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, 


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Month Four, Spikes

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

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

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

and then, not afraid. 

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

We're under curfew tonight. 

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

Monday, June 8, 2020

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

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

Cases in Ohio: 36,097
Deaths: 2177

Thursday, June 18, 2020

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

Please please please wear a damn mask.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Why am I still on Facebook

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

You can almost forget you're on a roof,

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

Until, he didn't.  

What did we do before Facebook? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On Hearing Jesmyn Ward Speak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 8, 2020

Dismantling disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but instead get upset about stolen TVs? 

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


Sunday, May 31, 2020

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

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

I said: Not this time because of the virus.

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

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

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

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

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

But I didn't go to that protest.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Week 10, Opening Up

Saturday, May 16, 2020

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

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

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

Sunday, May 17

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

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

I am not going anywhere.

Monday, May 18

Except to the grocery store.

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 19

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

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

Wednesday, May 20

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

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

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

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

Totally normal.

Thursday, May 21

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

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

Friday, May 22

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 23

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

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

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

Christmas bulbs hanging from the trees, shining like stars.

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

Sunday, May 17, 2020

10 things I like about now

The third bloom on an orchid I thought had died.

A rock sculpture my husband built randomly in the herb garden.

and speaking of the herb garden, we have an herb garden! (in what was formerly an overgrown koi pond)

Sound-blocking headphones that I slip on whenever I sit down to write. Oh how I love their cocoon-y lush goodness!

The neighborhood garden group I joined on Facebook where people post pictures and ask What plant is this? And someone immediately identifies it and then someone else says, That's an invasive weed, pull it now! And another person says, I love that weed and posts a photo of it all pretty in their yard.

Funny Tic-Toc videos.

Masks my mom sewed for us.

New grass growing.

A dog wearing a shower cap.

Hot tea made in the morning for my sort of British-y daughter, for two weeks brewed and left on the stairs for her to fetch herself, but yesterday, after two weeks of quarantine, carried right into her room and set on her bedside table,

and then a long first look face-to-face

and an even longer first hug.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Week 8, Isolating in the Home

Friday, May 1

I have been up since 5 am worried about our daughter who's on her way home from London.

The first part of her flight looks good, she assures me. She's got a supply of masks and hand sanitizer. There are fewer than 25 people on the plane. All socially distant. I try not to think about re-circulating-airplane air as my husband and I put the finishing safety touches on our home for the Two-Week-Isolation to come.

We've decided to tuck our daughter away upstairs, giving her full use of the bathroom, so we drag our mattresses down to the living room. Pack up our clothes and toiletries. (not hard. I literally wear the same two shirts and alternate between sweats and pajama bottoms.) Clean and paint the gross bathroom in the basement. Borrow a small fridge and put it in our daughter's room, stocked with drinks and treats.

I haven't seen her since Christmas and I am so focused on not crying when I roll up to the airport that I forget to put my car in park and nearly crash into the car in front of me.

"Mom!" my daughter admonishes as she loads her suitcases into the trunk. I slam my feet on the brake and laugh like a crazy person.

"Welcome home!"

US cases: 1,066,000
Deaths: 62,653
Cases in Ohio: 17,962
Deaths: 922

Saturday, May 2

Morning and I leave a cup of hot tea for her on the stairs.

It's 70 degrees and we take a socially distant/masked walk as a family through the neighborhood. Our daughter tells us about the Chicago airport, only one restaurant open, McDonalds. No one masked. A crowd of people, one of the women wearing flip flops. What the hell, my daughter says. I made it two thousand miles from Europe and now I'm gonna get Covid at McDonalds in Chicago?

Customs waved her through. All they wanted to know is if she'd been to China. The Chicago fire department took her temperature and gave her a pamphlet suggesting she quarantine herself for two weeks, but no real guidelines about how to do that. Take your temperature two times per day, it says. Wash your hands.

Sunday, May 3

People are protesting in front of our state medical director's home, blaming her for Ohio's stay at home orders. I plant herbs in the garden/formerly-known-as-the-koi-pond. Leave meals on the stairs. We face-time with our daughter and it's like she's still in London instead of in her bedroom.

Her temp is normal whenever she takes it, but what if she's one of the asymptomatic people? What if one of those idiot Chicago-airport-McDonalds-flip-flopping-wearing people was infected?

I'm still not used to seeing her in a mask. I want to hug her.

Monday, May 4

I'm swearing off the news again. This time I really mean it! Protesters at statehouses. Trump sitting like a child in a chair that's too big for him in front of the Lincoln Memorial, talking about how he always knew more than 70,000 people would die, but he's doing a great job.

I set a drink on the stairs and send a picture to my daughter like I'm a delivery person. Your Mom-Azon Prime Order has been delivered, I text her. She rates the order 5 stars.

