Stay curious, stay inspired, stay connected!: James Ramsay - Memoir Writing
On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, I emailed a writing exercise to the members of the Older Writers Laboratory (OWL) of Nyack, NY. Here is that exercise, and the responses I received from the OWLs. These remarkable pieces speak for themselves.
Jim Ramsay, OWL facilitator, Nyack, NY
It’s Tuesday noon, in my heart I’m at our OWL meeting, so I’d like to try giving you a writing exercise in these COVID-19 times of social distancing.
This will be a writing exercise where I ask you to write a response and email me what you’ve written as a document attached to your email. Once I get your responses, I’ll compile them into one document and send it to our OWL group so we can share our writing and thoughts.
As motivation for you actually to sit down and write, I’m imposing a maximum length and a deadline: your response to the exercise should be no longer than three pages double-spaced, and you should email me those pages by midnight, tomorrow (Wednesday) night. I’ll assemble your writings into one document and send it out Thursday – in celebration of the Vernal Equinox, the official beginning of spring. Yes, spring will come, and this pandemic will eventually pass.
Here’s the exercise (no surprise):
Tell us the three most vivid things you’ve experienced in the days that you’ve become increasingly aware of the COVID-19. That is, talk from your personal experience. Here are some possibilities, but you don’t need to limit your response to them.
What has happened that you expected to happen?
What has happened that you didn’t expect to happen?
Where is your information coming from?
What most concerns you?
Have you been angered, saddened, repelled by something ?
Has anything happened that made you laugh out loud?
Have you been inspired by something during this crisis?
I look forward to hearing from you and to sharing what you’ve written.
We begin with the response from OWL member Ellen Price, who we all thank for her strength and courage as she protects all of us. JGR
Dear JIm and fellow Owls
It's close to 11:00 pm and I must admit that I have not had the time to sit and write our assignment. I am working at a dr's office part time and have been involved in putting in procedures to protect our patients as well as our staff. My goal was to come home from work this evening and write something but I am so mentally exhausted that I need to just unwind. If I can find the time and energy to write something early tomorrow morning I will send it to you at the proper email.
My apologies to you and the group for not providing a formal writing piece. I want to share my thoughts and be a part of our collective writing. I am far from being on the front line but I am trying to balance being safe, being protected and doing my job.
To all of you...please take care of yourselves and stay positive. There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
By the way....as I write this I want to stay how much I love this group.
“This Week’s Apocalypse Assignment” [the subject line of Eden’s email]
March 12 .Madhouse day. We are collapsing. Can barely keep up with what happened today emotionally or physically. Josh and Maia called from DC to tell us that they cannot come up with the baby on Saturday for the two week vacation at our house. Coronavirus thing is getting scary, we could be endangered by exposure to them and besides Josh added with his usual sensitivity, “all the friends we would have seen are leaving town.”
Before I could even start missing darling little Baby Sophie, the Brooklyn contingent called. Charlie and Juliet’s schools are closed, they have online school today, they have all their tech with them and we sent you the online schedule for third and seventh graders for today and tomorrow and please pleaseplease we all need French toast.
Lovely and I am keeping up. The online learning went fairly well because it was the first day. This semi patience will never last for a few weeks. Early afternoon. The parents are on the way back. What? Coronavirus news bad. They closed their offices and are heading to an extremely last minute house offer in Vermont. Kids were scooped up at two, thrilled with a two week adventure. It’s the Bobbsey Twins, only life threatening. And good night Baby Sophie in DC. We’ll Facetime in the morning. Goodnight Moon.
March 13. This morning the silence in the house was stunning. We checked in with all the kids everywhere, they are all working from home, and we were push push pushed to get to a supermarket. None to soon. The news is terrifying. Nobody is in charge. The air is Stephen King apocalyptic. I sobbed a lot with disappointment today because seeing the baby seems unrealistic for quite a while. I sent out emails to Sisterhood that most likely every planned program for the next few weeks will be canceled. Before those mails even cyberlanded, Rabbi mail arrived…..we have been told to officially shut down completely. It’s just too dangerous.
True confessions. I am relieved that good health choices are being made. I am disappointed for everyone who had events. I also feel free. Shhhhh. A hiatus from meetings, gossip, and every other have to. Relief, joy, guilt. All at once.
James wants a tuna sandwich with tomato.
March 14. We feel today that we are completely committed to our lockdown. Facetiming with Sophie is daily now. She is four months old. I am afraid the way the news is unfolding that we may not see her until her Bat Mitzvah, that is if we survive. Our children are gems. They all stay in the Will.
Juliet calls to say that she has taken on a daily project of calling all her grandparents every day to make sure they are following the rules. She and Charlie told us to look in our texts because they sent us recipes for emergency toothpaste and Purell.
