Friday, July 10, 2020

I am obsessed with the plants in my yard

The world feels like it's on fire and all I want to do is draw a map of my yard. Label the plants and flowers.

But this is harder than I thought. Weeks later and I am stuck, only the bare bones of the map filled in. The problem is I don't know the plant names. Some, okay. I do know by sight. The black-eyed susans, for example, which seem to be growing in clumps all over the place. Also, coneflowers. The orange lilies. Ferns and hostas.

I never realized how hard it was to identify plants. And why is it so important to me? I could draw my map without names. The Purple Thingys. The Green Stalky Ones with No Flowers Yet. 

Every morning after I read the news and despair over the state of humanity, I go outside and see how all of them are doing. Who has flowers today. Who has bugs eating them. I want to take care of these things better, but for that, I need to know their names. 

Mystery Purple Thingy

My plant snap app is no help at all, and here, I'd been counting on it as solution to all of my plant-identifying questions. Just take a pic of the plant and within seconds it's supposed to tell you what it is.

Orchid, it said, about my mystery purple thingy.

Even I know that's wrong. I search for clues online. I snoop around in the neighborhood on my walks. Some gardeners around here have helpful sign labels by their plants. But I can't find a match. It hits me suddenly that there are books out there on plant identification.

I order some from my library and pick them up in the curbside delivery. I can't find the Purple Thingy, but I learn that the orange lilies are pointless. 

Pretty, and yet, pointless

Each bloom lasts for only one day and then it shrivels up. Worse, bees and butterflies don't want the flowers. Bees do like the purple mystery plant though. Turns out it's called Loosetrife. The answer didn't come from an app or a book or online, but from my next door neighbor, who tells me it's invasive.

I like it though. So it stays. 

But there are more mysteries.


After much research in my books on perennials, I realize it's not a perennial! It's an annual called Love in the Mist.

And this one is not a perennial either. It's a bulb. Crocosmia.


Who names these flowers? Should I thin them? Replant them? Water, and how much? Should I tear out the pointless orange lilies and replace them with native plants that the bees like? I still don't know what the Green Stalky thing is. There's a weird beetle-y looking bug on it chewing on the leaves and turning them brown, which has me worried. 

But I am worried about everything. The virus. Racism and police brutality. Schools going back in session and putting students and teachers in danger. The heat rising every day and didn't I read that the Arctic is melting-- 

I can't look at the news anymore. And still, my map's unfinished even as the flowers, named and unnamed are blooming and/or shriveling.

Okay, I was going to end this here, 

but I have to tell you a story first. A few weeks ago. I got into a conversation, socially distant and masked, at the farmer's market with a farmer who was advertising that he had praying mantis egg sacs for sale. This was fascinating to me because why would someone want to buy praying mantis egg sacs? I mean, gulp. Are you supposed to eat them? 

But no. The farmer told me that the egg sac, which looks like a thumb-sized version of a bee hive and comes attached to a stick, is something you poke into your garden for insect control on your plants. I bought three, because I was immediately thinking of where I could poke these things. Near my zucchini plants and by the peppers of course. But also, by the Green Stalky plant, which was looking more and more insect-eaten.  

Another side note: it was funny getting these little egg sacs home. Supposedly, each one contains over 100 praying mantises and the farmer said, jokingly, I hoped, that he was sure I'd make it home before they hatched. I had visions of them hatching in the car, but luckily they did not. I poked them in the garden, and then I waited. 

Not sure, for what. 

But look. 

This morning, just now as I went out for my daily petting of my plants, both named and unnamed, I found my Green Stalky one looking lush and beautiful, and on one leaf, 

this 









Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Month Four, Spikes


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The world feels like it's on fire and I am up too late reading twitter. 

It's a surreal thing to read about how police are attacking people in my own city, while at the same time listening to the helicopters whirring overhead. It takes me all day to settle my head down to write, but I do it because it's what I do. Still, when I hear about a protest in my neighborhood, I walk down by myself, masked, afraid, 

and then, not afraid. 

It's a socially distant crowd of mask-wearing, mostly white people holding Black Lives Matter signs. I hold my sign over my head and ignore the sweat dripping under my mask. My phone pings and the pings echo all around me. All of us in the crowd getting our notification from the city at once:  

We're under curfew tonight. 

Cases in the US: 1,822,00
Deaths: 104,000

Monday, June 8, 2020

I go to the grocery store in the morning, a little earlier than normal. It's quiet, only a few other shoppers, the workers reshelving, everyone wearing a mask except for one old man getting a coffee at Starbucks. 

