On Death, Illness and Roots

Photo courtesy of Danny Clinch

What a strange week it’s been. I came down sick days ago and I feel like I’ve been in an alternate reality. I had many conversations that feel like dreams. I read far too much social media and news and it colored everything sour. I find myself looking around, wondering what still matters.

I think what hit me the most, surprisingly, was the news that John Prine had died. No, I don’t know John Prine personally but he is my 2nd cousin. I’m told I knew him as a baby. My parents had all his records and I grew up listening to his songs. It’s odd remembering that when I was very young I loved country music.

All my life John has been there in stories—my famous relative, the one that made it. My grandmother told me endless tales of how John adored her. By this time in my life I was not only over country music but systematically trying to wipe any hint of redneck/hillbilly/country from who I was becoming. The fact that I was born in Kentucky became an irony I’d always follow up with but I barely lived there.

Last summer I went through Madisonville, Kentucky where I’d lived as a baby. It shocked me how tiny it was. The town consists of one street, some old buildings and a gas/grocery. When I asked about my aunt in the grocery I was given her address based on the fact that I was short and stocky “just like a Grant.” The logic: we looked like family therefore we must be family.

It occurred to me that, in spite of a lifetime of trying to ignore it, that is also part of who I am. Maybe John passing reminded me. I’ve meant to write to him for years as “Little Angie” but never got around to it. I just wanted to say hi to the family legend. Too little, too late.

In keeping with my tradition of writing a poem a week for PoetryNook, I finally wrote that letter. My favorite song of John’s was Dear Abby, and I used it as my guide for this poem. It’s a terrible poem for terrible times. You can read this poem here.

And now, like a complete nut I’ll cry while I listen to a man I never really knew sing one of my favorite songs since I was the child I’ll never admit to. Perhaps I’m not just crying for John, but many things. Like I said, it’s been a long, strange bruising week… for most of us.

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The Circle of Influence for Sanity

My new morning habit… I check the coronavirus stats on my phone when I wake up. The numbers have climbed. The death totals have climbed. The stock market is still volatile. Jobless claims rise. Predictions of doom have escalated. These are things I can’t help. I go downstairs for coffee.

Years ago I read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book. I got a lot of great things from that book, but the thing I use most is his idea of circles of influence versus circles of concern. As the world around me seems to be falling to ruin, it has kept me together.

It’s a simple concept. The circle of concern is everything we worry about but can’t directly affect. Global warming, pandemics and if the neighbors like you fall into that circle. It’s a big circle because there’s a lot we can’t directly affect.

The circle of influence contains all the things we can directly affect. Reducing our garbage, taking care of our health and being nice to the neighbors are actions we have power over. If you focus too long on your circle of concern you are apt to freeze up and take no action at all. Like a deer in the headlights, the thing you fear may hit you head-on. If you focus on your circle of influence, you become empowered and you can change things for the better.

In the news, I’ve read about jobless claims, potential food shortages and how COVID-19 is spreading rapidly. Last week I planted my garden with extra in case we need to share. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of the little expenses we don’t need in our budget. I’ve started working out again and getting decent sleep.

We are all in a stressful situation, so I finally set up the quiet meditation area in the house where we can unwind and listen to music. I worry people I care about may not make it through this, so I’ve spent time making contact and checking in. I’ve organized my pantry. I stay inside as much as possible except to take the dogs for walks. I wash my hands and avoid touching my face when I do have to go out. These things are all in my circle of influence.

We find ourselves in an unprecedented crisis. None of us have experienced a pandemic of this scale before. The news is a constant shock. Every day the disasters get bigger. What was unbelievable yesterday has become today’s reality. But these things are not our problem. They are outside in our circle of concern. We can’t save the whole world, only ours.

Image by Peter Fischer from Pixabay

There’s a Polish saying I love that’s gotten popular—nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy. It translates to not my circus, not my monkeys. This is what we need to repeat when we feel fear trying to capsize us.

Yes, there is a huge crisis at hand, and it’s quite scary. Ignoring it will not make it go away. All we can do is what we can do.

