Saturday, November 21, 2020

Yesterday I drove past the hospital

the sky was gray going to black and I was listening to the end of the audiobook, We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

As always, when I drive by the hospital (it's my usual route home from the library where I work) I think of the night my husband had a kidney stone, but we didn't know yet that was why he was in so much pain, and because we are in the middle of a pandemic, I had to drive him to the emergency entrance and basically dump him out of the car and watch him stagger inside alone. 

Most nights, when I drive by the hospital and look over at the emergency room entrance, there are only a few cars pulling up to let people out, but last night the cars were lined up, two deep. We Were Eight Years in Power was reaching its conclusion, Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking louder and more forcefully. 

The book is a collection of essays he wrote during the Obama presidency. It's also about the racial injustice and inequality that's been pretty much baked into our country since before its founding. The cars were lined up outside the hospital emergency room, I suspect, because the virus is running rampant in our state. A couple of weeks ago we were at 3000 new cases per day. Now we're at 8000 and rising. A doctor from the Cleveland Clinic was on the news begging people to stay home. Last spring his hospital sent doctors to New York during their nightmarish spike. But now, he said, no one will come to save us. 

The traffic light turned red, the cars still streaming toward the emergency room, Ta-Nehisi Coates's voice still rising. 

And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.” 

Green light, and I left the hospital behind. I turned down my street. The Starbucks on the corner, the Starbucks that always has a line spilling out onto the road, was dark. Closed. 

Too many workers home sick now to keep it open. 





Sunday, November 15, 2020

The last time it was Friday the 13th

was March

and I went to work at the library. It was the day before the lockdown in our state. Only for two weeks, the governor said, just to calm things down. Which was weird because we only had four confirmed cases of Covid, but we at the library were going with the flow. Helping the mass of people streaming in to check out books and movies. Something to pass the time during quarantine. 

That was the last time I was in a crowd.

Flash forward eight months, and our library branch doesn't allow people inside the building. Now we help patrons at our walk-up window. Talk through our masks. Slide books and movies through the slot along a six foot long board, positioned there to keep us at a distance. 

November 13 Ohio had its highest number of new cases in one day: 8,071. And 40 people died. There's a fear we'll have to lock down again. But kids are playing in the park. People are walking their dogs. That's a thing I've learned about this slow-moving tragedy. How easily most of us have adapted.  

March 13 my husband and I didn't have any hand sanitizer in our house. Except for a couple of n95 masks bought for a painting project, we didn't own face masks. We had one nine-pack of toilet paper tucked under the bathroom sink. I didn't know what Zoom was. 

November 13 and we have hand sanitizer and masks scattered all over the place. I can't stop buying packs of toilet paper. We're planning a Zoom Thanksgiving. Our daughter is helping us set up the link. 

March 13 she was living on her own in London, going to grad school, planning for a summer of travel across Europe. Now she's living at home, back since May. She finished up her dissertation in her bedroom. Spent her summer helping me in the garden.

Now the weather's turned cold. Outside at night you can smell the smoke from neighborhood firepits. We set ours up in the center of our driveway, spaced the chairs a safe distance apart. This is a lost year, I've heard people say. We're all itching to go back to normal. But sometimes, sitting around the fire with friends, 

it feels like we have already made it through. 



Friday, November 6, 2020

This is not about the election

But it's about a different election, 20 million years ago when I was a young mom, home with my two little kids and we didn't have cable TV and of course there was no social media to be addicted to, but still, I somewhat followed the news, and the news was that on election night, there would be a winner declared. 

I told my son this news very confidently and he believed me because my word was gospel to him and the only time he even came close to doubting me was that time he ran across the backyard barefoot and got stung by a bee and screamed at the top of his lungs, in pain, but more, I think, because he was enraged at me because I'd told him not to be afraid of bees, that bees would only hurt you if you hurt them.

While I tried to treat the bee sting, he screamed that I'd lied to him and he DID NOT HURT THAT BEE! And I told him that Okay, true, he hadn't hurt the bee on purpose, but he had, in fact, stepped on the bee and even if that was by accident, the bee didn't know it and was now dead. 

Which probably really hurt.

