Zooming in on What We’re Not Supposed to See 

“Zoom” used to mean fast fast airplanes and fast cars, that noise kids make while moving their toy vehicles across the floor. Zoom, zoom!

“Zoom” also signifies making things closer, like I just did so my old eyes could read what I’m typing.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “zoom” thus:  

1. a: to move with a loud low hum or buzz

    bto go speedily: ZIP cars zooming by on the highway

a: of an airplane: to climb for a short time at an angle greater than that which can be maintained in steady flight so that the machine is carried upward at the expense of stored kinetic energy

3. ato focus a camera or microscope on an object using a zoom lens so that the object’s apparent distance from the observer changes—often used with in or out

bFOCUSZERO: used with in trying to zoom in on the cause of these problems

4to increase sharply: retail sales zoomed

It’s fun to say. Say it with me. Zoom!

But these days, to Zoom means to attend a meeting from home via the Zoom app on your computer, tablet or phone. The other people see you, you see them arrayed in boxes like a photo gallery (or the old Hollywood Squares TV game show), and you talk. It’s not normal or natural, but it’s better than not meeting at all. No driving, no social isolation, no masks.

So where did this kind of zoom come from? San Jose, like me.

Wikipedia says Zoom Video Communications was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, a former Cisco VP who launched his meeting software in 2013. (To read more about Eric Yuan and the origin of the Zoom app, click here.) No surprise, Zoom has made tons of money, especially since the pandemic hit. I mean, who isn’t using Zoom for business, hobbies, or family connections? My brother uses it in the courtroom. My friend Karen Zooms with the family. Our church Zooms for Bible study. Students of all ages are taking classes via Zoom.  We are Zoomin’ all over the place.

Among my old film-camera gear gathering dust, I have a zoom lens, a long lens that lets the photographer get up really close. Think spies and sleuths watching people from their cars or from behind a fence. Or birdwatchers getting pictures of that tiny red-headed finch. Or a portrait photographer getting so close you can see the pores in the subject’s skin.

That’s a little too close. But you know what? That’s how close we’re getting on the computer version of Zoom.

Zoom allows us to stare at people in a way that would be rude in real life. Often facing each other’s faces for an hour or more, it’s hard not to notice every little thing—glasses, freckles, hairdos, is that a zit? I caught glimpses of myself last night as I watched a recorded Zoom meeting. Good Lord, the wrinkles, the bad hair. What was I thinking when I chose that blouse? And then I sneezed. Online. And blew my nose. Gross. The only consolation is that everybody else looks just as bad.

Members of Willamette Writers, Oregon’s statewide writing group for which I co-chair the coast branch, met the other night to prepare for our upcoming conference, July 31-Aug. 2. (Usually in Portland, it will be all online via, you guessed it, Zoom. It should be amazing. Read details at the website and consider attending.) We discussed backgrounds and lighting. You need a plain background, a light that shines on your face, and the camera slightly elevated for a more flattering view. You need to turn off the phones, background noises, kids and dogs. In other words, you need to recreate a TV set in your own home.

I Zoom from all over my house, as well as out in the yard. I’m still seeking the ideal spot where I’m comfortable and can see and be seen. The other morning, I thought the trees were a fabulous backdrop, but I was told I needed to turn around so the sun was shining directly on my face. Then I couldn’t see the computer. It might work on a foggy day like today, but it’s too cold.

I’ve Zoomed in my office, Fred’s old office, the living room, and the kitchen. The other night, caught in a tight schedule, I did an impromptu cooking show as I made my dinner while Zooming. I have not yet Zoomed from my bedroom, but it could happen.

I’m loving this chance to peek into homes I will probably never see in person. It’s like someone stripped away the walls to show us what’s inside. I see pictures, trophies, plaques, and books. I see desks that make me jealous. I see doors and wonder what’s on the other side. I catch glimpses of cats, dogs, spouses, and children.

Again, I’m staring. If we were meeting in person, the homeowner would probably ask, “What are you looking at?” They might be embarrassed that that ratty old chair is what caught my attention or that I’m reading the titles of the books stacked on their desk. I’m a writer. I’m nosy. I’m looking at all these “settings” and getting ideas.

I’m typing in my den right now. If someone caught me on the Zoom camera, they’d see no makeup, uncombed hair, and that behind me on my chair are pants that I washed yesterday but haven’t gotten around to hanging up yet. They’d see the out-of-control plant that still has two Christmas ornaments on it because I didn’t notice them before I put the boxes away. They’d see a huge fog-softened spruce tree out the window. They’d see me, my life. In all this COVID-19 isolation, I admit that I want to be seen, wrinkles and all.

