Sunday, May 31, 2020

Looking for a Better Day (Grimm)

I’m thinking about my daughter Susan’s birthday, which is today, which I will miss, as I missed her sister’s in April.

Val’s birth was a surprise and an emergency (two weeks early). Sue’s was more sedate, and even planned, since it was a cesarean. I chose the earliest date possible, of course, and was glad that it was after the big family Memorial Day party at my aunt’s house. I went into the hospital the night before and sat up late in my hospital bed, reading a library book on continental drift, and then went to sleep dreaming of the continents sliding about on the globe like pancakes on a plate. 

The next morning, I went under the knife, as people like to say, and emerged from a cloud of anesthesia with a second daughter. As I’ve told her, I was sure she was going to be a boy, because of some weird belief in symmetry: I had a girl, and now, for balance, I’d have a boy. 

Aside from gender, they did balance each other in many ways. Val was born with a mop of dark hair, Sue with nothing visible on top, and when it started to grow in, it was blonde. Val was reserved and liked to keep her own counsel. Sue was a chatterbox even before she could do words. Val was a sulker, Sue a whiner. It amazed me that they had different personalities from the start – somehow I’d had the impression that babies were born as blank slates, that their characters and selves would develop and accumulate as they got older. 

The year she was born was also the year of Watergate and the terrorist attack at the Olympics. More than 5000 people died in earthquakes in Iraq, Nicaragua, and Turkey. The Vietnam War was still going on: the US bombed Hanoi in April, and ended the year by bombing North Vietnam on Christmas day. Awful things were happening, as they are now, some impersonal, like the coronavirus; others the result of hatred, malice, politics. 

But there was the balance. Shirley Chisholm, announced that she was running for president, the first black candidate for a major party's nomination, and the first woman to participate in a national presidential debate. California abolished the death penalty. Seventy nations agreed to ban biological warfare. DNA research began. People fell in love. Babies were born. 

I hope my daughter will forgive me for sending her a birthday message that is contextualized and edged with remembered and present sorrow. I want to say though that the happiness of her birth, for any baby’s birth, is what makes us want to keep on, to work at making a better day and a better year. When our children open their eyes for the first time, it starts in us a fierce desire to make their way smooth, to re-envision the world once again, as better, cleaner, more joyful, and every year that our children live, we have that same hope, sending it into the future along with them. 

Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection). Currently, she is working on a novel set in 1930s Cleveland. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

What Easter Looked Like This Year (Dyer)


They placed an Easter basket on our porch. Then the four of them, all masked, sat on the steps and we talked through the glass of our storm door, the speakers of our cell phones turned on. Our voices traveled down the silent street of our Ohio town.

That’s what Easter looked like this year. The table in our dining room had no plates on it and no ham. No one would be coming inside. It wasn’t like other years.

There may be a few centenarians who have some faint memory of the influenza of 1918—known as the Spanish Flu—but the rest of us are new to a world consumed by a deadly virus, this one named “corona” for the halo of its spikes. My uncle’s father died of Spanish Flu in 1918, and he always shook his head when he told the story. I can’t presume to know what this meant.

The Easter basket was a small white dishpan lined with green paper grass—a bac à vaisselle, a sticker said. Nestled inside were a tall plastic container of disinfectant wipes, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of toilet paper and one of paper towels, a bar of soap, and eight bite-sized candy bars.

When they left, we found a dozen eggs beside the basket—brightly colored with fresh Easter-egg dye. Only later did we remove them from their plastic carton and discover drawings or words on the sides of many. My husband has made sourdough products for decades, so there, in caps, were WAFFLES and SOURDOUGH. In felt-tip blue was a little bird that resembled our older grandson’s parakeet. On several of the eggs were two dots for eyes, two raised eyebrows, and surgical masks drawn over the rest of the “face” —four slightly crooked lines extending from each corner and heading toward the back of the egg, where, we were asked to imagine, it would be secured.

The drawings startled me at first. Where were the cute chicks and pink bunnies that I remembered helping our own son transfer onto Easter eggs when he was a child? There was so much tension and worry in those high brows and those wide masks filled in with marker.

But it all fit. The masks on the eggs, like those on our faces, were what our lives looked like now. Our grandsons were painting what they saw and what had caught their attention. But I wondered if it was more than that. Their mother is a nurse, and were they learning science in her kitchen? Were they staring at present danger and mounting a defense—for themselves and for people that the good guys in their simple worlds of superheroes always fought to protect? Egg after egg bore the mask.

This is the moment in history that we occupy, and children know it. They will be the ones who write the story of Covid-19 years and years from now.

Stores are beginning to open up, but we’re not all right. Yesterday we woke to the news that 100,000 people had died in the US. Woke to predictions that there would be 135,000-200,000 dead by August. As we slowly consider how to exit our homes (those of us who haven’t been summoned months ago by essential jobs), the everyday that we once stepped so thoughtlessly into has vanished. Our footing is insecure.

Many of us will remain in semi-quarantine and others will engage in activities that bear little resemblance to the way we remember them. The health club I belong to will reopen in June but social distancing and masks will be enforced by “Wellness Warriors,” temperatures will be taken at the front desk before a member enters, and showers, towel service, childcare, exercise groups, drinking fountains, and use of the basketball court, saunas, pool, and steam rooms have all been suspended. The club is affiliated with a hospital, and its managers are doing exactly what science demands.

