Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Tale of Lord Tennyson and the Pandemic (Kapelle)

We had traveled with King Arthur from the ninth century through the fifteenth when the university declared that we would henceforward meet remotely. My Arthurian literature class (whenever we were “hole togyders” there were eighteen of us) would never gather around its U-shaped table again. While material like the plague scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail suddenly had new significance, I wondered whether my students would maintain their interest in our readings while experiencing new and frightening circumstances. Next up on the syllabus was the Victorian era, and I sat down to design an online lesson about Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott.”

The Lady of Shalott does not currently feature in many adaptations, as she is perhaps the least active Arthurian character in the roster. The Lady is trapped in a tower because she is subject to a curse imposed on her for unexplained reasons. If she looks directly out of the window towards Camelot, the curse will take effect. Her only views of the world are provided by a mirror that reflects the road beneath her window. She occupies her time with weaving the images that she sees, and she naturally grows discontent: “‘I am half sick of shadows’ said the Lady of Shallot.” This stasis endures until Lancelot, who, this time, ruins somebody’s life without even realizing it, rides by singing gallantly. He is, it seems, irresistible: the Lady walks to the window and gazes out at him. Her mirror and her tapestry suddenly rip apart. The curse having activated, the Lady leaves the tower and drifts down the river in a boat, singing while slowly dying. In Camelot, everyone gathers to wonder at her. Lancelot gets the concluding line: he admires her beauty and calls for God’s blessing upon her.

Many Victorian readers enjoyed the pathos of the Lady’s plight, and, as a result, numerous artists depicted her weaving at her loom or dying in her barge. My students, in contrast, have not found the poem appealing. The situation is too mysterious; the Lady is too powerless. I suspect that they are, moreover, disturbed by the poem’s aestheticization of death. It is, frankly, not my favorite poem either. This spring, however, I was compelled by the stanzas describing the Lady’s isolation. My window did not look out on willow trees or curly shepherd lads. But I was nonetheless trapped in my dwelling place, under the threat of forces beyond my control. Direct exposure to the world could be fatal. Instead of immediate contact with others, I viewed their images on a computer screen.

This was not, I will admit, my first Lady of Shalott moment. A few years ago in Oregon, I endured a very slow haircut while a rare snowfall took place outside. I sat facing the wall, impatient to know if the snow was continuing but unable to move my head. Then I noticed that a hand mirror hanging on the wall was tilted so that it reflected the winter scene outside the window. “I realized that I was doing the Lady of Shalott thing,” I told my class later. “Wow, you could have died and floated down the millstream and we could have come out of the cafeteria and looked at you!” a student responded. Everybody flinched a bit. Clearly, parallels with this story must not be pushed too far.

I am predisposed to find mundane world echoes of the texts that I teach. This spring, however, my students noticed the parallels too. Their reflections on the poem included statements along the lines of, “I am totally half sick of shadows” and “we are confined like she is.” Amid the fear, sorrow, and frustration of those days, I was encouraged to see these comments. Having read works full of charismatic knights and imperious ladies, the students identified with a woman who, like them, was trapped and unhappy. I decided that if they could emerge from the pandemic with more sympathy for those who are imprisoned, confined, or powerless, I would thank whatever aventure, fortune or chance led Tennyson to coincide with Covid-19.

Rachel Kapelle is a lecturer who teaches writing and literature at Case Western Reserve University. Her scholarship focuses on Arthurian literature and medieval romance.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Lighting Candles (Larsen)

Ohio started lockdown on my father’s Yahrzeit, a day we observe the anniversary of a death so devastating that – for the rest of our lives – we light a candle in memory. It seemed fitting – Dr. Acton grounded me for my own safety when I had already decided to call a victory if my grief allowed me out of bed.

My children did not subscribe to my easy win. To them, lockdown marked another adventure. I had already stocked the downstairs freezer with pancakes, turkey bacon, and pre-cut strawberries so they felt safe and prepared. Like prairie schoolers, they wanted to make candles, a task they promptly abandoned once they discovered that it was tedious and time-consuming.

So my husband and I sat at the stove, turning the wax over in our hands, talking. It almost felt like a date as we ruminated on potential pandemic projects: making the perfect bagel, getting the garden into shape, maybe hanging a hammock. Dad’s candle burned unwavering behind our makeshift double-boiler.

