• #20 - Laura van den Berg & Paul Yoon

    Laura van den Berg & Paul Yoon


    March 30, 2020

    Dear All—

    We write from Central Florida, where the heat is already strong and steamy. Two weeks ago, we drove to Florida from Austin, where we were spending the spring semester. At the time, we were thinking that maybe we would head back to Texas in three or so weeks, but it’s of course by now become clear that we’ll be in Florida for the foreseeable future. The truth is—we could both feel the likelihood of returning to Austin shrinking even during the drive itself: going through the night on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the water so pitch dark all around, and listening to the Sunday debate on the radio, everything feeling both like it was moving in slow motion and at warp speed.

      There is a lot of beauty in this corner of the world at the moment. Summer is dawning, with its damp and heat and bloom. The garden lizards are out, scurrying from one perch to the next. So many flowers that we don’t know the names for, but we appreciate them all the same. We feel grateful to be here, with family. We feel sad and anxious. I (Laura) started to refer to these days as “jellyfish days” for the way they drift, even as there is so much to do. For me (Paul), the days are slipping by too fast, and I never get to do everything I think I need to do. We feel grateful for technology, which feels less like a distraction than a lifeline. The virtual happy hours, the conversations that start in the afternoon and go on into the night. We are reading—John Cage’s Silence, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them, and rereading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Our dog is thrilled that we are home all the time and hardly ever leave him.

      On the news front, other counties in the area have enacted a “stay at home” order. Our county has opted instead for “a social distancing order.” Businesses will now be required to limit the occupancy to 30 percent of the maximum capacity; there will, in theory, be checkpoints and staging areas and floor markers. The thinking is that this is a way to allow businesses, even non-essential ones, to stay open while also slowing the spread of the virus. We can’t help but wonder if the economy is being valued more than public health, given that there are now over four thousand cases in Florida and counting.

      How to move through such days? We both feel helped by physical activity. I (Paul) am a runner and am still running nine miles every morning, up the quiet sidewalks shaded by ancient oaks, passing through what has become a ghost town and then around Lake Monroe. It’s the only time where even through all this, my head empties, where I’m forced to focus on my surroundings rather than everything I cannot see or grasp.

      I (Laura) have been boxing somewhat seriously for the last year or so. This is the longest I’ve gone without going to the gym in . . . a really long time. The intensity of the work is hard to replicate on one’s own, but more than anything I miss the community, the group endeavor of training together. I’ve tried to convince my immediate family to do a little sparring with me and . . . they have yet to be convinced. But I’m getting the hang of training solo. Unlike Paul, I hate running and only did short, fast runs for the purposes of cardio conditioning. Now I am on a mission to learn to love it or at least better tolerate it, to do longer runs, for distance and not for time, since this is my main way of being out in the world. We’ve also put up a slip line in the backyard that I can use for drills; I have kettle bells and a med ball. Shadowboxing is something like mediation for me, and that can be done anywhere.

      Here is one thing I will say about running—now that we’re both doing it I can see how a daily run becomes a kind of journal of a landscape. I think we both feel that we don’t, at this moment in time, have a lot of perspective—and certainly not enough perspective to write “about” the current moment. We are just getting through one day and then the next and the daily chronicling of landscape has started to feel like part of that “getting through.” We see the same men fishing from the pier. Some days their chairs and coolers are six feet apart from one another, some days not. We see the same small dance class on weekend mornings, trying their best to not get too close. We have started to recognize the neighborhood dogs—the Dalmatian, the German shepherd, the blue pit bull, the pair of border collies a woman in a visor walks off leash. We hear birds. We see pairs of ducks. We see the same alligator lurking by the marshland. We see boats tethered in the harbor. We wave to our fellow runners and walkers.

      We wave to you now, with hope and solidarity. We hope you are finding small ways to get mooring in these seas. We hope you are taking good care of yourself and caring for others as you can.

    Laura & Paul

    Laura van den Berg is the author of two collections of stories, The Isle of Youth and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, and the novels Find Me and The Third Hotel. Her newest collection of stories, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, will be published by FSG in June 2020.

    Paul Yoon is the author of Once the Shore, Snow Hunters, The Mountain, and most recently Run Me to Earth. 

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