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Emails to my Therapist

Surprising Contentment + Free-Floating Sadness

Dear Nicholas,  I’m surprised to find how satisfied I am by my quarantine routine: work/weed/eat/read and, of course, hang out with Bob. I’m also taken by surprise by each upwelling of free-floating sadness.

Roses, summer dusk

Certainly it’s no surprise to be sad over the world-wide ravages of the virus. I’m assuming that’s what saddens me. How could it not?

Why Free-Floating?

Yet I don’t feel the roots of the sadness, the connections of the feeling to anything in particular. I can’t quite take in the reality of more than 12,000 dead in New York, more than 30,000 in the country.

I feel more directly the stress on a hairdresser friend who hasn’t been able to do any work for … how many weeks is it now? I’ve lost track.

I have it as easy as anyone could in these circumstances. I can work at home. And I’m out in the country, not in a high-rise, so I can play outside. Messing with plants is enormously soothing and satisfying. So is work, both on my book-in-progress  and on reading/critiquing other writers’ manuscripts.

A weed I let live

No Urgent Need for the Highway

When I first took up with Bob (38 years ago!), I couldn’t go two days without driving somewhere just to see some pavement and traffic. That has sure changed.  We have a paradoxically nice routine here in these recent days of global upset.

One year’s entire tomato crop

For me, the awareness of the outside world arrives, not so much as the  jab of new numbers and pictures, but as a cloud that descends and then passes on. Doesn’t come while I’m working, but in my leisure hours–and I’m usually keeping to my usual work-on-weekdays schedule, so it’s mainly on weekends.

A mushroom that popped up next to our driveway, utensils to indicate scale

The Passing Cloud

What I do when the cloud comes over– I weed. I pondered this note while I was outside filling a pail with wildly invasive bamboo grass, a feathery little item that makes kudzu look timid. Getting rid of some of it gives a feel of progress. I came inside ostensibly for some other reason, but really to write this even though I’m missing being out there on a gorgeous day. And, yes, writing it down is helping to make the heavy cloud lighter.

Garden shed, no longer extant

My other response to the cloud is nodding off. Pandemics are tiring.

Given what’s going on, I’d probably feel bad if I didn’t feel bad some of the time. Bad as in guilty. So much suffering and loss happening out there in the distance.

Previous Lockup

I do have some experience of quarantine, as I’ve written here before. It was called curfew when I first was part of a lockdown, years ago in India. Riots broke out in the city where I was doing research for my novel Sister India and a city of a million people was confined for all but a few hours of what turned out to be two weeks. That seems short now but at the time I feared it would go on for my whole three-month stay.

Last winter’s dinner for the voles. One stem left standing.

Like most of us now, I missed the experience of world war. So this pan-tragic experience, the whole world under siege, is new to me. It keeps bringing to mind the future of global warming, which seems to me a far greater threat.

Clematis, mock orange, honeysuckle

Innocence Lost

The knowledge that things can go wrong for the planet is the ultimate loss of innocence. I’ve long felt that loss of innocence is not at the first sexual experience, but instead the first experience of something important going irrevocably wrong. This pandemic is a reminder that life on the planet could go irrevocably wrong.

And yet I’m happy most of the time. Doesn’t do any good not to be.

Wishing you health and happiness,


Thought I’d finished this and then just now attended a small online version of my 50th college reunion. What had been planned for this weekend became instead a dozen old friends on Zoom, one of them I hadn’t seen since we graduated. Our conversation felt as normal and nice as it did fifty years ago in the dorm cafeteria. I think we’ll do it again. So: a new tradition and another quarantine surprise….




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  • April 19, 2020 at 6:21 pm Reply

    Love the columbine. I share your general sadness….not because I know anyone personally who has died from Corona….but sadness for the loss of our way of life and the concern that we may never get it back. I think our lives have changed forever, which is really unthinkable. It is not totally a bad thing to change our habits (from bad to good ones) but it is concerning. Jim just learned that a classmate of his, from the first grade through graduation, has died of covid-19. He lived near the epicenter of the virus in NY. He is losing nearly all of his former classmates, and it is hard to get used to.

    • Peggy Payne
      April 19, 2020 at 6:34 pm Reply

      I’m sorry about Jim’s friend, kenju, all his friends. This is such a hard thing. I do have some optimism that we’ll get back to something like our old life, but a huge percentage of the nation will be so damaged financially. Still I’m going to stay locked-down for a while– in no rush to venture out and take the chance. I’m curious to see how things go in Sweden where they’ve been a lot looser in reaction.

