Readers’ Voices Joan Axelrod-Contrada: Trying to get back to normal

  • Joan Axelrod-Contrada, of Florence, on her couch with a plate of cookies. “Every Wednesday afternoon, I got two scones as part of Little Bear Bread’s pandemic subscription service. The scones came dusted with sugar that glittered like sequins.” Submitted photo

Published: 6/10/2021 4:34:55 PM

My inner sloth and gluttony keep clinging to the pandemic slow-down. I tell them it’s time to get back to normal. But they tune me out and whisper seductively in my ear.

“Forget about the Quarantine 15,” Gluttony says. “Sometimes you just need a cookie.”

“Right,” Sloth adds. “Besides, busyness is overrated.”

Their arguments hit a nerve. As a proud feminist and leftover hippie, I’ve long rebelled against conventional notions of attractiveness and success. CoverGirl looks? Corporate hierarchies? Sorry, not for me.

Still, even though I lean more toward eccentric than conventional, I generally try to rein in my self-indulgent tendencies to avoid breaking the bathroom scale or sleepwalking through life. However, sometime during the pandemic, my two favorite drivers of action — sociability and industriousness — slumbered like hibernating bears.

My slide into the gray fog didn’t happen overnight. When the pandemic hit last year, I vowed to make the best of it. I was happy to have more time to spend reading, writing, cooking and watching TV. When I started feeling isolated, I discovered Zoom.

My first Zoom get-together felt like a miracle. After days of talking to only my rescue mutt Desi, I finally got to see other two-legged creatures. It was like finding water in the desert.

Before long, I signed up for every free Zoom offering under the sun. I logged on to virtual exercise classes, writing workshops, and political action groups, then organized my own meetings for movie buffs and foodies. I floated in the silver lining of my own pandemic cloud.

In ordinary times, social norms kept my bad habits in check. The pandemic, however, gave me a new sense of invisibility. Since no one saw if I gained a few pounds or wore my pajama bottoms well into the afternoon, I could ignore the truth-telling powers of my mirrors.

My excitement about Zoom waned as I felt more and more confined inside its rectangular boxes. Sometimes I turned off the camera so I could just coast. Other times, I skipped meetings altogether to curl up on the couch with Desi and do absolutely nothing. Between Zoom fatigue and general malaise, my silver lining frayed like an old, worn-out shirt.

To get back my groove, I needed all the gratification I could get. That’s what I told myself, anyway. I began a new afternoon tea-time ritual. Every Wednesday afternoon, I got two scones as part of Little Bear Bread’s pandemic subscription service. The scones came dusted with sugar that glittered like sequins.

The first time I tasted one of the triangular delights I let out an involuntary “Mmmmm.” Its crumbly texture broke into heavenly bits for my fingers to pop into my mouth. I saved the pieces with chewy chunks of fig for last, savoring the extra touch of sweetness.

What began as a Wednesday and Thursday afternoon treat expanded into a daily ritual — two days of scones, five days of cookies. Since my cookies contained bananas and oatmeal as well as peanut butter and chocolate chips, I called them health food.

However, my pants knew better. Winter gave way to spring, and the vaccine burst on the scene. Sociability and industriousness gradually rose from their slumbers, shocked by what they saw. Relaxation and gratification had transformed completely into sloth and gluttony.

Even a non-mathematician like me knows the necessary equation for getting back to normal: Sloth + Gluttony – Self-indulgence = Relaxation + Gratification. Problem is, I still hear that tape in my head telling me I deserve all the comforts I can get.

I’m hoping, with time, that plunging back into normalcy eats away at my pandemic-reared monsters. For now, I’m taking baby steps. No more camera off during Zoom meetings. No more full scone when a half will do. It’s time to spread my wings.

“You really want to drive to the Y when you can exercise at home in your pee-jays?” Sloth’s voice takes on a sarcastic edge. “Like you’re really gonna choose a brick-and-mortar movie theater over streaming from home”

“Right,” Gluttony adds. “Like you’re really gonna make yourself cut a scone in half. Get real.”

Fire rises up inside me. I need for sociability and industriousness to win. To be reborn. To emerge victorious. Not just for me but for everyone coming out of hard times.

“Your days are numbered,” I tell Sloth and Gluttony with new resolve. “Just you wait and see!”

Joan Axelrod-Contrada is a writer who lives in Florence with her rescue mutt Desi. You can reach her at

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