How is the Zoom world going for you? Love it? Hate it? Have you found the ideal Zoom location? Have you given in to the temptation of buying a Zoom light or tripod? Do you have a most embarrassing Zoom moment to share?

 

 

 

 

 

What Does a Writer Do in These COVID Days?

Sue's desk 42420What do you do all day? People keep asking me that. Apparently, there are folks my age who have nothing to do but look for ways to entertain themselves, especially in these odd coronavirus days. My late mother-in-law used to work out her schedule with the TV guide, circling the shows she had to see, stuff like “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Matlock” reruns. In her 80s, widowed, she took care of whatever chores needed doing and settled at her table with the TV Guide and the New York Times crossword puzzle. COVID-19 wouldn’t have changed her schedule any more than it has changed mine.

Doing my accounting, I see that I have fewer restaurant and gas receipts and more online shopping receipts—I gave in to temptation and ordered a “mouth violin,” aka ocarina, yesterday. If you hear odd sounds emanating from the neighborhood just south of the Newport airport, you’ll know it arrived. As if I needed another instrument.

But things haven’t changed that much. What do I do all day? This, what I’m doing now. I work on writing and writing-related tasks most of the day. I write poems, blog posts, essays, book chapters, reviews, etc. I send my work out to publishers. I publicize things I have already written and published. I try—and fail—to read all of my email. I check Facebook a lot.

COVID has actually given me more to do because I’m attending Zoom meetings, workshops and readings several days a week. (Billy Collins, Facebook Live, 2:30 pdt weekdays!) I have a creative nonfiction class and an Alzheimer’s webinar tomorrow, another creative nonfiction class on Wednesday, a reading on Thursday, a committee meeting for Willamette Writers on Friday . . . and on Saturday, I go to St Anthony’s to record music for Sunday’s online Mass. I’m zooming so much I’m dizzy.

Not bored, no way.

I’ve also got all those instruments to practice so that when we come out of isolation, I’ll have a new and improved repertoire. And the dog needs her walk every day, we both need to eat, clothes need washing, floors need sweeping, etc. I am more than halfway through a big garage cleanup, which will probably lead to an extra trip to the chiropractor. After that, I’ll work on the pantry and then the closets and then . . .

What do I do all day? I want to echo my dad who, even in his 90s, would get angry when asked that question. “I work!” he’d shout. Officially retired, he spent his days working on the house and yard. He never did approve of people who didn’t mow their own lawns. I guess I take after him. But I don’t get angry when people ask what I do all day. I know I’m an odd duck, that thing called a writer, and most people are not writers. They know I’m home in my bathrobe and don’t understand why I’m always “busy.” They don’t feel driven to produce words every day and shape them into publishable form. Post-retirement, they look at their days as blank slates. Not me.

I hesitate to call it work, not only because I don’t get paid for most of it, but because it’s fun. I always envisioned myself making quilts in my retirement. For a while, I felt guilty because I wasn’t quilting. I used to quilt. My walls are covered with my strange fabric art, but now I quilt with words. This blog is one square, the poem I wrote yesterday is another, and the book I’m working on is a big old comforter which is mostly done, just needs some work around the edges.

So that’s what I do all day. I write, Zoom, play music, walk the dog, read, and eat. How do you fill your days? How is it different from before COVID turned the world upside down? Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

COVID plus anger a deadly combination

IMG_20160612_105943801[1]I’m typing this on the lounge on my deck on Sunday afternoon. The old dog insists on sharing my space, her haunch touching mine. She’s breathing so hard the computer is shaking. We adapt to each other’s needs.

If only the rest of the world saw it that way.

The news this weekend frightened me. In big cities all over the U.S., people were rioting, breaking windows, looting, and starting fires. Police and military personnel were lined up to try to stop them, but the rioters were throwing things at them and seemingly unstoppable. The sounds of flash grenades, breaking glass, and angry shouting filled the streets of Minneapolis, Seattle, San Jose, Portland, and so many other cities.

This all started last week when a police officer in Minneapolis knelt on a black man’s neck until he died. George Floyd, who was accused of using counterfeit money at a deli, was pleading for mercy, saying he couldn’t breathe, but the cop didn’t let up. There’s a video of it that keeps showing on social media. I can’t watch.

The three cops involved were fired. The one with the knee has been charged with third-degree murder. Not enough, people say. Outraged by yet another instance of white cop violence against black people, people have gone nuts.

There were some peaceful protests—speeches, signs, singing, prayers. In fact, there’s going to be one today in front of Newport’s city hall at 2 p.m. That makes sense. We need to mark the horror of this and try to stop it from happening again.

