Photo of a river through forest canyon

Bear Head outcropping at the top of Fay Canyon Trail
Shadow of a woman in a creek bed

Handwritten to-do list

Mark Tochen, Camas, Washington

Journal entry, November 4, 2021 

I am the cook in our Pacific Northwest household, with a cooking partner 3000 miles away named Elsje, a Dutchwoman who lives with her spouse in upstate New York. We cook for our households, which for me began precipitously with the birth of a grandson, my wife saying, “You’re the cook now! I have to help with the baby.” I’ve become a decent cook and Elsje a creative cook whose dishes are visual and culinary poetry. We’ve kept each other afloat in these pandemic times. Her side job – attorney mediator/arbitrator and a four-term magistrate in her county; mine – 40 years as a pediatrician; our main occupation is as cooks and companions for our spouses.

We started with food photos – my previous food photography was the occasional family-around-the-Thanksgiving-Turkey picture, but Elsje LOVES food shots: “Here’s dinner: Norwegian salmon, steamed broccolini, and rice.” In self-defense I began to snap food shots with commentary. Thus began a dialogue of texting, photos and notes. We also traded information – “Wegman’s is the most amazing grocery store; we couldn’t live anywhere without a Wegman’s” or “Great oriental foods in the freezer section at Costco, soba noodles, vegan spring rolls, and potstickers.” We’ve learned from each other, and just completed a food journal, a two-volume set of kitchen wisdom, 60 pages with hundreds of photos, titled, as one might guess, “Cooking in Pandemic Times.”

Flowers float among ashes
Meeting in the Afterlife
Waves disperse ashes, sparkling in sunlight


Megha Anne Wilson, New Delhi, India

Journal entry April 25, 2021

My city has been devastated by the pandemic. The lockdown was nothing as compared to the deaths that this city has witnessed, that I have witnessed. I will never be able to forget the night my neighbour passed away. It is on that night that I wrote this diary entry.
Death is something I still cannot write about. But it is not death that terrorizes me. It is the terror of it — in another’s eyes, the cries, the wail of the ambulance, the plea of friends — terrorizes me.
I am afraid. The fear is strong. Fear is strong! It is crippling and it changes us, withers our lives into becoming paper-like. Raspy. It freezes the ink of the pen and deliberately forgets the language of the written word or the spoken word for that matter.
There is a difference in being afraid and being fearful just like there is a difference in being alone and being lonely. One makes us stronger, the other weaker. That choice, today, is not a choice at all. It is an acceptance.
With all my exertions of being with fear, last year and this, I’ve understood that silence is never good.
What we need is to believe in something other than fear. I believed in writing. The belief was temporary but it gave me something to do each day. Just picking up the pen to write on the blank sheet, a few words settled me for a few seconds, pushed me to distract myself. 
Fear will not go, it never does, but yes writing did diminish and salve the aching spirit temporarily and right now, it is the best I can do. The poems are of trees, birds, butterflies and blue skies. I watched them from windows, half closed doors, meshes and balconies. I wrote poems to tell myself again and again, that the world is still a wonderful place and I believe it is.

Photo: Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images News via Getty Images / Special Report – 24/7 Wall St

Bullseye’s definition: “shot that hits the mark” & these Kandinsky-like lime green “Concentric Circles” spray-painted inside square sidewalk panels for each human target to stand-inside their respective bullseye. 
In this photograph, three ringed humans are barely six feet apart & are not wearing face masks. Storefronts behind them either pulled shut with garage doors of gunmetal grey or barred-window glass.
The youngest has hands in hoody’s front waist pocket, wears baseball cap & is standing with one foot towing the line, the other sneaker’s heel is joined. So, he is standing in “first position” though his toes are not completely turned outward. Glasses point forward. He sports a beard.
The oldest has his hands in dark brown corduroy pockets. Wears a button-down shirt and bomber’s jacket. Jeff cap over gray hair starting to creep down the back of his neck. No glasses. Cleanly shaven. Shoulders pitched forward & one might imagine him rocking back & forth, but in this captured moment, he is dead center with all his weight on his right leg. Wears orthopedic shoes.
The last in line is a man, mid 30s. Cleanly shaven head & full black beard that matches his “Matrix” sunglasses, though they are not the cultish iconic “Blinde” label. Relaxed blue jeans; designer sneakers & hoody with a jacket worn over it. Left leg supports most of his weight, as he tilts left, with arms crossed at mid-chest. Looks off into the unknown. 
These three could be anyone’s neighbors, abstract as modern art. 

Mary Clements Fisher, Cupertino, California

Journal entry April 16, 2021 

The postman didn’t see my tears. He disappeared before I opened the door. Deliveries constitute the unexpected in endless humdrum days. A new catalog, a birthday card, a wine delivery. A box with three red labels, Cremated Remains, arrived today. Phyllis’ ninety-nine years reduced to an 8.5 x 6.5 x 4.5-inch box of ground bones. I sunk into my wingback chair and stared at the box on my coffee table. She’d trusted me with her hopeful and hellish moments over the past fifty years and deserved a eulogy. 
College beauty queen and part-time model, she never lost her flair for florescent pinks and frosty tangerines, for frilly blouses and form-fitting slacks. When shopping, she caressed the fabrics and cooed, “Feel this,” and “This would bring out the blue in your eyes, Mary.” Once, she played me a recording of her radio show tryout from the early 40’s. “I’m gonna love you, like no one loves you . . .” The producer’s improper proposition scared her, and she abandoned her smoky contralto dreams of singing with a big band. On the eve of WWII, she married Bill, a Clark Gable-type. Post-war, she inherited her father’s hatchery and settled into hatching and selling chickens and raising three children. She quit singing altogether and gave me her piano because Bill acted jealous and petulant about her love of music, like she was the unfaithful one. Her dashed dreams delivered my good fortune — I married her beloved son who serenades me every day.

Digital paintings. Isolation, alienation, surreal.

Eswen Alison Hart, Portland, Oregon

Journal entry April 2, 2021

I had a sort of disastrous phone conversation with Thea last night. She asked why we weren’t vaccinated yet and I told her we’re not eligible: we’re too healthy, just a bit too young (born in 1965 makes us Gen X, not Baby Boomers), not living in congregate housing, not houseless, not dislocated by wildfires, not pregnant, not obese, don’t work in healthcare or education or food service, and so on and so on — there is a huge list of groups that are now eligible and we don’t fall into anything in “Phase 1.” getvaccinated.oregon has a screening questionnaire that I take every time they send me another automated message: ‘Vaccine eligibility has now expanded; check to see whether you now qualify!’ We continue to be Not Eligible; we won’t be eligible until “Phase 2” — i.e., “everyone else.” 
Thea thought I sounded hostile. I told her I’m not angry, just frustrated and disappointed. At this point, so many people are eligible and getting vaccinated — and so many other people aren’t exactly eligible but have been able to get vaccinated anyway — that they should just open it wide up. Anyone can become infected and get sick; anyone can die, even if people in some groups (already eligible) have a higher a rate of complications. It’s the lack of fairness that troubles me. 
I talked to Thea again on the phone this morning and she said she understands the anxiety of waiting, especially when it seems like everyone else is getting vaccinated. Being left behind is harder than when nobody was vaccinated. I resent confronting my spot in the hierarchy, too. Expendable, that’s what I seem to be. Remember, at the beginning, all the signs that said We’re in this Together? The war has ended for some people. For the rest of us, it’s still black-out curtains and ration books. If You’re over 70, It’s Party Time, a headline read. What time is it for the rest of us?

Julia Park Tracy post-vaccine selfie sporting band-aid

Michael Salcman, Baltimore, Maryland

Journal entry March 14, 2021

It is now one year since my wife and I last hugged our grandchildren in California. Like me the suffering of many people caught up in the quarantine depends to a certain degree on their past. Even though I have written any number of Plague Poems since March 15, 2020 they aren’t special enough to make up for what I have lost. I was born in Pilsen Czechoslovakia, a child of the Holocaust and a survivor of the last great American epidemic, the polio outbreak of 1952. As a result, we have a vanishingly small family and I have a shrunken left leg that’s not aging well. For more than forty years, however, I performed brain surgery on that leg, danced the Lindy with my wife, went diving with an aqualung and sailing on the Chesapeake. 
I was fortunate in some ways to have closed my medical practice on September 30, 2019 after fifty years, just a few months before the virus struck but had terrible timing in regard to my new poetry collection which came out in June of 2020. I have never had a chance to perform the poems from this book in a fully interactive way with a “live” audience. I sit down to the computer every day in order to create files from new handwritten first drafts, I revise poems, and carry out the ordinary “po-Biz” of noting rejections, making new submissions, and editing book manuscripts. I also take care of my correspondence with writer-friends, journals, and invitations to give readings. I spend no time on so-called social platforms. In other words, I am fully committed to the seclusion and ordinary life of most writers, an experience that is completely novel to me.

Theresa Davis military ID and discharge papers

Patricia Garrison, Lewes, Delaware

Journal entry March 19, 2021

Waiting for the light to change, my daydream pulls me into the enveloping calm of my pink and purple yoga studio, and towards the weight, the damp, the chatter of other humans with me and around me in that tiny space. Sitting cross-legged, I anticipate the contortions that the teacher’s breathy whisper predicts will wrap us all in a blissful cocoon of peace and stillness. I move and breathe and gag ever so slightly from the too-sweet incense, and the sweat from the man with the hairy back giving off that soupy aroma that repulses me on the steaming subway platforms of summer, but connects me during the asanas, smelling of shared virtue. We are doing right by our aging bodies; we are stretching, and sweating, and pushing beyond our limits. We are really something, my hirsute friend and me. 
In a recent article in The New York Times, psychologists opined that “we are subtly but inexorably losing our facility and agility in social situations — whether we are aware of it or not . . . longing for, but then not really enjoying contact with others.”
Due respect, but I’m not worried. My skills will be rusty, and I may bungle my way through the small talk, but my corporeal longings will override the awkwardness, sending me headlong into the jumbled joy of the ordinary, reveling in the sensory overload, the sounds, the nervous pauses, the noise and yes, the bodies, that find their way back into my sphere, clumsy and fragrant, together.    

