Impotence

Before the schools were closed, my students were reading an article out loud, and the word impotence came up.  Of course, they giggled once they realized what the word was.  I work with adults in jail, and they take their laughs where they can get it.  I explained the bigger meaning of the word beyond having a “broke dick” as one so eloquently put it.  The word seemed to speak to them as I let them practice the feel of it in sentences.  Being locked in has an extreme level of impotence when it comes to interacting with one’s own life.  I haven’t seen my students in person in weeks.  I went to the jail the other day after getting special permission to drop off homework.  The jail had me wear the mask and gloves they provided.  They took my temperature by scanning my forehead.  I had to hold my bangs back for the thermometer to work.  With my bangs down, my temp read that I was dead.  This is where we live now, is all I could think.  I didn’t get to see any of my students.  My coworker and I made packets, and I hand wrote notes to each of my students.  We left them outside their sealed pod doors. 

Impotence feels like the word of the moment.  By doing the right thing, which in my option should have started way earlier and more widespread, you feel powerless.  My student’s voice using impotence to describe the feeling of helplessness to care for his kids while incarcerated was stuck inside my head while one of my cousins was in the hospital for a week on a ventilator, and his wife was home alone trying to recover from COVID-19.  I live in New York, where you can’t miss what’s happening with every breath, conversation, and interaction.  They live in Virginia and too far away for me to be useful.  I communicated with them every day and sent updates to my family, but I couldn’t do much beyond that without making the situation worse.  It was gut-wrenching to know I couldn’t visit my cousin in the hospital if these were his last breathes.  I sent texts, and I worried.  But mostly I felt frozen inside my house.

I’m too familiar with this feeling of being powerless and locked inside.  For the last few years of my illness, I had no energy, and leaving the house, except to go to work, was too much.  I worked fulltime, went to doctors’ appointments, and slept through a lot of Netflix, that was it.  Right now, I’m working from home (which is an excellent fit for me).  I’m also taking a course on grant writing that I signed up for months ago, I’m doing art, I have a routine of sterilizing the house since my husband is an essential worker and around people all day long, and I try to write.  I’m not sick, but being at home all the time and the feeling of powerlessness over the larger situation has shifted me into my illness muscle memory.  Each day I fight the downshift into hibernation mode and keep myself moving through a workday routine and getting outside for walks.  Where I’m struggling most is writing.  I have to keep reminding myself to write. 

I know I’m not alone in this, which is kinda comforting.  Lisa Cooper Ellison wrote an essay titled Writing From The Bottom Rung: How To Sustain Your Creativity During A Pandemic published on www.janefriedman.com.  In it, she lays out steps to make sure you are taken care of first, then how to baby step your way to creativity.  The writers I see reposting the essay are also sharing their struggles to stay positive and create at this moment in time.  It seems as if hearing that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined during the plague should be encouraging, but it’s mostly intimidating.  

I want to embrace being home as a powerful act instead of a feeling of impotence.  I especially don’t want to lose my voice during this process.  What I want more than anything is for this social and financial devastation to end.  For my friends and family who aren’t working right now, I worry about how much longer they can hold on.  I worry about more friends and family falling ill, and I can’t do anything to help.  Or worse, my husband becoming ill while he is working to help scared customers stay stocked with food.  I’m sad because of the messages from friends who have lost family members to COVIC, there have beentoo many such messages in the past 24 hours.  It’s tough not to feel frozen in place.  Impotent inside my head. 

But then I look at my neighbors.  They’re talking to each other over the fences and checking in with each other.  I’ve made some art and given it to them as gifts.  One was an iris for the director of my county health department.  I delivered it to her in her driveway last Friday, and she sobbed.  I wanted to let her department know I know how hard they’re working, and I appreciated it.  She told me about the threats and anger she has been receiving over making the tough calls to close things for our safety. I mostly listened and let her cry.  I couldn’t hug her.  After that, a neighbor left fresh eggs from his chickens on my steps.  My mom sewed masks for us.  I have friends who are encouraging me, I’m not sure I’m offering much in return, but I appreciate them.  A friend hand cut a beautiful card for me.  Others send me silly videos and memes.  My writing group is using electronic methods so we can still meet and support each other in achieving our goals.  We can take action from inside our homes and from our yards.  This is how we are potent in our new normal.  This is where we live now.

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