Nancy Buck, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania

Journal entry, November 23, 2021

I’m a 7th grade English teacher who taught in-person during the pandemic, while navigating numerous quarantines, family illnesses, a broken foot, and the death of an aging parent. This entry is from the family’s first pandemic vacation, a year to the day after the death of my father.

Waiter, there’s a mermaid in my drink. Oh, wait, I think it’s me. And look, I’m starting to swim.

I am out. Out of school. Out of my burst bubble. Out of my pandemic mindset, I think. I am dining out, literally, on Duval Street. The Key West breeze gently carries the scents of salt air and grilled fish to our streetside table at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar. It lifts my hair as I lean in for a family selfie. Together at last – our first family vacation since the pandemic, since the “kids’” bouts of Covid, since the loss of my father a year ago today, and the countless quarantines. My first masked airplane ride brought us to this – my most memorable dinner.

It’s not the balsamic reduction tuna lingering in my memory, nor the cocorita, garnished with perfectly toasted coconut. It’s the little plastic mermaid poised on the rim, reminding me of what I need.

My family bobs to a girl strumming and singing “Goodbye Earl.” A crowd gathers. I am surrounded by strangers, riding the same wave. I am not afraid. I sing along, far away from standing double-masked in front of my class, straining my voice to teach, knowing I am lucky, moving simultaneously from online to in-person students, wondering how many more waves we will see this school year.

With a flick of my finger, the mermaid dives in. And for the moment, she’s free. Just like me.



Kirsten Morgan, Golden, Colorado

Journal entry, May 3, 2022

For a long time, I didn’t admit it but wondered why the life I used to navigate with ease had become not only distant but also more confusing. Was it age, my first assumption? Was it the world’s increasingly erratic behavior? For the last several months, I’ve been unable to organize my existence around activities and expectations that keep me grounded. I forget obligations, I can’t recall what my calendar says, I agree to do things and then wander away from remembering. These are surely descriptors of the aging mind, but this feels different somehow — and many people of all ages are noticing the same behaviors. It’s apparently a subliminal coping mechanism that the brain, that devious organ, has developed around our protection. When we feel overwhelmed, we just shut down, and the result is that not only the big things lose their impact but the smaller things also fall victim to erratic consciousness. It’s always been known that people under stress forget things so they can focus on the task at hand — caring for a sick relative, giving attention to a newborn, fending off an abusive spouse. Survival requires prioritization, and if we won’t do it consciously, our lizard brain shoves us aside and takes over. COVID, added to already existing anxieties, opened this bag of Aeolian winds and now they can’t be stuffed back inside. We’re ever drifting farther from home and there’s always a storm coming in.


Budding tree limbs against a lightly clouded sky.



kids fishing on the shore of a lake, the oldest helping add bait to a line
kids paddle boarding, some standing, some sitting to paddle

Isabel Soto-Garcia, Madrid, Spain

Journal entry, June 7, 2022

I have a life-long passion for pre-used stuff. Pandemic restrictions have limited my rummaging for recycled treasures in second-hand stores. And yet I’ve taken a quantum leap towards conservation: I’ve installed solar panels on my roof. Or rather, several young men, sweating heavily, did.

A two-day job, the company said, and the installation would be “external” as a mobile platform charmingly called a cherry picker would lift workers and panels onto my roof.

I felt righteous.

Frustration replaced the righteousness. Five workers, strangers to my personal pandemic bubble, entered my house on day one and walked up the three floors to access the loft and my roof via a small window. Maskless. I guess “external installation” was poetic license. 

I’m a cancer patient, always masked up in indoor spaces and in the company of strangers, however kind. I politely asked them to mask up.

“We have no masks,” they said.
“I’ll give you some,” I said.

Day two. Three workers today. Maskless. 
“Stay in your office,” says my (masked-up) husband.
My confinement lasts twenty-seven minutes. 
“I’m about to explode,” I text my husband. 
“I’ll email the company,” he answers. 

The company’s apology is lukewarm: anti-covid measures have been eased, guidelines are confusing . . . My husband asks the guys to don the masks I’d laid out for them the day before. They comply.

My solar panels are now in place. We draw energy from the sun.

Covid is still here.
Ageism and sexism are still here.
I am still here. 





