sang about: “It’s how the light gets in.”

You’re cracked. Go on.

This quarantine business might be extrovert hell, but it’s actual hell for an awful lot of people out there right now, right? And it’s likely to go on for a while, unfortunately. We can’t take that lightly for a second. But it’s also extraordinary to see how things are changing. People are stepping up. They’re learning to live with and for each other. A crisis can sure clear out a lot of cruft, and this is a biggie.

No doubt. But how does this work?

Well, I think we’ve got to be mindful about it. But consider what’s happened already: Healers and teachers are international heroes, as they always should have been and should be forevermore. Kids are mostly spared, which is a miracle in plain sight. We’re all getting a stiff lesson in how little control we really have. (If you thought 2018 or 2019 was “volatile and uncertain,” how about this?) And, incidentally, we’re finally learning that the technologies of communication are actually pretty good.

So … ?

So what I’m trying to point at here is, what if we tried to connect the dots? What if flying to New Zealand went back to being the miracle it is rather than a layup for anyone who can scrape together a couple thousand bucks? What if we started taking workers seriously as parents and teachers, too? (We’ll never un-see all the other demands on people’s lives.) What if we remembered for more than two seconds that real connection is truly valuable? What if we saw it might even be economical?

That’s a lot to ask.

If now ain’t the time to ask a lot, I pray we don’t see a “better” one.

Well, we’ve certainly asked a lot of the audience. Any idea when you’ll get out?

Nope. As ever — only more so — we’ll make the best decision we can with the information we’ve got.

Should we expect more creative writing class in the meantime?

Maybe. I’ve got plenty of time.

Oh boy. Well, thanks for this time. And stay healthy.

Stay home!