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. 




*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 


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 


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,


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, 


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.