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  • Andrew Casteel

At Least Quarantine


Before quarantine, we were not at home enough to get to know our new kitties. We'd see them in the morning and after dinner to feed them their meals and clean their litter, but they were still unsure about us. Now that we've been home a lot more, they've both taken to wandering through the house. Whenever I'm in the kitchen, I'll feel Cheetoh brushing against my leg, trying to catch my attention and maybe a treat. Buster has taken to joining Lexi and I each night as we go to sleep. She purrs so loud it will wake me back up as I'm just starting to doze off.


Without being forced to slow down, I tend towards a faster pace of life. There's no buzz that matches crossing something off a to do list, and the last item on every to do list is "start a new list". Stillness does not become me, but it is possible to downshift into an easier gear now and then.


Summers used to be for tons of festivals: Kate Wolf, Camp Tipsy, alumni camping trips. Not this summer. I missed those things for a while. I still can't wait to do them next year, but we've filled up our summer to a rather pleasant level of fullness. Not so full that I ever feel rushed. Not so slow that the boredom has me crawling out of my skin. It's a nice balance that I can't remember having before in my life.


Lexi and I have established a weightlifting habit. More accurately, I've joined her in her weightlifting habit. Every morning we get about an hour of lifting in. This gives us a lot more time to talk than we would usually get in a regular week between her days at the office and my evenings at work. We used to have to fight for one night a month to ourselves, now we have 6 mornings a week.


I've gotten so much extra time with Francis. I watch him on Tuesdays and Thursdays as Lexi's got meetings then. We've found about a half dozen hideouts where we can get outside but still have our space. We spent yesterday running through the sprinklers in the rose garden in Golden Gate Park and wandering the shady redwood grove finding sticks for swordfighting. It feels like a summer out of a Huck Finn novel. I'm even considering taking some fishing gear with us next time. Now if I can just trick someone into painting a fence for me...


I've gotten so much more time to cook. I get to indulge one of my favorite pet neuroses. I hate wasting food. Got that from my grandmothers who both survived the great depression. I've been making a game out of it. Find the item in the pantry closest to it's expiration date and make something with it. Last time it was condensed milk that I turned into Hong Kong Milk Tea ice cream. Next it will be the gallon of hot chili oil that I'll turn into homemade Lao Gan Ma (Chinese Chili Crisp).


I haven't done this many puzzles in my life. I find the process very relaxing and meditative. Sort all the pieces. Fit them together. Bask in the joy of being complete. Boredom kicks in. Break it all up. Start again. The perfect metaphor for balance and completeness in my own life.


It reminds me of an article in the New York Times where they interviewed centenarians (people over 100). The consistent theme was slowly but surely refining your habits, your friends and your hobbies until everything you did brought you the most joy possible. They offered advice like, "Don't go to a dinner party if you don't want to", "This too shall pass" and "Move it or lose it". The wisdom of these simple rules is becoming more and more apparent to me.


I'm definitely guilty of going against the first one. My need for social stimuli is strong. Though lately, I've had to refine it. Losing most of my hearing made a number of social situations I used to love rather unbearable. I'd love a packed rave or a lively restaurant before, but now, those situations are extremely difficult. I can't hear what anyone is saying. I keep getting bumped into because I can't tell which direction sound is coming from (my right ear is mostly deaf so it sounds like everything is coming at me from the left). For a while, I tried to make those situations work. I'd fiddle with my hearing aid app and try to get it dialed in to where I could listen. Now, it's much simpler, I just don't go out to restaurants and raves. Instead we have dinner together each night, where I can hear everything. Even when things open up again, I'm more likely to have a small dinner party than go out where I can't hear anyone. Rather than mourn the situations that no longer work, I'm practicing my cooking and my cocktails to get the most out of what does work.


I've stopped looking at the news. I know it's terrible. The barrage of tragic arrogance and ignorance in politics was draining, not inspiring. Instead I'm choosing a race each week to donate to. This week it's Mark Kelly, who looks close to picking up a senate seat in Arizona. We've already given more than the last two elections combined and will continue donating. I know the problem. I don't need to be reminded of it everyday as long as I keep doing all I can to fix it by putting the Democrats back in power. I've also donated to my local non-profits to help them through this crisis. Time to take the long view as this too shall pass. You're not Atlas. You can't hold all the world's problems day in and day out. Do what you can. Then live your life.


Finally, I've fallen back in love with my bike and my city. I take Francis for a bike ride at least 3 days a week. There's little traffic in our way. There's plenty of space to keep our distance from other bikers and walkers. I don't consider it exercise or commuting. It's communing. I've got a big steel Long Haul Trucker from Surly, which I call DadBike2.0. It's got a seat for Francis in the back and a milk crate for our backpack and boombox up front. We have no electric assist so everybody passes us as we cruise down the streets playing nothing but happy 80's music. Someone recently told me how they thought people seem colder and more distant after shelter in place. I've found that people are more likely to break into spontaneous dance, but maybe that's because Safety Dance just started playing. On the days we ride, we do about 16-18 miles or about 2+ hours total. Those hours are a moving meditation, a rolling dance party and love letter to a summer that hasn't been cancelled in the least. I'm going to savor every moment of it because this too shall pass.

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