Tag Archives: Coronavirus

A Journal of the Plague Year: #8

I think the resident teenager is depressed. He is not content to stay at home or to go without visitors. The company of his parents does not thrill him. They coax him to come out, are successful from time to time, in small doses finding him in good spirits, but more often than not, they find him surly, resistant, sometimes mean. And this is not too terribly out of the ordinary for some teenagers, typically, or for this one, specifically, but the lack of activity due to the isolation seems to exacerbate the problem. Mom and Dad are worried. I don’t know why I am writing in the third person. Maybe it’s that, as he gets older, I am less comfortable writing about my son. Let’s pretend, then, for the sake of argument, that I am not writing about my son. The parents are home, too; they are teachers, and yet, are they asking their son to do academic things? In lieu of any direct instruction from his school, are they creating opportunities for him to continue his learning? It is, after all, spring break officially, but it’s also the second week off from any formal intellectual expectation. The parents wonder if they should be doing something more.

Say that, this particular boy, who is not my son, bought some books at a bookstore the day before the bookstore closed its doors. He has done some reading about Chernobyl and World War 2. He wants to watch the film 1917. He says that he is interested in history. These are good signs. It brings his father an incredible joy to see him reading but he wishes his son would do more of it. He thinks maybe he should invite his son to read with him, a father/son fantasy he has always harbored, but never acted upon, at least not since the boy was a child. How long has it been since he read to his son? It’s been too long. There’s nothing like an extended break, especially one of this nature, unwelcome, potentially dangerous, global, to give parents more opportunities to reflect on the shortcomings of their parenting. Let’s change the subject.

The weather has turned shitty. An attempt was made to walk the dogs but the rain drove us back home. Despite the shelter-in-place order, or, as our Governor calls it, “stay home, stay safe,” I am going to make a foray out into the world today for some “essentials”: music, whiskey, and some groceries. I offered to find my son a snack and he was excited about that. Other than these things, I have crossed off all the items on my to-do list, except for one. I have not yet mopped the floors. They can wait. We must, during these difficult times, have priorities.

My son’s mood has improved. I’d like to think the promise of a favorite snack food had something to do with it, but he has come down to the basement to practice drumming with his mom–a sure-fire antidote. When I return from my errands, I will search for the perfect poem. Still leaning Romantic, I think. Maybe Wordsworth. My first impulse will be “The World Is Too Much With Us,” but I will want to give it a little more thought. I will read that most famous sonnet, and I will think, Jesus, what a terrific poem. But then, I will probably turn to “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” and I will read it all the way through for the first time in years. I will have difficulty getting through it without weeping. For that reason, and because it’s so long, I will not likely choose to record this one, but I will conclude, as I have many other times in my life, that this thing, for me, is maybe the greatest poem ever written in the English Language.

But for now, and apropos of everything: “The World Is Too Much With Us.” Today’s mistake is that “coming” should be “rising.” That’s a doozy, but I catch the error late. Unwilling to rerecord! Apologies!

 

Addendum: I could not, after all, live with this error. So I’ve done another take–which includes a number of surprises that I have not cut from the video. Let me just say that my confidence in the Folio Society has faltered significantly!

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #7

It’s Monday, the first official day of Spring Break after a preliminary week-long break on account of the plague that is COVID-19. Last night I dreamt that our Governor, Kate Brown, downloaded the news about the coronavirus directly into my brain, announcing finally that she was ordering a “shelter-in-place” for all Oregonians. Her download came to me in chunks, the parsing and ordering of which I tossed and turned over all night long. I don’t know how I felt during all of this–annoyed mostly. Why me, Governor Brown? I’m already sheltering-in-place, pretty much. I haven’t driven a car for a week. So maybe, psychologically, I thought that perhaps Kate might consider me a kind of model citizen, you know, as she keeps tabs on all of us, Santa Claus-like. It must have just been on my mind–the latest news is that she’s seriously considering and that maybe the announcement will come today. Perhaps, by the time I finish this entry, or this paragraph, it will be the law of the land. Meanwhile, stupid Oregonians at the top of Spring Break are driving to the coast in droves, freaking out the locals, putting everyone who lives there in danger, acting in complete arrogance and irresponsibility. The Mayor of Warrenton has told everyone they’ve got 24 hours to get out. Good for the Mayor of Warrenton.

