4 posts

The Groundhog Pandemic Sees Its Shadow


Friday. On the Internet, it’s historically a slow day. Why? A lot of folks have already started the weekend. Some take it off with regularity. Others leave for home early.

But now, people who used to work but no longer do because of the pandemic say things like, “I don’t even know what day it is anymore.”

OK, then. Call it Friday. A historically slow day.

One acquaintance told me she has dispensed with days of the week altogether. She says it’s Groundhog Day every day.

Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil would be pleased, as would the Buddhists, who are wondering if you are taking this “every day feels the same” opportunity to make yourself a better person.

Are you?

If your house is not chaotic with close-quartered family, you may be reading a lot. Trouble is, a lot of readers are concluding that books they read are “probably not the best choice, given present circumstances.”

I’ve seen this conclusion for most every type of book out there. My conclusion, then? It’s not the book. It’s the reader.

Man, does the first cup of coffee (black) satisfy the most. The second doesn’t quite match it, taste-wise. You can’t go home again. Thus spake Thomas Wolfe, forgotten author.

Speaking of, another friend of political bent emailed yet another “Who’s afraid of Thomas Wolfe” fear: maybe the United States can’t go home again, either.  Or any country after this.

Seems thuggish autocrats (as he calls them) are using Covid-19 as cover to advance their agendas and consolidate their powers. It may be, by the time the virus lets up, that democracy (in so-called “democratic” countries) will be the biggest casualty. All while no one was looking. Or while everyone was distracted.

“Wisconsin is the harbinger in the U.S. That and the Supreme Court blessing, 5-4, for risking people’s lives to run a pandemic election that suppressed voter turnout and worked to the advantage of the powers-that-be. That’s Wisconsin-speak for ‘Republicans’.”

Then he said, “If you don’t know what that means for the country as a whole, then your wallet’s being picked while you’re smiling.”

Great. As if the pandemic weren’t bad enough, spider webs in my wallet are being picked while I’m trying to remember how to smile. Cue the Artful Dodger.

Shall I sum this up with a “Happy weekend, friends”? Nah. I can no longer summon the enthusiasm.

Rather, in honor of yet another Groundhog Day, the movie and the Buddhist metaphor, I’ll contemplate the Zen koan: “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

Questions are so much sweeter than answers, aren’t they?

A Little Good News in a World of Bad News


Talking to friends and family on the phone (and neighbors outside—at a distance), I hear the same refrain: These are awful times.

Of course we state the obvious with these four words, but there are two things to consider: These could be worse times, one. And there are silver linings even in the worst of times, two.

Let’s start with the first. As any reader of dystopian fiction can tell you, a pandemic could be much worse than what we are presently experiencing. While Covid-19 kills at a much higher rate than the usual flu viruses (Types A & B) that infect people each winter, imagine where we’d be if the coronavirus were more lethal still.

In Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven, for instance, 99% of the world population is wiped out in short order by a virus. Before we leave that sobering number, consider how ill-prepared we were for the present pandemic. Will nations of the world learn their lessons once a vaccine is found for Covid-19 and be better prepared for the next crisis, or will they slip back into complacency and cut programs designed to stockpile and ready ourselves for something even worse?

Now that I’ve depressed you (I fear we each had the same answer to that question, given the “leadership” we’ve seen in the present pandemic), let’s move to the silver lining.

One of the eeriest memories I have from 9/11 is the empty skies. I looked up and it was nothing but God’s blue. No silver specks slowly moving across the celestial vault. No contrails stitching sky. No distant drones of airplane engines.

These past few weeks, I’ve noticed something similar but much less eerie. I go out on long walks and our street, typically semi-busy, is all but empty. Completely empty, if you go out between 6 and 8 a.m.

The dog and I walk the middle of the road like it’s a wide pedestrian path. Instead of the sound of tires on tar, the sounds of nature are magnified. The cardinals, nuthatches, and flickers. The chickadees. Ducks from the pond. A red squirrel chittering. Spring peepers from the bog.

The lack of competition from man-made sound has gifted us with the sounds of nature our forebears once enjoyed, sounds with no competition from human invention. The quiet, even interrupted by the tapping of a Pileated Woodpecker, seems so…gentle. And lovely, too.

Maybe it’s not much, but in awful times like these, we have to reach for “not much” and cherish it. Humans hunkered down means nature unleashed, as if our surroundings have, overnight, become game preserves and nature conservancies, all magnified by the rites of spring.

That’s right. Spring. A budding branch of normalcy populated with “life is as it should be” actors who go about their usual rituals.

Take it, I say. It’s good for the soul and nourishes the body. Silver linings like that shouldn’t be passed up.