All was forgiven at that point and I was back in my son's good graces and a font of trust and wisdom for him again, until--

Election Night. 

That night my son's first grade teacher had given the class a US Map so they could color the states red or blue and an assignment to create an election booklet, which would include pictures of each candidate and a little write up about each one, with the last page showing a picture of the winner.  

My son stayed up watching TV long after his bedtime and most of the states were colored in, but Florida was looking iffy, with some TV stations calling it for one candidate but then backtracking, which was all very confusing and my son was getting upset about what to do with his blue and red crayons.

We sent him to bed and he was a wreck about it. HOW WAS HE GOING TO FINISH HIS HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT? WAS FLORIDA RED OR BLUE? and WHICH MAN WAS THE PRESIDENT? 

I promised him he would know in the morning. 

Dear reader, do I need to tell you that the tears of outrage and betrayal the next day greatly surpassed those of the Bee Sting Incident? 

That problem was fairly easy for me to solve for my son: Put both of the candidate's pictures on the last page.  

But it was not easy for everyone else and twenty million years later, with many of the same people in THIS election involved in THAT election (SEE KAVANAUGH. SEE AMY CONEY BARRETT, both lawyers advising Bush's team when his BROTHER the governor of Florida and the Supreme Court stopped the recount with Bush 537 votes ahead--giving him the state and therefore the election) which at the time I wasn't as outraged about as I should've been,

probably because I was a young mom with little kids at home and it was simpler and infinitely more comforting for me to believe that the people in charge had our country's best interests at heart and would never knowingly deceive us by putting power and party over country,

but yeah, 

So I was wrong.


 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Existential Crisis with a Serving of Oreo Cookie Brownies

Typically, I am not a person who buys Oreos. 

When the kids were little, I wouldn't let them eat them. Something about the partially hydrogenated fat and/or the high fructose corn syrup. I don't even remember now but it was important to me at the time, so in our home we only served the supposedly more nutritious Paul Newman brand called Newmanos. My kids, I figured, would never know the difference. 

(Side note: when my son was in fourth or fifth grade, he came home all excited from a birthday party and asked me if I'd ever heard of this much better tasting Newmano cookie called an Oreo.)

Anyway, the other day I bought a package of Oreos so my daughter and I could make a recipe with some friends. We've been doing this thing where we alternate choosing a recipe and do a facetime-bake together. This week our kitchen smelled like a candy store and I ate my fill of Oreos--partially hydrogenated fat and/or high fructose corn syrup be damned. 

I mean, really. Who cares. 



We are moving through uncharted, inevitably rising, waters. 

My son, who still probably gorges on Oreos because of the deprivation of his childhood, shared a link to an article with me back in March, the gist of which is about how we've lost the narrative thread and without a narrative thread, we can't make sense of what the hell is happening. Remember the morning of 9/11 when the planes crashed into the towers and the newscasters could only express horror in real time? 

That's like now, except the Global-Pandemic/Shit-show-Presidency/Long-Overdue-Collapse-of-White-Supremacy/Looming-Climate-Change-Disaster is still unfolding. Basically, the towers have been falling in slow motion for eight months and there is no end in sight.  

In the meantime I signed up our family for a Cooking-with-a-Chef fundraiser program run by a local urban farm. I didn't even know this place existed, but it's an actual working farm smack in the middle of an economically depressed area near downtown Columbus in what's known as a Food Desert. (My daughter corrects me to say that we should actually refer to these areas where there are no supermarkets/places to buy affordable, nutritious food as: Food Apartheids, because that implies a purposeful, systematic problem and not something that just kinda happened, like a desert.) 

Franklinton Farms has been operating for thirteen years. They distribute food to families in the community and help people start their own gardens and a do host of other cool things, and last night they had a virtual program to raise money that featured Chef Del Sroufe (best-selling author of Forks over Knives: The Cookbook). 

We were not using Oreos (or Newmanos) as an ingredient. My daughter and I went downtown to pick up the bags of farm-grown produce and then we had a blast putting together the meal with the chef and all of the other people who signed up for the fundraiser. 