March 15. I realize that there will be no Passover Seder this year. Maybe we can wire on some kind of Zoom meeting where we can do a little something as a family. This is not an original thought. Ideas are all over the internet already. I keep reminding myself that last year was an entire family Seder marathon and one of the highlights of my life. You can’t have everything all the time. There are poor people who have to ride the subways and don’t have escape houses in Vermont.
March 16. We have a sort of schedule. Most likely we will not murder each other except at Scrabble. We have called lots of old friends and out of touch family to check on them. We offer help if needed. How resilient they all are in their eighties. We are a little uplifted by that and make an Ottolenghi style Mediterranean dinner from his cookbook. Very nice but it’s the kind of thing better shared with friends in that pre fear life.
James is fatalistic, therefore pretty calm. I am Type A over the top and this lack of control over destiny right now is producing enormous anxiety. Torah study group is “Zooming” our session on Wednesday. We’re techie. Every day walking is our release from prison. But there is a mental price. I am looking at our woods a lot. The thick branches look like twisted fantastical animals. The small ones look like they are twisting up to strangle or to be devoured. Omen of things to come?
It’s all that feel good trash on TV. We’ll be better. We will come together. We will be equalized. Insane. Rich mothers bought up all the diapers. None left for poor ones. You know. The maids who were just fired from all the hotels. I’m afraid post crisis, it will be worse.
It has only been one day that I have been practicing or trying to practice social distancing. It is a mindset that frightens me. I cannot imagine avoiding others for two or three months. I suppose I could get in a car and drive, but if I drove without being in contact with other humans, I would be on the other coast in a week. I suppose I could drive back and forth, like Forrest Gump. I have thought about “social media” more seriously than I have since I first heard the term. Telephones and computers become a tool that has new meaning for me. I have never “tweeted” in my life. I cannot imagine being on the phone for enough time to make a difference.
A few weeks ago I came upon the thought that we were not individuals, as we like to think of ourselves, but actually so intimately connected that humankind was a beast with a billion heads, like a mold. I think this is a test of that theory. Will we die by being disconnected, or grow branches that simulate an “otherness”?
Taking a walk, and noticing blocks of downtown Nyack with no people. I am not, or I have not been the most social of creatures. I’ve considered myself an “aloner.” But now.
O, this is the opportunity to sit down and do some drawing, to pick up piano lessons, to clean my workbench in the cellar, build a bench I have been planning. Walking exercise? (Did I not have time to do this before? I certainly did.) In some ways I am looking at my life differently.
The nation is in a mood of War. Instead of being invaded by creatures from another planet, we are being threatened by creatures from within. AIDS and Ebola were similar threats. Whole nations are at risk. The disease has spread through the better-traveled nations, or the nations with major international connections. I can see some smaller, poorer nations, protected now by their isolation, eventually being wholly wiped out, with no resources to oppose the virus.
I am reminded of a scene in a movie (true story) in which the hero congressman gets millions and millions to buy guns for the Afghans to kill the Commies. But when that is done, he (Tom Hanks) tries to get a few hundred thousand dollars for a school for the Afghans, and no one will approve. We are totally unprepared, with too few hospital beds, nor will we go through drills to prepare us for another pandemic. When this is over, no one will be willing to pay for preparedness training.
It is like measles shots, if it is not killing people, and the threat decreases we will bury our heads in the sand again. I guess Tom Hanks is my hero for the week.
Corona Virus and Me Maxine Bernstein
I never knew what it was like living in a war zone having seen it on television over the years but now I have an all too familiar owl’s eye view of it. That is how I feel living here in Nyack these days. Everything is shut down. One cannot get a good drink or meal anymore. Streets are almost vacant except for the few brave souls who come out. Needless to say everything that I kept busy with during the daytime has closed and I am faced with terminal boredom in need of new activities or hobbies to amuse myself during the absence of meeting another human being.
Correction: not everything is closed...the markets are still open as I write this. My experience at the market was both positive and negative. Positive because an acquaintance who knew I lived alone without a car called and offered to shop for me. I asked to hitch a ride which she graciously agreed to. The market was quite an experience. There were so many frantic people shopping madly for supplies, it looked like there would be an attack on the U.S. at any time. God knows it looked like they were feeding a whole block of families the way they loaded down. And there were hardly any supplies on the shelves...especially no chicken or meats and paper products. I heard a rumor that they had just put out the chicken after I passed the cashier and they were either lined up or fighting over a selection! Watching the shoppers as they left I saw stress written clearly across the faces of all.
What I think is that we have overreacted to this “pandemic.” The news is constantly on about the virus and I think it is scaring people to death. At first I was weary of 24 hours of constant news about coronavirus and felt it was too much. Then all the hysteria started. I am not saying that I think it isn’t important to take care and follow how to avoid contact but I think there is great over-reaction to the constant news. I am now keeping my distance and following the rules but on walks have seen empty streets and when there are people they not smiling. They also are not responding to my “hellos”, and are caught up in their own social avoidance.