Later, it's so nice out, we work together in the backyard, me on one side mulching the ferns, my daughter on the opposite end wearing a mask and pulling up weeds and bamboo. 

We eat dinner on opposite sides of the patio and our daughter tells us that back in early March her roommate had a fever and cough and was joking that she thought she had corona. What if she really did? Then, it stands to reason that our daughter had it too. Never mind all of the traveling she did back then. Multiple European countries and riding a packed London tube twice a day every day.

If she had it, she’d be done with it and we wouldn’t have to worry about catching it from her!

But we can’t know that because we can't get tested. The only people who get tested are the very sick and the very rich and the very trump.

Oh well.

Tuesday, May 5

I make chocolate chip scones with friends via skype. One friend reads the recipe and we all follow the instructions. It takes two hours and we have to keep pausing to search for pans or to figure out the substitution for cream or to mute because my husband is on a conference call in the dining room. The scones are freaking good though.

I sneak a peek at the news and immediately wish I hadn't. They’ve upped the death totals. Another 100,000 people by August. Do people actually want to eat at restaurants?

Our living room has become a dorm room.

Wednesday,  May 6

Our daughter takes her temperature twice a day and it’s always normal. But then I read things about people literally drowning in their own fluids. Little kids getting weird organ diseases. Can you smell things? I text her frantically. Do you have a sense of taste?

Don't worry, she tells me. I've been eating the peanut M & Ms you bought me. They taste great!

An article in the Guardian talks about plagues through literature and I come upon this quote:

"The primary lesson of plague literature, from Thucydides onwards, is how predictably humans respond to such crises. Over millennia, there has been a consistent pattern to behavior during epidemics: the hoarding, the panicking, the fear, the blaming, the superstition, the selfishness, the surprising heroism, the fixation with the numbers of the reported dead, the boredom during quarantine."

Yeah. Sounds about right. 

Cases in the US: 1,197,00
US deaths: 70,588

Thursday, May 7

People on Facebook are sharing a video that says the virus is a conspiracy and don't wear masks? and something something about vaccines? and Dr. Fauci is evil? 

I gently tell a friend it's disinformation and probably dangerous to share and she immediately unfriends me. 

I set out more mulch and bake another batch of chocolate chip scones. The Republican representatives in the Ohio Statehouse vote to strip our medical director of her powers and the governor, also a Republican, but one of the rare ones who still believes in science and facts, says he'll veto. They're phasing in opening the state and people are excitedly talking about dining out and getting their hair done. 

Nearly one full week down and one to go for our daughter's quarantine. We face-time while I make her a bowl of popcorn. Set it on the stairs. 

Cases in US: 1,250,000
Deaths: 75,000
Case in Ohio: 21132
Deaths: 1153

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This is hard, and you're not even doing the hard part

Watching a loved one die via your phone. Working in a hospital. Cashiering all day behind a screen guard at Kroger. Losing your job. Trapped at home with an abusive parent.

No. You're eating too much ice cream and not dyeing your hair. Your husband's grown a beard and looks like a stranger. Still, you have moments of panic that take your breath away. Last night you dreamed that a woman dared you to catch a baby she was about to throw, and then she threw it before you could react. It's a corona dream, your friend tells you,

it's a thing now. 

Bamboo has taken over the backyard of your new-old house, and every afternoon, you dig and pull. The roots stretch and crisscross. When you yank them up, the weedy grass peels up in sheets. It's a decent workout. Okay, you lied before when you said you didn't lose your job.

You weren't surprised when you got the email, but still, it felt like a punch in the gut. Pulling bamboo is a multiple step process.

1. You find where a shoot is coming up and position your shovel under it.
2. Jump hard on the shovel.
3. Lift. (It helps if you position a rock under the shovel for leverage and you've got plenty of those!)
4. Here's where you'll also lift up the root.
5. Pull the root until it breaks off somewhere ten feet away from you. 
6. Find another shoot. Repeat.

Why do people plant bamboo? How long will the library stay closed? How many bamboo roots are there in this yard? What about that elderly woman on the last day the library was open, the regular patron who came in every few days to check out one book and who usually chatted with you, who saw the chaos of the library, the people clearing the shelves of videos and carting baskets of books to the checkout counter, the woman, who when it was her turn, came up with her one book and asked, softly,

What's going on here?

We're closing for a few weeks, you told her, just a precaution, because of the virus, and then in your brightest customer service voice: Why don't you check out a few more books, just in case?

She didn't.

The bamboo runs under the fence into the neighbors' yards. You have no idea how you will stop it. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Week 5, Masked

Friday April 10

Up early dealing with the airline. In an alternate timeline, I'm jetting off to London tomorrow and It's time to check in!! Meanwhile, in this crappy timeline, I'm trying to get an e-voucher for another flight. Whenever that will be.

But woo hoo, I finished writing my book today. I have this thought that I'll write in a virus subplot, but then decide that I can’t put that in the book. This is supposed to be a rom com and in a rom com there will not be a plague.

