What Next? Lockdown on a Rainy Day

I long to be outdoors, though it is cold and rainy.  I made it as far as the stoop.

And now  I empathize with the friend who told me, “I’m an indoors person, so lockdown makes no difference.” 

Indoors?  We’re all indoors now.  But she confessed for the first time to being an indoors person the day I knocked at her door at  6 a.m.  We’d planned to take a bike ride in the country.  With great difficulty, I coaxed her out of her apartment.  On the way to the lake, we stopped at a tiny country church.  No idea what denomination, but I was enthralled by the service.  

  Less enthralled, she refused to ride on until she’d smoked a cigarette in the graveyard. “Because I’m an indoors person and I’m outdoors.”

Oddly, standing on the stoop under the awning today, I wanted to smoke a cigarette.   Perhaps I saw too many photos of Karl Ove Knausgaard smoking when I was reading My Struggle last week. 

Everything is boring on a rainy day when there’s nowhere to go except the convenience store.  So here are some things I’ve tried.  And I’m sure you’ve tried them, too.  What next?

A London policeman confronting a woman about sitting on a bench outside rather than exercising.

Want to watch a cabin fever video?   This strange video was filmed by a woman who was confronted by the London police for sitting on a park bench. They said she had to exercise if she were outdoors, and she said she was mentally exercising.  Now that’s cabin fever. 

Want to go to the movies? Sure, sit down in your living room and watch one.  Why is it not the same?  We have  treats (one chocolate egg each), and we enjoyed the comic film we picked,  Local Hero.  But the whole event, such as it was, seemed drab.  It’s rainy!  We want to go someplace besides Target! 

How about TV?  I’ve watched everything, including the excellent new season of Ozark, the bookstore comedy,  Black Books,  and the Modern Family finale… and now there’s nothing left.

Sew a mask?  I broke down and ordered one on Etsy. But if it becomes the fashion, I’ll host a sewing bee. And not virtual… it will have to be a circle of two, maybe three.  And somebody has to know how to sew.

Knit blankets for the Animal Shelter?  My own knitting is erratic, so I love the animal blankets you get when you adopt a pet.  I use an especially pretty one as a doily. Surely a little pet blanket would be easier to knit than the tea cozy I once made.

Write a dystopian coronavirus novel?   Dystopian novels are  banned at my house, because they seem too real nowadays.  But it will keep you busy if you’re imagining the worst.  Just open a notebook and write.  

Bake bread?   I used to picture myself as an Earth mother.  Alas, I don’t bake bread or read the Whole Earth Catalogue.   But last week I made chocolate chip cookies, which anyone can make.  And then you dole them out over the week–just don’t weigh yourself ever again..

Paint?  We painted two walls of the bedroom and then took a break.    Ladders, tarps, paint, rollers…  fun, fun, fun. It’s time to finish walls 3 and 4.

Board games? I wish we could go to Barnes and Noble and buy a new game.  Scrabble, Monopoly, Clue:  they’re exhausting.  We could memorize our dictionary, I guess, and improve our Scrabble.  

Transcendental meditation?  Kurt Vonnegut thought it a harmless sop for the middle class, though his wife and daughter loved it, and he admitted they were serene. What’s the harm?   Maybe it’s time for me to sit cross-legged and say a mantra.  I can make up my own mantra, as can any blogger or writer.

Hope you’re feeling well.  AND HOW ARE YOU PASSING THE TIME?  

On Reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Nonfiction: Transcendental Meditation & Politics

Years ago, after my husband helped his parents move into a condo, he brought home a boxed set of Vonnegut that had belonged to his siblings.  The girls had, rather touchingly, divided the books and inscribed their names, along with the dates of their graduation, on the flyleaf.   When I came across this set the other day, I intended to read  Breakfast of Champions, but the cover fell off, so so I read Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons instead.  (In case you want to know what the title means, it refers to concepts in his novel Cat’s Cradle.  My post is here.)

Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, published in 1974,  is a brilliant collection of essays, magazine pieces, and speeches. And I have to say, Vonnegut’s witty, charming, sometimes indignant and angry nonfiction may be his best work. Vonnegut always sees the larger picture, which is difficult for the rest of us to do.  He is also a moralist, but not in a way that interferes with the pleasure of reading. 

In my favorite essay, “Yes, We Have No Nirvana,” he manages to be both sympathetic and sarcastic about Transcendental Meditation.  His wife and eighteen-year-old daughter practiced it enthusiastically, so he investigated it for Esquire in 1968.   At the Maharishi’s  press conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Vonnegut finds the Maharishi likable, even adorable, but does not believe in the technique.  He notes its appeal to celebrities like Mia Farrow and the Beatles, and the astounding publicity and media attention. While Vonnegut was in Cambridge, Mia Farrow was initiated by the Maharishi in his hotel room; Vonnegut notes that his wife and daughter “had to make do with a teacher in the apartment of a Boston painter and jazz musician who meditates.”

Like Vonnegut, I was unwilling to pay money for a mantra, and some of my friends walked out of the lecture in disbelief when they learned they had to pay. According to  Vonnegut, who deems himself “too lazy” to  meditate, one must first attend boring lectures, be interviewed by the meditation teacher, and then bring gifts of fruit, flower, and a fee to the teacher to complete the process and get a mantra.

Vonnegut thinks it is harmless but  a sop for the middle class.  He writes, “This new religion (which-is-not-a-religion-but-a-technique) offers tremendous pleasure, opposes no institutions or attitudes, demands no  sacrifices or outward demonstrations of virtue, and is risk free.  It will sweep the world as the planet dies–as the planet is surely dying–of poisoned air and water.”

So much of the charm of this collection has to do with Vonnegut’s style and quirky criticism.  In “Excelsior!  We’re Going to the Moon.  Excelsior,” he expresses cynicism about the importance of  the moon landing and believes the money could be better spent on cleaning up “the smoke and the sewage and trash”  on Earth  and disposing of military weapons.  In “Why They Read Hesse,” he writes about the romantic appeal to the young of Hermann Hesse’s romantic novels, which became best-sellers  in the ’60s and ’70s. 

 Let me leave you with a quote from one of the best essays,  “In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself”(Harper’s Magazine). Vonnegut imagines the thoughts of visitor from another planet on  the American people in 1972.

“The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people do not acknowledge this.  They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.

“Both imaginary parties are bossed by Winners.  When Republicans battle Democrats, this much is certain:  Winners will win.

“The Democrats have been the larger party in the past–because their leaders have not been as openly contemptuous of Losers as the Republicans have.

“Loser can join imaginary parties.  Losers can vote.”

Really glad I read this book.  A great way to rediscover Vonnegut.