Monday, November 2, 2020

Just Look Away


Just Look Away but Stay Active

My mornings typically start with NPR and coffee.  This Monday as I reached for the button on the radio I recoiled.  I knew the news would be about the election.  I just could not listen.  There was actually pressure in my chest and gut---I could not bear thinking about what the coming election was going to mean for our country.  Then, as my finger hovered over the button I thought “Well, maybe they’ll cover something more cheerful, like the earthquake in Turkey.”  It paralyzed me—reports about a a huge natural disaster is more cheerful than the election (or as some call it, the battle for democracy)?

Earlier in this election cycle I made a decision---I was going to save myself first.  I am a committed voter and citizen of the United State of America.  How could I save myself from the damage being done to my soul by the current media coverage of the political battles in our country while still being an active participant in democracy?  My response was to take action.  I volunteered to join a phone bank on Get Out the Vote day.

That did not work out too well.  I am not cut out for phone banking.  I was greeted with obscenities, rudeness, wrong numbers and long waits for a connection.  I replaced phone banking action with a more local activity—creating “handmade” postcards to encourage voters in my state to vote for candidates for our state legislature who supported education and healthcare.  That was a very satisfying and soothing activity.  I felt I had contributed and there was no violence done.

Thus, I have made a new promise to myself.  Look away from the media circus and turn instead to small local actions.  Years ago, I read State of Fear, by Michael Crichton.  His message still resonates with me, that the media and politicians have the effect, intentional or not, of making us all live in a frenzied of fear.   And that was written before the internet grabbed us all.  Later Myra Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy forecast the rise of social media (and misinformation) in the face of a pandemic.  Her work helped me believe in the power of social media, both to inform but also to mislead.

My answer to these tensions that most of us are feeling is twofold.  Look away from the media and take two steps to the center.  The fear created by media and politicians have driven us to extremes.  I still watch or listen to some news but when I start feeling the churning in my gut or the pain in my chest I stop.  I have been intentionally listening to interviews of “average citizens” trying to understand those with a viewpoint different from my own.  To protect myself I’ve chosen the PBS interviews Amna Nawaz has done with a mix of voters after the presidential debates.  Listening with love in my heart for all of America I have tried to hear their concerns and beliefs.  As a result, I think I understand that there is honest concern and good intentions in at least some of the “opposition.”  I hope that as we move past the election that we can find these points of agreement or sympathy and build on them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 a Reader's Journey Wednesay 3.25.2020

OMG--Is that tightness in my chest?

Or--hypochondria/paranoia in the age of COVID-19

Most of the time noting seems normal any longer!  From time to time I imagine (or feel) symptoms of coming down the with THE VIRUS!  I'm trying to stay calm and carry on.  This morning I'm feeling a little tightness in my chest.  Instead of rushing to disaster I'm considering alternative causes of this sensation.

  1. House repairs and clean up.  I've painted the ceiling in my craft room (and helped move furniture a little).  The painting, with my bad shoulder reaching over my head, is a very uncomfortable movement.  The bad shoulder is a result of rotator cuff repair as a result of a snowboarding accident.)  I've done a little bit of painting at a time (Done now!).  It could be just stretching muscles that I haven't used for a long time. Pulling grass out of flower beds and other spring yard clean up is also stretching similar structures.
  2. Too much coffee.  Since I don't have to rush out to meetings, the YMCA, lectures, or bookclub I can relax, read one of the books on the stack next to the door, read the papers, and drink coffee.  Maybe I should get some decaf!
  3.  Medical "Procedures."  Doing the new exercises my orthopedic surgeon prescribed because my should is increasingly weak may have created some strain.
  4. Anxiety! Who doesn't have these moments during this pandemic?
My body has some aches and pains.  One of the symptoms of COVID-19 is muscle pain.  
  1. Old Body.  Silly me, I'm old and have some arthritis.  We're having spring weather fronts move through and my joints often ache when the weather turns.
  2. Olympic Disappointment (just kidding.)  I'm not getting to the YMCA for my regular exercise classes.  Although I'm trying to exercise at home I don't think up creative new ways to move or ways that don't necessarily feel comfortable.  My instructors are great and pushing me in ways I wouldn't go!
  3. Inactivity.  I'm sitting more.  I have time to read and play my video game.  Well, what do I expect?  I know that all those joints hurt the more I sit!
  4. Spring Gardening.  See above.  Not only does pulling and digging hit those unused chest muscles but also all the joints that give me trouble.

Go walk the dog!  This morning just as I was going to walk her it started spitting snow. As I write I'm beginning to see some blue sky through the clouds.  Dreya, the dog, is seeing it too I think.  She's giving me the eye!  We both always feel better as we patrol the neighborhood while we get some sunshine and fresh air.  

