Sunday Reading: Burnell’s Market & Poetry

This past week has been really hard because my partner had to work over the weekend, was very busy with that work, and almost all of the childcare fell on me. It was also around 17 degrees a couple days and kept snowing, so it wasn’t a simple matter of popping outside to help me and Lyra deal with the hours. And my kid can play by herself, but for whatever reason, this past week she refused to even try for any amount of time. So I haven’t read or even considered reading much of anything. Still, a couple things caught my attention and poetry is… well, poetry. 

Voices from the Pandemic: ‘Wearing a mask won’t protect us from our history.’

Burnell Cotlon’s experience as a small grocer “turned food pantry” in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

Last week, I caught a lady in the back of the store stuffing things into her purse. We don’t really have shoplifters here. This whole store is two aisles. I can see everything from my seat up front. So I walked over to her real calm and put my hand on her shoulder. I took her purse and opened it up. Inside she had a carton of eggs, a six-pack of wieners, and two or three candy bars. She started crying. She said she had three kids, and her man had lost his job, and they had nothing to eat and no place to go. Maybe it was a lie. I don’t know. But who’s making up stories for seven or eight dollars of groceries? She was telling me, “Please, please, I’m begging you,” and I stood there and thought about it, and what am I supposed to do?

I said: “That’s okay. You’re all right.” I let her take it. I like to help. I always want to say yes. But I’m starting to get more desperate myself, so it’s getting harder.

This is about so much more than what’s happening right now, as Mr. Cotlon goes on to talk about with more succinctness and understanding than I can express. And for anyone with kids, you can appreciate the terror of not being able to feed them.

There’s a GoFundMe for Mr. Cotlon you can pitch into here.

And now for some poetry.

Never to Dream of Spiders by Audre Lorde

History as a Process by Amiri Baraka

I Leave Her Weeping by Liz Rosenberg

An Exercise in Love by Diane Di Prima

xo

Sunday Reading: Portals, Solitude, & Rest

This week I have not read very much so mostly I have been saving things to read and consequently don’t have much to say about each thing. 

Our Dust by C.D. Wright

I was just thinking about all this last night. Last night being any night.

Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’

About COVID-19 in India. About the future. Looking forward to reading this when kiddo is asleep or distracted with My Little Pony.

Standing on the Shoulders of Solitude: Newton, the Plague, and How Quarantine Fomented the Greatest Leap in Science

Since this started, I’ve been increasingly curious about how previous outbreaks of illness have been handled, written about, etc. I’ve also been thinking about solitude, physical and otherwise. Haven’t read this yet but looking forward to it.

As grind culture slows down, will you? by The Nap Ministry

It’s no secret that people often use work and busy-ness to avoid looking at themselves, their history, their pain, and to deny a future of change. I’ve been following their IG account for a while and it’s like a balm every time I read a post.

Pandowrimo, prompt 8 by Adrienne Maree Brown

“choose a future for all of us”

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Sorry or Safe or Both

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Soon I’m to have an essay published in a magazine, the first time in about 4 years, and it’s peculiar because the essay was written before COVID-19 became a global concern. I remember the first round of editing in a coffeeshop R and I like in Golden. My partner is one who becomes interested in a subject and reads everything he can about it. He has a true gift for absorbing information and then synthesizing it for others without losing the nuance or conflating it. I remember in the coffeeshop he told me about what was going on in China. He kept updating me. I kept editing. The contagiousness of this virus struck me as being significant, compared to, say, the flu, but no one else appeared to be worried, so I assumed there must be something I don’t understand. Which is true. And not true.

Then it’s like everything changed overnight. As we did our last in person grocery shopping trip, I thought about the drive to behave as though everything is normal. I thought about not wanting to appear irrational, to the extent of going along with others when it doesn’t seem right. Two of Lyra’s teachers were out sick the last day we brought her to school and I felt myself go cold with the question, “Do they know if it’s the flu? Is it COVID-19?” I didn’t ask. I just added that I hoped they would feel better soon and looked at my daughter. Love makes your eyes desperate to build a protective layer around the subject of their gaze. My eyes lit a candle and it burned so brightly that I can feel the prickly heat on my retinas. Later, we found they had the flu and I was relieved that I didn’t express any concern that would’ve probably been read as ridiculous.

