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Jacqueline Doyle

Thanks for asking how I am, Lesley, and for pointing me to this great site.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, our shelter-in-place started on March 17. Our grown son, who lives in Oakland and works as an environmental analyst in San Francisco, immediately came home to live with us in Castro Valley. And that’s been wonderful. We’re all working online (overnight, my husband and I became reluctant teachers of creative writing workshops never designed to be online). We cross paths at the breakfast table, wander in and out of the kitchen during the day, tuck into corners of our small house for snacks or reading breaks from work on our computers, touch base in the evenings for the weighty decision of what to eat, turn the kitchen upside down to cook, gather around the kitchen table for lively dinners. I don’t think we’ve had so many home-cooked meals in a row since our son’s childhood (he’s 31 now), and never so many elaborate ones. For a while, the weeks and weeks where I didn’t have the concentration to write or even read anything (beyond my students’ work), cooking and planning meals and helping my husband in his efforts to locate groceries and supplies and get them delivered was the most creative thing I did each day. I fleetingly wondered whether I’d missed the real point of life: family and food were the real point.

So far we have arranged regular deliveries from Instacart (Sprouts), Shipt (Safeway and Target), HelloFresh (ingredients for vegetarian meals, with recipes), Wild Alaskan (sustainably-caught salmon and other fish), Imperfect Produce, and our local indie bookseller, Books on B (not food but nourishment). UPS and FedEx trucks roar up and down our cul-de-sac. We leave the front gate on our grape-stake fence open all day so they can find our house. My husband and I close the gate after dinner when we take walks in the neighborhood, waving at neighbors we know and many we don’t know, momentarily brought close together, despite six feet of distance between us. Fruit trees are blooming, pollen dusts the air, mourning doves are nesting. It’s become warm enough to sit in our back yard and watch hummingbirds dart in and out of the overgrown garden beds. Spring unfolds, as if this were any other year.

Our tech-savvy son looked into our wifi difficulties this week (among other things, our Zoom meetings were getting interrupted, and for months our smart TV hadn’t supported Netflix streaming) and bought a Linksys mesh wifi that Best Buy delivered within a couple of days. While I was cursing Comcast, it turned out the thick walls in our tiny 1930s house were the problem; over the years, additional rooms had been added outside of exterior walls, interfering with adequate internet signals. (My husband and I could never have fixed this ourselves. What’s mesh wifi?)

For a while, before we started to flatten the curve, I regretted living in the culturally vibrant but heavily populated Bay Area. Now I feel lucky to be in a place where the three of us have good jobs that we can do online and easy access to amenities. We haven’t been using the abundant local eateries much, but for Mother’s Day we got food delivered from my favorite Burmese restaurant. Tonight we’re ordering from our favorite taqueria.

My students check in regularly with posts and photos in the “How Are You?” folders I set up on Blackboard, and I know that lots of them are struggling. They’re home schooling their kids while taking classes and working. Some are single parents. Many have either lost jobs or now work additional hours in low-paid “essential service” jobs. They’re in supermarkets and warehouses and restaurants and delivery jobs. The semester is ending this week. I’m proud of them for finishing their coursework. So far all of them are healthy.

Because of our ages and underlying health conditions that never seemed particularly serious until now, my husband and I are both in high-risk groups for COVID-19. We’re both prone to periods of despair anyway, so our son’s cheerful good sense has been wonderful. The state will be sheltering in place through May, and my husband and I plan to continue much longer, though California is taking tentative steps to start reopening. I don’t know about our son, who may want to return to Oakland and his friends. I worry about his BART commute into the city if he stops working online.

I think I’ll look back on this period of my life, if I survive to look back on it, as a time when our family was really close. Our home has become a sanctuary in very anxious times. We’re enjoying each other’s company. I’m finally reading again. And beginning to write again.

What have I been writing? I managed to complete revisions on an essay about race that I wanted to submit to a couple of university-affiliated literary journals before they closed up for the summer. My new work has been mostly short and mostly about death. One member of my San Francisco writing group called it “VERY bleak” (we’re still meeting through Skype), but in fact it’s been very cheering to write! Funny how that works.

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