election anxiety countdown

39 Days: Domestic

It isn’t fashionable to call yourself a writer of domestic fiction — you’ll rarely catch male novelists describing their work as such… Domestic fiction, as novelist Sue Miller told me, seems to denote some kind of smallness, a lack of scope or ambition. And yet, those narratives of our most intimate familial relationships are the stories that some of our finest writers: Dickens, Austen, Kingsolver, Ng, Franzen, Allende, Lahiri, Patchett, Erdrich.

Kerri Miller discussing Sue Miller’s Monogamy

Like so many of us, I’ve been a homebody during the pandemic. I was already more of a homebody than I cared to admit in the year before the pandemic. Obsessed with refining my writing routine, my cooking routine, my exercise routine, my reading routine, my podcast listening, baseball-watching, movie screening routine.

This time of year — September — is normally a time when the cultural life of the city comes back, temperatures cool off, and I’m drawn outside to again play the flaneur, wandering through the city to art openings and concerts and friends’ gatherings. But little of that is going on this year. My walks are for exercise and meditation and fresh air, but not for entertainment. The city during a pandemic is less of a playground, less of a spectacle. It is unlikely I’ll run in to friends by chance, or that I’ll recognize an old acquaintance through our masks. Open air patios have been added in former parking lanes. It’s an improvement. They give D.C. a vaguely European feel that perhaps has cut down on speeding traffic and chaotic Uber drop-offs. But the patios are rarely filled. A few couples. First dates? Perhaps meeting after a video date, a first stab at sharing the new normal.

Lately, I’ve been having more of those video dates. It’s a comfortable way to meet someone new. A substitute for the missing conversations out on adventures in the city. As a first date, it is a nice change from the old rut of a first date at a bar or coffeeshop unfamiliar to one or the other of us, the effort of getting out, the expense of drinks and less-than great bar food. I enjoy meeting new people, even if it’s quickly apparent a spark isn’t there. Every match, every conversation, is a chance to learn something about the world, about family upbringings, about places lived, places traveled, art and books that inspire. It’s a chance to put my life in perspective. The hope is that some stronger, promising connection comes from it. Something worth disrupting the daily routine for, a reason to start a new domestic pattern.

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