Mary Alice Dixon, Charlotte, North Carolina

Sheltering in place since March 7, 2020 
Journal entry March 10, 2021

Since isolation began, my torn retina took me to the eye doctor six times.   
Worries about my vision woke me before dawn today. Checking my eyes for dangerous floaters, I saw, instead, the remembered face of a grandmother I interviewed thirty-five years ago when I was doing fieldwork in Yunnan Province, China.  
The grandmother was a Naxi, a member of a proud, ancient matriarchy. I remember the story she told of her traditional Naxi cape — the Firmament Cape. Worn only on the backs of women, the cape was made of dark sheepskin embroidered with stars and moon.
“She carries the stars and the moon on her back,” is a saying, I learned, that describes both the cape and the women who wore it, women who rose by starlight to toil by moonlight — women who worked in fields so dark they could hardly see their hands. Their labor made life possible. Their capes were reminders that they carried both the burden and the glory of heaven’s work on their backs. These women believed that just as they could not see the stars and the moon they wore on their backs, so too, the night sky always carried light, even if hidden behind clouds. 
Covid-19 has made everyone, women and men, “star-and-moon carriers.” Recalling the Naxi grandmother’s story, I realized I may have scars in my eyes but when I remember the Firmament Cape, my vision is 20/20. As the sun rose this morning, I knew it would be a heavenly day.

infographic showing the benefits of hugging cows

photo of scrap metal pile

Miriam Karmel, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sheltering in place since March 17, 2020
Journal entry January 5, 2021

My 2021 desk calendar is stuck at a mail sorting center somewhere between there and here. For now, I write appointments on plain paper, though my Pandemic Diary reveals there’s not much to record. Each diary entry begins, On Today’s Calendar. Occasionally, I write: Zoom yoga, Zoom happy hour, curbside grocery pickup. Most days, though, I write Nothing or some variant: zip, nada, rien. 
Yet even Nothing Days are filled with something. Yesterday, Sarah phoned. She’d been organizing her recipe files. “If I don’t do it now, I never will,” she said. Ditto her photo albums. I offered that I’m trying to finish knitting an afghan abandoned three years ago in favor of newer projects. If I don’t finish now, sheltering at home, in January, in Minnesota, I never will.
I share Sarah’s desire to attend to matters that we’d let slide in our “normal” lives, too busy running hither and thither. Busy doing what? Starting a new project when you grow bored with the one at hand? 
I’m reminded of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a memoir of a bedridden woman. The eponymous snail had hopped aboard a plant given to her by a friend. From her singular, narrow vantage point, the author drilled deeper into all matter of snails and her small world flourished. Hers is a lesson in the rewards of stillness.
And yet running hither and thither has its appeal. As I write, a train whistle sounds in the distance. It’s a haunting sound, triggering a yearning as the train passes through, leaving me behind. It calls to me. I want to call back. When this is over, I’m going to hop aboard to somewhere thither! For now, I’m learning the power of stillness, of focusing on the thing at hand: recipes, photos, forsaken knitting projects. Snails.  

David Etheridge, Sofia, Bulgaria

Journal entry January 15, 2021

What’s going on in Bulgaria? Have a look:
The share of teachers in educational institutions who have expressed a desire to be vaccinated at this stage against COVID-19 is 21 per cent, said the Health Ministry press centre.
My wife says (1) It’s a big pharma scam; (2) government tries to control lives; (3) nobody knows about vaccine side effects; (4) her GP has offered me his vaccine . . . cynical folks over here.
And this is the Cambodia I left:
Cambodia is a safe tourist destination with the Kingdom ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO) as among the top nations in the world with the best COVID-19 containment and impact management . . . Cambodia was also praised by WHO for avoiding a large-scale outbreak. 
Twice a week I’m prepping my son for his Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) C2 advanced exam. We’re planning for a May exam. It’s more difficult than IELTS or TOEFL — heavier vocabulary and grammar focus. Also, part 2 of the speaking exam is absurd — 2 unwilling candidates must converse with each other in their broken English. When my son did this for his C1 test, his partner wept because she couldn’t continue.
So . . . here we are . . . a new year in a new place where people are dying of Covid at a rate of 50 a day. It’s cold, damp, gray. Bulgaria’s charm evaporated years ago when my wife said in her broken English, “Go ‘way . . . we never is a real family.”
Currently . . . I’m in space.

Tree figures made of snow
Cabin Fever Respite, aka: Yardi Gras

Wendy Watson, Laramie, Wyoming

Working from home as a teacher/counselor since March 13, 2020
Journal entry February 18, 2021

Staring out my home office window to the gypsum-plagued field across the street, I watch off-leash dogs yo-yo about their human companions and remember days as a kid when I took off past the housing development to the open prairie studded with sagebrush to explore pronghorn playgrounds with my Springer Spaniel. After six years in a windowless school counseling office staring into the sad eyes of children, I now sit beside a large window, soaking in the sunlight, noting the sparrows twittering in the dormant honeysuckle bush, the plump mourning doves perched in the towering cottonwood, the rotation of squirrel families visiting the feeder, and the acrobatic nuthatches clinging upside down to steal peanuts. The engines of various vehicles grumbling on the street mark the days and trigger a chorus of barking dogs: the mail lady, random FedEx and UPS deliveries, trash and recycling on Mondays, fresh groceries on Wednesdays, and frozen food on alternating Thursdays. A last lift of the tired garage door opener signals my “essential” husband returning from work. Between stolen moments of watching the world outside, I gaze into dark Zoom frames of kids’ lives, and I smile when they turn on their video cameras. Their hair is much longer than in last year’s school photo. Their faces more serious. We compare notes on whose family members are now vaccinated, who’s sick, who’s survived, who’s passed on, and who turned a year older, grounded for a year without friends or parties. And we laugh and sigh.

Stephen Kingsnorth, Wrexham, Wales

Journal entry February 21, 2021

The anniversary approaches; much has changed. It is Sunday. We no longer take the hour roundtrip to the church building. Instead we Zoom five minutes before worship begins, without wearing Sunday best. We are a community whose strapline is ‘a place to be, belong, believe’, it’s tough when ‘the place’ is a screen! Devices are poorly positioned, directed, but I learn much of friends — their taste in art, hanging from ubiquitous magnolia walls — or as silhouettes against bright windows. We sing in our living room, accompanying recordings of variable quality transmission, though, muted, no one knows that we are out of tune. Seated by the laptop prevents the scaling of high notes. Sometimes folk forget to mute; prayers are overlaid with comments on the minister’s rare haircut event! We share the Lord’s Prayer in Makaton, led by a signer; our speed has increased markedly. I have a theological problem with the sign for glory — raised fluttering hands, while my understanding is that Christ’s glory is seen in the powerless self-sacrifice of crucifixion, not razmataz in heavenly splendour. Some forget they can be seen, wander off, boil the kettle, drink coffee during the sermon. This experience has taught us to redefine what are the essential characteristics of the church. We have not been able to embody our social outreach programmes in the city centre, have been confronted with financial commitments without a weekly collection, fear the consequences for our locked down young people . . .

D continues sewing for the Congo charity! 

Denise Rue, Treasure Beach, Jamaica

Journal entry February 10, 2021

Sometimes I pass the time by reminiscing about the years I was held in human hands, comforted. When people I barely knew, the outer circle of acquaintances, mirrored me back, helped me remember I exist. I remember when I felt safe, when everyone I loved was near me. When even a trip to the dry cleaner could spark a brief, coruscating joy. They always seemed so happy to see me and if I was blue, I plucked a pineapple sucker from the faux-crystal bowl on the counter. I remember learning the attendant’s name at the gas station and when I was closing out my office and had a box of plants in the passenger seat, he commented on one and said it reminded him of his country — Trinidad. So, of course I gave it to him. Even back then I knew that things would fall through my hands. I remember making cookies for the mail carrier and all the little shops I frequented, and how that little gesture meant so much to one of the shop owners, she talked about it for years, until I moved away. I wonder if any of those stores are still there, have they survived? I remember that man in the produce department at Whole Foods with whom I chatted. Once he cut open a blood orange and handed me a juicy segment. Thoughts of these small kindnesses buckle my knees now. We were awash in all these rich, life-giving relationships, and took them for granted. Now, there is no one to smile at, share a pleasantry, nowhere to go but inward.

(I am a 61-year-old social worker living and working in Jamaica since 2019. At 60, I quit my job at a community mental health center, packed up my home in suburban NJ, and moved to a remote village in Jamaica to work as a therapist at a legal psilocybin retreat. I chose to remain in Jamaica at the advent of COVID and, unless there is a retreat going, I am fairly isolated. I have used this time to go inward, to work on my poems and a memoir, as well as go deeper into my spiritual life.)

Isabel Soto, Madrid, Spain

Journal entry February 12, 2021

Yesterday I yelled at a woman: “Mascarilla!” She was sitting at a table outside a small bar on Calle Arturo Soria in north eastern Madrid. Most bars and cafés spill out onto the sidewalks in Spain. It’s the culture, it’s the weather, even in northern parts where rain and harsh temperatures prevail. Face coverings — mascarillas — are mandatory in public spaces. Most people comply, this woman didn’t and I lost it.

As a cancer patient, I’ve been wearing a mascarilla since February 2020, not taking public transport, and essentially placing my life on hold. Last spring, Spain imposed one of the most draconian lockdowns in the world. People observed the rules, made sacrifices in the name of the common good. Politics and a tanking economy, especially the tourism sector, drove a short-sighted easing of lockdown. The refuseniks and pandemic fatigue have raised contagion rates to some of the highest in Europe. We’re now emerging from a third spike and bracing for a fourth. Spain has seventeen autonomous regions, each responsible for their own health policies. This fragmentation and uneven pandemic management has done the rest.

As a European Union member state, we’re at the mercy of the EU vaccine programme. Currently there are not enough vaccines for everyone. Tranches and cohorts have been prioritised. Despite my clinical profile, I’m not considered a priority and will have to wait my turn. Meanwhile, I mask up, maintain social distance, try not to go crazy and yell at persons who flout the rules.

Leila Gastil, Brooklyn, New York

Journal entry January 5, 2021

I caught COVID from my neighbors. Oh well. Masks and long walks. Then COVID. 
After the fever, came a severe case of vertigo. The ER had prescribed medicine for nausea. Good stuff but didn’t even touch this dizziness. The spinning started every time I stood upright. I was losing weight and couldn’t eat.
I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know how to stay alive. My insides were shuddering so hard that the shaking took over. My insides were shuddering hard and then the shaking took over. Then I cried.
I had a history of heart surgery and my heart had been hurting. Clare said, “Call your cardiologist.” I did. The answering service picked up. “She’ll call you right back.” She did. In simple short phrases, she asked me what was wrong. I calmed down and told her about the virus and the vertigo.
“Get some salty chicken broth. Start sipping it now and keep it up as long as you can. I’m going to give you some medicine for the vertigo. I don’t know why it works but it does. Take 2 a day.”
She gave me a simple plan and a bucket of hope. I was eating by the next day and my strength came back. The dizziness left — vertigo gone. Thing is — I would have never met my cardiologist if I hadn’t had that leaky valve and I never would have dreamed that would be a lucky coincidence. That day she saved my life for a second time. For these angels that show up just in time and these everyday miracles — “Thank you, thank you . . .”

