Watching the dog across the yard has taken on new meaning, now that we aren’t supposed to leave our homes.
I’m sorry this is such a terrible image. I’m a very self-conscious person, so when I️ can’t do something perfectly, I️ do it terribly instead. The white area is the dog. The yellow shapes are a long window and a glass door that leads out into the second story porch. The black shapes are the porch, the stairs that lead up to the third story fire escape, and the woman of the house, who is sitting on the steps with a hot drink in her hand. (I️ can’t see the drink, but since she always has one, I’m assuming she has one now). I’ve been watching her for months, since I moved my desk from the front of my apartment to the back. But now that she and her neighbors are the people I see most everyday, beside my boyfriend and myself in the mirror, I feel especially invested in them. Park Slope looks as picturesque as a stage set: a quality that’s easy to miss in real life, when you’re being shoved and yelled at in the food coop.
I’ve named the dog Walt, for now at least. I’m not very good with names. I️ feel like things are embodied completely by their physical forms — this deep, patently false belief is one of the many problematic things about us cartoonists — and a name just adds another, confusing, wholly unnecessary dimension. Names work best in fiction, when there are no images. The names are the images. That said, I’ve named the woman—Walt’s owner—Jasmine. I️ think she’s a Pilates instructor or something. She’s very fit, and also very wholesome. Maybe forty-five. Drinks a lot of tea(?). (Or maybe, I️ like to think, whiskey.) She has a son, maybe twelve, whom I’ve named Elias. I’ve never seen the man who must be her partner, except as a fleeting shape behind the window.
Next door is Sonia, my favorite. She’s older—maybe seventy-two. She sits huddled up on the porch all winter smoking cigarettes and talking on the phone. Sometimes, when it’s nice out, she reads a book. She, too, possesses a vague man who looms behind windows.
Downstairs is Beth, a vest enthusiast with a new puppy, Whiskers. Once Beth had company—a blondish woman I’ll call Nance. I️ hope they’re a couple, but I’m not sure.
The gray squirrels are Douglas and Phyllis—two lovely, soft, blue-gray names. (Vladimir Nabokov believed blue-lavender-gray was the color of eternity, and I agree). The black squirrel is Rockfeller. The woodpecker is Simon. The orange cat is Frisco. The Grackles (why do I capitalize that?) are Larkin and Fly-By-Night.
Of all these names, Sonia is the only one I’m really content with. I’ve watched her the longest. She’s the only one who spent any time outside during the winter.
I’m procrastinating working on my comic—an adaptation of the Book of Genesis with a childlike, female God, which I think I️’ll call “Let There Be Light.” My understanding of how my own work is going consists mostly of strong but hard-to-read feelings. The deadening boredom I’ve felt since I got to Abraham must mean something—that I’m off course. But I’m not sure how, and I’m not sure how to figure out how. And I’m not sure whether to ignore the feelings for now and push ahead with this draft of the book, or listen to them, stop working, and consider. One relevant piece of information is that God has a much smaller part in The Torah after the arrival of Abraham. She’s the catalyst that sends him on his journey, but he’s the hero (and the patriarch).
I’m not interested in him. I️ don’t understand him. A good man, savvy about real estate, very aware of the needs of strangers, but rather dense when it comes to empathizing with his wife, Sarah. He reminds me of most of the men in my family, who really have no place in my art (art is not life).
God, on the other hand. I️ love her. I️ can’t let these epic heroes steal her show. Anyway, nothing is happening in the comics department. I’m shading in blacks and grays on pages I’ll probably end up scrapping in a month, and procrastinating by writing this journal.
