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MARTHA SEZ: ‘That was 20 years ago. Since then my quality of worrying has improved.’

Even here in the town of Keene — in the heart of summer, surrounded as we are by great scenic beauty — just below the friendly, tourist-greeting surface, under our various face masks, the mood is a little grim. We’re worried.

It is, of course, normal to worry about the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. The way I can tell it’s normal is that I am afraid of catching the virus myself. I have found, though, that when one worry dissipates, another immediately slides in to replace it so that we barely get a chance to feel relief.

People used to worry about cellulite, dust mites, teenagers, the Axis of Evil, saturated fats, secondhand smoke, cholesterol, dandelions, ring around the collar, Russian aggression, rap music and gum disease. While these worries are still viable, some have been displaced, set on the back burner as it were, by such concerns as trans fats, leaky gut, Russian election tampering, genetically modified food crops, gluten, the battle flag of the Confederacy, historic statues and COVID hair, the result of beauty parlor and barber shop closures due to the pandemic. And don’t forget fear of mortality and fear of everlasting perdition.

I’m not sure that I worried any less when I wasn’t watching television regularly, but I worried differently. There was a span of several years when I didn’t watch television at home, but then I started to miss it, so I signed up for cable from Keene Valley Video.

I was sitting in my living room watching “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” when I heard someone yelling my name outside on Route 73. I went to the front door and looked out. It was my friend Peg in her van, holding up traffic.

“Hey Martha! Are you watching television in there? What are you doing, watching TV?”

“Hi Peg! I just got cable!”

I love living in a small town.

That was 20 years ago. Since then my quality of worrying has improved. It has become more organized. Television news, comedy shows and advertisements tell you what to worry about. They encapsulate great tracts of worrisome material into terms that you would never have thought of yourself, terms that are quick and easy to remember for the short term. Surge, second wave, herd immunity, left-wing anarchists. Like Karma chameleon, they come and go. For example, do you remember runaway bride syndrome?

I would never have known the term “marionette lines” if not for morning television. Marionette lines, like the ones Howdy Doody and Phineas T. Bluster had on either side of their mouths, have been right up there on my worry list ever since. I try not to assess their progress when I look in the mirror, but I know they are etching their relentless way into my face, just as the Boquet River has carved channels and pools and waterfalls into Adirondack rock. It’s pretty much a done deal now, and soon I will just give up worrying about marionette lines altogether.

People are afraid to eat, because the experts keep changing their minds about the foods that are good for us. Eggs: in or out? Margarine was once considered more healthful than butter, but then trans fats were busted. Meat? Carbohydrates?

There is a whole aisle at the grocery store devoted to water, even though we have excellent tap water here. Why take it on faith that the water in those bottles, from all of those different springs, is any purer than the water that comes out of your tap?

“They test it,” you’ll say. Who are “they?” Are you sure? This might be something to worry about if your list is getting shorter.

Some people I know have pretty much stopped eating at all. They just run along taking swigs from their water bottles.

Like junk food, gambling and cigarettes, worry can be addictive. If you must worry, better to concentrate on cellulite rather than something even more depressing. If you smoke, take heart from (inconclusive) studies that suggest that nicotine may inhibit hyperinflammation and platelet reactivity. At the University of Oxford, a leading collegiate research university in Oxford, England, medicinal nicotine is being investigated to prevent and treat COVID 19.

I would explain, in simple language, how nicotinic acetylcholine receptors may be a therapeutic target to reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection and mitigate COVID-19 disease, as published in the article “Beyond Smoking Cessation,” by Oxford University Press, but I have run out of space.

Don’t worry, and have a good week.