Thursday, September 24, 2020

Fall Gifts

My son sent me a picture of the sky outside his apartment. Smoky white and a small orange sun. Another picture of his girlfriend sitting out on their balcony. She’s wearing a purple flowered mask, the sky behind her orange. I am thinking about the end of the world, 

or what feels like the end of the world. 

How we keep going, even during plague and fire. Only a few months ago we browsed in stores and sat together in darkened movie theaters and ate in crowded restaurants. Now we order what we need online and stream movies and pick up takeout. 

I’ve been sending books to friends. Stories I liked that I think they might too. Sort of a Pay-It-Forward Amazon book club. The other day someone sent me a book and it made me absurdly happy. The book is about the restorative power of nature. I believe in this. 

Six months ago we had an overgrown patch of ragged ornamental grass in our backyard. I spent most of the early part of lockdown yanking it out. Another week literally jumping up and down on a shovel digging up the matted root clumps. The dirt left behind was rocky and probably not right for a vegetable garden, but I planted one anyway. Lettuce. Spinach. Beets. A few weeks later, tomato plants and zucchini. My daughter, who’d fled London and quarantined in our house for two weeks, ventured outside and planted marigold seeds. 

Now the marigolds are thigh high, the garden still producing so many tomatoes and zucchini that we are giving them away. 

Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, and I didn’t cry. Distraught friends reached out and my daughter cried on and off all day. But I had used up my tears four years ago after Trump won the election and then surprised myself by crying again two years later during the Kavanaugh hearings, both times a stark reminder that they are some men who see women as lesser, who give no thought at all about hurting us. 

An old self has resurfaced, the eight-year-old who figured out fast that the people in charge either don’t know what they are doing or don’t care or are actively trying to harm me. If I want to survive, that is on me.  

I did. 

And then I went with my daughter to a candlelight vigil in front of the Ohio Supreme Court for Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Mostly women there, of course, moms with their daughters, a little masked three-year-old dancing around the fountain. A woman offered my daughter candles, and we lit them and walked over to where people were signing their names and writing about Justice Ginsberg and what her work and her life had meant to them. We are Ruth-less, one of the signs said. Today we mourn, tomorrow we fight for your legacy. 

My son told me the smoke is better out where he lives. The heat broke so he and his girlfriend can open the windows. This week we passed 200,000 Americans dead from Covid 19 and the Republicans are gleefully rushing to confirm a justice to fill Ginsberg’s seat, a person who will likely work to overturn everything she fought for. 

Do the people at the end of the world know they are living at the end of the world? Or do they just keep going 

one gift of a candle 

one tomato

one book at a time? 





Thursday, September 10, 2020

Do You Remember Places?

like this place? 


Remember how this was a place?



Ah, so place-y




The good news is these places still exist. 




Wow.



Beautiful




Amazing




*For greater enjoyment, click here

 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

On Broken Books and Possibly Dead or Maybe Not Dead Cats

Last year I finished writing a book I called Broken and it almost broke me. I had worked on the book for two years. But it was actually just another revision of an earlier book I’d worked on for two years fifteen years earlier. What I'm saying is I spent a good four years of my life working on this book. 

The idea started with a girl from a broken family. I kept thinking about the word broken and what it meant to be broken. In the later versions the story morphed into a fantasy of sorts about a girl who could break things with her mind. It happened whenever she was angry or upset. She couldn't control her power and it scared her. 

Because this was a book for children, I worked hard on the little girl's voice. I wanted to show her grappling with her power. She made rules. Came up with tips and tricks. That became the title of the book. How Not to Break. 

Anyway, I finished writing the book, and it still didn't really work, in the sense that it will never be a published book read by others. Realizing that was upsetting to me, to put it mildly. There were a few weeks where I seriously considered quitting writing.

A tip and trick I've learned over the years for dealing with the grief over a book that doesn't quite work is to start another book. When you're writing a book, you're not thinking about old books. You're too absorbed with the one in front of you. The big questions like voice and structure and character development and motivation. All the way down to the sentences on the page, the individual words. 