Yesterday Colin Powell endorsed Joe Biden, and Mitt Romney walked with a thousand Evangelical Christians in a Black Lives Matter protest march. Maybe we have turned a corner in our country. Maybe we haven’t. People are still dying from Covid. We’re up to 109,000 deaths in the US. Almost 2 million cases overall. Also, everything is open now.

Cases in Ohio: 36,097
Deaths: 2177

Thursday, June 18, 2020

I'm listening to the book White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and it's making me sad and anxious and disturbed, which, I guess, is a way of saying that I am experiencing white fragility. I don't know what the answer to this discomfort is except to listen. Speak out against racism and injustice. Push back at white people who reflexively get defensive. 

I would say that this is exhausting, but that in itself is privilege. Black people don’t get to take a break from it. I think about friends I have who are Black and our sometimes awkward conversations about race. Maybe a lot of it was me trying to show them I wasn’t racist. I’m sure they can see through it. The thing is, I don’t have a lot of Black friends. I didn’t grow up in a place where I would even come into contact with many Black people. My first real interaction was my freshman year in college when my roommate was a Black girl. 

I know I was awkward around her, and again, I kept trying to tiptoe around race and prove to her that I wasn’t racist, even as I had relatives yakking to me, saying shit like, Why did the college stick you with one of those people.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Yesterday it took me forever to settle in and write. Finally, I got into the groove and then I had to stop to make dinner. I was ten minutes short of my goal and vowed that today I’d get started earlier. What kind of writer am I that I don’t make my work my focus? 

Whenever I do end up going back to my job at the library, I'm afraid that all of my good habits are gone. Or maybe I’m not remembering it correctly. My writing habits were always kind of crappy. 

Last night my husband said, This year is a total loss. 

We were sitting on the couch, and I suddenly remembered that only six weeks ago he had a beard. It was such a weird time, those weeks when we were first locked down and our daughter was locked down in London. It feels like so long ago. Like the world stopped on March 13. Anyway, we were watching the movie Passengers, 

which is about two people who were supposed to be in a state of induced hibernation for 120 years on their way to a new planet. But the guy woke up because of a malfunction and then he spent a year alone and lonely and finally decided to wake a girl up. And then the two of them are stuck, alone, on a sleeping ship, barreling through space.

I said, This is like us. Except we're trapped in our house. 

Cases in the US: 2,314,000
Deaths: 118,000
Cases in Ohio: 42,767
Deaths: 2497

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Woke up early with a splitting headache. I think it's just allergies. That, or it's the weird dust cloud from the Saharan Desert that's hovering over our part of the country for the past few days. Yeah. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence either. 

A friend's son is being tested today. Two of my daughter's friends are waiting on test results too. One in Florida and one in Texas. It takes several days for the test results and in the meantime all of them are quarantining inside their homes. 

A writer friend started a social media campaign to highlight the importance of wearing masks. My daughter posed me outside in front of the sunny garden, all of the herbs coming in where only a few months ago there was a muddy pit. 


Cases in the US: 2,575,000
Deaths: at least 124,000
Cases in Ohio: 48,222
Deaths: 2615

Please please please wear a damn mask.









Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Why am I still on Facebook

What I liked about the place was how sunny it was, how open. Once you walk through the office building, there's an outdoor space, like a plaza in a European city, shops and restaurants, all of the food available to employees and guests, for free. On the roof a park, walking paths winding around trees. 

You can almost forget you're on a roof,

until you look down at the parking lots, the muddy fields. It's a protected wetland down there, the intern who was giving us this tour said. (Okay, the intern happened to be my son.) He loved working at Facebook. 

Until, he didn't.  

What did we do before Facebook? 

I think I talked on the phone a lot. When we moved over the years, I let most friends and acquaintances go. Maybe ran into them here and there, or someone they knew, and spent a few minutes catching up. Who got married. Who had kids. Who died. I used to send photos in the mail to relatives. We exchanged letters and holiday cards. I read the newspaper, the actual paper thing, spread out over the counter. The only comment section was the Letters to the Editor. 

Before Facebook I didn't know that the boy I had a crush on in fifth grade thinks Muslims should be banned from living in our country. I didn't know that my aunt believes tearing down a confederate statue is more appalling than a police officer kneeling on a man's neck until he dies. 