Turns out: we’ve just been told to shelter-in-place by the Governor.

I still don’t have any whiskey.

I didn’t write anything yesterday, I chose instead to give myself a little break while at the same time getting serious about some household chores. It was the last, it appears, of the beautiful days for a while, so it seemed like the best day to give the travel-trailer a wash. I used a socket wrench to tighten a thing. We walked and played with the dogs. I rode my bike for a bit. I read some fiction and drank some beer. RenĂ© made chili, and we watched the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The last thing I did last night before tucking myself in: I walked outside into the yard and listened to the quiet. I live on 3/4 of an acre, surrounded by these old, gigantic oak trees, but my street tends to be a busy one, and we’re not 700 feet from a four lane highway, so there’s usually always, even in our bucolic setting, the buzz of traffic. Last night, no buzz. It was eery. And glorious.

I’ve got a few more things on the To-Do list for the day, not the least of which is finding a great poem. I’m leaning Romantic. I’m gravitating toward Wordsworth, but Keats might be more challenging and fun. Given that we’ve got nothing but time, there’d be nothing amiss with two Romantics in a row, don’t you think? No guarantees.

A Note on the Video: Oh my god, I don’t know what I was thinking. I hope the effort was worth it. It took me maybe twelve tries to get this one right. If I didn’t have the interpretation correct, I’d mess up a word, or the phone rang, or it started to rain, or it started to rain really hard, or finally, to hail!  I am outside in my travel trailer, the clean one, and it is hardly designed for acoustics. Anyway, I think I finally got it here, with a few minor errors–one singular word becomes plural and a “these” becomes a “those.” Dear John Keats, forgive me. “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

 

 

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #6

This morning (upon waking? in the shower? during meditation, while Sam Harris spoke to me about conscious awareness? over breakfast?), I found myself thinking Thoreau. Passages from Walden were emerging from the memory banks where favorite books are stored. It occurred to me that if one were to grab a classic from American Literature off the shelf that might be of great use during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be Walden. In particular, the section called “Solitude.” If there was ever a prince or a king of social distancing, it would be Henry David Thoreau. This particular passage comes to me first, as he imagines what he would say to those who question his nutty project of living in the woods alone for two years:

Men frequently say to me, “I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.” I am tempted to reply to such,–This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way?

As things get more and more serious we tend to be more and more careful, and the difficulty of today was in telling our son that it would be best if his friend did not come over. She lives right down the road, is more than likely practicing her own social distancing, is likely safe to have around–but at what point can you know with any certainty that someone outside your family, no matter how trusted, is not carrying this stupid virus? What chance are you willing to take? It appears, at least today, we’re not taking chances. We’re only eight days into this thing and the chances are that it will get worse and that this conversation will get harder and harder. Us married folks, especially us long-time married folks, take each other’s company for granted, I suppose. If we had to, it probably wouldn’t kill us to be apart, but we don’t have to, and so we have each other’s company all through this thing, a huge comfort. But if you’re young and smitten, think what the prospects of weeks away from your friend might signify! The bloody end of the world as we know it. You’ll have to settle for your parents! And for solitude.

