Pandemic: Week 67…?

I’ve lost count. I feel like we’ve been doing the same things, over and over, for a very long time. It’s like Groundhog Day around here.

And then I look back and I realize that life kept happening, even when it felt like we had hit the pause button.

Toby and I submitted the final draft of our book, Cutting Plays for Performance. We are beyond excited about it. Routledge is publishing it, and it will come out (we think!) by the end of the year. The feedback we’ve gotten on it so far has been very positive. I highly recommend writing a book during a global pandemic. When else would you find the time?

I guess Silas has heard me talking about it too much. Here’s Silas’ grammar work. He was supposed to be demonstrating that he knew how to correctly use to/too/two.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question. To perform all of Hamlet without cutting is long & tedious. It has too many monologues. Poor Yorick, too. Doing Hamlet two times without cutting back to back could last all week! THE END

We’ve been enjoying our new porch a lot. I keep going back and forth between researching how to make it a serious performance space (file for a special use permit, after liberally bribing my neighbors? Find musicians and theater companies who would want to play a weekend here? Figure out what it costs to rent a port-a-john? File for a 501-c(3) and start a theater company?) and feeling overwhelmed by all of that. Given The Current Situation, I don’t feel a ton of urgency around it.

The view from up center

We’ve been working on our outdoor spaces a lot. I spent two sticky, sweaty days clearing prickly invasives from a chunk of our woods in order to set up the hammock I bought in Costa Rica. Now I just need some friends to come “hang out” with me!

Upstairs, I finally set up a pretty sweet outdoor office space for myself. There are woodpeckers raising babies in the tree right next to the porch, and I hear them peeping for food all day.

Aili in her outdoor office--a table on a balcony

I’m not a huge fan of summer, but it has its benefits. The river is perfect right now, and we’ve taken the kids down there often, the past couple weeks. I love being able to walk down to it whenever we feel like it. As much as the river makes me nervous sometimes, it’s still one of my favorite features of the property (and it hasn’t flooded in several years, since the Army Corps of Engineers did…something to it).

JC ordered 15 (15!!!) baby runner ducks. The hope is that they will eat ticks, slugs, and other creepy crawlies, while also peeping and quacking amusingly. I didn’t think we needed quite so many, but here we are. They are pretty cute. Hairy Pawter thinks it is his job to watch over them.

Guard Cat

Speaking of cats, I still can’t get over how much I adore Clementine. She’s more adventurous about heights than our other cats, so sometimes she gets stuck in some weird places. She’s also the first cat I’ve ever had that doesn’t want to sit on a book while I’m reading it. Which is to say, she’s practically perfect.

My mother’s sister came to stay with her for a bit during a transition (she had some time before her new apartment was ready). I haven’t seen her in person in several years, as she’s always lived pretty far away and is pretty busy. Having her just up the highway was an absolute joy.

Aili and her aunt Marta, sitting on the porch. Marta is gesturing because she's at the high point of a funny story, and Aili is laughing.

My kids hadn’t seen her since they were 3 and 5. They didn’t remember her and had to meet her all over again. They absolutely adored her. She’s the kind of person who wins people over instantly. Those of you who know Petra, particularly, will understand how unusual that is; she rarely likes somebody right out of the gate, but she thought Marta was amazing.

Marta wrote a book (Writing in Time) that just came out in April. She’s a textual scholar, and it’s an analysis of Emily Dickinson’s “Master letters.” She gave us a copy (it is gorgeous), and Petra was paging through it, examining the images. She set it down on the coffee table and did a double-take at the cover. “What’s Grammie’s last name?” she asked.

“Werner,” I said.

“Is the Marta Werner who wrote this book our Aunt Marta? She wrote a whole book?” So now, my 8-year-old, who has heretofore only been interested in reading novels about feral cats and/or dragons, is trying to make heads or tails of a scholarly text for which she has zero context. I guess that’s what homeschooling looks like…

A posed group photo of Marta, Aili, Silas, and Wendy (Grammie)
Petra is in a bit of a camera-shy phase, so she’s on the floor. Silas is looking at her.

Petra was thrilled to go pick strawberries at a local farm. Last year, we were so freaked out by the pandemic that we didn’t go! We didn’t know if it was safe to be with other people, even outside. Remember that? Thinking about what we didn’t know a year ago is pretty unreal. I recently did some developmental dramaturgy on a play that is set about a year ago. The playwright and I had a truly ridiculous conversation, remembering how little we knew and how much has changed: “Did you Clorox your groceries?” “Remember how people were like…elbow bumping instead of shaking hands?” Even though things are still a bit uncertain, I find it so helpful to remember how far we’ve come.

