Perhaps the only other thing as deadly as the coronavirus is the boredom it has brought on. Many immunocompromised people have been unable to leave their homes, while even those who are entirely healthy have experienced a limited, constrained version of life. At the beginning of the pandemic’s cruel reign in America, people were eager to find ways to keep busy, such as baking and binge-watching Netflix.
But as the weeks passed, a deep and unwavering boredom set in. Personally, I’ve grown sick and tired of staring at the same walls, eating the same food and cycling between the same four or five activities. So when I reread Jenny Slate’s 2019 book, “Little Weirds,” I was overjoyed to find a philosophy within the pages that would change my outlook on pandemic life.
In “Little Weirds,” she tells the reader, “I was born with a ticking clock inside of me that chirped and rang out many years later and its gears lowered my mouth open for a French kiss and made my skirt light up like a lamp with a shade saying ‘Someone’s awake in here… come see who it is.’”
She makes it clear from the beginning that she is no ordinary person, with no ordinary outlook on life. Slate is extraordinary, because she views the world with a sense of wonder and glee that does not falter, no matter what she encounters in her life.
The masterful way that Slate evokes this perspective on living is what appealed to me as I reread “Little Weirds.” The narrative of the book is lyrical and odd, with bizarre sentence structures and inconsistent chapter lengths. Yet somehow, the entire thing manages to coalesce into one brilliant picture of the author’s point of view.
She weaves technicolor threads of prose together to coax the reader into seeing the world as she does. Upon stepping into her shoes, the mundane becomes exquisite, and this is precisely what struck me about “Little Weirds.” To Slate, no number of hours or days spent at home could dim the beauty that being alive carries.
Conveniently, many of the scenes that Slate writes about in “Little Weirds” are common occurrences in most peoples’ lives throughout the pandemic. For example, she dedicates a chapter to the simple pleasure of taking a walk around her neighborhood with her mother. As the coronavirus sent most college students back to their childhood homes, young adults around the country share the experience of taking walks with family to get some fresh air.
But to Slate, this experience is far from average or boring. As she walks with her mother, she observes their shared habit of pointing things out to each other, whether it be a flower or a squirrel or a pretty house along their path.
She writes, “I told my mother that the flower she showed me was a honeysuckle. I knew that from the little conical, trumpet-shaped blooms. She nodded and we both knew that we knew. She picked a flower off and smelled it. Then she gave it to me to smell, and I sniffed in its honey-floral petal cone. It smelled like a fancy candy, and even though I’d smelled honeysuckle before, its scent pleasure-stung me anew, and I laughed a bit and said, ‘Unbelievable.’”
Slate comments upon the fact that the situation is far from new, yet she maintains her childlike fascination and genuine appreciation for the moment.
Another event in “Little Weirds” that’s made all the more relatable by the pandemic is when Slate decides to bake a lemon tart. She picks two lemons off of a tree outside her house, and she chops them up while she runs a bath for herself. The outcome of this tart-making endeavor pleases her so much that she later bakes banana bread as well.
Reflecting upon her experience, she says, “I’m sure you can’t bake it all away, but you can transform the reality while still accepting the essential elements that make it what it is. You can make good smells in the place where you live, smells that are better than sitting around with stress breath and cigarette smoke.”
At the beginning of corona-time in America, it was a trend for newly isolated people to try their hand at baking. However, while the vast majority of people who tried baking in March abandoned it nearly immediately, Slate makes it seem like an infinitely tender and simplistically decadent coping mechanism.
One chapter of “Little Weirds,” titled “Nice Things to Do for Tipping Yourself Toward Gentleness and Simple Joy,” reads like a literal handbook on how to appreciate and live fully in small ordinary moments. Slate instructs you, the reader, to say hello to dogs, listen to classical music while envisioning animals playing the instruments, write yourself a note of encouragement and give yourself plenty of kisses on your own shoulder.
In another chapter, she directly addresses the loneliness that likely accompanies the social isolation of the last few months. Slate’s philosophy of life is to relish every second of aliveness in its entirety, and also to accept each one of those seconds as they are, unconditionally.
In many ways, Slate’s “Little Weirds” has been my personal bible — the key to my survival and happiness throughout the coronavirus’ occupation of life on Earth. It has shown me, and others I am sure, that the key to living well is humility and appreciation in the face of all the wonderfulness of life.
No matter what happens to Slate, she is always able to return to the bliss of good food, the beauty of nature and the joy of existing. To all those who may be struggling as the pandemic wears upon your patience and saps your strength, I’d encourage you to invest in this little book of delights. It just might show you how to look forward to tomorrow morning again.