But it didn’t stop with peaceful demonstrations. Something broke loose, and people started destroying their cities. I watched on TV as looters smashed store windows, ran in and grabbed stuff and put it in their cars, with no concern for the poor business owners who had nothing to do with George Floyd’s death and are just trying to survive COVID-19. Some are just reopening. Some, like in Portland, are still in lockdown, losing money every day as it is.

Many of those arrested in the melee are reportedly young white men, not brokenhearted black people. There are all kinds of rumors about terrorist groups, white supremacists and people fed up with the COVID restrictions. I don’t know, but I’m appalled. George Floyd’s brother was on TV yesterday pleading for the rioters to stop. His brother wouldn’t want this.

The virus didn’t seem to be on anyone’s minds. The cops and journalists wore masks, but many of the destroyers violated all the rules, their mindset being “nobody can tell us what to do.”

Anarchy frightens me. I get real scared when people are out of control.

Walking with Annie, I noticed how the greenery has grown like crazy in this spring of alternating sun and rain. Ferns, buttercups, berries, salal, wild daisies, and scotch broom are all growing willy-nilly, out of control, one might say, like those people. But plants are not like people because they don’t destroy anything for the sake of destruction. Animals either. They only kill so they can eat. They don’t rip things up for the hell of it. What is wrong with humans? For the first time in my life, I am beginning to believe Satan or at least some evil entity exists.

I know everyone is tired of sheltering in place. I know that masks are uncomfortable. I know people have lost their jobs and their income. Their kids can’t go to school, and we can’t visit each other, even in the hospital, and it sucks. I know that all these coronavirus precautions may seem like overkill, especially if we’re someplace like Newport which so far has only a few confirmed cases, but that’s no reason to start destroying things or fighting with each other.

I enjoyed our long walk. It’s gorgeous out here this time of year. But I’m scared, probably more scared of the anger than I am of the virus. I thank God I live out here in the woods with Annie, who never gets angry and who accepts the rules as necessary for our mutual health and comfort. Can’t leave without a leash? Fine. Have to wait to eat until Sue says grace? Fine. Have to leave the sticks outside? Oh, okay. Why can’t people be the same way?

Why are people rioting when most of us are just trying to stay alive? What will the COVID numbers look like two weeks from now? God help us.

Forgive the sermonette. I’m troubled. Pray if you believe. Whatever you believe, spread peace and love, not hate or coronavirus. Pass it on.

Venturing Out in Oregon’s Phase One

Okay, I did it. I ventured out into the new world of Lincoln County’s Phase One reopening. Parts of my journey were almost normal, parts very much not. Fear of COVID-19 still hovers everywhere.

Post office. Mask on. Rush in, grab my junk mail from the box, rush out.

Out to lunch! First time sitting in a restaurant since March 13. Sitting in my usual section at Off the Hook, just south of the Yaquina Bridge, I could look out the window at the La Quinta hotel across the street and the traffic on 101 and pretend nothing had changed.

I wore my mask in, but of course I couldn’t eat with it on, so I stashed it in my purse. At 11:45, I was the only customer.

The owner, a big guy with curly reddish hair, did all the hosting and serving, no sign of the usual servers. He wore a yellow mask and offered a paper menu that he tore up as soon as I had made my selection. They were still restocking, he explained. Items that he had in stock were highlighted in yellow. No problem. They had my crispy chicken sandwich with fries and iced tea.

He was exceedingly polite. Ma’am this and thank you that. I asked how he was doing in this crazy time. Doing the best we can, he said.

After noon, others arrived. It’s a seat-yourself place, but the owner moved one party, noting the COVID regulations. Have to spread out, he reminded them.

The food was delicious, as was the novel I was reading, Same Sweet Girls by Cassandra King. I drank enough iced tea to keep me awake for days. I ate every bite of French fry, every pickle, and every bit of breading that fell off my chicken.

A nearby TV screen played a Ducks-Beavers baseball game. I thought nothing of it at first, but then thought: wait, the universities are closed, and nobody is playing baseball now. Plus the two Oregon teams only play each other once a year. It’s a big deal and certainly not happening on an ordinary Wednesday in May. This game was a rerun.

It felt great to be out. I admired the neon beer signs on the wall opposite me and the soft country music easing out of the speakers. Maybe it was actually a lot louder; I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids. My hearing aid guy warns that many of his clients have lost hearing aids while putting on or taking off their masks. I wasn’t taking a chance.

I lingered, I read, I sipped tea.