Jennifer Schneider, Dresher, Pennsylvania

Journal entry, May 28, 2022

on shedding, molting, and re-engaging :: observations on the maskless

some mammals shed fur. other animals, reptiles such as snakes and lizards, shed skin. growth a life-long process, typically one of renewal even while simultaneously unsettling. snakes and lizards experience diminished appetites. molting processes equally meandering. anthropods such as crabs, lobsters, insects, and krill transform. growth always pressing. time always splitting. 
 
homosapiens shed, too. two times twelve plus two — no, three — months into the covid-19 pandemic and masks are starting to shed. sporadic, increasingly present, moments of exposed flesh. skin as viral as tweets. flashes, of sorts. amidst blinding light of camera clicks and warmth of crescent-moon smiles, a list of unexpected encounters. handkerchiefs both ready and revealing. less a time of renewal than renewed anxiety. similar to the anthropod. a time of vulnerability. plus a sprinkle of unmissed/can’t miss traits.trials.tribulations. 
 
1. Jawlines sag as COVID rates ricochet. 
2. Aging operates differently above and below lip lines.
3. Lips thin as waistlines expand.
4. Masks protect against multiple transmissions. 
5. Unwelcome pecks on cheeks wage new wars.
6. Grins reaffirm gripes with tooth-filled greens. 
7. Viruses rebound on the week’s starting line-ups. 
8. As COVID rates fall, social awkwardness rates continue to rise.
9. While Cupid’s bow is a sign of beauty and delight, some bows (and bad breath) bite. 
10. Soft whispers ebb & flow with new waves. Souls struggle to ride them to shore while labs run trials, squash loops, and lob lifeboats.


overlapping triangles, squares and circles of different patterns sewn together and crosstitched
circles of blue patterned fabric on checkered squares sewn together
diamonds of different patterned fabric stitched together with colorful crosstitching
fabric sunflowers of different colors and patterns on gray and white striped fabric behind a lace picket fence




Colorful still-life painting of tulips in a vase



Roberta Schine, New York, New York

Journal entries, March 2020 and March 2022

Rosie and I call each other a lot. It’s been that way for the fifty-plus years we’ve been friends. I almost know the sound of her ring. “Hey Rosie, what’s up?” I ask. “I just got back from the store,” she says. “I burned my clothes, took a Silkwood shower, threw the bag of groceries down the incinerator and douched with Clorox. I’m good.” We laugh, each knowing the other is scared shitless.  
 
The next morning, we meet at the usual place to walk. The corner of East 14th Street and First Avenue is exactly mid-way between our apartments. We don’t make changes because of our memory issues. Rosie immediately takes a 6’ piece of string out of her backpack and explains that she brought it to help maintain social distance. She tells me I’m a “drifter.” So, we hold the string taut between us and begin walking towards the East River.  

Having a conversation is difficult. For one thing, we’ve both noticed some hearing loss – mostly, each other’s. Masks don’t help; we sound muddled. And then there’s the ambient noise. Empty buses clang past and there are a few screaming babies on the street.  
 
I ask Rosie to speak up. She yells, “I’VE BEEN CONSTIPASTED ALL WEEK. NERVES.” I say, “Look, maybe we should just think of these walks as a Zen meditation. How about if we’re quiet together and then call each other when we get home?” We try but that doesn’t work; we’re both pretty chatty. Then, I remember my brother’s suggestion to use our phones. It’s a struggle to dial Rosie’s number without removing my surgical gloves. After a few mistakes, it rings and she answers from across the sidewalk. “Hi Rosie,” I say.  
 
March 2022  

Last week a sprig of green peeked through the snow at Tompkins Square Park. Now, Red-Tailed Hawks congregate and tend to their enormous nests. Rosie and I have our N-95s on under our chins. Rosie looks good. I realize I haven’t seen her smile much since her brother’s death last summer. We gaze at two headlines on the front page of the newspaper she just bought: “Covid cases down in New York City” followed by, “New Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is circulating in the US.” We try to process these two disparate facts. Finally, I say, “I think the daffodils are coming up. Shall we find out?” We link arms, pull our masks up and go in search of the pretty blossoms.  