Total cases in the US: 463,600
Total number of deaths:16,695

Saturday, April 11 

We watch a movie called Contagion about a virus and we critique what they get wrong. People looting stores on like, day four, but everyone's wearing an N95 mask. Yeah, right.

But speaking of masks, my mother has sewn some for my husband and me. We visit her, keeping the prescribed six feet away, and try not to look like bank robbers.

Total cases in Ohio: 6187
Total deaths: 247

Sunday, April 12, Easter

Trump wants to let the post office fail. Religious fanatics are defiantly gathering in churches.

Our family does a cross-time-zone group video message chat. It's brunch in San Francisco with our son and his girlfriend, lunch for my husband and me in Ohio, and dinner time in London with our daughter and boyfriend. We swap recipes and talk about how we're entertaining ourselves and this is the first time I've felt semi normal in weeks.

Monday, April 13

I go to the grocery store at 8 am wearing my mom-made mask and it's not horrible. The store has arrows on the aisles now to keep things flowing in the same direction. I still always feel like crying when I pull into the parking lot. When you wear a mask, people can’t tell if you’re smiling. My nose itches and I have to do a zen meditation to keep from scratching it. Worse, the hot flash I have in the toilet paper aisle.

Unpacking the groceries, bleach on hand, I have a moment of panic: Will the country collapse? Will we get sick? Will we lose our jobs? What will the world look like in one month, if now, one month in, it already looks so different?

But then I talk myself down from the ledge. I planted lettuce seeds over the weekend. In one month, I know this:

we will have lettuce.

Total cases in the US: 555,371
Total deaths: 22,056
Cases in Ohio: 6881
deaths: 268

Tuesday, April 14

Trump says he has total authority over the states. There are outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons. In Ohio protesters want the governor to reopen the state because they don't understand viruses. Or math. Or reality.

I started listening to the audio book The Library Book by Susan Orlean about the fire that destroyed the Los Angeles library in 1986. It’s fascinating and sad. Half a million books destroyed. It happened the same day that news of Chernobyl broke, which is why most people never heard about it. I’m afraid I'm going to lose my job.

Wednesday, April 15

A story in the paper about a man with Down Syndrome who died on his birthday. And then his mother died. They were each other’s life, the article says. Trump wants his name on the stimulus checks people are supposed to receive this week. They’re delaying sending the checks so they can add his name to the memo line.

I meet up with my best friend to take a socially distant walk. I worry that we won't be able to hear each other talk if we're wearing masks. But we can.

Total cases in the US: 606,800
Total deaths: 25,922

April 16, Thursday? 

One of my FB friends is seriously talking about taking a cruise because the prices are so low. More people are protesting for their right to go back to work and die I guess. It's suddenly cold again but everyone in my neighborhood is out walking.

My husband and I order pizza and hammer it down while watching the daily briefing with the governor and Dr. Amy Acton. You may be experiencing the five stages of death and dying, she says. It's okay to feel denial, anger, grief.

She holds up a mask.

Friday, April 17

Total cases in the US: 667,945
Total deaths: 30,665
Total cases in Ohio: 8858
Deaths: 401

Saturday, April 11, 2020

London! (here I don't come)

In January I start planning a trip to London to visit my daughter who is living and going to school there for a year. I have never been to London and I want to do it right. See everything London-ish. Take in a High Tea. Look at the Crown Jewels. Whatever else is in London.

I want to see the White Cliffs of Dover, I tell my daughter during one of our daily conversations.

What are the white cliffs of Dover? she says.

From the Matthew Arnold poem "Dover Beach," I explain, where the ignorant armies clashed by night and the lovers swore to be truthful to each other. And then some other writer made a satire version of the poem called "Dover Bitch." It's really funny. You should look it up.

Okay, she says. Where are the white cliffs of Dover?

I don't know, I say. Dover? I pull up a map online and Dover seems kind of close-ish to London. But I'm not sure of the map scale. It looks like driving from Columbus to Cincinnati, which should be doable.

Ooh, I say, noticing other familiar literary-sounding places on the map. I want to see the moors where the people in Wuthering Heights haunted each other. And Bath, where the Jane Austen people took vacations. And Stonehenge! Can we go to Stonehenge?

My daughter laughs and reminds me that there's a ton of things to do in London. Hyde Park is right across the street from her apartment and where she goes to school is next door to the British Museum. But keep looking for other things that interest you too, she says.

I order books from my library right away. The latest Rick Steves' England 2020 and London 2020 because I love Rick Steves. When I went to Prague with my friend Lisa, I read her entire Rick Steves' Prague and the Czech Republic to see what kinds of things Lisa had planned for us.

Side note, I never plan trips and I am happy to let other people take the lead. My husband is the total trip-planner in our family, and he has gotten it down to an art, complete with excel spreadsheets of the daily itinerary, sights to see, hotels, gas mileage.