For the record we were making Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas with Sweet Potato Cashew Cream and a side salad of Wilted Kale. Before the program started my daughter and I prepped all of the ingredients and were feeling very proud of ourselves as the chef began his cooking lesson by slowly peeling a sweet potato. Not that this was a competition, but we were so much further ahead of the people who were just unpacking their produce bags. 

But then suddenly we were rushing around smoking our spices and blender-ing our cashew mixture sauce and lemon zesting our kale and cracking up at the comments, that one poor soul saying, Wait, I'm still peeling my potato, what's this about spices? and someone else, Help! I don't have a third pan!

The dinner was good. 


Maybe not oreo cookie brownie good, but filling and warm and it was nice to sit down and eat it together. 

We can’t see the way ahead. We have no narrative except for what we do now, this moment, the Oreos we line up in rows on our brownies and the lemon zest we toss on our wilting kale. The people we love around our table 

or far away and smiling at us through our glowing screens. 



Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Never-ending newsiness of the news

I shut it off for a while today. Put my phone down. Went out into the dying garden. Pulled weeds and yanked up old puckery beets and cut some not-yet-dried-up flowers. But now I don't know what to do with the rest of the dying stuff. The blackening Black-eyed-Susans and the crusty coneflowers and sedum and the purply thing that I finally figured out is called aster. 

There's a big push in my online neighborhood gardening group to leave plants where they are in the fall instead of cutting everything back. Wait until spring, is the new best practice, at least in my hippie dippie neighborhood. Something about the birds needing seeds to feed on in winter and decomposing leaves being good for the soil. Also, don't even think about raking the leaves in your yard.   

Although, there is some dispute about that. 

I'll rake if I want to! someone in the group comments.  

Someone else jumps in to admonish them: Fine, go ahead and destroy the monarch butterfly's natural habitat! 

Over in another online group people are arguing about Halloween (give out candy? during a Pandemic? Are you nuts?) about masks, football, hybrid school models, travel, holiday get-togethers-- But that's nothing compared to the heat of the political arguments. 

I read a book a few years ago about a boy who could hear what everyone in his town was thinking, including his dog. All day, every day, he couldn't turn it off, the endless overlapping stream of interior monologues--hopes fears dreams hatreds--

It's brilliant how the author shows this on the page 


The book is called The Knife of Letting Go and the author Patrick Ness said in an interview that he was inspired by the internet. 

It feels like that in my head sometimes. Clatter. Shouting. On particularly bad days, it's my own voice arguing with people I don't know, my mind zinging with outrage about whatever the latest thing is that is outraging. Which is to say, Everything.

I want to turn it off and just Not Know what's going on for a month, a week, a day, an hour. But this feels like a sisyphean task. I mean, isn't it in our DNA to seek out information? Look at those people in the black and white photos, gathered around their radios so they could hear about the war, the impending hurricane, the Hindenburg bursting into flames. 

Of course those people's radios didn't ping them with continual news alerts.   

(Look how happy these people are! 
It's because their giant radio is too big to stick in their back pockets!)


I don't remember what happens in the book. I think the boy meets a girl whose thoughts he can't hear. Just being around her in this new kind of silence, not knowing what she's thinking, is blissful.  

I crave that kind of quiet. 

I finish up in the garden without looking at my phone once. I leave the dying plants where they are. I actually kind of love it. 





Sunday, October 18, 2020

Five Questions for Natalie D. Richards (author of Five Total Strangers) Plus: a chance to win a signed copy!

Did you ever have a nightmare where you're trapped somewhere and everyone around you is a stranger? Maybe you're in a car. And you can't find your phone or your wallet. You need to get home because someone you love is in danger. But there's a blizzard and the cars ahead of you are spinning out on the interstate. 

Oh, and someone in the car might be a psychopath. 

This is the world we live in now. That, or it's a Natalie D. Richards' book. Not bragging (okay, I am totally bragging) but Natalie is my critique partner, so I got to see her latest book (out now! Buy it here! Or check it out from your local library! Or stay tuned for a chance to win a free copy!) as it progressed from kernel of an idea to hot-off-the-press lovely glossy book. 