The Facebook campus has hammocks. Individually packaged toothbrushes in the bathrooms. Vending machines that give out free keyboards and phone chargers. They sell ads to political groups, to foreign countries who want to influence our elections, to people who think vaccinations are bad and it's good to give your child bleach if he has autism.  

I'm in a gardening group, people who live in my neighborhood who I've never met in real life, sharing tips on growing vegetables, identifying flowers, sharing seeds. I've got extra cucumber seedlings, someone posts. Please stop by and help yourself! 

My cousin shares pictures of her son, a child I've never met in real life, but because of Facebook I know what his favorite books are, his first words. Another cousin shares a conspiracy theory. The Democrats want to take your guns, your statues, your religion, your right to walk around in a crowded restaurant during a global pandemic mask-less. 

The day my son took us to the rooftop park, we walked under the winding trees alone. It was just our family up there. Everyone else is too busy, my son told us. A shame, because they'd spent so much money on the design, the sprawling trees and plants. 

So nice up there, if you didn't look at the barren, muddy lot stretching out below.  




Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On Hearing Jesmyn Ward Speak

Last year I went to a talk by the two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward at the Columbus Metropolitan Library downtown.

I took notes while I was there and cried at the end of the talk and then forgot about it until last week when I finally picked up her book Sing, Unburied, Sing and read it. The book is about a boy turning thirteen in Mississippi and his road trip with his mother to pick up his father from Parchman Prison, a notorious place known for its human rights abuses and horrific treatment of black men. It's also about ghosts and rural life and black Southern culture and the love between siblings and generational poverty and racism and sacrifices people make and cancer and Southern food and police brutality and grandparents. 

It's not an easy book to read, in the sense that it's about a world that many white people want to pretend does not exist. But it is an easy book to read in the sense that you, as a white person, can pick it up and read it. And I hope you will. 

Here are some of the notes I took when Jesmyn Ward spoke: 

It is a mixed crowd of people here, something you don’t usually see at events like this. Usually it’s all older white women, probably going together with their book clubs. 

She tells us about the importance of storytelling and how her parents and grandparents told stories, all of it mixed up with growing up in Mississippi and growing up in America where black people are marginalized and seen as lesser. 

Her experiences as a child being a reader and only finding books about white girls to read. Her classmates at a wealthy private school who talked about the confederate flag as their heritage and grumbled that it was Affirmative Action that got her into Stanford and not her hard work or intelligence. 

During Katrina, her family lost their home and she and her pregnant sister and elderly grandparents were turned away by white people--their neighbors--at the height of the storm. She said she couldn’t write for three years after that. She thought, how could she be a writer in a world like this, and maybe she’d be a nurse. 

Her brother died, killed by a drunk driver, a white man who was only charged with leaving the scene of an accident and not with her brother’s death. She lost three friends at the same time, to drugs and accidents, all young black men from the same small town. 

She says she writes because she feels the burden of needing to tell the stories of people who have been erased. 

When I go to something like this—the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, for example, or hear a speaker, like Jason Reynolds, someone speaking about their experiences with white people, I don’t know how to sit with it. 

I mean, it’s profoundly uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing, actually. I can see myself how they see me, a white woman, and it feels bad. I don’t know what to do with this feeling though. See it. Acknowledge it. There’s no real defense. It just is. 

I bought her book Sing, Unburied, Sing and I thought about standing in line and getting it signed and telling Jesmyn Ward how much her book Salvage the Bones affected me, how I was in awe of how she was able to turn this dark story into something somehow hopeful. 

But then I thought, why? Why does she need to hear my response? She said interviewers ask her if she means to end her novels with some hope, and she said, "Of course I do. If I didn’t, the book would be horror." 

She told us her mother and grandmother rise every day and they keep going because they have hope. This is what we do, she said. Her voice broke then and the people around me, black and white, were crying. 





Monday, June 8, 2020

Dismantling disorder


I don't know how to say this nicely, so I'm just going to say it: the previous owner of our new-old house had an interesting obsession with wood. 

Specifically, he liked to screw pieces of wood on top of other pieces of wood. And then he liked to screw those multiply joined pieces of wood to the walls and ceilings. Sometimes the multiply-joined pieces of wood make sense. For example, a shelf. Other times, most times, to be honest, they don't make sense.



If you want to take wood installations apart, because say you want to park your cars in the garage but you can't because these wood installations extend out two feet in some places, it's not easy. Also, there's a big potbellied stove in the center of the garage, but that's another story. 