“I’m going to keep a journal,” I said. “To remember these times.”

“Don’t go overboard,” my patient spouse replied.

Don’t go overboard is a phrase I’ve heard a lot throughout my life. Mom always told me I burn the candle at both ends, and, even now, with COVID blazing, I still regret how much I agree to do. For the first 75 days, I wrote and photographed our time together, diligently adding a collage to a Facebook album each night before I went to sleep. I wrote it for future-me but my present circle of friends found it comforting, these daily dispatches from the abyss, a confirmation in the mundane that we could get through this, one Disney+ movie at a time. It should be a book! they said, and because ambition is never something I’ve lacked, I wrote a pitch and did some due diligence, sniffing out its potential. But that query stayed in my drafts folder. I didn’t really want to share it with the world, without understanding why. And then George Floyd was murdered and I couldn’t bear the comfort, privilege, and freedom of my hygge navel-gazing; I penned my last entry on May 29, the night the protests began.

Now it’s the eve of Yom Kippur and, when the sun sets anew, I will light my parents’ Yahrzeit candles again. I’ve been too busy to catalogue my cheerful brokenness. My children’s latest adventure begins with me bouncing the ball to teach B-buh-B in my new role as my son’s perma-sub pre-K teacher then running up to my daughter’s bedroom to toggle the wifi as executive assistant/ IT support amateur for her new role as a sixth grade remote scholar. I take the stairs to my un-air-conditioned attic office two at a time where I duck under the hammock and throw on a blazer even though it’s burning hot, late to a board meeting about the budget. In theory, I’m still a writer, a speaker, a coach. A social justice advocate. A business owner, piecing it together as the crickets sing, my loves sleep, and the sun shines on the Southern Hemisphere. A mother. A wife. A friend. A hugger but it’s hard to tell that when you only see me waving from a Brady Bunch box inside a laptop screen.

I am exhausted, forever different from these days both dynamic and dull, passing by so slowly I must quick-step each moment my eyes awaken; dancing while I sleep too, my husband tells me as I cry out from the memories of Kristallnacht, a night I did not live. It matters not. There are 37 days until the election, my heroes and friends are dying, there is blood in our streets and there’s another edict and another one and another one constantly, constantly pushed to my phone informing me there will be no justice as there has been no justice for 401 years. I imagine I can rest in January, maybe, safe and warm under a cozy blanket, candles lit to keep the darkness at bay, the work finally done. But that’s fiction, a fantasy, for I know no easy win awaits us; the work will not be done by January, regardless which suited man swears an oath.

Until then, I will work, pre-grieving alongside this city, this region, this country, this world, so many of us holding our breath waiting for something traumatic while experiencing trauma. I hold these unlikely words as an almost-prayer – the ones my parents’ friend printed onto the walls of her sixth grade classroom so long ago: Time will pass… will you? 

Brandi Larsen is a writer, speaker, and coach committed to creating a more inclusive publishing landscape. She speaks to audiences about how the book publishing process really works, connects writers to each other, serves as Board President for Literary Cleveland, and writes books and essays. Connect at: and @brandilarsen.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Enumerate Them (Purnhagen)


I was in the woods searching for strangers. 

Unfamiliar forests were not where I usually spent my Wednesday evenings, but at 11 pm, it was where my temporary job had sent me. I was working for the 2020 Census as part of the official TNSOL operation.

TNSOL (pronounced “tinsel”) stands for Targeted Non-Sheltered Outdoor Locations. Originally scheduled to take place in April, the operation was delayed due to Covid-19. Across the entire country, it is the one night in which the Census counts those experiencing homelessness outside. (Two days are also spent sending teams to shelters and soup kitchens during the afternoons.)

I was on a team with four other people, and we received almost no information until the day before, when we were given a list of six locations. We would meet at 9 pm to begin our evening and were told to complete work by 7 am. Our case list included two wooded areas, two Wal-Mart parking lots, and two vague locations that were “known areas for those experiencing homelessness to sleep.” One of those places was described as a gazebo near a city square, but no specific address was provided.

An hour before my team was scheduled to meet, everything changed: Of the twelve people who had volunteered for TNSOL, only eight remained. That meant two teams instead of three would be covering cases in Lake and Geauga counties. Our case load increased, but our time to complete the work had not. Because TNSOL is a one-night event, there is no second chance to return to an area and count people.

