Covid Diaries: Bad Lighting

April 28th

My biggest take-away from the Zoom board meeting today is that people are completely unaware of the power of good lighting. On the other hand, I can say a few folks’ hair is actually looking better due to these lax times. Important moral: less upkeep can result in a more natural, accessible look.

April 28th

Just as I sit down to my puzzle for a little piecing together before dinner, I discover that Martin Zellar is starting a FB Live concert. Although I’ve loved Marty hard for decades, I haven’t been so much in the mood for him in the past few years. But as soon as he starts singing, I’m lost to memory and nostalgia. As soon as he starts singing, my heart gets swoopy. As soon as he starts singing, I send a message to the family chat – and then I have to let Christa know – I have to let Colleen know – I have to sit with Byron as we skip watching our nightly show so, instead, we can sing while we eat our mini pork pies. The whole feeling, as I look at all the names of people I know who are also tuned in to the concert, as I send messages to my girls, as I get all schmoopy with my beau, is unexpectedly moving. I feel like I am at the show with my people.

April 28th

I’m sobbing at Guy’s Grocery Games, which is disturbing. But the winner’s name is Ky, she’s just getting started in life, and when she wins, she’s shopping for the money to give her fiancée the wedding she wants. After months of trying to parse out my new and unaccustomed feelings to Guy Fieri – because I loathe him, except I don’t at all any more – I had a breakthrough tonight: he’s a douche, but he’s not a dick.

April 28th

Right before bed, I check my work email one last time. And there’s a long message from a big-hearted student. How much can a person cry, I am left wondering.

I have been thinking about writing this email all day. I would to begin with how much I wish I could have met in person before the stay in place order was in place. I greatly appreciate your energy on D2L and your openness of utilizing YouTube. I definitely got a sense of who you are through the videos. You have a great sprite, attitude, and sense of self; it all radiates through what you post. I deeply appreciate as we are stuck with having to communicate through electronics. You had the key to open my world to reading.

Long story short, I have moved all over the states due to order from the Military. (My dad being a Marine.) When I lived in Oklahoma I was told when I was very young that I was an amazing reader, but as soon as I moved to California the expectation of students was much higher. That being said, I was told I was bad at reading, simply said to a seven year old. I put myself in a room and closed the door from reading and this women, my teacher, took a key and locked me in there. The only advise given to me and my parents was to read more. To get better is to read more. (As I am older now, I understand that is true, but to my young self I was like no way.)  I was the only one sent home with more materials than all the other kids, I was brought down in front of my classmates, and put in the lowest reading group. This followed me as well. I moved to Alabama where I was taken out of my own English class and put into a closet with two other student to work on reading comprehension. When I moved here, Duluth Minnesota, my fun elective was taken from me and I was put in a different reading help class. It ultimately was humiliating and I began my hatred of reading there in California which I believe followed me. I avoided reading at all costs and became extremely picky towards books and teachers. In all honesty, I truly despised English teachers all because I held on to what happened with one teacher.

Times are changing though, I have been learning a lot about myself and how to love myself. That I am my own perfect, others do not need to think so for me to be happy. On thing I new I need to work on was my acceptance of reading. 

I have two English teachers that stand out to me. One was this kind lady, who was only the substitute while the real teacher was on maturity leave, her name being Lynn Peterson. She had worked with high school students for many years. Somehow someway she got through to me. It was all in her sprite, attitude, and sense of self. She never let the student get under her skin, she stood her ground when needed, and she had an eye for those who were there for the material and to learn as suppose the grade itself, if that makes any sense. I was one of them. She saw me as like an under dog, under appreciated, and saw lots a potential. She opened the curtains for me. She alone made me want to understand why people liked to read, how to get into reading, and being okay with not being as advanced as everyone else. She made me feel like I have it within me to understand reading. In the most literal way, she taught me how to comprehend what I was reading. I never in my life understood comprehension, not through my teacher in California, not the closet in Alabama, and not the not fun elective here in Duluth. She’ll forever be someone who shown some light to reading for me.

You are the teacher who will resonate with me. I can not tell you how much this means to me because truly deep down I want to read and enjoy it. With your books you have picked for this semester I have had my brain picked so much, in a good way of course. I connected so much to all the books. I was able to understand the lesson, symbols, and a lot more in each and every book. The point of this whole email is to say thank you. No one has ever had the key to unlock the door for me. You and your class unlocked the door and I feel extremely welcomed into the world of reading. I greatly appreciate how personable you are. How willing you are to help and guide me. You have such kind words to say to me that isn’t bringing me down. Your words pick me up and make confident in reading. It makes me feel that I do have worth and I am capable of being able to understand what I am reading. I thoroughly enjoy the discussions and how much I am taking away from doing them because I have such a hard time critically thinking and applying what I read to life or simply to school work. I have taken a way so much from your class and you. I value how you actually teach the material. Not everyone can make reading understandable. 

