Dear Diary: March 23, 2020. Today is the fifth day of Nevada’s 30-day stay-at-home order. I’m not going to lie, it’s a little bit funny (amusing) to see all my extrovert friends’ responses to this new reality. I’m used to not hearing much from them because they’re always busy doing things “out there” in the real world. But now, I see their social media feeds suddenly booming with activity and I receive text messages about all the littlest things they’re doing or that happen to them. I hope they’re okay! I’m an introvert but not exactly a homebody. I like to be out and about, too, just mostly alone. I especially like to go out for walks and to head to my local coffee shop down the street to write/work in the mornings. The coffee shop is closed, of course, so that’s been impossible. It’s hard to motivate myself to keep the same schedule at home. I’ve been waking up much later and not getting as much of my own, personal work done as usual; that’s not great. I am, however, making a conscious effort to act as if I’m going about business as usual, meaning showering, getting dressed, etc. I’m not one of those “teach online courses in my pajamas” kinds of people. If you can do it, great for you, but psychologically, I need to “get in the mode.”
A thought I’ve been having lately: I think we, the entire planet, should shut down like this for two weeks, twice per year, every year. Do you live in or around a stay-at-home region? Have you looked at the sky? Here, the views are absolutely stunning. The air is so clean. I know a lot of people are sick and dying and that’s no reason to cheer. But what if we could find a way to come together, all of humanity, to respect our planet in this way regularly and on purpose? I hope we don’t forget what the world looks like and feels like right now, when all of this is over. But of course we will.
Recently Read: Good Poems for Hard Times selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor. Perhaps my favorite part of this anthology is its dedication: “To the English teachers of America, doing good work every day, with admiration and affection from an old student.” How lovely. It’s nice to be recognized sometimes, even though Keillor’s reputation is currently questionable. That aside, the anthology is a nice one. It is separated into 10 sections by theme, some of which work better than others. To be honest, I expected the themes to hold together a bit better than they did. I was also hoping for some notes or annotations on the poems or, at the very least, as introductions to each part of the anthology. It’s really just a bunch of collected poems, though. That’s fine, I guess, except it wouldn’t be too difficult to just pop on Poets.org or The Poetry Foundation and browse. In other words, I don’t think there’s much connection between the poems, the themes, and the promised title, Good Poems for Hard Times. I just wanted a little more. That said, there are some brilliant poems in here, including classics that were fun to revisit as well as poems I’d never heard of. Some of my favorites in here are “Happiness” by Raymond Carver; “Working in the Rain” by Robert Morgan; “Sonnet CVI: When in the Chronicle of Wasted Time” by William Shakespeare; “A Spiral Notebook” by Ted Kooser; “Berryman” by W.S. Merwin; “Last Days” by Donald Hall; and “Death Mask” by Edward Field.
Currently Reading: Yesterday, I finished reading In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Or did I finish it two days ago? In any case, I finished it and plan to watch the movie today or tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapted the book to the big screen because the narration is peculiar. I won’t say much more than that since I hope to write out a complete review at some point. I’m also about half-way done with The Princess Bride by William Goldman, which as been a lot of fun so far. The second half of Part 5 was a riot. I’m still reading Cohen’s poetry collection and today I’ll also begin reading Toni Morrison’s Sula. It’s impossible not to look forward to reading Morrison, isn’t it? I need to get back to my non-fiction reading, too, though. I have dozens of magazines stacked up, not to mention my copy of The Age of Atheists, which I had been making great progress with for a while but which has been neglected for too long.
Currently Writing: I submitted three poems recently and have a number out there that I wait to hear back about. I also just stumbled across another book about writing memoir, which a friend is currently reading or has on deck. I’m not sure, actually. It was posted to someone’s Instagram feed, I looked it up, it seemed good, I ordered it. Ha! I’m continuing to work on new poetry and to revise a dozen or so poems that I have written. I’ll get back to working on revisions to my novel soon, especially if I can manage to adjust my internal clock again and get to work here at home in the mornings. I miss my coffee shop!
Currently Listening To: Sufjan Stevens, Carrie and Lowell (2015). “Well you do enough talk / My little hawk, why do you cry? / Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn? / Or the Fourth of July? / We’re all gonna die.” Okay, so I have a dark sense of humor. Deal with it. This is probably Stevens’s best album, which is saying something because all of his work is incredible. There’s something deeply personal and touching about this one, though; where many of his albums have connections to times and places, this one is intentionally (auto)biographical. It’s a painful story. It’s a little crazy to think it was released a decade after Illinoise, which is the album that put him on the map. I can’t think of many artists who bookend a decade with their best works. (Aside: Did you know Dolly Parton has had a Top 20 hit in 6-consecutive decades!? She’s the only musician to do so. Now that we are in 2020, if she gets another one, she can make that 7-consecutive decades. Come on, Dolly!)
Teaching Updates: As I mentioned above, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping up with my students despite now having five online courses. I am eager to try a lot of these new tools and programs that I’m discovering courtesy of the pandemic collaborations that are going on among teachers right now. Zoom looks particularly interesting to me, mostly for its background options, though. I saw a professor who was giving his lecture with the Hogwarts castle as his background and must admit to getting a bit jealous! I have no camera on my home computer, though, so I’ve mostly been recording lectures with Camtasia. It’s working well, I think. I’m not sure now is the time for me to really play around with all the new stuff anyway. I might turn it into a summer project or, someday, a sabbatical project for online pedagogy.
Current Status: As of Sunday 3/22, the Nevada Department of Health reports 191 cases of COVID-19. That’s double the amount that had been reported as of three days ago (which means it doubled in 48-hours.) If that’s the trend, then we are looking at something truly horrifying, but I think most of us realize that by now. Look what’s happening in Italy, Spain, and New York. On the horizon seem to be New Orleans and Florida, due to the recent large public gatherings (Mardi Gras and Spring Break) in both places. Here in Nevada, traffic has slowed, skies have cleared, and stores still struggle to stock the essentials. We have gone out every day for exactly one week, looking for toilet paper only to be denied. Our local grocer changed its hours last week from closing at midnight to closing at 10pm. Last night, they began closing at 8pm. They need the extra hours to stock the shelves because they’ve been getting so wiped out. Will this stabilize soon?
Positive Thoughts: I like to think about the earth breathing freely right now, for the first time in how long? I’ve seen all sorts of commentary about how humans are the real virus, etc. I can understand that point of view; we’ve certainly done a number on this beautiful place we all call home. It’s really a wonder to look around now and to be able to see for miles and miles. The mountain vistas are in crisp, clear focus. I can see detail where, just a couple weeks ago, there were only amorphous hazes. Despite some selfish dolts that remain flippant about our current situation, I’m also heartened to see and hear about so many people out there who are helping others. A pre-Med student at the University of Nevada, Reno, for example, started a volunteer service to provide grocery shopping and delivery for the elderly who can’t (or shouldn’t) leave their homes right now. The songs of Italy, the companies that are doing everything they can to keep their employees paid, the artists who have taken their work online and begun streaming for free; the teachers and technicians offering mini-lessons in everything from guitar to painting to cooking. And of course, the essential workers, who we’re all seeing at last. The nurses and doctors, teachers and grocers, transporters and farmers. I send up a great cheer to them all. Let’s continue supporting them. Be kind to them, and to each other.
“We are all here to help each other to get through this thing, whatever it is.” -Kurt Vonnegut, quoting his son Mark.