We met in the parking lot of a local police station, where I had received permission to park our cars for the evening. Despite Covid concerns, we were required to carpool. An officer met us there and asked us what we were going to be doing. When we explained our purpose, he seemed surprised. “I didn’t know the Census counted the homeless,” he said. He then told us about a bridge less than a mile away. “There’s several living over there,” he said. “I know because we get complaints and I have to shoo them away.”

I thought this information would be useful, but my supervisor said that we couldn’t use it. We were required to complete the case list and could not add any new locations. According to the Census itself, locations had been scouted ahead of time, confirmed by a second source, and followed a “carefully researched” grid. Our instructions were to locate individuals sleeping outside or in their cars and “enumerate” (count) them. We would be filling out paper forms instead of typing the information into our Census-issued smart phones. The reason given was that the Census did not want anything of value out in the field that could be stolen; in fact, we were specifically told not to bring any phones—personal or government— along with us.

Our first location of the evening was a park near some railroad tracks. A covered picnic area held tables and grills. There were drinking fountains and a bathroom. Our case notes indicated that an encampment was located through some woods and near a river. Dressed in neon orange vests, donning masks and sweeping our flashlights across the ground, the five of us trekked through the woods, searching not just for people, but signs of people. We called out so as not to startle anyone and made a complete circle of the area, taking time to stop and listen. All we heard was running water and a passing train.

The second location was an abandoned Wal-Mart near an equally abandoned strip mall. Here, we did find signs that people had once established some sort of camp. In one covered area, we discovered two old sofas, food wrappers, empty water bottles, and plates. A second area, tucked behind a damaged fence, revealed a circle of chairs, glass bottles and a small fire pit. But no one was there at 11 pm. If they were planning on returning, we would not be here: once we left an area, we weren’t allowed to go back.

It was the same situation at our third location: signs of life but no actual people. At midnight, we decided to take a bathroom break and stopped at a local gas station. The owner was sitting behind a plastic partition and balked when he saw us. “You guys construction workers?” he asked. I explained what we were doing and he asked where we were headed next. When I told him, he nodded. “Oh, you’ll find lots of homeless there,” he said. “There’s a whole camp.”  I thought that we had actually received a real case.  Finally, we could put our eight hours of additional training and boxes of supplies to good use. Then the owner added that the camp had been moved a few miles down the road months earlier. I had a sinking feeling that the address we had been given was outdated.

I was right.

The frustration in knowing that there was a camp nearby but we weren’t allowed to approach it because of rules and procedure was maddening. It was another case closed with no one counted. Our fifth location was a hospital parking lot. We met a nurse leaving her late shift. She told us that a group of girls had been living out of their cars for a while, but she hadn’t seen them in months.

When Covid first shut everything down in March, we found ways to keep going. My kids went to school online. My husband attended virtual meetings from the kitchen table. People everywhere worked in different ways and at a different pace. I’m not sure what was happening behind the scenes at the Census Bureau. Operations ceased in March and resumed in August. During that time, the current administration ordered that the Census conclude its count a month early; instead of October 30, it would end on September 30. No reason was given. So instead of the usual six months of active operation, we were down to about six weeks. TNSOL locations had been researched in March in preparation for an April count. But in the shutdown that followed, things changed. Known camps were either pushed out by authorities or people chose to relocate. And despite assurances that sites had been “carefully researched” it appears as if no one had updated anything in six months.

My team’s experience was not unusual. In an online group I belong to, census workers across the country reported the exact same scenarios that I saw first-hand. Teams that had been told to prepare to interview hundreds of people found instead abandoned camps and empty lots.

We returned to the police parking lot feeling defeated. The back of my car held a massive box of supplies I had been given to complete my work. Inside there were enough forms, envelopes, and brochures to enumerate 150 people. (There was also a one-pound bag of rubber bands, five boxes of binder clips, copies of all the forms in Spanish, a clip board, my vest, and a flashlight.) When I asked how I should return the materials, I was told there was no point. “Just throw it all away,” my supervisor said. “None of it can be used again.”

The casual waste was striking. Not simply of the box of supplies, but of the time and training that ultimately led to nothing. The local sources that could have helped direct us that were never asked, the knowledge of a nearby camp that was left unchecked.  

