Quarantine Life

7 Ramadan 1441

Quarantine life, which began for us March 15, 2020, has me thinking and doing all kinds of strange and interesting things, like rambling–as I will now proceed to do.

I am quarantined with my partner, who is a very introverted man of very few words, in our one-bedroom apartment. He has been waiting his whole life for this moment. He prefers working from home and already had a workspace in the living room pre-pandemic. On the other hand, on the spectrum of introversion and extroversion, I am an extrovert with introverted tendencies.

An ambivert, if you will.

During the first weeks of quarantined living, after our last grocery trip to Jackson Heights, I sought out social interactions on all my screens with people I identified as friends. I arranged Zoom Zikrs and watched a lot of Netflix. Sometimes on my own. Sometimes with my partner. Sometimes with my friends via Zoom or Netflix Party. I watched On My Block, Love is Blind, How to Be a Latin Lover, Unorthodox, Kim’s Convenience, Om Shanti Om, Man Like Mobeen, Married at First Sight, Love, Wedding, Repeat. Spirited Away. Moana. I don’t want to admit we watched Tiger King, but I’d be lying if I said we didn’t.

During the first week, I disinfected, cleaned, and organized. I discovered a bunch of costume jewelry I decided to wear again. I rearranged the furniture in our bedroom to make myself a workspace.

When I was satisfied with the rearrangement of space in which we would be spending significant amounts of time for God-knows how long, I took to Instagram Story cooking stuff with the stuff that I have. I learned that a lot of South Asian acquaintances in my social media life, for some reason, were surprised I even knew how to cook Bangladeshi food.

What else would I cook? Pasta?

I also learned it’s possible to still get petty on social media, and if folks haven’t dealt with their social media envy and resentment prior to the pandemic, it was being exacerbated and heightened while quarantined.

During the second week, I began reaching out to check in on people with whom I haven’t spoken for months. You know, in case we die? After leaving a voicemail for the fourth person–who responded late at night and the following day with a series of incoherent texts about how he feeds the homeless outside of the Starbucks he likes, what Islam says about how to treat distant relatives, and why ABCDs are a problem (I forgot people still use that term. Do people still say FOB, too?) to which I responded, here’s a link where you can get family counseling and therapy–I remembered the very good reasons for my lack of desire to speak with them.

So by the end of week two, I decided I will only interact with people I like while quarantined. It is a privilege that I have, and I will use it. I also found social interactions off-screen during necessary supply runs, which we have now been averaging at once every two weeks, to be somewhat exhilarating.

In quarantined living, going out is an event.

And although I am certain I did not tell my mother about my last grocery run, I did tell her about the first one, when stoopdweller-in-chief A.D. AKA Dominican Abdul Aleem, opened the door for me to let me in the building. He could not resist saying, “Look atchu ALL covered up. But you ALWAYS covered up, amiright *wink*?”

By the third week, I began teaching again. That gave me focus, stability, something to hold on to. Every class is a bright light. My students, in their little Zoom boxes, are so precious to me–even the ones who show up as phone numbers instead of faces or frozen with their mouth half open about to say something about the text. Teaching remains the most exciting moment of quarantine life.

This week, the sixth week of quarantine life, a student helped me choose my background image before beginning class. I was stuck between a colorful underwater forest from Meow Wolf and spring flowers I saw on trees last April in Santa Fe. She said that my spring flowers felt more appropriate, and we reminisced about the times we used to go outside to see flowers. At the beginning of another class, the students reminded each other that we were in the second to last week of the semester. They noted how it all feels so weird and anti-climactic. Also, one student pinned up a meme of Aziz Ansari as her background.

When class began, I showed my students a clip from an interview of Toni Morrison speaking about de-centering the white gaze. We began our class discussion of Song of Solomon with the passage on how Macon Dead Senior got his name, and Macon Dead Junior says about his father,

He should have let me teach him. Everything bad that ever happened to him happened because he couldn’t read. Got his name messed up because he couldn’t read (p. 53).

I asked my students what they thought of this statement and whether they agreed with him. Multiple students from each class immediately noted that Macon Dead, Jr. was missing in his analysis an acknowledgement of structural racism. Sure, being able to read might have offered him some advantages, but this was also a reflection of the son’s commitment to assimilating into a notion of middle class respectability. The students sharply observed that he blamed his father for being exploited and killed rather than the people and system that exploited and killed him.

I am a very proud teacher.

I then showed them a clip of Oprah’s reading of the Sermon of the Land, and we discussed a few more passages.

I ended class by creating breakout rooms and met with each group to give them their final exam assignment. I decided to combine two assignments I have given in the past to develop this one. Considering their faces and laughter (or at least the faces I could see and the laughter I could hear) when they heard their assigned subject and the characters they must include in the dialogue they must craft about that subject, they seemed excited.

After class, I attended another Zoom meeting.

After sitting in front of and speaking to a screen 4 hours straight, I found it easier to type my thoughts in the chat box than speak them. I also found it difficult to look directly at the screen. At some point during the meeting, a friend was trying to find the words—and aren’t we all struggling to find our words these days?—to identify what she was describing.  I offered in the Zoom chat that the term she was looking for was “White Fragility.”

At some point during the meeting, I texted emojis, and I was surprised that one of my most frequently used emojis is a panda bear. After texting a panda bear to the Asian-New Yorker, I thought—Am I being racist?

As we approach the end of the sixth week of quarantine life and the end of the first week of Ramadan, I confess I am feeling screen fatigue. My eyes ache. I can no longer hold all the voices that people my head, and I have strange thoughts.

Like last night, I found myself thinking how wonderful it would be to walk with reckless abandon over to my go-to bodega to get a chopped cheese sandwich for suhur.

I also found myself thinking maybe getting that laser hair removal handset that Facebook and Instagram incessantly advertises is not such a bad idea since God-knows-how-many ads assure such-and-such company’s reduced price is a once-in-a-lifetime deal and so what if there are delays in receiving my order from Australia due to COVID-19?

I did neither of those things, but the lack of will to take action didn’t stop me from thinking about it.

After weeks of interacting with people mostly on a screen, everything is beginning to look and feel the same. People are beginning to look and feel the same. At times, I’m not sure who I have texted, who I have emailed, who I have told another one of my stories to, or why I am asking in my sleep (as reported by my husband just this morning after suhur), “What is Broadway?”

All I know is that I am certain I did not tell my mother about my last grocery run.

#MaghribtoMaghrib

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