Tag Archives: personal essay

Covid Diaries: A Lazy Writer’s Notebook

This is a test. To see if you are interested in reading and, if you wish, contributing to a blog journal/personal essays about life and experiences living through Covid Times. A chronicle, so to speak. It’s something I’m thinking of doing now. Probably not here, but in a new blog.

It’s the end of August. We have been at this for months. Five months. I know what I’ve been doing. Hiding. Searching out isopropyl alcohol. Fighting boredom and isolation. Sewing masks. Canceling tours. Trying to find meaning and purpose in the hours between waking up and going to sleep.

I’ve thought about writing in the last months but haven’t. What is there fresh to say? We are all doing our best to cope. Some of us have children or grandchildren at home. Some of us are out of work. Some of us have lost loved ones, family and friends to this virus. Some of us live alone. Some of us are just fine, just maybe.

Some of us have gained weight. Don’t sleep. Feel helpless. Others are finding purpose and beauty in butterflies and roses, a fresh air picnic under blue skies, growing a garden and harvesting its bounty. Yes, even a Zoom call with sister or son. Who knows the next time you will see them?

I’ve made the transition from being angry at everyone who goes mask-less and walks too close, to accepting that the only behavior I can change is mine. I walk. Sometimes I walk miles. It’s a great stress reliever. And, I encounter people on the city streets where I live. I make a wide detour as they come my way. Put my mask up.

I’m settling into this, but it still feels unsettling. And, it feels like its finally time to write about it.

What do you think? Do you want to talk about this? How are you doing? If we write it, will you read it?

Since I’m not in Oaxaca now, I don’t have that much to write about life there, so this Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog has been short on content in the last few months.

Essay: Soothsayer of Next Moves

I’m taking a short hiatus from reporting on the Oaxaca Mask Project to share this essay on being in the time of pandemic and injustice.

Let me just put it out there.

This is not fun.

I scan the horizon for the human figure coming toward me. I watch their feet and bodies.  Body language is crucial now. I must anticipate next moves. Where will they turn next?  Will they continue walking straight toward me or make a side street turn. Is the path straight or deviate?  In this time of Covid-19 most don’t wear masks.

Let me just put it out there.

I’m 74 years old. I’m anxious. I want to walk, smell the freshness of mowed grass, wisteria musk, lemony camellias in bloom in the springtime of the South.  Furthermore, I want to choose my own carrots, lettuce and potatoes at the supermarket. I want cantaloupes just right, ripe, not hard. I want to inhale the aroma of ripe flesh, put my nose to the navel and swoon.  

These days, someone shops for me and I eat what they choose.

I still walk.  Walking is my meditation. On the streets of Durham I can still smell the fresh air, clean and pure. I forget the pain that surrounds me, the stress of an unseen disease, the stress of society filled with racial disparities and social injustices, the stress of leadership that embraces military crackdown and lack of compassion.  Here I am on the sidewalk, walking in circles for sometimes ten thousand steps and more. And, like citizens of many worlds, I must anticipate someone’s next move. 

As I scan, I talk to myself. Will they step off the sidewalk and go around me at the recommended safe distance of six feet?  Will they make a beeline toward me as if there was no care in the world, no danger of a hidden disease that could end my life? I wish I could be like them, not a care in the world, walking where they please with entitlement, purpose, and privilege.

I stop at a quiet spot on a busy street.  Cars zoom by. They are going somewhere. It’s almost business-as-usual.  I sit to rest on the edge of a raised vegetable bed constructed of raw pine planks. It’s a community garden of sorts.  Someone has named it a Victory Garden, a throwback to wartime. I guess we are in a war now, too, both visible and invisible medical and societal.  I sit among ten raised beds of beets, squash, tomatoes, chard, built to feed the immigrants, the sign says. The tomatoes are tied with twine, needing taming, now erect, reaching to a Carolina blue sky.  Yellow flowers give off the promise of future fruit. I wonder who will come pick and eat.