Remember what you don't have!  I don't have a cough.  My senses of smell and taste are working well.  No fever.  I haven't been aware of any potential exposures.  There are two close friends with potential links to a victim, but I haven't spent much (or any) face-to-face time with them.

Do laundry and sanitize surfaces in the house.  I went to the grocery yesterday and completely forgot that I should shower and wash my clothes afterward.  Probably parking shoes at the door would be a good practice as well.  (Maybe I should order some new slippers for inside!)  Sanitizing surfaces make me feel virtuous.  It also gets me to clean off the counter and get up and move! 

Just In Case:  If I actually have THE VIRUS I am socially isolating myself.  Don't worry.  I'm not ignoring the risk of transferring virus the to the people I love the most.


I hope all of you are finding ways to embrace the options offered by our forced isolation.  I'm still trying to put limits on my consumption of pandemic coverage and doing a pretty good job of it.  Right now I'm reading a challenging book, Say Nothing:  A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (2019).   I can't say it's lightening my mood, but it is definitely taking my mind off of The Virus.  It's particularly engaging for me since the part that I'm reading now is set in 1969-1972ish.  It marks the beginning of my college career and adulthood.  It gives me opportunities to compare my own experiences with The Troubles.  Of course, we were aware of the violence going on in Ireland but we were more absorbed with the war protests in our own country.  I also lived in the midwest at the time.  It wasn't really a hotbed of Irish heritage (unless you lived in Chicago).  Two of the people Keefe is following are sisters of about my vintage.  The comparison of their lives and choice with mine regarding the Vietnam war is particularly poignant for me.  

BYW--feel free to comment on these blog posts.  I see visitors but no one is talking!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

COVID-19 a Reader's Journey Saturday 3.22.2020

4am Panic!

Watching a recorded episode of the PBS NewsHour at 10 pm does not lead to good sleep.  So far I've been able to resist watching the stock market ticker.  This morning I awoke at 4 a.m. with an adrenaline surge and at 5 a.m. I was compelled to take a peek at my investments.  Down significantly but not as bad as I feared.  In fact, sort of similar to the 2008 crash. 

This afternoon I had a virtual happy hour with friends.  One of the couples has a nephew who lives in New York but has stayed in San Jose to help his mother for a few weeks.  The nephew really read the riot act to my friends about maintaining social isolation and protecting their health.  (And the health of others.)  He shared lots of statistics about the trajectory of the infection and hospitalizations.  Also a lot of concern about who will get the limited number of hospital beds and respirators.  Thus the virtual happy hour. We had planned to be reckless and have a 6 foot safety zone happy hour.  At the last minute, we all said we'd rather not take a chance of catching or spreading infection and switched to the virtual option. It was fun and a great way to connect with friends, but not the same as face-to-face.

We really are in uncharted waters here.  I can choose to live in anxiety or in trust that with some attention to the details of life all will work out.  It may not be the future that I planned, but I don't want to live in fear.  If I let my imagination run wild I'll live and experience the emotional toll of countless disasters that probably won't actually happen. 

So, with a rough start to the day, it actually turned out well.  My painting project is progressing.  We had another beautiful spring day.  I was able to mow the back yard.  (That makes my dog, Dreya, happy.  She doesn't like long grass on her feet.  Such a princess!) And happy hour with friends!  All is good so far.

Friday, March 20, 2020

COVID-19 A Reader's Journey Tuesday 3.17.2020

Looking for Positives in the Pandemic

I'll admit--I went to the noon meeting of my spiritual group yesterday.  My friend promised we'd be small (4-5 people).  We ended up with eleven, way above the recommended limit of five.  I won't return in person and will use online meetings instead.  But, the meeting gave me the opportunity to reformulate my thinking about this social distancing campaign and how I reconcile my own thinking and emotions to our new reality.

First, I'm changing the way I think about my own decisions.  I found myself feeling bad about my decisions to back out of group events.  Most weeks I attend at least six to eight face-to-face events.  Now that's all in past-tense.  I used to attend all those events.  It was very hard to back out.  In some cases, the decision was made for me by closures.  In others, I had to announce it myself.  For a while, I was very worried about offending my friends and colleagues.  It was as if I was telling these people they were germ-ridden and a danger to me!  That is until I was discussing my feelings with a friend (by phone).  She wisely observed that I was setting boundaries for myself, not others!  Funny, after I decided to back out of one of my last group activities I immediately got a phone call from one of the members thanking me for taking the first step.  Phase one of changing my perspectives to a more positive view.  I also came to understand that I needed to be responsible about my contacts to protect my family.  My two children, one significant other and their father all have at least one sort of auto-immune condition that puts them at higher risk. 

