• Lauren Sauer

Can it be true? No, sir or ma'am, there isn't a smudge on your screen and it's not Opposite Day: I have actually discovered some good things about quarantine. Granted, none of these good things trump, say, leaving your house and seeing your friends, but without the silver linings (though said linings may be tarnished silver and razor thin), we lose our will to see this thing through with our best behaviors and intentions. So, yes, here are some good things about an otherwise inarguably shitty situation.

1) I have made a healthy green smoothie every single day. I could harp on the fact that this means I have also washed my blender every single day, but we're trying to stay positive here, so the good news is I am consuming so much spinach I'm putting Popeye to shame.

2) I have started making my bed regularly. Y'know how every time you change your sheets you make your bed up all nice and you think to yourself, "Wow, this is the start of a new me, I'm going to do this every day" and then the next morning your comforter resembles a giant discarded piece of gum? Normally, same. But something has come over me lately, and taking the five minutes in the morning has added a little somethin'-somethin' to my morning routine.

Maybe it's the jump start on productivity. Maybe it's the fact that my room looks nice every time I pass it on the way to the bathroom. Maybe it's knowing that when it's time to finally discard the decorative throw pillows and crawl under the covers, it feels like I've had a full day and deserve to tuck myself into a sheet burrito.

When your apartment is your bedroom/bathroom/office/gym/bar/restaurant, I find it helpful to try, at least, and keep the bedroom to what it is. I don't find myself hanging out in there much during the day, and having a made bed helps. This whole section has been so deeply unrelatable to my grandfather, who not only makes the bed every morning, but is also dressed in a nice shirt, slacks, a belt, shoes, and socks every day by 9 a.m.

3) A book I've had preordered since 2018 finally came out, and with all this extra time, I was able to read it carefully and enjoy it down to the punctuation.

4) I bought a cast iron skillet and have successfully not only roasted a whole chicken, but made soup with its remains. And not once, but twice! Nothing makes you feel more domestically gifted than homemade chicken stock.

5) Going to Target––a fun form of escapism in my previous life––is now reserved solely for essential shopping trips. Yes, if you were wondering, wine and Velveeta shells and cheese are essential. The good news is, though, I've managed to not even slow my cart down to a dawdle when passing by the clothing and knick-knack sections. I completely pass over these spending hotspots and remain in the boring, practical, grown-up areas of the store. This, genuinely, is a huge win for my wallet.

6) Treats feel more special, because they have to be. Last week, I had the idea to get soft serve ice cream with my mom. In a time pre-COVID, this might be a total spur-of-the-moment idea that over the warmer months finds its way into normal routine. But now, cold confections require advance planning. Something about waiting literal days makes the anticipation of a small cone feel akin to Christmas morning. So yes, placing a curbside pickup order from Dairy Queen and having a masked man hand you soft serve at a respectable arm's length does feel quite bizarre, but finally scratching that premeditated itch is sweet relief. I don't think I've ever seen rainbow sprinkles so vibrant.

7) I haven't had that gut-churning feeling of sitting in traffic watching the minutes tick by in months. You know the one: Anxiously huffing as your GPS's estimated time of arrival gets later and later, while your appointment, shift, or meeting start time creeps up on you. Now the roads are clear as can be, and even if they weren't it's like, Hey, where do I have to be? I'm just going to wait in a line to get into the grocery store, and then after that I just have to be home at a reasonable hour so I can start drinking in my pajamas.

8) I look forward to podcasts, TV shows, and other regularly scheduled content I like now more than ever before. Nothing like reading the phrase "New episode available!" to get this little sheltered heart a-fluttering. Plus, it's a good way to keep track of what day it is.

9) My normal form of exercise (spin classes far too many times per week) are cancelled indefinitely, which means I've been taking virtual HIIT cardio classes and going for walks. While I would much prefer dancing on a stationary bike with my friends, saving money and learning how to do a good burpee aren't awful consolation prizes.

10) As cheesy as it sounds, I often find myself in Ferris Bueller-esque moments, lamenting, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Of course I miss my old life. I miss my friends. I miss my job. I miss the ritual of going to work out on a Sunday morning and stopping for an overpriced coffee on the way home. I miss going shopping for fun and standing too close to strangers in sweaty concert halls. But in this new life I have, I've been able to slow down and notice things I never had before. I notice how my cat moves through my tiny apartment, chasing the sunshine and capitalizing on the warmest places to sleep. I notice the magnolia buds on the tree outside my window that unfurl a bit more each day. I notice how diligently the underpaid cashiers churn through customers while still maintaining kind eyes.

Don't get me wrong, I hate this. I hate that a virus is political. I hate that adults can't agree on what counts as common decency. I hate that I haven't eaten basketfuls of salt-dredged tortilla chips while gossiping on a restaurant patio. But without good things – without training our eyes to see the obscured positives – we lose our will to make this all worth it.