But yesterday, my husband and daughter and I spent half the day unscrewing the screws that hold everything together. 

While we were doing this, I was having an argument in my head with the friend of a friend on facebook And I was getting more and more pissed off. At the crazy wood installations in my garage. At the stupid comments on the facebook post and at the fact that I'd gotten sucked into commenting in the first place. I was particularly annoyed that the guy used different kinds of screws when he was screwing his wood together. 

I don't know the proper screwdriver/screw lingo, but apparently, there are all of these different kinds of screws for your wood-screwing needs. The only two types I was aware of until yesterday were the straight lined one and the Phillips-head crossed-lines type, but fun fact: there are many others. 

Stars, for example. And squares and circles. And to screw them in, or to UNSCREW them, in my case, you need to change out the screw heads on the screwdriver. My husband, handy-guy that he is, has a box filled with like 30 different kinds, I kid you not)  

The argument that I'd gotten myself sucked into was boiled down to this: 

A friend posted that she couldn't understand why people were more concerned about property damage during the protests than about people being hurt. I jumped on to say that if someone had murdered my son by kneeling on his neck for eight and a half minutes, I would want to break all the glass in the world. 

Then some guy replied to my comment saying, So you're okay with destroying the world over the actions of a few cops. That makes you just as bad as they are. 

And I said: I was talking about grief and anger and despair, something you apparently can't understand.

And he said: If someone killed my child, I would go after them with my bare hands. And you still didn't answer my question about if you're okay with looting. 

YEAH, I KNOW, I should not get into arguments on Facebook with people who are not my friends!

Something else interesting about the guy who screwed pieces of wood together was that he used different types of screws on one piece of wood, so for example, you might find a phillips-head screw in one corner of a piece of wood and a star-shaped screw in another corner and two square-shaped ones in the center, but DIFFERENT sized-squares just for funsies. 

Listen MR GUY IN THE COMMENTS are you saying that you would murder someone with your bare hands if they killed your child, but you can't understand why a mother who lost her child would want to break glass?  

Oh, and HERE'S SOMETHING ELSE I want to know: How do you watch a police officer kneel on a man's neck until he dies and how do you watch a police officer push an elderly man to the sidewalk and how do you watch a police officer beat a women until she has a seizure on the street and get outraged not about the person dying under the knee or on the sidewalk or seizing in the street, 

but instead get upset about stolen TVs? 

And WHY THE HELL is there a toilet seat screwed onto my wall?

 




Sunday, May 31, 2020

A librarian friend asked if I was going to the protest in downtown Columbus

I’d forgotten that she and I went to a protest a few years ago. The first anniversary of the Women's March. We marched together around the statehouse, a much smaller group than the year before in DC, when I marched with five hundred thousand. The police at that protest stood on the sidelines, placidly, some even waving at us.

I said: Not this time because of the virus.

Another friend told me this was the epitome of privilege, letting other people protest for you. But she was also the same person who asked me once why I protested. What does it even accomplish?

I used to say, solidarity. Showing up and making your voice heard. Maybe I don't believe that anymore. Or maybe she's right and I'm a coward.

On facebook some of my white friends are wringing their hands about violence, worrying more over broken glass than about police brutality, and it enrages me. A lot is enraging me lately. Part of it is listening to Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad which is all about women’s rage. At the end she says, if you’re listening to this now, hold onto your rage.

I realize that I had let go of my rage. It was tiring to be so angry all the time and people I knew were implying that I was acting crazy. I'd started daydreaming about hiding out in the country and growing lettuce and letting the country burn, but in a way that didn't affect me.

At the protest in downtown Columbus the police sprayed pepper spray at Ohio Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and two black city councilmen.

But I didn't go to that protest.







Sunday, May 24, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Week 10, Opening Up

Saturday, May 16, 2020

We go to the farmer's market! Back in the pre-plague days we walked down the street with our cloth bags and ambled along, browsing the booths, chatting with the farmers.

Today, we order on-line, drive ten minutes away to the parking lot where they're holding the market, tape our order number on the windshield, open our trunk, and slowly drive past the booths, where the farmers, masked, find our order and drop it into our trunk.

Cases in the US: 1,252,000
Deaths: 76,908
Cases in Ohio: 22,560
Deaths: 1214

Sunday, May 17

Our daughter, back from London, is fully integrated into the house. The upstairs opened up and aired out. The mattresses, where my husband and I have been sleeping for two weeks while she self-quarantined, are back up in our bedroom. We spend the day outside planting, our daughter painting rocks with herb labels to put in the garden, and for just a little while, we forget there's a global pandemic.

