Letters from Northern Arizona

Day 5
Eating Late Capitalism

I’m well on my way to gaining the self-quarantine twenty. Of course, it makes no sense to think that eating things now will help me if there is a lack of food later, but somewhere deep in there I think that it will. I can eat it all. Indulge myself on late capitalism and store up reserves in the form of fat. I am a squirrel with my cheeks full of nuts. I don’t have anywhere to bury them so I will just eat them all now.

Wait. Isn’t this how we got here?

I have never lived in a place where the shelves stretch empty down the aisles of the store. I am not accustomed to scarcity.

I have grown used to too much. Surplus. I don’t even see it most days. Except when I return from extended trips to Ecuador or the Philippines, I see the United States produce aisle for what it is. Fluorescent stacks of waxed identical apples in contrast to carefully balanced pyramids of mangos or lychees just pulled ripe from a tree. And then I get used to that again and pick through the apples, looking for the perfect one.

And the perfect apple brings me some sort of comfort in my ability to survive. I drink a smoothie with mail-ordered apricot pits, turmeric root, pepper corns, ginger, green tea, organic berries, and spinach every day. What if these things were missing from the shelves? Would the cancer return?

Yesterday, all that was left on the dried food shelf at my local store were bags of baby lima beans. I held them up to another shopper who was hovering at approximately six feet down, and asked if she’d ever tried them. “They’re not bad,” she laughed as we both nervously looked back at the empty shelves. I took one bag and left one for her. “I don’t know if my daughter is going to buy this,” I said doubtfully, walking away. My tween does not love lima beans.

After the conclusion of a zoom meeting last night a few friends stuck around talking. One person wove a basket. I chopped onions to the comforting sounds of their voices and looked over my shoulder to chime in here and there. We talked until my dish was done. I pulled it sizzling out of the oven. I wanted them to smell it and eat it. I wanted to show them. I wanted us to eat together. I wanted to share food.

It has only been five days.

Here is the recipe for a Greek lima bean bake. Please make and eat this. My recipe is slightly adapted from here.

    1. 1/2 lb or less of baby lima beans
    2. 3 heaping tablespoons or so of tomato paste
    3. Half an onion
    4. Tablespoon of thyme
    5. Tablespoon of Oregano
    6. Garlic
    7. Seasoned salt or regular salt (I love Penzy’s seasoned salt)
    8. Lemon (optional)
    9. Olive oil
    10. You can add meat too if you like that

Put on your favorite music so you can dance around while cooking for indoor activity. Too much couch sitting is not good for us.

Soak the baby limas for a few hours. When they get wrinkled, wash the water out and rinse them a bunch. Throw them into a pot and boil then simmer them. If they stay hard in the middle put a little bit of baking soda and apple cider vinegar in at the end to soften them. Don’t cook them too long though. You don’t want them to be mushy. Just not hard in the middle.

Preheat the oven to 375 or really whatever.

While you are cooking the baby beans, heat up olive oil in a pan. Chop up the onion into the size and shape you desire. Throw the onion and spices into the olive oil and then press some garlic in there (or throw in chopped garlic if you don’t have or like your garlic press). Stir it all up until the onions begin to become translucent. Toss in a bunch of tomato paste. Mix it all up.

When the baby lima beans are cooked but not mushy, drain them and throw them together with the mixture of the other stuff. Mix it all up. Put the mixture into something for the oven. I used the cast iron bottom of my tagine but you can use whatever you like to bake things in.

Put it in the oven. Bake it for ten minutes or so and check. See if it’s yummy and baked or if you want to keep it in there. When it is all baked and delicious looking take it out and eat it.

It also makes good leftovers for maybe one meal but then after that you will get sick of it so don’t go overboard. Just enough to eat it twice. The third time it is really not good. Like really, not at all. So, keep it fresh.

Be healthy. Be well.


Day 4

I’m standing in my bathroom with my hair clipped up in a mass of multi-colored, tangled curls, holding a toothbrush whose bristles are soaked in blue. This is the result of a maniacal brushing of all the colors through random strands after my friend Hanna complimented me last week by saying,

“Your hair looks good all white like that.”

Anxiety doesn’t have subject-specific boundaries, so this comment immediately integrated itself into the net of panic in which I was already suspended right then (in which, yes, I myself have spun). Now, instead of focusing on the invisible contagion that could be waiting on the cardboard package at my door or maybe on my shirt sleeve, I am worrying about which strand should be purple and which should be blue. Hanna’s comment came right before voluntary self-quarantine and a few weeks after a surgery that removed and reconnected body parts in different configurations. My appendix scar is now over my heart.

I don’t do regular coffeeshop writing anymore. One of my last ventures into the world before isolation was a trip to my stylist’s home salon, a luxury I can barely afford but one that connects me to the rituals of the femme. It is a notable line item in my year-end expenses along with too many lattes, pet food, books, and art supplies. My stylist, Donna, has been my confidant for eight years. She saw me through various disordered phases of hair growth with progressively longer pixie cuts as I recovered from chemotherapy.

“Can you make me look fun or something?” I ask her. And then she does. We share stories about our daughters and relationships and work while she cuts and I sit with a head full of symmetrically folded foils waiting for the color to set. Her chair is a safe place and my time there is a respite.