We were sent into the woods to find people who lived there six months ago and found only the remnants of what they had left behind.  There are people in our community who deserve the dignity of being counted as citizens. They weren’t. And the final data from the 2020 Census will erroneously depict a decreased homeless population, a shadow of the facts, a mere hint of what truly exists.

Mara Purnhagen is the author of four young adult novels: Tagged, Past Midnight, One Hundred Candles, and Beyond the Grave, as well as two novellas and numerous short stories. She lives in Chagrin Falls with her husband, their four sons, and two cats.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

How to Write a Novel During Quarantine in 12 Easy Steps (Walter)

1. The first two months of quarantine are like the first pancake. Drink some wine, eat some carbs, lower your Netflix viewing standards, and try to embrace the meaninglessness of everything.

2. When it finally sinks in that quarantine is going to last a lot longer than you expected, turn to that novel. Start slowly. Compile your notes, spend some idle time thinking about the fictional world. Stare at blank pages. Marinate in the uncertainty that is this manuscript.

3. On the day you begin for real, sit at your computer for three hours and write exactly one paragraph. Be proud of that progress.

4. Peck away at the novel’s beginnings over the course of a few weeks. Slowly eke out the first two chapters.

5. It’s time to get serious and set a goal: You’re going to write 1,000 words a day, every day, no exceptions. (This strategy works best if you’re a painfully goal-oriented person who will succumb to self-loathing if you fail to meet said goals.)

 6. Embark on that 1,000-word-a-day goal and never say die no matter what. Yes, there are times when the words you write are utter trash. There are times you squeak them out at 11:30 pm. Once or twice you pound out the words while drunk on quarantine wine, but whatever. Get the words down and deal with shaping them later.

7. As scene stacks upon scene upon scene, realize that being cloistered from the outside world and having your day job hours cut has helped you get caught in the dreamworld of the novel. See your characters as clearly as if they’re right next to you. Conjure the city they live in and the places they go as if you’re right there with them. On second thought, maybe put down that quarantine wine.

8. Take lots of walks to think about the book. Jot down notes wherever you are. Discover a trail in the woods that’s full of magic—every time you walk there, you’re flooded with ideas. Return to these woods again and again. Immerse yourself in the novel. Think about it at all times: as you fall asleep, when you wake up, as you feed the cats, while washing dishes, while taking walks, while washing your hands, while washing your hands, while washing your hands.

9. Don’t discuss the novel with anyone else. Don’t share the plot, don’t talk about the characters, don’t say a word. Because it is too new and fresh and fragile. Because it might not turn into anything that can be published. Because publishing is not what this is about. Right now, you are caught in the dreamworld. Keep it that way as long as you can. This novel belongs to you and only you.

10. You’re going to doubt yourself. You’ll doubt yourself hard. How can you not? This is a mess, you’ll think. This is a disaster. And it is a disaster: the manuscript, the world. It’s raw. It’s burning. It’s so early that you can’t yet see it for what it is. You can only keep going, to put one word down after the other in a reckless act of faith.

11. Feel the end of the first draft speeding toward you. Write your way to meet that ending, to type out the final words. But they won’t be the final words, not really. You know that. The trick to getting those words down in the first place is freeing yourself to not think about their flaws. There’s time later to fix things. The world right now is filled with nothing but time.

12. You’re not the kind of writer to type “The End,” so leave the last half of the last page blank. Face that final page without expectations, because who knows what this manuscript will become. All you know is that you created a whole world out of nothing. Imagine all the other universes that exist inside other people at this moment, even and especially in this ravaged year, and feel something like hope. But what now? Now you return to the beginning. Now you start the slow and uncertain work of trying, as best you can, to make it better.

Laura Maylene Walter is a writer and editor in Cleveland. Her debut novel, Body of Stars, will be published by Dutton in March 2021. (Rest assured this is not the novel she wrote during quarantine.) Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Horse Girls anthology (Harper Perennial 2021), Poets & Writers, Kenyon Review, The Sun, The Masters Review, and many other publications. She has been a Tin House Scholar, a recipient of the Ohioana Library Association’s Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant, and a writer-in-residence at Yaddo, the Chautauqua Institution, and Art Omi: Writers.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

31 Notes from August

I use Freddy’s jump rope rhyme as my handwashing song. After every door handle, after every package, after every shopping trip. One, two….

