Once upon a time, in the way-way-back, BCV, I thought I had a sedentary life. As a writer, a scholar, a graduate student, a poet, a reader, a researcher, I have spent untold hours of my adult life sitting down. I would venture to say I have probably spent more of my life on my ass than asleep, since it seems I have some kind of phobia about going to bed, or an allergy to taking a nap and tucking in before midnight. In my vigorous youth (which encompassed my 20s-40s) sex was a great motivator for “bed” time, but I’m in my post-menopausal sixties now, and, well, you know what I mean …. I can see some of my students cringing right now, slamming shut their computers. TMI, Profe! But, hey, “practice what you preach” is one of my teaching mottos. If I preach honesty of voice and baring yourself on the page for true transformativity via the written word, then I better show them what I mean, showing not telling being the other Golden Rule. So, back to the sedentary life, which is an intrinsic part of my existence, apparently–pre-, during, and post-CV. Sitting at my desktop in my home office, or at my laptop on the kitchen table, commuting in my car to UCLA, meeting with graduate students or teaching assistants over lunch, sitting in office hours, attending department and committee meetings, commuting home, and doing the usual stuff one does after a long day away from home, and which for me includes a solid two hours of binge-watching my favorite shows after we’ve put our little girl to sleep–this has been my “normal” for 25 years (except for the little girl part, which I talk about below). Usually, I don’t get to bed until the wee hours of the dark morning. The only real exercise I used to get in the BCV was standing up to lecture for two hours, trudging to and from my classes and the parking lot, and walking two doors down to the neighbor’s house for my hypnotherapy sessions. BCV, I was on a much-needed academic year sabbatical, fully enjoying my time as a free agent to engage in whatever activity I pleased, while watching my wife, Alma, grade papers and get ready to go to work on campus. Bye, Darling, have a good day. Drive safely, I would call out, safely parked in my chair. Now, with both of us home all day, me still on sabbatical and she teaching her classes remotely via Zoom, we usually occupy the same room, both of us sitting, of course, lost in our respective online worlds until time comes for one of us to go pick up A from daycare.
Three summers ago, Alma, and I were two Chicanas at different ends of the fifty-year-old spectrum with a mortgage, a furry family of two cats and two dogs, and a crazy-hectic life wherein we were doing our best to juggle an academic career with an artist’s vocation (visual artist, for Alma, and writer for yours truly). Mostly, we were good at this juggling. I managed to get 10 books published since starting at UCLA in 1994 (two had already been published); aside from the teaching, service, and academic publications required for me to get tenure and timely promotions through the multiple ranks of the professoriate, I published two academic single-authored books, edited three anthologies, and wrote three novels, a book of poetry, and a book of short fiction (not to mention individual poems and stories that were selected for publication in anthologies and literary journals). Alma had a productive career as a muralist, whose murals (in collaboration with her painting partner, whose initials are NO) grace the walls of a public library, a community center, and a council district office–all in South Central L.A. Her artistic reputation exploded at the dawn of the 21st-century after a photo-based digital art piece of hers titled Our Lady (1999) ignited a huge controversy in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2001. We got legally married in the summer of 2008, and the following year she joined me in the oh-so-exciting/exhausting juggling act of academia and art. Like I said, we were pretty good at it. We got invited to do talks, individually and together, to places as far in distance and culture as Tijuana and Cork, Ireland. In our professor-hats, we tried very hard to keep up with our courses, write our lectures, grade papers, and return them on time. Alma was better at self-care and getting to bed at a decent hour; I was great at meeting deadlines, even if that usually meant not getting to bed till 4am. But we managed to roll out of bed every morning and do it all over again for almost a decade.
In June 2017, when our baby daughter was placed with us through the L.A. County Fost-Adopt Program, our then-normal (admittedly insane) lives changed dramatically, became even more insane, as we added “parenthood” to the stew of duties and responsibilities on our already-overflowing plates, but even that had started to flow more easily now that A is three (going on thirteen) and started pre-school last Fall. One thing we know for sure, is that, like the Borg, we can ADAPT and ASSIMILATE whatever changes come our way. Of course, that was the way-way-back. Now we are living in the new times of the Corona Virus. Shelter in place. Work from home. All but essential stores closed. No pre-school, and an active, energetic, rebellious child with no outlet but her Mama and Mapi to entertain her, keep her busy, fix her lunches and snacks as well as breakfasts and dinners, read to her, play with her, supervise her, monitor her screen time, encourage her, discipline her, hold her, heal her from real and imaginary wounds, make-believe with her, and somehow try to give her a sense of normalcy all the while MSNBC plays COVID programming in the background. Luckily for our work and our mental health, we find out that our daughter’s old daycare is still open (essential business that it is), and now she gets to go there every day, leaving us to our deadlines and sitting meditations on the CV.