We can be kind. We can share when we are able. We can plan ahead and make sure that in our corner of the world, we have things under control as much as possible. How many times have you wished you could just spend some time at home to get it organized and catch up on things? Your wish has been granted. You’re welcome.

The wild winds of the world are blowing hot panic but we can resist. Panic is a contagion more deadly than anything nature can throw at us. We choose how we will react to it.

Stay safe, stay smart, stay strong!

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We Are in a Hero Story

Image by Lothar Dieterich from Pixabay

We celebrate heroes—those that wear the cape, wield the sword and destroy the one ring—but how many heroes start the story eager for a trip to Mt. Doom?

That’s where we are now. As of tonight, the United States has more COVID-19 cases than any other country. We are, once again, world leaders. We’re number one in a race we don’t want to be in.

But this is how a hero journey begins. The hero always starts the journey full of apprehension. If he/she wasn’t scared, there couldn’t be heroics.

Often, they even try to get out of the responsibility. With made up excuses, they ignore their conscience and let petty nature act in their stead. Can you blame them? Who wants to visit the Death Star?

But there is always a moment that divides a hero and a supporting character. The hero faces fear in order to do the right thing… eventually. The supporting character—the one we forget about by the last page— averts their eyes, pretends to be asleep and doesn’t answer the call. Who wants to be the forgotten character?

It’s okay if we feel like we have few resources to deal with this. Not all heroes begin on a white horse. More often then not they start their journey from humble places. Eventually, they act with selfless bravery and become admirable—or they can’t be the hero.

Screenshot from arcgis.com

So here we are, looking up at the coronavirus dragon sitting on the world, breathing pestilence on us all. Collectively, we are afraid. That’s reasonable. Some of us are in denial. Also okay. Who can blame you? Whatever your mindset, I hope you recognize the value of your future actions in this story.

As fear spreads, so do anger and hatred. Selfishness is the bane of humanity. Genetically, we depend on each other. We always have. Kindness, intelligence and sharing correct information are the only things that brought us out of the caves.

Now is the time each of us needs to reach deep into that evolved portion of our brain that understands higher math and find our hero. We must drag that hero—kicking, crying and screaming—into the forefront of our mind and make them take the wheel. They won’t want to. Make them anyway. We need all the heroes engaged.

Image by Peter Fischer from Pixabay

I’m at the beginning of my hero story, like you, and I’m afraid. I hope to be unadventurous, simply writing posts like these and finishing my books. I want to be a quiet, safe hero. I recognize I may not get my wish, but I can hope.

What I do know is that if a tall wizard comes rapping and scratching the paint at my door, I hope I am selfless and brave enough to answer the call and do what’s needed. I do know I don’t want to be the forgotten support character, so I will try to be brave.

Heroes never want to be heroes. They just are because we need them to be. And like David Bowie said, “We can be heroes.”

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“The Last Ditch” on PoetryNook

Image by 024-657-834 from Pixabay

Friday afternoon
rides down the road like Sunday.
Soft, church shushed quiet…

but no hymn bells ring.
There’s only sirens screaming
dog barks and gunshots

before the hush falls
returning frozen silence
that precedes the storm.

Once neighborly friends
now brawl in the canned goods aisle—
broken hearts and jars…

Read the rest on PoetryNook.com

Enter PoetryNook.com's free weekly poetry contest for cash prizes. Previously published work welcome.
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Because Sometimes We Just Need a Song…

School closures throughout the nation have halted highly-anticipated campus events and activities with hundreds of thousands of students practicing social distancing at home.

While the annual Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) Choral Festival—originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 18—has been canceled, the Chino Hills HS Chamber Singers demonstrated resilience by recording their individual a cappella portion of Over the Rainbow in their separate homes, and through technology were able to appear together as a family again.

Their harmonious performance is shared online for the CVUSD community with the goal of spreading hope and cheer during this difficult time. They remind us that somewhere, indeed, skies are still blue—and blue skies return.