The other day I arrived worried about everything and everyone. People stuck with abusers in the home. Sad children who are isolated. Lost incomes. Unpaid rents. Everyone with anxiety. Donna asked how I was doing.

“I’m kind of a wreck with worry,” I told her.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “Everyone’s getting hysterical.”

I didn’t like that at all. I squirmed around while she finished my cut and left, followed by a shadow of displeasure.

Increasingly, Donna talks about money. Last year she obtained her real estate license and now she only cuts hair on the side. I am a single parent and underpaid academic. All of my life choices have led me toward living out my commitment to social justice and away from the accumulation of wealth. At each appointment I feel our companionship drift as she hints that her politics and values are moving to the right.

I went back later that day and, while Donna cut my daughter’s hair this time, I provided facts on contagion and risk. I explained contagion and mutation and medical system capacities and rattled off the latest data from John’s Hopkins and the WHO. I decided against a discussion of the word “hysterical.” How it came from the word uterus and interlocks with a history of misogynistic philosophers concerned about the “wandering of the womb.” I didn’t recommend reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and I didn’t discuss the way Charlotte Perkins Gilman and other writers of the time described the use of hysteria to discredit women through violence and isolation. And I didn’t tell her that their protagonists escaped through madness and death.

I thought of Perkins Gilman’s image of the creative woman gone mad, alone in her attic, crawling around and around until the wallpaper faded off the walls.

“But it’s only old people and the immunocompromised who will die,” Donna said as she measured out my daughter’s long bangs. An ugly image presented itself to my anxious brain. One that I could grab, chew, and roll around for weeks. “Ethnic cleansing.” A “pure race.” Let the weak die.

I woke up to my Alexa alarm set to a news brief. A despicable man was saying he thought the virus will “wash through.” He was calling on the poisoned roots of white supremacy. His audience is people who still believe that white people are superior, clean, genetically distinct, and untainted. The Rule of Hypodescent.

I feel nauseous with dread. My brain clamps on to these images and I slide into despair as I wonder who matters and who doesn’t in an authoritative regime.

I think of Catarina in Biehl’s Vita. A Political economy where our functioning and our earning potential determine our value. I think about empathy and empathy’s limits, and where the value of life ends in the minds of people who have power to spread a virus that we can’t see.

“Only the immunocompromised and old people will die.”

Suddenly and probably later than I would like to admit, I realize that I am on the other side. That I am one of the unworthy. I picture the line on a chart where my regular labs hover on low white blood cell count. My flat bones were radiated. My surgical incisions are healing. I am immunocompromised. Who else is immunocompromised or old? One of my dearest loves. My intellectual star graduate student. My parents. Do we matter?

A few days later, armed with disinfectant and a fluffy yellow microfiber cloth, I give in to my addiction to double almond milk honey lattes with cinnamon and go to the coffee drive through in my pajamas. I ask the barista if they are doing anything extra to disinfect. He snarls, shrugs, and says,

“If you’re worried you should probably just stay home” and continues to chew his bagel while he rings me up. I make a judgmental grimace, take my reusable cup from him through the window and wipe it down. Days later I read a conversation on social media about letting the virus spread and telling old people and immunocompromised to just stay home.

I’m now in full-on-isolation.

I’m not leaving the house except to walk the dogs. We are waiting for the anticipated peak. I see people together outside my window and watch pictures of crowded beaches and bars. On Democracy Now I learn that nurses in Italian hospitals aren’t counting bodies anymore. I have to brush my hair for my work zoom calls now. It’s looking kind of purple.

I have to stop touching my face.


March 23
Day I-don’t- know

I can’t sleep at all. The most recent information I read this evening was that the virus can possibly spread up to 15 feet. The article had a picture of a grocery store. I went to the store today to get fresh vegetables and bananas. There were no bananas (hey, that’s a song) and even though a dried goods shipment came in today there were only baby lima beans again. There was a woman there in her 20s who kept walking too close to me (that’s a song too). The store had a spray bottle with anti-bacterial properties according to the label that I sprayed all over my hands and the cart on the way in and then out.

When I got into the car, I wiped down the steering wheel. When I got home, I took off my clothes and threw them in the washing machine. After that I delivered eggs to my friend down the street.

I took the groceries out of the bags, threw the bags out in the door, and wiped down every package before putting them into the cabinets and fridge. I washed my hands three times and went outside and wiped down my car handle and the trunk handle with a spray that says it kills 99% of bacteria. Does this include viruses? I don’t know.

But then tonight I read about the new research about spreading of the virus. The journalist reminded readers that the virus can live on your hair. I didn’t wash my hair yet. Maybe I have touched it and touched my eyes. Maybe it’s all over the couch. It’s getting more and more difficult to keep away thoughts of impending doom.


Lisa J Hardy is a medical anthropologist and associate professor living in northern Arizona with her tween daughter, three rescued dogs, two baby bunnies, two grumpy ducks, and 14 misfit chickens. She currently spends her quarantine days interviewing people about COVID-19 over the phone. You can find her research writing in academic journals and her creative writing appears in Entropy, Gravel, Writer's Resist, and elsewhere. She also serves as editor of the journal Practicing Anthropology.


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