Female First asked me to tell you what I’ve been doing in the pandemic. Here are four ways this American novelist has tried to distract herself from obsessive doom-scrolling and incessant binge-watching.
1. I got dirty. A few weeks into our lockdown, My husband, John, who is not known for his zest for DIY projects, declared he wanted to build a raised bed for vegetable gardening. I jumped on it. We bought lumber, drilled and hammered, and constructed a large rectangular frame. Bags of dirt went in, then far too many tomato and pepper plants. At first, it looked disturbingly like a cemetery plot. But now, two months later, it is a lush tangle of leafy limbs heavy with purple, red, green, and gold fruits. Gazpacho, anyone?
2. I embarked on a virtual book tour. My novel You Again appeared in the US on July 7, and now it’s out in the UK. All my events were moved online, so I’ve gotten quite adept at putting on a Zoom show. The book tells the story of a 40-something working mother in New York City who is haunted by her younger self. So for my US launch, I assembled a slideshow, featuring many of the Manhattan settings mentioned in the book as they looked in the early 1990s. It was a nostalgia trip for me and my readers, and a chance to do some armchair travel. And it was probably more fun than a real live bookstore reading (which let’s face it aren’t usually such a thrill ride). But I did miss the tipsy after-party. I settled for a beer from the fridge.
3. I’ve been slaughtered in Scrabble. Our 21-year-old son Joe is a university student and would ordinarily be living a thousand miles away from us. But the pandemic brought him home, and, in the midst of the crisis, this time with him has felt precious. We’ve done a lot of Netflix, but the best times have been our evenings playing Scrabble. With two writers for parents, Joe has steep competition, but this young board-game shark has triumphed mercilessly over Mom and Dad every time. These humiliations make me feel happy and very lucky, for we have managed to stay healthy, safe, and together.
4. I found my younger self. In a weird parallel with my novel’s plot, I have been bumping into my younger self as I use this lockdown time to clean and organize my papers. I have found photos, letters, old journals. I unearthed an essay titled “The Burden of Having Potential,” in which my 14-year-old self bemoaned my family’s ambitious professional plans for me. I declared that I would rather have a “low-key” existence as a writer living in the Colorado Rockies. This really made me laugh, as I’ve had to expend unceasing effort to become a writer, and there’s nothing low-key about it! I don’t live in the Rockies, but I do live among the mountains of western Massachusetts (though by Colorado standards, our highest peaks would be considered minor foothills). As I’ve perused these mementos, I have decided that I adore my younger self, even if she embarrasses me enormously at times. I’ve carefully filed the papers away in new plastic file boxes, to be enjoyed again by an even older self, when the entirely too-eventful year of 2020 will be gratefully consigned to the dusty storage bin of history.