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4 Things To Do in the Apocalypse

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Day 5: So far, so good…

#1 Clean the fridge: So far things have been pleasant in our corner of the world. I cleaned out the fridge and organized our cabinets so we can keep tabs on what we have and use it up. I started with some fruit going soft so today we enjoyed bacon and roasted apples with dinner…. and it was amazing.

I had a bunch of meat thawed out for meals that didn’t get made in all the recent chaos. I cooked all of it up at once to freeze it for later use with beans. Getting the pantry organized helped me feel less stressed by current events.
I think I came across the idea to make bacon and baked apples here.

#2 Get some skills: A lot of things have moved online, so today I got to take one of the Square One Small Business classes our library system offers. These classes have really helped me manage Space and Time magazine. Because of these classes, we just about broke even with this printing. The coolest thing? Anyone can take the classes now because they are online. I’m sharing them on my Facebook here as they come up… and you can watch today’s class—Facebook for Small Businesses and Organizations—here.

#3 Attend a reading: I’ve always wanted to attend the infamous Fantastic Fiction readings at KGB but you have to be in the NYC area. For the first time ever, the reading was held online. I messed up my time zones so I missed attending live, but the video is right here on YouTube for anyone else that wants to listen to some good performances.
Watch the Fantastic Fiction readings here.

#4 Get some help: There’s usually not a lot of financial help and resources for creatives. Most of us barely make a living when things are good. Times like this are especially tough for those who already had it tough. Today I came across what looks like a helpful resource—COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources. They describe it as “an aggregated list of FREE resources, opportunities, and financial relief options available to artists of all disciplines.”

They have links to all sorts of resources from emergency funding to how to move into online teaching. I haven’t vetted the site myself, but looks like it could be an excellent resource for many of us. If you do become involved, please come back here and share your experiences in a comment.
You can access the COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources page here.

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PoetryNook Day: Carts Full of Air (rensaku)

Day 4: processing with poetry…

It’s new poem day—the day where I submit a new poem to PoetryNook.com. My poem is called Carts Full of Air (rensaku) and you can read it (and enter yourself!) here.

This week most of the contest poets are thinking about this new world we live in that’s populated by pandemics and empty stores. I’m no different. I’m playing with a new poetry form called a rensaku and I used it as a home for my shopping experiences from yesterday and today.

I’ve actually been writing rensaku for awhile, but I called them chained haiku. My Romeo and Juliet haiku story (Jewel) from a few years ago was just a rensaku. Another form I’ve been playing with are haiku that all share the same theme and it’s called gunsaku. I think my recent WiHM11 haiku from February fits that classification. Here’s some definitions I found:

rensaku – REIN-SAH-COO (J: linked work) A sequence of haiku or tanka in which the individual stanzas do not function independently. … rensaku – RAY’N-SAH-COO (J: linked work) A sequence of haiku or tanka wherein each stanza is dependent upon the previous one for meaning.

gunsaku (GOO’N-SAH-KOO) – group work- A group of poems on one subject which represents various viewpoints while each part can be read as a complete whole. In spite of the name, it can be done by one person.

I’ve talked about PoetryNook.com a few times on here. It’s a weekly poetry contest that’s free to enter but pays cash prizes. Even better, they nominate six poems a year for the coveted Pushcart Prize. You can enter previously published work as well.

Seem too good to be true? This is no joke—I’ve submitted 39 weeks in a row, received two firsts ($50), two honorable mentions ($25) and a Pushcart nomination. I have a reminder set in my Google calendar to submit something every Monday… and I’ve decided to share that reminder here.

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The News Crashed My Reality

Day 3: Sinking In

Things have gotten interesting fast and honestly, I’m still processing how I feel about it all. Life is normal in a surreal way… like I’m walking through a dream landscape populated by Dali’s melting clocks. I’m not scared—more interested and sad.

Earlier today the library I work at closed indefinitely. I went in to pick up a few last books and say good bye—for now—to my co-workers. As I went out the door I hesitated.