Restroom? I thought about making a pit stop at home, the only facilities guaranteed COVID-free, but doing the math, I could see that all of the restaurant workers were male, and the two female customers had not left their booth, so the restroom was probably clean. I used it, taking my time washing my hands and drying them with the blow dryer.

Next stop, groceries. I’m getting used to the whole thing. The mask, sanitizing my cart, not touching what I don’t intend to buy. Who knew I was such a toucher? J.C. Market is considerably less hectic than Fred Meyer, although more expensive, and prices seem to have gone up. My bill was a shocking $181. I took my time at the store, too, browsing, picking up things I might need and things I definitely needed.

Most of the shoppers and staff were wearing masks. I have noticed the competition for cool masks is ramping up. Just wait till my music mask arrives in the mail. Meanwhile, I didn’t feel like I was suffocating this time.

At the checkstand, my cashier Paula was more relaxed, too. I had brought back the heavy plastic bags they sold me before. You’ll have to load them, she said. Fine. But then a bagger appeared and I let him do it. Soon I was back in the car slathering my hands with sanitizer.

My last stop was Poolside Jan’s, which sells spas and supplies for maintaining them. I needed bromine big-time. The water was starting to smell funky. Were they open? Sort of. A big sign on the door said: STOP. Customers were instructed to telephone and place an order which would be brought out to them. While I was listening to the phone ring, a worker pushed open the heavy door just enough to peek out. A table blocked passage. I told her I needed bromine tablets. Large or small? Large. $61, she said. Ouch. In a minute, she brought me the huge bottle and I passed in my debit card. I waited till she returned with card and receipt, then backed away for me to lean in and grab my bromine, card and receipt. “These are weird times,” she said. “Sure are,” I answered.

Coming out of the parking lot I almost ran head-on into a van coming out of the coffee kiosk across the street. Luckily, the other driver stopped and wound up following me onto southbound 101. At the stoplight, I took off my mask. Done. Whew.

Home. Some blue peeking through the clouds. Trees moving slightly in the breeze. Robin pecking for worms. Annie anxious for her walk as I put everything away.

Now it’s Memorial Day. This weekend, our coastal communities have been deluged with tourists, most of them not wearing masks or keeping their distance. It’s like trying to hold back a tsunami. We are still supposed to social distance, wear masks, and avoid congregating in groups. We are not supposed to travel more than 50 miles from home–all of Oregon big cities are more than 50 miles away–but the visitors are here.

The pandemic is not over. We have done so well up to now in Lincoln County. We have only had nine people testing positive for the virus, nobody dying, largely because the locals have stayed home and the tourists have stayed away. I’m afraid that’s going to change now. I enjoyed my foray into the world, but I will continue to limit my travels. I’ve got food, bromine, dog, guitar, Netflix, and Zoom. I’m staying home.

Have you gone back to normal activities at this point? Please share in the comments.

Bunnies and Beavers in the Bushes

We’ve got bunnies in the bushes. Brush rabbits, gray, medium sized, shy. One seems to live here. I have seen it nibbling the dandelions in my back yard and sunning at the edge of the road out front. I watch it from the windows, saying nothing to my dog. To Annie, rabbits are messed-up cats that need to be chased out. But our local rabbit is pretty good at scooting back through the fence to safety, quick as a bunny, you might say.

Bunny
brush rabbit photo from Wikipedia

Sometimes the rabbits are not quick enough to escape the cougars and other predators that live in the area. I have sadly buried dismembered bunny body parts (which look alarmingly like chicken parts from the grocery store), not just because I love rabbits, but because I don’t want Annie to eat them. Since she considers the whole neighborhood her personal smorgasbord, it could happen.

Yesterday, we had just begun our walk, moving slowly because my back is out of whack again, when we came upon a dead rabbit by the neighbor’s mailbox. It was perfectly still, eyes open, no blood. Was it hit by a car?

“Oh no,” I said. “Poor bunny.” Annie approached it slowly, bending to smell its gray-brown fur. Just before her nose touched the rabbit, it jumped up and bolted into the salal and blackberries. Startled, I screamed and burst out laughing while my dog spent the next 10 minutes trying to find the rabbit. It was not dead at all, just “playing possum.” Apparently it didn’t see us coming until it was too late to flee, so it did the next best thing. It sure looked dead. Even Annie believed it.

Although we’re constantly told there’s big wildlife around here—cougars, bears, elk—on our daily walks, we see mostly the smaller things: garter snakes, newts, frogs, beetles and caterpillars. Many are smashed on the road. It’s a tough world out there. If the big cats don’t get you, a Ford 4×4 might do the job.

