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Pandemic Silver Lining – Better Sleep for College Students


*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on HealthDay.

A new study that investigated the sleep habits of 139 Colorado college students before and after pandemic lockdowns began, found a surprising upside: better sleep.

“In the end, a higher percentage of students were obtaining the recommended amount of sleep necessary for health and cognitive function and learning and performance,” said lead author Ken Wright, director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study started in January as a way to give students in his sleep physiology class insight into their own slumber habits. After Colorado put a stay-at-home order into effect March 26, Wright realized it offered a chance to study how suddenly changing schedules might affect a good night’s sleep.

Students first reported on their sleep habits in late January and early February, then again after stay-at-home orders began. By then, students were taking courses remotely, some from different time zones.

On average, students were sleeping about 30 minutes more each weeknight and 24 minutes on weekend nights than before the stay-at-home order went into effect, the study found.

That meant 92% were getting the seven hours of shut-eye recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And students who had slept the least before the stay-at-home order improved the most — logging as much as two more hours of sleep each night, the study found.

The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

Source: HealthDay

Children May Not Always Grow Out of Being Picky Eaters


*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on MedicalXpress.

By age four, children could be established picky eaters, a recent study suggests. And the more parents try to control and restrict children’s diets, the more finicky they may become, according to findings published in Pediatrics.

“Picky eating is common during childhood and parents often hear that their children will eventually ‘grow out of it.’ But that’s not always the case,” says senior author Megan Pesch, M.D., a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

But there’s a silver lining for worried parents—while fussy eaters have a lower body mass index, most are still in the healthy range and not underweight, researchers found. They may also be less likely to be overweight or experience obesity than peers.

The study followed 317 mother-child pairs from low-income homes over a four-year period. Families reported on children’s eating habits and mothers’ behaviors and attitudes about feeding when children were four, five, six, eight, and nine.

Picky eating was stable from preschool to school-age, indicating that any attempts to expand food preferences may need to occur in toddler or preschool years to be most effective. High picky eating was associated with lower BMIs and low picky eating was associated with higher BMIs.

The pickiest eaters also were often associated with increased pressure to eat and restriction on certain types of foods. This reinforces previous Mott-led research suggesting that pressuring children to eat foods they dislike won’t lead to a well-rounded diet later in life or encourage better health or development.

Source: MedicalXpress

Motherhood Thrust Me Into A New, Often Isolated Life. Then The World Joined Me.


When New York City went into lockdown in mid-March, my family was at the hospital, in the pediatric intensive care unit, where my 3-month-old son lay cradled in a makeshift nest of receiving blankets and tangles of cords atop a hospital bed. For five days, I pumped milk at his bedside, let his little hand curl around my finger, and watched his oxygen levels as he battled a respiratory infection.

Prior to this hospital stay, I could have counted the hours I was outside our apartment after our son’s birth on my fingers. Now, as everyone who could retreated into their homes, my baby and I — and my husband, until a new hospital policy limiting patient visitors was put into place — were forced out. 

Despite this, there was a strange symmetry to the timing. A medical crisis usually throws your life wildly out of sync with the world outside. Instead, as Lauren Collins wrote in The New Yorker of grieving for her father amid a pandemic, the world had plunged into crisis parallel to ours. The panic and upheaval throughout the city seemed fitted to our private misery, though they were unrelated. My phone vibrated with texts from friends checking in, not because they had any reason to know our son was sick, but because everyone in New York was checking in on everyone they knew. 

After he turned the corner and was slowly weaned off oxygen, we were sent home to the canned beans and granola bars I’d stocked up on the week before, in a fit of what I’d hoped was paranoia. We stayed inside. Our son still had a phlegmy cough; we’d hover over him as he slept, trying to discern if he was working too hard to breathe, if he had to go back. But he didn’t. Instead, we eased into a new reality that was also my old reality: pacing the floors of our one-bedroom apartment, gazing out the window, imagining how nice it would be to take a walk or go to a café or even commute to our offices but making no move to do so. 

At this point, I had been on maternity leave for three-and-a-half months. For much of it, my husband had been traveling for work while I stayed home with a baby I was, deep down, rather terrified of. I’d spent little time around babies before having one. Everything he did surprised and unnerved me, from his silent glares to the way he ground my nipples between his gums, leaving them crushed and bloody. He seemed fragile and perpetually on the verge of howling or needing a bottle. I knew other moms routinely left the house with their babies, and I wanted to be among them, but it wasn’t quite clear to me how they did this. Even after I made a few successful outings for walks or music classes, it seemed no less mysterious to me how I might repeat it. Days and weeks passed without my ever breathing fresh air. When I did leave, the apartment building being constructed across the street would have doubled in size. I had the vertiginous sense that time was moving at the wrong speed, as if I’d woken from what I thought was a nap only to discover I’d been asleep for weeks.

One day this past winter, desperate for a taste of the outside world, I strapped him to my chest and walked to a coffee shop nearby, ordered a salad, and sat down to eat. Sensing that he was stirring, I began rocking violently in my seat, hoping to pacify him long enough to have my lunch. I ate the entire salad that way, rocking and chewing. By the time I finished my walk home, I was sweating in the February chill and I hadn’t enjoyed myself at all. 

I had expected becoming a mother to obliterate my old life, to thrust me into a different sort of existence, and it had. What I hadn’t expected was that the rest of the world would meet me there.