All our adapting skills have come in handy for quickly adjusting our daily routines. We religiously observe the “face mask” restrictions before entering COSTCO or CVS. We contribute to the restaurant economy by ordering take-out from our favorite Thai place once a week. We mind our 6-foot distance when we stand in lines at Sprouts and Trader Joe’s, and touch elbows with folks we would ordinarily hug. But I miss the golf course, even though I haven’t played golf for over a year! I miss bowling, even though, ditto, it’s been years since I’ve seen the inside of a bowling alley. I miss the pool at the YMCA where I take my weekly water physical therapy sessions and my daughter’s Saturday morning swimming class. I miss our poker parties with our Four Queens Club and the monthly barbecues and dinner parties to which we enjoyed inviting our friends and neighbors. I even miss my annual conference trips where I would see colleagues from other institutions and old friends I only get to visit with at these academic gatherings. I miss my prima-hermana B, who succumbed to Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in January of the Corona Virus Year, first of the first-generation Gaspar de Alba cousins to pass away, first member of my extended family to ask me to baptize her daughter. I miss talking to her on the phone, laughing with her over dumb jokes and memories, plotting with her to provide life-lessons to both her daughter and son (he has now claimed me as his godmother, too). I miss my quick trips to El Paso to visit with my mom, my brother and sister, my nieces and nephews, my grand-nieces/grand-nephews, my cousins. I miss fancy lunches with my Zia Margot, with whom I grew up as a sister, her famous Caesar-salad with shrimp, her sharp espressos. I miss walking over to our MidCity haunts, Bloom or Cafe Chocolate for impromptu lunches with my girls. I miss going to the movie theater, our picnics on Venice Beach and our vacations to Yosemite and Puerto Vallarta. Just yesterday, I was bizarrely happy about running an errand to Petsmart.
What I am not nostalgic about is sitting. Now I sit all day long: at my computer, at the TV to watch the latest Covid-19 statistics or the update from Governor Cuomo or the daily ritual humiliations of Trump’s so-called CV briefings, the new shows on Hulu and Netflix and Prime Video, the Rachel Maddow Show. My darling Alma gave me my first recliner last summer after my partial-knee replacement surgery, and I have never occupied another seat in the living room since. My throne, she calls it. I can kick back on my throne, and give myself over to whatever watching, reading, and/or listening experiences I have chosen to indulge in for the day. I even trade stocks on my dwindling retirement accounts from that chair. Sometimes, I bring my computer or iPad to my lap and actually manage to get some work done, although other times, I am either doing retail therapy on Amazon.com or mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed or my 37,000+ email messages–most of which are ads I haven’t even bothered to open. And hovering over everything are the upcoming deadlines I agreed to long BCV or in the current moment of seemingly unlimited free time: papers for new issues of academic journals, a new book, another encyclopedia entry, an essay on Sor Juana, a chapter from my new Ivon Villa mystery (wait … what new Ivon Villa mystery??)–all due, you guessed it, at the end of April. This April. Three days from now..
I am privileged enough to say that, except for arthritis, obesity, and fibromyalgia, I am healthy, my wife and daughter are healthy, our families are healthy, nobody has come down with Covid-19 that we know of, with the exception of Alma’s ex-sister-in-law and niece who had the virus but have, thankfully, recovered. We have lost a few friends to the virus, RIP, which we learn about on social media. We are still getting paychecks and have money to pay our mortgage and our bills, buy food, and rent films on Apple TV. We are stocked up on toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies. So what am I complaining about? Would you say I need to snap out of whatever ennui or inertia I’ve got going on? Start every morning with a gratitude list. Get up off my ass and walk the dogs every day? Climb on our elliptical machine for 20 minutes three times a week? Write standing up. It’s not so hard, really. All I need is someone with a big shovel and a strong back to pry and dig and loosen my roots from this chair, and someone else to press PUBLISH on this post, or I could be rewriting this chronicle until the end of time..of Corona Virus Time, I mean.