Yesterday morning (like most mornings) I listened to The Daily, the podcast from the New York Times. It is only about 20 to 30 minutes and well worth the listen… always informative, sometimes alarming, and every so often, poignant and sweet enough to bring me to tears. Anyway, yesterday, the guest was Donald G. McNeil, Jr., the science reporter who has become the go-to guy on all things coronavirus. A few of us in the family like to call him Donny Downer because he is SO serious and extremely frank about the pandemic. You might even call him fearmongering if he wasn't so smart and measured. The first time I heard him was at the end of February, while driving home from visiting my youngest daughter at college in Sewanee, Tennessee. It was sunny and beautiful and we had had the best weekend, and here was this guy predicting doom and gloom and an international state of emergency while I was crossing the state line.
(Side note – are you like me when you can visualize exactly the stretch of highway or place you were when you first heard a person's voice? I used to associate this with songs only – the Eagles at whatever high school dance, or 'Tell It Like It Is' at an especially fun wedding – but now podcasts have joined the memory bank. I listened to Kate and Andy Spade's episode of 'How I Built This' when driving to Nashville for a trunk show, and now I think of them every time I am driving west on I-24. I listened to the Stonyfield Yogurt guy on the way back from that trip, so he's part of the association as well. And I can't hear David Sedaris's voice without thinking of his sweet, sad retelling of his family's beach house ("old fishermen don't die… they just conch out") – that one was shared with my daughter Daisy on our way home from one of my last visits to see my dad at his assisted living home. We are really in a podcast era, I suppose.)
So Donald was a downer that time, and said that the coronavirus would be similar to the Spanish flu. It would kill a lot of people. And not all of us will die, but we will all know someone who will die. He was personally stocking up on supplies, and recommended that we prepare ourselves with food and water and extra medicine in case things just STOPPED. I turned on music once he was done, enjoyed the sun and the drive alone, and that was that. But in the following months, I would tune in every time he appeared, because EVERYTHING HE SPOKE OF BECAME REAL. Downer or not, I trust Donald. So when he said yesterday that things will not "go back to normal" until at least a year from now… I believe him. Scary, but true – and probably wise for us to prepare ourselves accordingly.
But it's not just Donald I have been listening to. It is every interior designer and tastemaker showing up on Instagram Live, talking about feathering our nests and taking advantage of time at home to make our spaces and habits more beautiful. Is it just me or has everyone on Instagram become a talk show host? My favorites have been the ones from Martina Mondadori. Interesting and wonderful and truly time well spent to watch. We have just started carrying her beautiful magazine which is completely packed with beautiful interiors and details to inspire.
This is nothing new – I have been trying to do this since I pored through the monthly Martha Stewart Living magazines in the 90s, and then it was Domino, and then the amazing Cookie about life with kids (although by that time I had enough years with children under my belt to have written my own magazine.) I am grateful that during those years of 'making a home' and raising small kids, I knew how brief it would be. More than one older woman stopped me at the grocery store, with the little girls surrounding my cart, to grab my arm and warn me that "the days are long but the years are short!" They were right, and I knew it. But the shift inward during quarantine has helped us all recover a bit of that spirit. So although the news is grim, and the retail indicators are grim, I am trying not to be.
I have used the time I gained when my travel schedule came to a screeching halt to catch up, and do all the things I'd been meaning to. Cook, organize, read more, talk more, sit still more, think more. I have my own stores and a closet that is too full, but I got rid of all those things that were just taking up space. I know what I wear most often and what is worth keeping, and now I have a bit of room for the things I've been pining for. Some on sale, and some not. Because this time has not just about editing, but IMPROVING. (A motto of life during corona… we have gotten rid of some things we didn't know we didn't need.)
So I have been shopping. Not in big ways. In small, productive ways. My girls will text me – "three packages arrived today!" I stocked up on the things that I love from Uniqlo (they make the best seamless underwear.) I would have picked them up myself when I was supposed to be in NY for a pop up on Madison Ave… cancelled, of course, so I ordered online.
I bought pretty nightgowns for myself and my daughters, tired of seeing them in the mornings in the droopy, oversized, earth-tone t-shirts they wear to bed… and a new crisp set of pajamas for myself. I bought some new dishes I had been coveting, and passed along an old set to the newlyweds… and got a big laugh from my son-in-law when I said it was a belated part of Elizabeth's dowry. I have finally filled all my estate-sale candlesticks with cheery, bright-colored candles and put them in every room. They are a little kooky. I usually buy those at Flying Tiger in New York, and would have grabbed those on the canceled NY trip as well. But I think these are just as good. (When I first Googled 'colored candles' all I could find were 'spell candles' and I got a little scared… but not as scared as I did when I Googled 'what is a spell candle'…!) If you prefer tapers, these are even more of a bargain. I got sandals I have wanted for years, ever since learning that they are a more delicate version of the very first sandal shape K. Jacques ever made in the 1930s. And I got these mules (why am I buying so many shoes?) that may not be as practical as my other shoes, but because I love how feminine I feel walking around in them. I cannot resist the clacking sound!
So that has been my shopping list lately. I have been all over the place telling you what you need and what you may not need. But if you are anything like me, you are feeling generally all over the place during this strange time, when we are all missing so much. I stopped and hugged one of my girls this morning for longer than usual. I didn't realize how much I have missed my daily dose of normal human contact, even just with friends. I am a hugger and an arm toucher when I talk. That is gone. And of course there are far more important things gone, too. Jobs, school, community. I think we can find a tiny sense of control by finding things we love, seeing it arrive via the wonderful UPS driver, and enjoying the small happiness it gives you. I have always hated the term 'retail therapy' – I guess for me this is more carpe diem?
What I am trying to say is that you have to take joy where you can find it – to paraphrase The Handmaid's Tale, another thing I have been loving lately – and you don't always have to spend a lot of money to do that. We all know this, but constantly forget it. Today is the day. You don't know what tomorrow will bring. Hug the people you can, use your good silver, get a bag in a cheerful color, even if you're only going to take it to the grocery store. If you're truly homebound, maybe upgrade to a chic pair of driving mocs to pad around the house in – you could even go for the gold if you really need some cheering up – or spend a few dollars on some pretty candles for the table. At the risk of sounding like one of those ladies at the grocery store with their freezing hands… you should listen to Donald G. McNeil, Jr. and take this time seriously, but also live your life TODAY as beautifully, cheerfully, and wisely as you can.