Welcome to Telegrams from Home, a new collaboration between The West End Phoenix and Kobo Originals. Every week, to help you #StayHomeAndRead, we’ll bring you new works from authors and artists on what it’s like to live through this period of quiet survival.
Worries about sickness and safety were making it impossible to write fiction. But as Claudia Dey discovered, tossing letters to a friend from the sidewalk onto a front porch were one way to push through it.
I feel like I’m sleepwalking. Like I’m coated in wax. The only way I can describe it is the whiplash of being ejected from your habitual self, the former self who sprinted from thing to thing. The days are formless. There is so much suffering at the gates. I weep at the news. I’m afraid when I walk to the bookstore, even along the grassy medians, or when I wait in line at the post office, that I will bring danger back to my husband and sons. All we need are bombs transiting the sky — that is my feeling. We are under siege, and there is this horror-film element to the virus — the positive cases, asymptomatic and moving casually around us, the contaminated surfaces. Then the worry and the pain. But then there is beauty, a new beauty, and this might be most confusing of all. It has been forty days. Or has it been fifty? — Claudia
Maybe it was always like this and we didn’t notice. Sometimes it just feels like one long day. I was trying to remember the last normal day. The last single day that felt perfectly normal before it felt like this. Can you remember? — Janet
I remember walking through the park on my way home from work and the sky was darkening and it was cold, it must have been the second week of March, and I had my headphones on and was listening to Beyoncé and thinking that maybe it was too much, I was trying to do too much, and maybe my efforts were misplaced. I was racing home. I was always racing home. I wanted to drop out of the race.
And you? The last day? — Claudia
I don’t remember. I look at my calendar for the last normal week. I was dying for one empty square. I see two things I cancelled, but I couldn’t get a single day to zero. Now all the squares are empty.
These days nothing makes me cry. It’s like there is a layer of wet cement between my brain and my feelings. A suffocating insulation. Yet in this moment of horror and worry there is so much kindness. And spring is still extravagant — when I look up from my book. Are you reading? — Janet
At first, I found it difficult to read anything other than news. I formed an irrational bond to Michael Barbaro at NYT’s The Daily. But yes, I’ve just finished Will and Testament by the Norwegian writer Vigdis Hjorth, and I felt it in my gut. It was so fierce, and the punctuation was all wrong, perfectly all wrong, a thousand comma splices, and this was exactly right for my teeming worried head.
Yes, extravagance. My husband is planting his garden and growing his Hemingway beard. My eldest son shaved his moustache for the first time and it was like a fur dropped to the ground. A friend FaceTimed me the other day while shaving her son’s head. I am thinking a lot about hair; it, like tears, is an outlet for people right now.
I cry watching Michael Jordan highlights. But you can’t give yourself over to grief entirely, a nun in the service of grief.
I woke up thinking of Tilda Swinton. I dreamed that she lives in a lighthouse. This seems entirely plausible. And then I wondered with some shame how celebrity manages to penetrate my subconscious. A friend just texted an old photo of Dolly Parton before she styled herself like an amusement park. My friend wrote: “Such sunshine.” And it was the perfect sentence.
Where are you finding your comfort? — Claudia
Science. Wine. In thousands of pages about Thomas Cromwell. Stevie Wonder. Raptors replays. Blue Jays replays. Daffodils. Are you writing, Claudia? — Janet
It has felt perverse to try to write. Writing requires a narrative voice — to do the most personal thing in the most fictional way. I just can’t seem to summon that. But I get disoriented and unmoored quickly without writing — writing repairs life for me — I’m keeping a pandemic journal and just noting pretty much anything. I love being outside of a project and outside of ambition for a project. I love this new aimlessness and slowness.
I’m colouring a lot and making camping food like broths and granolas and breads. We get our sons to read Emily Dickinson to us before we eat. One of them has achieved his dream of being pantless for most of the day. We are trying to memorize the dance moves from Justin Bieber’s “Intentions” video. All commercialism and vanity has died, so it’s a telegram from another world, a world of elaborate braids and maximalist lighting fixtures and flirting with a camera.
Maybe, given the logic of Jung, I’m Tilda Swinton in the lighthouse. Not Tilda, of course, but pale and with more than one man in profound, bricked-in isolation, a wild sea lapping at the door. Maybe that’s why she has come for me.
Are you playing guitar? Are you making homemade pasta? Have you cut your hair? — Claudia
Pasta is a constant. Making ravioli with Lorenzo using my nonna’s machine. He turned 18 the day before the lockdown. He cranks, I fold.
Playing music is very difficult. Not much access through the wet cement. Maybe when the weather warms up.
My hair, however, is unfettered, heading for Patti Smith meets Chaka Khan territory. I won’t cut it until I can run into you in a bar and hug you hard. — Janet
Deal. No scissors. See — this makes my eyes sting with love. — Claudia