In line for Covid shot at State Farm Stadium, home of the Cardinals. Religious experience.

Erich Weiss, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Journal entry February 8, 2021

In August, cinemas, concert halls, and theaters re-opened, with small audiences. When the rate of infections climbed quickly to unexpected levels, politicians reacted by closing things down again. Then I started hearing about colleagues who had gotten very mild cases of the virus. When the high infection rates did not go down, restrictions tightened even more. In downtown Frankfurt, we were required to wear masks, even outdoors. About half of the public complied. In shops medical-grade masks were required, which started a debate about whether poorer people could afford such masks. In response, the government supplied them for free to certain segments of the population.  

My partner, Barbara, and I haven’t used public transportation since March of last year. To run errands or visit Barbara’s 93-year-old mother, we’ve rented a car. I’m hoping that, like last year when infection rates went down with the warmer weather, life will get a little easier in the spring.

Meanwhile, vaccinations have begun in Germany. The process is very slow. At the end of last year politicians led us to hope it would move along quickly. But there were too few vaccines until recently when they became more widely available. It would be a great relief to us if we and Barbara’s mother could be vaccinated and be safer. But that probably won’t happen until April or May. We’re hoping to stay well until then. And hoping the mutations of the virus don’t throw a wrench in these plans!

Paul Cassidy, Yonkers, New York

Journal entry November 3

I spent my fiftieth birthday in Quarantine because I was exposed to a student at school. I’ll never forget the timing: I was at school on Monday, Election day was Tuesday, and Wednesday was when things started to feel wrong. My chest got tighter every time I took a breath. My heart rate was going up, as was my temperature. It hurt to swallow. My moment had finally come, with a politically dramatic backdrop to give it climax: my plight would be measured with the fate of the nation. I locked myself up in the attic with a few bottles of Gatorade, several masks, water, Tylenol, Nyquil and some saltines.

My wife would have to deal with our sons, and the note on the door. She’d have to have nothing to do with me, but that wasn’t anything new. She and I rarely spoke, and a summer in quarantine just drove us further apart. I turned on the TV to keep me distracted, but a moment later I turned it off: CNN was busy tabulating every vote that came into every state too early to call, but I couldn’t be on the edge of my seat with the rest of the nation; I needed to sleep. It was 10 AM and I chugged some Nyquil. Happy birthday to me. Where would I be when I woke on the other side?

I awoke a few hours later — not because my fever broke but because that first week in November was still warm, and I was bundled up like I was in Antarctica. I opened one of the two small windows in our attic room and breathed. It tasted like Fall.

I heard my wife’s car pull into the driveway, I heard the boys get out of the car, I heard her yelling at them to STOP in their tracks. A moment later her ID lit up my phone, but I didn’t pick up. Then a moment later a buzz from voice mail. And in another moment, a text. Then another text. And another. I guess the note made her stop in her tracks, and I’d have to answer for it, and maybe for the last five years. What would you do if you came home to a sign that said, “I have COVID”?

self-portrait, abstract
Acrylic and graphite on upcycled brown paper.
This is me, keeping my social distance. I have four legs, because I am stubborn in my attempts . . .

Gary Kubina, Semmes, Alabama

Journal entry January 12, 2021

I am an optimist. I try to live each day with hope and an expectation of good, but some anxiety creeps in. This pandemic is real. Why do some people still deny it or refuse to wear a mask? At the gas station, I counted 8 people. I was the only one wearing a mask. Two young ladies were making sandwiches for customers, but no masks. I wanted to yell at them all and explain the seriousness, but I quietly returned to my car. I’ve rehearsed the speech many times in my head, but in Alabama it is Trump country and for some strange reason that means don’t wear a mask. I also want to tell them, “Love thy neighbor, wear a mask. Protect your fellow Americans.” Last night the Alabama Crimson Tide won the national championship. I was happy until I saw thousands crowded in downtown Tuscaloosa shoulder to shoulder with few masks in sight. 

I think about our 89-year-old uncle, our church members and close friends that have COVID-19. There seems to be so little that I can do, but I pray, I call, and I offer to leave food on their doorstep. Each week I read the Pandemic Diaries. It makes me feel connected. The variety of submissions reminds me of all the places we have traveled (25 states, Canada and Japan) mostly presenting math workshops and doing math demos for teachers and always vacationing a few extra days. Only memories now. My wife and I sit and reminisce. We now travel in our minds sharing special moments. Smiling, remembering the silly details and making travel plans for the distant, uncertain future. Trying not to dwell on what the virus can do; I keep reminding myself that this will not last forever. A vaccine is coming. In the meantime, I count my many blessings and wear my mask.    

Janice Hamer, Rockville, Maryland

Journal entry January 12

Can it be the same guy? After fifty years, the “dorm father” from my college days has reappeared in my life as a new resident at Mom’s retirement community. Becoming reacquainted, I discovered something I didn’t know back then:  he sings! Around 80, with a large dramatic tenor voice, rusty from lack of recent use, he wondered if I, a professional musician, might be willing to teach him. It seemed appealing, especially to provide Mom, once a fine singer, with a chance to participate.

But I hesitated – he has Alzheimer’s. Would the material be instantly forgotten? Would he get lost on the way to the lesson? I decided to take a chance, several years later we’re still making progress. The dementia hasn’t affected his physical memory; he retains the knowledge of raising the soft palate to project the sound, breathing from the diaphragm. He places his high notes perfectly, a basketball player effortlessly dunking the ball every time. He practices daily, feels fulfilled. 

“There is nothing more healthy than singing, for our entire being,” a distinguished singer writes to me. But in these days of threatened health, we have to obey protocols, masking and distancing ourselves at our lessons, which must be held in a large, chilly hall. Not exactly conducive to fine singing, even at the best of times. Yet our masked Heldentenor with fogged-up glasses and some cognitive impairment still shakes the rafters: “All’alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!”

Island in Maine 2020

Angel 1
Angel 3

Bill Durden, Baltimore, Maryland

Journal entry December 28

The pandemic enhanced my daily walks with an intentionality of seeing that escaped me previously. Rather than just walk quickly and ignore much that was about, I began to look at what was before my eyes and register objects as fully present. I captured mentally stop-motion snapshots and carried them about with me, viewing them as if an object in a museum, but then I used my iPhone to take photos, for example, of the sidewalk from directly above. And there was delightful discovery. I remember an exhibition at the Met Breuer in New York City that focused on unfinished, imperfect art as objects of aesthetic accomplishment. My photos were of imperfections, to be sure — that which I merely trod upon pre-pandemic — and yet now, when seen intently, they possessed a coherence and rough beauty. While we often judge artistic abstraction as removed from reality, what I saw beneath my feet was reality as abstraction. I concur with the artist, Mark Bradford, who when speaking of the inspiration for his work in the recent Baltimore Museum of Art exhibition, “Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, said that he absorbed scattered remnants of a Los Angeles neighborhood — unraveling, discarded  posters and billboards — and the streets that bear them, considering them, in fact, “abstraction . . . an invitation for interrogating . . . dismantling . . . moving things around a bit.”
Below is an example of one of my Baltimore sidewalk photos mid-pandemic. Post-pandemic I look forward to a world far larger and more aesthetic than pre-pandemic — all because of wandering about seeing more intently and “moving things around a bit.” 

Close-up photo of mud puddling on a sidewalk

David Etheridge, Sofia, Bulgaria

Journal entry November 15

Left Phnom Penh on the 15th, and arrived in Sofia on the 16th — almost 24 hours of travel and time changes. Traveled Business class for Covid safety reasons. I’d lots of space as Business was not fully booked. The Phnom Penh to Seoul and the Frankfurt to Sofia Economy classes were full. The Seoul to Frankfurt Airbus A359 with 350+ seats had just 23 passengers in total — like renting the plane for myself. How does Asiana Airlines operate on that number?
Between Phnom Penh and Seoul, I’d filled out paperwork. Even though I was only transiting, medical staff and police checked my docs when I landed. The Koreans were careful although I didn’t need a pre-flight PCR test. I transited into Germany on my UK passport and there was no health check, just a passport and hand luggage scan — 7 people working the scanners and me the one passenger in a dystopian grey airport.
My son had said there would be paperwork flying into Sofia and told me to say I was arriving from Frankfurt, not Cambodia. As we were descending, I asked the flight attendant if there were any health forms to complete . . . nope. So, I walked into Bulgaria. No testing, no tracing, no temp check, no isolating, no quarantine.
It’s astonishing how cultures respond: SE and East Asia are strict; Europe is slack — no temp checks at supermarkets or banks, sanitizers in some shops. Bulgarians are good with masks in the mall but rip them off once outside. Few wear them over their nose. One man says, “We’re not like the Chinese or Taiwanese.” I don’t know what that means here. Too much like disrespect. “Bulgarians don’t believe in masks,” says the pharmacist. I’ve developed SE Asian habits and hopefully they’ll keep me healthy because I don’t feel safe here.
And I need something for the cold.

Mary K. O’Melveny, Woodstock, New York

Journal entry October 26

Workers are dragging debris from our attic. This is what pandemic life engenders. Look inward, dig deeper, reach back, clear out. Our hopes for permanence all wishful thinking. Everything heads toward an orange dumpster lodged like a Stegosaurus on wooden planks at the driveway’s edge. Centuries from now, if our planet still rotates, who will sift through our faded artifacts, ask what they meant?
A hand-stitched sampler rests in an old frame behind half-broken glass. It is filled with rose bouquets, beehives, bordered in green ivy, strawberries. Random alphabet letters form two lines across the top. At bottom, a name — M R Keeny — a place — Carlisle  a date — 1852. I don’t know who this is. My siblings tell me that these cross-stitches were made by my great-grandmother, Matilda Ridley Keeny, aged twelve. Grown up, she married, birthed eight children, outlived four. Died at thirty-eight, perhaps of grief. 
In an old daguerreotype, Matilda’s hair falls in ringlets. Stone earrings dangle. Her dark satin dress has a lace collar, ruffled bodice, a pearl pin.  Her smile is a suggestion. Her older husband, James Masonheimer, fought at Antietam, outlived her by many years.
Matilda’s spired gravestone, embellished with carved flowers, still stands in a Carlisle cemetery.

Few records of her life remain. Yet today, a strip of linen revealed she could sew. Perhaps her daughter also learned to stitch flowers on cloth as prelude to a life in bloom. In our solitude, imagination embroiders our stories.