  • Mari
    April 19, 2020 at 8:11 pm Reply

    I think this sadness is grief. Grief for lots of things what is lost and the loss still to come. Grief is tiring and comes in waves. This is all a lot to work through

    • Peggy Payne
      April 19, 2020 at 8:15 pm Reply

      Yes, grief, Mari. I agree. And then I keep telling myself how easy I’m having it. And how none of us — other than those who have lost loved ones–knows for sure what is lost. I’m working on a wait-and-see attitude. And weeding….

  • Robert Braxton
    April 19, 2020 at 8:22 pm Reply

    Spouse has hairdresser (older) who had just returned from some surgery (foot) and then this, so huband with wife conspired to continue paying the $55 per – during our lockdown / hunker-down as if the cuts ans such were continuing. Of course, this is but one Customer to my knowledge.

    • Peggy Payne
      April 19, 2020 at 9:56 pm Reply

      That is good of you and spouse, Bob, if I understand correctly, and I think I do.

  • April 19, 2020 at 11:09 pm Reply

    Hi, Peg.
    Glad to hear you and Bob are doing well. Archie and I are also sequestered in a kind of paradise, which feels both normal and extremely strange. And yes, oddly pooped much of the time, ready for pajamas at 8 pm. Thank God for weeds. We have plenty to keep us occupied! xoxoxoxoxo Dorrie

    • Peggy Payne
      April 19, 2020 at 11:36 pm Reply

      Dorrie! Your garden is truly a paradise. And I’m glad you’re both doing well. “Oddly pooped” describes it well. I’ve been sleeping a bit late myself, with no self-recriminations. Xs and Os to you! Good to hear from you. I hope you’re still doing that woodland art.

    • April 20, 2020 at 3:23 am Reply

      Great to hear from/about you two, Dorrie – long time no see – be well and safe, bob

  • April 20, 2020 at 2:53 am Reply

    Love your photos and thoughts as we move through this odd for us time. I’m not as affected as many are, as we too live in the country and I can wander all over our property with no chance of coming near anyone, and I love being at home so can’t really say I feel too badly about being here for the duration. I do have periods of feeling like the world is changed, a sort of surreal sadness provoked by reading numbers and seeing the tallies rise, but surreal because it hasn’t really touched me personally yet. I’m having very strange dreams, and while productive in the gardens, and with various chores and projects, I am not getting much writing work done. I worry for the world but also read things that make it seem the planet itself is doing better for our staying at home in such numbers. I hope we can learn from this and create some lasting new habits that are good for all of us and for the earth too. Very glad to know you and Bob are okay and hope we all stay healthy through this time! Hugs to you both!

    • Peggy Payne
      April 20, 2020 at 2:02 pm Reply

      Billie, So good to hear from you. I’m glad y’all are doing well. Strange dreams here, too. Outdoors I feel I’m hearing more birds, but that makes no sense to me. Do your horses sense a change in the world?

  • April 20, 2020 at 3:32 am Reply

    to Peggy, Another strong post – reading it, then seeing our Columbines I felt immediately choked up and teary. Out of no where, but surely associated with our decades history together and the threats and losses so widely suffered. And again a fit ot damp eyes and a spontaneous audible sound of deep feeling and surprise. I love you hugely and want to stay close together as long as life allows.

    • Peggy Payne
      April 20, 2020 at 1:59 pm Reply

      Ever closer, Bob.

  • April 20, 2020 at 2:07 pm Reply

    Hello to Bob! And I’m not seeing any change in the horses or other animals, except that they all seem happy we’re here even more than usual. I have noticed the world is quieter, and the birds seem louder here as well! We’ve had a whippoorwill singing in the dogwood tree every night so loudly we can hear through closed door. I read last week that geologists are seeing a quieting of seismic activity on the planet that coincides with this pandemic. Along with the decrease in air pollution and other man-made effects, I am marveling that it looks like the earth herself quiets as we do. Scary times, fascinating times.

    • Peggy Payne
      April 20, 2020 at 2:15 pm Reply

      Bob says hello back to you. Glad to know the busy birds aren’t simply my imagination. Billie, you’re the first I’ve heard call these times fascinating. I will move toward adopting this point of view.

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