I make a point of smiling and saying hi to everyone I pass

You’re holding your breath and thinking at the characters, no, no, no, don’t do that, don’t go in there…

And if all you did was stand outside and listen, you could almost convince yourself that nothing at all had changed

I fell asleep./ I ate it with succotash. /I jumped in the water

I can see the whole world from ten inches away

A man lies on his left side in a thin patch of riparian woods on an asphalt path, which presses against his ankle, knee, hip, shoulder

Covid-19 quarantine killed my dyed black hair

I had been living in Seattle at the time, so all of these transitions - including my father’s stroke and his initial descent into dementia - occurred and were retold like fairy tales or travelogues

His funeral felt segmented, disjointed, impersonal, rushed. Not like him at all

If I could have just one more conversation with my grandparents

What is promised/ in ceremony

For five hours/ I huddled/ in my car, tethered to the phone

Unnerved by the discomfort and the sight of the sky

And as a mother, I feel so responsible for my family‘s happiness

My most immediate memory of her is of those small, soft hands sprinkling flour

She does not/ hold one thing more/ precious 

But when I arrived at the Ledges, a little boy in a yellow shirt was perched quietly at the top

His black jacket/sparks with tiny flickers of starlight

Some of us love being masked

Standing on edge for months at a time can make you really, really tired

I experience it mostly like a Mack truck in a narrow hallway made of concrete

I packed my lover’s belongings for intergalactic travel . . .I teletransported the bedroom 

The old lady next door chattered nonstop over the fence

The hibiscus and I stay home. /Neither of us wear masks

An orphaned duck paces the block

Everyone else was a black box with white writing on it like intertitles in a silent film

I grab as much of the sun as I can and keep it in my pocket

Everyone is always becoming someone else

There are no sufficient emoji.

We’ve taken a sentence or two or some lines from each blog post in August to create a quilt, a cento, a mini-collage, a fringe of whose story is this? We hope it’s ours, in the same way that holding hands can help (although we can’t do that now).

Friday, September 25, 2020

What Dogs Need (Clark)

Snow licks my hand and looks at me imploringly, reminding me that he is there. I couldn’t possibly forget. Snow, a half-blind, partially deaf, passive-aggressive fourteen- year-old pitbull/boxer mix curmudgeon has been at my house 32 times since May.  This isn’t 32 days, but 32 collections of days. To put it much more clearly, he has missed only a handful of days in five months. I’ve seen him more than his parents have.

This is not normal in the job I’ve held for nearly five years, and it is one of the changes I’ve seen since the pandemic began.

I’m an essential employee, a front line worker. One client insisted his was the more onerous job: “Sure, you’re a teacher, but at least you get to be online.”  “No," I said, “I’m referring to my work as a petsitter.”

Snow’s dad is a cop, and because of the pandemic and necessary social unrest, and because his wife is an emergency room doctor in a severely virus-stricken city, I take care of Snow. I’ve also seen an uptick in reservations from my nursing clients, old and new.  I lost a lot of customers who now work from home, but they’ve been replaced by a variety of first-line folks: a veterinary surgeon, a minister, an IT specialist, a bartender, a doctor’s assistant, a dentist.  

We are to believe that dogs are thrilled with the pandemic because in many cases their humans are home. I think this is true, but I’ve noticed there is something about the dogs that makes it clear they need a break. We think it's just people, but dogs need to be with their own kind sometimes. In the Before Times, dogs would show up to my house like it’s Day Camp and would spend the day or week roughhousing like crazy. Now I find the first night is indeed frenetic, non-stop action. But then, the second day, there is a sense of relaxation. There is still play, but it is measured. They feel as though they can breathe. They play for half an hour, rest, play, rest, and so on. They sleep through the night. The third day, a few of them are almost comatose, as if the play time on the first day overstrained them. (Most dogs come for three days.) This change from Before Times makes a lot of sense to me. I think the second and third day the dogs are thinking, my pack is still here; nobody has left; this is cool.

I don’t know if it is my imagination, but I think the dogs are becoming more affectionate. They certainly are becoming more so to me—lots more kisses and wanting me to kneel down so they can breathe in my breath. They want more attention from me (as do my students, by the way) and are more concerned about where I am and being with me.