But back to Rick Steves and why I love him, because one Monday morning, when Lisa and I were on our way to visit a castle, after she had negotiated the complicated train ticket transactions (based on Rick Steves' advice) and gotten us off one train and onto another much smaller one, (also with Rick's help) I read the chapter on the castle and noticed the disclaimer that the place was closed on Mondays.

But no matter. Rick Steves helped us out there too, with a description of the only cafe in town and the hiking trails in the area. He really does think of everything.

Another reason why I love him is because I heard him speak when he came to Columbus last year. My library and all of the other libraries in the area organized a visit and I dragged my husband downtown and we got to hear about Rick's various trips around the world and how you should always step off the beaten tourist track and mingle with the locals, and when you do that, you'll see what's the same about people and not buy into the crap the politicians want you to believe about Others. Also, always try the local food.

While I was waiting for his books, I checked out the audio book of Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, which is about his life as an American living in and traveling around England. I listened to the book while I painted the master bedroom in our new-old house, getting excited all over again about going to places like Dover Beach and then crossing Dover Beach off the list because Bill Bryson said it wasn't that great of a place to visit. But that was in the 1970s when he visited, so who knows. I would need to check with Rick Steves.

But by the time his books did come in, there were rumblings about a virus and people started asking me if I was still going on my trip, and I assured them I was, and I would bring a lot of hand-sanitizer and cleaning wipes with me. And then I'd make a joke about how nothing was going to keep me from seeing my daughter, and also, haha, I want to stay in the apartment my husband and I have in London.

About that apartment: when our daughter got into her grad program, we told her we'd help with the living expenses and that turned into renting an apartment for a year. I got such a kick out of telling people I had an apartment in London and if they were planning a visit, they could stay there, in our apartment.

Which I know sounds like bragging, but the truth is, every time I said something about the apartment in London, I would think: we have an apartment in London? Because how crazy is that?

Meanwhile my daughter got us tickets to see Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theater and planned our two-day trip to Bath, and I was trying to find hand sanitizer and not finding any in the stores and researching how to make my own...

The flight, after quite a few changes, left early this morning. Without me on it.

While I chat with my daughter online, she takes a picture of her lunch set out on the balcony of (our!?!?) apartment. It's a lovely warm day in London and she's allowed one walk in the park across the street.

She'll give me a call later when she takes it.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Week 3, Shelter in Place

Friday, March 27

In the alternate timeline to the one we are now living, my husband and I would be going to the car show downtown tonight. It's my annual Christmas present to him because he loves cars. I hate cars but the car show people do this silly scavenger hunt thing, and weirdly, I get into it. Anyway, the car show's cancelled.

I take the dog for multiple walks, crossing the street to keep my 6-feet of social distance from the hundreds of other people out walking in our neighborhood. Everything is closed except grocery stores and pharmacies but our governor tells us it's okay to go outside, so everyone and their mother is outside.

Speaking of my mother, I drive out to see her. We're doing a puzzle exchange and I've brought her some groceries, a few rolls of precious toilet paper. It's raining and she sits at her kitchen table and I talk to her from the doorway.

At night my husband and I order dinner from a nearby restaurant, a fried mushroom appetizer and fish tacos and wine. It almost feels like a normal Friday night.

Cases in the US: 69,120
1045 deaths
Cases in Ohio: 704
10 deaths

Saturday, March 28

I write two pages in my book and then go outside and move rocks around in the backyard. The big on-going project in our new-old house has been removing the koi pond. This seemed like an easier project in theory when I started on it last fall.

Step 1: Empty all rocks out of koi pond.
Step 2: Pull out liner.
Step 3: Push rocks back in.

But somehow we end up with more rocks than we started with?

Step 4: Put leftover rocks in driveway.

The virus is exploding in New York City. The governor of Florida is blaming New York for his state's cases. Meanwhile, he still won't close the beaches in Florida. Has this man not seen the movie Jaws? Meanwhile, trump is mad at the governor of Michigan because she won't be nice to him.

My husband and I have a virtual cocktail party with our friends in North Carolina. We sit out on the porch until it gets dark and talk about our far-flung kids, everyone safe and well for now.

Sunday, March 29

I paint the drawer handles on a dresser and think about designs for the herb garden I'm going to put where the koi pond was. Trump thinks we should open the country by Easter. The Lt. Governor of Texas says grandparents should sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy.

Here’s a funny thing going around online:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November,
All the rest have thirty-one
Except March which has 8000

Cases in the US: 130,478
2314 deaths

Monday, March 30

I do a morning writers meditation with Laurie Calkhoven through the Highlights Foundation and feel amazing for about an hour. Trump says okay, maybe he won't open the country by Easter. He brags that there could have been a million deaths, but now there's only going to be one hundred or two hundred thousand.