  • Lauren Sauer

Think back to your first music memories. The songs you first heard in the backseat of your parents' car or blasting in the kitchen. Recall watching your mom's excited expression in the rearview mirror or the way your dad would sift through vinyl. Think about the music videos and the chord progressions and the dorky dance moves reserved for carpeted living rooms. Remember the rhythmic drumming on steering wheels and remember when you first learned the words, whether or not you knew what they all meant. Those songs––those memories––were chosen for you. Well, maybe not for you specifically, but they were the songs that just happened to be played when you were around. You had no real say in the matter; because you were little and you were always under someone's watchful eye, you didn't yet pick the music. But odds are you still listen to it sometimes. Maybe because it's nostalgic, or maybe it's because you think it's good. Either way, it was the first sonic mark made on you, and whether you like it or not that's part of who you are now.

I think maybe music played a larger role in my upbringing than in other kids'. I of course have some memories of my parents watching TV, but for the most part I remember being raised on music as the background noise of choice. My parents met at a live music bar, and going to shows and listening to tunes was predominantly what they had in common. And, like, no offense if your parents raised you on Journey or Bon Jovi or synth-y top 40, but mine have always had cool, eclectic taste in music. I've said it my whole life: If my mom or dad thought a song was good, that meant it probably objectively was. And I'm sure every kid says that about their parents, but I really, really mean it. The downside of this is before I started to build out my own music library, I didn't have much of a clue when it came to what other kids were listening to. Of course now I know Christina and Nelly's hits and have the basic "Bye, Bye, Bye" choreography down, but at the height of their popularity I was somewhat aware at best. When all the other little girls in my class where begging their parents for that poster of Britney Spears (you know the one, the "Oops...I Did It Again!" album cover with the gold dangly things framing her face), I was begging mine to put me in violin lessons so I could be like Martie from the Dixie Chicks.

Okay, Lauren, way to bury the lede. I think that's reason #57346 why you're not actively using your journalism degree. That and the fact that you can't stay on-topic. Okay! ANYWAY! The Dixie Chicks are such a huge part of my first musical memories. I couldn't have been older than four or five when "Cowboy, Take Me Away" was first climbing the charts, and when I tell you I knew every word to that song, I mean I would sing it with my entire chest. I'll never forget the first time my dad told me to stop playing with my Barbie dolls for just a second so I could watch the music video, and all three-and-a-half feet of me felt overwhelmed with euphoria. Y'know that feeling when you first hear a song or watch a movie or consume some piece of media that seems to fit perfectly into your identity, as if it always should've been there? It was that, but because I was five I couldn't properly articulate the feeling. I just knew I saw three self-assured, talented women and I wanted to be just like them.

I didn't know much about the accolades or alignments of The Dixie Chicks as I got older, I just knew I liked their music. I knew my dad played their CDs in the car, and on Sunday mornings the CMT Countdown would sometimes play their music videos. I knew I liked how strong Natalie Maines's voice sounded, and I liked how all the boys in their band stayed a respectful distance behind the three Chicks when they performed on stage. I didn't know what it meant to be anti-war, and I didn't know what it meant to disagree with the president. I certainly didn't know why The Dixie Chicks weren't making music for a few years, and when they finally resurfaced I didn't know what "Not Ready To Make Nice" was about, but God they sounded angry. I was unaware of the Grammys and the controversies and the all-but-official divorce from country music, but the whole time I was subconsciously taking it in. And as I got older, I started putting the songs on myself. Sure, I enjoyed when my dad played the CDs in the garage, and I was over the moon when he took me to their concert. But there's someone wholly different about choosing the records for yourself. As my taste in music became influenced by The Disney Channel and the songs my friends liked, it meant more and more when the track wheel on my iPod mini scrolled over to The Dixie Chicks' discography. And when I listened to them in a car I was driving. And when I sang the songs in my head while mentally walking memory lane in the office.

I think it's improbable––impossible, even––to say the woman I am now isn't influenced by The Dixie Chicks. I know it's maybe too simple to pick a single strand of our media consumption and label it as The Reason We Are This Way, but I think it's also too dismissive to ignore the impact their songs had on me. You can't let a little girl listen to the lyrics, "She needs wide open spaces, room to make the big mistakes," and then try to tell her she can't do anything she sets her mind to. It's unimaginable to let a young woman hear, "I'm not ready to make nice, I'm not ready to back down, I'm still mad as hell and I don't have time to go 'round and 'round and 'round," and then attempt to shut her up. I attribute so many things and so many role models to the person I am now (whether you like her or not!), but to ignore The Dixie Chicks would be to ignore some of the first feminist messaging I ever received.

So now here we are in 2020. My taste in music sits on the foundation of what my parents listen to, sure, but it's also entirely its own thing. I have albums memorized that my mom and dad have never heard one note of. Lyrics they wouldn't recognize have the ability to bring me to tears. I no longer am at the mercy of listening to only what the people responsible for me want to hear, which makes what I choose to play even more special. Because it's mine. And the fact that The Dixie Chicks have chosen to resurface now, with lyrics even more forwardly feminist than before, means the world to me. To return to the industry with a single, and soon-to-come album, titled "Gaslighter" speaks volumes. It's almost as if they gave little me their early 2000s lyrics as practice, so grown-up me could really appreciate the lyric, "You're sorry, but where's my apology?"