Collaborative watercolor, by Jan and Mickey Hamer

Miriam Karmel, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sheltering in place since early March
Journal entry November 1

Jessica reports watching Gilmore Girls reruns. She lives alone, in a studio high-rise overlooking NYC. If she’s lonely, she never lets on. She doesn’t have to. A mother knows: Watching reruns of a sappy, fast-talking show set in a picture-perfect New England village is a symptom of loneliness, as much as loss of taste and smell signals Covid-19.
B and I watch reruns, too. Every night, hoping that laughter at bedtime will improve our sleep, we tune into Seinfeld. I laugh. Sometimes, though, mid-laugh, I’m overcome by an unsettling sense of displacement. 

Here I am, quarantined for what feels like forever, seeing friends on Zoom, making end-runs around strangers, doing curbside pickup for everything. And there they are, those merry pranksters, talking, bickering, kvetching — in the same room. No masks. No way are they six feet apart, not in Jerry’s cramped apartment, not in that booth at the diner. The diner is open!
Did we ever live like that? That, as in, roaming free without fear of contagion, fear of the other. And will we ever do that again? Dr. Fauci assures us that we will. For now, we escape into reruns.
When the all clear signal sounds and we emerge from our cocoons, I don’t want to forget the loneliness, sleeplessness, fear. I want to remember how extraordinary it is to talk, bicker, kvetch together, unmasked, up close and in person. Those TV characters who dulled our loneliness or lulled us to sleep didn’t know how good they had it. 

Mary O’Melveny, Washington DC

Sheltering in place since March 11, retreated with my wife to our home in Woodstock, New York
Journal entry November 26, Thanksgiving

The cloth napkins are out. And the silver. I have placed it next to my great-grandmother’s Haviland china with its dainty painted leaves and floral garlands. Our walnut dining table glows, recently refreshed by lemon-hinted wax. Candles await flame.
As our apple-stuffed chicken roasts, we warm the potato kugel we made this morning. My wife remembers her mother Rose standing in their kitchen, grating pounds of russet potatoes. Finally, when she had finished, calling her father Martin to the task of mincing onions. I have made cornbread stuffing with sausage and almonds and green beans drenched in mushroom sauce which will be crowned with fried onions. These graced the tablecloths of my youth. 
Still sitting unused on a shelf — my grandmother Bess’s scalloped condiment dish. It was always home to celery sticks, carrot strips and ripe black olives in the Thanksgiving celebrations of our past. We have none this time. Hors d’oeuvres seemed a useless frill for dinner with two. The wine is poured. Dinner is served. The din of absent guests infuses the room as sunlight fades.
This year arrived with sorrow’s weight. The news is filled with need. Depression-era bread lines stretching for blocks. Near-drowned migrants still being pulled from leaking rafts. Coronavirus graphs groaning with red and purple splotches as health care workers beg us to keep our distance. Our meal for two could feed six. 

David Etheridge, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Journal entry October 15 

My son asks me to live closer to him. Can’t say “No”; don’t have many years left. But flying into Europe is a Covid jump — four airports and three flights. Daily check with the travel agent about cancellation, PCR test, and quarantine requirements. Have collected masks, gloves, sanitizer, face shields, and a hazmat suit but what happens after? Different climate, food, water, bacteria, viruses, people . . . I’m scared. He says, “Don’t worry.” I’ve spent 202 days since March creating a safe lifestyle and healthy habits and I’m throwing that away by going into the unknown and uncontrolled. Wish I were braver.
Dear teacher,
In class when you speak you make me laugh. I like to listen to you and would like to listen to you all day. Maybe not all day because I like to speak too. I hope someday you come back to Cambodia because I know I can learn a lot from you and you can learn something from me too.
Your student Sokly
On 6Z the kindergarten children have arrived and our old woman hawker wheels her noodle cart into the alley and feeds them smoky wok fry. It’s as much about service and care as it is about money.
Grandma and Grandpa have returned from their medicals. Grandma taps her head and says, “No good.” Grandpa points to his eyes and says, “No good . . . no good.” Then he smiles and says, “You sir, . . . good.” That summarizes the health situation on 6Z.
You don’t describe Phnom Penh . . . you live it and it’s not been great, but that’s my own doing as I have only colleagues and students. My friends are online; my neighbors imaginary; my enemy, myself. And Jim Morrison’s in my head going: “This is the end, my only friend/ The end . . .”
Sor arrives at the gate. He loads the bags. It’s early morning — the Pakistani diplomat has finished his prayers. The Chinese are sleeping. And I won’t miss the feral cats.

John Wilson, Baltimore, Maryland

Journal entry November 15

I seldom remember my dreams, but I wrote this one down since it was so memorable. In this dream I’m observing as if it is a news story on television. I’m not in the dream scenario myself.
The segment features a man — who looks a lot like John Ossoff, Senate candidate in GA — who’s recently inherited a run-down property in Montana or North Dakota. It’s out where there are wide open spaces and few people, a good place to quarantine. There is an old house without plumbing, electrical, or any modern amenities. He decides this is the perfect place to isolate during the pandemic. 
The winter is tough. Since he’s not much of a cook, before he settles in he stocks up on canned fruits and vegetables. He thinks he may be able to hunt or trap animals to get some protein, but the gun that’s in the house doesn’t work. And he’s not a skilled trapper or outdoorsman.
When spring comes, he’s got a wild mane of hair and a huge beard. It looks extra huge on his small frame. His eyes are glazed from malnutrition. He’s heard no news, so doesn’t know if it is safe to emerge yet or not. 
A reporter comes to interview him amidst the mountain of empty tin cans, and he asks if the pandemic is over. 
The reporter asks him how he survived this ordeal. The guy says that he brought one book that really saved his life, “I Cannabis.” The reporter asked if he meant “I Cannibal.” The fellow responds, “You mean I brought the wrong book?”

Gouache, 15 x 12

Harriet Riley, New Orleans, Louisiana

Journal entry November 11

When my daughters were growing up, we had a family tradition. Each evening we would each share our highs and lows of the day as we had our dinner around the table in our little cottage in Pensacola. I was a single parent and they had my undivided attention at the meal. Sometimes a “high” from one of my girls would be that she made 100% on her spelling test. A “low” would be that her friend Dorie was mad at her. Or I would share that my headache went away for a high and my gas gauge was on empty for a low. Mundane everyday events stood out as we thought about where we found joy and where we were challenged each day. 
Now twenty years later, my girls are grown. One lives in Seattle and the other in Austin. I live in New Orleans. The distance has felt even greater in this pandemic. We know we can’t see each other. So from day two of being under lockdown, we re-instituted our old tradition on a daily Facetime call.
My older daughter, Riley, had the idea. “Let’s do highs and lows,” she said. Tears came to my eyes. A lot has happened in our lives since it was just the three of us. Those days in our little cottage seem so long ago. 
Hannah, the younger, jumped in and said, “I have mine.” Her low was waking up and feeling overwhelmed for the first time. That day, the pandemic effects and the toll of working from home really hit her. Then she shared her high — it was dressing up her dog Leo in her company logo shirt and taking his photo on her balcony. Riley’s low was getting the news that her campus was shutting down and her high was walking with her friend Katty. My low was saying goodbye to my husband’s nephew who was moving back to Australia and my high was seeing friends at the park during our afternoon bike ride. 
Since then, we have shared our highs and lows most days. We find strength and solace from each other’s moments of vulnerability and our shared resilience. Our connections as mother and daughters and theirs as sisters have become stronger in this time apart. That is a high in the midst of a lot of lows. 

Ann Hedreen, Seattle, Washington

Journal entry November 9, 6:40 a.m.

The eastern and southern skies are peeking from under a dark blue-gray lid of clouds, flirty orange wisps floating where the sun will rise; Mt. Rainier like the mother goddess, watching over the rising. The edge of the cloud-lid lightening. An almost-frosty 34 degrees. I wonder if the lettuces are crisping. 
Eight months ago, I debated whether to go to my sister Caroline’s on her birthday. I had just been skiing, that one beautiful day. Something was happening that none of us quite understood yet, but sure enough, within days everything was happening. Canceled events and work screeching to a halt. Maryjane’s (my stepmom) surgery, postponed. Dad marooned in Arizona. And then, the worst, David (my nephew, who died of a drug overdose on April 6). And meanwhile Nick (my son, 28) was sick, and Claire (my daughter, 31) was suddenly home because her campus closed, and I started scribbling numbers in my journal every day.
And now, those numbers are huge and bad, and the headline this morning is that Pfizer has a 90 percent effective vaccine. 
The cloud-lid is now pink, purple, blue, and quilted.
That one tree, right where the sun will soon appear — it looks African, like a baobab.
Thank you, God. Thank you. 
Here comes the sun, right up from the heart of that big tree. I think it’s an old red oak. 
The cloud-lid is dissolving into blue sky.


Karen Egee, Brunswick, Maine

My husband and I moved to Maine from Boston suddenly, to help out my 85yearold father when the pandemic hit
Journal entry early April

I dream of a damp trail through the woods. It is one of those dreams that seems totally real. I can see puddles of water pooling over pebbles. Through the water, I see a layer of brown pine needles covering dead leaves, covering dark earth, the edges dotted with piles of melting snow. 

“This,” I tell myself in my dream, dreaming that I woke up, “This trail, these woods no longer exist. Remember? Coronavirus. Remember? It’s all gone.” 
Then I start waking up for real, slowly, in layers. It’s still dark. It’s true. It’s not true. Pandemic. Big red numbers on the news, unfathomable numbers, more dead every night. That map on the front of the newspaper with our city and cities everywhere covered in overlapping blood red circles. Hospitals overflowing, people dying without loved ones there, doctors, nurses, others, risking their own lives to help. It is all true. 
But the path in the woods where the dog and I walk every morning does still exist. Later, when it’s light, after I feed him and let him out, after I check the paper, before I digest it, before I scramble eggs and fry bacon for my husband and father, we will walk along that path in the woods, he wagging, sniffing, trotting ahead, me breathing in cool air, my feet maybe getting wet through my sneakers, where the snow is mostly melted, in the puddles of my dream. 

We are lucky, our little family, lucky for now at least.

Sun glowing behind tree branches

Rosanne Singer, Baltimore, Maryland

Journal entry October 2

Like so many of us I have been keeping social distance from people throughout the day, every day—on my daily dog walks, as I maneuver past fellow customers in grocery stores, when I spend a rare visit with a friend outdoors and even when I see family. I’ve been learning over Zoom, attending events on Zoom and sadly had to say goodbye to a loved one on Zoom. So it has been a remarkable treat to teach a memoir workshop in person at a senior residence in Baltimore. Of course, every precaution is taken—I use hand sanitizer, fill out a health questionnaire, have my temperature taken, wear a face shield and stand alone on an auditorium stage while masked participants work at socially distanced individual tables in the audience area. But together we have found a way to make this an emotional, intimate experience that bridges the physical distance. Each week participants bring in a written piece that is part of their life story. They share it out loud and listeners gently ask questions or comment. Even without a microphone or shouting we are able to hear each other. One week a woman read us a remembrance of September 11th when she worked close to the World Trade Center and experienced the shock and trauma of that morning but also the humanity and kindness of those around her. She wasn’t sure she would have the courage to read her story out loud, but she did and received what felt like an emotional embrace from all of us in the room. I took this photo from the stage on August 27th.