They're opening up Ohio this week. Retail stores, restaurants. The employees are required to wear masks but the patrons can choose not to. Because, freedom.

I am not going anywhere.


Monday, May 18

Except to the grocery store.

Everything I read about this virus points to the fact that it spreads via other people, in enclosed spaces, over an extended period of time. So, I am all about the fast, once-per-week grocery trip. At 8 am in the morning. When hardly anyone else is here except for the people personally shopping for others.

I'm masked. Sanitized. Holding my paper list, cruising the aisles in the properly marked direction. Food seems abundant. A sushi chef making sushi to go. Grab-and-go taco meal kits. But still no hand sanitizer. No wipeys. No liquid hand soap. One toilet paper per household limit. I buy one, even though my household is probably reaching hoarding level now. Please don't judge me.

Cases in the US: 1,338,000
Deaths: 80,000

Tuesday, May 19

It rained four inches last night and we brace ourselves going down to the basement, but luckily, we are dry. Other people in Columbus, not so lucky. A friend posts pics on Facebook of her and her son paddle-boarding in their backyard.

Did I mention that I applied for unemployment after being furloughed from the library? Did I mention that after spending hours on this process, I was denied? Did I mention that I applied for the federal Covid relief? Did I mention that the site where I spent more hours typing in all of my personal information had some glitch where everyone's personal information was compromised and now it's suggested that I put a fraud alert on my credit reports and also, no word if I'm approved for the Covid relief?

Wednesday, May 20

It is raining, day three, but still the basement is dry so thank God for that.

The big outing for the day is Go to the bank to meet up, socially distanced and masked, with the person who has taken over my position as Regional Advisor of SCBWI, so I can transfer all of the financial documents to her and get my name off the account. We have to do this by appointment. Wait outside the bank for the banker to unlock the door, and then I hand over the paperwork and leave.

My daughter comes along for the ride, probably to get the hell out of the house for thirty minutes. We drive through the town where we used to live, pass her old elementary school, our old house, a side trip to the bookstore to do the curbside pick-up of an order of books.

On the way home, almost feeling normal, we go through the Starbucks drive thru, and I promptly spill half of my hot coffee on my lap and my daughter laughs and laughs.

Totally normal.

Thursday, May 21

I keep trying to get through to the credit report companies to put the fraud alert on my account that was hacked when I tried and failed to get unemployment, and I can't get through and I am annoyed but trying not to be a karen about it.

Indoor dining at restaurants starts officially today and it's all over the news, people out and about as if there isn't a global pandemic. We order in take out and our daughter teaches us a card game called Shithead and I don't want to play it because I hate card games, but I rally, and learn it, and win a few games and feel ridiculously gleeful.

Friday, May 22

After thirty minutes on hold, I finally reach a customer service agent at the credit report company and he doesn't believe I am Me and I go full blown karen on him, much to my husband's and daughter's amusement.

They want to order Chik-fil-e for dinner and take it to my mother's to eat outside with her, socially distant on her patio. I don't like chik-fil-e for a variety of reasons. One, I'm sort of a vegetarian, and two, I'm still mad at them for supporting anti-LGBTQ causes, but we go to Chik-fil-e and there are lines of cars wrapped around the building two or three deep, but impressively, moving at a fast pace,

masked workers scurrying around taking orders, so that the whole process takes less then fifteen minutes.

Potential business plan for Chik-fil-e: denounce your anti-LGBTQ bullshit and volunteer to help the trump administration with their pathetic Covid- testing program.

Side note: dinner with Mima turns out very well and the chicken is good.

Saturday, May 23

Back to the farmer's market drive-thru and I love the efficiency and organization (The farmer's market in Clintonville. Ohio could also do a fine job taking over the covid testing program if the chik-fil-e thing falls through.) but I miss the chatting with the farmers, the browsing and impulse buys.

People online posting videos of white people spitting and coughing in workers' faces when asked to wear a mask. The president demanding churches be opened, but he will not be going to church. He will be going golfing. I find more bamboo shoots in my flower beds and I want to set the backyard on fire.

A walk at night with the dog through our quiet neighborhood. Children biking in the street. A socially distant gathering on someone's front lawn.

Christmas bulbs hanging from the trees, shining like stars.

Cases in the US: 1,620,000
Deaths: 96,000
Cases in Ohio: 29,288
Deaths: 1756