River otter 520But there are exceptions. There’s a pond around the corner, an offshoot of Thiel Creek. Neighbors with a sense of humor have planted five wooden ducks there. The ducks bob around, couple up, and look pretty real for birds with no feet. One in a while, live birds drop in, including a blue heron. The other day, a river otter stopped by. I’m not sure how it got in or out, but I caught a picture before it took offense at my camera and dove into the water.

Birds—robins, Stellar’s jays, doves, sparrows, juncos, woodpeckers—offer musical accompaniment to our walks. In the spring, blue butterflies fly along beside us. At twilight, mosquitoes join in.

During this time of sheltering in place, Annie and I have continued our daily walks. While I’m fascinated by the wildlife, Annie is drawn to the people. We wave at folks passing in their cars or neighbors mowing their lawns. Children playing in the street rush up to pet the “doggie.” Older people stop to stroke her ears and tell her she’s a “good boy.” Why does everyone get her gender wrong?

A few adults have stood back, afraid they might catch COVID-19 from her fur. I stand at the far end of the six-foot leash, social distancing. Even though I don’t touch anything, I wash my hands like crazy when I get home. It’s sad to be so afraid. As we begin Phase 1 of reopening beaches and businesses on the Oregon coast this week, I hope we don’t see a lot of people getting sick. The tourist spots are already getting crowded. Meanwhile, those of us who live here are as scared as that rabbit that played dead yesterday. I’ll bet it didn’t come back out to the street for a long time.

Maybe a year ago, we had a possum playing dead in the back yard while Annie had a barking fit. Of course it was late at night. Of course I had to go out in the wet grass in my fuzzy slippers. The possum played dead so thoroughly I touched its fur—soft!—and it didn’t move. I dragged the dog in by the collar, gave her a Milk-bone and locked her in. Sure enough, in the morning the possum was gone.

If you’re getting cabin fever, go for a walk. Look around. Even in human isolation, we are not alone.

 

‘No Contact’ now something to brag about

Lately businesses have been advertising “no contact” delivery. For example, Domino’s workers will bring you a pizza, leave it on your porch, text you that it is there, and drive away. You don’t have to see the delivery person or exchange money hand to hand because those hands might be tainted with the coronavirus. Pay with an app on your phone, money deducted from your bank account. No contact. No hello from a stranger. No one to put your clothes on for.

TV commercials for Xfinity and AT&T boast about how you can sign up for their services, get a “self-install kit” (good luck with that), and be online in a jiffy with no human contact.

I took Annie to the vet on Friday. No contact there either, at least not with the humans. You park, telephone to say you’re there, and a masked aide comes out to get your dog. You wait in the car. No more sitting with the pooch in the examining room, hugging her while they shove a thermometer up her bottom. Annie, people-loving pup that she is, trotted off happily. Dr. Hurty and I consulted by phone. Her test went well. Her ear infection is bad. We have this treatment. Shall we do it? Yes, please. I wait. Another call. That’s done. She will need these meds. Okay. I wait. The tech brings Annie out. We drive away. The phone rings. I park on the Bayfront, which is surprisingly crowded, and give my credit card information over the phone.

All of this requires a certain amount of trust as I hand over my beloved dog and my financial information.

No contact.

The service department at Sunwest Honda will now come get my car, fix it and bring it back. No more driving to Newport and settling in on the soft leather couches in the waiting room with the other folks getting their cars serviced. Sometimes we all stared at our phones, but sometimes we started talking, made new friends, and shared stories. Even if no one else was in the waiting room, we chatted with the folks at the counter where we dropped off our keys and said howdy to car salesmen who stopped in to get a cup of coffee. If we got bored, we could peruse the new cars and dream about which one we might buy. Now we stay home.

No contact.

I keep thinking about “negative contact,” a term I remember from my dad’s CB radio days. He roped us all into his hobby. Negative contact was not a good thing. It meant you failed to reach the person you wanted to talk to.

“Negative contact” is used by pilots and air traffic controllers to indicate that whatever they were tracking in the sky–another plane, helicopter, drone, etc.–is no longer in sight. That does not mean it isn’t there.

There’s also a legal term, “No negative contact” related to restraining orders and limited visitation in domestic violence situations. The person can be nearby if there is no negative contact, e.g., actions like hitting, harassing or stalking.

Suddenly “no contact” has become something advertisers boast about. You will get your merchandise without having any connection with another human being. Hooray.

No contact.

