Sunday, April 26, 2020

Covid Events, Cancellations, and Postponements

(from my datebook—EDITED)
March 10, I attend a performance of Hamilton as a guest of a friend.
March 11, I ride the subway for the last time.
March 13, Gender & Transformation workshop canceled.
March 14, I eat in a restaurant with a friend, for the last time, and shop for groceries, for the last time.
March 15, the funeral of an old colleague of Jack’s is postponed to an indefinite time.
March 15, movie discussion group (Sorry We Missed You) is canceled.
March 18, lunch with a friend canceled.
March 20, book group 2 postponed.
March 22, plans to see Drunk Shakespeare are canceled.
March 23, talk at CUNY by Victoria Phillips on “Women, Power, and Intrigue in Cold War Berlin” is canceled.
March 24, book party for Ann Snitow’s posthumous book, Visitors, and a book by Daniel Goode is canceled.
March 25, Vivien Gornick and Alix Shulman in conversation at the Center for Fiction is canceled.
March 26, Big Words reading on the theme of “Dreams” is canceled.
March 26, opening day for baseball season is canceled.
March 28, the group of Mets fans I was going to join at Bobby V’s bar in Stamford is canceled
March 28, Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon meets via Zoom.
March 29, New York Antioch Alumni chapter gathering postponed.
March 30, staged reading of a play by Robin Rice is canceled.
March 31, check-up with my doctor is canceled.
April 1, my women’s group meets via Zoom, on regularly scheduled day.
April 3, book group 2 (The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu) meets via Zoom, postponed from March 20.
April 4, New School panel on Ann Snitow’s book Visitors is canceled.
April 4, book group 1 (T.R. Reid's The Healing of America) meets via Zoom, on regularly scheduled day.
April 8, dentist appointment is postponed.
April 11, Pauline Olivieros's music meditation via Zoom.
April 12, family meets via Zoom, a new event.
April 14, North Star gala is canceled.
April 15, income tax deadline extended to July 15.
April 16, book group (A Long Petal of the Sea) meets via Zoom, on regularly scheduled day.
April 17, Gender & Transformation panel on Ann Snitow’s book Visitors is canceled.
April 17, Publishers Weekly happy hour via Zoom, a new event.
April 18, Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon’s 9th anniversary via Zoom, a regularly scheduled event.
April 19, New York Antioch Alumni chapter meets via Zoom, postponed from March 29.
April 19, family meets via Zoom.
April 21, National Gallery writing workshop, via Zoom.
April 24, book group (New York Times special section, "One Nation, Tracked") meets via Zoom, on scheduled day.
April 25, staged reading of Jen Abrams's How to Queer a Stroller, via Zoom.
April 28, New York State primary is postponed.
May 1, Gender & Transformation workshop is canceled.
May 2, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert is canceled.
May 2, book group 1 (Homegoing) meets via Zoom, on regularly scheduled day.
May 3, family meets via Zoom.
May 6, women’s group meets via Zoom.
May 6, dermatologist appointment is postponed.
May 7, book group (The Testament of Mary) meets via Zoom.
May 12, podiatrist appointment is postponed.
June 3, women’s group meets via Zoom.
June 6, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert is canceled.
June 23, New York State primary rescheduled is canceled.
July 1, dentist appointment is rescheduled??
July 29, dermatologist appointment is rescheduled??
The future?????

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Poems for Before I Die, 5

Dear Coronavirus,
What made you decide to leap
from the bats to the pangolins?
Was it the bat diet of insects?
Was it the bats’ habit of
eating on the fly?
Why did you choose the pangolin
for your next host?
Was it the sound of their name,
jingling like wind chimes,
Pan-Go-Lin, Pan-Go-Lin, Pan-Go-Lin?
Was it their layered scales,
creating a fearsome surface,
protection from predators?
What made you move on to
Was it the variety of our innards?
Was it our larger size,
more meal in one place?
What attracted your proteins
to our proteins?
What made us so tasty to you?
What lured your spiky proteins
into our lungs?
Don’t you understand that when
you weave your webs inside
our lungs,
you kill us, and you must
find another human host?
Why is the mindless replication
of your proteins so necessary?
Why have you declared war
on humanity?
What will you do when
you’ve killed us all?
It's National Poetry Month! Poetry is hard, but I keep trying. The pandemic has set my theme for this month. You can sign up for Poem-a-Day and find out about all sorts of online poetry celebrations at the Academy of American Poets website

SOL Tuesday: Beware!