New motherhood and life amid a pandemic share so many similarities that, for me at least, they’ve bled together. I haven’t set foot outside with a clear mind in five months; every errand is fraught with anxiety and additional burdens (the masks, the diapers, the sanitizer, the wriggly human). I tense up at the prospect of entering a crowded space, once, childishly, because I was afraid the baby would start screaming and draw glares and now, more rationally, because I’m afraid of contagion. Bereft of its old markers, time continues to feel off-kilter. Each day, an endless continuation of the day before, is spent in the same place and doing the same rote tasks. We know this won’t last forever, but we also don’t know how to make plans for anything worth looking forward to because we don’t know exactly when this state will end. 

Leaving home to go to work, as many women must do soon after giving birth and as many essential workers must still do now, can be physically dangerous and emotionally devastating. Maternity leave, like sheltering in place, is a privilege if not a vacation, a luxury that rarely feels luxurious. It can be claustrophobic, isolating, enervating. Ever since I gave birth, I’ve lived in sweatpants and stained tees. When hair salons shut down, it had already been five months since my last haircut.

Because my mother died when I was very young, Mother’s Day has been a day of mourning for me for 20 years. Like many with dead or bad moms, I’d twitch at suggestions to call, send flowers to or buy discounted perfume sets for a person who didn’t exist for me, the annual reminders of all I had lost. I anticipated my first Mother’s Day as a mother perhaps too much; for years, I expected that at last I’d spend the day happy and celebratory, in sync with the promotional emails and crowded brunch spots that mark the occasion. Instead, it’s become a bit sadder for everyone. Some are losing their mothers and grandmothers to COVID-19. Other moms are separated from their kids by social distancing requirements.

Still others are with them all the time, far more than they ever expected to be. I’m writing this from the kitchen table in my small Brooklyn apartment. My now-5-month-old son is wailing in the bedroom; we’re sleep-training him and it’s naptime. He hates naptime and I hate listening to him cry. Every two hours, all day, I get up from my laptop, open Slack on my phone and curl up to nurse him on the couch. In between, I struggle to focus on my work assignments and to bite my tongue when I’m tempted to weigh in on my husband’s parenting decisions. I thought by now I’d be back at the office, swanning about the newsroom, attending meetings and wearing impractical outfits (midi skirts! dry-clean-only tops!) while he got his turn at solo parental bonding. Instead, the expected separation has been put off to some unknowable date. Another end date is knowable: Tomorrow, my husband goes back to work, and balancing care of our infant with our jobs will become doubly difficult. 

At times it feels like the worst possible timing. At times I fantasize about living through the pandemic as my old childless self — baking endless loaves of banana bread, tearing through Netflix and leaving bottles of red wine in my wake, retreating to bed for the weekend with a stack of novels, learning to sew masks.

But though new motherhood has so much in common with the bleakness of life in quarantine, it also contains within it the purpose many are finding in sourdough starters and windowsill gardens: Every day, my husband and I need to help a living thing grow. The relentlessness of the task can feel inhumane, and yet each moment spent wiping a butt is a moment I can’t spend sinking into the couch, crushed by the weight of existence. The other week, my son started laughing. The timing could not have been better.

This Is What It’s Like Acting From Home In Isolation


I couldn’t listen to the news because it made my heart freeze and my fingers hurt,” says David Bradley’s character in a new digital play about the coronavirus, released on YouTube.

Two months into lockdown, the Covid-19 death toll remains a sobering daily truth, and intaking the constant cycle of news and analysis about the virus is an ongoing challenge.

But due to the obvious risks involved with traditional filming methods under lockdown, actors haven’t been able to respond to the coronavirus, and the ways it is affecting our lives, in the way they may naturally like to.

It’s not only drama that has been affected. Live shows like Strictly Come Dancing are in jeopardy due to social distancing rules, and filming stopped on all of the soaps, but most are due to start shooting again with strict new measures in place.  

Now that a significant period of time has passed since lockdown began though, script writers have begun writing stories responding to coronavirus.

One of the first pieces have been filmed under lockdown is She Left Home For A While, the headliner from a new series of digital plays responding to the virus by the theatre company Paines Plough. 

There are 31 ‘digital plays’ being written and recorded from isolation in the Paines Plough Come To Where I Am series, and Simon Stephens’ play, written especially for David Bradley to perform, is the first to be released.

The Harry Potter and After Life star has filmed himself acting in the one-man show, which examines the idea of what ‘Home’ really means now we’re all spending so much time in it.  

David shot the digital play using an iPad from his front room at home in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and speaking to HuffPost UK, says he learnt a lot from the new experience. 

“Our ability to adapt in these times is quite inspiring,” says David. “I’ve never been directed virtually before, but it works. I recorded takes until I felt I was happy. I would send that off pinging through the airwaves to Charlotte” [Bennett, one of two directors alongside Katie Posner, both the Artistic Directors of Paines Plough]. 

Charlotte, Katie and playwright Simon Stephens communicated with David via FaceTime calls over two days until they felt the finished product, which has a seven-minute runtime and tells the story of a man waiting for an unnamed woman to return home, conveyed the story.

David filmed the whole thing multiple times from scratch in his living room.

I just set up my iPad on a table and experimented.”David Bradley

 “I just set up my iPad on a table, I sat in a chair and experimented,” reflects David. 

He soon discovered how acting from home requires more than just the acting.

“You can control the lighting and the sound yourself and you can see on the screen when you’re doing it what it looks like – it’s like FaceTiming,” he says. 

