Thursday, April 9, 2020


I had the photo and the title of this post knocking about my head for weeks while the global pandemic barged full force into our lives in the U.S. "Nest" evokes home, rest, familial love, nurture, and shelter-- all comforting notions that were crushed like an eggshell this month.

I've been doing my real world day job since March 18 from this desk in the front room/library.  I've always had this set-up, and throughout my adult working life I've been able to work from home, sometimes as a necessity (sick kids, weather cancellations) and sometimes as a sanity saving measure (bullpen newsrooms are not known for their calm and quiet atmosphere). When I freelanced, it was my only office.

But this is different. This is not "I'm working from home because I don't have my shit together as single mom," which, if I am honest, is exactly the reason why I worked from home in the past. It was just me, struggling to get through a day, a week, a month in which my deadlines at work coincided all too neatly with migraines (mine), ear infections (the kids), and a complete lack of clean socks (everybody).

Now, it's no longer one of the few luxuries afforded two-bit freelancers; it's required by the situation, required by this all-obliterating concern, the global pandemic.

I work in communications for a government entity, and so I've been marinating in the grim details of the coronavirus pandemic well before it was officially named one. Just that, the details and communicating them, are draining, let alone confronting it as a patient or a health care provider. Terror, even in its mildest forms, is exhausting.

It's no longer just me doing work from home while I sort out my personal chaos; now work is living at my place while the world sorts out its chaos. I realize that if this is the only way in which I'm inconvenienced by the situation, I'm lucky indeed. But it took me a while to recognize the distinction, and the way it affected me. I couldn't understand why overnight I seemed to be unable to move from my end of the sofa for hours on end, why I seemed to stub my toe on doorways I've traversed for nearly a decade, why I seemed so utterly disoriented in my own space. I have been wanting to sleep all the time. I want doors closed. I want to eat warm, buttery carbohydrates and drink slightly more wine than is rationally good for me. I want, for god's sake, a warm blanket to hug at all times, like an insecure child.

The difference between the comfort I take in domestic life and the outside world has always been distinct in my mind, a firmly defined "in-here" versus the whole wide "out-there." Like many middle class Americans, I've had the privilege of a breezy, put-a-bird-on-it brand of domesticity, subject to new toss pillows, arty pretensions, and a fresh coat of paint when I get bored. And while I still think aesthetics are important, they aren't the whole, true story of our homes.

I think of that cardinal's nest I photographed a few springs ago. Domestic life is a nebulous one, made up the bits and pieces that we find emotional value in and collect around ourselves; much like a bird assembles sticks, tufts of grass, bits of leaves, and shed animal fur into a soft inner lining to cushion her eggs. Feathering the nest is a comfortable metaphor, but incomplete, made for softer times than these.

The fragile bowl of bare flesh that is a nest of young hatchlings is just as much "out there" under the wide world's sky as it is a snug scoop of "in here." Ornithologists estimate that the mortality rate of baby songbirds is one in three. They drown, freeze, fall, or are consumed by disease and predators. Their survival to adulthood is achieved through a delicate, infinite number of interconnected factors-- eons of evolution, the weather, the availability of food that season, the experience of the mating pair, the healthy balance of the local ecosystem. How young birds come to exist at all is either a miraculous accident or an accidental miracle.

It's how all nests exist, really. That's how a bat virus in a Chinese city we've never even heard of can be the reason all our fragilities are exposed-- as a species, as a society, as a body politic. That's how I bake bread and tend seedling cauliflowers and wear running pants while the days run together. I am experiencing both at once, a miraculous accident and an accidental miracle. I feel just as vulnerable and blind as any baby bird, and yet, here is this nest, looking and feeling for all the world like it always has.

I don't know what to make of it, yet, or whether it makes my nest less valuable, or more so. I like to think more valuable, just because I now know it to be less safe than I ever imagined. How does that make any sense?

1 comment:

  1. I read this near the end of last week, and I wanted to respond but it demanded more thought that I had time to give it right then. And then, these times being what they are, I had some trouble corralling my thoughts. But here I am, such as I am.

    The first two weeks of working at home just about did me in, and I'm sure part of it was having my sanctuary invaded by work, the thing I am most in need of sanctuary from. But, it's hard to tell what's really getting to us, isn't it? I mean, there are so many things having an impact right now.

    Your questions at the end are meaty ones. My nest feels more valuable to me. I understand now, in a deeper way, how fragile my life (anyone's life) is. I understand that I could lose the nest, but the thing is--right now, I have it. I have it and it is shelter and comfort from all those things outside it that are threatening and uncomfortable. I have been surprised at how easy it has been for me to be mostly at home. I am not missing the larger world (though I do miss some people). I'm not dying to go out to a movie or to our favorite restaurants or shops. Maybe because this place (home) feels more safe than the larger world? Maybe because I feel as if I have more control here than there? I don't really know.

    I appreciate the food for thought, though. This experience has me asking new questions and reaching new conclusions about many things: work, home, well-being, government, family. It's been a lot.