Six months into this pandemic, I’m realizing things about myself, one of which is how cautious I am. Some friends and family members assure me the country’s situation isn’t as bad as the media paints it and, in fact, is getting better. But as of this week, there are over three million active cases of Covid-19, and we’ve passed the two hundred thousand deaths mark. That’s…a lot. That doesn’t sound like “better.” So I’m still practicing social distancing. Though I’ll call and write to the people I love, I won’t visit or entertain them. My caution has strained a few of my relationships, and I feel badly about that. “This isn’t forever,” I’ll say and think, I hope this isn’t forever.
I seldom step off my property except to take long walks down my country road, but if I must drive somewhere, I wear a mask. My little car chugs along for these rare expeditions, fueled by the same gas I put in my tank last March. My children are remote learners this fall; my husband is home, as well, working virtually. We’re lucky. We are not essential workers. We can stick together. We can stay safe.
Isolated as we are, with each day looking very much like the one before, I keep thinking time ought to feel languid, perhaps drearily so. But no. And that is something else I have learned over the past six months. Time is whizzing by. At the end of every work week, I think, wow, already Friday.
I wonder if this expectation—that uneventful days ought to feel slow—comes from my writing life. Writers worry about pacing. They know too much explaining, reflecting, describing, or flashbacking can be a drag for a reader. I’m especially conscious of pacing when I’m writing with a young audience in mind. Kids often skim pages of nothing-really-happening-here exposition to “get to the good parts.” I figure it makes sense to not write those endless passages in the first place and save kids the trouble.
Pacing is the speed at which a tale is told, not the speed at which it takes place. Skillful writers control time’s flow, compress and expand it, skip over irrelevancies and expand moments of significance and transformation. A story might cover an entire year in the life of a main character or a five-minute encounter. Some of the short works I admire, like Orwell’s “A Hanging” and Kaufman’s “Sunday in the Park,” while focusing on incidents that, in real time, would last ten minutes, unfold in a saturated manner, with such exquisite tension and fraught details, that time seems to stretch strangely, powerfully—a slowness that paradoxically feels energized, volatile, explosive, breathless. There’s magic in that.
The surprising circumstance of the spanking pace at which my current quiet life is passing has made me conscious of the importance of aberrant events. A singular encounter or incident has the power to arrest time and enliven a day with a feeling of nowness.
I miss that feeling. I miss stuffing my little three-bedroom house with family, preparing and serving lavish spreads, and enjoying the ruckus my kids and their seven cousins make. I miss the last-minute “Are you free? Want to meet for a drink?” I miss getting dressed up and dining out with my husband. I miss poking around thrift stores and finding treasures. I miss road trips. I miss fun.
I’m living on fast-forward now. Someday (I think, I hope) I won’t be, and the special somethings that pause my routine and suspend time will return. I plan on doing a better job of relishing them when they do.