I, like so many people, didn’t know how long we’d be staying at home when the world began to close its doors. On March 12, I began what would become a year-and-counting of being away from normalcy and I made a decision on that day that I’d keep a digital journal throughout the year. Some weeks, I wrote every day. At some points, there was a gap that lasted weeks. But I kept coming back to it, to vent or to try to make sense of the world around me.
Or to make sense of myself.
Below are selected entries, the only editing being a bit of polish here and there to prevent some incoherent in-the-moment thoughts from not making any sense. It’s frustration and hope. It’s eulogies and newness. It’s introspection and outward-facing. It’s me.
When I got the news I’d be working from home for the for seeable future, something inside of me said, “this time is for you.” It didn’t mean it was my time to write an epic masterpiece or start another project. It didn’t mean it was my time to lose a bunch of weight. It meant, it was my time to sit with me, in whatever form that took. Instinctively, I surrounded myself with books, introspective books, books about the human condition, books about real life written by those who lived theirs fully. Who pushed themselves to aliveness. Who refused to stop questioning themselves. I needed to spend time with these people. This wasn’t a time for me to escape to another world, it wasn’t the time to disappear into Hogwarts or trek a mountain in Middle Earth, though those are excellent places to vacation. No, this was a time for me to sit still, in my tiny apartment, with me. And Joey, my dog.
A member of the security team at my office died today from COVID. Compton. He was the kindest man and I talked with him multiple times a day. Looking him up online, he was Compton the husband, father, friend and uncle. He was Uncle Gregory to his nephew. He was Uncle Dooks to another. To us in the office, he was a kind presence. A calming energy. Someone who knew how to laugh. I feel numb.
I have a full blown sinus situation. If I wasn’t stuck at home, I’d have called into work. Every cough scares me. Every ache is more terrifying. The sinus meds are helping but everything I’m seeing online says these are the same symptoms of the virus. More people are dying every day and it’s making my internal sense of panic rise. The truth is, even if I do have it somehow, there’s nothing that can be done because I’m not having any breathing issues.
Last night was the scariest of this pandemic so far. I felt so depleted and sick from this sinus infection. My parents think it’s COVID but the news says breathing issues are the main symptom and I’m not having that issue.
As the sirens rang out and the news talked about the death toll which is now in the thousands, I lay in bed feeling entirely alone and scared. Scared I wouldn’t be able to breathe in the night and I wouldn’t wake up. It was irrational but it’s how I felt.
When I took Joey out last night, his stool was liquid and bloody, very bloody, and since my neighborhood vet is closed, I had to get in an Uber and take him to the 24-hour emergency vet in Midtown. I hate when he’s sick. He can’t tell me what’s wrong.
I couldn’t go inside with him. I had to lead him into the entranceway, put his leash on the hook on the wall, then close the door so the vet could come and get him in a contact-free way. He was panicked and afraid and looked at me like I was Judas and it took every bit of strength in my still-not-one-hundred-percent body to not burst into tears on 55th Street.
Yesterday, Dr. Butler, Joey’s vet at the 145th Street Animal Hospital, died from COVID. She was the kindest woman, someone who took her time with each animal and made each animal’s person feel they had her undivided attention. I feel terrible for her sweet husband who ran the front of the office. Not only did he lose his partner in life but also his partner in business. His entire world imploded and my heart is broken for him.
My coworker’s sister has been in the hospital fighting this virus for about three weeks now and we’ve been praying. I’ve had my entire network praying for her and last night, she got to go home! Praise report! Praise report! She’s depleted and exhausted, weak and very frail, but she’s home. That’s a win.
Still. The sirens persist. They’re deafening.
Last night, some of my friends and I did a virtual art expo after having spent this week creating a piece to present strictly out of what we have in our apartments. It was a lot of fun and I made a collage I ended up really liking. It was fun to see what everyone made, paintings and collages and origami and drawings. But I could feel my mood beginning to drop—like the bottom just fell out from under me and I had no way to stop it. I got into bed thinking I just needed to sleep it off but the longer I lay there, the more sunken-in I felt. It was debilitating. Part of me just wanted to go to sleep to put an end to it and another part of me was weary of doing so because of the bad dreams I’ve been having. I also made the mistake of looking at the weather forecast for the week and saw a long line of rain and storm cloud icons staring back at me.
We’ve reached the point where some states have begun reopening public places, despite there being no data to support their having done so. I think this next period of time will be more difficult than the initial wave of staying at home. Contending with other people’s decisions, knowing full and well that the virus has not stopped and is still killing people in every state. How do you contend with other people’s decisions, especially when their actions could facilitate the spread of the virus and keep me in my apartment for another unforeseen amount of time?