This was not a scam exactly, but it was a private company attempting to capture new customers by making it look like the U.S. Postal Service was offering me free stamps and a new service.
            Last week I got an envelope with this letter, a “test sheet,” and what looks like blank stamps. Normally, I have no trouble going to the Post Office—there’s one just a block away, and if there’s a line, I can use the machine or come back another day. But in the time of pandemic, it would help to have what looks like some free stamps, and I thought this was a new way for the Post Office to make money. I’ve gotten lots of e-mails about the current administration wanting to privatize the government postal service.
            So I went to the website,, and plugged in my “promo code.” This sent me to a page where I had to put in my credit card info, which should have stopped me right there. I did
notice the notice on the side of the page saying I would be charged $17.99 a month for this service, and that, too, should have stopped me right there. But self-quarantine must be affecting my brain, because I just filled in all the blanks and went to the next screen.
            Here was where I was supposed to print my free stamps. But there was no way to do that. Hmmm. Okay. I’ll do something about this later.
            Today, I called the U.S. Postal Service. “Longer than usual wait times” meant that I left my phone number, and a customer service person, Keith, called me a couple of hours later.
            After I explained my dilemma, Keith said this was not something the U.S.P.S. had sent out. Oh, really? Had I been scammed? I looked more closely at the letter and realized the official-looking logo at the top of the letter said “Approved Licensed Vendor.” Aha, not the post office, a third-party company.
            I went to’s website, found customer service, called the number, got a recording where I could close my account, which I did promptly. And I will now call my credit card company to tell them to cancel any charge from this company.
            Have you gotten anything like this in the mail?
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Poems for Before I Die, 4

Your doctor says, “Do not go outside.”
Alarms clang, “Incoming!”
The virus aims right at the target
on your chest,
Until this moment,
you matched a couple of
risk categories,
but theoretical.
Now it’s personal.
Now fear threads through your body.
You learn new habits,
Washing your hands after the toilet,
even though you don't pee on your hands.
Washing your hands before starting to cook,
even though every cooking show’s chef
has always modeled that.
You are alone with your risk categories
Is covid-19 the name of your death?
It's National Poetry Month! Poetry is hard, but I keep trying. The pandemic has set my theme for this month. You can sign up for Poem-a-Day and find out about all sorts of online poetry celebrations at the Academy of American Poets website.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Poems Before I Die, 3

We entered the pandemic maze
ignorant of what was ahead of us.
The walls were distant:
China, Iran, Italy.
As the walls closed in
we waved good-bye
to our family, friends, neighbors.
“See you on the other side,”
we called out, thinking
the other side would be like
the side we were walking away from.
Not thinking
some of us would never see
the other side,
Not thinking
the other side would be
totally different.
As the walls closed in,
each pathway narrowed
to fit one person.
Each pathway filled
with dry brambles,
thick with thorns.
We had to keep moving,
even as brittle twigs
scoured our legs and arms,
crumbled into our hair.

#National Poetry Month

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Poems for Before I Die, 2

I will die.
I am a human.
Death is always the end
of each human’s story.
Death is there,
Not announcing itself,
Waiting for its chance.
Sometimes it will catch you
The sudden heart attack
The massive stroke
Blood clots wandering
through veins, arteries, capillaries.
Sometimes it bangs on your body,
The breathlessness that alerts you
To those blood clots
Collecting in your  lungs.
The abdominal pain that alerts you
To the cancer on some organ
that’s playing Bach’s Requiem.
The cough that whistles
Lung cancer.
Sometimes it’s caught by surprise,
the mammogram,
the pelvic smear,
the EKG.
So many diseases
Waiting to sneak up on you.
If you thought about them
All of the time
There would be no future.
Usually Death comes singly.
You might not know anyone
Who died
All of last year,
Or the year before.
Pandemic is Death made global.
It waves its name in front of your face.
It prances and cavorts and plays
With the doctors and nurses
Who stand between we humans
And Death.
Pandemic assaults everyone
Whether you get sick or remain well.
You are marked
by the fear
by the anticipation
by the relief
of waking up each morning,
Still breathing.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Poems for Before I Die 1

I am not going to die soon
I have not been diagnosed
with anything
I have been diagnosed with
Being old,
over 70,
The virus takes aim at my lungs
which saw an invasion years ago
when I wasn’t paying attention,
when there wasn’t anything
to pay attention to.
It's called MAI.
It has a name, but it 
won't kill me. 
So I am afraid.
I am fearful of droplets
In the air
On surfaces
On the surface of my newspaper?
Not likely, but
not impossible.
I wash my hands
I wash my hands
I wash my hands
I wash my hands.
And I wash my hands again.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My Life in 50 Objects, 2: Vermont

