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