Maureen Murphy Woodcock, Cathedral City, California

Journal entry, March 18, 2022

It’s been over 45 years and I believed I’d successfully banished a repeated nightmare that haunted and tortured me for weeks. But it’s back again – resurrected with this war in the Ukraine. Social media and the news networks have posted stories and pictures of young mothers – like I once was – with their handicapped children. Some of the kids have multiple, severe disabilities; meaning they are non-ambulatory, unable to feed themselves, or unable to talk. 

In the mid-1970’s, an older woman from Poland lived next door to us. She told me about how she’d fled Warsaw when it was under siege during WW II. She looked at my three children and said how lucky I was to have never been forced to escape an invading army. “You wouldn’t have made it with her,” she said, nodding at my 7-year-old daughter, Erika, who had multiple handicaps. The woman patted Erika’s wheelchair handles. “This thing is worthless. You can’t push it over rubble, up mountain paths, or across rivers with no bridges.” My neighbor sighed. “War means you’d have to make terrible life and death decisions. Go or stay? Would you abandon Erika? Just take only your other two children who would have a better chance of surviving?”

But I didn’t feel lucky. Her words crept into my sleep. And I wondered if my neighbor was telling me her story. I didn’t have the nerve to ask her. Night after night I worried about what I would do if my world was suddenly bombarded. It never was and, eventually, I felt fortunate and blessed. 

Since then, Erika has passed, and her older brother and sister have safely reached middle-age. 

For years, my terror of how to flee a war was forgotten. Until Ukraine happened. Once again, I didn’t sleep well. Still didn’t know what to do, how to help, or how to make the world we live in feel safe. But today I woke up, ready to pitch in. I won’t let nightmares paralyze me. If I inhale slowly, take deep calming breaths, there are many things I can do; contact agencies like UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, The Ukrainian Red Cross, Nova Ukraine, Project HOPE, Save the Children. I can contribute my air miles to refugees.

This morning, I phoned friends in Poland and told them how proud I am of them. I asked them if there’s anything I can do to help. These wonderful friends have given some Ukrainian mothers and children the unlimited use of their vacation home outside of Warsaw. 

Taking action, even tiny steps of action, has infused me with hope.






Cynthia Dorfman, Rockville, Maryland

Journal entry, February 20, 2022

The roundness of sand grains, the round of snowflakes in the rounding of time: history repeats itself with the same symbols, but in different ways. I counted snowflakes instead of sand while waiting. This is how I felt then and now feel again after 60 years — points of transition. Coming home from a long-postponed visit with my daughter in San Diego, I brushed sand from my coat and cleared snow from the car at BWI Marshall Airport in Baltimore. The pandemic has lingered, and all I can think of is the waiting. At first, I thought the shutdown was like a school closing after a blizzard with anticipation of a sledding holiday. Instead, the pandemic has lingered, cabin-fevered for two years. How can I cope with this waiting? 

The only memory I have of such a lengthy time span was over the two years anticipating my father’s return from a tour of duty in Okinawa with the Marines. It was the dawn of the 1960s and the beginning of my teen years. We had been forced to move from Camp Pendleton’s sandy hills to my grandmother’s icicled Victorian house at the foothills of the Adirondacks. 

Waiting during those two years taught me patience in the fog of fear — fear for my father’s life and safety. Now, over two years of the Covid pandemic, I have sat in fear for my children and grandchildren’s lives and safety. Once again, as I experience my seventh decade, it has been a time of counting snowflakes instead of sand. I am waiting for the snow of the virus to lift so that I can once again feel the sand slipping freely through my hands.


baby salamander sitting in cupped hand
Delicate Beauty 1
hands cupping a baby bunny
Delicate Beauty 2

Joel Savishinsky, Seattle, Washington

Journal entry, February 16, 2022

Today would have been my parents’ 81st anniversary, and while gazing at their World War WII-era wedding picture, I look to the right at the photos of five people they never got to meet . . . their great-grandchildren. Thinking about those generations in our third winter of Covid, I wonder about the medical crises that have marked their time in history. When my parents were children, they lived through the 1918 flu epidemic. Yet I never heard a word from them, or their parents, about that world-shattering illness. Their reticence, if that’s what it was, has always mystified me. Yet it is of a piece with the silence of our culture at large, whose literature, films and art have rarely dwelt on that traumatic, frightening period. It has taken Covid-19 — the great-grandchild of the 1918 virus — to remind us of that time and urge us to try to re-learn some of its lost lessons.