It's not easy to write a book, even when you're a master of suspense, like Natalie is, with six previous published books under your belt. I sat down (virtually) with her the other day to ask her to walk me through the sometimes bumpy ride of writing Five Total Strangers.

Me: Take us back to the beginning. What was the initial idea? 

Natalie: Two ideas, actually. I'd been thinking about times I've been on bad roads, driving in snow or ice, that feeling of suffocation being trapped in a car and watching cars wrecking around you and worrying it's going to happen to you too. And somehow that idea got tangled up with another fear I have, that maybe the people I know aren't who I think they are. 

Me: It's so interesting to me how two unrelated ideas can come together like that. You and I talk about this a lot, brainstorming stories and trying to figure out which ones have the most potential. I know you discard more ideas than you keep, so what makes a keeper? What turns a potentially cool idea into a book you want to write?

Natalie: One thing I always do before I start a project is write out what I think would appear on the back of the book. How can I draw readers in? What would make me buy this book? I write two or three paragraphs and it quickly becomes clear which ideas have merit and which ones just aren't strong enough. I don't waste my time with those, that's for sure. 

Me: Right. Because you have so little time! You're writing under deadline. You're juggling your full-time job and three kids at home. I still don't understand how you manage to squeeze in any writing. What's your time-management secret? 

Natalie: Late nights and lots of coffee! But seriously, I spend a lot of my writing time not actually writing but working through the story in my mind. With Five Total Strangers I had the idea that there'd be a snowstorm and I was thinking about my main character, Mira, and why she would be trapped in that snowstorm. Where was she going? How'd she end up in this car with people she didn't know? Parts of the story click into place-- things like character motivation and ways that I can dial up the tension--before I even write the first sentence. 

Me: I remember reading the first draft of the first chapter and immediately being pulled into the story. It's Mira on a plane and there's this awful, extreme turbulence. It's all so unsettling--the warnings from the captain and the cries from other passengers--and we haven't even landed and begun the actual horrifying journey yet. But there are clues in that scene too-- to the other characters that will eventually be in the car with Mira, to Mira's real fears and reason for needing to get home so badly. How much work goes into setting up a book like this? Are there a lot of false starts and rewrites?

Natalie: It's weird that you mention this because that first draft chapter is very very close to the final published version. This is not typical for me. I usually have to rewrite and rewrite the opening scene. But this one was comparatively easy. On the other hand, all of the rest of process was not so easy. 

I reworked whole chunks of the book, playing with timelines and points-of-view, and I really grappled with those four other characters in the car--what were each of their motivations for being there? What secrets did they keep? Each character felt like a separate book in my head.  

And the setting itself was a challenge. These same five people are in a car for most of the book. There's only so much space to work with, only so much physicality. There can't be running or chasing so I had to find other ways to add suspense. But this is ultimately what makes it scary. 

They're trapped and the nightmare is all around them and coming closer and there's nothing they can do. They're totally powerless. It's basically Corona in a car.

Me: Oh my God, that's true. And you wrote this before the global pandemic! I think you were finishing up the copyedits right before the lockdown in our state. When I read that final draft, I was sucked right back in, rooting for Mira, worrying about her all over again--even though I knew how it would all turn out. This is a scary book, but it's ultimately the good kind of scary because eventually the crazy nightmare ride comes to an end. (Sorry for the spoiler!) 

Which brings me to my final question: Can you write our world now, Natalie? 

Natalie: I would need too much coffee for that.

Me: Ah well, I thought I'd ask. In the meantime, at least we have fun scary books to escape into whenever reality gets a little too real. Okay, I said I'd only ask you five questions, but here's a bonus: Because of the pandemic, you're not able to do your planned book tour, school and bookstore visits and festival book signings. Where can we find you virtually?

Natalie: The usual places: 

Website: NatalieDRichards.com

Instagram: @natdrichards

Twitter: @NatDRichards

Me: Thanks, Natalie! And thank you for offering to sign a copy of Five Total Strangers to give away to one of my lovely On The Verge readers. 

If you, dear reader, would like a chance to win, please leave a comment below. 