Think about it from the dog’s perspective: dogs are incredibly empathetic. They study our body language and pick up on all sorts of cues. They don’t understand about the virus (probably) but they certainly get that something’s changed. Most people are stressed out, not only by the pandemic and all the things resulting from it: job changes and relationship challenges, but also the horrendous political situation and stressors. Dogs pick up on stress and emotions. Being at my house, where I live by myself surrounded by dogs and cats, provides a sense of stability. Dear God, I’m not suggesting that I’m stable, (my friends would find that amusing) but my home, especially for old clients, is a familiar place, and other dogs are a distraction and a comfort.

I’ve noticed a change not just in the dogs, but in my clients as well.  I tend to really like dog and cat people, and in general, I really like my clients. Since the pandemic, though, people have been even kinder than usual.

 When the pandemic first started, “Sam,” the father of a pitbull named Barkley that I took care of for several weeks, texted me once a week for two months just checking in to see that I was all right. He’s a kid in his forties, and I’m nearing sixty, so it is possible he thought I had one foot in the grave anyway, but I thought this was considerate. Morti the Corgi’s dad, a welder/construction worker, presented me with a bag of toilet paper rolls. Morti’s mom is a nurse, so because he has two parents who are essential, he, like Snow, has been with me every week since the pandemic began, visiting one to five days a week. People have brought donuts (always a good move), given me larger than usual tips (perhaps an even better move), and written incredibly kind reviews.

My job is dangerous. Not in the way you’d think, like maybe I’ll get bitten (I have—three times now) or have to deal with strange clients (that as well), but rather because of the virus. I regularly enter the homes of my clients in order to walk their dogs. Over July 4th week, I was making six house visits a day, and each time would use an elevator. My clients insist on being on the fourth or higher floor, but no way was I running up eight flights of stairs every visit hauling my pandemic-related weight gain.

The elevator is probably the worst place to be in an apartment building during the plague. I do wear a mask, and I try to remember to use wipes for pressing buttons, but I’m not a detail person. I figure I’m really lucky not to have been contaminated yet. And of course, most of the clients whose homes I visit are the first-line people, so if I’m going to get infected…

All this being said, I’m grateful for my job. I’m grateful to be working with dogs, and even happy to see Snow on a nearly daily basis. I am glad to be helping people who are doing God’s work saving us from ourselves and our bad/stupid decisions (I’m thinking anti-maskers here). It is my little part I can play in helping those who are most at risk. Add to that that dogs are fuzzy, silly, warm when it gets cold, ridiculous, mostly wonderful creatures. I guess I love my job, which is good at a time of crisis.

Katherine Clark got her PhD from CWRU. She teaches at John Carroll University and is a petsitter for Clark is in the top 10% in Ohio and probably the world. She is on the fourth draft of her novel, and it is likely to be an international best seller.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

31 Notes from July

It is 10 am on the last Friday of June, and I have just come in from outside, having spent an hour playing with the dog and inspecting my tomatoes and cucumbers

It's July 2020 and the world is still sick

“It’s too late for the masks,” the customer says. “I wish people would understand that”

We didn’t know as much then as we know now, and part of me is strangely grateful

Inside again, I write, I nap (why not?),/ I wash the summer berries/ who await their fate

I have found refuge in what is for me the strangest of places--Klondike, one of those video games where you build a world, burnish its perfection

Sometimes when I’m feeling delusions of grandeur, I imagine that I am working for the military

 Of everything, it’s the lack of an end date that gets to me. We’re in darkness

One breath in the wrong place at the wrong time

When the sun set and fireworks started booming in her neighborhood, we hustled to her back porch and saw a sky filled with bursts of light

This summer, there’s more than just the typical measure of parental gut-wrench that comes with watching your kid leave the nest

I miss the Marc’s check-out clerk with three nose rings,/ bitten nails, sardonic asides./ Miss the librarian whose voice is soft as my mother’s was

I cannot help but wonder…how do people manage when they live alone? Who dispenses meds in carefully regulated doses

Stupid, stupid, stupid, Covid. I close my eyes and pretend I’m in Spain

We distract ourselves with theme dinners—ideas like only red-and-white foods, or foods that all start with the letter P as in pandemic