Looking at my parents’ faces, I ask myself: what were the fears they lived with as young parents. In the 1940s and 50s of my own childhood, my mother and father had experienced the defining pandemic of their adulthood: Polio. Born in 1944, I would develop mild symptoms at age 10; my older cousin David was stricken with a serious case of polio just a week before his Bar Mitzvah; and my wife Susan, born in 1945, would — as a four-year-old — end up in a special hospital ward, lying in a bed just feet away from children with iron lungs and paralyses that would soon end some of their lives.

Today, although I live in a country and world besieged by conflict and Covid-19, I still feel blessed by this anniversary’s mixing of memory and medicine. Their combined prognosis is, perhaps surprisingly, one of hope and gratitude.



Leane Cornwell, Mill City, Oregon

Journal entry, February 13, 2022

Any mid-February sunny day in the Pacific Northwest requires the doing of outdoor chores. Steve and I went to Bi-Mart for a few supplies to do ours. Found quickly, we headed towards the check-out counter. My thought of ‘It’s Sunday; we’ll be in and out in no time’ was very wrong.
 
As we rounded an aisle it was brutally obvious there would be a long wait in line. Only one register was open. I felt pity for the young man manning it.

We located the end of the line and were relieved to see a friend in line in front of the young man in front of us. Conversation ensued. Fishing was the subject and before I knew it, all three men were swapping fish tales.  

Our words and laughter snatched up the young woman behind us. She was buying archery supplies and a target. Her children wanting to practice before competing at the camp bow range during their summer vacation. As we visited and the line forwarded, we passed the candy shelves. I couldn’t not pick up that Hershey dark chocolate bar.

Time passed quickly and our friend checked out. 
 
Now it was the young man’s turn. He was returning an item for $31.99. Nolan, (we knew his name by now) the cashier, asked if he had a penny, he would give him $32. The young man didn’t. I said I did and offered it up.   

Apparently, he had noticed me add the chocolate bar to the supplies I held. As he left, he gave the two dollars back to Nolan telling him it was for my bar.  

Life is sweet.





Drawing of two hunting hounds, one staring at the viewer, the other looking off-page

Teresa Elguézabal, Baltimore, Maryland

Journal entry, February 2, 2022

In the parking lot, a woman sits on the curb near the library door, looking forlorn. It dawns on me that, under the pandemic schedule, I’ve arrived early. Through my passenger window, I tell the woman, “The library doesn’t open until noon.”
 
“What?” she asks. 
 
We have to repeat ourselves until she asks, “¿Ha-bla es-pa-ñol?”
 
Something about my speech, my hair and eye color — I assume — led her to guess right. “Sí, también ingles,” I say (English also). 

“Está muy linda,” (pretty) she says, and I smile: “Gracias.”   

From her cautious pronunciation, I figure she’s not a native Spanish speaker. Yet she knows that pronouns are integrated in verbs. I compliment her Spanish. She gives me a thumbs-up, and I return the gesture from inside my car. If not for the modified library hours, we wouldn’t have had this time to become buddies. We protect ourselves from infection with separation, yet Corona virus brought us together. 

“My name is Rhonda,” she says.  

The security guard tells her the library will open soon. “Move away from the door.” 

“I’m talking to a nice lady in Spanish,” she says, but he insists, “Move along.”
      
I don’t know how long Rhonda sat on that curb, but she appeared content leaving. She and I had, separately, escaped the quarantine of home and ended up chatting in Spanish. By daring to speak each language and meet others wherever they sit, we can mend what rips us apart.




Judith Krummeck, Maryland, USA/South Africa/Zimbabwe

Journal entry, January 26, 2022

As I write this, Sasha is chowing down on her breakfast from a bowl that has a matching black kitty at the bottom of it. Thelma has spent another night firmly locked against my hip in bed. They missed me, and I them. Against all odds, including four touch-and-go COVID-19 tests, I’m just back from that other place I call home. 