I am, I would say, a social person in small doses. I love small, intimate gatherings but I loath crowded social events–and I do love solitude. Thoreau again:

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

I think that my son has inherited some of this from me. He’ll spend gobs of time in his room “alone.” Most of that time he is not really alone, occupied as he usually is with communications in real time with his gaming buddies. But when he practices his drumming, or when he does his homework, or when he reads, he seems content often to be alone. But this will be difficult and it will get more and more difficult. And my thoughts move from Thoreau to Rilke.  In his Letters to a Young Poet, offering more advice about loving and living than he ever gives about writing, he gifts to the young poet and subsequently the entire world that famous and absolutely incalculable good advice: Hold to the difficult. Today’s reading, not a poem but a piece of prose–from a poet, a selection I hope you find as comforting as I do in times of difficulty.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #5

The day begins with session 10 of a guided meditation with Sam Harris. I’m not a huge fan of guided meditations, per se, because I feel while I’m meditating I don’t want somebody else’s voice in my head. But I am a fan of Sam Harris, so I figured, since he gifted me a free year’s subscription to Waking Up, that I’d live for awhile with Sam Harris’ voice in my head while I meditate. I’m learning some things. His guidance seems grounded to me, down to earth, less woo woo and more you you. In fact, that’s the thing I like best about him: there’s no woo woo.

RenĂ© and I take another long dog walk, our fifth in a row, I think. The dogs are so stupidly happy it’s not even funny.

Feeling rather spunky this morning, I turn to Whitman for the poem of the day. I land on the famous concluding section, #52, of “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass. 

As I am preparing to record a poetry recitation in the back yard, I pause for a mostly delightful conversation with my student-teacher about how we might possibly reconnect with our students and recreate something of a learning community again in the virtual world. We are hatching plans. Meanwhile, her guy, a union representative for nurses, is working 16 hour days during our time of the plague. We talked more about paradox.

I begin recording #52 with the distant rattle of my son practicing his rudimental drumming on a marching snare drum in the basement.  I attempt many takes before I get it right. I get some really funny ones during which, after the transcendent lines of Whitman, I botch a line and start to curse–the evidence of which I have deleted from my phone–which somewhat disappoints me now. It’s not every day you get to hear “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” followed by an F bomb.

My son comes outside! We play with dogs. We reminisce about the playhouse we finally took down, about sitting in there years ago under cover while a thunderstorm raged, and about badminton competitions in the front yard. All our rackets are broken. All the birdies are gone. We are inspired to walk to a sporting goods store for some new badminton supplies. We return with two new rackets and three birds.

We play badminton without a net, trying to set the back-and-forth record, a thing we haven’t done together for three years or better. We get to 20 and can never get beyond it, fighting the whole time against an uncooperative head-wind. I had the wind at my advantage, but in this kind of non-competitive match, the wind is at no one’s advantage.

I manage more effectively today to stay clear of the news, but in times like this it is mostly impossible, and maybe not desirable. I want to know if our Governor Brown would follow California’s suit, a “stay-in-place” order. Apparently she has not, but our numbers are still climbing. 114 cases in Oregon, four of which are in my county. There are 4,500 cases in New York City. Despite this perspective, we continue trying not to be afraid. My dreams have been strange. I am still out of whiskey.

As I put the finishing touches on this dispatch and attach my backyard Whitman video, I realize I have two problems: 1. some strange audio glitch over the “boot soles” line, and 2. an inexplicable deletion of half a second elsewhere, making that particular line incomprehensible. This will not do. I will begin again, and post late, post-haste.

Whitman is the antidote today, even though working with him has proved difficult. It wasn’t his fault. Please enjoy and forgive the lack of green in the backdrop of Leaves. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Help someone out who needs it. Sound your barbaric yawp.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #4

It’s only been four days, but I miss my students, I miss my student teacher, I miss my colleagues, and I miss that building, oddly enough, perhaps, the most constant and stable thing in my adult life, my school and my classroom like another home. Meanwhile, the sun shines, the dogs get another long walk. Another beautiful day on which to ponder this darkness.