When you’re accustomed to being sorry for feeling, it’s hard to lean into the idea of safety. It simply doesn’t seem real.

Not that I would have behaved much differently. But would I have been able to write that essay? I don’t think so. Does that mean anything? Not sure.

There’s a border between before and after, as though the thinking itself could be contagious, could spread in all directions. Someone set off fireworks one night outside our apartment building and the explosions immediately turned me into a protective, hunched creature, gripping my daughter tightly and shielding her head with my arms. It took some time to ease my breathing. She was alarmed. I tried to explain the noise, my response. I overreacted. I thought we were in danger, but we weren’t. She’s confused, issuing question after question.

Several friends have commented that it’s surreal for so much normalcy to exist alongside staggering changes. In the town we used to live in, the city had to remove basketball hoops from parks so that people would stop meeting up to play. Last week my Instagram feed was littered with photos of caution-taped playgrounds. My friends who are stay-at-home parents to children under 5 or those with chronic illness report not much change in their day to day lives, aside from where there is increased risk.

Children my daughter’s age are already navigating risk assessment, mostly through the actions they perform with their bodies. I admit to feeling sorry for kids with parents who don’t let them climb anything at the playground. I am not surprised when they are much older than my daughter and yet have significantly lower physical intelligence, as well as an inability to cope when dealing with a sudden fall. They seem so devastated, so betrayed. They stop playing.

I haven’t yet successfully explained risk assessment for a pandemic. I am not sure how to explain it to myself. The other night I was strongly considering the risk involved to acquire brownie ingredients and ice cream, which seems like the most idiotic and relatable plot point for an apocalyptic movie. In a wry voice, I could make the joke, I always knew carbs would kill me. Yet I find myself deeply annoyed by people who won’t social distance (not can’t, but won’t). I’m angry and afraid for people with higher risk of death, for anyone who literally can’t afford to be sick. And I didn’t go anywhere. I wonder what I would do if I was dying and wanted to tell my daughter goodbye. If she was dying, I know that I would be willing to risk my own sickness and death to be with her until the end. I would fight anyone who tried to stop me. Actually fight them.

Risk evaluation fluctuates so much from moment to moment. Given that I was already at home for years and that R could work from home prior, some days feel obscenely “normal”. There are people walking their dogs alone in the spring evenings. Cars whoosh by, though less of them. Still, I don’t think I could write what I wrote three months ago.

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Sunday Reading: Change, Illness, Poetry

It’s April now. Spring getting its rhythm. The cruelest month. National Poetry month. I’m leaning heavy into this embrace. 

http://getwellsoon.labr.io — a project by Sam Levigne and Tega Brain

I’ve been following the work of Johanna Hedva for several years now and that’s what brought me to this project. They wrote an introduction, in a sense, and I found it to be really powerful and elegant and pointed and everything that I come to expect from their writing.

I Sit and Sew by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson & Poem of the Week: The Idler by Alice Dunbar Nelson

Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson was an American poet, playwright, journalist, social activist, and an early published diarist. Her work is largely about being Black in America, a woman, and colorism. She was part of the Harlem Renaissance. These two poems by her struck me as being really timely. Probably because many issues facing us then are still a problem today.

Sometimes A Wild God by Tom Hirons

I read this years ago and was reminded of it recently.  I love the atmosphere of it, the imagery, and the way it relishes bodies, cosmic and otherwise.

Opinion: This is not home schooling, distance learning, or online schooling. by Maureen Downey

“Stephanie Jones and Hilary Hughes are University of Georgia professors in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice and co-directors of the Red Clay Writing Project. They say something today that needs to be repeated daily like a mantra: What is happening is not home schooling. It is not distance learning. It is not online schooling.”

I really liked seeing this article because I see so many people trying to behave as though this should be a “normal” schooling period and that the only challenges are the “at home” or “distance” or “online” part, which is simply not true.