I dig through my daughter's old beanie babies in the basement and find three bears to put in our window for the bored little kids in our neighborhood who are going on bear hunts.

Tuesday, March 31

I am addicted to watching Dr. Amy Acton, the Ohio Director of Health give her address each afternoon. She has such a calm, sweet voice even as she is giving us the bad news, that in two or three weeks, Ohio will reach our peak and 10,000 people each day will be diagnosed. She praises us for staying in and helping to push the peak out so we can get our hospitals ready for the influx. What you're doing is saving lives, she says.

I write 750 words and have another Zoom meeting with my writers group. I wear a mask and gloves to the grocery store and feel like I am living in a dystopian novel.

My husband said something to me about my anxiety as if it is strange. But how can you not be anxious right now? I ask him. People are dying alone in hospital hallways. At the same time, the mail gets delivered. We can order pizza online. I take walks in the neighborhood and people are working on their porches or riding bikes, doing lawn work. There’s always a line of cars at the Starbucks down the street. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the verge of tears.

Cases in the US: 164,435
3175 deaths
Ohio: 1933
39 deaths

Wednesday, April 1

A little girl from the class I taught at Thurber House a million years ago in February, emailed me a 50 page story she's been writing. I read it in the morning instead of reading the news and marvel at how good the writing is. Scene development, dialogue, a large cast of characters, an authorial voice. This kid is ten years old!

A writer I know who was sick in the hospital in NYC was released today. I get in a facebook argument online with a friend of a friend who insists this is just like the flu. While I'm having this argument, trump says in his daily address that he's number one on facebook.

The library where I work is closed until May 4. I have a panicky feeling thinking about growing up in a crazy household and how familiar this present anxiety feels—not knowing what’s going to happen next and feeling on guard and vigilant and just a steady level of stress with no control over anything going on. Over the past thirty years I worked to teach myself to be more trusting and feel safer. And now, here I am back to my original self, like everything in between wasn’t the real thing after all,

but This is.

Thursday, April 2

I refuse to read the news. 

I write all day. There's a scene in my book where everyone's gathered together at a restaurant and clearly not social distancing and the whole thing is making me nervous for them. 

Meanwhile in the backyard, now that the koi pond's filled in, I decide to tackle the overgrown chunk of out-of-control ornamental grass. A few weeks ago my husband sawed it down to the roots and we filled up 15 yard bags of grass. Today, I'm digging up the roots, which involves jumping up and down on a shovel. It's a good workout.

Kids in Ohio send videos of themselves dressed up like Dr. Amy Acton. A little girl builds a scene out of Legos of the daily Ohio press briefing.

My husband is growing a beard. 

My artist friend Jan Benham sends me a coloring page of a bouquet of flowers and I color it in. 

Cases in the US: 236,000
5600 deaths
Ohio: 2902
81 deaths

Friday, March 27, 2020

Impossible decisions in times of plague

A million years ago we were on a sixteen-hour car trip and our son was playing the video game Oregon Trail in the backseat on an old laptop.

I didn't know what the game was. It was something his second grade class had been playing. He was quiet back there, but every once in a while he'd ask my husband and me a question. Should I ford the river or should we go around it? How many supplies should we buy? At one point he told us he had bought a 25 pound bag of cinnamon and my husband and I cracked up.

That’s enough cinnamon to last you for the rest your life, we said. A little while later my son piped up that my husband and I had both died of dysentery.

Twenty years later my son is hunkered down outside San Francisco with his girlfriend in an apartment that’s smaller than our living room. Our 22-year-old daughter, in London working on a masters degree, called us the other day in a panic. The UK, which is roughly a week behind where we are in Ohio, as far as taking Covid 19 seriously, had just announced that the country was about to lock down.

Should she come home? Or should she stay?

My husband and I brainstorm the options with her. And none of them seem good. Stay in London, a city of 9 million people on the verge of an exploding pandemic that will rival New York’s?


Try to leave now, possibly get stranded in a foreign airport, contract the illness? (This is assuming we can find a flight, and understanding that when she gets here, my husband and I won’t be able to hug her while she self-isolates in her bedroom for two weeks.)

Our indecision does not make our daughter feel better. We're supposed to have the right answers, but what IS the right answer?

We call our son. Maybe he can talk to her? He’s more logical than we are. Would he stay or go?

What are her supplies? he asks. We joke about 25 pound bags of cinnamon. But the truth is, she has supplies. For some reason she has a dog-food size bag of oatmeal. She has plenty of toilet paper.

I don’t know if she should get on a plane, my son says. He jokes about being stressed out going to Trader Joe's...

We all waffle back and forth for another day, realizing even as we waffle that we may be running out of time to make this decision.

Meanwhile I have visions of London as a dystopian hellscape, my daughter in her apartment sick with fever. I see a mass of bodies at an airport crammed together trying to get through customs.