That’s how things look right now. And epidemiologists tell us they’re likely to look that way for quite a while—some say as long as a decade, even with a vaccine, though the virus will become less deadly over time. My rheumatologist at the University of Pittsburgh, with whom I had a telemedicine conference in April, insisted I not come to the city for a face-to-face appointment in October because she expected a second wave of Covid by then. We scheduled a Zoom meeting instead.

No one knows what will happen, of course, and I wish for the best. But I need to learn as much as I can—and as quickly—about how to live in the new everyday. It’s not entirely different from the way most people have always tried to live their lives—watching out for their own safety and showing deep respect for other people—but the rules are more difficult now and the consequences of any lapse are great.

 Pink rabbits and fluffy yellow chicks of former days have been displaced. The strange image of the masked eggs produced in the kitchen laboratory of my grandsons stays with me as spring moves to summer and the months proceed to mount.

Their tacit message is clear:

Decorate your life with truth.  

Joyce Dyer is the author of three memoirs, In a Tangled Wood, Gum-Dipped, and Goosetown, and the editor of two collections. She has published essays in North American Review, The New York Times, and Writer's Chronicle. A new book titled Pursuing John Brown: On the Trail of a Radical Abolitionist is scheduled for release in 2020.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Letter to Myself (Freligh)

Dear Sarah:

I’m supposed to write a letter to you, which feels odd because I am you and living alone as you do, we are all we’ve had for the last ten weeks. There’s been no escaping you; even after a couple glasses of happy hour wine that’s frankly–just between the two of us – getting a little too happy some nights (I’m saying this with love, girlfriend.) And those deep dives into whatever series you’re streaming, the hinge of episodes, their cliffhanger endings resolved with a click? You’re there waiting for me after I shut down the screen for the night. So nope, no escape for either of us.

March was a land mine of a month. Every day it felt like something familiar disappeared, was altered or taken away. I canceled reservations or crossed off appointments in my Daytimer. Weeks yawned white and empty at me. I wrote “I miss my friends.” I wrote “I miss swimming.” I wrote “I can’t stand this anymore.” Meanwhile, my friends in New York City posted Facebook entries about the sirens screaming nonstop up empty avenues or streets and of the buzz-hum of the refrigeration trucks where the dead were stacked after the morgues got too crowded. Yet they wrote, too, about the daffodils that pushed up sassy and yellow, of the tulips and lilacs and the flowering trees they couldn’t identify: Anyone know what this is? They posted photos of the loaves of bread they’d baked, the first in how long they couldn’t remember, from some leftover flour and some yeast fished from the back of a cupboard.

I’m about to embark on a two-week writing intensive, 1,000 words a day with no apologies. But first, I’m supposed to write this letter to myself in which I try to ditch all the baggage we writers typically haul around, suitcases we’ve packed with all the things that keep us stuck in endless roundabouts. Fear, resentment—all the stuff we grab when we’re feeling particularly naked and vulnerable.

As I write this I realized I unpacked a lot of those bags in March and April. I spent time with the you-that’s-me and in the absence of the static from the world, my own radio signal came through loud and clear.

You are, it said. You can.  

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Pandemic Truth (Marzec)

                                 Ray Kierce

In the midst of this pandemic, conspiracy theories have spread faster than the disease. There are those who claim the coronavirus was deliberately manufactured in a lab in China. There are those who believe a microchip will be inserted along with the vaccine. Worst of all, there is a conspiracy theory that the disease doesn’t exist at all. Misinformation is rampant in our country and much of it is spread on social networks and internet media sites short on facts which cater to political extremes. 

It pains me to see this nonsense. I am the daughter of a journalist. At an early age, I learned the difference between libel and slander. I knew the job definition of a copy editor, a makeup editor, and a rewrite editor. Long before computers, I stood patiently waiting as stories appeared from the Associated Press on the wire. Most fascinating of all, I stood in wonder as the printers set letters on a Linotype machine with hot lead.

Watching the newspaper being made was exhilarating. Still, the one tenet my father relied upon for the news was truth. Granted, he often regaled his grandchildren with a story of what would classify as news. He described a scene where a hundred people protested in a peaceful and orderly manner. Then, one naked man ran down the street with a bag on his head. He asked his grandchildren which story would be the news for the day. They all knew the answer. The naked man with the bag on his head—not the peaceful protestors.

My father’s experience came from a time when most people learned of current events from either the newspaper, the radio, or the television news. Times have changed. Nowadays, many people get their news from social media sites where spambots abound. Few folks check their sources for reliability and bias. If they see an article which agrees with their opinion, they post it, and it spreads far faster than airborne droplets. 

At a time when reality is frightening enough, conspiracy theories threaten to rip our already divided society apart. I am appalled at the number of intelligent people I know who regularly post misleading articles on social media sites. My daughters tell me simply to report the story as false and then unfriend those who continue to promote inaccurate news. But that doesn’t seem to do much good. Neither does posting fact check articles. 

I grieve for our country.

Penelope Marzec, a genuine Jersey girl and retired teacher, has written in several subgenres of romance. Her latest book is Clear as Ice. She currently writes for Pelican Book Group.