“Normally in a TV studio you rely on your lighting guy or director of photography to make sure the lighting is just right, and you go along with what they do because they’re the experts. But when you’re looking at the thing you think, ‘Ooh, that looks better a little bit darker there, a bit of shade there’: you find you’re doing all this stuff yourself, which is fun.

“It’s just a question of looking into the monitor and seeing what effect the lighting was having.

David, who used no artificial lighting or enhanced sound for the project, adds: “I just had daylight coming in but made sure that the shutters didn’t put too much light on my face. I experimented a little bit with shutters and natural sunlight.”

“I think he was balancing it on about ten million books, but we got there in the end,” reflects Charlotte Bennett. “He’s amazing at taking direction, just totally brilliant.”

“It was joyful, he’s kind and lovely,” adds Katie Posner. “It is so beautiful because it can encompass so much…. There are so many metaphors that sit within it, and the spaces in-between everything that we’re experiencing on a daily basis.”

The play’s about a “man of a certain age,” says David, and suggests feelings of loneliness and displacement at home under lockdown: it asks whether this ‘home’ is the same home as the one we knew before, which was full of people and love.  

Does David identify with the theme? Does he feel adrift in his own home under lockdown?  

“There aren’t enough hours in the day,” says the actor, who’s now 78. “I’ve found myself involved in quite a few projects… there’s been a lot to get out of bed for to be honest. Just enjoying FaceTiming grandkids, missing a cuddle, but aren’t we all?”

With energy levels high, David’s sought out new hobbies from home.

“I keep popping down the garden to see how my babies are doing!” he says of his new love for gardening.

“It’s something I never bothered with before but now I’m really into it. I used to sit in the kitchen and enjoy watching my wife doing it, but now we’re both getting our hands dirty and mucking in with compost, and I’m absolutely adoring it.

“These new things you didn’t think you’d be interested in, they become a bit of a hobby.”

Gardening, cooking, musical instruments: the piece David acts in asks whether any of the possessions or hobbies we partake in within our homes matter unless there’s someone to share our houses with.

“It’s not for making a cup of tea, it’s bigger than that, it’s more than that,” says David about the idea of ‘home’. “If and when she finally comes home, that will be it. He ends up looking out of the window, still waiting.”

“The daily exercise was a great thing to start off with, and now instead, I’m doing at least one hour of state sanctioned snacking a day,” laughs Travis Alabanza, another creative involved in the Paines Plough coronavirus response. 

They are writing three short monologues responding to the virus which each feel stripped back like the Simon Stephens story.

“Normally when I write I’m talking about big bold political messages in my work,” they say, “I guess my lockdown piece looks kind of the opposite: and I think right now grand gestures aren’t something we can always hold: there’s a lot of power in simplistic gestures right now.”

Much like David Bradley’s work, Travis’s will be filmed using the props and technology actors have in their homes, and nothing more high-tech.

“My character wouldn’t have film equipment in the house,” they say, “they’d have a webcam, so I want them to use what they have.”

A rise in entertainment responding to the virus is inevitable as the industry moves to accept our ‘new normal,’ but everyone at Paines Plough stresses the importance of self-care. 

Production will inevitably take longer, as we adjust to our new work-life under coronavirus, but on the plus side, this whole period could be a positive driver for change in the creative industries.

“There’s an opportunity for a different way, and maybe that’s not a bad thing,” ponders Katie. 

“Whether that’s us telling big stories on street corners or whether that’s massive outdoor festivals.

“Whatever those restrictions are, we definitely believe that stories will still be told and culture will still be made and it won’t all be just responding to a camera down a Zoom lens or an individual monologue: there will be ambition, it’s just we all have to understand what that will look like. What does it mean for us to be together in a different way? Because Covid’s not going anywhere.”

“We need to plan for a future with Covid in it and it’s stupid to pretend we don’t,” believes Charlotte. “In theatre or any industry, Covid’s part of the future picture right now – as terrifying as that is.”

Paines Plough launch Come To Where I Am, a series of 31 short plays from writers about the places they call home, and The Place I Call Home, a series of digital stories connecting international writers across borders. All new plays will be made available online

Let’s Just Admit That A Zoom Party Isn’t Really A Party


There is an art to a great party. 

The setting. The music. The guest list. The refreshments. And then there is the anticipation — the frisson of excitement you experience when gearing up for what could be an exceptional night. (Just as easily, it could be horrible, boring, awkward and anxious, but it’s the hope that’s key here.) If all of those pieces come together, you might find yourself dancing to Robyn in someone’s living room at 1 a.m., or striking up a conversation with a cute stranger, or laughing intimately with an old friend. 

A great party represents the very best of large-scale social interactions — exciting, electric, full of possibility. In 2016, author Alexander Chee spoke at length with The Atlantic about the significance of parties in the real world and in literature. He argued that “there’s a chaos agent quality to them: You just don’t know who’s going to be there, or why. You could run into an old enemy, an old friend, an old friend who’s become an enemy. You could run into an ex-lover, or your next lover. The stakes are all there, and that’s why they’re so fascinating.”

On the other hand, a Zoom party, the paltry stand-in we’ve been offered in the age of the coronavirus, is one of the worst social interactions. Virtual “parties” do not allow for the contained chaos that Chee pointed to — the frenetic energy and unknowns that can produce pleasures you did not predict. 

Who among us would attend a party in the real world if it meant walking into the home of someone, whom you may or may not be close with, and screaming whatever you had to say to a room full of people, who were all obligated to go silent whenever you spoke. You would then be forced to watch as they responded, one by one, or moved on, one by one, to other conversations while you became a silent observer. 