I’m finding out how resilient and independent I am by what is taking up my interests while socially alone. But how much television came one watch? I guess it’s time to sign up for Netflix and start streaming. On the other hand, there is danger in this since staying home and indoors opens the threat of overeating and weight gain.
You can probably surmise from this that the virus situation has left me sad and a bit angry and I’m looking for some humor to be found. Unfortunately I have been amused only by the late show tv comedians who, thankfully, have found some funny bits to share.
This virus situation has taught me some valuable lessons. One: there is caring and kindness among people who are looking out for each other. I have been contacted by telephone by many folks checking up on how I feel and am I okay. This has brightened many a long, dull day. I have learned how resilient I really am. I am into new activities and readings at home between television binges and learning to enjoy solo walks to sit by the river enjoying the company of bird life there.
Each day is a new test of my strength to amuse myself with tasks and possibilities of finding new interests.
3/28/2020 OWL Exercise - Covid-19 Virus Awareness
I took an on-line class in 2019 which had a study group associated with it. We decided to continue with our group and keep the meeting schedule this year. Participants are in Louisville, KY, Sacramento, CA, Princeton, NJ, Venice, Italy and me in Nyack. On our 2/26/20 Zoom video conference call, Ema, who lives in Italy told us how her kids’ schools closed down, along with shutting down the museums and other parts of town. The rest of us didn’t think much of it at the time, since it was only something happening there.
Our next meeting was 3/11/20, but Ema did not attend because of the time difference and did not realize about Daylight Saving Time. They have DST in Italy on 3/29. Here’s what she said was happening in Italy that day.
“Venice, and all of Italy now, is completely shut down. No one is supposed to leave their house pretty much. Set until April 3, but then there is Easter so I imagine it will go on. Some people speculate that we will not go back to school at all this year. American troops have just landed in the tens of thousands here near Venice. They say it is for pre-planned military exercises, but who knows...!?? Plus travelling is the worst thing possible right now. So many mysteries....” I thought “Wow” and never thought that would ever happen here in the US!
On 3/10/20, Jim, my husband woke up with a fever so I kept him home from going to Adult Day Care (he attends 3 days per week). Based on his behaviors and symptoms, I took him to his primary care doctor since his behavior indicated he had a UTI. Saw doctor on 3/12 where he took urine specimen and gave him prescription for antibiotic to start that night. Said he should have the results of test the next day or Monday. Received results 3/18/20, almost a week later. Was delay because of Covid-19 fuss? The drug he gave him wasn’t strong enough, so we are starting another antibiotic today even though they have not received the “sensitivity” from the lab to know if this new antibiotic is the right one for him.
Dealing with Jim’s illness -- coupled with one or more accidents several times a week, mopping floors, one or two laundry loads every other day -- has ungrounded me. Washing my hands so much causing my hands to turn red and raw, then the Covid-19 was overlaid onto my life. OY, big time, OY included going shopping daily to find supplies that didn’t exist. Fortunately, my neighbors helped with providing some supplies, cooking meals that helped a lot.
I spent hours watching TV as the virus was moving across the US and seeing the numbers grow and grow. I became more ungrounded and really “wigged out,” while at the same time keeping Jim engaged 24/7, cooking, cleaning and not getting anything done because my brain was getting more and more foggy every day. No exercise at the YMCA, my main way to handle all the stress I’m under. Have meditated & taken a couple of walks which helps a bit.
Have been hearing from friends by phone or text who are also very upset as their worlds have been turned upside down too. We try to support each other, but what can ya say?
So glad I attended a lecture from the 2020 Year of Miracles on-line class tonight after shopping several hours at Costco and ShopRite today. Covid-19 is opportunistic, creating worry and fear, which is very toxic. It’ll first attack those whose immune systems are compromised. Because of the rapid spread, the only way to slow it down is to remain indoors while the scientists do their thing to figure out what to do next.
I experienced firsthand how worry and fear creates more stress and can take you down, chew you up and spit you out. I have a choice and I won’t allow myself to go down again.
Now is the time for a Global Reset, a “Time-out” to go deeper into ourselves and how we lead our lives. Nations will have to work together to fight this virus and learn from each other. It can be the start of a new world. Our world has changed now and has to find its new center. I am going to start back onto a schedule to meditate, do yoga, learn Quigong, exercise and build up my immune system. This will help me and Jim to get grounded again.
TRAVELING DECISION Marilyn Stimac
I was disappointed when the Owl meeting was canceled on March 10, though I was home taking care of my 10 year old granddaughter who was sick. Over the past few weeks I have been here and there and I was happy to know I actually was going to be here for an OWL meeting.