I wake up in the middle of the night with a moment of clarity. She is not sick. She’s in an apartment, with her boyfriend. They are smart, cautious people. They have enough oatmeal to last many many weeks.

We talk to her the next day, running through every permutation of options again, and in the end, she decides to stay where she is.

These are the things I know for sure: There is a wave coming at us. It will get worse, before it gets better, but I have to believe that it will get better.

So here we are now. Our son in San Francisco. Our daughter in London. My husband and I in Ohio, all of us hunkering down. This is not a game, but like a game, we have to play it, remembering why we are playing.

Make it to the other side. Stay safe. Stay well.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Pandemic Diaries, Week One, Social D i s t a n c i n g

Friday, March 13, 2020

Today the library will close, just a precaution for the next three weeks. My afternoon shift is like the panic shopping at the supermarket yesterday with everyone clearing out the toilet paper, except this time with books and dvds. It's gratifying, and yet, worrisome, seeing the shelves emptying out.

I stand at the check-out desk with my hands up, continually hand sanitized, like a surgeon, and chat with the patrons. What will the kids do without school for three weeks? Will they call in the National Guard? This is a stupid overreaction. Can you recommend a good mystery series? 

During a lull, I run around and check out books for myself. Gardening books mostly. And this weird-looking paperback romance that's been sitting on the new book shelf, untouched, for the last month.

I don't understand this cover!
Why is the dog looking at Abraham like that?
What kind of romance IS this? 

My daughter messages me that she's a little panicky alone in London now that her grad program is going on-line. Her boyfriend, who's telecommuting to work in Bonn Germany, is trying to catch a train to see her.

Broadway shows and museums are cancelled in NYC. But my friend in North Carolina, who is a school vice principal, says it's business as usual in her town. Another friend goes on a cruise with her family because the prices are good right now.

New cases in the US today: 277. Cases in Ohio 5

Saturday, March 14

It snowed today. My husband and I think about going to Lowes to buy yardwork stuff but decide not to. Why leave the house?

A ton of Americans in Europe, freaked out by the president's directive to cancel all flights, descended on airports, trying to get back into the country. Side note: he misspoke. He didn't mean Americans couldn't get back into the country. I am glad my daughter's safe in London.

Her boyfriend made it there and she informs me that she heavily sanitized him. Assume you're both infected, I tell her, and stay away from other people!

They closed schools in North Carolina. My husband bakes a loaf of bread and we eat the entire thing.

New Cases in the US: 414

Sunday, March 15

Snow has melted and we work in the yard. My husband takes down the weirdo shed the previous owners built and I cut down all of the bamboo. (BAMBOO!! WHY DID THEY PLANT BAMBOO?!)

Weirdo shed. Bamboo patch to the left
My husband bakes another loaf of bread.

We eat it.

Our daughter sends us daily dance videos of her and her boyfriend self-isolating. It's them, jumping up and down and saying what day it is of Self-Isolation. The Ohio governor closes all restaurants and bars in the state. People in Florida are snapping pictures of a crowded Disney World, the last night before it closes.

Monday, March 16 

Two more cases in Ohio, both in Columbus. My husband is working from home and in tele-meetings all day. I am writing. Goal: finish the scene I've been fiddling around with for the past week.

Goal in the backyard: Move rocks out of the old koi pond. Talked to the guy next door over the fence. He is taking things in stride, going out (where? Everything is closed except for grocery stores). He fought in the Israeli army in the 1970s, he tells me. This pandemic is nothing.

The governor is talking about cancelling the primary tomorrow. My son and his girlfriend are locked down in the San Francisco area. How's that going? I ask him.

Meh, he says. Not too different. (He works from home anyway.)

Tuesday, March 17

I am writing 750 words today if it takes me all day damnit. The primary was cancelled and then it was back on and then it was cancelled again. I print out absentee ballot applications. Gyms and movie theaters are closed. Skype with our daughter and her boyfriend where they attempt to teach us a card game called Corona.

I make macaroni and cheese and move rocks around in the backyard. My son sends me an article about how one of the reasons this situation is so stressful is because we have no narrative structure for it. It's all still unfolding in real time and we can't make sense of it yet.

Ventured out to the grocery store and felt like I was in a Walking Dead episode. No music playing and eerily quiet. People shuffling along not talking to each other. A little girl coughing in aisle 12. What the hell? My husband whispers to me. Who brings a sick kid to the grocery store at a time like this? No toilet paper. No hand sanitizer. No pre-made-spaghetti sauce.

But you can buy wine.

Tele-meet with my writers' group and drink half a bottle of wine.

Ohio writers on-line and drinking wine

New cases in the US: 1900

Wednesday, March 18 

Move rocks in the backyard. Cut stray bamboo. Take a walk around the block with the dog and note the line of cars in the drive thru at the Wendy's and Starbucks down the street.

