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.

 

 

 

Not Your Usual Graduation Present

IMG_20150315_224323314_HDR[1]If parents are going to give their kids something big for high school graduation, it’s usually a car, right? Maybe it has bald tires and the seat covers are torn, but it’s got four wheels and the engine is sound.

Or maybe they write a big check or buy you tickets to Disneyland. Or ?????

Me, I got a sewing machine. And I was thrilled. It was 1970, still the days of long hair, short skirts and psychedelic colors. After two years of home ec classes, I was making most of my clothes. That machine, a putty-colored Singer Stylist with—ooh—a zigzag setting, was way better than a car. I had been sewing on my mother’s old machine, which had been my great-grandmother’s. My folks had converted it from treadle power to electric. I can still feel the rocking of that treadle under my feet and the cold steel of the wheel in my right hand. It worked well, but now I had my own sewing machine that I could use in my own room, and I couldn’t wait to get going.

Hour after hour, I laid out patterns on the kitchen table, cut the fabric, pinned it and sewed it on my Singer. My sewing raised objections from the family during prime time because in those antenna-TV days, sewing machines and other appliances wreaked havoc with the TV picture and sound. But I sewed and sewed. I loved the colors, red, green, yellow, blue, and the fabrics, cotton, corduroy, velvet, satin. My clothes were always unique. Even if I used the same patterns as other girls and even the same fabrics purchased from the old House of Fabrics, I never combined them in the same way.

In more recent years, I used the machine to make the quilted wall hangings that hang all over my house. I saved bits of fabric for decades, knowing someday I would use it.

I used that sewing machine for 44 years, through 11 moves and two husbands. The initials I stitched inside the necklines changed three times, and still I sewed. In recent years, I didn’t using the sewing machine as much. I was busy with family and work. Losing my mother and mother-in-law, both avid needlewomen, took away some of my sewing mojo. Plus the machine was getting old and cranky. Finally, a couple weeks ago, after doing more cursing than stitching trying to make it work, I decided to look into new sewing machines.

The result? I’ve got a new Brother sewing machine sitting in the bedroom I am now turning into my sewing room. It’s computerized, it has 60 different stitches, and has push-buttons for everything. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to work it, that it would be too complicated, but somehow, the basics are still the same. When I started sewing, my hands knew exactly what to do. And that machine hummed and sewed like . . . a Cadillac.

I don’t know what I’m going to make yet. But I can’t wait to find out. And the old sewing machine? I don’t know what do with it, but as I told my 92-year-old father the other day, it sure served me well, better than any old car would have.

Did you get a big present for high school graduation? What was it? Please share in the comments.