Was it reckless to go? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes, and yes. The omicron variant, identified by my astute scientific compatriots in South Africa, has peaked there and, being summer, we could all gather outside. First touchdown in Cape Town, my soul city, catching up with Erica and Peter; a quick run-up to remote Koringberg for afternoon tea with Hillary and Trevor; then to Hermanus to overnight with them in a family home overlooking the Indian Ocean. On Friday, a flight to Johannesburg, and a drive east to Millstream in Mpumalanga, with the welcome committee being a group of zebras. Where we were married. Twenty-five years ago. On January 18th. How could we not hold fast onto the dream of celebrating our silver wedding anniversary there, COVID-19 notwithstanding? And to be there with Jan and Julia, who celebrated with us all those years ago. The added bonus — a flight to Victoria Falls for me to see this indescribable Wonder of the World for the first time in my life.

So now, jetlagged and replete with memories, I remember the smells, the warmth, the unique beauty, the honking calls of hadedas, the irreplaceable friends. I think of having been home, from the place I now call home.



Barbara Buettner, Fanwood, New Jersey

Journal entry, January 16, 2022  

Today, a miracle of sorts: I hear my aunt’s voice. At 10:30 the temperature has reached 14 degrees and, possibly because of the cold, I decide to call my aunt Georgette who lives in Montreal. It must be even colder there. Sunday mornings was when I called her for over 18 years, since my mother died. But for about a year, her aides have forbidden her the phone, knowing that with her lapsed memory, she often calls her children up to 20 times a day.  

On the other end of the line, her voice appears. I conjure up her face with ease. She is 102 years old now and we have had a long relationship. I remind her carefully who I am, whom I married, and the names of my child and grandchildren, and of course, my mother’s name. She doesn’t remember clearly but she works at it nonetheless. She wonders why I’m not there and I remind her that I live in New Jersey and won’t be able to visit until virus restrictions lift at the Canadian border. I remind her that I sent a picture a month ago and she is blank, saying she never received it. The aide shouts out that she did and says she’ll show her later. 

It’s hard for her until we turn to lighthearted things — the weather, her latest activities, her recent birthday party. She doesn’t feel 102, she tells me. I ask her how old she feels. 24? I suggest. “Now don’t exaggerate,” she says, laughing. “Maybe 40” she insists. We joke a little in the here and now, she throwing in French words that come from deep in her unremembered world.

No matter that she doesn’t conjure up my face or who I am. I can see hers as if she is in front of me. I can conjure up the years of love in her presence, the feeling of belonging in her life the minute I crossed the threshold to her house and sat at her kitchen table with tea served in fancy porcelain cups. I feel her arms around me as I leave to return to “The States,” see the tears in her eyes and hear her injunction for us to hurry back. See her joking with my husband, whom she also loved but no longer remembers. I think of the summers she so generously took care of my younger sisters in the shadow of my young father’s death. I don’t mention their names, though she loved them. This conversation is enough now. I don’t want to cause some pain deep inside a brain that has begun to change.

So she doesn’t remember me, and maybe she doesn’t even remember my mother, her favorite sibling, whom she adored. I’m afraid to ask. I keep the conversation light and cool for this woman whose fading memory is something she’s entitled to at 102. I am so grateful to have unexpectedly heard her voice today. Even if I never talk to her again, today was like a Sunday miracle.


Fred Karlip, Baltimore, Maryland

Journal entry, January 24, 2022

Despite having gotten the vaccines, a medical condition has left me highly susceptible to COVID. Consequently, I’ve been stuck at home for a long time. And the question is always . . . what to do?  
 
As I stare out the living room window it occurs to me that maybe I should do something nice like feed the crows. It’s so cold and nasty outside, I think the crows could use a little love in the form of food. 
      
According to the Internet, since they’re scavengers, they eat almost everything. I did get some suggestions on some of their favorite foods, and I happen to have some real crow goodies, including raw peanuts, bits of cut up apple, broken pieces of matzoh, dog kibble, cut up chicken hotdogs, and Rice Chex. 
       
Crows can produce intelligence equal to that of a seven-year-old. They can problem solve using multiple steps and tools (see examples on YouTube!). They can remember thousands of places where they have stored and hidden food.   
      
I also learned that because they’re cautious, you need to conform to their expectations if you want them to trust you. They recognize faces and will categorize you as neutral, a friend who regularly feeds them, or an enemy who has threatened them. If they learn to trust you, not only might they eat your food but they may leave you gifts: some type of shiny object they found or maybe even a dead mouse. However, if you have offended them, you could very well be dive bombed.
   
Learning about, observing, and interacting with them has become my new hobby. 


