I’m a failure at staying home.
I don’t mean I’m not at home and staying there. I’m social distancing faithfully, following the Dr. Amy Acton Plan for Public Safety and jerking my hands away from my face so regularly I appear to have a tic.
But when I compare my daily activities with those of other equally sequestered people, I look lazy, unimaginative and like a person who thinks creativity is coloring random pages in a coloring book instead of starting with the first picture and coloring straight through to the end.
I did that once.
I had a new ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ coloring book and decided it would be my masterwork. I’d begin with page one and color each drawing in turn, even the pictures that were mostly Bullwinkle and therefore boring brown. Also, my coloring would be perfect. I would be so, so careful. I would stay inside the lines and never wind up scribbling a huge, angry X over the page. The finished book would be a 9-year-old’s paean to order in a messy world.
Whether I completed this exercise I don’t remember. The thrill was in the attempt, which is why I’m feeling like such a failure now. Lacking a moose and squirrel coloring book and a dream, I’m as productive as one rabbit, as useful as a single bicycle pedal.
The internet keeps showing me all the baked goods friends are producing. As a person who once made all her own bread, as well as (on a single occasion) crackers, you’d think I’d be up to my ears in flour. But homemade bread has no preservatives, so bread-baking might as well be penicillin farming.
As for those crackers, I rolled them until my arms trembled, and they were still thicker than a ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ coloring book. Some things, like croissants and ketchup, are better not made at home.
Other people are performing for the internet. A British family produced its own version of “One More Day” from “Les Miserables,” and it’s been playing in my head ever since: “I had no football game today/How can we play when we are parted?” sing a boy in a soccer jersey and a woman in Ohio.
My husband and I should be producing video parodies. If I can’t sew face masks, offer online Mandarin classes or build a gazebo out of everyday items in our garage, I should be singing, “I had no Starbucks drink today/How can I function with this headache? I’d ordered tickets to a play/But now I’m watching all my friends bake ...”
Instead, I’m making grocery lists that look like a 1915 general-store inventory – cornmeal, potatoes, rice, molasses, everything but a cream separator and horehound candy – by the time I snap on my facemask, don my single-use gloves and show my face – well, part of my face – in public.
And I’m musing. A person does a lot of musing when the world is closed. I look out the window at my now-quiet road and think of quiet roads in Belgium and Botswana and Denmark and Argentina. When that becomes overwhelming, I look at the window glass and muse about getting out the paper towels and the spray cleaner and the ladder.
Then I muse about how, having done all that, I’d be seeing streaks and missed spots, and muse about birds instead. They’re nest-building in the tree outside our back door, and they’ve scattered sticks and twigs like winged litterbugs.
Do birds drop stuff accidentally or are they extremely picky? Maybe one bird keeps showing up with pieces of straw, and the bird’s mate says, “Seriously? Is this your first nest or what?” and then the straw falls on the hedge for me to pick up. I’d shake my fist at the tree, but it would be like shaking my fist at a virus.
Pointless, I muse.
Inevitably, I wind up at the same 1,000-piece puzzle I started when all this began, back at the dawn of time. I’d swear 2,000 pieces are scattered across the table even though the puzzle is more than half done. The pieces must belong to another puzzle because they certainly don’t belong to this one.
You’d think puzzle makers would be more careful, I muse.
So pass the days of COVID-19.
Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.