• Becca Dzombak

corona-tine dispatch 7: back at it (or, Things I Have Learned During Quarantine)

and by it, I mean almost anything but real work. It's ten a.m. and I've been sipping my cappucino-look-alike with coarse(? how do you describe foam with bigger-than-preferred bubbles?) hand-whisked foam because our secondhand-gifted espresso maker can steam milk with all the intensity of a sneezing alpaca and reading for an hour, and the thought of opening my laptop to do anything but write this dumb ramble fills me with the same deep-rooted apathy that I get when I wake up alone for the fifth weekend my partner is gone for fieldwork. why bother? we'll all be in quarantine forever and if we're not, we'll all get coronavirus anyway! just look at georgia!

Anyway, here are some things I have learned during quarantine so far, mostly about cats but not all:


- if you have two nearly-identical sweatshirts that you cycle through for weeks on end, even if you wash them and change the clothes underneath, the people on the other end of your zoom call will not know that and will probably think you've been wearing the same faded sleeping bear dune crewneck sweatshirt for upwards for four weeks, and will silently judge you.

- my cats always sleep next to me: one half on my head, half on my pillow, and the other sort of by my knees. I thought this was because they love and admire me, and severely distrust my partner, but it turns out these spots are their preferred positions in the house regardless of whether or not my 97-degree body is lying there too. they just like the memory foam.

- the strength of my resolve is unmatched, because I have been able to ration the Reasonable Adult quantity of chocolate we got last time we went grocery shopping. we're braving the aisles every FORTNIGHT and I knew if I purchased the five bags of chocolate chips my instincts told me to, I'd regret it within... two days? so I got several (three) bars of Nice Chocolate, allowing me to count the squares and ration appropriately. and I have succeeded! and even beat the odds! thankfully switching tabs between twitter and the sixth episode of cutthroat kitchen for the day burns 0.1 calories per hour, so my appetite has been dramatically cut back, otherwise those bars wouldn't have made it this far.


- the strength of my resolve is also trash because I cannot work more than five and a half hours per day. I mean, this is pretty good, all things considered, but once my mind+body hits that mark, it's game over.


- the curly hair care community is both a nightmarish cult and a useful online resource, like most internet things. since accidentally sleeping with my hair in a towel once early in high school to discover that, apparently overnight, my hair went from straight to curly (not true, it was the 2000s and my Sun-In-bleached hair was meticulously straightened every day, so I never gave it the chance), I have struggled to identify anything that works for my hair aside from 'shower, don't TOUCH it, and let it air dry for 17 hours.' I fundamentally do not understand the chemistry of hair care products (when they say 'for thicker hair,' does it encourage more follicles for denser hair, or somehow make each strand thicker? I guess they'd say denser if they meant it? and why are people so worried about sulfates? I'm fine with seeing EDTA on my shampoo bottle, I know what that does, please tell me more about how coconut extract traps moisture! where is it trapped!). trying to tease (hair pun) out what is a fad (sulfates!) and what is actually just good advice is overwhelming, as is the sheer quantity and variety of care + styling products for every increment of curliness. and the reviews! they give me whiplash for how quickly "this is a MIRACLE product that saved my hair AND my credit score!" turns into "this product BURNED OFF MY HAIR and I have sued [company] for six million dollars." there's no way of knowing what it'll do to your specific hair before spending $35 on each product and none of them will probably work anyway. so I spent $13 on two things and one of them maybe does things, the other one at least smells nice. I also learned that sleeping with my hair "plopped" (sleeping with your hair wrapped in a (preferably $50 microfiber and/or silk) towel) results in, as my partner loving described it, "wild mrs. frizzle hair" rather than miraculously-defined curls. it's an ongoing battle.


- I know when to expect my favorite neighborhood dogs on both their morning and evening walks. related: there is a dog named toast around here, and I love it.


- I have learned, or been Pavlovian-ly trained by my cats, to recognize the following sounds: cat meowing for pets vs. cat meowing for pets to stop; cat 1 snoring vs. cat 2 snoring; cat snoring from the other room (how is she so loud?) vs. cat wheezing before spewing a hairball onto our new silvery gray rug; cat licking self loudly next to my ear at 3:30 a.m. vs. cat beginning to retch onto my ear at 3:30 a.m. (you'd best believe I threw my raggediest towel over that noise and went back to sleep, this is why we got a king-size bed!); cat yowling in agony after a poop vs. cat yowling in agony of not being outside with me on the deck (two feet apart, cruelly separated by a screen); cat growling at stranger walking outside (I DID NOT KNOW CATS COULD GROWL AND IT WAS ALARMING TO DISCOVER) vs. cat grumbling about me nudging its tower of co-opted floor pillows so I can stretch my feet under the coffee table; cat beginning to eat the cover of my most expensive newest hardcover book vs. cat beginning to eat one of the paper bags holding approximately 1729 seltzer cans and which will inevitably tumble to the floor in the basement at 6 a.m. along with my dreams of getting a solid night of sleep. Among others.


- I am ready to step into the "muttering old lady who lives in your neighborhood" orthopedic shoes. I have done the following in quarantine: peered at someone on the street through my barely-parted curtains, sat on my deck in the sun with a thick grey wool blanket over my lap, talked to my cats like an unwilling audience at a first-time comedy club, shouted at people not wearing masks (from the safety of my car, where no one could hear me except my partner who said it was "wrong" to "pass judgement on passing strangers"), wondered if the car down the street driving away every fifteen to thirty minutes only to return in five means that someone is Dealing Drugs, surreptitiously kept an eye on the teenagers in the common space behind our condos because who just sits on a bench for an hour (and is that beer they have or seltzer?), and the entire above rant about differentiating cat sounds.


- My cat (the graphically loud licker who sleeps next to-slash-on my head) sneezed directly into my half-open eyeball the other morning, and my first waking conscious thought was, "If she has coronavirus, I am fucked." This isn't something I learned, although I guess it means that at some point I learned that cats can get covid-19, so it counts.

So have I learned things? Perhaps, but almost none of this is useful. Except the cat-sounds stuff. Next time, I'll wake up fast enough to push the vomiting cat off the bed.

The vomiting cat also likes bird videos, but only if they're in the window.

About Me

I'm Becca Dzombak, a Ph.D. candidate and science writer at the University of Michigan. I study how Earth's life, atmosphere, and landscapes have changed over billions of years!

 

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