Virtual parties strip away the best parts of the form. There is no room for mingling or side conversations or lingering eye contact that could become more. You can’t pop in and out unnoticed, or move seamlessly on from a conversation that has run its course over to another small group in which you might fare better. Even music operates on a lag. Without the opportunity for happy chaos, a “party” begins to resemble a large virtual classroom with a rotating set of lecturers. It becomes just another task, one that we presumably have endless time for now that plans are a thing of the past, but that feels oppressive nonetheless. 

When we pop into a virtual party, our brains work overtime and derive little pleasure from the effort.

When I was first getting to know one of my now dear friends, she invited me to a birthday party at a Brooklyn bar. I didn’t know the birthday boy, but it turned out that I did know two of her new BFFs; I had gone to summer camp with one and college with another. The party was perfectly fine by all accounts: We drank and laughed and caught up, and then things turned a corner and my friend got a little too drunk and wanted to go home. This is how we found ourselves sitting on a random corner at 2 a.m. having made it only halfway back to north Brooklyn because she couldn’t stop puking out the windows of our Uber. Eventually, we found a lady driver who did not kick us out and we got safely back to my apartment. When my friend woke up on my couch the following morning, we knew we would be real friends for a long time.

If that party had occurred via Zoom, I would have virtually popped in and quickly realized that I didn’t know half of the people. I would have stayed silent while staring at my tiny face in the corner of the screen, listening to more familiar acquaintances banter, wondering if there was a way for me to gracefully exit without pointing out my departure to the whole group. I would not have made any new, meaningful bonds. I certainly would not have had a friend crash on my isolated, sanitized couch. 

Since New York City went into lockdown more than two months ago, I have attended Zoom seders, birthday parties, happy hours, book clubs, dinner parties and watch parties. Some have been genuinely delightful. Others have felt depleting and stressful, and I’ve heard similar sentiments from my stuck-at-home peers. 

But there has also been a desperation to re-create the social lives we led in the real world, and it has driven us to this watered-down, screen-heavy half-life. When I was first writing about our mass embrace of FaceTime, Zoom and Google Hangouts, a few of my sources wondered if the initial excitement they felt around virtual gatherings might wane as time went on. At least anecdotally, their prediction seems to have come true. 

There is also actual science to back up the feeling of exhaustion attending an onslaught of virtual gatherings may provoke ― “Zoom fatigue,” as National Geographic’s Julia Sklar termed it. 

Body language cues, which are usually essential to human communication, are limited or lost altogether on screen. In our real-world interactions, “these cues help paint a holistic picture of what is being conveyed and what’s expected in response from the listener,” Sklar wrote. But in the digital-only world, those cues are significantly dampened. It becomes nearly impossible to make meaningful eye contact (and if you do, that eye contact can feel way too intense) or pick up on someone fidgeting with discomfort or catch someone smirking flirtatiously in your direction. 

These challenges exist with any kind of screen-only social interaction. But they are significantly magnified when you’re talking about a large group social interaction. “Gallery view — where all meeting participants appear Brady Bunch-style — challenges the brain’s central vision,” Sklar wrote, “forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker.” 

So when we pop into a virtual party, our brains work overtime and derive little pleasure from the effort.

Rather than grasping for a pitiful approximation of the things we loved in our old lives, it may be wise … to slow down and sit with ourselves. To learn to embrace unfilled time.

Those who have planned a Zoom birthday party or enjoyed a FaceTime happy hour with more than 10 people might think that I’m being a tech curmudgeon. On the contrary, I am fairly open to embracing video-based socializing.

My boyfriend and I had never FaceTimed before the coronavirus hit, and it’s been a real gift to our relationship. I also have a wonderful standing date now with four of my oldest friends, who are spread out across several states. I’ve found that small gatherings where everyone knows each other tend to work, mimicking a group conversation you might have around a midsize dinner table. If there is a game or other activity central to the gathering, like watching a movie, that can also take away the pressure to be constantly half-engaging with everyone’s video feeds. 

Rather than grasping for a pitiful approximation of the things we loved in our old lives, it may be wise to lean into activities that the technology at hand is best suited for — smaller, more intimate gatherings — and then take the opportunity to slow down and sit with ourselves. To learn to embrace unfilled time if we are lucky enough to have it.

Perhaps as the inevitable virtual-party fatigue sets in, we will be better prepared to carefully curate and properly appreciate our post-pandemic social gatherings. I find myself longing for a day when I can casually slip in the front door of an apartment to find a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces, music playing, a stocked bar, the hum of chatter in the air.

Will it be an exceptional night? Maybe. Just maybe.

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus

Street Artist Honors Protesters With Nina Simone’s Iconic Quote About Freedom


Street artist Pegasus is showing solidarity with anti-racism protesters with his latest piece.

He depicted the late legendary singerNina Simone on a wall in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London on Thursday, next to an existing piece by the artist Squarms. Underneath Pegasus’ image of Simone, he printed one of her most iconic quotes: “I’ll tell you what freedom means to me: no fear.”

Pegasus, who grew up in Chicago, said the racial justice demonstrations that have taken place worldwide over the past couple of weeks had “really hit home” for him as “an American Latin man with black cousins.”

“I am far too familiar with the injustice the African American community face on a daily basis,” Pegasus, whose real name is Chris Turner, wrote in an email to HuffPost. “We take 5 steps forward in the fight for equality across all minority groups and at the same time are forced 10 steps backwards. I stand with our black community for freedom without fear.”

