Thursday, May 21, 2020

TIme in the Time of Covid-19 (McGee)

The other night I streamed The Encounter, an aural theater experience created by Simon McBurney and his Théâtre Complicité.  It is a marathon one-man play about the American photographer Loren McIntyre and his encounters with the Mayoruna people in the Amazon jungle.  It is a magnificent story about many things, but its central premise is that Time (with a capital T) is an illusion, and with the proper circumstances and rituals, Time can be bent and expanded to suit one's needs

This refraction of Time has been so evident to me in these Covid days. Being a night person, I prefer to sleep late, but now there’s a sense that there is little difference between sleeping and being awake, excepting for the voracious nightmares my subconsciousness cooks up to relieve my brain from its stressful days.

When I was still teaching, the routine of teaching by remote and Zoom meetings kept me somewhat tethered to time. But now that my duties to students have been unhinged, I feel submerged, pacing the floors of my rented home, too distracted to read anything but short essays, constantly gobbling up the terrible news nuggets of death tolls and dying children; of virus deniers who refuse to stay home and wear masks. This news diet is oppressive, but I cannot seem to shake it. It’s like that bag of potato chips on top of my refrigerator—I know I shouldn’t open it, or should only dole out a few chips, but in the end I tear it open with my teeth and devour its entire contents, hungry for more.

Some nights I fall asleep watching movies and wake up early sitting on my couch. Then I go back to bed and sleep until it’s time to walk the dog. What does it matter what time of day you sleep when you’re alone at home? It’s like hours spent lazing in bed with a lover all day, only now my companion is an abundance of time.

The days meld into each other, separated by rainfall or a surprise sunny afternoon. The strange terrifying highlight of the week is a trip to the grocery store; I tremble on the drive there, happy to be out, sucking air through my mask, racing up and down the aisles. I am terrified of the people around me, and I am unsettled that I feel terrified by them. I return to my car panting in anxiety, drive gratefully home, and remove my mask to gulp the air in my house, returning my heart to a somewhat normal pace. Home is a cocoon from which I am not ready to emerge.

The pliability of this Time is measured in days wearing the same clothing, days without showering, days without make up or jewelry or cologne. Days eating out of the cooking pan, or omitting vegetables because my stomach is fraught. Days waiting for the delivery person bringing me medicine, or cat litter, or my bi-weekly box of food.

One morning a dear friend delivered “Quarentreats” to my doorstep. I watched as he unfolded from his car, hardly recognizing him behind his mask. I waved and shouted “I love you” through my kitchen door, then abruptly dissolved into wracking sobs because I couldn’t simply hug him.

I have always seen myself as a courageous person, a person who faces fear and continues to travel, or learn a new language, or contemplate my inner demons. But this virus has me snookered. It is death made tangible. It is isolation as a defense mechanism. It pits me against everyone around me. It stretches out in an unending timeline of doubt and despair. I wish I had some kind of religious ritual to bend this Time, make it less oppressive, less fraught with fright. But the truth is that I don’t have the faith to believe in a ritual that will save us from this. Perhaps God really is a jealous and angry deity, and we deserve this pestilence for our sins. I don’t have the inclination to use this time to learn something new, or become a bigger person. 

All I want to do is wait and endure.
Beth McGee is a theater artist, professor of voice, owner of two cats and one tiny dog, and an urban wildlife enthusiast. A believer in ice cream for breakfast.


  1. Check out Ben and Jerry's newest ice cream, Chip Happens (potato chips and chocolate chips).

  2. Whoever you are, thank you for alerting me to this wondrous new ice cream!