Petra examines a strawberry in the strawberry patch. She's wearing a mask and a big sombrero.

I worry a bit about how transitioning out of this time will go for all of the children. I’ve known for a long time that adults’ brains can process “gray areas” and changes in rules more easily than children’s, but seeing it play out in real time is kind of amazing. At the strawberry patch, although many other people were picking strawberries, we were all spread very far apart in the field. I told Petra she didn’t need to wear her mask, but she decided she was going to “just in case.” It’s going to take some time for her to feel comfortable being around people without it. That’s okay—it’s not hurting anybody. I’m just interested in watching her process the confusion of “rules” that change over time.

Speaking of last year, remember when people were stuck at home and reproduced paintings with what they had around the house? The other day, Silas sort of did an accidental one. Wild times.

Last year seems both so far away, and like a blink.

I hope we (as society, and as individuals) come out of this better than we were; I worry that we won’t. I keep having conversations with people where they say, “What have you learned from this experience? What are you taking away from the pandemic?” I always say, “Ask me in five years.” I really won’t know for a long time. I also feel like people started asking this question very early. Maybe even late summer last year? It felt extremely premature. It still does. The one thing I can say for certain is that, while many of my friends have expressed that they feel some relief in being forced to not Do Things, I have missed the amount of Doing Things I used to do. I had finally found a rhythm to my life that worked well for me and for my family. Now I’ll have to figure that out all over again.

Aili, wearing a mask, standing outside of VDH tents at an outdoor mass vaccination site.
Waiting for poultry workers to come get shots!

I miss being with people and creating live performances. Zoom theater just makes me feel sad, even when it’s done well. As soon as I could, I started volunteering at vaccine clinics. I wasn’t able to do very many of them (I think it ended up being only 3 or 4), due in part to the timing and in part to signing up just being a bit of a process. I loved doing it, though. Being part of the solution feels good. The first clinic I volunteered with was at a local poultry plant, and that ended up being my favorite. We helped over 600 poultry workers get their shots in one very long afternoon. I got to practice my Spanish, got to know a few of the plant workers who were volunteering, got like 10,000 steps walking up and down the line to check people’s forms. AND, because they had a few shots left over at the end of the day, I got my first dose.

Those VDH clinics are winding down, now. Fewer and fewer people came to them. According to Harrisonburg Citizen’s vaccination dashboard, about 45% of local residents have had at least one shot. Only 35% are fully vaccinated. But at the last clinic I worked, we had 3000 shots available. 2500 people signed up to get them and, counting walk-ins, 2100 people got shots. That was a slow day. Getting a vaccine appointment was distressingly easy by April. I’m concerned because as long as people are unvaccinated, the virus has opportunities to mutate. One of those mutations could make it invulnerable to the antibodies the vaccine teaches our bodies to make.

I’m beyond distressed at how the previous president chose to turn this whole thing into a political issue. The virus does not care who you vote for. It just wants to infect you and make more of itself. I’m also distressed at how poorly educated people seem to be about…lots of things. Like failing to understand basic math (example: “I’m not getting the vaccine because of the blood clot risk.” Okay, but if you contract COVID, you have a 39-in-a-million chance of getting a severe blood clot, and after the vaccine, you have a 4-in-a-million risk. Do you not understand which of those numbers is worse?). I majored in English and theater, and even I understand the difference between mRNA and DNA (I’ve started just sending this video to people who are scared to take the virus because it might alter their DNA. Or, as a friend who is a doctor told me, “If I write down a recipe for a tuna sandwich and then you make a tuna sandwich so you know what it looks like, are you still you, or are you now some horrifying human/tuna sandwich hybrid?”). And don’t even get me started on the microchip thing. Have you ever seen the needle they use to microchip a cat? It’s the size of a Caprisun straw. If somebody was trying to inject you with a tracking device, you’d know it. Here’s a really cool analysis of why it’s impossible, by somebody who designs these exact kinds of chips.

If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. Lest my coastal liberal readers wonder if I’m fighting strawmen here, allow me to assure you that, in rural Virginia, I have had at least three conversations with people who were earnestly concerned about each of these issues.

As for me and my house, we sure got our shots. For my second dose, my friend Hadley, a retired nurse, happened to be manning the needle. Getting fully vaccinated felt great. Seeing a friendly face felt even better.

I think this summer is going to be so much better than any summer I can remember. As a friend said yesterday, “I think we’re all going to party like we’ve never partied before.” I’m going to a concert tomorrow! I’m meeting up with some of my favorite people at the end of the month.

I’m not sure about “hot girl summer,” but Happy Girl Summer, here I come!

Aili and Hadley wearing masks. Hadley is giving a thumbs up!

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