In the documentary “Nina: An Historical Perspective,” Simone uses the quote to explain what it means to be free.

“I’ve had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that’s something else. That’s really something else,” Simone says in the film. “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life — no fear. Lots of children have no fear. That’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it’s something to really, really feel. Like a new way of seeing. Like a new way of seeing something.”

Check out the clip here:

In ‘Death In Her Hands,’ The Cure For Loneliness Is A Good Murder


Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel, “Death in Her Hands,” opens with a note written in “neat, impersonal printing” on ruled notebook paper. 

“Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.”

When Vesta Gul, an elderly woman out for a morning walk with her dog Charlie, finds the note on the ground in the birch woods near her lonely cabin, she looks for Magda nearby but finds nothing, not even a “tangle of hair caught on the coarse fallen branches.” Is there really a body? Is it a prank, a trick, the first line of a short story?

Vesta soon becomes convinced that the murder is real, despite the absence of a body, and begins to investigate haphazardly. It’s impossible to ignore, reading “Death in Her Hands,” how much detective work resembles writing a story. In fact, Vesta lingers over it, looking up “top tips for mystery writers” to aid her investigation and deeming the task “a creative endeavor, not some calculated procedure.”

The gumshoe reaches for stock characters to populate a suspect list; dreams up possible motives, behavioral patterns, hidden veins of rage or perversity; tries out narrative after narrative of the fateful event to find an order of events that rings true. If Vesta’s array of suspects is suspiciously untethered to reality — one, she decides with some sense of portent, should be a ghoul named “Ghod” — and her theories of the murder arise from nothing more than her own lurid imagination, well, she’s only a bit further down the continuum toward pure storytelling. 

“Death in Her Hands” shows another way of dealing with loneliness and unnameable grief: desperately clamping onto a familiar story form in order to organize one’s pain, fear and the voices in one’s head.

In a New York Times interview this spring, Moshfegh called “Death in Her Hands” a “loneliness story.” Widowed and friendless in her twilight years, Vesta lives in an isolated cabin, in an area she just moved to, with only her big, lumbering, loyal dog for company. She despises the locals, who she sees as uncultured, impoverished, unhealthy. Her daily schedule revolves around walks with Charlie and a weekly grocery trip for rubbery bagels and rotisserie chicken. It would be mind-numbing — the loneliness, the boredom — were it not for the urgent task that falls into her lap: solving a murder.

“Death in Her Hands” contains both the assurance that usually marks Moshfegh’s writing — the disaffected narrator, breathing contemptuously from the page; the queasy sensory details (she eats chicken with her fingers, “not caring that the gelatinous fat was clinging to my lips and gumming up my teeth”); the slightly poisonous atmosphere, like a miasma lingering in the air — and a self-conscious anxiety about every narrative choice.

With Vesta as an authorial surrogate, her investigation a proxy for the construction of a novel, Moshfegh can linger over the many pitfalls of storytelling. Vesta muses that the note, the first line of the novel, may have been a hacky first line of a novel “tossed out as a false start, a bad opening. I could understand the hesitation. It’s a rather dark, damning way to begin a story: the pronouncement of a mystery whose investigation is futile.” (Everyone’s a critic these days.) She dissects the note, its arrogance and silliness. She concludes that it must have been written by a boy, a teenager. She calls him Blake. “It was the kind of name parents were naming their boys these days … the name was sneaky and a bit dumb, the kind of boy who would write, It wasn’t me.” 

A crime novel, it seems, is the form Moshfegh reaches for when she needs to get something done. She once infamously told The Guardian that she’d written “Eileen,” the literary noir that launched her to fame, in hopes of winning a big publishing contract and a name. This novel, written before “Eileen” was published, also had a utilitarian purpose, she told The New York Times this spring: to help her recover emotionally from finishing her short story collection “Homesick for Another World.” 

“I needed to write something to get me onto the other side of an experience,” she said. So she forced herself to write at least 1,000 words a day until she completed a project, and ended up with another play on crime fiction. 

Moshfegh’s second novel, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” almost determinedly resisted narrative movement; her protagonist spends the book sinking further and further into medicated sleep to cope with a profound loneliness and grief she refuses to name. 

“Death in Her Hands” shows another way of dealing with loneliness and unnameable grief: desperately clamping onto a familiar story form in order to organize one’s pain, fear and the voices in one’s head. 

The recent true crime trend has sometimes been lauded as a practical response to a world in which women are constantly endangered. The target audience for these shows and podcasts, however, tends to be the least threatened women: white, middle-class, cis women who are unlikely to face an attack by a stranger. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, hosts of popular podcast “My Favorite Murder,” come closer to the answer in their frequent refrain that they talk about murder because they’re anxious. True crime offers a palliative to anxiety — not just, as they tend to imply, anxiety about literally being murdered while walking to one’s car, but free-floating anxiety, anxiety about work or relationships or moving through the world. True crime orients our inchoate feelings of fearful tension toward a clear threat and a step-by-step resolution. 

“Games, all kinds, are to give stupid people some sense of control over reality,” Vesta recalls her late husband Walter telling her. “But we are not in control — not them, nor you or me, Vesta.”