But, of course, it was all just the beginning. My grandson had his 16th birthday the previous Friday March 6, and I was supposed to go to North Carolina around March 10th as my third daughter is about to have her third baby with her other two being three and four-and-a-half years old. Since my Nyack granddaughter was now sick, and my daughter had to be at a yoga studio she runs, it only made sense for me to stay with her for a few days, but then the outside world began to do some unexpected things.
As the days moved to Friday, I began to feel I needed to get to NC. My husband was there, the baby was now due in eight days and I needed to fly since I didn’t want to do the ten-hour drive. My granddaughter also was getting better. The doctor said it wasn’t a flu, but was it ok that I leave the three of them when my Nyack daughter had no other family there? So it was yes, no, yes, no, etc. Then, how safe was it to fly?
So I learned all about plane air circulating; wiping things down, etc. After being told if I waited too long, I might not be able to go anywhere, on Saturday morning, I made a quick decision to just do it. It was only an hour and 20 minute flight. Well, LaGuardia was a surprise. I have never seen it so empty. Only one small security line and the seating area was unbelievable. Everyone was spread out. Each row had one person, or a couple, at one end and the next row had the same amount of people at the other end. The trick was to find an empty row with an appropriate seat at the opposite end of the row. Everyone was quiet just waiting to board.
The flight went smoothly and I am now happily in Wilmington, NC and waiting for the baby. But now, my daughter here feels I should refrain from joining them at their house till I have a five-day clearance from whatever I may have brought from NY. So I am doing odds and ends at my house, calling Nyack several times a day, waiting for the baby and wondering how it’s all going to work with a new baby and two young children at home during these conditions, but life is step by step and I am sure it all will work out.
IS THIS THE SAME COUNTRY? After the past two weeks in Nyack, as the virus began its journey in New York, and I experienced all the crazy buying including being overjoyed to find three bottles of hand sanitizer, I find myself in Wilmington and wondering if this is the same country? I ventured out to Target on Monday, wearing gloves and prepared to do all the correct things that one is supposed to do, but I felt like New York was a dream. I was the only one in the store with gloves; everyone was pushing shopping carts with their bare hands and, except for no sanitizer, and paper towels being sold out, one would have ever known that anything was happening. Then three days later,Wilmington started to slowly change. Organizations here began to issue closing notices and Costco became overwhelmed with people. Such a difference from Nyack, it makes one wonder how this virus decided which path to take and when.
Trying to Stay Calm
I almost don’t know where to begin. It was scarcely a week ago that John and I were still planning to hop on a flight from JFK to Buenos Aires, where we would embark on a 22-day cruise encompassing eight ports of call and three continents. We had gotten a bit carried away with planning our Great Adventure, even tacking on a post-cruise trip to Rome and Sicily. It was more than a little extravagant, but the stock market had been good to us in 2019. We felt we could afford it.
The virus worsened in China and spread throughout Asia and on to Europe. Ocean liners were stranded offshore, with passengers forced to quarantine inside their cabins. Through it all, we brushed aside comments of friends and family (“You’re still going?!”), and even the initial recommendations of the CDC that “elderly” should avoid travel by cruise ship.
“We’ve been planning this trip for months. We can’t cancel or reschedule now,” we said to each other. Even as the virus was starting to run rampant around Milan, we postponed making a decision about our add-on trip to Italy. Instead, we said “Let’s wait and see how things look when we get to the end of the cruise. The virus may be done by then. …” Our reasoning: “Who knows, at our age, we might never get the opportunity to take a trip like this again.”
And then, suddenly, something was different. I woke up early last Wednesday, March 11, the day before we were to leave. I listened to the previous day’s press conference on the CDC website, then read a Huff Post article about how overwhelmed hospitals in Italy were, with doctors and nurses forced to ration dwindling supplies and make difficult life and death care decisions. I suddenly realized our vacation was really not important. I shared the articles with John; he agreed. By 11a.m., we had canceled everything. Somewhat surprisingly at the time, I found myself feeling far more relieved than disappointed. In the coming days, I would understand why.
So much has changed in barely a week’s time. I shudder to think where we might be now if we had persisted and gotten on that flight to Buenos Aires. An old friend emailed me that Argentine friends had told him anyone flying in from the U.S. was being forced to quarantine for 14 days upon landing.
I am trying hard to stay calm. The hardest part is convincing John how potentially very serious this all is — particularly because of his age. At 83, he’s in the highest risk cohort. He still wants to go every day to buy his baguette at Didier Dumas. And on Tuesday, he insisted on going out to buy beer to go with the corned beef and cabbage I made for St. Patrick’s Day. He came home with a six-pack of Corona!