Some of the best online poetry, as read by actual poets. by John Freedman

A really good collection. If you’re trying to read poetry and feeling stymied by how to read it, a great way to address that is by listening to poets read poems.

A Change in Lesson Plans: Homeschooling in a Pandemic by Emily Raboteau

I haven’t fully read this yet, but it appears to be a thoughtful consideration of how coping with a pandemic changes learning.

 

xoxo

Sunday Reading : (Not Only Reading)

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I used to do this series highlighting things I enjoyed reading throughout the week or things I wanted to save for myself to enjoy on Sunday. Then life got busier, we had a child. I have never enjoyed reading things on screens as much as on paper, so when I had time to read I prioritized books and zines. But I miss some of the surprising richness and connection from online media. So let’s give this a go. 

You’ll Never Find Another by Lydia Copeland

I love the atmosphere of this piece, the touches of specificity that really ground it in the body, the home, even as the dream pulls elsewhere.

These Symphonies & Operas Are Hosting Virtual Shows for You to Enjoy at Home by Megan Schaltegger

We’ve been enjoying some Met Opera productions at home. You don’t have to have some education or background on types of music to enjoy. Just listen to the music. Feelings are feelings are feelings.

Can Poetry Change Your Life? by Louis Menand

This is from 2017 but I haven’t read it and my friend Kathleen shared it with me recently. It’s a critic’s review of a book, but as with any good bit of criticism, it’s about more than just one piece of artistry. If you like poetry and/or pop music, I recommend giving it a read.

Freaking Homeschool by Sacha Mardou

This comic shares an experience that many parents can probably relate to in relation to attempting homeschooling, but in a broader sense, it describes what parents engage in all the time — a reckoning of old wounds stimulated by the presence of a child experiencing their own challenges and pains. I’m reluctant to call this pandemic a “gift”, but I do hope the forced shift in perspective encourages growth for people who survive it.

Carson Ellis is hosting Quarantine Art Club

It looks super fun whether you’re 5 years old or 60 years old. Lyra is a little too young to appreciate much in the way of direction — or maybe that’s just her personality — but I might try anyway.

People are decorating their windows with hearts and messages of hope right now by Alisha Ebrahimji

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to feel connected when we can’t be in each other’s presence. Sometimes the simplest solutions are powerful. Even better when it gives little kids ways to express their feelings.

Mom Talk: The Case for Small Magic by Erin Feher

So necessary right now.

 

xoxo

On Being at Home… A Lot

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Since it became clear that social distancing would be necessary to slow down the spread of coronavirus and hopefully avoid overwhelming our medical system, there’s been a lot of advice circulating on how best to deal with this event. The advice tends to fall into two categories: optimistic “use this time to tackle that project you’ve been putting off” or anti-capitalist crossover self-care crowd saying “now is not the time for productivity, it’s time to rest”. This advice or validation is not wrong, depending on what you feel you need, but I do think as extremes on a spectrum of activity it tends to take the short view when this crisis is more than likely going to take a long time to be resolved. 

For those needing to make dramatic adjustments (and frankly having the privilege to do so), I have a few suggestions based on my 10+ years being chronically ill and experience as a stay-at-home parent. Obviously my suggestions cannot apply to everyone and I don’t pretend to speak for people who are unable to self-isolate at home. This goes out to all the people who have eaten fennel for the first time in their lives because it was the only fresh thing they could find at the supermarket. 

