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Part of my social distancing and anxiety-calming process: Watercolors   

This week
For me, the past few days have been all about the thin line between panic and caution. Am I canceling this trip because I'm panicking unnecessarily? Or am I acting out of an abundance of caution and respect for the fact that I live in an interconnected community with people who are far more vulnerable than I am? I am trying to live on the side of caution.

I know many people around the world have been navigating this line for awhile. But this was the week coronavirus got real for me. The week I started to get phone calls from worried friends who both wanted to be calmed and needed to hear that their fears were not irrational. The week that "Just checking in" became the dominant theme of my text threads. The week that "flatten the curve" entered my vocabulary.

I felt the panic rising in myself when I went to the grocery store to get a few things for dinner—the way I would on any normal Thursday night. I was making minestrone and I needed an onion, maybe some squash, a can of kidney beans. I'd seen photos of the bare produce bins and empty shelves on Instagram, but seeing them in person, I felt it. The panic. That urge to grab whatever I could, fill my cart to the brim, head to the bunker and never look back. I made a small concession to this panic, in the form of a few extra cans of chickpeas. But mostly I fought it. As I walked to the car with my bag of groceries, I noticed one of my cuticles was bleeding. (I am an anxiety skin-picker.) Is this how I contract the virus and unwittingly pass it to someone vulnerable? I thought. Because my unfounded panic has created a literal opening?

For many people, both close to me and far away, the panic is founded. They stand to lose their jobs, their houses, maybe even their lives. And it's also not lost on me that, for some of them, this does not inspire panic in the same way—not because the viral threat isn't real, but because their everyday is full of threats. Every day is precarity.

My panic is cheap by comparison. I think the question for me, and others who are not directly threatened, is not only how to remain on the side of caution. It's how to live on the line between caution and courage. Not the courage to board an optional international flight or lick a door handle or something. But the courage to find ways to continue to show up for my community.

I'm reading
"Don't worry" is an act of selfishness. Blocking use of Medicaid money to fight this is an act of sheer cruelty. Social distancing works. How panic shopping happens. A South Korean church and coronavirus vitriol. The strange comfort of a plague-themed video gameA warning for the young and unafraid, and a guide for employers of domestic workers. "It feels like my generation has spent our childhood waiting. Waiting for the disasters to start, for the consequences of globalization to catch up with us, wealth inequality, sexism, racism, and climate change." What would happen if we responded to climate change the way we're responding to coronavirus? Ninety percent of people are biased against women. Mexican women strike to protest femicide. Say it again: Racism is a national security issue. The rise of stealth streetwear for the surveillance age. The perplexingly alienated women of recent American fiction. What fat patients need from doctors. On being part of a crew. A second life for flowers. Would you like some freshly cracked pepper?

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I’m looking & listening
Wash Your Lyrics. Photos of empty public spaces. This episode of Reply All, about a mysterious disappearing 90s radio hit, is as good as everyone says.

The group chat.

I endorse
Phoning a friend. I have had more phone conversations and FaceTime calls in the past week than I normally do, and I am loving it. Being physically separate from each other does not mean being disconnected.

Plugging in your phone on the opposite side of the room for a few hours at a time. I have become convinced that Twitter is the Fox News of my generation—nothing makes the panic rise faster in me than scrolling through it. And I've been trying to pay attention to how my body feels when I've been on Instagram for awhile.

Reading a book. Perhaps ordering one from an independent bookstore near you? Even better, make it a book with a March pub date—those authors have had their book tours canceled and can really use your support. I recommend Juli Delgado Lopera's Fiebre Tropical (fiction), Zan Romanoff's Look (YA fiction), Jordan Kisner's Thin Places (essays), Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's The Mountains Sing (fiction), and Cameron Esposito's Save Yourself (memoir).

Making one of Mark Bittman's pantry-centric beans and grains recipes. It's a lot easier to soak some legumes when you're working from home. 

Going outside. Maintaining social distance does not mean shutting yourself indoors. If you can, get out and about in your neighborhood or in a nearby park. This is a staple of my work-from-home routine—when I start to feel screen-sickness, I try to close my laptop and go for a stroll.

Finding a way to show up for people in your community. At least one way. Check on a neighbor. See what donations your local homeless-services provider is requesting. Order curbside pickup from a small business you want to support (many are offering this!). Get a flu shot.

Did I mention phoning a friend? Not texting, but calling. Seriously. Do it. Maybe right now, right this second?

The Classifieds

Author Christie Aschwanden & poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer are BFFS who drink wine & discuss creative process on the EMERGING FORM podcast.
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"Just realized that I can calibrate my level of anxiety by when I decide to open @annfriedman weekly and click all the tabs. Wed: chillll. Mon: shaping up to be busy week. Wknd: need pick-me-up. Fri, as soon as it hits inbox: 🚨🚨🚨" -Kristen Tate. We're right there with you.

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