The book I started was pretty much the opposite of Broken. It's for adults. It's a Rom/Com, a genre I hadn't tried writing before; although, I did write a few rom/com-like stories for teenagers that were published many years ago. Interestingly enough, some aspects of the broken book wormed their way into the new story. In Romance you are always working with broken people. They have a hole in their lives and love fills it. 

It's a very hopeful, life-affirming genre. When I started working on the story last year I had no idea how much the world would change by the time I got to the end of it. I also had no idea how much writing the book would help me grapple with this new world. If nothing else, it was the perfect escape. 

This week I finished it, in the sense that I wrote a first draft and then I revised it completely and sent it off to my agent. Now I'm at the Schrödinger's Cat part of the writing process where the book is somehow both 

a Thing that will eventually go out into the world and be read by others 

AND

a File on my computer that represents Time and Work and Thought. 

Either way, I know what I will be doing in the coming months. 





Monday, August 31, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Summer Covid-ition

Friday, July 3, 2020

I keep thinking of 9/11, all of those firefighters climbing around the fallen twisted pile that was once the World Trade Center, the toxic dust in the air and the authorities assuring everyone that it was fine, safe. Don't worry at all about what you're breathing in, they said. Flash forward and those people are dying, have died from cancer and long-term respiratory problems. 

When we get past this, assuming we do, it will be the same thing. People will wonder how we allowed fireworks and parties and parades and campaign rallies and packed bars. They’ll think we were nuts for sending kids back to school and college and football practice. It’s like a slow moving train wreck every day. 

Four months into the pandemic and there's so much we don't know. How much spread is caused by asymptomatic people and how kids are affected. How to properly quarantine. And all the people catching this--the ones who seem to have gotten better... Have they, really? 

Cases in the US: 2,754,000

Deaths: 126,000

Cases in Ohio: 51,581

Deaths: 2,653


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Watching too much news and eating too much food. Listening to an audio book about how to talk about race and how Not to talk about race. The voice reading the audio book is soft and angry and I don't blame her. Taking long walks, and somehow, even after a year living in this neighborhood, I'm discovering new parts of it. A path that leads to the river. A long trail that spills out into meadow. Some days I feel more dread than others. 

About the virus and about humans in general. Writing seems so pointless then. I have to remind myself that it’s always been like this. The people in charge, floundering. Worse, the people actively disseminating false information or spreading confusion. The willingness to put other people’s lives in danger. Someone on Twitter talked about how a lot of public schools are closing, but rich people want their private schools to stay open. As if their kids won't catch the virus. 

Cases in the US: 3,581,000      

Deaths: 135,000    


Thursday, July 31, 2020

I got an email yesterday from the human resources person at the library letting me know I’ll be going back to work the week of August 10. At that point it will have been five months since my last day working. March 13. Back then, the original plan was a two-week shutdown and opening back up April 1. But it quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be going back any time soon. 

Still, I don’t know if I would’ve imagined then that it would be five months. 

The library isn’t open to the public. We’ll just be shelving and pulling requests. Maybe Curbside checkout. I’m ready to go back, I guess. It’s hard to imagine. I had a fear this week that I had caught the virus. It’s because I have allergies. And the fact that I’d been around all of those ding dongs at jury duty. The three maskless women. The elevator rides. The bunched up line in the hallway. The multiple times in the public restroom. And all of us being in the same room for so many hours. I read somewhere that because of our high community spread, the odds are, if you go into a random group of 100 people, there is a 99 percent chance that one of them will have Covid.                      

Cases in Ohio: 86,333   

Deaths: 3,222


Friday, August 14, 2020

Back to work and it's familiar and strange at the same time. Hard to wear a mask for 4-5 hours. The quiet of the library. Weird, too, being around other people. There are only three or four of us working at once, so it seems safe.

I checked in books for an hour and found a couple that looked interesting. That’s a nice part of the job. Also, being forced to write earlier and not waste too much time reading news. I went down to the youth department and shelved all of the middle grade books. We’re running out of shelf space. They have overflow tables set up in the unused-for-now-and-in-the-foreseeable-future meeting room. 