David Etheridge, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Journal entry August 10

Online is fine for Phnom Penh students with good wifi, but outside the city the service is poor or non-existent. And students from the provinces don’t have the hardware. “At home, I share smartphone with my younger sister and mother,” pings Linna. Ratanak in Kampot runs his laptop off his phone hotspot which for several courses a week is expensive . . . and these days who’s still working in Kampot? Have a 9-student roster — 5 turn up and another 3 check in but have wifi problems and leave; 1 is absent. 
I hear wind blowing. Kimchen’s gone to a riverside restaurant where the wifi is better than at home.  “My internet interrupt now,” pings Sreyleap. Linna chats that she can’t talk during class because she’s at Cafe Joma. Ratanak’s microphone icon bobs:
“Ratanak, why are we listening to your rock ’n roll?”
“Sorry, teacher.”
“Please … or I mute you. Now . . . Does everyone understand the hypothesis?”
You ask the question and get nothing: 
“Does silence mean ‘Yes, I get it.’ ‘No, I don’t.’ Or ‘I don’t care.’”? 
Silences are exhausting. In the classroom, you read a weak smile or a face, and reformulate. But zooming, students don’t show themselves, so silences are inscrutable, almost always empty.  
“Today my internet is so super slow,” says Sreyleap. 
“Stay with me, please.”
“Okay, teacher.”
“And we’ll finish early.”
Telegram pings: “Please remind ur students to pay tuition fees.” Sreymom.
We’re not state funded, so we take the future on faith. Haven’t seen a pay check in three months. Sreymom asks if I’m stressed. “Only when I think about it.” It’s my Covid gift to the developing world: Work in the air, get paid by the wind. . .  it’s all right here, right now in the tropical heat with lousy wifi.
“Stay w/ us, teachers,” pings Sreymom.

May 27: I bloom to survive. Escape into my garden. Hug my universe.
June 7: Try to disappear. Geometry of sadness. Color to survive.
June 12: Escape with design. Move to patterns of silence. Shade fear in color.

Johnny Stone, Raleigh, North Carolina

I am a 93-year-old widower. I live alone. I love to write and draw. I have 5 grown children and have been sheltering in place since May.

Journal entry May 31

At 9:46 a.m.  My oldest son Junior called to check on me. Phone call was short and brief. Just wanted to know if I slept well and what I ate for breakfast. Remember Dad, don’t go outside. Okay. Love you.
At 11:33 a.m.  Tracy my youngest son called to check on me. He thinks he is my father. Loves to give advice and counsel. But in a loving way. Dad, you need to start taking vitamins. Dad, you can get exercise if you walk from room to room for 15 minutes a day. I told him I would feel like a mouse in a maze. He laughed and encouraged me to stay limber. Don’t get stuck on the couch watching those cowboy movies all day. Alright. Love you.
At 3:15 p.m.  Lisa called. My youngest and only girl. What’s up, Dad? Have you been drinking enough water? She knows I hate drinking water so she promises to drop off some flavored water and also a gift. After badgering her, she told me gift would be my new companion. A Betta fish. See you soon, Dad. Love you too.
At 7:12 p.m.  I received a call from Kevin. Just called to see how you doing, Dad. He was in a terrible car accident a couple of years ago and had to learn how to walk again. I asked more questions about him than he did me. Just hearing his voice and knowing he’s doing much better was good enough for me.
At 9:48 p.m.  Soon as I heard Hey Daddy-O, I knew it was son Stan. He calls me Daddy-O because he says I’m a cool dad. He lives in San Francisco. He told me a client of his died from Corona. It started with blood clots in the legs. So most of our phone call was questions about how I was feeling. Any unusual pains, Dad? No sniffles or headaches?
At 11:58 p.m.  Going to bed after watching news and eating a nice piece of NY strip. Best part of my day was all the check-ups from my kids. This corona thing has really increased their communication with me. I love it.

Isabel Learza, Baltimore, Maryland

Sheltering at home since March 13  
Journal entry August 8

When Terrylynn invited me to Asa’s art show in their back yard, I was tickled to hear about her five-year-old art spirit daughter living across the street. Saturday afternoon their yard filled with masked neighbors, even Janet, who rolled her walker up the hill to be there, a week after her hip replacement. 
Asa’s paintings and drawings were mounted on black cloth that covered the fence. 
She made her first painting at the beginning of the shut down, when the family had to cancel their annual visit with her Nana in Bermuda. She looked forward to the visit all year. But no flying out over the ocean this year. Her first painting, “The Big Deep Sea: Waterfall”, came from her sadness and fear of deadly Corona that kept her from her grandmother. It’s a big dark abstract painting, overwhelming, like drowning.
Terrylynn said Asa wanted the paintings and drawings to be in chronological order;
and moving along the fence, we could see/feel a shift. She painted “The Big Mind Imagination Town.” And once she understood her imagination could take her places, she made colorful drawings of the playground she couldn’t visit and the July 4th fireworks she wouldn’t get to see. And rainbows started appearing — a Rainbow Castle Gate, a Rainbow Waterfall. And a beautiful Rainbow Palmtree to bring her close to Nana in Bermuda. It seemed that Asa had found her way through the fear and strangeness of Covid times into joy.

Asa creating
Backyard gallery wall
The Big Deep Sea: Waterfall
The Big Mind Imagination Town
All Things Rainbow
Rainbow Palmtree

Kurt Schmidt, Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire

Sheltering in my home with my wife since March
Journal entry September 11

Our country feels as unsafe today as it did nineteen years ago on September 11, 2001.

Although dismayed at watching the tragedy of 9/11 alone at home that day, I didn’t feel the anxiety that permeated the voices of the TV reporters as they described the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Perhaps I’d lived too many years with my own demons to be frightened of the anonymous jihadists. It was with a calm voice that I described the course of events to my son when he arrived on the school bus and allowed him to see replays of the events on TV.

I wanted to assure him that God would keep him safe after we watched disturbing TV images of Islamic terrorists crashing planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. But I had no clue how God and terrorists fit together.

“Why did they do it?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“If they exploded a nuclear bomb in Boston, would it reach this far?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think they have a nuclear bomb.”

“Why did those people jump off the top of the World Trade Center?”

On watching a TV commentary about the threat from chemical and biological weapons, he asked, “Do we need gas masks?”

I said there was no need to worry about things we couldn’t control. “Don’t worry. We’re going to be all right.”

“Why do the terrorists hate America?”

I felt then like the Englishman in the old movie Zorba the Greek, when Zorba asks him in a moment of agony, “Why does anybody die?” The Englishman says, “I don’t know.” Zorba says, “What’s the use of all your damn books if they don’t tell you that?” The Englishman says, “They tell me about the agony of men who can’t answer questions like that.”

Today I write about the agony of being attacked by another enemy — a pandemic that is ubiquitous.

Suzanne Iuppa, Aberdyfi, Snowdonia National Park, North Wales   

Alone since March 23rd, I had not seen any family since December 25th
Journal entry August 31
The sand is very fine, a light creamy yellow, cool and a perfect dampness a few inches underneath, for building sandcastles. He brings his spade up, full of angel-fines, and puts it into his bright orange bucket. I am digging a hole with my hands big enough for him to stand in.
I show him how to level the top when it is full, with his spade. He shows me how to tip the bucket over­ — tap tap tap. It’s delightful to see the castle turrets, real in the air. And to knock them right over! To stand in a tunnel and let Grandma cover your feet, shins and knees; then to break the mold. 
He has done this before. Perhaps once?
We decide it’s best for him not to wear his nappy into the ocean. It’s the warmest seawater temperature of the year. He shows a good respect, wanting to hold our hands to run into the waves. He watches the wet sand accept his feet and close over his ankles, with the real power to petrify. Then he runs across the breakers, shrieking. He knows to fling himself down in the magic strip where the surf is just coming in, and feel his whole body halfway between two elements. Above us, clear blue sky and it feels like last day of summer, but everyone is so aware of it. We are stealing it back for one day.
On a wide, wild Cardigan Bay beach, usually littered with a host of stranded jellyfish 
— not a single one.

Katy Stanton, Westminster, Maryland   

Journal entry September 9

Today is the second day of # Scholar Strike. Difficult to strike from my teaching responsibilities but I keep reminding myself that my abstinence from labor for these 48 hours is making a point — that I stand in solidarity with others for racial justice and against systemic racism in all its ugly forms. To focus, I rest in The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, listen to the interviews of Isabel Wilkerson.

My college teaching until March was a joyful expression of what matters a great deal to me. I could live and learn with young people, so vibrant with their tattoos and neon hair and pronouns. I felt an adrenalin rush walking across campus, a place to explore creative ideas and indulge in deep thinking.

Then Covid hit, and I was told to prepare for online teaching in one week. My fun, part-time two-day-a-week gig turned into a 24/7 anxiety attack in front of the computer screen. No one seemed able to read instructions that took me hours to compose. Everyone had questions in my email Inbox. Students were in different time zones. Some who had loved class disappeared into cyberspace. The learning curve has been steep. Last Monday I set up a discussion forum for classwork, but students couldn’t access it. Those attending remotely wrote sarcastic comments in the chat and never turned on their cameras to show their faces. 
I do not feel like I am teaching, merely surviving the pandemic and hoping to help my students do the same. I dream of a future where I will not worry when a student coughs or be afraid to read a thesis statement over someone’s shoulder. 

For today, I am with my colleagues and students, on strike for racial justice, dreaming we will soon wake up to a better world.

