RHINEBECK, NEW YORK—After fourteen days of isolation in Brooklyn, I drove with my boyfriend to my parents’, upstate. I’m now self-sequestering in my brother’s old bedroom, not because I think I’m infected but because my dad is over seventy and it’s not worth the risk. This morning, I washed dishes with my mom sitting ten feet away and separated by a high counter.
“Can I use a dish towel to dry this, or should I use a paper one?” I asked her, along with whether I could pet our dog. I wondered whether to wipe down the Lysol wipes container with a wipe I’d pulled out of it. I searched for the spices, normally next to the stove, now moved out of sneezing range. The normal rhythms of drinking coffee and chopping onions and folding clothes are interrupted by second-guessing: If I just washed my hands, but then touched my shirt, should I wash them again before closing the cabinet? Our bodies, I realize, are relearning routines. Easy tasks take close consideration. I’ve lost my bearings in a kitchen I’ve known for twenty-six years.
A few weeks ago (which feel like years), my boyfriend showed me a video of the British comedian Steve Coogan in his Alan Partridge character, demonstrating how to “complete an ablution, entry to exit, without using your hands.” “Drop a thigh,” Patridge begins, bending his leg, then “elbow down to open,” as he clasps his hands and dips his right arm to the phantom door handle. He continues to narrate unusually graceful movements, popping his hip to open the door, spinning on left foot to face the “toilet,” lifting its seat with his right one, and so on.
“It’s funny to imagine getting so good at something so odd,” I think of saying, but stop myself from explaining the joke. It does seem impossible to ever adjust to the awkwardness of avoiding stray particles.
The routine reminds me of my favorite clip of the choreographer Bill T. Jones performing, initially, a short dance phrase, and then the same phrase while describing each movement in as much detail as possible. What was at first marvelously fluid becomes slower and belabored, though still beautiful, as Jones struggles to account for his body’s actions. “As one shifts one’s hip onto the left leg, the left arm breaks over the head, the right leg comes in and proceeds up to a passé parallel position,” he says, as his typically steady leg wobbles uncharacteristically. The task of carefully thinking about what he’s doing appears to unsettle his ability to do it.
Last Saturday, day seven of social-distancing, I tried to learn the choreography of Rosas danst Rosas (1983) by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, whose West Side Story I won’t be seeing this spring. Her company made a tutorial available as part of a quarantine-inspired project called “Dance in Times of Isolation.” I’d first seen the piece in a year-long dance workshop in my junior year of college. Last week I watched a dancer teach it as I muddled through on my boyfriend’s couch, after finding that the chair—the choreography’s one prop—kept shifting on his nice wood floors.
The dance is full of impulse-like actions and slackened pauses. Sexy movements, like running hands through hair and crossing legs, are done with a staccato precision that nearly de-sexes them. I couldn’t learn the steps well or quickly, but I’m hoping by summer it will feel more natural and that the kitchen steps will no longer have to be.
Liza Batkin is a writer and law student in New York. (April 2020)