Later I was looking out the front window onto the street and was able to observe a lovely grouping of what looked like three families with young children in conversation.  They were observing the six-foot distancing rule.  Suddenly I realized that in the past few days I've seen and experienced an increased feeling of community.  The foot-traffic in neighborhoods has dramatically increased.  For example, three high school girls walking with their lacrosse sticks down to the park to practice.  Normally they would be at the school practice field and invisible to their immediate neighbors.  Checking with my health-challenged neighbor before I went to the grocery.  Phone calls from friends when normally we only text.  Chatting with an old friend I haven't seen for years during the 7-9 am grocery store's "seniors only" shopping hours.  I'm blessed to be in a low-infection state, at least so far.  Some of these activities will not be possible in higher density communities or areas with high infection rates. 

Shutting down our busy lives is making it possible for us to relax a bit and reconnect with our communities.  Having to focus on our networks and evaluate our "risk" also makes us aware of our potential threats to others.  Thus, stepping back is actually a gift to our friends, neighbors, and families.

Finally, I want to offer a shout out for the creative social consciousness of many of our local stores.  They have come up with special "seniors and vulnerable populations" shopping hours.  Their consideration of the community is greatly appreciated.  It's way too easy to focus on the negatives of our situation.  Egregious examples of irresponsible behavior are being published far and wide.  I hope that we can also celebrate the more positive examples of care that come our way.

COVID-19 A Reader's Journey Monday 3.16.2020


I'm going to transform my book blog into reflections as we move through this unique experience.  That is, unique to us.  Past generations have had similar experiences.  I remember a big yellow quarantine sign on our house as I was growing up.  I don't remember if it was for mumps or measles. as a toddler, my best friend contracted polio.  In neither case did I have the background or awareness to be really frightened.  However, I do know my mother and father were terrified.  Not to mention the Black Plague.

For the last month, I've known this was coming.  I've read way too many apocalyptic novels and nonfiction books and have a "theoretical" background in pandemics.  I'll keep recommending horrifying fiction and non-fiction as I blog about our shared experiences.  Today's recommendation:  Feed, by Myra Grant. It starts with zombies, but they are just a device to get into exploration of the intersection of media, politics, and government agencies. It is the first of a trilogy.  Since we're all isolation I suggest you just order all three at once.  I've used it in my college content literacy courses and generally had positive responses from students.

Agitation today.  Monday, and I find myself incapable of settling into anything.  I can't stick with cleaning, painting, reading or gardening.  Suddenly I realize that the problem is that all of my regular schedule has been blown up by COVID-19.  What got me agitated initially was finding out the YMCA had closed.  No water aerobics, no Pilates, no schedule for Lee Ann!  My Osher lectures and hikes had already been canceled. Although I'm retired and regularly proclaim that every day is a weekend, I suddenly had to confront the reality that I had indeed created a schedule of retirement.  I expect everyone does this to one extent to another.  When my children were young we had regular schedules, even in the year I did not work and just focused on finishing my dissertation.  Apparently, retirees craft a schedule.  One of the stressors in this pandemic is that we've all lost our schedules. Once I realized the source of the agitation I've been better able to settle into a new structure.

We are geniuses at this!  Already my regularly scheduled group meetings are setting up video or teleconferencing options. My friends and family are calling on the phone to talk!  (Texting is fine, but we're suddenly needing real contact.)  Of course, that blows up my newly created schedule.  But, I'm learning to adjust! My schedule:  make coffee, read the newspapers (finally),  write a bit, walk the dog, do my exercises, paint the craft room or garden, rest, play my video game.  (Those of you who don't know that I'm a gamer, I'm finding this part of my schedule most comforting!  I'm on Discord, a voice-over-internet service while playing most days.  My friend in Wisconsin and I chat as we play.  My guild creates weekly events that include some discussions as well.  I've never met these people in person, but they are an important part of my social network.  I also have face-to-face friends who have similar networks around on-line chess, Words with Friends, and other online games.) I end the day with some TV, PBS Newshour or something I've recorded.  This week I'm watching His Dark Materials an HBO series adapted from Phillip Pullman's YA novels.  I've read them all years ago and am really enjoying the adaptation.  Bonus!  Lin-Manuel Miranda is in the cast!

I wish you all well in adapting to your new schedules!  They will emerge.  Once I recognized the source of my agitation I was able to think clearly and set about creating structure for myself.  (And adjusting to friends disrupting it by calling me.  A welcome disruption these days!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Better Man, by Louise Penny

2019  Minotaur Books

I'm going to try writing this blog as I read.  I'll give page numbers so that you can avoid "spoilers."  (We'll see how well this works.  As always, feedback is appreciated.)

A note about the blog.  I began this for my pre-service and in-service teachers as I professed various literacy methods courses.  The focus was originally on young adult and children's literature.  I am now retired (emeritus)  and have decided to change the focus of the blog to "literary travels."  My first retirement trip was to Quebec to explore the settings of Louise Penny's oeuvre. As I add entries to this blog I will also post travel notes and photos.