David Etheridge, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Journal entry July 28

Last night’s gecko droppings are on the desk—she eats dengue-infected mosquitoes, so fair trade . . . freaks me once a day darting out from under the bed. She doesn’t move quickly up the wall; she moves erratically.
Listen to old Zeppelin tracks and weep—the tunes take me back, take me don’t know where and I ache for lost time. How did I get from Kashmir to here?
For a Saturday there are fewer people out although all the street hawkers are there and BBK market is fully open. Most wear masks except Westerners. I don’t notice, so barge into the pharmacy, but on the way out I see that people wait outside to go in one at a time. Try to keep at least a meter distance, two if possible, but others don’t observe that protocol. 
Temperature check at AEON Maxvalu Express, then a westerner is too close and I say, “Step back . . . please.”
“Oiy, I stand wherever.”
I don’t know where the line is between fear of Covid and careful of Covid. I’m a wear-a-mask-all-the-time guy. There are too many “que sera, sera,” insha’allah, “if it’s God’s will . . .”, and “I don’t believe it” folks wandering around. I’m not afraid of Covid . . . I’m afraid of people. And it finally happens—at Thai Huot I’m temperature checked and set off the alarm, 38C (100.4F). She stops me and I panic. “Where to buy food? Who doesn’t temp check?” And she holds the gun under the ceiling AC draft for a few moments, then checks me again and I’m okay. I shop here; she checks my temp. We know each other.

Sue Fagalde Lick, South Beach, Oregon

Sheltering in place for 6 months
Journal entry September 3

The weirdness gets old. I saw my ophthalmologist, Dr. Haines, yesterday. He pronounced my eyes “perfect.” At 68, that’s a relief. He did not say anything about the embarrassing moment when he came into the examining room and found me crawling on the floor looking for my hearing aid—which fell off as I was adjusting my COVID mask.
COVID protocol included calling from my car when I arrived, just like at the dentist’s and the veterinarian’s office. “Jeremy” told me they had a seat available in the waiting room. Half the tan chairs were blocked off. Exactly one masked gray-haired person sat in each section. Jeremy took my temperature (97.7) and handed me a pandemic questionnaire: had I been sick? did I know anyone with COVID? had I traveled anywhere? 
After the assistants called two old ladies in, Jeremy scurried out with wipes to sanitize the chairs where they had sat. 
When my turn came, the assistant led me past the inner waiting room where people usually wait and talk to each other while their pupils dilate. The chairs were shoved against the wall, the TV off. 
The exam was quick, tense as I leaned my chin on the machine and Dr. Haines stared into my eyes. Usually he keeps up a constant chatter, but not this time. “Perfect,” he said. “Congratulations.” He offered an elbow bump, and I left, squinting in my dark glasses as I walked out into the blinding sun.

Rich Bates, Columbus, Ohio

Journal entry September 4

We are bored. I am growing weary of my own company. We are getting punchy. We are regressing to infantile behavior. Yesterday, Sharon complained of my not clearing the almond butter wad off the shared spoon I handed her to dip her own dollop of apple-wedge-smeared-nutty-delight so I chased her around the kitchen waving it wildly as if to smear on her smock! She screamed; I giggled. I am deranged! Sanity is becoming a casualty of this isolation. 
I try journaling (ala Cameron, Way of the Artist and Progoff the Jungian) and grow numb with stream of consciousness idiocy. I try meditating without my Zen sanga and nap sitting upright. I read insightful tomes explaining the causes for the rise and devastation of this demagogue and nod off after 10 minutes. 
I watch the birds flutter at the feeders and am mesmerized into catatonia. I am learning to distinguish the variety of bird calls of each species, but wonder at the shrunken life of a 15X20 foot condo patio vs. an 8 acre farmstead in the midst of thousands of acres of open farm ground and the half globe of an endless sky stretching to an endless horizon. But memory serves and I return to tiny but explosive things—a goldfinch watching me as he plucks a kernel from the feeder, chops it in half, letting the tailing fall while he tongues the remainder down his throat. A song sparrow splashes in the mini bird bath and then serenades me from the crab apple overhanging our fence. 
The telescope collapses to the microscope but life still pulses. Maybe.

Lori Drawl, Cortland, Ohio

Journal entry August 15

I find it ironic that the pandemic hit in 2020, a numerically symbolic reminder that hindsight is 20/20. 
I often find myself recollecting my deceased Grandma Helen’s painful tales of the plague from a century-ago. She was nine years old when the Spanish flu struck her family in the Appalachian foothills of Belmont County, Ohio. It was January 16, 1918, when her mother succumbed to complications from the flu just nine days after giving birth to baby Flora. Two days later, her maternal grandfather also died. Within the next year, her Uncle David died.
As the oldest child in the family, Grandma Helen found herself in the position of surrogate mother to her five younger siblings. Unfortunately, Flora died in August from the likely preventable ailment of “diarrhea”; however a child being raised solely by her nine-year-old sister probably didn’t stand much of a chance. Her father resorted to alcohol to cope and became an abusive tyrant.
A microscopic germ wreaked havoc on this family leaving emotional scars and lifestyle coping mechanisms that even affected future generations. Grandma Helen became a bit of a germ-a-phobe, sometimes bordering on hypochondria. As a child, I recall her over-protective nature and hypervigilance to exposure to any contagion, no matter how minor.
Grandma’s memories provide 20/20 hindsight to a cautionary tale. With clear vision, I don’t complain when asked to wear a mask, wash my hands, and socially distance. The consequences were very real in 1918 . . . and are again in 2020.

I decided to try to paint portraits while self-isolating. These are two of my grandchildren who live in Las Vegas (Liam & Bryce).

Bryce at Bryce Canyon.

Photo of diary entry

Peach pie

David Etheridge, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

[Prime Minister] Hun Sen says that he’d rather have Cambodians infected with the virus than anger the Chinese by evacuating students from Wuhan — “We will keep them there, so sorrow and happiness in any circumstance can be shared.”
Sreymom says, “What leader doesn’t look after his people?”
In BKK 1, [Phnom Penh community] Cambodian laborers and Chinese capital work through the night to build glass tower gardens like Shanghai . . . and you see a head-shaven barefoot monk in a saffron robe wearing a black face mask waiting for a tuk-tuk under a streetlamp . . . and in that flickering yellow light . . . he could be an extra in a zombie apocalypse movie . . . and you joke about him but he believes in something . . . and you don’t know what to believe these days . . . so you believe in nothing . . .  And it’s like that.
Watched The Salzburg Connection, 1972 movie, and binged on 10 episodes of Gracepoint (aka Broadchurch ITV series) with Vanessa yesterday. Today it’ll be The Fall.
After Anyza’s illegal crossing into Thailand, she zooms into class from just over the border at Aranyaprathet.
“Thank you so much teacher for your good advice. Especially for your kindness when we have a mistake.”
Anyza’s pregnant and working in her shop. She asks about prepositions of place. She unmutes her zoom camera phone which is on the floor tilted up, and she’s in shorts and crop top, leaning in and out of the camera, and suddenly I’m a voyeur.
Monks are expert at cremating skinny Cambodians, but not so effective with thick-boned Europeans . . . your $500 goes only so far. On the third day you’ll receive your spouse’s ashes in a box and a Lucky Market bag with charred anklebone pieces. As part of the new entering-the-country Covid protocol, the Ministry of Health charges tourists for testing, quarantine, and $1500 for cremation if necessary, so no messy bits or plastic bags.

David Kopelke, Queensland, Australia

Journal entry August 5

The main resurgence of COVID-19 is in Melbourne. This is about 30 hours by road from us and two states away. Despite what Trump has said, Australia is not “devastated” by COVID-19. Yes, there has been a 500% increase in infections; but Australia was recording only a couple of cases a day and we are recording now over 500 a day. So, I guess it is accurate to say that we have had a 500% increase. However, when compared to the US, this is still not a lot. We are currently recording about 11 deaths a day. 

Unfortunately, some Australians are getting very tired of the whole thing and we are starting to get more and more people not taking the issue seriously. Victoria, the worst affected state, has around 800 cases in lockdown yet the police found over 300 were not in quarantine. This is been why there has been such a jump in the number of COVID-19 cases. Our governments are taking the matter seriously with lockdowns and border closures put in place. 

My state had three people go to Victoria, party, then lie on returning to Queensland. They all caught COVID-19 while in Victoria. They are now facing AUD20,000 fine and up to 5 years in jail. Unfortunately, many of those who are breaking quarantine have missed out on government financial support. They are lowly paid and if they don’t work, they have no money to buy food so they go to work even though they are sick just so that they can feed their family. 
This week, the government introduced paid pandemic leave to address people working while sick.

Although only a small group, there are some who are critical of the steps that the federal and state governments are taking. The mostly right-wing media gives high-profile to those who like to attack the rules such as having to wear masks or stay in quarantine. These people use scripts direct from the US claiming Magna Carta and other ridiculous legal bases for not having to follow the law. They haven’t even bothered to change the measurements to metric when arguing and use American language.

I loved my time in the US. You are so fortunate to have such a beautiful country (and green, it is so tiring everything brown and dead) and I found the people lovely. This was despite knowing that so many were carrying guns and would be just as happy to shoot you as say hello. 

Dian Seidel, Chevy Chase, Maryland

Recently returned from Pathumthani, Thailand
Journal entry March 1–August 1 

March 1: My husband and I are eager to return home after a stint teaching together in Pathumthani, Thailand. After restocking the pantry and sorting through mail, we rush to visit family, then arrange get-togethers with friends. 
Two weeks later, we are caught up in the pandemic. Only essential businesses are open. Our dates with friends become phone calls. In public, people maintain “social distance.” No one hugs or shakes hands. Instead, some Americans adopt something like the Thai wai greeting, palms joined at the chest, head bowed. Thailand issues similar stay-at-home orders. Schools close around the world.
In summer, the coronavirus rages like wildfire across America. It’s unclear whether students will return to class in fall. But Thai schools re-open on July 1. We see photos of our kindergartners. Their school uniforms now include masks and face shields. Only two students sit at tables meant for six, but every child is back in class. 
The first case of coronavirus detected outside China was in Thailand, but the epidemic is not out of control there. Scientists don’t yet understand why. Maybe the widespread use of masks, maybe the tradition of the wai, keeps germs from spreading. Or maybe it is just good karma. In America, normal activities are suspended. We spend every day together and rarely leave home. We have time to spare. Time to remember Pathumthani.

Photo of sculpture in a river
Photo of sculpture in a river
Ship of Fools

Facebook post reads: "My business partner and I doing our first Zoom interview—with Dr. Leana Wen, coming up on WBJC this week." Krummeck pictured at computer with her cat.


Facebook post of a link to a website, headline reads, "How do you program music during a pandemic?"