The other day, I heard beeping and saw the big white propane truck backing toward my driveway. “Gas guy!” I shouted, jumping up. As soon he parked, I rushed out to greet Ray, the friendly man from the valley who pumps propane into the tank that powers the fireplace that heats my house. I didn’t have to have any contact with him. I order online, and I pay online. But I like Ray, and it’s sweet to be able to speak to another human being. He had laryngitis, so I didn’t force him to say too much, but we parted smiling. So good to see people.

On our walks, Annie and I often see the mail carrier in his green Honda Element. We always wave to each other. I don’t know his name. I just know he’s the guy with the wild brown hair who drives from the wrong side of the car. But it’s contact, positive contact. Did he leave germs on my mail? I choose not to think about it.

COVID-19 is changing our world drastically. God knows when we’ll be able to mingle freely again with no one freaking out about contagion. But I don’t think it’s going to be the same. A lot of those things that have moved onto the Internet will stay on the internet. It’s just easier. As I type this, I’m waiting for a Zoom meeting that starts shortly. I’m still in my bathrobe, haven’t brushed my teeth. I have opted not to use the video function. I will see them, but they won’t see me.

No contact.

You know how people used to try to keep their kids, and themselves, from staring at screens all day. Suddenly that whole effort is kaput. Go ahead. Stare at your screens. Work, take classes, hold meetings, socialize, entertain, or play games on your computer, phone or tablet all day every day. Your mom can’t stop you anymore.

It’s almost time for the meeting. But I’m only half attending, no need to be polite. If I get bored, I can run off for tea, check Facebook, or write a few more words on this piece . . .

When this is over, will we remember how to walk up to another person, look into their eyes, and say, “Hello, it’s good to see you?” Will we ever shake hands again? Or hug? Or sit and listen in a room full of other people?

No contact. No negative contact, but no positive contact either.

It’s all like a big game of musical chairs, except instead of chairs, we competed for people. If you weren’t with anyone when the music stopped, you’re on your own.

See you on the screen. I’ll be one in the fuzzy blue bathrobe.

 

Sheltering in Place Has Its Blessings

My house is not a bad place to be “social distancing.” It’s not like I’m stuck in a bomb shelter, a cave, or a jail cell. It’s a nice place with everything I need. Not only do I have food, shelter, and bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper and fancy soaps, but I have my dog, my musical instruments, my office, my WiFi, two TVs, a hot tub, and hiking trails galore.

I have paid lots of money to go write in places that weren’t half as comfortable. This is a great retreat house; it just needs a name. Alder Grove? Tall Spruce? Bear Haven? Robin’s Rest? Help me out here. Suggestions welcome.

Unlike some folks, I’m social distancing all the time. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. Lacking husband, children, or nearby family, I am usually alone here. Except for my dog Annie, of course. She’s swell company, but her vocabulary is limited. So I’m kind of used to it. Also, I’m not bored. I have more to do than ever.

Most days, I still keep to my writing schedule, working till about 3:00, then going for a walk with Annie. Then a little more work, a little music, maybe some chores, dinner, and TV. Same old, same old. Except that I can’t go out to lunch, swim at the rec center, attend Mass with my friends, or hang out at the library. I can go to the grocery store, but it feels like walking into a war zone. Will I survive? We’ll see whether I get sick in the next two weeks.

I’ll be honest. Some days, I get depressed. I start to lose hope that this will ever end, that I will ever be with people, that anything I do is worth the effort. I worry that I’ll get sick and have no one to help me. But I come out of it after a few hours, look around and realize how blessed I am. Look at all the fun new things I get to do. For example:

  •  I can attend Mass online not only at my own church but at churches everywhere, even the Vatican.
  •  I can attend writing events online that would have been too far away to drive to and give myself a manicure while I’m listening to the speakers.
  •  I can watch concerts by my favorite artists performing from their living rooms. Have you discovered Facebook “watch parties?” OMG, there’s an endless supply.
  •  I can wear those clothes I wouldn’t dare wear in public.
  •  I have a good excuse to let my hair grow out.
  •  I can talk to friends on the phone for an hour at a time because none of us have anyplace to go.
  •  I can feel superior to those whining about being alone and say, “welcome to my life.”

I’m trying new stuff online, just like everybody else is. See me reading poems on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll be offering a song soon. I might try a video. And you can see me doing music at the St. Anthony’s video Masses for the last three weeks at Stanthonywaldport.org.

I know how lucky I am.

  • On the radio this morning, a pregnant woman talked about her fears of delivering at a hospital during this time of COVID-19. Will she be able to have anyone with her, even her husband? Will she or her baby catch the virus in a hospital full of people sick with it?
  • Friends with families in nursing homes are worried sick about them catching the virus. I am relieved that my father passed away before all this started. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for him with no visitors and no chance to come out of his room.
  • It has to be terrible for people who can’t visit their children or grandchildren or aging parents.
  • Those who work in “essential” jobs, especially healthcare, are in danger every day.
  • Those who have lost their income all of a sudden are rightly terrified about what’s going to happen.

