Pandemic Diary 21: Reasons to ‘Smile’

“Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along.”

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Charlie Chaplin never published lyrics for the piece of music with which he concluded his 1936 film, Modern Times. The Tramp’s last gesture to the Gamine (Paulette Goddard) before the two literally walk off toward the sunset is to point to his mouth and draw a line up along his cheek.

“What’s the use in trying,” she had asked a moment earlier. The two are on the side of a road with no cars to hitch a ride, with all they own in kerchiefs on sticks. “Buck up—never say die—we’ll get along,” the Tramp’s last title card reads. The two walk off down the road and instrumental music swells and the film ends:

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Pandemic Diary 17: So Near, yet so Far

A need to connect: Unsolicited wisdom from me and unsolicited poetry offered to me …

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I speak to or even see my friends each day thanks to technology both old (telephone) and new-ish (online video conference). Most of our conversations are about how much we do not like this or about what we are doing to occupy the time.

Since I am a disabled and retired person anyway, certain facts of my life remain unchanged in quarantine: the availability of time combined with its rapid disappearance each day. Others are new: I do not drive and I reside too far from the nearest anywhere to walk there (my town is mostly shut down now, anyway), so I have no command at all over travel. Mere weeks ago, I could reach out to a friend and ask if that friend planned to drive past my neighborhood and could I grab a ride to town. If not, I could reserve a cab. I could walk around town for however long I might want. That day will come again, but that loss of independence (when I think about it, like I am now) is one I feel acutely.

The acceptance of that loss has been a fairly straightforward one to make. My friends mostly live quite near, so the video conversations, while welcome, are a little surreal, that over-used word. Again, if I think of it, it is surreal, so I do not. I realized yesterday that other than my housemate/landlord (with whom I travel to the grocery store), I have not seen a person whom I know in person since this began weeks ago.
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Pandemic Diary 16: A Bigger Picture

Rage is the most short-sighted emotion, but it is the one I have witnessed in my quarantined self more and more lately.

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Information provides something of a relief. Not the numbers, not the information about particulars—there are so many numbers right now, from the numbers of sick and the lists of the newly departed, both of which only do one thing: increase at a pace which itself shifts day-by-day, up and down, and that changing pace is its own number in which one can lose time in unproductive obsession—no, the one bit of information, the one number everyone wants to learn is: How many more tomorrows will resemble this collection of slow and anxious todays? We have had so many todays in a row, after all.

In much of the world, the long today of quarantine will last into May. Ireland’s government announced an extension of its nationwide coronavirus shutdown until May 5 last week. New York State announced its PAUSE extension until May 15 this morning.

There is some comfort in the thought that one knows how many more days this will continue.
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Pandemic Diary 15: A Rainy Day

Quarantine considerations: Outdoors or in?

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A 1964 article in Nature with the euphonious title, “Nature of argillaceous odour,” gave the world the euphonious-sounding word, “petrichor.” In the article, two chemical researchers attempted to scientifically break down what it is we smell when we smell the world after a rain shower and to give the phenomenon a name.

The two authors coined the word, “petrichor,” which I have been mispronouncing in my head since I first encountered it in 2015, when an article on the Huffington Post started to make its social media rounds. It has a long “I,” so say it like this: “petra,” then “eye-core,” which is not how I hear it in my head, with a short “i.”
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Pandemic Diary 14: A Love of Books

My eight-year-old self enjoys his shelf of books in quarantine. He gets to choose each day between writing about reading or reading about writing.

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I’ve been told that I look like a kid in a candy store when we visit a book store. I suddenly appear to have multiple arms, like a Hindu deity, and my stride becomes a purposeful lurch.

There are two booksellers in my hometown of New Paltz, NY, plus our legendary record store offers a wall of books. When was the last time you visited a record store? Heck, it’s been a couple years since I have … and I reside in a community which has one.

An acquaintance, a rare book collector, was about to open a third bookshop here this spring, but the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine interfered. It is a difficult time to start a business other than a vape outlet or coffee shop anyway, even in a college town like ours, even in times when one can come into physical contact with customers, delivery boxes, cash. There will be better times.
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Pandemic Diary 13: Teach Your Children

The control freak aspect to my personality hates life in quarantine.

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I taught freshman composition at two upstate New York colleges in the early 1990s for five years. My last class met for its final session at the conclusion of the fall 1995 semester.

From the start of that school term, I knew that this was going to be my last semester teaching or attempting to teach or even correctly referring to myself as a “teacher”; thus, of course, two of the three classes that semester were two of the best groups of students I had yet worked with, and they almost made me regret my decision to retire at age 27. Almost.

The decision never was mine to make, however; I was not a good teacher, and I am grateful that I learned this on the sooner side of “sooner or later.” I am, perhaps, an entertaining lecturer but I am an even better student; as a twenty-something freshman composition instructor, I must have been execrable. It was too bad that I had barely made even the faintest start in what eventually became my pose as a long-suffering anything by the time it was all over.
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Pandemic Diary 12: Love and Light

Kindness is always available, of course, but snark, innuendo, and rumor are the only currencies in the economy of dread that quarantine offers us.

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An April shower lashes the northeast today; my window faces the southeast, so it feels like my desk is ringside at a boxing match. It is a day-long storm with an angry wind that is noisy even without tree branches or loose eaves to whistle through. After three weeks of quarantine, this can feel like a quarantine inside a quarantine, twenty-three hours of solitary confinement with sixty minutes alone added just for today.

Some days in quarantine, the repetition of minor tasks and details is relentless, and then the relentlessness is its own unforgiving detail. Days like today, with the gusty threat of a power—and internet—outage, which might on any other April 13 carry a “day off from school” relief, instead add foreboding to the limited palette of anxious dread.

Thus, the glimpses of light when they come are more brilliant and meaningful if one allows oneself to perceive them.
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Pandemic Diary 11: Bite-sized Insults

“You aren’t worth the breath you use.” I tweeted that to some Twitter account today, some individual or individuals hidden behind an American flag and a pro-Trump phrase in place of a person’s name. (“Something Deplorables Something,” written in the Fraktur typeface favored by neo-Nazis or those who think it is cute to be thought of as a neo-Nazi. The account spent the morning tweeting GIFs at me happy to think that it had “owned” me, a Lib.)

This particular account had defended … oh, who cares about the controversy du jour of April 11, 2020? It is so small that I can imagine future me perplexed by it were I to supply the details here. But I had replied, and then I had insulted it, so I suppose the “deplorable” hidden behind the Nazi typeface had earned what it wanted: me to show a temper.

No, the bigger issue for me today is the effect of insults on me, both received and given, because I am curious as to why I tossed some insults out there into a world full of insults to begin with and why I subsequently deleted them. Neither act impresses me much.
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