Thoughts at the Dawn of a Pandemic


Random thoughts at the Dawn of a Pandemic:

  • Without realizing the topic, I picked up a copy of Station Eleven ten days ago, started reading, and discovered it is about a flu virus that wipes out 99% of the earth’s population.
  • I’m not sure if this coincidence is a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Why it might be a bad thing: I’ve had it with watching televised news about Covid-19. I don’t think it’s alarmist, but I do think it’s depressing. Reading this book isn’t helping.
  • Until now, I little realized how much I used televised sports as an escapist pastime. I’m not a big TV show or movie buff, so when I watch the tube, it’s usually to enjoy basketball, baseball, or football. Who would’ve ever believed the plug would be pulled on all of it?
  • Silver lining: More time for reading and writing!
  • I wondered if the Covid-Effect would manifest itself on Submittable. Would all the closures and staying indoors mean a faster response from editors reading writers’ work?
  • In a word: No.
  • Though I live in a state with only three recorded cases of the coronavirus, I’m not kidding myself. The lack of tests (way to go, self-proclaimed “greatest country on earth”!) simply means it’s here in bigger numbers that are just not diagnosed yet. Like inconvenient ghosts, maybe.
  • Speaking of depressing, I was at the grocery store yesterday.
  • Bare shelving space report: toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol & aloe gel (used for homemade sanitizer), thermometers, water, flour, sugar.
  • Apparently the cure for Covid-19 is to eat lots of homemade bread and cookies, then take War & Peace into the bathroom for a stretch before washing your hands through two rounds of “Happy Birthday.”
  • And what’s with the bottled water panic? Does Covid-19 take away our power? Shut down our wells? Maybe I need to read more of Station Eleven to understand.
  • Nothing has exposed Trump and his cronies like this virus. Covid-19 is completely impervious to his penchant for bending the truth and gas lighting. Ditto to his advisers on Fox News, some of whom remain adamant that this is “just a cold” and “another attempt to impeach the president.”
  • Sorry, but the president is impeaching himself.
  • And while we’re at it, can we stop blaming other countries for all of this? Holding your leaders accountable for measures (or lack thereof) taken is legitimate. Demonizing other nations is decidedly not.
  • Yesterday someone told me how the closure of public events, the social distancing, and the panic buying are “already getting old.” What? In less than a week? This could last for months or even a year!
  • Silver lining: Obsessive compulsive hand cleaning protects you from garden-variety colds and flus, too.
  • How to make the pandemic work for you: Take on a big goal you can do from home. One you’ve been putting off forever, like reading William Wordsworth’s Preludes or Lucy Ellman’s seemingly endless Ducks, Newburyport.
  • As for your excuse for not writing (“I’m busy!”), it’s looking increasingly lame these days.
  • Covid-19 does not like the great outdoors. The enemy of your enemy is your friend.
  • Meaning: If you don’t have a dog, walk yourself every day.
  • Except during rain, I’ve been walking the beach every morning. There’s something comforting about the eternal sea. It never changes no matter what is going on around you. And its sounds and smells send you back to when you were a kid.
  • Unless you’re from Iowa.
  • Advice: If you’re one of the panic buyers who bought a truckload of toilet paper and canned soup, offer your elderly neighbors some (especially if they finally made it to the store and found nothing but bare shelves).
  • Add an “e” to human, humans, and be humane to each other during these difficult times. We get through hardships better together. Every man for himself only makes a bad situation worse.
  • Happy weekend, and remember the words of the prophet: “This, too, shall pass.”

Coronavirus-Resistant Poetry


I woke up this morning to discover that the National Basketball Association has suspended its season and that Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hanks are infected by Covid-19. That plus Europe going into a Trump travel-ban bottle starting tomorrow. All this while I am reading the post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven. It’s about life after a flu that wipes out 99% of the earth. Picking it up was either perfect or imperfect timing. I’m not sure yet.

Look. We’ve had scares before. Scares with letters and words like Ebola, SARS, avian flu, etc. But this time, like a very distant last time (some 102 years ago with the so-called Spanish Flu), it’s for real, no matter what the conspiracy theorists or Fox News crazies tell you. This time it seems we’re experiencing an actual innocence lost or, as Hamlet would have it, getting to know our mortal coils more intimately.

We are also experiencing, depending where we live, governmental competence or incompetence. From the Hanks article, I learned that Australia is a very good place to be during this crisis because, unlike the US of A, it took the coronavirus seriously from the start. For Hanks and wife, who happened to be in Australia, testing was available quickly and logically, as it is for all of that country’s citizens. Everyone knows where to go. Everyone knows what to do. And health care concerns are of no concern thanks to Oz’s national health coverage.

South Korea, too, seems to be turning a corner with its quick and efficient testing (even via drive-through set-ups!), whereas confusion seems to be the law of the land in America, which still doesn’t have enough tests out there to get any handle on how many citizens actually have the disease.

Yesterday we were singing Songs of Innocence, and today Songs of Experience. That’s right. In Blake-wise fashion, The Poison Tree is now shading our mental landscapes. So while we’re hunkered down in our own homes, no longer traveling, and no longer hugging or shaking hands with anyone, let’s go down memory lane and remember what we took for granted only a few weeks ago: days when we could joke about mortality by writing a light and humorous poem on life expectancy.

There’s no better man for that fading memory than St. Billy of Collins, of course. Here, during the disorder of our newfound days, is his poem “The Order of the Day.” I hope it brings you both cheer and nostalgia for the fading concepts of comfort and order!


The Order of the Day
Billy Collins

A morning after a week of rain
and the sun shot down through the branches
into the tall, bare windows.

The brindled cat rolled over on his back,
and I could hear you in the kitchen
grinding coffee beans into a powder.

Everything seemed especially vivid
because I knew we were all going to die,
first the cat, then you, then me,

then somewhat later the liquefied sun
was the order I was envisioning.
But then again, you never really know.

The cat had a fiercely healthy look,
his coat so bristling and electric
I wondered what you had been feeding him

and what you had been feeding me
as I turned a corner
and beheld you out there on the sunny deck

lost in exercise, running in place,
knees lifted high, skin glistening—
and that toothy, immortal-looking smile of yours.