Would I see all of these people again? Would we all come back in a month with great stories to tell or would we be changed. Would it be just a month? I decided those answers didn’t matter at the moment. Best to get on with things.

I needed to check Space and Time’s post box for mail and in the middle of the post office floor was a discarded surgical mask. Everyone in the post office eyed it warily and walked around it. No one wanted to pick it up, even though in reality there are probably as many germs on the door handle we all just touched as that mask, but I didn’t pick it up either.

Like everyone else, I walked around it… after taking photos. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who took photos, but its existence in my world was so foreign I felt like it needed to be documented so I’ll remember this: the first day the news infiltrated my daily life. Something… fictional… has entered my reality.

I’m not saying the COVID-19 pandemic is a made up thing, but far off in other countries and cities it hasn’t been real to me. I’ve acted as if it was real—setting aside a little extra dog and people food—but it wasn’t real to me. The mask in the floor of my familiar post office combined the dystopian world I’d been reading about on my newsfeed with my own. It was like a filter dropped over what was ordinary and made it extraordinary.

Walmart earlier today.

Shopping didn’t ease the feeling that I was in one of my own stories. There were big gaps in the shelves where things were sold out. All the meat was gone except one package of carne picada. I tossed it on top of my shopping.

A few minutes I wound up hiding it under some frozen vegetables after a man looked like he was going to take it from my cart when I walked away to look for something else.

I just hid a package of meat so no one will take it, I thought to myself. How unreal is that in my orderly, well-stocked world? It was about to get stranger.

An older woman was fidgeting with her cart, looking upset. “They don’t have any sanitizing wipes for the cart,” she told me as I passed. “They ran out of the sanitizer foam for our hands.” She looked lost. I had a small bottle of sanitizer gel in my pocket. I pulled it out and held it up.

“I have some. Do you want a squirt?” I felt silly for offering. I expected her to look at me like I was crazy and refuse. Instead, she held out her hands, palm up.

“Oh, would you? You are so kind!” She looked like she was about to cry, far too much gratitude for a squirt of store brand hand sanitizer. We elbow bumped at her suggestion and parted ways as impromptu comrades in a germy landscape.

In dairy, there was an older man in a wheelchair just staring at the milk cartons behind the glass. He wasn’t moving. “Can I help you get something?” I asked him. The nice part of me asked because that’s what you do when someone needs help. The human part of me just wanted him to move because he was blocking the half and half I wanted.

“I’m looking for egg nog,” he said. He was pale, bald and he had his teeth out. He slumped dramatically in his wheelchair. His eyes were unfocused. If this had been a movie I’d have said he looked too tragic to be believable, but this wasn’t a movie. He was looking at me, but he wasn’t seeing me. He was looking somewhere else, far away from the dairy cooler in our mundane local store. “I just want egg nog.”

I was reluctant to tell him the truth. I glanced up and down the glass doors but, not surprisingly, what he wanted wasn’t there. “I don’t think they sell egg nog this time of year.”

He shrugged. “I figured. I just wanted to taste it again before I die.” He went back to staring at the cooler doors and I was dismissed. I didn’t know what else to do. I backed away quietly, like from a place of mourning.

Formerly known as the toilet paper aisle.

I mentioned to a store employee in the next aisle that he was there and he might need help. Pandemonium surrounded us. The store had filled up suddenly with people frenetically grabbing random items and whispering urgently. Suddenly, everyone was in a rush.

Her eyes darted to me and to the crowds that were starting to flood the aisles. “Okay,” she said. “We’ll watch him to see if he needs help.” Then she was gone. I can’t blame her. I hadn’t read the news yet.

My phone chimed and I glanced at it to see Trump Says Crisis Could Last Until July scroll across my notifications. “Oh, snap!” I said to no one. It was time to leave the store. The lines to check out were short, but the stream of people coming in was incessant. The air was tense, like a monster hid in the crowd, waiting to lash out.

This wasn’t a rush for school supplies or a Black Friday madness. This was real madness. This was a mass of people in panic. Like me they were experiencing a dystopian world for the first time. Reality had crash landed us on an alien planet. They looked around, desperate to purchase some normalcy, but America has never sold normalcy, even in normal times.