Cases in the US: 5,220,000      

Deaths: 163,000


Sunday, August 30, 202

There's a homeless woman living on a bench outside the Starbucks at the end of my street. She's set herself up surrounded by her things. Two rolling suitcases. An umbrella. Yesterday I drove by her multiple times and at all different hours. It was a scary day. My husband had a kidney stone but we didn't know that. All we knew was that he was in pain. 

I drove him to the hospital at 10:30 at night and basically left him at the curb outside the emergency room. I drove home and worried with our daughter, watching dumb TV to keep our minds off what might be happening at the hospital. It all turned out fine. Pain meds. Instructions about kidney stones. 

I picked him up at 1:30 in the morning and there was the homeless woman, still under her umbrella. Now, this morning, groggy from my late night, I'm sitting on the porch and watching the moms walking with strollers, heading toward Starbucks to get their coffees. The couples holding hands. A little boy on a bike. The church bells up the street ringing their usual hymn.  

The absurd flowers I planted back in May are chest high and swaying in the breeze. The homeless woman's still on her bench under her umbrella and I can't make sense of anything.

Cases in the US: 5,894,000  

Deaths in the US: 179,000

Cases in Ohio: 115,806                                                                                                                            

Deaths in Ohio: 3,844



Saturday, August 22, 2020

Cheese and Crackers at the End of Time

My husband and I didn’t take a vacation this year. It seems like a million years ago that I was planning to go to London in April to see our daughter. Later there was a plan to visit our son and his girlfriend in San Francisco. Maybe we’d drive along the coast and visit wineries. I wanted to see the redwood forest. 

But all of that got scrapped and we've been stuck at home, my husband basically living/working in our dining room for five months, sometimes twelve-hour days, where I tiptoe around him and into the kitchen because he’s always on work calls. 

We needed to get out of town for a few days. Even if only for a change of scenery. 

Only an hour away from Columbus is a hiking area called Hocking Hills and we found a cabin nearby, overlooking a pond. The best part: no internet access. No cell phone service. Just four days of quiet. My husband wanted to fish. I wanted to read books. One day we took a five-mile hike that almost killed us. The next day he fished and I read a book.  

Also, I’d packed cheese and crackers. The book I was reading was about the end of time and it felt like the end of time. Feels like the end of time. The man who wrote the book lives in the desert and watches the same news I do and is quietly freaked out about it. Climate change. Political corruption. Violence. (and he didn’t even get to part about the Virus yet.) This cannot end well, is the general feeling he has, that I have. So anyway, the two of us on are on the same page. 

But what are we supposed to do about it, is the question. 

What’s interesting about the essays in the book is how many times throughout history humans have been faced with the same catastrophe. Pretty much all of the time, apparently. Civilization collapse is the norm, not the exception. Going all the way back to the beginning. Whole entire cultures wiped out. And barely any record left of them. Worse, the “winners” rewrite the conquered people out of the picture, so if there is any record left of them, it’s a skewed version. 

Something else interesting: people try to leave their mark anyway. Pictographs on canyon walls in the desert. Manuscripts smuggled out of war-torn cities. 

This is a book about myths and languages and history and "western civilization" and religion. Also, it's about writing. Why writers bother when we may not have anyone to read what we write. If nothing else, it seems, we like to tell ourselves stories. 

My husband caught one fish and when I tried to take a picture of it, it slipped off his hook. It was five inches long. He says it was more like eight. Maybe we are both right. We ate our fancy crackers and cheese on the porch overlooking the pond and the woods. He went back down to try to catch more fish. I finished my book about the end of time. 

Later we spread a blanket out on the dock so we could watch the stars. At first we couldn't see any. The sky was pink. And then it was gray. And then suddenly, like it a switch, it went black. The stars came out one by one and somehow all together, until the whole sky, it seemed was filled with them. 