I’ve tried so many different ways to explain to him the importance of washing his hands after he comes back from some of his “necessary” errands. I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve threatened. I’ve even tried to scare him. But all I’ve done is make myself crazy and him more agitated.
Long, solitary walks outside on unseasonably warm days do seem to help, a bit. So does talking with friends (I’ve learned about Zoom, an awesome teleconferencing app). I’m trying to meditate more and go to bed earlier in hopes of getting more sleep. I also am trying to limit the news I take in (a bit of NY Times in the morning – especially The Daily podcast; PBS NewsHour, a small amount of CNN; less and less MSNBC at night.) I try to watch something that makes me laugh instead. (I’ve been bingeing on “Grace and Frankie.”) I recently laughed out loud at something a friend sent. (See below.) What else can we do? Let’s hope laughter is at least“good enough” medicine.
CORONA the CROWN Gabri’El Stollman 3/18/20
The first few days I was aware of the Coronavirus, I thought there was an overreaction and undue drama about the situation. I went for a manicure and did some errands. Shockingly, there was no toilet tissue available in Shop Rite on my way home. Shoppers were overloading their carts and the atmosphere was tense. “Life is but a narrow bridge, do not fear,” Rabbi Nachman of Breslov chanted in the 1800’s. Yes, this bridge is getting narrow, I thought. Will I be pushed over the edge? Will there be room to pass? Will my journey be fraught with danger? I will not panic or be afraid.
The days passed and the news was worsening. I was staying in with the exception of a solitary walk. As I was leaving the building, four people were in the lobby at one time. We looked at one another, smiled and slipped out the door one by one.
I felt an urgency to contact friends I had not spoken to for a while. I was reaching out, defying my procrastinating nature... to do the right thing.
Some acquaintances and friends called to see how I was doing. That felt good...as if someone cared. It was the first time I experienced Facetime with my daughter and granddaughter and it was fun. My brother called to alarm me and told me of his trip to Costco and the food and supplies he bought in case of emergency. Brotherly love. My niece called to see how I was ...I hear her voice but once a year on Thanksgiving. My daughter contacts me each day to make sure I am not gadding about and sent me a case of my favorite coconut water so that I remain hydrated. Often, I don’t hear from her for a week or two. She said she needed me.
And so with my neighbors and countrypersons, I will see and experience the losses that will occur...will grieve the people who die, if not myself, witness chaos and ruin and hopefully live to see how life has changed for the better. I suspect that we will be more caring of one another and reconnect with mother nature without feeling the need to conquer and abuse her.
As a result of the slowdowns and closings of work places and people staying in, there is less pollution of the air and water. It seems a miracle that in Venice swans and dolphins have been reported returning to the cleaner canals of that magical city.
I see this experience of the Corona (Crown) Virus as an exercise in alchemy. We can choose to extract the gold from the lead or dross of the lives we have collectively been leading and look to the future which will crown humanity with kindness and love for all sentient beings.
The World Is Too Much With Us
The World Is Too Much With Us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
7 a.m. emerging from twilight sleep
Ready for OWL day? YMCA day? CAN Friday? farmers’ market?
Eyes fluttering open. None of the above.
Take coffee back to bed as usual; take meds. Check local channel before Morning Joe. Our cases have grown from 31 to 45 in three days.
Back to the new world’s reality. No-one will be visiting but I still make my bed, and call a few friends who live alone. My yoga mat is set up in the middle of the living room opposite the television set - for succor during news - since no need to tidy up for visitors.
I have bought paper cups and am itching to invite people to my deck (especially the OWLets) where we could respect the Six Feet of Separation rule. But since COVID-19 may be peaking; I decide to be patient.
MY ‘LIGHT BULB MOMENT’
I seldom get through the Sunday New York Times over the weekend. But I always turn every page of the sections I like before they hit the recycle bin.
I was catching up; idly turning the pages of the most recent Arts and Leisure section, when suddenly it all became real, and an enormous sadness suffused me.
All those actors in all those plays, the movies, the concerts, dancers. All the hopeful artists planning reception in galleries. Our wonderful museums. I said out loud : “My God; none of this is happening. Cannot happen now.”
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
(not to lecture, or be original at all):
We can be outside and all the parks now have free entry. We have much (so far) that millions do not. Telephone, computer, radio and television service. We have water, electricity, heat,light, and Elliot Forrest on WQXR. Unlike millions we have shelter, homes, shoes, food, indoor plumbing and are not stuck in a battle zone, or in a cage at an unwelcoming border facing an ever more uncertain future. We have our imaginations; creativity.
To me, music and humor are the essentials. Dance and sing to your favorites . Miss you all terribly and wish you and yours safe.
We have lots of humor emerging on Facebook .