On the way home I watched the other cars, wondering if they felt panicked. Would one of my fellow travelers suddenly wig out and just crash his car? Were they in a rush to get to the store to fight for toilet paper? Or were they feeling like I was… a sudden stranger in my own world.

Costco had one pallet of dog food left.

It didn’t matter. The last thing on my list was to wash the car on my way home. After the shopping experience, I expected the car wash to be closed, or for the workers to be running down the pavement screaming at me to get back because the hot wax sprayer had become sentient. That didn’t happen. They waved me through with a smile.

It was my last car wash, not because of the doom or gloom but because it was now summer. I’d canceled the wash membership because I’d wash the car myself with warmer weather—in theory. Because of everything else that had happened, the final car wash felt extremely final. I found myself wondering if I would ever be in a car wash again.

This is a silly thought, I know, but it is what I thought at the time. This is uncharted territory for me. I’ve never lived through a pandemic. I know I’ve experienced a recession, maybe two, but they are vague things that happen in that fictional place I call news. The stock market lives there with all the politicians, dark matter discoveries, updates about what dogs are doing and sometimes the Kardashians… for some reason. (Google, Ø not interested in Kardashians)

So here I am. I feel like a cross between the kid who said Bloody Mary one too many times and Bastian in The NeverEnding Story realizing the story is real. There isn’t fear so much as a heightened awareness that things have changed. The rules are different, this is a different game. To say I’m not excited would be a lie.

I grew up reading 1984, wondering if I would survive Big Brother. This could be my chance to face Darth Vader and defeat the Empire. This is my chance to crush Voldemort and his followers. Finally, I get to be Katniss fighting, and winning, against the odds. I’ve dreamed—and written—of just this time.

But this is real, and the consequences are real. Lives have been lost and will continue to be lost. This is not a game or a fictional revolution. This isn’t Zombieland cosplay. That new reality sat in front of a glass cooler of milk sans egg nog today and gave me his final wish—something that should be reserved for loved ones, not a casual passerby.

This is the reality that settles over the world I’d assumed I live in and changes it to something new. Will it last forever? I think so. It won’t be scary forever, but it will be different because we will be different. Whether we are different for better or worse is up to us, and how we handle the days to come.

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Friday the 13th Just Got Real

Day 0: Friday the 13th, and our nation has officially gone into National Emergency status. I consider today a holiday, but it’s one of the days that trigger fear when things are calm.

Here’s all I can say for today. We’ve got this!

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Walmart: Please Send Greeters Home

Not the actual greeter…

Message to Walmart: Please send your elderly employees home with pay. You can afford it. They can’t. They are stuck between two terrible choices—get sick or skip the paycheck.

Walmart in our area was packed today. Masses of people were jammed in trying to get toilet paper, soda and water. When I left I said bye to one of my favorite old greeters. He’s a sweet old guy, probably in his 80s but he’s always smiling and cracking a joke, even while checking receipts in the madhouse.

After I left it hit me. This poor man is in the highest risk for fatality from COVID-19… and he is put in a position where he has to touch the receipts of hundreds of people. From the CDC:

“From the analysis of death cases, it emerged that the demographic profile was mainly male, accounting for 2/3, females accounting for 1/3, and is mainly elderly, more than 80% are elderly over 60 years old…*”

Kansas City and Independence have both declared a state of emergency. It’s common knowledge that people infected with COVID-19 are walking around with no symptoms. For most of us, we will be fine. We are might be spreading it unaware.

For the elderly and medically at risk workers that Walmart hires as door greeters… please let them go home with paid sick leave. Don’t make them choose between life or bills. These guys fall through the cracks on the good days. While we’re all distracted with panic, we have to remember them too.

I’m sending an email to ask them to remember their many elderly employees during this crisis. Their Customer Service team can be contacted at 1-800-925-6278 (1-800-WALMART) or service@walmartcontacts.com.

The information cited came from here.

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