The Helenback Corona Diaries: A special pandemic edition series

Disclaimer: If you are looking for serious, heartfelt coverage of the myriad tragedies unfolding, you need to look somewhere else. Those stories are everywhere. I’m just trying to make you laugh for a minute. I’m not saying something profound or touching might not creep in here; just know that isn’t my intent. Studies have proven the mental health benefits of laughter, but I am too lazy to look up or cite them. You can look them up. You’re not doing anything either.

April 9th.

How is everyone doing? I hope you are all well and practicing social distancing. If you are not practicing social distancing, then please stop reading, because you are a jerk and this will be wasted on you. Also, that inquiry at the beginning is genuine. Email me at askhelenback@gmail.comand tell me how you’re doing. Maybe it will show up in a column—anonymously of course.

I’m doing really well in this time of terror! The nice thing about a pandemic is that it makes my depression and anxiety seem like a perfectly rational response to the world. My therapist and I have spent the last several months developing a whole toolbox of mental health skills, so I am way ahead of those of you that are just now finding out how scary the world can be. I’ve been terrified for years! So yeah, I know what I’m doing. I’m going to share some of those tools when I am done gloating.

People are staying home now, for the most part, and they are definitely cooking more. Online seed suppliers are selling out as people look for ways to grow their own food. I don’t want to disappoint people, but growing food is a lot harder and more complicated than you think. I mean, sure, give it a try, because, what else do you have to do? Just don’t think you’re going to have vegetables all summer. I believe a true pillar of happiness is keeping your expectations really low. I grow pots of herbs with great success, so I recommend that because they’re easy and cheap and really boost my cooking. I have never had an in ground garden because I


have a black walnut tree that secretes something that kills anything you’d want to eat. What I have done is spend a small fortune over the years on organic potting soil and plants and pots and seeds, and my reward has been enough tomatoes to make one small batch of salsa. One year the weather was just too cool. Another year the tomatoes just stayed tiny, which I blame on UFO’s because I can think of no other explanation. One year I had a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. They were beautiful, and I was waiting until they were perfectly ripened. The morning I decided they were ready, I discovered someone—-perhaps a chipmunk—-had eaten half of every single tomato. I would’ve liked to find whatever jackhole ate half of each tomato, so I could explain uh, hey, just eat the whole tomato, and leave half of them untouched for me. This is called vegetable blindness, and it causes you to think you can reason with animals and insects. That is when I gave up on growing anything other than zinnias. My pessimism doesn’t last forever though, so my husband has been sent to buy some organic potting soil.

People are also jumping into raising chickens, which, again, might be a little more work than they realize. I have often wished I could have chickens, or rather, I have wished I could have fresh eggs every day. I’m less interested in caring for chickens, so I guess I wish my neighbors had chickens and a surplus of eggs. The experienced chicken owners are expressing concern and sometimes outrage at all the new people jumping into backyard chicken farming. They are concerned that they don’t know what they’re doing, and that it will end badly. This is how I feel towards all the people who bought yeast and flour for the first time. You don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re going to screw it up. Then again, this is how we learn. We were all beginners once. Just try not to kill those chickens, please.

I will end here with a mental health tip:

Make yourself a pandemic playlist on Spotify. You can pick happy, upbeat songs; dance music; or your favorite dirges that make you weep in case you need to let out some sadness. Then you can share it with friends and family. My playlist is Super Happy Upbeat and Cheerful Music for the Apocalypseby Terri Schrader and you can find it on Spotify here:

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