Joey has reached the point where he’s stir crazy. When all of this started, he was the happiest dog in the world to have me home with him all day. But I started noticing him being more aggressive with other dogs on the street a few weeks ago and now that it’s been 62 days, I’ve realized he’s going to have to be completely re-socialized with other dogs again. There’s simply too much energy in this little dog and he sees another dog from the Barking Chain and loses his damn mind. Apparently other dogs in the building are reacting in the same way.
It’s amazing how this prolonged season of being away from our individual “normal” has uncovered the things we don’t need. I’ve noticed how much money I could’ve been saving all along. I’ve noticed there are places I really want to go visit and places I really don’t need to. Mostly, I’ve noticed the rhythms that were and weren’t serving me well.
And on Day 75, he buzzed his hair.
I’ve always been peculiar about haircuts. I don’t particularly enjoy them for some reason and though I’m always happy once I’ve done it, I never like the act of going to do it. It’s an oddity I can’t self-diagnose. But today, I needed the fresh start. Jason also came over with his clippers to do the back of my head. We shared a pizza and while we sat apart from each other, it was nice to have some human interaction again. He’s the first person other than me who has stepped foot in my apartment in 75 days.
Today I began getting notifications from my old BLEEP Magazine website that sites were linking their articles to an interview I did with Jose Fernandez. He created the iconic Catwoman costume for Michelle Pfeifer and eventually many of the Marvel costumes. He also designed the prototype space suit for SpaceX and as today is the first launch of a SpaceX rocket with astronauts on it, an article in The New York Times featured bits of my interview and linked it to the article.
The New York Times featured my interview. From the magazine I started out of nothing. It’s something I never imagined. It’s as incredible as it is absurd.
First day working in Texas.
I had to get out. I had to escape the constancy of New York so on Day 99, I bolted. Part of me is glad I didn’t make it to the triple-digit milestone in my apartment, even if it was just a day shy.
I’ve been in Texas for six days now and the time spent with my family has been good for me. And for Joey. He’s needed to run and wrestle with other dogs, to chase and be chased, to bark at every person who walks by the front windows as he sits near me while I work.
Getting out of New York has also abolished my need to know how many days it’s been since I was out and about in the world. I’m trying, very intentionally, to be present and soak up the otherness of being somewhere that isn’t my tiny apartment. It’s not that I only have two weeks left here, it’s that I still have two weeks here.
Lying on the bed in what used to be my room, I look out the curtains onto the bushes outside slowly rocking in the humid breeze. They’re a textbook definition of the color green, no need for another descriptive word in front of them like lime or heather or army. They are the green of Kindergarten, the green of finger paint, the green of an eight-pack of crayons. Each leaf dips in and out of the shadows of its fellow leaves, the light toppling over itself like an ocean wave, and I’m mesmerized. The greenness of the greens wasn’t something I noticed when I came home to this room each day as a teenager.
The only photo hanging on the wall that remains from my tenure growing and changing and fighting my way into myself in this room is an oblong frame, bought at a discount store, with a black and white image of a snowy Central Park in it. Taken so long ago, it exists only in the hardness of whites and blacks, no greys. After I took my first trip to New York and came back a changed man, my mother got it for me as a totem of the city I’d fallen for so deeply. It hung in my college apartment as I pined to move and start my life there, and it now hangs on the wall behind the door, visible only to me as I lie in the quietness of the closed off room.
It’s now the place I’ve fled, momentarily at least, and it’s a place where we who stayed trapped in our tiny apartments felt the difficultness of this moment in an acute way so many others with yards and cars and long hallways pierced with doorways that lead to bedrooms didn’t feel. It’s not a comparison game because it isn’t a contest anyone would want to win. So here I lay in the bedroom of my youth, willing myself to breathe in the newness of this surrounding so I can inflate myself back to life.
My antibody test from Monday has come back positive which means in April when I had that gnarly sinus infection, it was, in fact, the virus.
I remember not being able to get comfortable, not sleeping at all and not eating. I lost 10 pounds during that thing. What I didn’t have was any trouble breathing. So that’s why it never registered to me as being the virus because that’s what they kept telling people to look out for. But I was so uncomfortable and my entire body just felt bad. It didn’t feel like the flu and all the symptoms I experienced lined up with a really bad sinus infection.