Every once in a while, in my professional capacity, I get riled up about something. On Wednesday, March 11, a single day before we learned schools would be closed, I attended a morning staff meeting that irked me to such a degree that I did the thing I usually do in such circumstances: I began an open letter in order to air my grievances. I was committed and passionate and insistent about all the things that went (as I perceived them) wrong during that particular staff meeting. I had decided to share it with my bosses. I spent hours on this thing. And almost immediately after learning that schools would be shut down, my indignation totally deflated.

If nothing else, in these strange times, incomparable for me to anything in my entire experience on the planet, we tend to winnow through stuff that concerns us to find what we hold most dear, find most important and life-giving, and let the rest fall away like chaff. Maybe someday, that indignant feeling about bad staff meetings in an otherwise idyllic working environment (outside of the intense difficulty of the job) will bubble back up, and I may have an opportunity and an obligation to speak. But right now, all I want to do is read, write, make music, love my family, do the odd thing that needs doing around the house and yard, walk the dogs, ride the bike, and recite poetry.

I seem to be gravitating toward my all time favorite poems, as one does. This one: the first Mary Oliver poem I ever heard and the one I come back to over and over, “Wild Geese.”

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #3

Number of cases of coronavirus in Oregon: 75. Number of Oregon deaths from the virus: 3. Number of student contact days lost thus far: 3. Number of student contact days expected to be lost, as of this moment: 27. Number of educational hours potentially lost: approximately 175. Number of plans in place (or announced) for remote schooling: 0.  Number of prom nights canceled: 1. Number of IB exams students will be ill-prepared to take or might miss altogether: 11. Number of graduation ceremonies postponed or cancelled: unknown.

Unknown.

It is strange to know so little. It is strange to be in the middle of or in the beginning stages of a pandemic but not know a single soul who is sick from it. It is strange to think about any number of people you know who might have it or might get it. It is strange to be living in a constant nagging fear regarding your own health, your wife’s, your child’s. It is strange to have this great gift of time opening up before us. It is strange to think that the very best way to help might be in doing absolutely nothing–or at least–in going absolutely nowhere. I haven’t driven a car in four days. On our walk with the dogs this morning there were lots of people out walking or biking the recreational trail in our neighborhood, everyone keeping their distance from strangers, of course, but greeting people nevertheless as they passed, everyone polite, cheerful, kind, as if it were any Saturday spring morning happening on a Wednesday. I saw a student of mine and we said hello gleefully but did not stop to talk. I’ve spent a lot of time with my dogs. I read them poetry in the back yard.  I am thinking about embarking on a few ambitious creative projects. I am reading fiction.

Meanwhile, politics.

Never mind. I’m meditating every morning with Sam Harris on the Waking Up app. He gave me a free year’s subscription just for asking. That was kind of him, I think. The poem I chose to read today, first to the dogs in the back yard, then on my front porch into the stupid smart phone video recorder, is a favorite William Stafford poem, a poem that for years now we have been reading to our juniors on the very first day of class, and that I have read to seniors on the very last day of class. It’s all about the moment, friends, and serves us well as a meditation for this time, an appropriate mantra in our uncertainty. Take the best of care, everyone. “You Reading This, Be Ready.”

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #2

Good news and bad news.

Here’s the good news, in no particular order: the dogs got a walk two days in a row. I rode my bike two days in a row. I fixed the kitchen sink all by myself. It’s another beautiful day, weather-wise. Feels almost like BBQ season. The government is thinking about sending everyone money. The Boomtown Rats released a new album on Friday. Every single one of these sentences seem about the same length. While two members of my household are mostly recovered from late winter colds, no one in the family has a fever. We are all more or less healthy, and yet (this may count as bad news), when I told my chiropractor’s office that I was recovering from a cold, they postponed my visit for a week–no massage for me today.