  1. Avoid trying to impose structure on yourself with big, meaningful plans. For example, “I’m going to re-establish my spiritual practices,” or “I’m going to write a novel like I’ve always wanted.” Instead, develop structure through routine. Maintain as much of what’s normal for you as possible, but don’t be afraid to embrace your relative freedom in planning your day. Maybe you’re not a morning person, maybe you are exhausted mid-day. Loosely plan according to your energy flow. If you can add the practice of something important to you, then do it in small doses. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. If you were not somehow finding a way to carve out time to work at a big project or skill, you’re probably not going to do it now. Time does not magically create motivation or discipline. It does however afford you the chance to begin. Keep your goals and expectations low,  and instead deep dive into your curiosity, your desire. Avoid anticipating a particular outcome. 
  3. Find a way to move your body. Dancing, walking, yoga, low impact calisthenics, leg lifts in the bath. Whatever. You don’t need fancy gear or special training. No one gives a damn if you’re gassy or there are holes in your sweatpants. If you want to learn how to do push-ups, check YouTube for tutorials. We are not talking about weight loss and this is not a Hollywood prison montage. If you become Sarah Connor over this shit, you need to do some inner work.
  4. Be flexible. Access your body and your feelings regularly. Am I dehydrated? Am I not washing my clothes enough to have clean underwear? Am I feeling sad? Can I remove x, y, z tasks to give me more time to rest today? And listen, y’all. You need to shower. Other people seeing or smelling you should not be the only reason you clean yourself. 
  5. Don’t beat yourself up for binge watching shows or playing a lot of video games. Really don’t. It won’t help you make different choices later and the ability to make different choices later is what will enable you to find your balance. Nobody is out here learning calligraphy and harpsichord and six languages. I promise you. Just enjoy what you’re doing when you’re doing it and move on. 
  6. Try to notice when unchecked bias shows itself to you. For example, are you surprised (and maybe outraged?) by how hard it is to…. be the predominant caregiver? Stay at home with your kids? Educate your kids? Live with income uncertainty? Get your social and physical needs fulfilled with limited mobility and access? Remember this shift in perspective. Respect teachers, nurses, caregivers, stay-at-home-parents, single parents, chronically ill folks, and gig workers. Consider how we can show better support for each other going forward.
  7. Learn how to ask for help. Read The Art of Asking. Or like ANY Brene Brown books. Consider what kind of support has helped you the most in the past. Do you want jokes to make you laugh? Go ahead and let people know you need to see some funny memes. Do you have specific boundaries? You can talk about that, too. People may not reach out to you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. They might just need some sign from you.
  8. Generosity is nourishing, scarcity mindset is depleting. If you can give — listen to a friend vent their anxieties, offer toilet paper or diapers to neighbors, make masks for medical professionals and grocery store employees, buy a bidet and use washable cloth wipes instead of buying limited paper products, help someone pay their bills, share information on a small business having a sale, etc. — then it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to do so. In times like this it’s easy to feel like you have nothing to give. That is rarely true. Giving is so much more than money or labor. It’s a reminder that we can hold each other. 

And speaking of ways to give, I’ll include some links below to groups that I have observed doing some great work. Some are Denver based, some are in Tennessee or North Carolina. If you’ve got anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments. 

People who need things to do with little kids/tips for being at home (some are free, some are not):

Cabbages and Kings

When I came across the NYTimes article about the Colvin brothers in Tennessee and then subsequent articles about them being forced to donate their thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and other supplies following the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office investigation, my first thought was They’re just doing what we’ve taught them to do.

We live in a capitalist economy, purported by many to be a “free market”, and in the behavior of our wealthiest population, we are told the story over and over about how we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and become rich, too. It’s a tantalizing dream, one that grips us all. 

I don’t fault the Colvin brothers and others like them who had the foresight to recognize that this pandemic was going to get out of hand rapidly in America and that they could make some money. Also, having lived in northeast Tennessee myself, I recognize that sometimes if you want to make money, you have to take your goods elsewhere. 

Business Insider reported Tennessee to be among the states with the lowest income nationally and with a poverty rate of 13.8%  from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 data. Many states in the South and Appalachians show similar – or worse – numbers. Also according to a 2017 report, Tennessee and many of its surrounding states have the unhealthiest populations of the U.S. It’s prudent we don’t take for granted that while supply may be greater in rural areas with fewer people, residents of these places are also more likely to be unable to purchase supplies online where prices are responsive to wealthier markets and increased demand. They are also more likely to be high risk in any health crisis. 