AND: from BBC World News: A priest in Delaware has set up a folding chair outside for drive-by confession ! Through two rows of traffic cones, set six foot away, you pull up and wind down your driver side window and voila !
Cyber-hugs to you all
[ For reasons known only to himself, Don Wilen sent his piece as a PDF file, which means you can’t edit, copy or paste it. You do this with legal documents, so no one can mess with them. It’s probably because Don’s a lawyer. After half an hour or so, I cracked the code, converted the piece to MS Word, but could not undo the formatting, so we’re stuck with a different look, which is so Don Wilen. JGR]
This is not the end of the world , according to Christians who study the end of the world,
screamed the headline in yesterday’s Washington Post. Can’t happen while Trump’s president according to James Beverley, a professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. That’s why we have to reelect him. Can’t happen because the ancient temple in Jerusalem hasn’t been rebuilt. Can’t happen because Jeﬀ Kinley, a writer of books on biblical prophesy says that Jesus was talking about a future time when he wrote about the end of times in Luke 21:11.
So, no worries. Just hang in.
So I hang in. I keep a stiﬀ upper lip. I stay the course. No reason to panic. I have 22 rolls of Charmin. And I mean the double rolls. 6 equals 12. Plenty of Clorox wipes. I meditate. Try to cook interesting things. I read all the articles. Emotional resiliency, how to wash your hands, beating depression, avoiding depression, recognizing depression, the correct distance to be from someone, the best way to wash your hands, critical care apocalypse, hospital apocalypse, stock market apocalypse, more on correct hand washing - I didn’t know there was a science to it. I wander the empty streets reading the signs on closed restaurant doors. I risk my life and go into Turiello’s for a slice. Well worth it. Laurie and I go to Stop and Shop and pick over the left overs. Actually she goes in and I stay in the car. She says I’m too old as if she isn’t. I write foolish essays, like this one. I watch my life saving vanish before my eyes. I envision how it would be to live in a refrigerator carton.
It just all a bad dream. I’m not going to get sick. I wash my hands. That will surely save me. I didn’t know anyone who had the virus. Maybe It really is a media conspiracy to take down Trump.
Then our friend told us that his 77 year old sister is on a ventilator. They put her into a semi coma for 2 weeks so that the ventilator can do it’s job. My ﬁrst case. Reality is rushing in. So I keep washing my hands and patiently wait for the Rapture.
Anthony J. Fasano
Anthony J. Fasano, March 17, 2020
Two Edged Sword
I suspect my response to the Corona Virus will be somewhat different from others. First off, I am extremely happy to have entered a wonderful new relationship...about 10 months now. An extraordinary woman, smarter than me, but wonderfully kind. New territory for me...recall that Josie died after a little more than two years of marriage. Actually, once we learned the diagnosis of untreatable liver cancer, our lives twisted into an endless rounds of examinations, chemotherapy, criticism from her family. No tumors shrank from the chemotherapy and only the side effects of hair loss, lack of energy and intestinal pain appeared.
And as practically honeymooners, we lived a happy life, no major problems surfacing, just wonderful joy to have found each other at age 50... no money problems, buying a vacation home, wined and dined as newlyweds. experience. Of course, from July, 1990 on just the worst years of my life.
The second marriage was a 20 year receiving real meanness and cruelty. Another time.
But to the unusual happiness now. With few comings-and-goings or obligations, we, my partner and I have time for each other. Getting to really know a person takes a lot of time, but to have time to get to know another who loves you, and you love her is a whimsical magic, a path I have never taken before. I rejoice that I do not have to deal with the virus on my own—we share meals and television and even sometimes, just read, mainly by ourselves but sometime with each other. We text often, talk on the phone a lot. I often say to her, “Now I know what my friends, as couples, had. Thank you.” Really beyond words.
I do fear and worry, mainly for those who have children and grandchildren. The future is so tenuous and uncertain. All that love and caring we give may still not able to protect the young. We hear little of deaths and cases in the 3rd world countries. Health care there is so meager as it is. Doctors talk of the limitation of hospitals and medical personnel in our country. But what of peoples who already suffer from those problems? Have we done enough to help them into our world of health and pleasure.
So there is worry for these human beings, our companions on this planet. But there is, even for us, an ominous warning. In our world of long distance and rapid air travel, no country is free of possible infection. We need only remember how AIDS quickly spread across the globe to all developed countries.
More worry. A good friend really jolted me out of whatever complacency I might have had, taking all the precautions I do. “What,” he said, “if what we are doing will cause more problems later?” Then my worry deepened. I thought, what if the coronavirus is a new kind of virus, immune to anything we know to use against it...what if its shelf life lasts more than two weeks? What if all the precautions—wipes and washings—are if fact of little defense? I think of the “super-bacteria” that grow more resistant, unaffected by antibiotics we now have. I am saddened and worried because, as far as I can judge, no one really knows the cause and lasting, dreadful effects of the virus.