And here’s the bad news, in order of severity, from this vantage point: The death toll from COVID-19 in our neighboring state, Washington, is up to 50, half of the total nation-wide. The number of confirmed cases in Oregon rises to 66, almost double from the stats I saw yesterday. One fatality. The governor extends the statewide school closure to April 28. That’s my job. That’s what I do. Restaurants are closed except for take-out. Bars are closed. Musicians can’t gig. The Flaming Lips did not perform in Portland with the Oregon Symphony. Having nothing but time on one’s hands, sometimes it is difficult to choose a thing to do. I spent maybe a half an hour today trying to decide between riding a bike and reading a book. I find it super difficult to stop touching my face. I’ve noticed of late that I often make inexplicable typographical errors. I have not yet heard the new Boomtown Rats album. It’s St. Patty’s day and there are only two beers in the fridge. I am out of whiskey.

So I decided to ride first, read later. Bike then book. I picked up Emily Dickinson: “There is no Frigate like a Book.” And that inspired the following video and the initial dive into Joan Frank’s Where You’re All Going. I’m hoping this lovely book by this beautiful friend will provide some answers.

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A Journal of the Plague Year: #1

We learned Thursday night, March 12, 2020, that spring break would be extended significantly. School is cancelled, the buildings are shuttered, by order of our state governor, for an extra week and some change. School business will not resume until April 1. Friday was our last day in session before this mandatory break. We were told to take everything home that we thought we’d need. We were told there was no expectation that we would even attempt to work with our students remotely. Think of these days like you would snow days, they told us, only considerably less fun. And it appeared no one was having fun on Friday. There was nothing like that excited expectation before a holiday break, from students or staff. Many students stayed home. I had 8 kids in my second period class. And, despite students’ relatively good spirits and a tendency toward a healthy dose of gallows humor, I felt most of the day on the verge of tears.

Four million people live in the state of Oregon. There have been 36 reported and confirmed cases of the Coronavirus to date and one death in our state. I understand that this is not a comfort, that the numbers will rise. But the weekend felt almost normal. My son and I made a foray out into the world for some retail therapy. He had gift cards burning a hole in his pocket and it had been awhile since the two of us had had any kind of father-son outing. So we went to The Mystery Gallery, we had lunch at Cha Cha Cha, we walked across the street to Things from Another World, and we drove downtown to Powell’s City of Books. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I remember asking him if maybe it wouldn’t be better to save the drive to Powell’s for another day in our extended break. He insisted we do it that day, so we did, and it wasn’t more than a few hours later, that evening, I think, or maybe Sunday morning when Powell’s announced that they would be closing all of their stores.

The word surreal doesn’t even cut it. It snowed Saturday morning, but today, Monday, the first official day of our district’s closure, it feels like spring has arrived. I went for a bike ride without a coat on. Outside, all seems right as rain, but today, the recommendation from the White House is that we shouldn’t gather in groups of more than ten individuals. Our governor is considering closing down restaurants and clubs, maybe since the last time I checked she’s gone ahead to announce that decision. It’s hard to keep up and it’s hard not to worry. I worry that I shouldn’t have gone out with my son on Saturday. I second guess the decision to allow a friend of his to visit. I’m not sure my wife should have left just now to go to the store. If her clientele for private music instruction drops off we could be in a financial pickle. And how long will this go on? Absolutely everything is up in the air. I comfort myself with a reminder that, no, not everything is up in the air. We have shelter and food, books to read, lots of music to listen to, instruments to play, and games. We love each other. And we have our health. Last night in the democratic debate Joe Biden announced he was healthy, and then he said, “Knock on wood” while giving himself a couple of knuckle raps to the forehead. I thought that was super funny. We have our sense of humor. And we have poetry. Welcome to A Journal of the Plague Year. I’m stealing that title from Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders fame because I can and because it feels fitting. I don’t know if I will keep this up or not. Only time will tell. Things might get a bit tedious around here as the Chaos of the world intensifies. There’s a paradox for you. And here’s another one, apt for the situation, I think.

I will close with one of my favorites from Rumi: “The Guest House.”

 

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