The beginning...twitter posts about both Gamache and Clara Morrow.  Penny is always in tune with important trends in our lives.  Twitter and the trolls that misuse this type of social media are a plague upon the land.  Our local university football coach, Brian Harsin, made some wonderful comments recently about negative twitter feeds about specific players and the performance of the team in general.  His analysis of "twitiots" is brilliant.  (You can listen to him here.)  Yes, I have a twitter account.  Haven't read it for months!  I'm beginning to see my ending target and am increasingly aware of how I spend my time.  I don't want to waste my time reading nonsense.  I'll spend it reading carefully crafted work by thoughtful, informed people rather than twitiots.

Motto of Sûreté du Québec
Gamache returns to the Sûreté du Québec. While in Montreal I visited what I think is its headquarters.  I didn't think to try and enter.  Probably my mid-western politeness is what holds me back from being so brazen as to try and open a door.  Still, it didn't look like an American official building, no long staircase leading to pillars surrounding double doors.  Maybe Québécois are more frugal and have better priorities about where public funds should be spent. Maybe I was at a branch office.

Chapter 4
Crossing the St.Lawrence river on the Champlain Bridge Gamache is again challenged by his fear of heights.  This bridge and the river are important motifs in the Inspector Gamache books.  It's small wonder.  I visited Montreal in the fall.  Thank goodness no ice!  But the river and bridge are most impressive.  Now that I live in the Western United States, where almost all of our rivers are dammed, It's easy to forget how powerful untamed rivers are.  For a part of my life, I lived almost on the banks of the Mississippi River.  Flooding happened.  Until you stand near the rushing waters of a large river it is difficult to understand the power of these types of waters.  The Champlain Bridge was also featured in Penny's first book Still Life.

Closing Thoughts
At the end of Chapter 11 Penny closes with "...Sometimes we have to do something stupid (Gamache).  
     It did not seem to Isabelle Lacoste a great addition to the Sûreté motto.
         "Sevice, integrity, justice, and, occasionally, stupidity."
I think it is an important clue to Gamache's approach to policing and life.  I think we need sometimes to be willing to throw caution to the wind and commit to an action that appears stupid but indeed may lead to the first part of the motto, particularly integrity.

The Traveling Reader--Carry a Book

December 2019--Taos, New Mexico

I travel alone frequently when my journey's goals would bore traveling companions.  I'm traveling to see two of my brothers and use up my timeshare points for the year.  Taos in mid-December seems to be pretty tourist-free.  I'm doing some shopping and headed for the ski area this afternoon.  But, this morning as I was searching for a breakfast spot I've made a discovery.  When you're traveling alone a great way to begin conversations is to carry and actual book.  Holding Holmes on the Range,  by Steve Hockensmith gave me opportunity to make two new connections during my wanderings.  Bob Kustra recently had an article in The Idaho Statesman that touched on the value of holding paper books (although the article was really about cybersecurity).  This posting isn't really about cybersecurity or the realities of digital publishing's effects on authors and booksellers, rather it adds to Kustra's musings about the value of paper books.

For several years now I've been reading from my smartphone while waiting for meals in restaurants, drinking coffee in various shops, and hanging out in public spaces.  Other times I am "plugged in" with ear-buds listening to an audiobook.  This time I was forced to carry an actual book because it was only available to me in print and I have the CDs to listen to the second book in the series in the car as I drive on to Albuquerque and Tucson.  All of a sudden I'm meeting new people, having fascinating conversations and getting ideas for new titles to read.

I had to explore to find my breakfast.  In off-season, the spot my sister-in-law had recommended was closed until Friday.  After lengthy poking around to find something interesting I settled down and had a very nice tamale and eggs.  As I got ready to leave a couple stopped me and asked what I was reading.  We talked for a while, he gave me his business card, and I picked up a couple of reading ideas.  Venturing on a window display of a cast-iron cornbread pan caught my eye.  The shop was one of the few open so I dropped in to buy one for a house gift and one for myself.  Over the transaction, the woman at the register asked about the book.  We had at least a half-hour conversation about a wide range of topics including our millennial children, the state of the arts in modern society, and rural living.  It also turns out that she is an aspiring author.  We have exchanged "calling" cards (if you're retired can you have a business card?), emails, and a couple reading ideas.

Many years ago while soaking at Pagosa Springs, CO I was reading from a World of Warcraft book.  Through the three pools of decreasing heat I soaked in I had three conversations about gaming, World of Warcraft literature, and YA books in general.

These conversations have not occurred when I travel with my smartphone.  People don't see the title or even know that you're reading instead of engaging with social media.  What a wonderful lesson to learn.  I didn't have my book in a satchel, briefcase, or backpack.  I carried it in my hand because I was "going light."  Lesson learned.  I'll travel with this in mind and paper copy of a book from now on.