Darwin Curtis, Potomac, Maryland

Journal entry, sometime in April

There is much talk today about the negative effects of isolation; about the human need for companionship. About the third day of my time in solitary, I began wondering how I might counter that negative effect of isolation. My first initiative was to try talking to myself. But I found myself quickly numbed by boredom. At the end of my second attempt, I realized I had gone sound asleep for half an hour. 
I ran through a mental list of creatures who might keep me company, all of which bellowed or barked or snarled or bit. Then I hit the gerbil. Referring to Google, I read that “gerbils are very social animals who need the company of their own kind in order to be happy.” I wasn’t up for a morose gerbil and I certainly wasn’t ready for mingling with a pride of gerbils, even jolly ones.
On the same page, Google offers the thought that “Hamsters definitely can be friendly and enjoy the companionship of their owners.” I knew hamsters to be good listeners, which is unusual among vertebrates. But loquacious? Would I want to acquire a maybe binge-eating hamster without much to say? Or which mumbled? And Google adds: “There are hamsters who . . . make it clear that they prefer to be on their own.” I had second thoughts.
As my isolation deepened, I remembered that when I was a little kid, my Aunt Mary Claire had given me two goldfish in a small bowl. In my mind’s eye I could see them belly up and floating. But that was an idea: fish. Well, there was the question of common interests. Fish do seem to enjoy eating fish which are smaller than they are. I, too, enjoy eating fish which are smaller than I am. Beyond that, I could not identify significant areas of rapport. And what does one do with the fish when it’s time to clean the aquarium? Fish? No.
A couple of weeks further into solitary, I reopened the subject after asking myself, “Who was that furry old gink with the white beard I just glimpsed?” Maybe, I thought, he’d like to chat. Then I remembered that, at the beginning of my auto-incarceration, I persuaded myself there was no reason to shave. I had just passed a mirror. That furry old gink was me. 

Stress Baking. Pastel.
My Precious. Pastel.

Ken Felt team photo
The Ability 360 team. Felt pictured far right.

Fiona Jones, Dunfermline, Scotland 

Lockdown beginning to ease after 3 months
Journal entry July 2

Family conversations in lockdown be like: “So where did you go for your Covid walk today?”
(Covid Walk, noun: The single daily outdoor walk from home, as permitted by UK government during COVID19 lockdown.)
“I went up the hill northwards—and guess what I saw! A tree like a city: everything lives in it.”
So from then on the tree has a name: the City Tree. A metropolis of busy thriving life within its roots and trunk and asymmetric branches. A tree that’s been treeing for centuries, long enough to stand there treeing the rest of the trees how to tree. 
We’ve seen more trees in Lockdown than in the twenty years we’ve lived here. Birch trees, white-barked, light-foliaged, airy. Oak trees, slow-growing, late-leafing, in attitude more fighter than dancer. Horse chestnuts unfolding bat-wing leaves and blossoming like candles. Beech trees, so thick-canopied there’s little but mosses and mast underneath, yet full of holes and niches and food-chains of crawling life. The City Tree is a beech. 
Trees are comforting presences: old but not garrulous; alive but never demanding. You can heal, you can dream, you can think under trees, and envision the World After Lockdown Ends—what it should be like. I think we should fly less, buy less stuff, spend less time travelling, more time walking outdoors. I think we would live longer, breathe better that way. 
The trees told me this, and they ought to be right. They’ve lived long enough to tell us how it’s done. 

Daffodils Down the Block. Gouache.
Coronavirus. Gouache.

Susan Felt, Phoenix, Arizona

Sheltering in place since March 13
Journal entry June 17

Amanda and Michael and the kids are back home. We all survived.
When Michael called in April to “explore” the possibility of coming to Phoenix to escape Chicago during this global pandemic, our tepid “of-course-we-would-love-to-see-our-grandchildren” response revealed the conflict that rumbled beneath.
First, there was the 28-hour straight through drive he was suggesting. Our seven-year-old grandson has rheumatic heart disease. He’s as high on the vulnerability list for Covid-19 as his wheelchair-bound 71-year-old grandfather. We’d been isolated in our home since early March. 
Then what about those public bathrooms? Roadside “nature” stops. Eating? Car trouble? Falling asleep at the wheel come hour 18? Quarantining for two weeks once you get here?
Our daughter. Our son-in-law. Our grandchildren. We live for our visits with them.
But this time, it was hardly, we can’t wait to see you.
He painted a compelling picture. When will we ever have this opportunity? The Chicago cousins can be with their Phoenix cousins. We can have Papa Ken and Nanasus’s school with our grandchildren. Our family can be together. Take walks. Watch Netflix. Bond. Do puzzles. Play charades. 
Catch the coronavirus. Fall apart. 
Such was the need to seek sunshine, a swimming pool and an outdoors where their children could play without fear of navigating crowds of unmasked Chicagoans, that they came. They spent a night in a hotel, thus eliminating the possibility of falling asleep at the wheel. Handled food and nature responsibly. Quarantined for two weeks. And stayed an extra week.
They are back home putting together a trampoline to keep the kids active until parks and the lakefront are reopened. Michael was right. When would we ever have this time again? 

photo of a Little Library

Karen Leathean, Northern Territory, Australia

Journal entry March 24

A trip to Casuarina Shopping Centre showed me closed and boarded up food court spaces. Usually busy, a place for some retired groups to enjoy a coffee and interaction. Now tables are collected together and wrapped in acres of calico cloth. I wonder if a local fabric shop gleefully sold yards of this fabric. A few outlets still offer take-away only. Seniors who met in these places—where are they now? 
Security appears to be a growth profession. Wandering around giving people a warning to purchase essentials and move on. Despite Northern Territory virus cases only resultant from overseas arrivals, and as yet without community spread. Perhaps these high-visibility vest wearers just enjoy the power?
Every time I buy something, I ask, ‘are you happy to take cash?’ expecting to be told, ‘no, cards only.’ 
Extent and randomness of empty shelves continues to startle. Paper towels, empty as if manufactures all agreed to limit production. Eggs, my daughter suggested, might be scarce due to long distances they must be transported. We are more than 3,000k from the closest egg farm. 
The new normal of staff members offering hand sanitiser and trolley wipes is clearly visible as are floor markings declaring how far apart supermarket patrons must stand. 
I am disappointed to note long queues snaking from the Centrelink (Unemployment office) despite early tropical heat. But vanishing jobs is one reason I can afford time to travel to Darwin. 

Orman Day, Laurel, Maryland

Sheltering in place since March 15
Journal entry June 15

Not long after questioning whether a friendly poltergeist had hidden her hearing aid in a candy bowl, Mom was jarred by more paranormal activity in her locked-down rooms. For her 101st birthday on May 28, Mom received a bouquet of flowers and gas-filled “Happy Birthday” balloons. After a few weeks, the flowers wilted and dropped their petals and were whisked away by the facility’s cleaning lady. 
Drooping somewhat, the three multi-colored balloons remained huddled together in a corner of the front room. Then, defying scientific explanation, one of the balloons floated into Mom’s bedroom. 
“I have framed photos of family members on top of my dresser,” Mom told me during our daily phone conversation. “It floated down and stopped in front of different people to look at them . . . like they knew each other.”
She returned the balloon to the front room, but later, the balloon wandered back to the bedroom and landed on her pillow. Creeped out, Mom feared the balloon wouldn’t let her sleep, so she anchored it to the teddy bear in the front room.
On Saturday, ever-cheerful Melody rolled a serving cart into Mom’s front room to deliver punch and cookies. It was Melody’s birthday—so Mom, who had to restrain herself from giving the aide a great big hug—presented the errant balloon to her. Giggling, Melody tied it to her cart. Relieved to be rid of the mischief-maker, Mom smiled and waved as the balloon bobbed out the door. 

April 12 Doodle
April 28 Doodle

Stephen Kingsnorth, Wrexham, Wales, UK

Sheltering in place since March 17
Journal entry April 28

Today is Tuesday; my weekly marker, recycling collection, woke me. My routine as yesterday, echo of 6 weeks’ advised Parkinson’s self-isolation. Rain prevented D asking me to take a walk; unless limbs are very sore, it is easier to consent. I pretend control. Such victories are pyrrhic, consequences costly. My self-assertions are petty; I become the child I claim not to be. Since lockdown, we have slept in separate rooms; creeping alone under the insomnia duvet in the early hours causes less tension. I changed TV channels, hearing her bed creak. By the time D descends, I have washed yesterday’s dishes, managed to sneak the almost-drained into the cupboards. I have sorted pills, fed the aquarium, and waited; to take breakfast alone is unwise. She called me to sort my salad lunch and cooked the usual delicious healthy vegetarian dinner. My visits to the gym have ended, my weight increasing. I dread the question. She has baked lemon cakes for the neighbors, kept one for us. They are good, but calorific; she is unsettled if I decline. She spent the day making face-masks. Her skill is undeniable: I was called to take a photograph. My hours passed writing poetry; most is poor. Yet when frequent rejections arrive, I sink. Despite the late-night anti-depressant, I grow morose. My drifting hope is that in the morning I will remember to maintain my sadness. Usually leg pain shifts recall. Tomorrow will repeat today, without recycling. Will I remember it must be Wednesday?

Drink Black Liquid Death. Drawn April 15th in response to an April 13th dream.
When the Glasses Come Off. Drawn June 3rd.

Amie McGraham, Scottsdale, Arizona

Journal entries March 11-15

March 11
3 airports, 2 airplanes, 2 nursing homes, this tiny state with more pine trees than 
people, a skeevy Best Western, another fucking hospital and I have lost. An. Entire. Day. Something pushing me from motel to the long wooded driveway up to the hospital. Patches of snow. Yellow-gray sun slowly dropping. A meditation room. Blue stained glass and peace elusive. Mom asks me: “Is my daughter coming?”
March 12
Brunswick-Bath Best Western “Plus.” Unclear what qualifies that superlative. 
Not their bitter coffee. “Everyone looks for pots,” says the breakfast area server. 
“It’s not in pots.” Continues wiping down the table, spray bottle of disinfectant 
hooked to her belt loop.
“I’m glad you’re cleaning the surfaces,” a white haired woman remarks. “I was going to attend an . . . event in Portland Saturday but I’ve decided against it.” 
No one comments. What would you say? That’s too bad? Sorry to hear? Good idea?
Meanwhile, a questionable president addressed his flock in a stilted feel-good speech last night. No one feels good about this. 
March 13
Of course. I’m in dementia hell, hotel hell, virus hell. Exited hospital hell, 
Mom back at the Vicarage, so there’s that. 

Blood transfusion? No. Palliative Care? No. Hospice visits? Again, NO. Mom is . . . changing. She looks chalky. Translucent. Doing that weird hand thing, 
moving her bony fingers through the air as if directing an orchestra. 
March 15
6:39 am. Can’t get out of bed. I —
Mom’s place on lockdown. Dad’s place quarantined, 2 positive cases.

Naomi Karp, Washington, DC

Sheltering in place since March 13
Journal entry April 16

My dad’s mishpachah was wonderful. Zayde chanted every syllable at Brooklyn Passover seders. Bubbe made kreplach soup and had soft skin. But they were dime-a-dozen Eastern Europeans from the shtetl. 