[In October 2018, I posted the first of what I intended to be a series. As you can see, I'm good at starting projects, but not so good at continuing and completing them. Let's see how much I can get done in April. Not poems, but writing nonetheless. 
             I don’t know yet whether there will be as many as 50 objects or more than 50. We’ll how it develops. What I am aiming for is to describe the objects in my apartment and why I have kept them, what they mean to me, so that after I’m gone (which I don’t expect to be any time soon) my younger relatives won’t be able to say, “Why did she keep this old thing?” My mother said she would do that for her jewelry, but she never did.]
             This painting and the photos are from Vermont. My Uncle Ben painted the house that he and my Aunt Nita bought in 1960, when he started teaching history at Goddard College. The house is in the village of Adamant, a few miles north of Montpelier, in the town of Calais (pronounced callous). Built around 1840, that same house is in the old photo (below), taken somewhere between 1890 and 1910, judging from the women’s clothing. Nita found it in the upstairs storage room, and she may have known the names of the people in it, but I don’t.
            It’s actually a photo of a photo; I’m guessing the original was in poor shape, and Nita wanted to make sure she had a survivable version. The sapling next to the woman on the right is the big maple on the right edge of the painting. I wonder if the grandchild or great-grandchild of the baby in the carriage is the person who sold the house to Ben and Nita.
            Between the trees and the house in the painting is a grassy drive, up a slight incline from the dirt road, nameless as far as I know. The snowy photo (left) was taken looking down that drive toward the road and the fields, a beaver pond, and hill beyond, in November 1995. I was housesitting, while Nita had gone to Paris to visit old friends and spend the pension money she had earned while working in Paris in the 1950s. (She had worked there for about six years and accumulated a small amount of pension, but she could only collect and spend it in France.) By this time, she and Ben had
been divorced for 10 or 12 years (a long, somewhat tawdry story for another time), but after long bargaining she got to keep the house, and as she was my mother’s sister, she’s the relative we kept in touch with. I was just a couple of years into writing the first draft of a novel (that still sits in very old Word files in my computer) and took the opportunity to turn feeding Nita’s cat into my own private writing retreat.
           The final photo is from inside the kitchen (the room behind the porch to the left in the photo and painting). The dancing cats is an ironwork, probably made by someone Nita and Ben knew. And the tree outside beyond the window is the larger maple on the left side of the painting. (I've tried to avoid the reflections from the glazing on these last two photos, but not entirely successful, and that's why they are at an angle.)

            Jack and I began visiting Ben and Nita for a week, or two or three, almost every summer from 1967 until 1997, when Nita died. (I’ve never been quite sure who or what I missed more, Aunt Nita or her house.) The house was sold to a friend and neighbor, whose son now lives there. For a time, after Nita was diagnosed with lung cancer, I thought of asking her to leave me the house, contemplating turning it into a writing retreat. The New England Culinary Institute was just down the road; perhaps they could provide meals. One of the upstairs bedrooms was big, with lots of light; perhaps it would suit a visual artist. But then I thought of how much rewiring would need to be done, for phones and for computers, as well as making Internet service available. I would either have to live there or be an absentee landlord, and neither choice was appealing.
            My sister would have loved living in that house, but she never developed a relationship with Nita and Ben. That was partly because Ben intimidated her. He had written a rather unflattering portrait of her in his first book, Down and Out in Academia, and my parents never quite forgave him. At the time, I thought it was fairly accurate, and I must have already realized that writers use whatever is in front of them for whatever purpose they want. Your only defense, if you don’t like what they’ve written about you or yours, is to write your own version.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The New Television

            If any of you read my March 1 post, you know that I need a new TV. Last weekend I ordered one online from Best Buy and it arrived today. (The HDMI cable I need for the cable box is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.) I carefully opened the cardboard box, with gloves, then lifted out the television and its accessories: power cord, legs, screws to attach the legs, remote, and printed User Manual. I examined the Quick Setup page, examined the small screws, examined the legs. How the legs were supposed to attach was not immediately clear, but once I figured it out, it looked simple.
            But. The screws are only about half an inch long, and the space they will fit into is deeper than that, and the screw is meant to go all the way in. How can I do this? Ideally, I need someone holding a flashlight behind me so I can see (and if I’d taken a photo, it would be easier to show you than to describe it). I drop the screw into the hole on the leg, point the end of the screw into the hole on the TV, and start turning, and turning and turning and turning. But the screw never catches, and I can’t really see what’s happening or what’s going wrong. I try a few more times, and then give up. This can’t be that hard. There must be some trick. I’ll call the manufacturer.
            I call Samsung. I am on hold for almost an hour. (I’m reading a book, so the time is not wasted.) While still on hold, I decide to try again. This time, it works. After about five minutes, the legs are tightly attached. I set up the set on its table, attach the power cord, and plug it is. I’ll wait for the HDMI cable before I start trying to make it work for real.