God help them all. Let’s all pray for each other.

It’s just me and Annie here, and we’re okay so far.

Meanwhile, let’s all go to our rooms and play with our toys until the doctors say we can come out. Although we won’t gather for church on Easter, that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and come out of the tomb. We’ll get out, too, one of these days.

What are the good parts of this situation for you? Have you discovered some new ways of entertaining yourself? Please share.

 

The Archbishop Can’t See What I’m Doing While I Listen to His Sermon

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2With most churches are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, many are offering online services. At St. Anthony in Waldport, Oregon, I was part of the music team on Saturday for the Mass we videotaped to be put online Sunday. I played piano and sang, Stella played guitar. We had one reader, one server, and three real parishioners with photos of the rest taped to the pews. It was as normal as it could be under the circumstances. You can watch that Mass here.

When Sunday came, I had already attended the St. Anthony Mass, plus I didn’t want to watch myself on the screen, so I chose a different church.

Why not go to the top? Archbishop Sample led Mass at the cathedral in Portland at 11 a.m. Very holy, very formal, trained singers, beautiful statues and paintings in the background. In person, I would have dressed up and been on my best behavior. But having gotten up late, I was sitting at home in sweat pants and tee shirt with unbrushed teeth and no makeup. I was still drinking my tea from breakfast, and I was surrounded by distractions. I wanted to go through that pile of papers on my desk. I wanted to check my email and Facebook. I wanted to get up and walk around. You can’t do any of that when you’re sitting in a pew at an actual church surrounded by other people–or when you’re sitting at the piano in clear view of the priest and everyone else.

Nor can you offer commentary. I can’t help myself. My new chapbook of poems, The Widow at the Piano, is subtitled “Poems by a Distracted Catholic” for good reason. With no outer filter, my mind squirreled all over the place.

Why are they wearing rose-colored vestments; it’s still Lent. But they sure are pretty.

Why does the archbishop keep changing hats?

I count 13 people in there. Aren’t we supposed to keep it to 10?

Who is that guy? Is he a deacon?

Hey, that’s Angela, the choir director; I’ve seen her online.

Is there a quartet in there? Social distancing!

The archbishop sure has a nice singing voice.

Oh, look at all those empty pews.

Pay attention, Sue, he’s turning the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood.

Latin chant again?

Hey, “amen” is the same in both languages.

Ah, tricky, they put a painting on the screen while they received communion, so we won’t feel bad.

That sure was a short song.

Ugh, more organ music.

Should I be kneeling or something?

Oh, it’s over. No closing song?

Well, that was nice, but I don’t feel like I’ve been to church.

So it goes. A week ago Sunday, I attended two full Masses and portions of Lutheran and Presbyterian services. During the week, I said the rosary with the Archbishop and watched Pope Francis preach in an empty St. Peter’s Square. It was raining. The cantor held an umbrella over himself and his music. The pope spoke Italian with a woman translating in English. I kept trying to understand the Italian. The pope seemed to be limping pretty badly. I was relieved when he finally sat down. But it was nice to be there without the crowds.

Maybe I’ll try the Portuguese church in San Jose next week. Why not?

There’s religion all over the net, and I am so distracted.

Speaking of distractions, I was supposed to do my first reading and my first book-signing for the new one last week. Both were canceled. I’m afraid my poor books will just disappear. I had hoped to publicize both The Widow at the Piano and my other chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, which came out last October, together. Now . . . piffle, as my late husband used to say.

I’m not the only author in this fix. Spring is book-launch season, and many events have been knocked out by the virus. Readings, signings, talks, workshops, conferences, all canceled. What should we do? Just wait? But here are these lovely books. I am going to try to record some of the poems and share them online. Stay tuned.

I’ll give some books away, too. For the first 10 people who are willing to read and post about The Widow at the Piano or Gravel Road Ahead on your blog, at Goodreads, or on Amazon.com—or all three, I will send a free copy of the chapbook of your choice. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep seeking religion online. I can’t guarantee that I’ll behave while I’m watching. Maybe if I could do it with a group, I’d be more reverent, but oh yes, we can’t congregate. Have you tried going to church online? What is it like for you? Or are you just going to commune with God on your own via meditation or time spent in nature?

Neither of my grandfathers were regular church-goers, but they were good men. For Grandpa Fagalde, all those hours he spent fishing, staring at the ocean, may have been church enough. Grandpa Avina might have been listening to San Francisco Giants baseball games while the women went to church. Whatever works.