Write 750 more words on my book and realize what a glorious gift it is to be able to disappear into another world for a few hours each day.

Son sends me a photo of his girlfriend working in their home office in couples graduate housing at Stanford.

It's the bathroom.

Daughter sends me a dance video.

Thursday, March 19 

Cases in the US: 7038
Deaths: 97
Cases in Ohio: 88

Friday, March 13, 2020

Pandemic shopping at the grocery store

The parking lot was full, and a woman walking out to her car with a cart told me I might want to take hers. There are no empty carts inside, she said, adding, Don't worry, it's freshly hand-sanitized!

I wiped down the handle anyway on my way in, noting what looked like over-abundant displays of chips and salsa in the entryway. I skipped those. I was hoping to find toilet paper. The night before, during what was the most idiotic presidential speech I have ever heard in my lifetime, my husband, who was on the phone with his office trying to figure out how to reroute all trade goods from Europe, was also online trying to find toilet paper on Amazon.

(Update: the president misspoke? misread his teleprompter? is a complete and total rambling lunatic? and didn't mean to say that all cargo would be halted from Europe. One crisis averted. But, there was still no toilet paper to be found on Amazon.)

The grocery store was bedlam. A combination of an old-style Soviet country during a food shortage and shopping for New Year's Eve, with check-out lines snaking into the aisles.

A few hours earlier the Ohio governor had closed all schools in the state for the next three weeks. We only have five confirmed cases of COVID 19 here, but we also have not been testing people until a few days ago.

But we are all apparently hunkering down for the long haul. Here, at the grocery store, onions and potatoes are mostly gone, but you can still buy pre-cut veggies and chicken taco kits. The jelly and peanut butter are picked over. Ditto bread and jars of spaghetti sauce. I took the last bag of long grain rice off the shelf. Gave up hope on there being any toilet paper, but came to the end of an aisle and saw a woman with packages in her cart.

They have toilet paper?

They do. Limit 3, she told me. But you better hurry!

I booked it across the store and scored my three packages, then headed over to the cleaning supplies and the pharmacy for cold and flu meds, just in case, then joined one of the long lines snaking into the aisles. The man next to me had boxes of wine in his cart and I thought about leaving the line to grab some of that myself, but stayed put. This is like 9/11, someone said.

And I remembered those panicky days, people running out to fill their cars up with gas, how empty and quiet the skies were without any planes flying. There was an anthrax scare for a few months and my son's school banned envelopes. If you wanted to send in the Scholastic book order money, you needed to seal it in a plastic sandwich baggie. I did that for years, long after we were allowed to use envelopes again.

It's easy to panic. Easy to think a plastic baggie or toilet paper will keep you safe.

Yesterday afternoon at the library, it was quiet, except for one woman coughing at a computer. The toys and blocks have been removed from the kids' play area. But you can still check out books and movies. I wiped a sanitizing wipe along my desktop and rearranged the new books in the new books section.

A family burst through the doors. You're still open? the mom said breathlessly.

For now, I said.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Nobody's home

It was a weird sunny warm day and I was walking up and down the street ringing doorbells and carrying my clipboard. Canvassing has gotten more high tech since the last time I did it. Instead of a paper map, we get an app on our phone. Swipe when the voter isn't home. Check a box if he doesn't support your candidate. Make a note if he has a sign: NO SOLICITING!

My candidate was Elizabeth Warren and this was last Sunday, a few days before she dropped out of the race, and I was trying to feel optimistic. Reading the news and ranting to friends wasn't working for me. I needed to be out there. DOING something--

but I was dragging my feet up and down the street, not sure if I wanted people to be home or not. No one likes opening their doors to strangers and I don't blame them.

Please vote for Elizabeth Warren I wanted to beg people. But on the off chance that someone opened the door, all I could manage was a shy smile.

Have you made up your mind yet?


Are you going to vote in the primary?



Then I'd go on to the next house, dutifully checking off names on my list. Noting the Bernie sign in someone's yard. Shuffling around awkwardly whenever I saw that I was being recorded by one of those camera doorbells. Laughing at the no soliciting sign on someone's door:

Absolutely no soliciting. That means no knocking. I mean it. Just don't. It will be weird for both of us. 

I had a momentary desire to knock anyway, just so I could tell the woman I liked her sign. (I knew it was a woman because my phone app told me. Also, I knew her name and age. I know I know. Should I know this about a stranger?)

Something I know about Elizabeth Warren was how she had plans for everything. How she took the time to talk to people, one on one, and take smile-y photos with them. She grew up poor and married and had children young and was a teacher of students with disabilities before going to law school. She was a law professor and is an expert in economics and finance and bankruptcy regulation and consumer protection.

People tried to make her seem like a leftist extremist, but interestingly enough, she had been a registered Republican for years because she believed they were the party who supported the free market. And then she could see that their policies were actually putting the finger on the market to benefit wealthy people only and so she switched parties.