When I texted my people to let them know, the resounding response was, “Thank God you didn’t end up in the hospital.”
The number of people who ended up in the hospital and didn’t ever leave, that could’ve been me. I don’t know if this is what survivor’s guilt feels like but whatever this is, it’s coming over me fast and I’m overwhelmed. I realize I’m not alone in this, there are hundreds of thousands of people who had the virus and didn’t end up in hospitals, but my eyes are filling up with tears and I may need to take a walk.
My mother’s response: “Wow. Well that’s sobering.”
My father’s response: “You’re a survivor.”
I’m hearing rumblings from people in the office that they don’t expect us to be back physically in the office until January at the earliest. With that being the case, I now have to consider how I will shape my life for the next five months and what I want to look like when I’m able to come out of this and be among the world again.
How can I work on myself through the end of the year in a way that’s productive ? It was all well and good to eat junk food when this started and to talk about “being gentle” with yourself. But now, facing another long stretch away from normalcy, I can no longer take a breather. It’s time to go and do. It’s time to work and produce. It’s time to get on track or when this is over, it will feel like a year wasted. Nothing terrifies me more than the thought of a year wasted. We only get so many and I don’t want to think of a single one of them going to waste.
At the beach north of Los Angeles. There are four of us on the entire length. The solitude on the edge of something that extends to the edge of the sky is profound.
Waves. They’re healing. The rhythm is the heartbeat of the earth. Crash. Break. Spread. I excused myself from our friends for a couple minutes so I could stand alone, my feet sunken into the sand, closing my eyes and letting the earth wash over me. The dirt under me, sticking to my skin and the hairs on top of my feet. I’ll carry it with my like a bee carries pollen. The breeze whips around me, salty in my nose and cool on my skin. The waves beat like a drum, rolling in and out, reminding me I’m as small as a grain of the sand stuck to my feet. The sun sets, a red hot sphere, a color not replicable in a market or paint or waxy crayon. For a sun that takes such a long arch across the sky, it sinks into the waves swiftly, casting its last breath in the form of an orange glow as it’s extinguished below the horizon.
Coming back to my apartment, I was met with mouse droppings all over and inside everything. Everything. On the bed, in the bed. On the couch, in the couch. On my clothes, in my clothes. Under the bed, in the corners, on the rug. Little black sprinkles scattered all over the place. It took me three hours Sunday night and 11 hours yesterday to vacuum it all up and have the apartment back to some semblance of normalcy. On the one hand, I expected to come back to a bug problem and I came back to none of that. I’m not sure if the alternative was any better.
Remember 6 months ago when September was our long shot guess as to when we could get back to normal? When it felt outlandish that we might get to September & still be in this pandemic? Well here we are. September first. Still at home.
Today was the first day I went to midtown since this started. It felt strange, riding the subway after such a long time away, though everyone was in a mask so I was never worried. Midtown is a strange place. Some of the tourist shops have closed which on the surface feels like a good thing but knowing most of those shops are run/owned by immigrants, it’s upsetting they are out of jobs simply because tourism dried up.
There were maybe 5 people in the gym. Only 3 in the pool, of which I was one. Swimming again. God it felt great. I did better than I thought I would too. I figured I would struggle and do substantially less laps than I’d done when I left in March. And I did do less but not by a lot. I pushed myself, something I told myself over and over not to do after not having been in the pool for so long, but I did anyway and felt great when I left.
Swimming all week has been healing. Not only have I felt like myself but I’ve felt better and better. I also spent some time tonight walking around Hell’s Kitchen and it was good to do so. Seeing all of the life on the streets, the distanced eating outside, it gave me hope. All of 46th Street is shut down so the restaurants can set up in the streets. It was magic to see.
In strange news, tonight I realized my love of vocal stacking originated with the end of the Muppet Babies theme song. This has been a defining realization in my life.
All my life I’d thought putting Christmas lights on your house was for the people driving by. But now I’m convinced it’s for the planes flying overhead. A house lit all in red, houses twinkling white, yellow, green, and blue, trees lit up like god in the desert talking to Moses. It’s magic.
We didn’t get to do Christmas with all of our family, which was disappointing. It wasn’t unexpected but it was certainly disappointing. I love our cousin’s dinner we do the night after Christmas and I will miss that most of all.
Not everyone gets a chance to know their great uncle. It’s that familial relationship which often causes people to ask, “If he’s my grandfather’s brother, does that make him my uncle? Grand uncle? Great uncle?” For most of my life, I had those questions too, mostly because the only time I ever saw Dolan was at funerals.