My boyfriend, Bartholomew (who, to protect his privacy, is pseudonymous, and also possibly imaginary), is isolating with me at my place. All my complicated rituals—food, café, weekly museum, weekly day trip to Long Island, friends—have flown out the window (the metaphorical window, not the rear window), replaced by a vague, somehow calm sensation of falling down a well. For now, things are very quiet. Bartholomew and I cook our meals. We wipe the doorknobs of our apartment. We avoid people. We wash our hands. We feel guilty and worried about our parents and my grandma, whom we are not visiting. The crisis lurks around the corner. It’s a bit of a relief to let the rituals go—to have been forced to. My rituals were mostly about feeling free—wandering around, looking at things, touching all the places at once without being touched myself. Watching people without being seen by them. An impossible thing to pull off.
I often wonder why ghosts are portrayed, in ghost stories, as sad. If ghosts existed (they don’t), I think I’d very much enjoy being one.
8 AM. Jasmine is in the yard downstairs—Beth’s yard(?)—throwing the ball for Walt, who stands on two legs in glee. Jasmine is holding a steaming mug again. Other people are endlessly entertaining, as long as they don’t see, touch, or expect a single thing from me.
11 AM. First I saw a woodpecker. Then Jasmine’s man came out(!). Baseball hat, cigarette. Surprising in Park Slope.
8:30 AM. Sonia is behind her glass porch door drinking something—a hot toddy?
The magnolia out my window will burst into flower in a couple of days.
The governor and the mayor seem to hate each other.
I️ believe Sonia has two floors, which she shares with the shadowy bald man. There are now a number of people in her apartment: two, three generations? Do they always live there? Or is this some kind of a group quarantine? The younger ones cook and bake, while Sonia helps out and does laundry upstairs. Sonia’s been smoking much less than usual—either, I’ve decided, for fear of getting sick, or because her family doesn’t like when she smokes.
Jasmine and her man, on the other hand, both seem to have taken up smoking with gusto. These are unprecedented times.
A note on capitalism: I’ve always considered myself to be a person who doesn’t particularly hate capitalism. Being paid for my art has meant being accepted by society, which is not something I️ take for granted. But now that society seems to be crumbling, there’s less pressure. There is less of a stigma attached to not making money—to not having “work.” So while I still want those things, I only want them insomuch as they will allow me to pay rent and buy food. They’re no longer symbols of success. Without the implication that busyness equals success, I’m happy to have slowed down. I’m just sitting at my desk, drawing, and writing this journal sometimes.
I️ also like not rushing around buying things, and not being pushed and trampled by other people who are rushing around buying things. There is a lot to think about there, and lots of time to think.
1 PM. Phyllis and Douglas—both squirrels—have sex, or foreplay, or a fight.
2 PM. Jasmine is wiping down her doorknobs.
2:09 PM. Jasmine is smoking on the porch. She looks so sad.
5 PM. Went for a run with Bartholomew in a very crowded park. Swerved and dodged to try to keep the recommended six-foot distance from others, but it wasn’t easy, especially as a twosome. Social distancing has been nice for me, in a way. In general, I️ can’t stand having my personal space invaded, especially by a stranger, and am always trying to manage things so people don’t touch or lunge at me on the sidewalks—a losing battle. But now, I’m keeping my distance for the common good. Everyone is doing it. Except the people who aren’t, who are irresponsible assholes.
We saw three Irishmen playing music on their stoop for Saint Patrick’s Day. I️ teared up. The world as we know it seems to have ended.
6 PM. Lonely.
Sonia ate a banana. The normal way.
One of the magnolia buds is just, just, just about to bloom.
I’ve decided to name Jasmine’s man Peter.
Sonia’s man, the bald one, is more of a Cal—short for Calvin. A nice, bald name.
Last night I panicked because the fairy doll I keep on my counter had lost her baby. I bought the fairy from little girls on the street a few months ago. Shy girls, and good artists. We found the baby (who is made of yarn and a wooden bead) under the counter, untouched, and reunited them. I named the fairy Nectar, and Bartholomew named her baby Seedling.
I’m starting to understand why things are named. It’s a way of making friends with someone you shouldn’t be friends with, because that person is unknown, or imaginary, or an object.