Her mission after that was supporting consumers and protecting the environment and standing up for women, fighting for public education and advocating for healthcare for all.

She has more stamina than me.

I know this because when I was finished with the street, the app asked me if I wanted to load another list and I said no. 

I drove back to the campaign headquarters (someone's small house) and returned my clipboard.

Driving home I felt like I was stepping out of a bubble. Leaving behind the type of person who walks up and down streets knocking on strangers' doors,

and returning to the person who walks up and down the same streets with my dog, the type of person who hesitates to open the door when a stranger rings the bell.

thank-you post-its around Elizabeth Warren's photo at Harvard

Saturday, February 29, 2020

A day with writers

starts first in a quiet house,

just me and my laptop, a cup of coffee, the dog snoozing beside me, the scene rolling out in front of me on my screen -- or who are we kidding here? -- it's all stops and starts, deleting the paragraphs I labored over yesterday (I don't really need them! Just cut to the chase!) a couple of new sparkly sentences, 

and then it's time to go. Today, it's a morning at the Thurber House,

where I'm teaching a writing workshop to 4th and 5th graders. The last several weeks we've worked on our characters and story arcs and how to build scenes. Now it's time to focus on sensory language. How do we make our stories come alive for our readers? 

Close your eyes, I tell them. Put your heads on your desk and listen.

I read Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, and even though I've read this book many times, many years ago to my own children, the world of the cold snowy forest comes alive again

the little girl and her father, bundled up and silent, crunching through snow under the dark trees, the bright moon, the sad train whistle, the long hoot of the owl before it lifts off from a branch and flies away.

The students open their eyes and we talk about what they heard and then they work on their own scenes. I pass out Hershey's kisses because it's a well known fact that a little bit of chocolate tastes best after a morning's writing. 

In the afternoon I head to the main library downtown for a writers' workshop. It's full swing when I get there-- a literary agent and two authors speaking to aspiring adult writers. How to write a book, how to sell it.

I'm no longer running this group and it's fun to sit back and listen. Take notes. Eat a sandwich that I didn't have to worry about ordering. Sample a cookie from one of the trays of cookies I didn't have to cart inside.

The authors talk about plot and I take notes on my phone. I am itching to get back to work on my book. The room is bright, the windows looking out into the sunny cold. Patrons drift by, library books under the arms.

A homeless man wanders into the room and asks what this thing is about. Writers, I tell him. Where? he says. I point to the front of the room. Them? he says. I wonder what he expected.

He asks if he can have a cookie. Sure, I tell him. I give him a sandwich too. Thanks, he says and he wanders back out of the room, smiling. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Dog Days

She starts crying and shaking the minute I get her into the car. She knows what’s coming. Or she thinks she does.

The entire fifteen minute drive over and the shrieks only get louder. She does this for a normal vet visit and this one will be more than that. A couple of large skin tags under her forearms that keep snagging on her harness have to be removed today.

She shakes when we get into the exam room. When the vet and attendant come in, she pants and drools and backs up, her tail between her legs, until she's sitting on my feet. They’ll need to offer her a shot to make her woozy before they can do the procedure. Not anesthesia, they assure me. I freak out a little thinking about that. Two people I know lost dogs under general anesthesia and both for what was supposed to be a routine procedure. Teeth cleaning. Some kind of grooming.

I'm the one who has to put the muzzle on her. The attendant can’t find a vein in her leg so after much prodding and poking, she tries the other leg. Don't worry, they tell me. She’ll be sleepy right away. But she isn’t. She paces around the small room still panting. Her legs slide apart, but she rights herself. How will she ever forgive me for putting her through this?

Only a few weeks ago I held my dying cat in my arms while they injected her, her body slumping against me, and then going slack the moment the life went out of her.

Finally the dog stops panting and teeters over onto her side. The attendants carry her off and I wait alone in the small room, picking dog hair off my sweatshirt. I have been anxious all day. A dread that started when I read the headlines this morning about the growing fear of a pandemic, the stock market plummeting.

At my weekly grocery store visit I filled my cart with canned goods like people do when a storm’s coming. I am reading a book about a pandemic that kills most of the people in the world. Why would I read a book like this right now?

When my husband and I came home after putting our cat to sleep, the dog greeted us how she always does. Hops and licks and a wet touch of her nose against the back of our hands. If she was wondering where the cat was, she didn’t let on.

This morning when I unpacked the groceries, there wasn't enough room in the cabinets for all of the canned goods. The attendants carry the dog back to me. Groggy. Tongue lolling out of her mouth. She's okay, they tell me. Just sleepy.

Want to go home? I whisper, and her head jerks up. Even as out of it as she is, my voice is a voice she remembers and home is a word she knows. I carry her inside and help her onto the couch and then we both rest for a while.