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Quarantine Chronicles: Cody Shelley
Photo by Geoff L. Johnson.

WHEN SHE was working, Cody Shelley was the foundation manager of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, but now she’s a domestic goddess at home. She listens to podcasts, paints by number, and always makes sure to put her eyebrows on in the morning.

This is her Quarantine Chronicle.

How are you doing job-wise?

As of the end of the month, I am officially furloughed. We have money for the building, but operationally, in terms of paying staff, we have to open our doors for that. We are pretty reliant on the tourism sector in Savannah, which has obviously crashed.

All year I’ve been gearing up for the last two weeks of March into April being the busiest season and all these events, and March 13 was the last time I worked at the museum. My life has completely changed.

I worked out of the house six days a week, no weekends, with the public every day. That was my job, and I have seen no one but the people at the store, and my mom from ten feet away, and my wife. I’m a very social creature, so it’s a huge shift for me because I’m really accustomed to talking to people and being around them.

I’m very lucky that my wife is a firefighter for the City of Savannah, so she has a reliable income and our insurance is through her. I’m sad about the Flannery house, but the fundamental basic needs in terms of house, home and health, I have that pretty well taken care of. I’m very scared, but I’m also trying to temper that with being extremely grateful.

At the same time, my mom is a nurse in a skilled care facility here in Savannah, and they don’t even as an institution stock masks in the building as a rule. They’re doing care, but they’re not doing procedures or anything.

I’ve been very worried about her because she has that things nurses and doctors do that they’re terrible patients—she wasn’t taking it seriously in her personal life.

[My wife] Chela’s father, who is 90 years old and in a memory care lockdown unit here in Savannah, those are who we’re really worried about. There is that clear and present feeling of danger. We’re so close to people that are so vulnerable.

I feel like I’ve become this kind of domestic goddess. Like not in terms of actually doing a lot of cleaning, but I’m planning and doing little projects. My wife is on light duty at the fire department and is also training officers. She’s not out on the floor, which makes me feel better.

On a very basic level, I am safe and secure, but I feel like the threat and the danger is so imminent around us that it’s hard to reconcile. I’ve been doing a lot of paint-by-numbers. I listen to podcasts about how to cope and I paint, and that’s most of what I do during the day when I’m not cooking or drinking.

I like that you’re taking some time to cope and to take care of yourself.

I really am. My best friend’s boss is very much expecting 100% productivity. I’ve been talking to her and saying that thing—everybody was tweeting it yesterday—“You’re not working from home. You are at home in a crisis doing work.” I keep saying that to her for her own benefit and mine.

I’m not getting paid anymore, but I still care about the place and I’m invested in the Flannery House, so I’m going to do a couple projects over this period of time from home, but I am sure as hell not pedal to the metal, nose to the grindstone getting work done right now, because I’m not getting paid and I am way too panicked about the collapse of society.

How are you still being productive?

I told my wife that the minute she sees me not putting on my eyebrows in the morning, we have a problem. I am a makeup person, I have a morning ritual. I’m not doing all of that, but I could sit on my couch until 1 o’clock in my bathroom drinking coffee. But I am still getting up and—even if it’s not until 9 o’clock—making myself take a shower, put on real clothes.

I bought a really comfy pair of tennis shoes because I knew that if I just wore my Birkenstocks around the house everyday, I wasn’t going to do things. So it’s the eyebrows and the shoes that are giving me the impetus to get up and move. I think it’s so important for me to have a routine and do something that’s not only bingeing TV.

I’ve been listening to some great podcasts that are current and relevant. I’m not doing investigative history or true crime deep dives; I’m listening to stuff that’s applicable to what’s going on now.

I’m a little fixated on strategies for coping, ways to be productive, all of it. I’ve been staying very much in tune to the news, but also seeking out resources for coping skills, which I think is important as we’re all figuring out how to cope with something brand new.

How do you think this will change your job?

We do not have a business model that I think will be able to come back anytime soon, because it’s based on being in person. I don’t anticipate having a job to go back to, period.

Of course, our foundation will go on and the house will be there for people to see, and we’ll continue to work on Flannery’s legacy. I’m pretty sure that my role will not be coming back, period.

How do you feel about that?

I’m sad about it. I feel like I’m grieving it. I loved doing what I did and sharing the Flannery gospel with people and bringing my perspective to it.

We weren’t affecting giant world change, but we were connecting people in a way I hadn’t before in my life. I miss it; it breaks my heart.

I think it’s going to be a hard transition for the museum, figuring out what to do from here, but I’m very proud of the decision-making on the part of the Coastal Museum Association to protect the public and their staff. I think that’s important.

We are losing people on every level: people are dying and we’re losing our day-to-day connections. It’s this whiplash of change.

I feel lucky that I have the space to process all of this. I had my first therapy appointment via Skype and it was great; I’m grateful for that.

I’m inspired by the ways people are adapting and coming together, and aggrieved at what we’ve lost.