However, later in the life of my grandfather, in the decade where his health waned, I had the pleasure of getting to know more about Dolan, my great uncle. About who he was. About Sharon. About how much they loved to laugh. About how much they loved God. How much they loved each other and their kids and their nieces and nephews and us. They became such a joyous presence in our family, especially during the holidays when they’d make sure to spend a night in Dallas before heading to see their kids.
Dolan passed away on the first day of the new year. Two weeks earlier, he was happy and active, in so much as a man in his 80s is active, but after a conversation with a friend outside in the front yard, that all changed. That friend found out the next day he’d tested positive for the coronavirus and told Dolan. Two weeks later, Dolan was buried. These sound like abrasive, harsh facts but they are what they are. We lost a member of our family. A jovial, bright-eyed, funny, wonderfully long-winded member of our clan. And I’m heartbroken about it.
Today, Dolan Brinson was buried. The man I’ve come to know who rode horses and tended the ranch in West Texas, who flew planes and pastored churches and officiated my cousin’s wedding. The man who had great big eyes that were made even bigger when he wore his glasses. The man who loved to pray. And pray and pray and pray. He and my grandfather laughed in the same way, when they’d think something was funny, you could see their teeth as they laughed through a smile. I’ll miss that most of all.
My friend Matt messaged me tonight to let me know our friend Paul died yesterday. I didn’t know how to react.
Paul wasn’t one of my closest friends but when I first had a group of guys to go out with on Friday nights, he was in the group. Those nights dancing and laughing and spinning under disco balls were formative for me. They helped me come into my own for the first time. He was a big part of that. When he moved to Chicago, we all basically lost touch with him. He was never great with communication through texting.
There’s just so much death. One of the women who worked in the office at my middle school, who made my life so much easier when I had a broken leg, died of COVID this past week. So much death. All around us. It’s swirling like a dark pool and I’m so tired.
More death. Carman died this weekend.
To we Christian kids in the 90s, there wasn’t a bigger music presence than Carman. His songs told stories, were super dramatic, and he sold out football stadiums. He made music videos, movies and a Halloween concert on TBN I remember vividly. It began in a locker room with him and all his dancers before they ran to the stage to perform his songs. “No Monsters” was my favorite.
When I interviewed him a few years ago, a filmy layer of dejection and disappointment coated everything he said. In his mind, he’d never achieved his dreams. I found that interesting because his was the single largest Christian concert in history, 70,000 people in Texas Stadium. Those are Beyoncé numbers and he did it. But everything he said was laced with regret. He said, “I wanted to be Michael Jackson and have that level of production and excitement.” He also said, “I tried, I really did, to make music videos that told stories like the ones I loved but they couldn’t get any play anywhere.”
When I shared how our youth group acted out his songs & conveyed stories about God through his art, he seemed floored by it. One of those songs was called “7 Ways to Praise.” I was in 7th grade when I choreographed it for my drama team, something that set the tone for the next decade of my life. It opened a door for me that led to 10 years of directing, creating and growing. I always told people if I ever got a tattoo, it would be the Hebrew characters for “Shabach,” one of the 7 ways to praise I learned from that song (it means “to shout”). I got the tattoo many years later on my wrist.
Perhaps it’s the awareness that we are approaching the year marker but I’ve slipped seamlessly back into a troublesome sleep pattern. This morning, I reset my alarm twice, unable to get out of bed. I find I am relying on my HappyLight to fuel me during these grey winter days and I hate that.
And now we are back to where we started yet we’re not in the same place at all. This timestamp feels heavier than New Years. It feels weird in that most of us are still at home a year later but so much has happened in the past twelve months.
We’ve hunkered down, Facetimed for virtual birthdays, and marched in the streets. We’ve fought for democracy, elected our first female VP, and Taylor Swift released two albums. We’ve made due. We’ve made the best of it. We’ve mourned and grieved and felt anxiety cover us like Venom covers Tom Hardy. It’s been transformative.
I’ve learned a lot over the past year, about the world and about myself. While I’m eager for the world to open wide again and to go see shows and movies and other countries, I also hope we remember what actually mattered during all of this: each other. Applauding those who put their lives on the line for us. Showing up for our friends and families even if it meant staying in the car and holding up signs. Using technology to remain connected. Appreciating the time we get to spend together in person.
There was a double rainbow in the sky tonight amidst the storm clouds and the orange light of the setting sun. It felt like a poetic way to close this yearlong chapter (it was also a bit on the nose, but God majored in symbolism in college).