One thing to tell you. Home school sucks

Scrolling through these headlines - coronavirus, tornadoes, hornets, locusts, a fascist in the white house, the relative calm of my personal life has never taken on such a sinister edge

So much was being quantified or condensed into scrolling headlines. So much was unquantifiable or unspeakable

Millions of us, trapped in our houses tuned into our televisions, were caught watching, and before we could stop watching, we became complicit in an act of brutality that ended in murder

The world seems to have gone crazy, I said

Maybe I will try to do some reading once I calm down

Yes, I wear a mask when I’m near other people. Yes, I social distance to the best of my ability. Yes, I wash my hands

Now, I’m a lightning rod in a graveyard/ My footsteps/ My breaths/ Too loud for my ears 

Tired of YouTube, my bored/ daughter draws over and over/ stick figures with straw hair 

We had not expected to be news-junkies on our honeymoon

Remember the hush at the beginning of all this?/ We were stunned at the depth and reach of  it

All I can control is myself

We talk about what we can see out our windows, how our plans have changed, what worries us most, what we’re having for supper

Let's assume we spend our days doing what we should

Maybe someday, before we die—of Covid-19, or cancer, or racism, or a badly failed state, or living too long among humans—we’ll find our way home

Join me, let’s hold hands & fly,/ balance on a stone as two robins flutter

We’ve taken a sentence or two or some lines from each blog post in July to create a quilt, a cento, a mini-collage, a fringe of whose story is this? We hope it’s ours, in the same way that holding hands can help (although we can’t do that now).

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

30 Notes from June

I’m irritated by slowness and put off by inertia

I learned from an early age how to be alone

I did my panic-buying early. I was all set with paper and canned goods

Then the world shook and slid ever so slightly off-center

I take an empty escalator out of the belly of the building up to street level and step outside, where pigeons far outnumber people

Out I go, latex gloves from an old box of L'Oréal on my too scrubbed hands

I was acutely aware of the mask and its slightly plastic smell

In Second Life it's always a good hair day and I'm always ten years younger than my daughter

In other words, it’s June, but I am nonetheless deep into September

They just keep coming: race, politics, social safety nets, waste, greed, hegemony. Pandemic

This is clearly pandemic-think, a scarcity mentality part Little House on the Prairie, part Walking Dead

"Cut that part off. It's fine." Use what's usable. Get on with it 

I was making lunch when my friend Joy phoned to say she had delivered some items to the local homeless shelter . . . and saw a young black man walking down the street with a Black Lives Matter sign

My brother called me from Cleveland because he was worried about the white supremacists standing at the end of my street

I tried not to cry or say anything stupid. I tried to just listen 

The point is how different one life experience can be from another, even lived side by side. The point is how desperate white people are to feel good

Nobody likes the one/ who brings bad news, Antigone said

If we were lighter (closer to light?) skittering over the porch /floor, down the street, caught up next to a curb or between two strands/ of that spider’s web

I made my way through the books not on the beach but at our kitchen table, or on the couch, or lying in bed, in between working from home, which I began deeming homing-from-work

The other cat has started to throw up at least once a day now, choosing the orientals for his deposits

I’m seeing more clearly, from my present location, how young thirty-eight was. How scandalously quick seventy is. How the person inside the age is always saying, “but not me”

Small collapses/ an atom at a time

I should be clear that this was not . . . a metaphor for being hungover; a car literally backed into me on a busy sidewalk, popping my knee sideways hard enough to engage the impact sensor in the bumper

Unstructured time felt nearly as disorienting as the steady uptick of Covid cases and the nightly newsreels that mimicked a disaster film I wouldn't have watched a second time

Those who are thinking that once we find a vaccine for the virus that our world will return to the way it was prior to 2020 are ignoring history 

We sat on the tops of two fence posts and looked down a long time on the lake’s gray expanse

Almost everything seems to be happening at a distance -- just around the corner or down the block

I am standing under a tree. A small silver screen hangs from a low branch, like an ornament 

This moment always feels like sending a small boat out onto a wide sea

Come morning the dew will/ weigh down the grass in the field between us

We’ve taken a sentence or two or some lines from each blog post in May to create a quilt, a cento, a mini-collage, a fringe of whose story is this? We hope it’s ours, in the same way that holding hands can help (although we can’t do that now).