“How are you?”
Boy, that little phrase has become so fraught in the past couple-a months! It now isn’t so much a casual, benign hello, so much as a deep, complex asking after everything: your physical health, the health of your family and friends, your work situation, your weight, your stimulus money, the stress of being home and physical distancing, grief, loneliness, fear, anger, politics, protests, lack of sleep, and the state of your sourdough starter.
How am I, in this coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine craziness? Like you, mostly, I’m managing. Sometimes day to day, sometimes minute to minute, sometimes cookie to cookie. I live alone in a basement apartment in Astoria, Queens, New York City. I don’t have a boyfriend, I don’t have family near or neighbors that I’m close to, and I don’t have a pet. I have a plant. I love her, but my little potted pothos is not a snuggler. I’m Zooming, I’m face chatting, I’m phoning and texting, I’m struggling to work, I’m watching a lot of television, and I’m consuming too much news and too many carbs. I’m doing everything I can to not lose my mind in loneliness and fear.
I’m embarrassed by how much I miss intimacy. I’m not talking about sex, although the thought of that makes me audibly sigh. I miss hugs from my friends, sharing time and space with my fellow humans. I’ve done a few physically distanced friend meet-ups, which have been great, but I miss that pre-COVID day-to-day chumminess.
The lack of physical closeness makes the virtual more vital. When the shelter-in-place orders started to go out a few months back, besides carbohydrates, I also began over-consuming content: Netflix documentaries, silly sitcoms, classical music, pop music, showtunes, and podcasts of every shape and type. Although true crime is my first love, my friend Lulu Picart and her friend Alison Burns have a comedy conversational podcast about vacation fantasies called 10K Dollar Day, and when the quarantine began, they started doing daily mini-episodes called 10K Dollar Dailies. They’re short, fun little 10-minute check-ins for their community of fans, as a way to connect and support each other—and to have a much-needed laugh.
This got me thinking: What if I could do this sort of check-in for the HIV community? Certainly, we who have lived through the AIDS crisis and/or survived an HIV diagnosis have experience with pandemics and unique points of view on how to cope. I thought, maybe I could do a little live chat on social media, where I talk to someone in our community and simply see how they’re doing, how they’re coping and feeling, even what they’re eating! It also might be a way for me to feel helpful in this uncontrollable coronavirus situation we’re collectively experiencing, to help members of our community feel that much more connected, less alone. I reached out to Daisy Becerra, communications associate at TheBody, to see what she thought about my idea. When she said she liked the concept and said I should go ahead with it, I panicked, because I didn’t know how to even begin.
My first Instagram Live conversation was April 2 with fashion designer, Project Runway alum, and my friend, Mondo Guerra. Daisy put together promotional materials for the pending conversation, which she titled, At Home With. “At home with who?” I thought. Holy shit! I guess me! Oy. There was no backing out.
That first Thursday afternoon, I chose the best-kept corner of my Queens apartment, put on a shirt with buttons, went to Instagram, pointed my Android at myself, and pressed “Go Live.” What I’d expected to be a five- or 10-minute check-in ended up being a half hour of Mondo and me talking, catching up, and laughing. Of course, because he is a fashion designer, he managed to figure out a fabulous look—even if only from the shoulders up. I managed to have my hair combed. Mondo opened up and told the truth of his experience with this time of sheltering-in-place in his Brooklyn apartment, of his own surprising struggles with lack of work, worrying about how he was going to pay his rent, fears of the possibilities of getting sick, the worries about our national leadership, and so much more! Although we had some technical problems in that first InstaLive, I think the conversation ended up being very relatable to a lot of people.
In the weeks since that first conversation, I’ve been able to connect with folks from around the country: Mark S. King in Baltimore, Davina Conner in Denver, Rajee Narinesingh in Miami, Daniel Driffin in Atlanta, and Gregg Cassin in San Francisco. Each one has been frank about what they’re feeling, thinking, worrying about, and eating (chips, pies, and cookies seem to be most popular); what is most challenging about this time; and even what they’ve been able to learn and appreciate. Although each comes from a different physical place and diverse life experiences, they all brought humor and heart and love to the conversation.
This show, as I’ve come to call it, hasn’t been easy every week. Don’t get me wrong, my guests have always been game and enthusiastic and rarin’ to go, but there have been a few times when I was in mid-struggle and it was hard for me to perform. I needed the day before to gear up, to drum up the energy and gumption just to shower, shave, and show up—and it’s in my own apartment! But these conversations remind me of our collective connections to each other and keep me plugged in to how this pandemic is affecting people in different parts of the country. I’m grateful to TheBody for allowing me the platform, and I’ll continue to reach out to diverse members of our community in the coming weeks and months.
Personally, these weekly virtual tête-à-têtes remind me that although I don’t have anyone physically near, I do have a lot of people I am close to.
The weekly At Home With live conversations can be found every Thursday afternoon, 2 p.m. EST, at Instagram.com/thebodydotcom/. If you miss the live chat, it will also be available for 24 hours on TheBody’s Instagram Stories.