Thursday, October 15, 2020

We vote

There are hundreds of people already here, shuffling socially distant, the line stretching around three sides of the building when we take our place at the tail end. This looks like a Walking Dead episode, I joke to my husband and our daughter. Something about the backdrop of an old shopping center, the people staggering past in their masks. 

We're moving fast, everything orderly. An hour wait, someone tells us and we're okay with that. This is the only early voting place in our county--potentially for 800,000 people. I am prepared to stand here all day if I have to. In other parts of the country people have waited twelve hours. 

The man behind us is quiet, looking at his phone. The women ahead of us joke and laugh. As we move forward, more people join the line. Old people. Young people. Black and white people. Couples. Families. A mom holding a child's hand. She reminds me of myself years ago, toting my toddlers along to vote. 

Of course, back then we didn't discuss our voting plan, didn't worry about security or the integrity of the ballot. I went to the precinct up the street. There was no line. I didn't give much thought to voting except that it felt like something I should do and so I showed up. My life, other people's lives didn't seem to depend on it. 

This year, we could've gone to my neighborhood precinct on election day, I suppose. But we didn't want to chance it. Clearly other people around here have the same idea. There's a stream of cars pulling into the parking lot. Some are parking. Some are headed toward the one designated absentee ballot drop off box in the county. 

A sign on the wall tells us it's a 45-minute wait from this point. We shuffle on, rounding the corner. Volunteers hand out sample ballots. We take the Democratic ballot. Nearly everyone in line that I can see takes one too.  

We round the next corner. A volunteer thanks us for being here. A woman wearing a MAGA hat stands by silently. No one takes a ballot from her. Another MAGA woman says, Let's Keep America Great!

I catch the eye of the man behind us and we both laugh. 

I confess that there is a part of me that wants to scream at the woman, that wants to scream at everyone. Some days I seethe with so much rage that I feel like I am shaking apart. I look at strangers with suspicion. Do they support the monster in the white house? Even worse is how I've come to feel about old friends, family members, people I once respected and admired. How will I ever forget this awful thing I know about them?

How will I ever forgive it?   

The women in the laughing joking group call to a man who's sitting on a fold up chair under a tree. Join us, they say. I can feel the line shifting around us. Are they asking this man to cut in front of us? The women seem to know what we're all thinking.

He's our friend, they announce. He had open heart surgery. We've been saving a place for him. 

We all make way and let him in. 

Only an hour and we've reached the entrance to the building. The voting itself is easy. After I turn in my ballot, I see another line forming ahead. What's this line for? Who knows, but I dutifully take my place in it. I smile when I realize it's for a sticker. We're waiting in line for an I Voted sticker. 

I paste one on my sweatshirt and find my husband and daughter outside. The sky is so blue and the cars are still streaming into the lot, the line still swelling. The masks hide the people's faces but I would like to think their expressions mirror mine, filled with determination. Exhilaration. 

Hope.

 






Tuesday, September 29, 2020

I promise I don't want to steal your chickens

The other day I was telling my husband the plot of a book I'm reading and he was nodding and making seemingly interested Hmm sounds, when it suddenly occurred to me that most of our marriage has involved me telling him the plots of the books I'm reading and him nodding.  

When I told him my realization, he said:  Does that bother you? 

The real question, I said, is: Does that bother YOU?

He laughed. But now that I think about it, he never answered the question. 

We were having this conversation out on the deck of a cabin in Hocking Hills, the same place we'd retreated to several weeks ago and loved so much we decided to go back. We could see the restful-looking pond in the distance and we were snacking on olives and fancy cheeses and sipping wine from coffee mugs. 

In addition to talking about the book I was reading, we also talked about the signs we saw on a chicken coop down the road. The signs basically said, WE WILL KILL YOU IF YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT STEALING OUR CHICKENS.**

We'd seen these signs the last time we stayed here. Next door to the cabin property is a farm. The chicken coop is close to the road. The signs, which include pictures of guns, are aimed toward the road where we took our daily walks. 

I was fascinated by the warnings on the signs. Would the chicken owners really kill people who tried to steal their chickens? Was chicken theft a big problem in this part of Ohio? I kept meaning to take a picture of the signs but I chickened out. What if the paranoid chicken owner caught me and thought I was casing her coop, so to speak? 

