At first it was murmurs, which very quickly turned into screams. Coronavirus, corona and eventually, COVID-19. My brain began to populate with new words and information that started to stack. I found out about the city of Wuhan in China, learned what a “wet market” was, a cruise ship cluster, a rising global travel advisory level, an illustration of a seemingly innocuous Koosh ball that was anything but. Among the many inspirational quotes that have been flooding all of my social feeds, this one from Paulo Coelho stood out, “Life has a way of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen at once.” The quote doesn’t fully resonate, but makes me realize how nothing happening and everything happening can actually happen simultaneously.
At risk of sounding like early McConaissance era character Rust Cohle from True Detective, waxing poetic about how “time is a flat circle” (I still don’t understand what it means but it did seem profound), I have to say that living and working in San Francisco — for a media company nonetheless — in the wake of the shelter-in-place ordinance has made me question the concept of reality unlike ever before. The constant stream of news from infinite sources overwhelms me, I’m pulled in at least ten directions at once, posting, reading, blogging, doing so much, yet I’m completely inert. I’m hopeful, fascinated, worried, uplifted, electrified, bored, turned off, and desperate within the span of a couple hours. It hasn’t even been a week and all the days are bleeding together. Right now it’s Friday afternoon, but do weekends even matter anymore?
Early in March, the Sunday after all the big tech companies made their employees work from home, my friends and I stayed in one of the idyllic Steep Ravine cabins on the coast of Mount Tamalpais State Park. A couple days before, a second cruise ship cluster was announced. It was another Princess behemoth, this time right outside San Francisco. We dug up hot springs in the sand on the north side of the beach, barbecued for dinner and told ghost stories before going to bed while the vessel we jokingly referred to as the Coronaship hovered on the horizon, easily recognizable by its multiple tiers of lights illuminating an otherwise dark ocean. It was scheduled to dock in Oakland the next morning. We woke and showered and went to work unaware of how drastically our lives would change by week’s end.
By Thursday I was working from home, America’s dad Tom Hanks was hospitalized with coronavirus, the NBA was cancelled. I also knew that I had to wash my hands for the length of two “Happy Birthdays” or one chorus of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” (my preferred prevention method), had learned how many feet qualified as “social distancing” and started seeing videos of barren store shelves and brawls over toilet paper. Initially I was calm, and chose to immerse myself in the zeitgeist by watching pandemic movies. I started off with the classics, Outbreak and Contagion. Then moved onto Train to Busan which pulls off the unprecedented feat of being a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking zombie movie.
The amount of cases in counties throughout the Bay Area continued to rise over the weekend. Gyms said that they’d be closing, bars and music venues were going to be closing too. Word of schools not returning to session until fall circulated. On Monday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed officially announced the shelter-in-place ordinance for six local counties. Emotional roulette was starting to take hold.
Requiring group fitness for motivation, the thought of losing my near-daily dose of Barry’s Bootcamp (I’m embarrassed to admit) was crushing. So I decided to take my own advice and downloaded a free workout app and get some exercise. I’m spoiled, because doing high knees alone inside my room sans flattering red lighting, guided by a man on my laptop who suspiciously never seems to break a sweat during the 7 minute workout, and hearing my pants over the Black Eyed Peas, was a humbling experience. Even more humbling perhaps was noticing myself getting doughier, seeing the evolution of my coronabod, and realizing that the math — three 7 minute workouts, 22 hours of laying, and as many trips to the kitchen — wasn’t on my side.
There have been glimmers of hope. I “went” to a “party” this week. Friends from New York, Portland, Tokyo and Los Angeles were all there. We drew pictures, played trivia, cheersed with our glasses of wine held up to laptop screens and sang “Happy Birthday” (out loud while not washing our hands.) The party lasted three hours and I lived through my first video app call-induced hangover. The first of many? Another group of friends and I started a chat and are planning to have a talent show when we emerge out of our homes, like phoenixes rising from the ashes. I downloaded TikTok and talked about starting to practice dances with my roommate, but so far I’ve only been watching the quarantined NBA players do theirs — God, they’re so good.
That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of despair. At a press conference on Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom said that as of midnight the entire state of California would be under the shelter-in-place ordinance. My parents are 400 miles away in Southern California and my boyfriend is out of the state, uncertain of when he’ll be back. I have friends who have already lost their jobs, and know that more are at risk of having the same thing happen. There’s been a lot of staring at walls. Moments of plopping face-down on my bed, which I drag myself out of every morning only to move mere feet away onto the couch, happen throughout the day.
One of the brightest parts of this experience has been seeing Marin’s community of restaurants and small businesses come together and support each other. I, along with my colleagues, feel an obligation to spread their messages and bolster them however we can, so they can hopefully weather this novel storm and still be around once it’s over. The other thing keeping me afloat is the feeling of camaraderie with my Chicago co-workers as we scramble to keep up with developments and think of ways to help on our daily Brady Bunch Zoom calls. Our timelines have been eerily similar — today the state of Illinois has followed California and is also sheltering-in-place.
Everyone says to take things a day at a time, but again, the meaning of a day has lost a lot of meaning.
This article originally appeared on marinmagazine.com.
Kasia Pawlowska loves words. A native of Poland, Kasia moved to the States when she was seven. The San Francisco State University creative writing graduate went on to write for publications like the San Francisco Bay Guardian and KQED Arts among others prior to joining the Marin Magazine staff. Topics Kasia has covered include travel, trends, mushroom hunting, an award-winning series on social media addiction, and loads of other random things. When she’s not busy blogging or researching and writing articles, she’s either at home writing postcards and reading or going to shows. Recently, Kasia has been trying to branch out and diversify, ie: use different emojis. Her quest for the perfect chip is a never-ending endeavor.