Last year I learned how to walk six miles and read; this year I mastered walking five miles and writing. The estimable body of flâneur literature from Baudelaire and Knut Hamsun to André Breton and W.S. Sebald and Edmund White has not explained the vibrant emptiness produced by keeping up a rhythm as steady as a Moe Tucker drum part and returning to your place of residence free of memories and anxieties yet winded by the thought that it’s 7:30 a.m. and a whole day beckons while other people are getting their kids or, hell, themselves out of bed. A sense of expectation not quite tinged with urgency. This of course is hell on my stamina, as friends who’ve seen me nod off in conversation will confirm.
Rereading what I wrote last November, I note a greyness reflecting the natural climate and the political one. November 2020 was an unusually wet month, distinguished by a hurricane named after a Greek letter because we’d run out of names. Refusing to concede and, presumably because he had cheated death, done with COVID, the former president encouraged Americans who dressed in deer trophies and war paint to protest an election he comfortably lost. The loss of House seats and the collapse of Florida Democrats’ chances added to the pall. Dominating every discussion was COVID; cases rose to unprecedented heights by the time the New Year’s fireworks sputtered. Vaccines? What about them? We heard of them. We knew we’d get them — maybe July 2023? I entertained the fabulous notion that had voters reelected the former president he’d have found a legal justification to restrict vaccination to GOP voters or to counties that voted for him. The subsequent chaos would’ve have resulted in record voter registration. Five years of awakening to the peels of Bedlam and the imagination still couldn’t grasp the novel simplicity of the mind’s capacity for evil.
But the vaccines happened. As of September everyone in my acquaintance has been jabbed, some of us thrice. My friends’ kids have gotten or will get the jab. I’ve boarded airplanes — twice. On a brief trip to Brooklyn for a chum’s birthday I arrived at a transformed New York City. When I cut short a March 2020 trip afraid that Cuomo or — how naive! — DeSantis would shut down LGA, JFK, and MIA, respectively, the sense of impending doom felt like strangulation. Plastic wrap between cab drivers and passengers. Pedestrians hurrying away from each other. Desultory attempts to cover our faces. The imagination shouldn’t balk at the actual until it has no choice for the sake of self-preservation. Last weekend? I can’t explain how reassuring it felt to enter bars and restaurants in Manhattan where the unvaccinated were barred from entry.
Tapping at my laptop in the Coral Gables Public Library, masked, I want to say nothing has changed. But everything has, a little. Writing even this sentence is an example of a mid normality, for how else does life progress except by doddering elephant steps? Doom is reflexive — and regressive. My students get it. I will fight fascist apologists. I will stop watching those venomous bits of cable news. I will travel more. I will listen to the Sparks catalog. I will watch The Souvenir: Part II next week.