Somewhere around the seventh ladle, I resigned myself to the idea that this was my life now. The chicken stock had been simmering for what seemed like an hour, and my weary right arm had grown accustomed to its new raison d’être: stirring my first-ever batch of risotto until it reached the vanishing horizon of al dente. Or until the apocalypse arrived.
At that point, it still seemed unclear which might occur first. But something else had happened somewhere between the sauvignon blanc evaporating and the grains cooking: For the first time in days, I’d stopped obsessing over the impending doom I’d been imagining, as news of the rapidly worsening coronavirus pandemic spread. There was no low thrum of anxiety beating alongside my heart, no voice in my head taking inventory of family members’ diseases or tallying the number of onions I’d have left in three, six, or eight weeks in the event of grocery-store shutdowns. There was just me, my right arm, and my stubborn risotto. A comfortable tedium, a congenial struggle.
Confined to my apartment for most of the week, and for the foreseeable future, I’d entered the weekend in a mild panic. Though my generalized anxiety most often feels specific and personal, this new strain was nauseatingly big and amorphous. It lived outside of me; it hung in the air and snaked its way through every corner of my life. After days spent reading helpful but stressful articles, and countless conversations with friends about the anxiety we feel, I needed to quiet the noise. I wanted to lose myself in something, to relinquish my focus without dulling my senses in a dangerous manner. (As much as I enjoy Nancy Meyers’s oeuvre, wine-drunk is not a state I can or should sustain for the length of a quarantine.)
But binge-watching movies and TV shows, even my favorite ones, had already lost its appeal. No matter how many voices emitted from my screens, or how warm the banter, the static in my own head remained louder. The glare of my many screens, and the creeping knowledge that there are always other shows I should be watching for work, further strained my ability to find relief on the other side of a remote. But more pressingly, viewing is an idle pursuit; I needed an activity that demanded my full attention.