I know I've all but said they had a hand in raising me, and today with the release of their newest single, "Julianna Calm Down," I'm ready to lock that sentiment down. I don't think I've been shy about the fact that this past year has been challenging, and for one of my favorite formative artists to pen the words "I guess this is the time to remind you sometimes what's going through your head is just a temporary situation, and light will soon be shed. Just put on your best shoes, and strut the fuck around like you've got nothing to lose. Show off your best moves, and do it with a smile so that no one knows it's put on,"...Let's just say I feel seen. And I know we blame our parents and our upbringing for a lot sometimes; we pin our worst qualities and our traumas to people and situations out of our control. But I think there's also a lot of beauty in the madness and a few good songs and memories we can point out on the map that got us to where we are. So, like...thanks, Mom and Dad for playing the right songs in the car. Couldn't have done it without you.

  • Lauren Sauer

I guess the one good thing about this pandemic is it's getting me to write more. If nothing else, that's a nice byproduct. Sure, I can count the number of times I've left the house in the last week on one hand, but never before has my blog been more consistent!

So it's week three, right? No seriously, I'm asking. The days are all melding together and I can't help but feel like The Little Mermaid wistfully gazing out my bedroom window wishing "I could be part of that world." My feelings about social distancing/self isolation/quarantine/whatever we're calling it now have mutated tenfold since breakfast this morning. That's a cycle that seems to repeat itself. My stamina and mental wellness are hard to pin down; as soon as I'm able to appropriately identify how I'm feeling, my mind seems to have flip-flopped to something else. But instead of get angry at myself for such an inspired lack of commitment, I'm going to honor all the ways life amongst COVID-19 feels.

Sometimes it feels mind-numbingly boring. It feels like the hands of every clock are made of thick pancake syrup and it's perpetually 2 pm. It feels like mealtimes are arbitrary and bedtime is a suggestion, with endless not-quite-satisfactory streaming video in between. It feels like a dull philosophy lecture on a Wednesday morning that you're only sitting through because you need to pass to graduate.

But then sometimes it feels scary. It feels like your apartment is a haunted house with spooky scary germs in every corner. It feels terrifying when you think of your friends who work essential jobs, sacrificing their own health for everyone else's. It feels constricting thinking about how one selfish person could decide to go on spring break in Daytona and then go to the same public park your grandparents frequent.

Sometimes it feels productive. It feels like you spring out of bed ready to mount your rented stationary bike and pedal until your calves fall off. It feels like your water bottle is Velcro'd to the palm of your hand and your fridge is bursting with fresh produce you're actually going to eat. It feels like satisfyingly gross Swiffer pads and clean closets and lemon scented air. It feels like you could totally sustain this little healthy routine you've created in your new microcosm, because who wouldn't want to work out in the same tiny space they work, sleep, cook, and eat?

But sometimes it feels depressing. Like sheets that seem to weigh 400 pounds and couldn't possibly be stripped from your horizontal body depressing. Like eating all your ill-advised meals in bed and wishing it would finally be a socially acceptable time to go to sleep for the night. It feels like tomorrow will be the exact same, as will the day after that, and you'll just carry on the rest of your days never again hugging your mom or parking your car outside the office. It feels like your mattress is a poorly constructed raft that has drifted far off to sea, with no ships or schools of fish nearby to keep you company.

Sometimes it feels connected. It feels like FaceTime calls that go on for eons and encouraging messages from everyone you've ever loved. It feels like the digital age of compassion in a way that's fresh and genuine, well beyond what was intended with the creation of the World Wide Web. And while the things you love to do can't all be perfectly replicated alone in your apartment, it feels creative and exciting to try and get close to the real thing. It feels like tech at a new level, almost makes you think Disney was really onto something when they dreamed up Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. It feels like a dream come true for your ultimately introverted nature, like a never ending sleepover with yourself where you get to pick the movie and call the shots.

But of course, sometimes it feels lonely. It feels like everyone you know is in one giant Zoom call and didn't bother giving you the access code. It feels personal when even your cat decides to sleep in the other room and you're refreshing Instagram faster than people can post on it. It feels pathetic using a phone with no incoming notifications as a lifeline, and even more pathetic to dial out to the same three numbers over and over again. It feels like maybe you'll never see another person again in your life, and you wonder how The Edies could have possibly managed a life of recluse by choice. It feels like Christmas morning levels of excitement seeing the mail truck out the window and almost cinematic and novel hearing dogs barking outside.

Most of all, it feels confusing and it feels like I'm not the only one in that boat. And we can argue all we want about if this is necessary and how long this will last, but I'm afraid we're not any closer than we were yesterday to a conclusive answer to our questions. So for now, I think the best we can do is honor all the ways this is making us feel. And of course, remember that boredom and sadness are noble sacrifices to make for the health of ourselves, the people we love, and people we don't know that maybe we would love if we got the chance. So for all those people, I'm happy to feel a thousand different ways, if it means we all get to go on feeling, period.


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© 2018 by Lauren M. Sauer