And so I live in two worlds, maybe in two universes, one of bliss and one of anxiety.
COVID19 and the Wicked Witch
What happened for us was that in the past month that Diana and I were telling all our family and friends that we were planning for the travel of our lifetimes. From JFK we would fly to Buenos Aires; explore few days; dance the tango and board the Viking Jupiter to cruise the South Atlantic Ocean, heading toward Africa and then across the Mediterranean to Europe.
That was not enough. Our appetite said that on almost the same latitude there was the City of Rome and from there, Sicily. Alas, coronavirus, call it the Wicked Witch from Asia, had worked its way to Italy. February and the cold West winds of March have blown COVID-19 to the Pacific Coast of the United States
In the second half of March we find ourselves effectively quarantined in our homes and with favorite places closed such as the Nyack Library and the YMCA. Fortunately our leader Jim has rescued the members of his troop, and we shall have an exercise on which to tackle in the days to come.
Another inspiring matter has been my e-mail correspondence with my French cousins Edgar Soulie and his son Antoine Soulie. Via email, they had organized, 43 cousins around the world who were to gather together on March 21, 2020, in Paris, to attend a conference commemorating the 115th Anniversary of the passage of the French Law separating church and state, enacted by the Senate in 1905. France until that date had a State Religion: Catholicism. My French family were Huguenots, a minority religion. France had a civil war in the 1600s, which had been the cause for migration to Canada (Quebec) and other countries, similar to the Pilgrims and their followers to America. Because of COVID-19, the conference has been canceled.
Today, it’s the worst. Diana and I, this afternoon learned from my sister that her grandson Sawyer (my grand-nephew), a junior at Middlebury College, had to be fetched by his parents because the school, fearing the virus, was closing. Three days later, Sawyer has learned a track teammate, to whom he had given a hug upon leaving Vermont for home, was showing all the symptoms of COVID-19. Now Sawyer, his parents and two sisters are all being forced to isolate in their home.
Where will it all end? An interview with NY Governor Andrew Cuomo today on the NYTimes podcastThe Daily said that every family will be touch by the virus. Ours certainly has.
Coronavirus. Mike Hortens
Before the Corona Virus hit, I was on a semester break from teaching. I finished some chores and errands around the house and wasn’t thinking about the virus very much. I just enjoyed the time away from teaching.
At the end of last week, the faculty of Fairleigh-Dickinson University was told that the administration wanted us to teach and only meet with the students online.
I teach ESL and it has been my experience that seeing and interacting with the students is an important part of communicating and understanding language. The physical act of walking around the classroom and confronting each student with a question or opinion was helpful to them. So, I didn’t see how this online class would work.
We started on Monday using software called ZOOM. There is a learning curve involved in using this software, however what is different is to see all of your students appear on your home computer screen in a grid format. They are dialing in from their homes with their husbands or wives wandering around and their kids screaming or wanting their attention. It’s quite a difference from a regular class. It’s chaotic but also funny.
With this new teaching format, my class plans changed and I began to think of different activities or even internet videos to show the students. The problem is that the internet is very distracting, so that whatever the lesson is, it is competing with the News, Celebrity info, Facebook or a million other topics. I am being methodical and taking it a step at a time. I’ll let you know how things go.
My little boat club is quiet now. Only a few guys come around and then not very often. It’s kind of nice. When you’re by yourself you see the water and shoreline more clearly. I notice the ducks and geese more and hear the lapping of the waves against the shore. The driftwood is stacked up, boats are covered with tarps, all awaiting the start of boating season. I saw a member and his little boy come down to the club to fish off the dock.
We have a lot to do, but based on the current climate, i.e. no social interactions, we may just do the minimum to open the club, then worry about the other stuff later in the season.
I do like being on or near the water. When I was applying to college, I looked at Drake University in Iowa. The brochure only showed fields and fields of corn, no hills or rivers, so I didn’t go to Drake!
While I was at the club, I saw, about 1 mile out on the river, a little blue tug boat pushing a line of barges against the incoming tide, so the waves were breaking up and over the front of the barges. I thought how many times that tug had brought barges up and down the river and how many more times it would do the same thing. For some reason I found that comforting.
I have been in touch with both family and old friends to see how they’re doing these days. Most are staying home, eating and or looking at what they lost in the stock market. We lost some, but, it could have been worse.
As people have said, this kind of emergency does bring people together. I talk to my brother about once a week. He’s in PA and is also staying close to home, since one of their neighbors contracted the virus! Lucky for him, everyone has four to 15 acres around them, so they don’t have to be so close. It’s farm country, so he and his wife Joanne are able to take long walks in and around their surroundings without having to come in contact with many people. They have three dogs and they never put leashes on them, they just open the back door and the dogs run out.