Stay well. Do the best you can to avoid getting sick, but don’t make yourself crazy. You cannot sterilize the entire world and everything in it.

Buy books.

Amen.

Amid virus fears, we find new ways to reach out

St. Anthony faces

I lay in bed this morning long after I should have gotten up, listening to the news on NPR. Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. People dying, economy crashing, not enough medical equipment . . . Yikes. This morning, my Yahoo news feed led with “worldwide death toll more than 15,000. Dear God.

Yet I look out my office window and see the same trees and the same sky I see every day. I see my tulips and daffodils blooming in a riot of red, yellow and peach. I see a family of robins pecking at the lawn, which has grown lush and mossy from winter rain. Inside, it’s quiet except for the hum of the gas fireplace pouring out orange heat. My dog Annie dozes on the love seat. I’m not quite dressed yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that either. I have all day, no appointments, nowhere I have to go. If I stayed disconnected from the media, I would not know this was anything but another beautiful Oregon coast spring.

We have not been hit as hard here as other places, not yet. As of this morning, Monday, March 23, we have 161 known cases of the virus and five deaths in Oregon. But everyone knows these numbers are going to go up, way up. No one has tested positive here in Lincoln County, but very few people have been tested at all.

To the dismay of those Oregon coast folks trying so hard to stay apart from others, tourists, mostly young people, have come to the beach in droves, seemingly ignoring all the pleas to stay home and “shelter in place.” Some of the beaches up north have blocked access. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to close all the state parks today, on the premise that if they have nowhere to go, the visitors will go home. But that means we who live here can’t go to the parks either, and that hurts.

While I’m somewhat used to being alone, many are having a hard time with the isolation. My friend Bill is one of countless numbers who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, etc. The residents are confined to their rooms. They are not allowed to go out, and visitors can’t come in. Their meals are left outside their doors. Sounds like prison to me. And yet, because they are the most likely to die if they get this virus, what choice is there?

Many folks who are not used to staying home are already experiencing cabin fever. I’ve got to admit I’m better equipped for this than my friends and relatives who are always on the go. Most days, I’m here by myself anyway. I’m just sticking to my routine—write until about 3:00, walk the dog, do chores, play music, watch TV. Same old, same old, except I can’t go out to lunch, and God knows I do love to go out to lunch.

Last week, I wrote this cheery post about surviving at home alone. Well, proving I’m human, that night I was singing a different tune when I got word that all of the Catholic churches in western Oregon were closed. No more Masses, potlucks, meetings, or Stations of the Cross. We wouldn’t even celebrate Easter together. I cried like somebody had died and then posted on Facebook about how lonely and miserable I was. My church was not only my spiritual home but my main social outlet.

But there’s good news in all of this. In response to my Facebook post, friends called and texted, and we connected more than we ever had before. Paying it back, I have been phone-visiting people, especially people I know are home alone, and we have had great talks. I’m experiencing more human connection than usual. I wish this virus had never happened, but I do see some good things coming out of it. I urge you to reach out by phone, email, letter, Facebook or whatever.

As for church, Fr. Joseph Hoang, our pastor at St. Anthony’s in Waldport decided he would videotape weekly Masses. Three of us did music for the first one. “Red” was altar server while his mom “Ice” operated the camera. We taped photos of the parishioners on the pews so we all felt less alone and Fr. Joseph had someone to preach to. I think we all got nervous with the camera on us, but it was wonderful.

Yesterday, I found countless church services online. I could “go to church” all day long. As it was, I attended two Catholic Masses and dropped in for parts of Lutheran and Baptist services. As the Internet keeps going, the possibilities for new types of connection are unlimited. What a gift. Back in the flu epidemic a hundred years ago, people were truly isolated. No TV, no Internet. Many didn’t have telephones yet. At best, they could write a letter or a send a telegram.

I worry about the same things as everyone else. How long will this go on? Will we not be able to get food and other necessities? Will people turn on each other? Will we break the Internet with everyone trying to work and go to school online? How many businesses will fold, and how many people will lose everything? More important, how many people will get sick and how many will die? Will it hit my loved ones? Will there not be enough doctors and nurses to help them? Will I get it?

Just a few weeks ago, we were living normal lives, and the news was all about Democrats and Republicans. My advice from last week stands. Turn off the TV, radio and Internet as much as you can. Connect with each other as much as possible. Get outside in nature. Find a project to pass the time. Pray. It will be over someday. Only God knows when, but it will.

How are you doing in this crazy time? Feel free to share in the comments.