Today I made homemade masks. I was practicing sewing them, in part, because I committed to making twenty-five for the hospitals by Thursday and, in part because I thrive on being prepared. At the moment when it is recommended that we all wear masks, I will be ready. My family and all my friends will be ready because I will make masks for them all.
I haven't left my neighborhood in three weeks and I admit that I'm getting a little bit reclusive. Sometimes I fantasize about living this way forever. Today I made myself go to the grocery store. I had to see that I could still venture out. I have heard and read different theories about the ineffectiveness of masks with regard to contracting Coronavirus, but on this maiden voyage out of my neighborhood, wearing a mask made me feel safer and more protected. Protect comes from the Latin- protegere and means "covered in front." Pro=in front. Tegere= to cover. It's strange, to wear a mask to protect yourself (and others) because it essentially erases your facial expressions. People looking at you can't tell if you are smiling of scowling. It's social distancing on steroids. I am an incredibly expressive person. My face is always moving (you can tell by all the lines) and when I wore the mask I did not feel like myself at all. I felt like I was emotionally muzzled.
To make my masks, I used leftover scrap fabric that I had in my basement so the first batch of masks are multi-colored and polka-dotted. Before I left to the grocery I said to my partner Nancy, "I don't think I can wear this mask in public." This is a hilarious statement considering I haven't worn pants without elastic for close to month. Nancy looked at me in a way that I understood meant, "This is not the time to be concerned about what you are wearing." I got the point but still, when I was in the parking lot of the Red Apple I could see inside the store that only a few people had masks on and they were simple white hospital masks, not finger-paints-on-acid masks. In the end, I swallowed my fashion pride and put on my mask.
Wearing the mask felt beyond weird. It wasn't just that I was "that person"-- the overly cautious, super-paranoid person who makes her own Coronavirus mask. It was weird because I didn't feel like myself. I couldn't be myself. I felt like I was eliciting strange reactions from others in the grocery store too. I got curious looks and several people switched directions in the aisle when they were coming towards me. I was self-conscious about my grocery cart. Were people judging me for buying six cans of salsa? I couldn't say to them, "I love this salsa and they don't sell it at the grocery store in my neighborhood so I always buy a lot when I'm up here." I was like a character out of Body Snatchers, robotically going through my shopping in the midst of all these other people doing the same thing-- only they were the normal ones. I couldn't smile, silently reassuring people that I am just like them. I am a friendly, kind person and I love this salsa.
When I finally checked out, the clerk was really friendly, almost overly friendly. I wondered if he felt sorry for me, the weirdo in the crazy mask. He looked into my eyes and asked me if I'd found everything I needed. His kindness encouraged me to speak back to him. When I was shopping I spent forever trying to find yeast but was too embarrassed to ask anyone. At the checkout I pushed through my discomfort and asked the clerk if the packaging on their bulk quick start yeast was different from usual.
The experience made me appreciate the importance of non-verbal communication; I've read that fifty-five percent of communication is non-verbal. At the grocery store today without my facial expressions, I felt trapped in my own body, covered in front, unable to connect with my fellow shoppers. Without my smile and the other expressions I use to communicate, I was rendered voiceless, powerless to ask for help or say hello to people. I am guessing that not too far in the future more people, maybe most people will be wearing masks for a little while. And I'm sure we'll adapt. We'll find ways to read each other's eyes and we'll get more confident speaking through our masks. We'll make it work, but I really hope we don't have to do it for long.