I once heard a comedian say that there are two kinds of people in the world. People who laugh at fart jokes and people who don't laugh at fart jokes. I believe this is true. For the record, I admit that I do laugh at fart jokes. But hear me out. Do you think we can extend our understanding of humanity by grouping people into

a. People who thinks it's perfectly okay to kill someone if they try to steal your chickens

and

b. People who think that's... weird

(FYI I am in Category B.)

Take two at the cabin, and I was determined to snap a picture of the shoot to kill warnings on the chicken coops. My husband came with me for moral and possibly physical protection. No one was around so we took a very long look at the chickens and decided that they actually might be roosters. 

And then we walked back to the cabins and I told him more about the book I was reading.  


**


  ("I'd rather have a gun in my hand than a cop on the phone. 2nd Amendment")



("Prayer is the best way to meet the Lord. A gun is faster.")



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 there 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.  




Thursday, July 30, 2020

Jury Duty-ing in the Pandemic Times

The last time I was called for jury duty was twenty three years ago. This is how it worked:

I showed up for my week of service. This was in Memphis, Tennessee and the courts were downtown and all of us in the jury pool were gathered closely together in one room, waiting to hear if we would be called onto a jury. No internet access back then. I don't remember anyone having laptops and no one had a smart phone. People had newspapers, magazines and books. The chairs were the plastic, uncomfortable kind. 

The people in charge yelled at us. Don't even think about trying to get out of this, they yelled. Unless you're dead, don't live in this county anymore, or are presently in jail. Any questions?

A few people tried to get out of it anyway. They owned their own business, they said. They had young children at home. Are you dead, not living here or in jail, they were asked again. No? Well, then, tough luck. 

Did I mention I was eight months pregnant? I had to pee approximately every forty five minutes. Also, I was diabetic and needed to eat snacks at regular intervals. I made it through one very excruciatingly uncomfortable and boring day and then begged the people in charge, privately, to let me go. 

Surprisingly, they did. But let me tell you, the walk past the others through that large room, as they jeered and shouted at me was one of the most surreal and scary/funny moments of my life. 

Cut to:

Jury duty twenty three years later.

This time I am in Columbus, Ohio and we are emailed instructions to wear masks, bring our own food and beverages and snacks, but don't worry, hand sanitizer will be provided. I admit that I am majorly stressed out about this service. For the most part, except for weekly visits to the nearly empty grocery store at 8 am, I have been in a bubble. Now, I will be in a crowd of strangers, indoors, with possibly not-circulating virus-infused air. 

I pack my bag as if I am going on an overseas trip. And it does feel like that because when I arrive at the courthouse, I have to go through security, all of the potential jurors lined up, socially distant (there are stickers on the floor reminding us where to stand), masked. 

Before we file into the room, our temperature is taken, and then we are led, individually, to a chair, each chair in rows, six feet apart. We are all quiet, looking at laptops or phones. 

I am wearing an n95 mask and a homemade one over that. I have no idea how I will keep these on for eight hours without wanting to tear them off, but I am resigned to it. No one yells at us. Instead, we watch an introductory video about the importance of jury service and then a judge comes in and thanks us for showing up during these strange times. I feel a surge of patriotism and love for our country as he says this because here we are, strangers, all of us dutifully masked and performing our civic duty, and this time, no one's even yelling at me about it. 

There have only been two jury trials since they've resumed the courts in June, the kind judge tells us, so the likelihood that we'll be on a jury is very small. 

An hour later, my name is called. 

Tune in next week for The Trial. 




Sunday, July 26, 2020

Anxiety Dreams in the Pandemic

Last night I dreamed that I went with a friend to a program at the library and everyone was walking around bare-faced, strangers mingling, a table of refreshments, an ordinary event like a thousand events I've gone to over the years, but something felt off,

wrong,

and then suddenly it dawned on me that we should all be wearing masks. Panicky, I put one on, but I was the only person. A new form of anxiety dream, apparently.

Pre-pandemic, my anxiety dreams centered around me running around and feeling like everything is out of my control. I'm a waitress again, for example, and the hostess seats all of my tables at the same time and I have to try to take everyone's drink order.