And yet a crime to solve harnesses Moshfegh’s unease, and also Vesta’s, at least temporarily. Vesta, who dumped her lorazepam in the toilet because she “felt it disrespectful to try to numb away [her] grief” for her Walter, could use some soothing. As her quixotic quest veers further and further from its tenuous roots in reality, we learn more about the roots of her unease. Prior to his death, Walter dominated her life; a German-born professor with a punishing charisma, he commanded all her time and attention. At first her reminiscences of him seem fond. Her mourning for him was consuming; her loneliness is deep. Without him, she clings to Charlie, her newly adopted dog, for security and companionship. But dark notes begin to slip in, a vision of a life spent playing hostess to her husband’s colleagues, enduring his criticisms and betrayals, wondering what might have been if she hadn’t met him when she was so young and tethered herself to him until death. 

As Vesta’s investigation careens toward its conclusion, she struggles to hold all the threads — of the plot she believes she’s uncovering, of the plot of her own life. The novel itself seems wobbly as Vesta’s mental state slides off a cliff, sliding in and out of bizarre scenes that may be real or hallucinations. 

The shakiness of “Death in Her Hands” — the endless metacriticism, the glimpses into the alternate rushes of smugness and despair that make up the writing process, the cascade of visions and plot twists that bring it all to a resolution — makes it a curious read, both out of control and hyperaware of the lack of control. And yet there’s something touching about this, which makes it appealing even at its rough moments.  

Moshfegh’s fiction is so often coated in diamond-hard layers of cynicism; in “Death in Her Hands,” the cynicism is cracked. We can reach out and touch the fragile emotional core. Even as the reader can’t trust Vesta, a classic unreliable narrator, Moshfegh lets us close to her needy heart; deep down, despite her barbed tongue and her self-imposed isolation, she wants to be found.

Quarantine Diaries: Working Through It All


Quarantine Diaries is a communal project of stories from our readers about how they are managing their lives during the coronavirus crisis. In this piece, essential workers and their loved ones share what life is like.
You can read the five-part project here.

I haven’t had anyone to really confide in during this quarantine about my fears. My best friend died last year. Losing my wife — as well as my 9-year-old son, Ryan, who is on chemo treatment — is my greatest fear. My wife’s a nurse in a hospital. So three days a week, I watch my wife go off into hazardous duty. I thought as a vet that was behind me. Twenty-one years together, 20 years of marriage, I can’t picture life without her or having to watch her succumb to COVID-19, but she’s dedicated to her fellow nurses and patients, and she goes in even though I know she’s afraid.

Michael Taylor, 49, from Pensacola, Florida

I am a nurse practitioner in urgent care in the desert. March 13 was the first day I started testing patients. The large hospital down the street started sending physicians to us to get tested. On that particular day, we had about four COVID tests and not enough gowns for both a medical assistant and me to evaluate and test all four patients. I emailed my colleague over that weekend expressing my frustration with lack of communication and personal protection equipment. I couldn’t understand why the 475-bed hospital 1 mile up the street wasn’t testing its own physicians. I didn’t really get an answer.

Despite all the stress of work and reality of living through a pandemic, I am connecting with my 14-year-old daughter and reconnecting with myself. I have introduced my daughter to hiking. Twenty-plus years ago, this was my “thing.” In my late 20s, I hiked the Long Trail of Vermont, which is 272 miles. But life, marriage, motherhood, work, divorce, graduate school took over. My love of hiking just quietly slipped away. Quarantine and the act of social distancing has allowed my daughter and I to commune with nature.

Jennifer Wurster, 49, from Tucson, Arizona

My husband is a pulmonary and critical care physician, making him one of the most qualified to care for the sickest COVID-19 patients. At home, we have three young daughters, including a newborn who was born just three weeks before COVID-19 exploded in New Jersey. So our home is a myriad of emotions during this time of pandemic and quarantine.

At work, my husband is faced with a virus that is wreaking havoc — it’s nasty, unpredictable and unknown. His patients are incredibly sick, and the hospital staff put themselves at risk every day in an effort to treat and care for them with limited knowledge and resources. My husband was in the ICU the night they ran out of ventilators and came home looking like someone I’ve never seen before. And even though he is a healthy 39-year-old, it’s become abundantly clear that he is not immune from this nasty virus.

I am so worried about my husband’s physical and mental health. Even though he is meticulous in his decontamination when he comes home, I worry about what he could transmit to our kids, especially our newborn. I worry about my girls, who are clearly reacting to the social isolation, fear and not having their father around as much with regression and outbursts. I worry about my children’s grandparents and my immunocompromised sister and sister-in-law. I worry about those who live alone. If I feel lonely in a house with a husband and three children, I cannot imagine that pain. The worry is so intense that I feel pain in my body. My chest is constantly tight and heavy.

Sharon Rosen, 34, from Tenafly, New Jersey

Around my office, there are many individuals experiencing homelessness. We see them regularly when we are driving to my office. Today while we were there, in between calls, I urged my son to complete his school work. Instead, he sat gazing out the window. As I started to lose my patience with his apparent daydreaming, he looked up at me and asked, “When I finish my school work, can we go give the people who are sleeping on the sidewalk hand sanitizers? I’ve been watching them and I don’t think they have a place to wash their hands now that all the stores are closed.”

His question stopped me in my tracks, and I immediately stopped what I was doing. I smiled at him, and to his surprise, I responded that school could wait. Instead, he and I then loaded up his backpack with hand sanitizers and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the neighborhood handing them out. We never did finish his school work that day.

Nancy Maldonado, 40, from San Diego, California

I am still working, in a hardware store. Grief overwhelms me constantly — at work, at home, seeing an old friend at the grocery store. My significant other, who is 71 [and] has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and heart disease, is self-isolating. I have gone from huge and wonderful hugs to none. Friends who are terrified of the disease are self-isolating.