Monday, August 17, 2020

Back to work

What's the same:  

The quiet in the library, the books, the beep of the check-in sensor, but not the check-out, not yet. That is part of what is different. We have no patrons now. And likely won't have them for a while-- not until the virus numbers in our community come down.

Also, different: the masks, the daily temperature checks, the sanitizing wipes station. 

Five months ago I walked out of this place thinking I'd be back in a few weeks. First day, and it takes me a minute to orient myself again, remember my log-in, but then I quickly fall into my old groove, shelving, checking in, the feel of the books in my hands, the shush of pages. Fun fact: these books have been quarantined for 96 hours, stacked in our (un-used-for-the-foreseeable-future) public meeting rooms. 

Down in the youth department, alphabetizing the videos, if I can forget for a moment I'm masked and the toys have been put in storage and there won't be any kids spilling out of the story-time room, 

life almost feels 

normal. 






Sunday, August 9, 2020

Carbon monoxide headaches in the jury box

It's like being in a telephone booth. (I know saying this ages me.) But here I am, on a jury trial, in the middle of a global pandemic, double-masked, sitting in my seat in the jury box, 

surrounded by plexi-glass.

I can't imagine how the defendant must feel. He's masked too, and sitting on the other side of a partition from his attorney. What's it like to look out at the jury, all of us strangers, and only able to see our eyes? We're a nice cross section. Men. Women. White. Black. Old. Young. The guidance counselor. The hospital security guard. The violin player in the Columbus Symphony. 

The trial feels like a play I've seen before. The attorney for the state arguing that we have to find the defendant guilty. The judge giving us instructions. The defense attorney sidling up to us and trying to be friendly, get us on his (client's) side. He's kind to me, It says here you work at a library. How do you like that?

Well, I've been furloughed... 

Sad chuckle. 

He moves onto the guy in the jury box who can't seem to stay awake. Are we boring you? he asks. The guy says no. (He doesn't make the cut onto the jury.)

The case is simple. A man accused of violating a protective order. Two witnesses. The ex-girlfriend accusing him of violating the order. And the friend who says she made the whole story up. Who's telling the truth? 

Who knows? 

We break for lunch. I walk with a fellow juror down to a Subway. Downtown is shuttered and quiet, slashes of graffiti and boarded up windows. I haven't been down here since the protests. I haven't really been anywhere. It's been strange to suddenly be around hundreds of people. To ride in an elevator. To sit by masked strangers. Only one customer in the Subway eating, and I am not making this up,

he's coughing. 

I grab my food and go, the fellow juror telling me she's stopping at the bar next door for a beer. Do I want to join her? 

(oh my god) No.  

Back at the courthouse and the other jurors are milling around in our juror room. One complains about having to wear a mask all day. It's giving her a carbon monoxide headache, she says, and I try not to roll my eyes. 

She takes her mask off and I escape into the hallway. I'm remembering how much I don't like people lately. Back to the courtroom for the closing arguments. I know that I can't in good conscience find the man guilty. Honestly, I have no idea why there was a trial. 

Only two witnesses that basically cancel each other out and no other evidence at all, but I have no idea what my fellow jurors think and I'm worried. Did they hear this case the same way I did? Will we have to argue with each other? 

We're dismissed to deliberate and I gird myself for a fight. But the Allegedly-Drink-a-Beer-at-Noon Juror says, I don't know about you people, but there's no way we can find this guy guilty. Everyone agrees and boom, we're finished in fifteen minutes. 

The court is filled with police officers when we return to our individual plexi-glass phone booth seats in the jury box. Apparently, while we were deliberating, the families in the gallery got into an altercation and were escorted out of the building. I watch the defendant's face when the judge reads the verdict. 

This was a felony and if we'd voted guilty, he'd have gone to prison. We all look so placid in our masks but a mask can't hide tears. He brushes his away and I remember he is a person. All of us are. The Monoxide Headache lady and Miss Alleged Beer at Noon. Fighting families and police officers. Random guys coughing in the Subway. 

The judge thanks us for our service and we all head our separate ways home.