Or, I'm a teacher, and I can't remember the names of my students and no one will listen to me, and inevitably, a kid will climb out a window.

This actually happened to me once. It was my first year teaching, age 23 in a classroom of 16 and 17 year-olds, the period about to end and all of the students clamoring to leave before the bell, when someone said, Look, Ms Casella, Tim is running up the hill.

And sure enough, there was Tim, the quiet kid who sat in the far back corner, who'd apparently just climbed out the window and was presently fleeing the school. The class looked at me expectantly, wondering what I was going to do, but of course I had no idea. Kids climbing out windows hadn't been covered in my training, and anyway, the truth was, I sort of wished I could join Tim in his run up the hill.

Just thinking about it made me laugh, because I could picture it. The general chaos of the classroom, the students talking while I was trying to teach or the kids half asleep on their desks and who cares about the symbolism in the Scarlet Letter, and wouldn't it be funny if I just walked to the back of the room, opened the window, and climbed out?

Anyway, the next day I had a talk about it with Tim in the hall before class, asking him why he'd climbed out the window, and he explained that I'd never told him he couldn't, which made a kind of weird sense. I told him he couldn't from now on, and he agreed and never did it again, and so all was well,

but still, over the next five years that I taught at that school, whenever I was having a rough day, I'd think about Tim running up the hill, about myself running up the hill,

and immediately, I'd feel better.



Sunday, July 19, 2020

(Not a post about covid)

Okay, I am lying. It is a post about covid. How can it not be, when it's pretty much all I think about-- when I'm not reading about it or talking about it.

My daughter has had enough. On the chalkboard in the kitchen where we keep our family To-Do list (paint the porch, for example, and make a Tic Toc video) and the running Bananagram family game night total (I am winning, comfortably, thank you very much), our daughter has written Days w/o Talking Rona. 

The tally for that is always Zero.

(Note: I am "M")


It's all me,

I fully admit to this. Back in March I started writing the cumulative case total every day. And then, the death toll in my planner, the same way I used to write my daily writing word count. It is sobering to look back at the first day, March 13, with five cases in Ohio and zero deaths, to July 13-- 62,913 cases and 2807 deaths. These are not numbers. I know some of these people.

And everyday I read the latest updates in the newspaper, follow the conversation of epidemiologists on Twitter, what they know about the virus, and what they still don't know, all of this unfolding in real time, which makes the reaction of some politicians and weirdo anti-maskers/science deniers baffling to me. Why don't they get how dangerous this is? Why would they think, for example, that it would be okay to send kids back to school?
 
But then, I do understand. Because it's scary, all of the Unknown, the world we thought we knew and understood shifting out from under us, the world where you could dash out to the store without donning a mask, where you could meet up with a friend for lunch inside a packed restaurant, go to a concert, travel on a plane--

Even as much as I read about it and think about it and talk about it, I realize that I need the number on the chalkboard to occasionally say One.

So here is a story that has nothing to do with it:

Last year when we first moved into our house, I took long meandery walks with the dog, both of us nosing around the new neighborhood, admiring (or in the case of the dog, peeing on) the lovely unfamiliar front yards. One place we both liked to stop had these large, absurd-looking flowers, huge balls of blooms that seemed like they were too large to stay on their stalks upright without tipping themselves over.

But they didn't tip over and I was obsessed by the physics of them, the bees always buzzing around nearby. So one day when the owner of the flowers came out to water them, I struck up a conversation with her. She told me they're called Cleome and then she did one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me: she dropped off some seeds.

This year in April at the height of our lockdown I planted the seeds, first in small pots, and then transplanted the seedlings in several places around our yard, and then thinned them, which broke my heart, but you have to do it, and then stood back and watched them grow.

This week they are just beginning to bloom those absurd blooms. My plants are smaller than the ones up the street, but I have high hopes that they will grow bigger. Now, as I sit outside on our front porch writing, I can see the patch of cleome I planted and a woman walking by with her dog, stopping to take a look.

She moved past before I could offer her seeds, but next time, I promise.

And just for today, a promise to my daughter and long suffering husband:

1 day without talking Rona.






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?