The Existential Covid-19 Sex Question

Things have been crazy in the world. It is not just the Trump fans who deny that Covid-19 exists (“I mean, it’s like chicken pox!”), the shortage of Chunky Monkey ice cream, the paucity of paper towels that are actually made of paper, the anti-vaxxers, the optimistic belief that Sweden’s death-defying-do-nothing Covid strategy has turned everything around  (Don’t believe everything you read), and the eternal Covid question,”Is this the end of sex?”

I do want to address the sex question. Because from my point of view, it is hilarious.

Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking, 2010

Take Carrie Fisher, one of my favorite actors and the author of a very good neglected novel, The Best Awful.  In the HBO documentary of her comedy act, “Wishful Drinking”(2010), she remarks that Star Wars ruined her life. At 55, Carrie was no longer a babe. People complained she was no longer hot. She did not resemble her 22-year-old self playing Princess Leia in the metal “slave” bikini. And yet, because George Lucas owned her image,  there are innumerable Princess Leia posters, dolls, and action figures.  She was constantly confronted with the aging question. She says (this is not an exact quote, but probably close):  “I admit, I go to comic book conventions when I’m lonely.” And at the convention she saw a Princess Leia sex doll.

She has had far worse traumas. When a male friend died in Carrie’s bed, she was shocked and horrified.  Everyone wanted to know if they’d been having sex. She says,  “No, he didn’t die in the saddle.”

And here’s the  line that stays with me. “I haven’t been naked in 20 years.”

Hilarious!  You think she’s just being funny–ha!  You’ll see. Once adorable, though never in Princess Leia’s league, I noticed 10 years ago the skin on my arms and legs was striated from the sun . The lines look like waves of surreal sand.  Sometimes I get lost in them for four or five minutes. And how about sagging breasts? Who wore a bra? Weight gain? Now if only I wanted to go jogging…

Oddly enough, as we age, there are still misunderstandings between the sexes.  A writer whose books I wrote about AT HIS REQUEST emailed me one day to say he was married. Me, too! But wait. Did he think I WAS FLIRTING instead of BOOK-MAD?

At the moment I am reading a biography, Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer by Carol Sklenicka.   Adams, an underrated novelist whose short stories appeared in The New Yorker and women’s magazines,  was gorgeous, brilliant, a Radcliffe graduate, sexy (one of her favorite words), and eloquent about women’s love affairs and sex lives. The quote I’m thinking of is from her first novel, Careless Love: “She was tired of screwing, she wanted to make love.”

Alice Adams

Déjà vu!  Really, in our thirties we all felt like this. I was one of a group of divorcees who still looked pretty good, but the quest for love seemed unobtainable. Although we mocked a silly, much-reviled article that claimed “single women over 40 are more likely to be killed by terrorism than to get married,” life was not easy.

There was no Tinder–that dating game must be humiliating! And none of us signed up for a dating service. We wearily dated men our friends knew, men whom they would never have considered dating.  I once went out with an odd little man who collected Pez dispensers–probably even a Princess Leia– but  had no books in his house.  None. Just Pez dispensers. And then he showed up at my apartment with a gift–wait for it–a toaster. I was so appalled that I actually took it out to the dumpster.

My conclusion: Covid-19 will not end sex. Nothing will, no matter what happens.  But I predict you will become fascinated and proud of the surreal lines on your arms.  It’s that, or plastic surgery!

Covid-19 Unmasked: We’re Really Talking about Climate Change

My new haul of notebooks (50 cents each).

Writing on paper has magical qualities.  Putting the pen to the page has the  preternatural ability to tell us who we are. My brain fuses feelings with thoughts and grief I’d rather not acknowledge.  Screens screen us; paper reveals.

Fall is the time to buy office supplies on sale, so I have written by hand frequently this month.  I bought some composition books (50 cents each).  I’m not writing a diary.  Yet I write about what I don’t want to think or talk about:  Covid-19.  And I recently scrawled a few notes on a  conversation with another Covid-obsessed friend.

“What will we do when we can’t meet outside?”

“Go inside and wear masks.”

“I don’t think this will end, do you?”

“Not in this lifetime. We’re lucky to have made it this far.”

“This isn’t so bad comparatively–if you stay home.”

“If it ends, it will be more climate change events.”

We were being bores, but the shadow of Covid-19 hangs over us. I want to be distracted, and then I find an article about midwestern hotspots, or read about new outbreaks in Italy.

So many factors underlie every conversation about the virus.  When we talk about Covid, we are really talking about climate change.  In the wake of deforestation and urban sprawl, the chance of viruses jumping from wild animals to human beings has increased.

