Journal of the Plague Year 2020: Keep Cooking and Singing

bolognese sauce
A damn fine bolognese sauce, worth cooking even on a day when it was 110 in the shade.

If you haven’t lost a loved one or died yourself, then the pandemic brings both consolations and miseries.

In my case, after about six months of soul-searching, I’d just accepted that I’d always thought of myself as a man. Since we have the technology, I thought, Fuck it — I’ve lived 51 years as woman. I’ll be damned if I’ll die as one. On January 31, I started taking testosterone and coming out to friends. In mid-February I caught a raging non-Covid flu, and spent several weeks out sick or working from home. By March 14, my state locked down, and for my company ordered all non-critical personnel to work from home. For several weeks my gender seemed trivial, even to me.

Of course, like every bride and graduating high school senior, I’m disappointed to be deprived of the public, social markers of transition. It seems silly to come out when I see few people face-to-face, and I can’t see bringing it up during a Zoom call. Most of my friends and coworkers know there’s an odd kick in my gallop; they’ll be unsurprised, and largely uninterested. That leaves the really tough conversations: Family, my larger circle of work acquaintance. There’s an almost painful anticlimax in screwing up your courage to make a public, exciting and terrifying life change, and then…. going into quarantine, and experiencing it in solitude.

I was going to say, the Ugly Duckling wakes up a lone swan, but I was considered to be a lovely woman, so it’s weirder than that. More Ovid than Stella Luna.

So, yeah. That’s a bummer. It’s one of many interrupted plans — of lively interest to me, but otherwise small. There’s real anguish there, but I keep trying to walk it off. There are days and weeks when I feel drained and grieved.

So I keep coming back to simple things that absorb my attention and give me pleasure: Cooking from scratch. Singing and dancing. Taking long walks in my neighborhood. Working around the house. Writing, of course.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself, and with everyone around me. This is hard. It’s okay to be tired and sad, and to sing the same songs again and again. I think back to when I was terribly sick and learned to walk again. I had an iron will; I had to learn tenderness and patience. Recovery requires both.

Chances are, you already know what comforts and strengthens you. Do those things, as much as you can. I know it’s hard if you’re working 16-hour days or have kids in the house, or if you’re unemployed and engaged in constant, frantic calculation to make ends meet. But you can’t work and worry all the time. When I was working 14-hour days on a flight line, I still found time to tell myself stories about elves. It was a silly, childish thing to do, but it gave me the strength to protect myself and my team, and to face the truth of my life.

Now, when I feel sad, I turn back to cooking. It’s simple, creative and satisfying. It’s cheap and healthy, and you have to clean and organize things before and afterwards. Plus, I can sing Johnny Cash while I do it.

Promise me you’ll cook today, or do whatever it is that helps you to connect body, mind and spirit. There are momentous questions to be answered — we’re all called upon to act now. But before you can act, you have to listen and see. So keep coming back to cooking and singing and dancing, and letting love rise up until it spills over.


J.A. Thompson

Confirmed Covid-19 cases in Arizona: 66,548

Current hospitalizations: 2,110

Deaths: 1,535

Recoveries: 8,389


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