Most of the immigrants here are undocumented and wouldn’t risk showing up. A Black person might be accused of stealing and taken down with a knee. You can smell that tomato-ey plant aroma, pungent, astringent, sour. That smell we all know if we have grown a garden, the aroma that repels predators. Across from where I sit, a dwarf fig in a huge aluminum tub is ready to burst with fruit.  My feet are squarely planted on the finely ground decomposed granite path.  I get my bearings, alone here with the buzz of tires over pavement, a bass beat of repetitive motion.  Where are they going now in the time of Covid-19?  I’m always on the lookout for what’s next.

These are my days of anticipating next moves, the habits of others, their impulses, directions.  I become a soothsayer of next moves.  A block away I see a pair of figures. Man or woman, I do not yet know. Will they meander or stop all of a sudden in my path? Will they continue to walk as they peer down into the face of a mobile device, devoid of cognition for my presence in their path?  I cannot risk not paying attention.  I have to assume they could bump right into me. So, I stop. I step off.  I step aside, off the sidewalk into the bushes, or I take a wide detour onto the street, or I turn my back turn away from them. Wait for a moment or more to see where they will go next.  Sometimes, they stop dead in their tracks as if an apparition called to them to halt for no apparent reason. At that moment they could be too close to me for my comfort and I have to be prepared to move fast.

I always wear a mask.

Out there, I notice the person or couple or family that is twenty or fifty feet away. I must take care. Who else will?

It used to be I’d get angry, confront, call out, “move away, back up, don’t get close to me.” I’d spout, “Why didn’t you stop?” expecting others to be respectful and change their behavior.  I don’t do that now.

Now, I have my eyes opened, attuned to the moves of others, anticipating.  For now, I’m grateful to be alive, outdoors, breathing the air of springtime. Free.

The Dorothy Syndrome: Disinfecting Our Lives

I grew up in a house that was CLEAN. It was often messy, but always clean. Dorothy, our mom, used Lysol liberally. She would spray my suitcase whenever I came to visit and ordered me to remove my shoes before entering. The shoes were then summarily sprayed, too. I thought she was nuts.

Food received the same clean treatment. Put all the canned goods in the sink. Milk, too. Wash with soap and water before putting away. Soak all the fruit and vegetables in vinegar water. You never know who touched them, she would say. I thought she was nuts.

Amazon selling 2 bottles for $29.95 USD — thievery!

I loved our mom. We all did. We forgave her these idiosyncracies. We played along and did what we were told. As adult visitors entering into the sacrosanct household of CLEAN, we learned to be compliant. We did the treatment outlined above for all food and beverage that we brought in. And, I thought she was nuts.

This morning, Jacob went out to greet the day and be at Sprouts at 7 a.m. when this local SoCal organic market opened. He brought back the remnants and what no one else wanted: cereal, blue corn chips, strawberry jam, organic tomatoes and carrots, the last piece of fresh salmon, one red onion, a bunch of very ripe bananas, roast turkey lunch meat. He reported that the shelves were bare.

I sanitized it all.

There are six bottles of Microdyne in the luggage and one behind the kitchen sink. I brought these from Oaxaca, where we gueros use this religiously to disinfect all fresh fruit and vegetables. Each Microdyne bottle costs about $1 USD. I poured isopropyl alcohol into a small spray bottle.

All sprayed with isopropyl alcohol. Am I nuts?

The vegetables are soaking in 16 drops of Microdyne for 30 minutes. I sprayed all the boxes and containers with alcohol. Who knows who touched them?

Hi, Mom.

Our mom passed at age 99-3/4 on November 15, 2015. This essay is a loving tribute to her. Was she nuts?

PLEASE READ this Facebook post from math nerd/HR expert Jason Warner. It’s important!

More comic relief …. ?

Love in the Time of Corona Virus

These are strange and perilous times. There lurks a deadly disease for some of us who are older than age 60, that is compounded by any underlying health issues that suppress immune systems.

I am in almost self-imposed isolation, sequestered with my 46-year old son Jacob in his Huntington Beach, California, one-bedroom apartment. He is generous. I get his bed. He’s on the blow-up in the LR. I am practicing how to be a good guest (this is like yoga, the more you do it, the better you get) and he is a loving off-spring.

Yikes. Do I have it? Here is a helpful guide from Hollie T. in NC

How do we pass the time together? Respecting quiet. Working from home. Watching Netflix. Talking (a novel idea) about life and feelings. Just being.

Elbow bumps — love in the time of corona virus

We were invited to dinner at Holly’s house in Long Beach last night. Holly is Shelley’s mom. Shelley is Jacob’s girlfriend. The date was set several weeks ago. (Sidebar: After a 30-minute discussion about whether to go out to dinner at a restaurant on Saturday night, we decided to hunker down and cook at home. Social distancing is driving our lives.)

So, the opportunity to go to Long Beach is a welcome one and we go. I think I’m the only one who is the potential hot-potato, since I flew on an airplane last Thursday! But Holly went shopping at Ralph’s, so who knows.

We greet each other as if all was almost normal. No hugs. Elbow bumps and big smiles. (I absented to wash my hands in the bathroom several times taking extra precautions and counting to 20 twice.) Gin and tonics around the coffee table, nibbles of steamed shrimp and dipping sauce (except we are learning to take a spoon and put the sauce on a plate instead of dipping and re-dipping — but what about that pesky common spoon handle?).

A pretend fight over the toilet paper

Settling in with a good drink and leaning back on the cozy sofa, Holly presents each of us with a gift in honor of St. Patrick’s Day: a roll of toilet paper tied with a green bow. Now, this is love!

We eat corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes. We drink wine. We talk about future travel. I bring my favorite gluten-free dessert made earlier in the day: nicuatole. All seems almost normal.

I am scheduled to fly to North Carolina on March 24, but as we know all things are fluid and changing minute-by-minute. Perhaps I’ll stay here a while longer. Who knows?

Stay healthy. Stay safe.

P.S. Yesterday, the California governor officially declared all bars closed. So happy I brought three bottles of mezcal with me from Oaxaca. Jacob is doing a beer run later and will work from home. We are cozy.

Whoever thought a roll of TP would be so valuable — best expression of love

P.P.S. This is allergy season. I’m monitoring every sniffle and cough. I touch my forehead. Do I have a fever? Do I have it or is this a normal reaction to spring? I imagine you may be out there doing the same thing.

Oaxaca Return: Voy a Regresar and Packing

Tomorrow, Saturday, May 11, is my travel day back to Oaxaca where I’ll stay put for a while. Yet, I tell myself it’s good to be where you are now. No looking back, no regrets, no living out into the future but to appreciate each gift of the moment. Today, I will connect with friends. Sip a G&T.

Packing challenges the assumptions of being here now. It makes me concentrate on what I will need and how much to take. It’s like cleaning up and getting ready. There’s no avoiding the planning that is required. I have one day to do it.

Perhaps, I should retitle this post, “Taming the Wilderness.” There is metaphor in this.

Truck with tattoo at the funeral

Yesterday, I went to a funeral at the farm where I lived for ten years with the wasband. The matriarch founder, age 93, passed early this week and my going was a tribute to her life — and mine, then and now. As I walked along the gravel road to the on-site graveyard, I passed the familiar and the unknown. It was strangely similar yet dramatically different. The cottage in which I lived is now inhabited by the next wife (there have been a series of them) and the gardens I once tended were overgrown, unrecognizable.

I passed people I knew and didn’t. They were known and unknown. We have aged. Some of us more gracefully. The wasband’s hair was wilder and he had built some girth. I wish I could say we exchanged pleasantries. It reminded me of where I am now and my gratitude for being here at home in Durham, North Carolina, and Oaxaca, Mexico.

The dirt to cover the cardboard casket was red clay Carolina. Each shovel-full was heavy and thoughtful. Life is where it takes us and there is reverence in each single act we do.

Poppies at the side of the farm road

Being there reminded me, too, about what I do to try to tame the wilderness. I attempted this, too, in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, by planting fruit trees — orange, lemon, avocado, guava. Ants consumed them. I gave up and planted cactus. These are sturdy and well-designed for the climate, to survive and repel the critters. There is a reason that the high desert is filled with native plants.

Here in North Carolina I have no living plants. My flowers are woven into the textiles around the apartment. When I leave early in the morning, I walk out and lock the door. It is easy. I am coming to learn my limitations.

Next Episode: On my return home. The other home.

A walk with friends on the Eno River, Hillsborough, NC