Mom had the more exotic if frightening tale. A teenaged refugee from Nazi Germany, she escaped because Aunt Eugenie married a State Department guy. They’d lived through Kristallnacht, Grandpa’s Dachau stay, and losing the family distillery, “Borato.”
Now that they’re scattered, an electronic thread sews my maternal side together. The first email had the unlikely tagline “Seasons Greetings?” Cousin Frank in Germany, 90, wonders how Die Familie is surviving this viral nightmare. “Though the civilization-whitewash of us humans is rather thin, let’s all hope that things will improve and that the world might be just a little bit better.”

Through the miracle of “Reply All,” letters ping-pong around the globe. A cousin in Providence shares joy: a new grandson born, named for his grandpa who survived Hitler. Another explains Die Familie’s Argentina branch. The Third Reich brought them south. Later some moved to Israel, Brazil, Mexico, and even Deutschland. Who knew?

Greg splits time between England and China, but is social distancing in the Nevada desert. We’re a modern Diaspora. 

Emails still fly around our pandemic planet, sparked by a rabbi’s exhortation: “Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern.” I feel the heat of the family hug.

MaryAnn Moenck, Rural Western Wisconsin

At home with my husband since March 11 except for grocery runs and care packages dropped off at Mom’s assisted living in Maplewood, Minnesota. I last hugged my 95-year-old mother on March 5. 
Journal entries May 10 to May 17

May 10
Mothers Day. Did nothing. It sucked.

May 11 – May 12
Crabby Mom. Helicopter at 4:30 a.m. Failed video connect. She is giving up. I am disheartened. Cause of death: Abundance of caution.

May 13
I ordered an oversimplified tablet for Mom that will give us video chats. It’s a glimmer . . . Waiting on rain to plant our garden. The dirt is hard and dry. 

May 14
We planted the vegetable garden today. After weeks of poor quality lettuce in the store plus Covid concerns, I am looking forward most to fresh salads this summer. The lettuce row looks colorful, bright, and mouth-watering. 

May 15
First mowing of the season, and perfect weather. I am appropriately tired now at bedtime. Curbside supper from WaterShed while the rest of Wisconsin goes crazy with the Wisconsin Supreme Court opening the state abruptly. Supreme, my ass. Idiots! 

May 16
Ran the new tablet to Mom’s. Saw her through glass. She had a bad day, even told me the 8-inch tablet was too heavy to lift. I drank more wine than necessary after that. 

May 17
Triumph. “I love this thing!” Mom said, during our first video chat. She is just inside of capable with the new tablet. Online Scrabble with Mike and Ginny. They kicked our butts. Inch and a half of rain, badly needed. Good day. Goodnight. 

My Subway Driver

Kathleen M. Churchill, St. Germain-en-Laye, France        

Sheltering in place since March 14
Journal entries March 17 – April 4

March 17
H. arrives today. We seal the hallway to his room, ceiling to floor, using duct tape and thick plastic trash bags. I’m not sure how long he’ll be quarantined in there (M. just popped her head in to say two weeks). 
March 22
Seven days tomorrow since we’ve left the house. All week, police have been stopping pedestrians and motorists asking to see permission slips we are meant to carry with us. Yesterday, in balmy spring sunshine they were megaphone shouting “rentrez chez vous!” Go home!
March 25
We sneak into the forest for walks. Beneath budding trees, as far as you can see, small white flowers sheltering in dark greenery make a floral carpet, paths winding through, as if in a fairytale.
March 26
People who have never run, jog down the empty street—they look not yet defeated.
H. doesn’t leave his room. M. calls to him through the plastic. Sometimes he answers, sometimes he doesn’t. We put out food. Much of our days are spent worrying about our sons.
March 28
Evening cocktails in the garden. H. climbed out his bedroom window and sat in a chair under the blossoming chestnut tree while we huddled by the house, talking with him over the phone. 
March 31
Lapis blue skies. Last night strong winds blew open windows, dislodged shutters banging from their locks.
April 4
From my bedroom I can hear the train going to and from Paris. I wonder who, if anyone, still rides it.

Merry Benezra, Nova Scotia, Canada          

Sheltering in place with my cat Kali under our Provincial State of Emergency since March 22
Journal entry May 11

I dreamed of thirst, was thirsty overnight but too deeply asleep to do anything about it. A newspaper article about pandemic drinking mentions the problem of alcohol as a sleep disruptor, but I am finding it the very opposite. It is like wading into the Ouse with rocks sewn into one’s sweater pockets—effective. But it occurred to me to give some thought to my liver, or kidneys, or whatever organ has the difficult job of cleaning out the toxins. So I will make an effort to drink only one spritzer and refill with San Pellegrino. 

Yesterday I went upstairs to slip an apple cobbler recipe under Adele’s door. There was an ambulance in front of our building, and EMTs in full pandemic gear. It turned out that Winnie had fallen, yet when she left on the stretcher she seemed in marvelously good spirits. The excitement brought Clarissa out into the hallway, masked; she reported brightly that she has lung cancer, but that it is on, not inside, her lung, and it is shrinking. Adele came out and we triangulated at two meters apart to chat, each one holding her corner.

It was cold and drizzly and I too stayed indoors all day, in a funk and not even doing the 10-loonie apartment jog. Some of the trees are generating ragged green buds. Soon, or within a week or two, they should come into full leaf. Rain, here, is the magician that pulls summer out of its hat. I cannot wait.

Eric Forsbergh, Reston, Virginia              

Sheltering as much as possible since March 20 while providing dental services for emergencies only
Journal entry April 15

As a dentist, I am in a high-risk category, because I work literally in the patient’s mouth. Our office is open for emergencies only. If someone has an oral abscess, we need to treat them so they don’t overburden the emergency room.  
We take all precautions available to us, including personal protective equipment, but the N95 masks are on back order, and we have none of them. We take temperatures, and ask if patients have fever or cough. 
I worry about the healthy carriers of COVID19, who are shedding the virus. Also, there will be patients shedding virus who are not yet sick. My face has to be 18 inches from the patient’s mouth. Using the drill, there is an aerosol mist which spreads to a five-foot radius from the mouth. Contaminated with virus or not, it settles all over me and my assistant. Our necks are exposed, as are the backs of our heads. 
My wife and I have discussed this. I’m 69. My good health is my best protection, but, honestly, I expect to get the virus. We can’t get near our two children, each married, and each with a baby under six months. Including their spouses, I ache to hug all six of them.
I struggle with the chance of infecting my wife, and have offered to live in the basement. But she’s decided we’re in this together.                             

Berry Point

Vivienne Vermes, Paris, France

In lockdown since March 17 
Journal entry April 15

I live in the centre of Paris, in the heart of Montparnasse. This is normally one of the noisiest, most raucous parts of Paris. Now, the only sound I hear is a pigeon cooing.

Walking down to the crossroads between the Boulevard Raspail and the Boulevard du Montparnasse, I talk to the ghosts of Hemingway, Picasso, Beckett, Scott Fitzgerald. I stand in front of their cafés, the Rotonde, the Dôme and the Select, and wonder if they could ever have imagined this crossroads silent, deserted, the café chairs their wicker backs stacked clumsily against the windows, like the beige scales of some unruly reptile. 

Later, back in my flat, the spring daylight fades into dusk. I open the window. The dark, impassive façades of the buildings opposite look like so many empty faces. 

Then I hear it. Faint at first. Someone out there is clapping. The applause grows. People are bashing saucepans, clashing together spoons, or lids, or colanders, and clapping and cheering and whistling. This cacophony goes beyond the quartier, I can hear it in waves across the city.

Then comes the peal of bells from Notre Dame, the first time in a year, since the terrible fire. The bells merge with the applause. Gratitude for the heroes. I think of John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself . . . therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”                                                 

Unknown Despair. Collage.
Invisible Boundaries. Collage.

John D. Thompson, Pella, Iowa 

Sheltering in place alone since Monday, March 16
Journal entry March 30

Finally, I found out what PPE means! I’ve been listening to Coronavirus reports since Leap Year Day. I bet I’ve heard “PPE” said a thousand times and then some but never could spread that acronym out: Personal Protective Equipment! Of course! “PPE” at 3 syllables is much shorter than “Personal Protective Equipment” at 9! It seems the Coronovirus syndrome has found its way to the world of acronyms. Just ask the CDC or WHO. 

FYI, “ACH” is for “air changes per hour.” “ARI” abbreviates “acute respiratory infection.” “ASTM” unveils the “American Society for Testing and Materials” (now gone international). 

Being “AC” myself (acronym challenged), I’m finding myself OOB (out of breath) to keep up with all these media airborne acronyms for Co-Vid . . . there’s another one. And, for God’s sakes, what does the “N” stand for in N95 masks? “N”obody has one . . . or “N”early 95 masks available at this time?

I vow to learn at least 1 new CVA (coronavirus acronym) per day, starting today. Let’s start with “HEPA” shall we? Any guesses! “HEPA” stands for “high efficiency particulate air.” Now, that sounds good to me . . . especially the “high efficiency” part. At first, I thought HEPA meant “Help Each Person Always.”  

Speaking of HEPA, we are in a HEPA trouble if we don’t acquire quicker testing, combative antidotes, and a vaccine in the VNF (very near future).

Fireaters Boogaboo
Fireaters Promise

Kathleen Klassen, Ottawa, Ontario

I have been in relative isolation for many years as a result of a significant head injury and sheltering in place with two teenage boys since mid-March.
Journal entry March 23

I have seen memes suggesting that pandemics are no time to text your ex. (No time to shower, wash your hair or dress up in a ball gown either, but that hasn’t stopped anyone, amarite?) When it appeared things might be shutting down quickly a week and a half ago, I did just that—not the ball gown part, but pink boa and sparkly blue stilettos. And I called my ex. He was very grateful for my concern and as a result of the open dialogue I asked if he could help us out. (I was quite beside myself with thoughts of full-time single-parenting AND the zombie apocalypse. I can do one or the other—don’t think I could manage both.) With unexplained coughing in the house, I had to avoid grocery stores. I also thought I might look odd shopping in stilettos. He willingly agreed and delivered groceries the next day.
He texted a few days later to see if we “needed anything.” I wondered what kind of madness this was (we don’t talk or text) and then remembered it was pandemic days so anything was possible! Yes, we need things! We need so many things I can’t keep my head on straight—puffers and nose spray and a restart on life and most of all frozen pizza!
When he showed up again with bagsful of groceries, I was wearing my holey, unwashed sweats, a much more accurate depiction of my state.

Photo of handwritten journal entry
Photo of red tulip
The Last Tulip

Pencil and watercolor on watercolor paper.