It is understandable but difficult. I am a 64-year-old hugger with friends, family and a lover who are untouchable. But this week, a few changes occurred. A co-worker, talking about her relationship and crying, heard me and said, “I don’t care, I’m going to hug you!” A friend met me at the beach to walk our dogs and realized the depth of my grief and hugged me. Human touch is invaluable, needed — a need more essential than food or water. A dog and cat inhabit my home with me. They have worried and clung to me, feeling my despair. For these brief moments, I am immeasurably grateful.

Linda S. Bridges, 64, from Scarborough, Maine

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Quarantine Diaries: Finding And Spreading Joy


Quarantine Diaries is a communal project of stories from our readers about how they are managing their lives during the coronavirus crisis. In this piece, readers share how they are spreading joy within their homes and communities. You can read the five-part project here.

We took all the extra time to reflect and spend it in a way that had a positive impact on our lives. We converted a portion of our living room into a makeshift studio. And we spend countless hours here every day. It is the highlight of our day, exchanging ideas, crafting, painting, creating, having fun productively and experiencing a creative flow that keeps us happy and going. It is our comfort zone and helps us express who we are.

A tiny conversation with our mom led us to create a fundraiser, Art from the Heart, for the Akshaya Patra Foundation, a nonprofit in India that provides freshly cooked meals to school-going children and are helping the needy in the wake of COVID-19. My mom created the fundraiser on her Facebook profile, and we added photos of all the paintings we have created so far.

Sonali Patodia, 42, from San Jose, California. Her 11½-year-old daughter, Ahanna, and 9-year-old daughter, Anousha, created the paintings above.

I turned 21 in quarantine on April 5. A week later, my sister turned 17. We’re both part of the class of 2020. I am a graduating college senior, and she is a graduating high school senior. We’re feeling the pains of this loss along with all other graduating seniors. But somehow, we managed to make both our birthdays the most memorable we’ve ever had. For my birthday, she took me on a drive-thru scavenger hunt downtown commemorating major milestones in my life. For hers, I designed an indoor unicorn-themed escape room for her to solve. Without quarantine, we likely would not have been as present with each other as we were on our birthdays. The undivided attention we gave each other made it unforgettable.

Eliza Tan, 21, from Charlotte, North Carolina

I comic everything on my Instagram page, from my struggle juggling work from home to homeschooling my 5-year-old to the much-needed teletherapy sessions to my candid musings over the news to my gratitude to all the health care workers. Drawing comics about my experience has been my outlet during this strange time. It’s how I am coping.

Lisa Lim, 45, from Queens, New York

What do you do when you have no children and are locked down in your home? You get a hold of some of your improv friends and create a YouTube channel where a new story or poem is read by a different character every day to amuse and entertain other people’s children.

Brett “Fish” Anderson, 46, from Cape Town, South Africa

Our son Zeke was an inflatable chicken for Halloween this past year. During quarantine, with all of the neighborhood walks we’ve been taking, Zeke decided the chicken would bring joy to the neighbors and especially to the small kids in our area.

Suzanne Karp, 52, from Santa Rosa, California

I started these posts on Facebook and got such a positive, fun response I kept thinking up quarantine frustrations and posting about them.

I think these posts put a bit of humor into the everyday accounts of “working from home,” and many of us are doing it while our spouses are doing the same.

We pretty much are all going through the same experiences. I just put it on Facebook for my friends to share in the laugh. They laugh because they recognize themselves in many of the posts and they can laugh along. I hope you have a laugh, too.

KaDee Thompson-Small, 57, from Fairview Heights, Illinois

There are some children in Missouri City, Texas, who want to spread some kindness to children in their city. Khloe, Kaiya and Aiden are students in Fort Bend ISD [Independent School District], and they have big hearts. They wanted to do something special for other children during this stay-home period. They are giving away more than 100 new books to children. Khloe started a project called A Book and a Smile, and she has given more than 5,000 books to groups and organizations. They are saving their money to buy more books and a little library. We are sure these books will put a smile on lots of children’s faces.

Billye Moutra, 64, from Missouri City, Texas

We are a 30-member Episcopal church in the hills of northwest Connecticut currently without a priest. To keep us connected, informed and entertained during the pandemic, I began a daily two- to three-page newsletter to circulate to our members. Our daily email list has grown to over 110, with readers in England, California, Florida and Georgia. People seem to love it: “It’s a lifesaver,” writes one. “The best part of my day,” writes another.

Bill Starr, 79, from Litchfield, Connecticut

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Quarantine Diaries: Dealing With Kids


Quarantine Diaries is a communal project of stories from our readers about how they are managing their lives during the coronavirus crisis. In this piece, readers share how they are taking care of their children 24/7.
You can read the five-part project here.

I’m not sure that I was mentally prepared for both boys to be home, but it’s been more calm than chaos. I had to give up my public health classes in order to give my youngest more of my time. As much as I was looking forward to those classes and seeing my other son in a tuxedo for the first time for his prom, we adjusted to a new normal, as has been the case since my youngest was diagnosed with autism.

The photos show a little of our quarantine story as we have grocery trips to help others, do art projects, have mini pool parties to replace the weekly swim lessons, learn to play chess and take time out to make other kids smile by putting together Easter baskets. I’ve realized that as long as we are all finding some balance, we can continue to grow. This predicament that we’re all in is a time for us to reflect, reset and reemerge as better people and a stronger family.