Ignoring for a moment that it is illegal to price gouge limited supplies in a state of emergency, let’s say the plans of Colvin brothers everywhere go forward and they can price their goods from $8 to $70 dollars, as they are reported to have actually accomplished on Amazon before the price gouging crack down. 

People looking at the situation from cities and suburbs throughout the country might think that if the population is smaller in rural areas, they don’t need much supply and therefore moving it elsewhere is not a problem in and of itself. The photos that friends, family, and strangers are sharing from Tennessee tell a different story. The shelves are empty, except perhaps for some unsweet tea and arugula. So can they hop online and buy hand sanitizer at triple the normal cost? When they are living paycheck to paycheck, swamped in medical bills, and getting laid off, can they compete with people who have as a baseline greater resources and healthcare? No. 

If hoarding and re-selling entrepreneurs could keep their price gouging within reason, within basic consideration for their neighbors and first responders and nurses and so on, I don’t mind them making a profit on a global crisis. After all, politicians, various multi-million dollar industries, and the super rich have been doing it for a long, long time. Who do you think the Colvins of the U.S. learned from?

A private Senate briefing from senior government scientists on the coronavirus occured on January 24th, which Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) attended. Between then and mid-February, before the coronavirus became a national emergency in the U.S., Burr and Loeffler sold millions of dollars worth of stock. In response to accusations of abusing her position, Loeffler claimed on Twitter that “Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.” Perhaps it would have been helpful if her third-party advisors had a private briefing with her about the coronavirus instead of Senate Health Committee officials, the CDC director, and the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases because maybe then she wouldn’t have spent weeks telling Americans not to take this threat seriously. 

Historians like to say, “Follow the money.” The money says Loeffler bought between $100,000 and $250,000 in Citrix, a tech company with teleworking software whose share price has risen since the stock market took a plunge following the coronavirus outbreak. The money says Burr warned the members of a club for businesses and organizations in North Carolina called Tar Heel Circle, whose members pay up to $10,000 for such information, with far more severity and directness than he did the public. So even if we believe that these politicians did not illegally use non-public information obtained through the privileges of their office to sell millions of dollars worth of coronavirus-related stock, they have been nevertheless in a position to profit from a global crisis. They have held this position while telling the public they claim to represent and serve that we are not threatened by this virus. The money tells us they are speaking for themselves, not us. 

I have a difficult time begrudging the behaviors of average Americans when they simply reflect what we have deemed “normal” for the most privileged among us. A sufficiently clever idea that concentrates wealth pretty much instantly makes you a successful, even celebrated American. And while the Colvin brothers and politicians are being publicly criticized across the internet, for our wealthy elite, more than likely that will be the extent of it. When we tell the stories of our wealth, no one says, “I cheated. I lied. I withheld. I abused. I took advantage of their desperation.” That is not the story Americans like to hear or tell about success.  

It is often a survival technique of the disadvantaged to look at models of power for replication. The Colvins specifically may not be disadvantaged, but they certainly are compared to Loeffler and Burr. I would venture to say everyone reading this is more of a Colvin. Price gougers among us are easy to access and therefore palatable targets for our anger. Will Burr resign? Will this hurt Loeffler’s election campaign in November? Will either of them donate any of the profits they’ve gained from our global pandemic? What are they doing to ensure supplies get to where they are needed most? If we are crabs in a bucket, it’s because our society has been designed to foster this mentality. We can choose differently. We can create a new narrative.

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Sunday Reading : Language, sabotage, whales, beauty, more witches, etc.

Night of the Armadillo : Yusef Komunyakaa, The Paris Review
Reading Lessons from my Teenage Self : Carla Bruce-Eddings, Lit Hub
Manual Override : Evan Calder Williams, The New Inquiry
Deep Sounds : Rachel Allen Interviews Hal Whitehead, Guernica
The Birth of a Beauty Criticism : Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, The New Inquiry
How “Inspiration Porn” Reporting Objectifies People with Disabilities : David Perry, The Establishment
You are your life, and nothing else : Antonia Case, New Philosopher
A Witch is a Witch is a Witch : Alex Mar, Tin House