And it’s not just viruses: scientists predict more terrifying weather events. Hurricanes, tornadoes, derechos (inland hurricanes), more floods, more wildfires, and extinction of species.  Did you read about the starving birds dropping dead from the sky in the Southwest?  Now I did cry about that, though in general I’m against crying.

People have not been at their best during the pandemic.  Don’t take me literally on human behavior, which I don’t pretend to understand, but human beings are unpredictable, sometimes helpful in emergencies, other times raging and violent.  We can agree on one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic:   people all over the world hate staying home.

What do we see in the future?  Perhaps more protests against lockdowns, masks, and vaccines, or more protests like the sympathetic Black Lives Matter movement, or unsympathetic events like the motorcycle rally in Sturgis.  Perhaps there will be even more connectivity to electronic devices–people need distractions.

Alas–and I know I’m not supposed to say this– gathering in crowds has the potential to spread the virus.  The truth is, people are in denial.  It only hits home when when large numbers are tested (as they have been at the universities–terrifying), or when someone you know gets sick.

And so we wash, we wear the masks.  Yet I worry about the isolation of people who gathered in libraries (now closed) for a quiet hour, attended yoga classes at community centers, or  took  continuing ed classes. Continuing ed is a regular Lonely Hearts Club Band.

And now I’ll go write something frivolous and bubbly to lighten the mood.  People used to call me effervescent.  Wow, that was a long time ago.   I doubt I’ll recover that quality–“not in this lifetime,” as my curmudgeonly friend and I like to say.

The Plague Notebook: Groceries, A Hit to Comedy, & What I’m Reading

The Mature People’s Shopping Hour, obviously snapped before masks were recommended.

Everybody’s got it.   The plague.  The virus.  Even Dr. Anthony Fauci is in self-quarantine.

I had the sniffles the other night, but then I always feel sick after going to the grocery store. In our masks, we feel like extras in a remake of  Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. There was no sanitizer to wipe down the cart, so my husband gave me one of his gloves.  It reminded me of the scene in Little Women, where Jo and Meg  each wear one clean glove and carry one stained glove at a dance.  (Jo had spilled lemonade on her gloves, if I remember correctly.)  We each wore one glove, but this was sanitation etiquette, not party manners.

I would rather shop during  “mature people’s hours,” 7-8 a.m., but Mr. Nemo thinks we’re not “mature” enough.  Also it’s too early in the morning.   I imagine it would dispel the general anxiety and paranoia of being in a crowd, though.  Most people during regular hours wear masks, but some do seem to be maskless and ill.  (Perhaps they don’t have anyone to shop for them.) And of course the “mature” are better at self-distancing than the young, who surmise (falsely) from the news that only old people with underlying health conditions will suffer and die.


N.B.  I don’t have the virus.  It’s allergy season.  Splendid!  

SO WHAT’S NEW ON THE BOOKISH FRONT?  I was so bored one afternoon that I made a book video (one minute, 46 seconds, and too long at that!). Oh, so that’s what I look like, I thought, curiously without mortification.  I can weather the most fantastic changes and not care, a gift from the Three Fates, or possibly the Muses.

What inspired me to make a video was the boredom of lockdown TV.  Comedy especially has taken a hit now that all the comedians are talking to each other from different rooms:  it’s like watching Hillary in 2016, trying desperately to connect.   But kudos to Parks and Recreation, which did a kind of virus-education fund-raiser–and ended up showing Leslie how to make a group video phone call.  Now that’s information we might actually need. 


In progress:  Gene Wolfe’s The Sword of the Lictor, the third in the award-winning Book of the New Sun quartet. Folio Society recently published a Limited Edition of this science fiction classic.  I have a paperback.

Jane Austen’s Sanditon.  Now that I’ve watched the last season of  Homeland (what will I do without Carrie?), I’m turning to the Masterpiece drama Sanditon.  I may already have read an old edition of Sanditon, finished by “Another Lady,” or perhaps that was Lady Susan!  Anyway, it was long ago.  But Jane Austen, finished or unfinished, is always a pleasure.

American Indian Stories, by Zitkala-Sa (1876-1936).  This collection of autobiographical stories and selected poetry of Zitkala-Sa, a member of the Yankton Dakota,  is beautifully-written and absorbing.  I am especially impressed with the account of her experiences at a missionary boarding school in Indiana, where well-meaning teachers proved to be racist.  Why have I never heard of her before?  This is one of the books in the excellent Modern Library Torchbearers series.

AND I HOPE SOON TO READ Love, Anger, Madness, a Haitian triptych by Marie Vieux-Chauvet.  According the the book jacket, “this stunning triptych of novellas vividly depicts families and artists struggling to survive in Haiti under terrifying government oppression. “

Stay home, stay safe, and ignore the politicians!