Tanesha Boldin, 48, from Cary, North Carolina. Pictured above: Her sons Sebastian, 6, and Blake, 17

Self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic looks different for every family. I was quickly reminded how resilient kids are when the world around them zigs instead of zags. Because our son couldn’t play with his friends, he made new imaginary playmates and found make-believe games to entertain himself. Walks around the block turned into ninja adventures, and bath time became a prehistoric event. I quickly realized that I wasn’t actually documenting life-altering changes. Instead, I was documenting the everyday possibilities of a child. The ups and downs of everyday life. So in my attempt to document a historic event, I realized that every day is a historic event filled with moments we can never get back.

Jason Vinson, 37, from northwest Arkansas. Pictured above: His son, Zayden, 2

The day I went back to work from maternity leave and enrolled my then-5-month-old son in full-time child care is the exact day I got an email — two hours into my morning back at the office — that his school would be closing indefinitely. This was March 12, which is also ironically my wedding anniversary. The next day, my company issued a work-from-home order that has since extended past the initial two-week period they anticipated. I never imagined I would be adjusting back into my full-time managerial role while taking care of my infant all day. I have cried more in the past several weeks of quarantine than I did the first four weeks postpartum.

Now that this has settled into a reality, we make sure our work comes to a halt at 5 p.m. each day so we have the next two hours as a family, whether we stroll the neighborhood or lounge on the deck. After our son goes to bed, it’s just us — dinner, wine and a mindless TV show. We’re a naturally on-the-go family, but this experience has helped us settle down and take in the beauty of things closer to home.

Kayla K., 31, from Atlanta, Georgia

I have been entertaining my two daughters during our quarantine time by teaching them “life skills” practically every day. Every weekday morning, my wife and I get the girls up at 7 a.m. and out the house by 7:30 a.m. for a 1 1/2-mile walk to get the blood pumping and get their minds right before online classes so they are not at home just sucking up A/C. When we get back home, it’s school work and then life skills.

Earl Bedford, 59, from Tarpon Springs, Florida

As a school secretary myself and my husband already working from home, we are a pretty normal family with three kids: an 18-year-old high school senior, a 14-year-old freshman and an 11-year-old fifth grader. It started off sad: my senior unsure about her future and my fifth grader missing his last moments of elementary school. I used to wake at 5:30 a.m. Now, we wake at 7 to start distance learning. We are enjoying the time together but definitely miss our lives outside of this house. We walk every night as a family at 7 p.m. — even the dog is set on our new normal. My senior still works at McDonald’s, as she is an essential worker.

Sylatoya Bedward, 39, from Tavares, Florida

Although we have been lucky that our home has been sanctuary in quarantine, March was about 300 days long and April about three years long. My granddaughters swing between precious and not. It’s taken ingenuity to entertain the children while giving parents space to work. To keep our humor, we’ve been texting funniest home photos/videos to each other.

Lorri Allison Craig, 70, from Bend, Oregon

My daughter turned 21 on April 15. At least this year, nobody could say, “Hey, Tax Day hahaha!” She was without her pals, had an online biology lab and surprise pop quiz at 6 p.m. I decided to combine the best of the worst — corona and “Tiger King” — and we all embraced the absurd.

Jennifer Boxrud, 53, from Crystal Lake, Illinois

Over the past month, we have been working full time and our kids (7 and 9 years old) have been staying home alone. We close the curtains so neighbors can’t see in during the day and open them up when I arrive home and have the boys go out for fresh air and sunshine and exercise at that time. They struggle to keep up with homework. I am drained many days after work or don’t have time to help them with homework between work and the demands of running the home. Sometimes, my youngest son skips a meal because he forgets to eat or doesn’t know what to make or how to make it despite my best prepping efforts. My 9-year-old is the only reason we have been able to keep up with all of this. He has really helped his younger brother a lot. It is very hard. I wonder what next school year will look like. Their grades/test scores will surely slide but like everyone else, we are doing the best we can.

A 37-year-old mother who asked to remain anonymous in Kansas City, Missouri

We are a family of four residing in Marion, Indiana. My husband is an officer in the U.S. Army and has been deployed since December. Our daughters are 4 1/2 and 5 (one adopted, one biological) and the youngest has severe medical needs, including spina bifida, congenital scoliosis and stage 1 chronic kidney disease. We are coping day by day. Hour by hour. Sometimes minute by minute. Kiddos are resilient, yes, but are also human. They have bad days, confused days, questions (lots of questions), concerns and frustrations. They miss their teachers, friends and routine.

Because of their young age, I’m thankful we don’t have to worry about their academic performance, although we do *some* schooling at home. Honestly, I’m more focused on their emotional health during this time. We follow a loose schedule that revolves around spending time outside, reading and doing “chores” (laundry, taking out the trash, cooking, etc.). For us, this time isn’t for growth, it’s for refinement. We are refining our mission, our priorities, our goals, to focus on each other and our well-being.

Tori, 31, from Marion, Indiana

I am caring for my sister’s children. She is a nurse in a COVID-19 unit. My nephew is autistic. He misses his mother but can’t express himself. My niece is 8 years old and cries herself to sleep. She does online classes. I try to keep my nephew from regressing. I am running for judge after I and another highly qualified woman were passed over for a man that was previously voted out of office. Having limited funds and limited time is frustrating. I worry about my sister and her children. I don’t want to let them down.

Laura Morton, 54, Westminster, Maryland

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