Pandemic Life by the Numbers: The Golden Five

December 29, 2020 | 1 4 min read

This post was produced in partnership with Bloom, a literary site that features authors whose first books were published when they were 40 or older.

Five people

Our social worlds have contracted — my inner pod is down to five. We “check in.” We trade links and photos by text. We don’t beat around the bush, we say what we’re feeling & thinking, what’s happening in today’s hanging-in-there news—textable snippets, emojis emojis emojis.
We make phone dates (Zoom & FaceTime feel like “work” now). Some of us are single, some are hunkering down with partners / families. Those of us who live alone feel acutely but do not readily verbalize the painful fact of long stretches without physical touch. Thank goodness for the dog, who is honorary number six.

Five pounds

In the beginning, I moved in with my sister. Together we cooked creative meals to stay sane, to feel warm and nourished and connected. We ate well. In the evenings we watched “Kim’s Convenience Store” with my nephews and ate large portions of sweets or bowls-full of crunchy salty things. We ate badly. Then my nephews went to sleep, and out came the wine and whiskey. We drank too much.

We talked late into the night about how grateful we were, how anxious we were, how hard life was even before pandemic (dredging up our childhood as the wine flowed); how a totally different kind of weirdness and uncertainty had replaced the former difficulty, and how life was always stressful and frightening, pandemic or no pandemic … so hey, let’s drink some more. We put on weight.

In the middle, I moved back to my own apartment. Subscribed to a vegetable delivery service and cooked a lot and did yoga and turned over a healthier leaf. Summer came, and the endless heat wave sucked away my appetite. I went back to work. I rode my bike from uptown to downtown and back again. Outdoor activity made everything seem just a little normal, intermittently pleasurable. Most of the weight came off.

In part two of the middle, election season took over, and everything went to shit again. Night-snacking, drinking, over-eating hangover, more anxiety-snacking, more drinking; rinse and repeat. The stakes (political, existential) were enormous; the possibility of compounded disaster utterly real. Heaviness—of body and spirit—returned.

In part three of the middle, the election came and went, and I began to sleep better. That particular anxiety—considering seriously leaving the country, starting a new life away from the daily tyranny of the idiot monster—quieted. But with the change of seasons and raging infections, venturing outside and the simplest tasks became again nerve-wracking. Keep your distance; move briskly; avert your face; wash wash wash your hands.

In the end, now—part one of the end—it’s those five pounds. I feel them all the time, weighing me down physically and mentally. They are the pounds that keep you from feeling ready and energized when you wake; in-the-zone while you work; relaxed in your clothes and in your soul. You know what I mean. I’m pretty sure you do. We won’t be feeling fully energized or relaxed again for some time.

Five minutes

For many of us, life has slowed down. No more rush-hour commuting, running from work to gym to kids’ soccer practice to the nursing home to a meal with friends. We’re doing less because less is do-able. Our stresses are more about isolation, destabilization, reorientation; less about time…

…if we lean into it, that is. We could, certainly, fill up that time with other multi-tasking, time-crunching activities. I’ve found myself opting for “five more minutes.” Slow it down, pause, take a moment. It’s just five minutes, but you begin to see—the meaningfulness of small increments.

Five minutes earlier means sitting with a cup of coffee, savoring it, and thinking of nothing at all before starting on a day of brain-squeezing work. Five more minutes allows for a slow stroll to and from the subway, on which non-mission-critical thoughts can occur (I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing), neighborhood storefronts, new and old, get noticed (order takeout this weekend, they look like they need business), and notes for an essay or story can be written in a notebook (Five Minutes; The Golden Five?). Five more minutes means biking up the hill, working up a good sweat and burn, then cruising down the other side with the wind in your face, instead of avoiding the hill altogether; or it means not running that red light, not nearly slamming into a pedestrian or, worse, a car. Five more minutes gives the dog five more minutes of gleeful sniffing and one or two more doggie encounters—the value of which could be, who knows, infinitely greater than what five minutes of comparable pleasure means to us.

Sometimes it’s not about what you do or don’t do in those five minutes; it’s about gentle transitions from one thing to the next. If you do yoga, you’ve heard this, about the signals you send to your self when you jerk your body around, from standing to sitting, from sitting to kneeling, from left to right. With five more minutes, you can finish doing X; take a breath; move calmly, maybe even gracefully, into Y.  It makes a difference. It makes all the difference.

Five dollars

Many of us have less work and less money. We are also spending less and/or differently. In NYC, the loss of bar & restaurant life is (I know, cry me a river, in the grand scheme of things it probably sounds melodramatic) tragic. Certainly it’s tragic for restaurant owners and workers, and for the city’s economy. For consumers, refraining from gathering in bars & restaurants in NYC is like… living on the coast and having no access to the ocean.

Structure helps. A plan. The eating-out budget is diminished, but I want these restaurants to make it. So it’s all about 5-dollar takeout lunches, a couple times a week. Mamoun’s falafel. Bahn-mi from Saigon Shack. Tofu shrimp in garlic sauce (the 1/2 portion) from my local Chinese takeout. Lebanese Zaatar. Curry beef or roast pork pastry from Fay Da bakery. Two cheese slices with can of soda from pretty much any pizza joint. A whole wheat everything bagel with a shmear of lox cream cheese from Bo’s. For a healthy option, a green protein smoothie from the smoothie place run by Big Russ’s barber shop. And yes, even occasionally steam table oxtails and collard greens (well-managed, socially distanced, sanitized setup) from Jacob’s Soul Food.

Five more months

Who’s to say — though the real-science people have been basically right all along. Five more months seems likely. Buckle in. Mask up. Take a breath, or two, or five. Check in with your single friends. Check in with your partnered friends. Spend your stimulus money on restaurants if you can. Don’t give away or let out your clothes yet: we’ll all find our better selves and our energy again on the other side.

Image credit: Pexels/cottonbro; Photos courtesy of the author.

is author of the novels Long for This World (Scribner 2010) and The Loved Ones (Relegation Books 2016), which was a selection for Kirkus Best Fiction 2016, Indie Next List, Library Journal Best Indie Fiction, TNB Book Club, Buzzfeed Books Recommends, and Writer's Bone Best 30 Books 2016. She is deputy director at Film Forum, a nonprofit cinema in New York City, and she teaches media & film studies at Skidmore College and fiction writing in Warren Wilson College's MFA program. Learn more about Sonya here.