At this point, I miss that kind of freedom.
Soup in the Time of COVID-19. James Ramsay
My own vivid experience over the past couple of weeks has been surreal. Everything looks the same, except sometimes the clocks go limp like in Salvador Dali’s paintings. Time is suspended. I’m waiting for the plague to hit, to come crashing in like a tsunami, but I look out the window and it’s spring. The trees in front of my house have reddish buds and will go into full bloom soon. I haven’t seen a live human face for two days, since I went to Shoprite for vegetables, cranberry juice, and cartons of chicken stock.
This waiting period is disconcerting. I should be doing something. Of course, I am: I’m sitting here vigorously engaged in social distancing. I email. I cook. I tend to the plants. I clean. I read. My tinnitus seems louder.
My daughter Grace was going to come down from Northampton, Mass. this weekend and stay with me – first time in several years this was going to happen. She works on the front lines in a set of women’s reproductive health clinics in the Northampton/Amherst/Holyoke area. We’d planned this more than a month ago. Yesterday she texted that she was cancelling the trip. I told her how incredibly relieved I was that she did. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her not to come. But she had the courage to make the call.
Back to the sense of waiting. During WW II, the U.S. Army sent more than 1,145,000 troops from Fort Shanks in Orangeburg to the Piermont pier where they marched onto troop ships headed to England or they boarded ferries that took them down the Hudson to troop ships that sailed out of NY Harbor to England, all to wait for D-Day. Some of those service people waited a year or more in England. Then D-Day came. I feel like I’m waiting for D-Day. I know it’s coming. But right now everything is still.
Did an 8th grade math teacher ever ask your class, “Which would you rather have, a million dollars, or a penny that’s doubled every day for 30 days?” The answer of course is “Choose the penny doubled for 30 days” because at the end of 30 days you’d have $5,368,709.12!
Same thing with the geometric progression of virus transmission. One person gets it, that person gives it to another person (now two have it), those two each give it to two (now four have it), those four each give it to two (now eight have it) and in just 20 such transmissions 1,048,576 people have it. It also works the other way. Averting one case of coronavirus-19 today means thousands who might have gotten it won’t get it in the coming months.
I made potato-leek soup yesterday – a big pot of it that I froze in snap-lid containers. It’s my own recipe. It yields six snap-lid containers of soup, each a dinner’s worth. Here’s the recipe:
Three very large baking potatoes washed and cut into one-inch cubes with the skins still on. Three cartons of Swanson’s chicken stock. Three large leeks. Three large white onions. One bunch of fresh dill. One preserved lemon, or one fresh lemon. Salt and pepper.
Cut the darkest green leaves off three large leeks and discard them. Cut the root-ends off the white end of the leeks. Cut the remaining white/chartreuse-colored leek stalks lengthwise in half and then separate the halves layer by layer as you hold them under cool running water to get the sand and mud off them. Chop the cleaned leek pieces across the grain. Melt a scoop of margarine (or butter if that’s your thing) in a large flat pot and saute the chopped leeks along with two large chopped white onions at medium heat, stir occasionally until the first bits start to brown (15-20 min.), then add two containers of the broth to the leeks/onions, then add the cut-up potatoes. Add some of the third carton of chicken stock until you have your preferred ratio of vegetables to broth. Heat to a simmer and keep simmering until the potatoes are easy to poke with a fork. While the potatoes are cooking, take one preserved Meyer lemon out of the bottle of preserved lemons you made last fall, separate the pulp from the peel, mince the preserved lemon peel and add it to the soup. (Or if you forgot to make preserved lemons last fall, squeeze the juice from one fresh lemon into the soup). Add lots of pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed (if you used preserved lemon, preserved lemon is preserved with salt and just putting that kind of lemon into the soup can provide enough salt). While the potatoes simmer, rinse and then chop the feathery ends of one generous bunch of fresh dill and add the chopped dill to the soup. When the potatoes are fork-tender, take the soup pot off the heat, put it in the sink and use a potato masher to mash the potatoes until you have a rough potato consistency in the soup – not a puree, this is a hearty soup where you get bits of potato and potato skins. Put the mashed potato-leek soup back on the stove and simmer at very low temp for another 20 minutes or so, for the flavors to “marry.” Enjoy a hot bowl of potato-leek soup, and freeze the rest. Frozen, the soup will last for several months. Around my house, it doesn’t last nearly that long because I eat it and give it to friends. Here’s a shot I took last night: dill is the secret ingredient, and lemon.
Back to waiting: I keep thinking the model of the COVID-19 virus, presented by the CDC at the scale of electron microscopy, looks like a chew toy for pets: