Mourning Death and Social Injustice in the U.S. During The Covid-19 Pandemic While Listening to the Natural World

Week #11 of Life in Annapolis, Maryland USA During the Coronavirus Covid 19 Pandemic

At 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning I was awakened by a powerful rat a tat rat tat tat tat pecking against what sounded like metal- our copper gutters? My husband Peter thought it was a bird was stuck in the chimney. I was thinking it was a woodpecker deciding to drill a hole in our house at such an unreasonable hour. I’d just fallen into a deep sleep after a restless night of weird dreams imagining I was a young college student standing in what used to be both the gymnasium and auditorium of my high school making a presentation before a panel of judges, pleading my case. What was I pleading for?  A better world?

This has been a difficult week for me because I cannot stop listening to the news and the news is all very sad.  Over one hundred thousand people have died in the United States from the Novel Coronavirus/Covid-19. Old people, young people and a disproportionate number of black and brown skinned people—far too many African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic people who are an integral part of America. America the brave and the strong? It is hard to stay brave and strong with so many people to bury and so much destruction. Another black man has died because of what I call “depraved indifference”—Three white policemen not hearing the cries of anguish, the calls for help that George Floyd made as another white officer, now charged with murder, leaned into the back of his neck cutting off his supply of oxygen. Businesses already suffering from the extended shut-down due to the Pandemic now looted and burned in several cities across the United States.  I cried watching one business owner standing in his ruined shop, after asking a looter to please leave,  telling the television interviewer, “I still want to rebuild, because there are good people in my community and I’m willing to start again.”

Can we rebuild? Our vision of what we are rebuilding needs to change, an inclusive vision that brings us together instead of the greed and selfishness that tears us apart.

For a change of perspective, we started eating our breakfast outside on the side porch. The balcony above provides shade and I hear lots of bird twittering in the trees around me. Fortunately our neighbor has lots of nice trees–holly, magnolia, dogwood.

I also hear the bang of a hammer because a neighbor one block away is having their front steps replaced.  I look down and see a large black ant investigating the edge of the green iron chair where I sit, back and forth he traverses the arm rest. Then the power tools start in because they need to cut more wood I guess, and the quiet mood of the morning is temporarily broken.

I have come to the conclusion that the reason that people stuck inside their houses and apartments keep changing things around, besides the understandable anxiety and boredom, is it’s a way of coping with the lack of variety in their routine. Always stuck in the same place, they’re seeking to change things up so maybe they start eating breakfast in bed, or dinner in the backyard or breakfast on the porch. Yes, we’ve been stuck in the same place too long and it goes beyond the temporary stay-at-home orders.

Last night, Friday May 29th, Annapolis restaurants were able to re-open to provide outside seating service and retail businesses under certain restrictions have now been able to open. So far things don’t look too different from last week, but the number of cars zooming down West Street and up Taylor Avenue has definitely increased.  Businesses allowed to re-open included the neighborhood car wash, now with signs that advertise “touch free automatic” and “self-serve”.

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Saturday morning we encountered a box turtle taking a walk, and relocated him to a safer place on a large green lawn. Bunnies, squirrels, and foxes are plentiful in my Annapolis city neighborhood. Unfortunately the algae blooms have created quite a stench at Old Women’s Cove and when we walk by there now with our dog Chloe, we walk quickly. Later in the day I enjoyed the feeling of warm sun on my back as I pulled errant clover, dandelions, and grass out of the flower beds.

For ball throwing fun with our dog, we walked over to the United States Naval Academy Stadium, which is currently deserted except for the walkers and runners using the trails. The large open green space where cars normally park for the big football games is wide open. No lacrosse games, no craft fairs, no big gatherings of any kind. I have lived in Annapolis such a long time that I remember back when the circus would come and set up tents in this same space and I’d bring my daughter Alex to watch the elephants come help set up the tall posts for the tents. That was 25 years ago and  many circuses have closed or have stopped using animals in their acts. There’s been a move towards the cessation of inhumane treatment of wild animals. How much have we accomplished in the past 25 years towards how we treat our fellow human beings? Will the Pandemic enable us to reflect on our past actions and see more clearly?

When I start feeling overwhelmed I tell myself to just take one step in the right direction. Eventually I’ll get to where I’m trying to go, or at least I’ll be closer to my goal. Do something nice, one thing for someone else. Bit by bit our world can change.

 

Angry Motorist Vents Frustration at Coronavirus, Croquet and Memorial Day

Life in Annapolis, Maryland USA During the Covid-19 Pandemic- Week #10

It is 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning and the loud sound of a car horn vibrates through my head. It keeps droning on and on.  I look to see where the sound is coming from. My husband Peter and I are taking our labradoodle for her morning walk.  The sound surprises me. My first thought is  it is someone’s car alarm.  I look ahead and see that it is a white sedan that has come to a stop on West Street a few blocks before the start of downtown Annapolis. A hand extends itself out the window and waves up and down. A gesture? Is the driver calling out to someone? Is she beckoning us?

The noise stopped and started up again, a continuous solid sound.The car blinkers were flashing. A woman was driving the car.  Evidently she was leaning steadily on the center of her steering wheel. I couldn’t see her clearly, but I could definitely hear her anger.

The honk stopped and  started up again and I wondered if we even wanted to keep walking, but I needed to pick up our mail from our post office box.  Is this what our world is coming to and is this how people are venting their frustrations, like the marchers who descend on State Capitals demanding everything reopen? She kept this up, driving down West Street and eventually drove on.

The white gray sky had a dullness to its surface and I was eager to get back inside my house surrounded by familiar things that bring me comfort: a fresh cup of coffee, the warm tone of the old pine floors, my father’s oil paintings hanging on our walls. I wanted to focus on the good things I am thankful for:  family, community, and an opportunity to write and create. Unnerved by this woman’s frustration, I found myself hoping that her actions were not some kind of bad omen, a sign of  what the rest of my day would be like. Determined to make Tuesday  a productive day, I knew it was up to me to make it happen.

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Skip forward to the end of the week—Friday. This is officially the start of Memorial Weekend. Well not officially because there is no holiday today and banks and the post offices are as open as they’ve been on other days. But this is the day many people start out on their holiday or run out to purchase gas for the grill and supplies for their Memorial Day Picnic. No parade this year. No large gatherings of people over ten. I suppose that there will still be trips to the cemetery to lay flowers on graves, to honor those who have fought in past wars. Is there a way we can honor those who have died in this war?—the war against spreading the novel coronavirus. All those health care, maintenance, transportation, grocery clerks and  delivery workers who continue to risk their lives so the rest of us can safely retreat into our homes and gated communities?   The rain poured down heavy and swift this morning as we set out to walk the dog. We didn’t get very far. Even in heavy rain, people were out walking for their exercise. I listened to the news and heard a deep divide between those anxious for a return to  full “normal” and those who are cautious and want to keep safety guidelines in place.

Now on the day I post this, it is  Sunday, May 24th, smack in the middle of Memorial Weekend.  At 8:00 a.m. courtesy of the United States Naval Academy the Star Spangled Banner and Reveille were playing, observing Morning Colors and the ceremonial raising of the flag, and I hear bugles and drums.  Not too many people were out this morning, so my husband Peter and I decided to walk downtown to City Dock.  Some of the members of classic car group that drives down to park near Susan Campbell Park decided to convene, although I noticed that most of the members decided to respectfully stay seated inside their cars.  Bitty & Beau’s on Dock Street has reopened to offer carry-out orders of coffee, muffins and sandwiches and folks were walking around town enjoying the morning with a coffee in hand—observing the six foot social distance rules.

 

 

This afternoon we decided to try out our croquet set. We are lucky enough to have a flat grassy back yard, a place to hang out with plenty of personal space. “This will be the perfect game for spring,” I decided, considering CDC advice to avoid other people.  Our lawn is thick, and my husband accuses me of raking the ball instead of hitting it, but hey in my mind I’m just trying to get that wood ball to where it needs to go. Our dog Chloe, who loves to fetch and retrieve, decided the wood balls should be chased, grabbed and held in her mouth for safekeeping, so we had to bring out one of her rubber balls for her to play with.

Out of four games, Peter won three. He has the more powerful swing! But it’s all in fun. Who knows? Maybe next we’ll set up a volleyball net.  Within the confines of our home, we seek out new and different ways of recreation.

 

State of Maryland Starts to Reopen; but Solitary Walks and Virtual Socializing a Safer Option

Week #9 of the Covid-19 Pandemic and life in Annapolis, Maryland USA continues to feel as if someone pressed the pause button. 

Some restrictions have been lifted, but as one news pundit aptly said, “People will vote with their feet.” So despite the loosening of some of the regulations in Maryland that allow many retail businesses to re-open at 50 percent capacity, I’m not running out to the store.  In Anne Arundel County, retailers that were not open before, can offer curbside pick-up only. Lined up  on West Street and on side streets  downtown are cars and people waiting to pick up their favorite foods at local restaurants.  And perhaps people are also pulling up alongside shops, to pick up shoes or a dress they’ve been admiring in a window display.  While I am empathetic to the plight of local businesses, I’ve been gradually weaning myself away from buying excess items I don’t need. During this time of “staying at home” I’m focused on using and enjoying what I already own.

Unfortunately, too many people have started to congregate in downtown Annapolis, for me to feel safe walking down by City Dock, so we are keeping our dog walking route going in the opposite direction away from the City. I continue to see some wonderful garden and window box displays that brighten my morning.

Standing in line to pick up take-out  is not something I want to do. I’ve never been a fan of eating out of disposable containers or off paper plates. Many of the visitors to the downtown streets of Annapolis are not wearing masks and not observing social distancing. We’ll find out whether the infection rates go up in the next two weeks!

I continue to do my cooking at home. Now that the weather has turned warm, we can eat outside on the porch  al fresco and I can pretend I’m somewhere else—a place that doesn’t have the coronavirus. The flowers with their brilliant colors and the sounds of birds are wonderful to enjoy as well is the reduced auto traffic. Now we can easily walk in the middle of the street on our strolls, but there remains that sense of foreboding gloom. Talk of a dark winter, has me worried; for although the government tells us things are “under control” I do not believe that to be true. After all, we were told in March we didn’t need to wear masks. A month or two later as the stay at home orders continued, the story changed and we are now told to wear masks when entering any establishments or getting closer than six feet.

Outside activities, recreational boating, bicycling, jogging, horseback riding, golf, and hiking—these seem to be what most people are gravitating towards.  The creeks in and around Annapolis have filled up quickly with kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, motor boats, sailboats, and just about anything that floats—appearing to the onlooker as if that six foot distance is not being maintained as one vessel glides past another. Outside feels safer. The sky is a deep blue and the clouds white and fluffy, just like a glossy picture postcard.

This past weekend on my walks I saw a number of small gathering in yards and on patios, the attendees sitting in chairs six feet apart. Peter and I visited our friends John and Linda and ate dinner with them outside in their driveway. We brought our own food and drinks and dutifully sat apart, but did share cookies and ice cream treats. Where do you draw the line—literally—as far as what is safe.

The other way to socialize is via video conference and on Thursday afternoon I attended a virtual cocktail party composed of my old book club friends. Ten people attended and it was great to see them. The computer camera takes you into everyone’s home, their personal space, and behind them you see people’s pets, their messy bookshelves, the pillows on their bed—all sorts of things. Getting the camera positioned just right can be a challenge. Faces loomed broad and wide on the screen when some of the participants talked while others appeared distant and fuzzy.

Folks tried to  briefly catch everyone up on their state of mind and their latest news and we went in alphabetical order. This was  quite different from how we would have interacted in person. When you attend a gathering of that size, usually two or three people individually catch up with one another.  Gradually they move about the room and talk to other friends. The conversation ebbs and flows.  But at the virtual party, there is no physical location and communication is specifically conveyed with words and facial expressions. No additional body language is used. Time is often limited, so an organized approach is needed. It works. In these times we have to use whatever tools are available.

The old-fashioned telephone conversation, still provides comfort, for talking directly with family and friends. Although I very much schedule my day with work, writing, exercise, cleaning and organizational tasks—it is my own schedule and I can talk on the phone as long as I’d like.  I look back over the volume of pages of written in my blog journal in addition to my creative work and I am surprised by how much I’ve produced. Life is on pause. The world moves in slow motion. I wait. Maybe something will happen and a treatment for this dreadful disease that most people are afraid of catching will be found. Maybe not. It is out of my control. All I can do is write and try to be a better version of myself with each passing moment.IMG_8587-1

Exploring Cemeteries and Learning New Recipes As Pandemic Restrictions Continue

 

Week # 8 during the Coronavirus Pandemic in Annapolis, Maryland USA

Waiting for the world to once again become “puddle-wonderful”

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We are now at the two month point in our “stay at home” orders and I sense everyone else’s restlessness each time I take a walk. Just the volume of walkers in itself is an indication of just how many people want to get out of the house. They are looking for somewhere to go, something to see.  In my corner house, I look out the windows facing the streets and see so many people walking by —pushing baby strollers, walkers, tricycles , wagons as well as those holding on to leashes attached to dogs in all shapes and sizes —on what has turned out to be a very cold May day. It feels more like the approach of winter then late spring.

Back during the first month, when my husband Peter and I were taking more walks downtown, replicating our habit of walking there in the morning to buy a cup of coffee even after the coffee shops near City Dock had closed, we had a regular route we’d take.  Now at week #8 we are avoiding the waterfront.  Too many people at Susan Campbell Park, sitting on the benches and looking at docked boats and the Severn River make it difficult to practice social distancing.

Week #2, I recall writing in this blog that one of the other regulars we’d see, who resides in Eastport asked, “Do you have any recommendations for new streets we should walk on? We’ve walked on just about every street.”  Now, six weeks later, I am the person looking for new streets to stroll.

The United States Naval Academy campus is closed to visitors. Previous springs and summers, we’d take long leisurely walks there along the sea wall and by the fields heading towards West Annapolis. To vary our routine, we’ve walked around the State House and Maryland Avenue and threaded in and out of the streets of the historic district as well as crossed the bridge into Eastport. Last week it was time to shift directions.

We decided to walk up West Street out of town towards Parole. This took us to three cemeteries. One hundred years ago, cemeteries were the sites of family outings and picnics. Weekly visits were made to the graves of relatives and friends. It was an opportunity to check on the family plot, talk to the dead, bring fresh flowers or plant a shrub. At the rate we are going in the United States with so many people dying from Covid-19, graveyards may once again become frequent gathering places. The style of the headstones, the inscriptions and the flowers planted, often tell little stories of their own.

We first visited Annapolis National Cemetery which contains the buried remains of many of the soldiers from the Civil War as well as veterans from World War I and World War II. The headstones are neatly lined up in rows. Rectangular and white they cover most of the grass covered lawns.

Located right beside Annapolis National Cemetery is Brewer’s Cemetery, the first African American Cemetery in Annapolis which was established in 1884. George H. Phelps Jr. ( 1926-2015)  was one of many community leaders instrumental in restoring and maintaining this historic cemetery. Research continues to this day  to document the history of all the individual buried here. https://historybrewerhill.wixsite.com/1884.

On the opposite side of West Street is St. Mary’s Cemetery with a center driveway that goes to Spa Road. Two large trees in the middle, create an arch that frames the green landscape that on one side backs up to a carwash. It’s challenging to see what was meant to be a peaceful resting place in the midst of urban sprawl.  I try to imagine the vista when these three cemeteries were first established in the rural outskirts of the city,  a time when you either walked or traveled by horse.

This week in Maryland, the horse stables are re-opening along with golf courses and boating recreation.  Also re-opening is the opportunity for elective surgery. Doctor’s offices are soliciting patients, sending emails and text messages notifying us they are open for business.

Last night I wish I’d taken a photograph of the wild salmon we had for dinner. With my husband Peter and I both involved in the cooking operations, we have truly perfected our salmon preparation. We start with a large wild salmon frozen fillet. These are more reasonably priced than the ones at the fish counter. Make sure you are buying wild not farm raised.   Defrost the frozen salmon by running cold water over the fillet. Next, put it on a pan coated with olive oil with the skin face up  and slide it under the broiler set at high.  When the skin crackles and turns brown, we peel the skin off to give to our dog. Then we liberally apply a blend of spices (Peruvian Blend is good) mixed with a teaspoon of sugar before flipping the fish over and putting spices on the other side. Broil a few minutes on the other side and the fish is done! Last night we also laid out sliced potato, onion, and red pepper with the fish and that cooked ( and was flipped) at the same time. This is a very easy dinner served with salad. The leftover fish is wonderful on top of a green salad for lunch or dinner.

The Pandemic stay at home orders mean there is plenty of time for reading. Most of my newspaper reading is done online, but last month I decided to splurge and purchase a subscription to a Sunday newspaper—The New York Times. What a treat.  With so many articles to read in the Sunday edition– it lasts all week, when I want to hold a newspaper or magazine in my hands rather than read at my computer or on my smart phone.

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As we move into mid-May, I continue to live one day and one week at a time.  I remind myself to focus on doing the best I can under the circumstances, and make lists of what I want to accomplish, dutifully checking tasks off as they get done.  I am thankful to have both shelter and food, while many people in our country and around the world go without. Besides helping your community and neighbors, here’s a call out to get creative and have some fun.

For Mother’s Day  I post a favorite poem I once choreographed a modern dance to by  E. E. Cummings.

[in Just-]

 

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and

         the

                  goat-footed

balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

 

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May Baskets 2020 Celebrate Spring During Pandemic

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Life in Annapolis, Maryland USA During the Covid-19 Pandemic- Week #7

No blue ribbons were awarded this year for beautiful May Baskets in Annapolis, Maryland, but that didn’t stop me from making one.

I haven’t made a May Basket in several years, not a real May Basket with colorful ribbons and seasonal flowers. Last year I took a series of photographs of all the beautiful May Baskets on display throughout the City of Annapolis. I even walked across the bridge to Eastport with my dog Chloe, who posed in front of most of those baskets.

I wasn’t in the mood. Our house was for sale. I’d already decluttered, sold and given away my excess possessions.  Knowing it was only a matter of time before we moved, I think I put a potted plant in a basket, not a proper May Basket, on the front step.  Now, we’re living in our “dream house”– the one we’ve been restoring for several years in Murray Hill. To celebrate our first Spring here, I made a May Basket for the occasion. May Baskets are an Annapolis tradition. So what if I don’t have a basket. I used a watering can.

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My daughter Alex gave me the watering can for Mother’s Day many years ago and it makes a good container as do: buckets, tubs, bicycle baskets, tea kettles, hats and during this time of self resilience– just about anything you might have around your house. Ribbons are important because of their association with the May Pole, but balloons, streamers and a colored paper will do. The basket can be hung on the door or gate, set on the stoop or on top of a pedestal. Just put it in the front of your house where it can be seen.

The Garden Club of Old Annapolis Towne started the competition  here in Annapolis, Maryland in 1956 and according to winners I’ve interviewed in the past—a unique basket and local flowers are important components. One lady who won every year, swore to me it was her basket that guaranteed she was a winner. “They just love it’s shape and the way it hangs on the door,” she said. “The flowers and the ribbons are secondary.”

Depending on the weather, May 1st can yield a varying selection of flowers—from lilacs, azaleas, and tulips to iris, roses and creeping phlox. A trip to the supermarket or nursery may provide a larger choice of flowers and colors; but who wants to go to the store?  My husband was kind enough to buy me cut flowers—daisies, mums, and roses—because our garden is just getting established. “You haven’t had flowers in a long time,” he said, “So I thought this would be a good occasion.” And in his defense I will add he bought me the flowers during his regular weekly shopping trip.

Thank you!

The Garden Club competition has established various categories for businesses and residences that include: creative, beautiful, and baskets done by children; but this year—May 2020—there are no winners to be invited to a special Garden Party Tea Celebration. Social distancing means  Garden Club members were not about to walk the street in close proximity conferring with each other as to which baskets they liked best to award ribbons.

I do not regret the absence of a Garden Party, because of the Coronavirus, but I’d like to see all the participants  acknowledged.  I wish I had some blue ribbons. I imagine walking around and leaving notes for everyone who made a basket. “According to me,” I’d say, “You are a winner! Thank you!” But maybe folks might get suspicious if I got too close to their house.  While I did not leave ribbons and fan letters, I did take a few photographs, to post here on this blog.

Hands down, my favorite is the one done by the  person who filled a rubber glove with water and put a plastic cup inside to hold a few flowers for their May Basket. Simple and brilliant in my estimation. Inspired by their work, my husband Peter and I added inflated latex gloves and a paper mask to our watering can May Basket because imitation is the highest form of flattery.

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I loved some of the baskets done by children. Among them was a wonderful display in the neighborhood of President’s Hill that used rubber boots and was accompanied by a chalk “thank you” to USPS and UPS.

Yes, I know that May first has come and gone and this blog is being posted on May 3rd, but celebratory decorations should be put out all month long. We clap. We sing. We praise our health care workers and our essential workers for being on the front lines. Let’s give a pat on the back to ourselves for staying home, not spreading the virus, and trying to make our lives more beautiful. Create some sort of decoration—plants or sculpture— to greet Spring.

We probably have several months to go of some type of quarantine, so let’s keep the creative projects going.

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Dancing in the Kitchen, Gazing at Tulips and Remembering John Prine: Week #6

Week  #6

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My husband Peter and I wash our dinner dishes to music. Some evenings it’s Willie Nelson or John Prine. Other evenings it’s Dire Straits. We knew John Prine was sick with the virus and on a ventilator the end of March, and with his fragile health, doubted he’d  survive Covid-19. Each day we check the news bulletins. The day that John Prine died, April 7th, we listened and watched excerpts of his concerts on Utube, our version of attending a memorial service. “How could he ever be replaced?” we asked each other. “His songs are so good and his jokes are  so funny. What an idea—“Oh Boy Records”—a name to take you through good times and bad. He’s a legend.” Our rendez-vous with John Prine continued for several evenings and gradually we started again listening to other musicians we can both agree on. When Peter is not in the kitchen I opt for some folk acoustic favorites: David Wilcox, Joni Mitchell or a little Motown with Laura Nyro.

One of our first dates, thirty years ago, was going to a dance lesson to learn  what is known as East Coast Swing. As with all group dance lessons, the men form an inside circle and the women an outer circle, enabling you to rotate partners as you learn a new step.  We both had to step outside to laugh when we initially glimpsed one of the ladies wearing a tiny miniature hat pinned to her head. Did she think her headgear was fashionable or was it some sort of bow? It’s funny the things you remember. I can’t tell you what songs we danced to, but I can describe that little hat.

During our marriage we’ve taken a number of dance lessons: tried to learn the rhumba, Cha-cha, Viennese Waltz, West Coast Swing, Foxtrot, and  Argentine Tango. Some we do better than others. We have fun trying to get it right.

The Willie Nelson Station is more likely to provide the dancing music: a snappy two-step or a waltz.  Usually other artists are thrown into the mix: Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Chris Kristofferson.

Other evenings we do a bit of rock step jitterbug. The two-step is a traveling dance, like the fox trot or the tango. The waltz can also move, dip and turn.  Depends on the song and the waltz. Such dances can provide aerobic exercise.

It’s a small kitchen, but we manage to go round and round the center island out the door into the hallway. My husband Peter likes to call our journeys around the kitchen island dancing in “The Corral” because we are going in a circle.  If you have ever gone country western dancing, you know the way traffic moves: slower dancers gravitate towards the center and faster ones move along the outside, as if they are traveling down the highway.  Inside the coral we are the amateurs, struggling to keep up with the excellent dancers and  we are more towards the slower center of the room. On the very outside of the room are the tables, where patrons sit with their bottle of beer and plate of chicken wings critiquing various dancers’ skill levels. Their observations help them choose  their next partner.

For those who do not want to be judged, there are the far corners of the room to practice your steps.  In the center hallway of our house the space is long and narrow ,but is free of furniture. That’s where we dance when we are tired of going in a circle.  If someone looks in our windows, who knows what they will see. Two crazy old people, dancing, having a good time? It’s a pandemic. What else are we going to do except  dance or do exercises on the living room floor to supplement our walks. I miss going to the beautiful Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo, outside Washington D.C. Instead as we move  across the floor in our hallway I console myself with admiring the old East Carolina pine floor, an original feature of our own house, as we move back and forth with our dance steps.

If I am feeling irritable from being cooped up too long, a little dancing will make me laugh. Peter is a good partner and he doesn’t step on my toes. Eventually we sit and talk to the dog and lament that we’re running out of movies or shows we want to watch on the computer. I threaten to bring out the scrabble set. We read the paper and plan our next expedition to buy groceries.

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Of all the plants that I have ordered for my garden, only the sunflower will get here this week. The others—lilies—are not arriving until the second week of May. Perhaps about the same time the government is talking about possibly lifting some restrictions. I’m cautiously optimistic. This talk of opening a few small shops and allowing exercise classes out of doors is a start, if there are enough masks, protective gear and tests. We do live by yards from the many creeks and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay and people want to get out on their boats. Despite restrictions, I see some paddle boarding and kayaking but the water temperature is only 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather in Maryland is still unseasonably chilly for April.

On our walk near the site of the old hospital, near Acton Landing, there is the most remarkable display of tulips. The homeowners, who have planted a colorful tulip garden and enhanced their house with a yellow and purple pansies in their window boxes have brightened up the entire neighborhood with their gardens. On their retaining wall is a zany chalk drawing; the sign of a family doing their best to stay upbeat during this Pandemic. It’s a good sign.  Yes, this is the sixth week of tight restrictions here in the USA but we are surviving.

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Dealing With Cabin Fever During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Week #5 Covid-19 in Annapolis, Maryland USA

As the weather grows warmer, the sidewalks and roads become busier. I strategize when are the quiet times and the quieter places. Despite the shutdown, plenty of construction projects in my neighborhood are proceeding along with landscaping and gardening projects.

The azaleas in their brilliant colors of pink, purple, and red are particularly striking.

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I’d like some plants. I don’t want to buy them at the store. I look online and most everything is sold out. One thing left is an assortment of summer day lily bulbs to be planted in spring. I look forward to their arrival, hoping they will bloom as vibrantly as shown in the photographs.

In France, the restoration of the Notre Dame cathedral has been put on hold because of the coronavirus. In Annapolis, Maryland the demolition and rebuild of a waterfront house began this week. Is this an essential project?

Construction work provides many jobs and the economy is almost at a standstill. How to decide what part of society can keep functioning. These are weighty questions.

At one house on my walk I see two black vultures solemnly perched on the back porch They look ominous. Their faces look like masks and their presence encapsulates all my fears: someone I love getting sick, struggling with the illness myself, financial worries, … I take a few pictures and keep walking.

In Maryland, our governor has asked everyone to wear face coverings when inside a store. Shopping for groceries wearing mask, gloves, reading glasses and a baseball hat I see a number of people with no face protection at all. Others wear a cloth mask around their throat. What good does that do? I move quickly, trying to avoid everyone, but in particular those who wear no face covering.

I’m not certain if people don’t care, or just don’t understand how contagious the coronavirus is.  So many people without jobs, why not create some new ones: information officers to create videos, announcements, messaging, posters in multiple languages to educate everyone how to protect themselves from spreading the virus. Massachusetts has hired new workers to track past contacts of those who test positive. What about creating more jobs for workers to manufacture masks and gowns? Why just hand out checks? Let’s get creative.

Many of arts groups have posted online performances and invited artists to share their work on new platforms. An depth look and  visit with a particular facet of an exhibit ( currently closed to the public) is being shared online. For example, The Mitchell Gallery at St. John’s College-  posted a video related to the The Thaw Collection exhibit: https://www.facebook.com/pg/mitchellgallery/posts/ .  Up in New England, The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) has joined other museums around the nation by inviting artists to be inspired by a creative prompt to share their work with the larger community: https://bit.ly/3ct4MQe

School continues to be in session, although still online and teachers are being challenged to come up with new ways to keep their students engaged. Parents grapple with how to keep their smaller children busy with no childcare, while attempting to work from home. Teachers who have never taught online before are creating new lesson plans and teaching strategies. They are asking themselves, how can you interact with a large class of children online? For face to face interaction,  it is easier when groups are small—between six and ten. Perhaps more jobs could be created for online teaching assistants.

With warmer weather arriving in Maryland, I predict I will start seeing exercise classes commence out-of-doors, all participants placed six feet apart. Bicyclists, joggers, skateboarders—they are all out and about. They move quickly, taking over the streets.  Cabin fever? We want to stay safe but many of us grow restless. I am hoping that more tests for the coronavirus will become available in the quantity actually needed, along with enough safety gear for ALL our healthcare workers.  THANK YOU healthcare workers and everyone working on the frontlines. Right now, we are still in a holding pattern and social distancing is our only protection. I focus on the present, to make this day count, to accomplish as much as I can in the moment.

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Creating Online Community in a Time of Masks and Social Distancing

Week #4 Covid-19 in Annapolis, Maryland USA

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Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com A scarf and glasses can provide some protection from the invisible Coronavirus.

A couple comes out of their house, while we’re taking a walk, wearing bright colored bandanas that cover their nose and mouth. They look like bandits in an old western movie.

Our eyes meet. “Just going to the convenience store,” they say apologetically. “To get a few things.”

“Are you going to rob the place?” my husband says.

“Yes, your toilet paper or your life,” they answer.

We all have a good laugh and keep walking, keeping our plus six foot distance.

Last week the Center for Disease Control in the U.S. recommended that everyone should use some type of face covering—scarf, handkerchief, or homemade mask—every time they go out.  Only 25 percent of the people I see on our walks wear some type of covering over their face.

Outside, I feel that if I keep my 6-10 foot distance from others, I don’t need the mask. But if  I go into the Post Office to purchase stamps— a mask and gloves are a good idea.  The clerks behind the counter are protected by a plastic barrier and the floor is clearly marked at six foot intervals, but other establishments are not so careful to protect their workers or the customers who enter.  At one neighborhood liquor store, you stand outside and they will bring you the six pack of beer you request. At another, customers still crowd in with no clearly demarcated barriers to enforce social distancing.

To combat the isolation, online meetings, classes, and concerts are filling the void. My Pilates coach Stefanie O’Rourke, owner of Chesapeake Pilates in Annapolis, Maryland,  keeps thinking of new ways to challenge students without access to the standard Pilates equipment that uses springs and pulleys to keep the body aligned and build strength.  Heavy rubber bands and a 2 x 4 piece of wood are a few of the items she has appropriated to invent new exercises. I am reminded of my old ballet work-outs at the bar, as I rest my hands on the back of a chair and balance my toes on the 2 X 4,  bending my knees. After a class is over, a number of the students continue to check-in with each other to talk not only about exercise, but about life in general.  We all offer condolences to one of our classmates Jan, who shares that her dog has died. My words feel hollow when what I would like to do is give her a hug, now an impossibility. Jan no longer has her dog and I remember that hollow ache of losing our dog Grace nine years ago. The lingering loneliness. My current dog Chloe comes in to the room to lay near me and I give her a hug.

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Chloe posing next to my laptop.

The first Saturday of each month, a dozen drummers  accompany instructor Lauren Kelly-Washington as she teaches a BLis Moves Dance Workshop in Annapolis—it’s become an institution. This April, with the Ridgely Retreat Studio closed due to Covid-19,  Lauren offered the class on Facebook Live.  In the studio, percussive music is improvised as the dancers are inspired by the drummers and the drummers by the dancers.  With no group of drummers, Lauren’s family made the music and I danced in my living room. We virtually joined hands together, by facing our palm forward to the computer screen.

My favorable online experiences inspired me to invite my Stonecoast MFA colleagues to come meet online and it gave us a chance to check-in and discuss what we’d been writing or not writing since graduating in January. It was great to hear everyone read a page or two of their work. On Facebook I’ve been reading postings that feature lots of poems and inspirational quotes. All sorts of local groups have sprung up, some provide updated information on food and supply availability while others focus on ways to support food banks and healthcare workers.

Saturday evening my son Christopher in Virginia organized a virtual family Passover Seder on Zoom. Most of Saturday I prepared the traditional Passover food. I toasted walnuts and diced apples to mix in cinnamon, honey and wine to make the Charoset. I mixed egg, oil, and matzoh into small dumplings for matzo ball soup, and crumpled up matzoh to mix with celery, onion and spices for the stuffing inside two Cornish game hens, the only available poultry at the supermarket on shopping day.  No parsley for the Seder Plate either, although I do have horseradish. A piece of onion and a spinach leaf take on the role of bitter and spring vegetables.

The process of cooking as if we were hosting a real Seder, put me into a trance as I remembered all the Seders I have attended since childhood.  I recalled the ones at my Aunt Rose’s, conducted entirely in Hebrew, that went on for hours. The chicken was always dry, having waited so long in the oven to be eaten, but the gefilte fish served with beet horseradish –the first course— tasted delicious.  I remember the Seders I’ve hosted where each family brought a different dish: potato kugel, tzimmes, honey cake made with matzah meal. Last year, we celebrated a Passover meal with our friends John and Linda Patterson. Now it is just me and my husband Peter sitting at the table. But looking into the computer screen we can see Christopher, his wife Laura and our two grandsons Caleb and Eli. In the gallery view we also see our daughter Alex and her fiancé Josh. Josh has never been to a Seder before. He is unsure how to pronounce the word, but he takes his turn reading from the abbreviated Haggadah I’ve emailed. Caleb asks the four questions with a little help from Dad.

When it comes time to sing my favorite Passover song Dayenu, I dominate the singing. I think it is because of the sound delay. You just can’t get everyone in unison. But the sentiment, that somehow we will be delivered from our trials and tribulations, captures the Passover message.

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Checking on the progress of our own spring garden.

Sunday, April 12th marks Easter. A time for new beginnings. An early morning walk gives up a chance to admire the yellow daffodils and red tulips in our neighbor’s gardens and the chance to wave hello from a distance. This is our “in-person contact” with the world. We’ve made it through another week.

Dogs, Like Humans, Crave Social Contact During Global Pandemic

Week # 3 of Covid 19 in Annapolis, Maryland USA

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Chloe our Labradoodle snuggling with my husband Peter at an Annapolis dock.

Chloe, our labradoodle,  thrives on attention.  A scratch behind her ears or under her chin sets her tail in motion. If she meets someone she likes, she’ll lean against them cuddling with her new best friend.

But now, with social distancing and fears of contracting Covid-19, if we see someone—even an old friend with or without a dog—we keep our distance and cross to the other side of the street.  She looks a little depressed to me, unable to interact with new humans and no longer able to sniff and say hello to her four footed friends.  I tried to explain this to the vet during her yearly check-up this past week.

We didn’t talk in person, of course. We talked on the phone, while Chloe was examined inside his office and I waited in the car. Everyone is careful, so even credit card payments are done remotely.

My dog didn’t want to get out of the car when the vet tech arrived to lead her into the office. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t coming with her. I sat alone, reading a book, missing the ritual interaction between my dog, the staff, the vet, and the other dogs she might meet as she checked in and jumped up to be weighed on the scale in the reception room.

I see this craving for social interaction in my husband too, and I have to remind him what six feet looks like by physically pulling out a tape measure. He dutifully steers away from strangers, but when he sees someone he knows that he wants to tell a joke to, he struggles to keep his distance. I think he clearly wants to hear their laugh and see their smile.  Humor is important, so I don’t mind re-listening to some of those old jokes and stories.

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Dog walkers conversing at a distance at a neighborhood park.

Restaurants are closed, except for carry-out, so people have created alternative ways to reproduce the sensation of dining out. Even if dining out means eating out of a Styrofoam container and sitting on one of the vacant benches or tables near City Dock. Boats and cars are mostly gone from the Annapolis City waterfront, but I observed one couple who’d brought their own thermos of coffee and packed a breakfast so they could sit on a concrete ledge at  Ego Alley to admire the harbor view.

Sadly, last Sunday I observed one acquaintance, accustomed to drinking his coffee with cronies in the morning,  attempt to join a pair of friends who were sitting at a table eating their carry-out breakfast.  “Six feet away,” they reminded him. Angrily he stomped off. “I’ll sit somewhere else, like my church,”  he said, evidently forgetting churches are no longer open. Services are being streamed on video.

I too, in my fashion, replicate the sensation of restaurant dining in the safety of my own home. I live where houses are fairly close together and for the first time in my life, the dining room is located in the front of the house.  Easily, by looking out our large windows,  I can watch the progress of the construction project across the street or see a parade of bicycles and children strolling down the sidewalk.  Sometimes if our eyes meet, I wave.  Feeling a part of the neighborhood activities provides visual relief to a day of solitary ruminations. If I want privacy, I can always pull the shades down.

Through the window
Looking at the world through my dining room front window.

As one day slides into another, with no distinguishing difference between weekdays and weekends, I establish routines. I begin the day with hot tea and listen to the news. Methodically I clean a room, juggle money to pay bills  and organize papers before sitting at the computer to start writing.  Lethargy is too easy, so I challenge myself to tackle an essay subject or revise an old short story in addition to continuing the revisions on my novel.

We are only three weeks into what could be a several month siege. Instead of thinking about what lies ahead, I focus on the moment. What can I do better, now?

 

Annapolis, Maryland USA During the Covid-19 Pandemic- Week #2

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Despite clouds and drizzle, we walk for close to an hour up and down the streets of Annapolis, Maryland. We encounter several people who are displaced from their usual routine of morning coffee at City Dock Café, Market House, or Starbucks. Wanderers looking for companionship while still keeping their safe six foot distance. “Any suggestions for an interesting street we haven’t seen?” an acquaintance asks us when we  say, “Hello”.

A neighbor hails us while walking their two chocolate labs as we approach home. “The dogs must be so amazed at all the walks they are getting,”  We chuckle. Our scruffy 9-year-old Labradoodle trails behind us.

A walk to the fields near the Middle School to play fetch with our dog, reveals that the playground is now closed. Yellow and black plastic caution tape is wrapped around all the equipment.

On sunny days, taking a stroll has become a game of weaving back and forth across the street to avoid close contact with everyone else seeking fresh air.

On sunny days, taking a stroll has become a game of weaving back and forth across the street to avoid close contact with everyone else seeking fresh air. This misty morning, a man severely coughing and walking towards us, mouth uncovered, had me worried enough to convert my walk into a jog.  This is what our world has come to. We try to stay safe. We try to maintain a sense of normalcy.

IMG_8124Last Sunday, on our morning walk downtown, we stopped to admire the cherry blossoms in full peak bloom around Maryland State House. I turned around and across from the State House saw an array of furniture out on the sidewalk. Nice pieces: side tables, arm chair, and a middle-aged woman with a small pug on her lap stretched out on a gold colored chaise lounge. I looked again. The scene was surreal. Where did this furniture come from I asked myself.  Surely not from inside the jewelry store they are arranged in front of. An upper apartment?

“If I could find your food, I’d give you some,” the woman said to her dog.  It was cold and the woman was wearing a stylish hat and jacket, blanket laid over her legs. “Not the best day for a yard sale in Annapolis,” she said. “And I can’t find my cell phone.”  Not wanting to start a conversation, we kept walking.

From the next block I hear, “Yeah, you don’t belong in Annapolis.  Go back to the suburbs where you belong.”

Was she talking to us? Or talking to anyone who will listen?

I wanted to go back and tell her we live here, but kept walking.  I remember the man with the cane, decades ago, I’d see struggling to make his way down the street. Some days I’d buy him coffee. And then one day he started yelling at me and tried to hit me and for weeks I took a different route, walked on the other side of the street. Crazy people can be unpredictable. If she needs help, she needs a professional.

This is not a good time for unstable minds. Stress and the variable possibilities of what lies ahead are scary. I wake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. The room feels hot. I kick the blankets off.  I’m not running a fever. I check the heat setting on the thermostat. It is set too high—something I can adjust—unlike the current situation in our nation.

Robin
A hopeful sign of Spring.

 

Life in Annapolis, Maryland USA During the Covid-19 Pandemic- Week #1

Annapolis Morning
Early morning in Annapolis, Maryland USA. 

 

Another Day. Because we’re not in any hurry to get anywhere, we sleep in.  The sun shining into our bedroom and the sound of the dog rearranging her sleeping pose, rouses me from bed.  “What time is it?”

“Past 8:00 a.m.” my husband Peter says. On a normal Saturday, we would have risen before 7:00, giving us enough time to walk the dog before Peter goes to swim practice. But there is no swim practice. It’s been cancelled like everything else.

The sounds of bird tweets and  their warbles, remind me it is officially spring, and I want to plant flowers. But that would mean a trip to the store, something I try not to do. The key to staying well and safe is to stay away from other people as much as possible.  So I’ve fallen into a routine that consists of multiple walks with our dog Chloe and  otherwise working inside the house. Peter still goes to the office, a locked office. He quickly buys necessities. I remind him incessantly to wash his hands. “Wash your hands every hour. Don’t touch your face,” I say.

Even at 9:00 a.m. downtown Annapolis is deserted.

Even at 9:00 a.m. downtown Annapolis is deserted. While some storefronts have large hand lettered signs advertising the availability of—Curbside Pick-up, Call and We Deliver, “Still Open By Appointment”— others have none.  I wonder how many will stay permanently closed.

We walk in the center of the street or cross to the other side each time we see someone approach. Yesterday evening walking towards a neighborhood wooded trail near a creek, a young woman asked if she could pet our dog. I hesitated. “No,” I said, moving forward to keep my distance.

I thought my husband would chastise me, say I was being stingy, but  he had the same response five seconds later. “No.” Social distancing has become our mantra.

Inside the house my husband Peter and I have begun competing over who gets to cook dinner. Food preparation and eating have become a major preoccupation. We think of all the ingredients that can help us stay as healthy as possible. “Mushrooms are loaded with anti-oxidants,” I say while slicing up several handsome brown creminis.”

“Onions,” he says, “We need more onions.”

Our sauces are laden with tomatoes and peppers. When Peter cooks, he adds capers and olives. I favor garlic and a bit of sweet and sour—vinegar, soy sauce, or maybe pickle juice. The assistant chef sets the table and attends to beverages.

In the morning we remember to take our vitamins and a spoonful of the elderberry syrup our son Christopher so thoughtfully sent. Only one week has elapsed since the local economy has begun to shut down. We have many weeks to go, possibly months. It is too much to comprehend. I focus on each day.

 

What’s a Wedding Without Family and Friends In the Time of Covid-19?

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The bulbs we planted, yellow daffodils and purple crocus, are in bloom. They mark the spot where I hoped my daughter would be standing in her long white dress next to her betrothed, exchanging vows. It’s not going to happen—this spring. They are still in love but there’s a virus on the loose, interrupting life as we know it. The schools, bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters in Maryland have all shut down. Gatherings of more than fifty are forbidden. If you do gather—everyone should stand at least six feet apart.

My two sons tell me this may last an entire year. No one knows for certain. Optimists expect things will get better in a few months. Maybe. Today I set up a makeshift exercise area in my living room and listened to music as I went through the series of mat Pilates exercises I remember. I tried inventing a few new ones, challenging myself to work harder before moving to the computer to write. I thought I would be taking a break from revising my novel, with my long wedding to-do list, but now I have plenty of free time on my hands to work at my craft.  Such is the new normal here in Annapolis.

“I don’t think we’ll be open tomorrow,” says the server at the coffee shop. “With no one allowed to sit down, we’ve had few customers. The owners plan to close.”

No job, I think. Another lay off. What will she do for income until the shop reopens?

So many people are being impacted in different ways, the change of plans with my daughter’s wedding—a big family event—seems trivial.  Yes, we were looking forward with pleasure to all our children, including my oldest son and his family who live in Indonesia, being present to witness the event.  And yes, I spent hours contemplating food choices, music, décor—but there are people fighting for their lives and others struggling to pay their bills.

On my daily walks, I try to stay a respectable distance away from my neighbors while still smiling and saying hello. I wonder how long they’ll have to wait, my daughter and her fiancé, to have their big party.  It will be joyous when it happens, flowers blooming or not, and we’ll have so much more to celebrate! But until then, my wish for all the world is to stay safe. Resist the temptation to be selfish. Be kind.

In Brighter Times

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Photo taken just after Josh proposed to Alex last year.

In Praise of the Dining Room

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Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Pexels.com

I do some of my best writing in the dining room. It doesn’t matter if the table is round, square or flat.  As I contemplate words, phrases and  sentences, in the back of my mind I remember meals of grilled salmon, slender stalks of green asparagus, risotto and late night conversations over chili, chips and beer. With plenty of space to spread out papers, the room for entertaining guests and gathering family together for me is the heart of the home.

The style these days, however, is to eat dinner in the kitchen around a granite island or peninsula, making clean up and serving easy.  This scene is enacted in trendy TV shows and movies, vibrantly photographed in glossy home magazines.  The chef can be watched as they prepare the meal. No fancy place settings or linen needed.  And if one has a craving for intimate dining complete with candlelight and flowers, there are all those restaurants. No food shopping and no dishes.

So much for the family dinner when we’d sit around the table and quiz our children on their day in school. My two sons and daughter didn’t always want to “talk” so we’d make it a little more interesting with the introduction of a new vocabulary word or the discussion of a famous person from history. I made sure my kids knew about Amelia Earhart and Helen Keller, two famous women who evidently are not as well-known as they were when I was growing up. And I learned the latest slang, such as “fat” meant “cool” and “emo” means drama queen and “friends with benefits” means just what it sounds like.

The dining room table, as the children grew up and eventually left home, was the place we’d sign and fold all the letters that were going to be bulk mailed to publicize my husband’s expanding insurance agency.  It was the perfect spot for addressing the holiday cards and  helping daughter Alex lay out a science project presentation.

I was following in the footsteps of my parents, who also used the family dining room as a multi-purpose room.  Our table, Danish Modern and capable of seating twelve people when fully extended, was my mother’s  favorite piece of furniture. My father artist Herman Maril would sit at that table paying bills, canceled statements and receipts organized in stacks bound with rubber bands.  I  remember eating breakfast at that table as a child, preferring the dining room to the kitchen, because I could gaze out the larger windows and look at my father’s paintings on the walls. Inside a cabinet against the wall was a television, but we never turned it on during meal time, unlike today when so many Americans who eat in front a digital screen.

In today’s homes, whether you live in a house or an apartment, the room that houses the large flat screen T.V. has become the center hub for activity. As society focuses more on digital entertainment  and people are either  looking down at their phones or looking up at a screen, dining rooms are being deleted.

So let’s go back and visit the formal dining room, where families and friends gather to share a meal and tell jokes and stories. It could be considered a luxury room, a space in the home that is not entirely necessary, but it is a room that has many positive attributes. Setting a meal on a plate and carrying it into a  designated room for eating, means you are going to mindfully pay attention to your food. A dining room encourages you to  sit down and savor your meal.

Often we eat standing up. We are rushing to go somewhere, do something, and we eat “on the run.”  The extreme act of gulping down a quick meal in the kitchen is to eat over the sink, so as not to shed crumbs. What’s it all for? Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and slow down.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy a dining room. Perhaps this evening I will prepare Shrimp Fra Diavolo served on delicate porcelain plates. But it is still morning and  I’m thinking about words, phrases and sentences. I look out the window,  studying the rough texture of the tree bark, wondering when the first buds will appear. Here in this moment, I remind myself to take time to appreciate all the important people in my life, make time to talk and listen. The dining room and what it represents is part of that vision. Long live the dining room.

 

Challenging Romantic Love Tropes; Speculative Fiction Anthology Raises Money For Australian Wildfire Relief

 

Boy meets girl is the standard romantic trope that has evolved into variations that go beyond sexual identity, desire and age. Whether it is two monsters in love on a new born planet or a woman seeking to extend her connection with her soulmate beyond life as we know it – with a little imagination, the possibilities are endless.

Yet the standard response is there are only two types of stories: A stranger arrives in town. A man goes on a journey. Neither one of those plot lines needs romance. But Valentine’s Day is about to arrive, and romance is on my mind. Plus I am thinking about the release of the new anthology, Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts edited by Louise Zedda-Sampson and Chris Mason, A Things In The Well Publication, a special edition to raise funds to support the Red Cross/Victims of Australian Wildfires. Subtitled Dark and Dangerous Valentine’s Day Tales, this excellent collection of stories and poems costs only $3 to purchase and supports a worthy cause.

man and woman kissing together on body of water
Photo by Edward Eyer on Pexels.com

So where did the idea of two plots comes from? In John Gardner’s posthumously published book The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, he included a writing opening exercise that instructs the student to establish voice and then “As subject, use either a trip or the arrival of a stranger (some disruption of order—the usual novel beginning).  As often happens with good ideas, his simple writing prompt evolved into a generalized statement that the standard plot of a novel is either: A stranger arrives in town or A man goes on a journey. This statement, by the way, has been attributed to a several other writers in addition to Gardner, including Dostoyevsky and Hemingway. Goodreads attributes the quote to Leo Tolstoy.

It’s a good place to start,  but it’s just a beginning.  Add obstacles, including a little romance, and then tension builds and things get complicated.

Pages and pages have been written about what constitutes a story. Currently I am reading Rachel Cusk’s provocative novel Outline, framed as a work of autofiction, and am noticing her character grapples with the question of what is a story in just about every chapter.

A story entertains.  A story I  keep thinking about and want to read again, is a story worthy of publication. A beginning that sets out the challenges to be faced, helps the writer to advance plot trajectory.  The addition of romantic love adds complications: conflict, desire, frustration, remorse, sadness, anger.

A stranger arrives in town. A man goes on a journey.

What happens when that stranger who comes to town is really an old flame, someone the protagonist knew and previously lost? What if a woman goes on a journey and meets someone who is the wrong age, social class or gender, but they fall in love anyway? What if the stranger who arrived in town does something heroic which causes two people to battle for her affection?

I love to read just as much as I love to write. So here is my pitch to encourage you to spend $3 to purchase Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts. Yes, it is true that I have a story included in the anthology, “Geometric Dilemma or Made for Each Other?” but I can also say that I had the opportunity to preview the entire magazine and I was impressed.  Sixty stories and poems—over 120 pages of content.  Buy one for yourself and give one as a gift.

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Waterborne, A Slow Trip Around a Small Planet

 

              In 1998 Marguerite Welch left Annapolis, Maryland with her husband Michael and their black Labrador Jack to begin an extended voyage around the world that lasted 14 years.  As she writes in her opening chapters, “The day we bought the wind vane steerer we really didn’t have a plan. As a matter of fact, we never really had a PLAN. We just thought, let’s head out in a generally westerly direction for a couple of years and see what happens. We imagined we’d be gone for three years maximum, vaguely thinking about circumnavigation but not committed and certainly NOT telling anyone we planned to sail around the world.”

          I met Marguerite in a fiction workshop taught at St. John’s College in 2014, two years after her return . She wrote beautiful prose. I remember being impressed by her colorful description of her grandparents and their residences in Mexico City and Venezuela. Already she was culling through her notes, putting together a manuscript, a memoir so to speak, of her travels.  In the first chapter of her book, Waterborne, A Slow Trip Around a Slow Planet she writes about her mother, her grandparents and her family connections to the sea, “as a newborn, I slept to the lullaby of tropical rain on a tin roof. Still one of my favorite sounds.”

            Immediately I identified with the word “slow” in the book’s title. My tendency is to move through life too quickly. Moment by moment I remind myself to go slow and take my time. Waterborne and the story of Marguerite’s journey emphasizes the benefits of taking your time. Marguerite and her husband Michael were in no rush to get to any particular place. They went to many exotic nations that included Cuba, Panama, New Zealand, Indonesia, Turkey and Italy.  When not actively sailing, Marguerite took time to journal and painted watercolors, keeping a log of her travels with the ultimate goal of sharing what she’d felt and observed.   

            The task upon her return, was to compile her experiences into a book—a task that would take more time, several years to write and rewrite.  Producing a manuscript for publication is slow work, particularly memoir writing.  As a writer myself, I know firsthand we want to remember everything, all the facts,  but because we’re writing about real people we have to be careful to respect other family members’ privacy. How much should we reveal? How much of ourselves are we willing to expose? We take great efforts to put it all down on the page and then we change. Something changes and we start to recall things differently. Over several years, I read passages from Marguerite’s book, noticed various changes, then read a complete version; but it would be two more years before the book was finished.  

        Now you can buy your very own copy. Waterborne, takes you around our planet and gives you the sense that you are standing right beside Marguerite, as in this passage describing her visit to Myanmar: 

            We cruised up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay; visited the extraordinary 100-temple-site at Bagan, and poled through the watery, floating islands of Inle Lake. All scenically captivating, but the most memorable image I will always carry with me was the sight of women and children bent over along the road, picking up a landslide of rocks by hand in the heat and depositing them in wicker baskets which they then carried on their heads to a waiting truck bed. A sight I was clearly not supposed to witness, much less photograph, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when my camera bag with all the film from the trip mysteriously disappeared on the flight back to Bangkok.

            Through Marguerite’s memories you sense the intimate connections between people she encountered all over the globe. Whether she is sitting observing orangutans at the Leaky Wildlife Preserve in Borneo  or describing her tour along the Katherine River led by a Maori guide who tells them not to worry about the Freshwater crocodiles, the stories are told with wit and humor. The other important word in the book’s subtitle is “small”, describing the planet. The world is not so large, after all.  It’s a spiritual journey.

Waterborne: A Slow Trip Around a Small Planet, Seaworthy Publications. 2019

Available at bookstores, at Amazon or  directly from the publisher at http://www.seaworthy.com

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