Rosanne Singer, Baltimore, Maryland

Journal entry, January 16, 2022

On December 27th, I got one of those reminders that life can change in an instant. I slipped on a rain-slicked mat outside an Airbnb, fell to the ground, wrenched my right ankle and frightened the upstairs tenants and my family with my hair-raising screams. The six steps up to street level were the last steps I’d climb for a while. An emergency room visit and x-rays showed a bad sprain. I left the hospital several hours later with crutches, an air-cast and my husband and daughter on either arm.

A few days later back home in Baltimore, I started coughing and noticed that my husband’s morning coffee smelled foul. On January 3rd, I tested positive for COVID (despite being vaxed and boosted) and have spent two weeks cycling through an array of symptoms from congestion to chest tightness to coughing to low fever. I’ve left our apartment just once, to get fitted for a CAM boot for my ankle. My husband and I have lived like masked strangers, never touching, keeping distance.

I’ve also cycled through an array of emotions in these past three weeks. I’ve cried out in pain and self-pity; I’ve been short-tempered with my husband and beyond grateful; I’ve made jokes and been humorless; I’ve felt connected to friends and family through phone, text and email, and at the same time felt mightily bored, alone and lonely. 

The world is going through some tough gyrations, but I can’t wait to rejoin it. I’m looking out the apartment windows a lot and longing to walk our dog, return to the Saturday farmers market and taste the snow I can see coating the tree branches.



Two white Yorkie dogs cuddle on a plaid

Toddler in a red hat giggles at camera

Mark Tochen, Camas, Washington

Journal entry, December 29, 2021

Passager’s Pandemic Diaries are a brilliant concept beautifully carried out — I love these journal entries! But there’s a ginormous elephant in the Pandemic room, and I can’t tiptoe around it any longer — the antivaxxers. 

They include neighbors, friends, and family I love, but I don’t want to love them to death. As an old pediatrician, I’ve seen a few things — a roomful of young children lying on cots in a conference room become an improvised hospital ward, 40 children dying of measles encephalitis, surrounded by grieving, sobbing family members. And yet a year later an improved measles vaccine was saving lives leading eventually to measles’ eradication — 

I remember seeing an old farmer spasming all over his hospital bed in a Virginia hospital, dying of tetanus, “never had a shot in my life,” his proud boast ringing hollow through the room —

And a British medical report detailed the sequelae of the British decision to take the “P,” pertussis, out of children’s DPT shots, and 5000 children unnecessarily died in the UK that year of whooping cough —

800,000 Americans dying of a wild animal virus from China despite amazingly quick vaccine development, most deaths occurring in the unvaccinated, reservoirs of potential disease mostly missing the vaccinated —

The word “science” comes from the Latin word scio, meaning “I know.” There’s no conspiracy against the unvaccinated, only researchers finding a way to protect us all, and in the arms of the willing we find safety. 

Vaccines work!





Mark Tochen, Camas, Washington

Journal entry, October 16, 2021

I am now a connoisseur of walks, our main activity during pandemic times. Our basic walk a two-miler with courteous neighbors crossing the street to let us seniors pass, many sidewalk chats — “Jim, garden’s beautiful”, “Christine, glad real estate gave you a break.”

Our neighbors are gardeners and storytellers. Brian the retired cop visited our spring garden with his granddaughters, taking home flower photos and a bucket of flowers for their mom. Brian later called out as we walked by, “Helen, Mark, wait up! I have fresh-baked baklava for you.” I said, “Brian, no one has ever come running to hand us baklava!” We walked away munching baklava warm from the oven.

We walked white Pacific Ocean sands at Seaside, kids hung their sandals on a driftwood snag. We walked a lakeside path with runners, families, bikers, and moms pushing strollers passing politely, almost apologetic — “on your left — sorry!” One guy broke the tranquility, pumping hard on a mountain bike in mid-path, shouting “hoy” at every curve. I shook my head in concert with another pair of seniors, who said, “he’s sure in a hurry.”

Walking along the Columbia River, we saw barges and sailboats mingling in mid-river and a stern-wheeler churning upstream. Another couple took our picture, framed between beachgrass swaying above our heads and abandoned pilings now claimed by osprey nests. Glorious walks — metaphors of delight, defiance, and defeating this pandemic!


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
Partners






Un







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.
 
vaccine
 
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.


COVID LUNGS: A Trilogy 




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