I love to write. I love getting writing assignments and all sorts of stuff and one thing that keeps coming up in my life is how reading can aid my writing, so the fact that this class worked out for me give me hope and new outlook. I am ready for the future. 

Needless to say, I am extremely thankful for taking your class, and how much you put into teaching. I thoroughly did not expect to enjoy the class because of my disliking of reading. My opinion turned around so quickly after that first book. I also took your class because I have heard your name before from other students who I value their opinions, and they were very correct in the way that I would like your class and how you teach. 

I do wish I could take more classes of yours, but I am graduating and going on over to UWS. I enjoy the books you gave this class because it is a lot of real life events. Not some fluff book of romance. This opens my world up to how much is actually going on out in this world. You have such awesome books, what are the chances that you have a book list or some place that you log books you’ve read that are still in connection to the books you gave us for this class. Or how would you recommend way that I can find these books on my own? I would like to continue reading after this class is done since I have deprived myself from such a world. 

April 29th

Paco and I walked the cemetery and down Vermillion to a bit of the Superior Hiking Trail. It was the most glorious sunshiney afternoon, and when we hit the trail, he became almost giddy with joy, noting every detail of the amazing beaver dam and all the trees downed by those strong teeth. Toward the end of the walk, he said, “I just want more time on trails. I feel like I might even want to go camping?”

April 29th

As we wait for additional yoga blocks to arrive, Byron continues to use the Norton Anthology, Volume 2, to prop his body when necessary.

April 30th

Twitter tells me there’s a new documentary, My Darling Vivian, about Johnny Cash’s first wife, and I’m reading a long thread of comments about her claims to being Italian when, in the eyes of people of color, this woman was clearly black. I tell you what: there is nothing more gratifying than Black Twitter. However, Paco told me last week that Scottish Twitter is pretty hilarious, so I need to dive into exploration there. LOOK, I HAVE A GOAL

April 30th

I had an audience for part of the noon HIIT class. Allegra sat on the scratchy ottoman and took notes for an assignment on how exercise has changed during the pandemic. I kept offering up things that are part of exercise for me now (“I don’t drink key lime fizzy water when I do fitness classes at the Y” and “I don’t go open a window when I’m hot and at the gym”), but she shut me down: Do I not know what “observation” means? Interviews come later.

April 30th

Paco’s robust head of hair was ready for a trimming, so I put my tongue between my teeth and a ½” guard on the electric clipper. Most of the cut was scissor work and following precise client-dictated directions about ears and blending; he wet and dried his hair several times before we called it good. For now. I’m extremely glad I have, throughout our lives together, cut the hair of everyone in this family before. During his first year of life alone, I cut Paco’s hair nine times. He’s always been a gifted grower.

April 30th

I live some of my best hours during late-night watching. Hasidic Jew Shulem Shitsel, newly retired from teaching at the school, clutches at his chest, in pain. After a CT scan, the doctor puts a monitor on him, tells him to go buy a notebook, and advises Shitsel to start a journal of his activities and how he feels – so that they can correlate the monitor readings with these recordings. Ever the good student, even at 62, Shitsel gets home, sits at the table, pulls out his fresh notebook. Opening it from the right – a Yiddish speaker, he – our hero begins to write. The music, soft, repetitive, compelling, creates a mood. Slowly, he scratches, in a way that fills me up, “I am home.”

I feel it too, always and ever, the contentment of this: I am home.

Later in the show, the rabbi sits up from his single bed, alone, so alone next to the empty single bed of his late wife, and scribbles in his journal: It is midnight. I can’t sleep. I feel fine. I don’t feel well. My chest feels tight. Every heartbeat feels like a huge hammer. Maybe it’s because I’m anxious. “Happy is the man that feareth always.”

May 1st

Two delightful surprises were on the front porch this morning: two dozen eggs from Raquel – dropped off when she came into town to pick up her library curbside book order – and a pot of chrysanthemums from Chuck and Shari, left for May Day. Gad, I used to love May Day as a kid; we’d make little pouches, probably in construction paper, but I even remember using paper towels (?), and go around the neighborhood ringing doorbells and knocking before dashing away, beset with giggles of excited anticipation. Has it been a few months now since I’ve been beset with such giggles?

May 1st

For her Anthro class, Allegra’s doing a pandemic ethnography. Her chosen topic is how exercise has changed, which is why she sat and watched me do some of a noon class the other day, why she was out with a notebook this morning on the Lakewalk, and why she watched the first few minutes of our yin yoga class tonight – always a hustle to get to the floor in time for silence and the poem. I hope she recorded the fact that I was eating Triscuits and drinking tea during “silence.”

May 2nd

The amount of time I’m spending with three “please help me pass this class despite my behaviors since January; I swear it’s due to Covidlife” students is grinding my patience to a dusty nub.

May 2nd

Paco’s starting to dig trenches out back today so that we can grow some veggies in addition to all my flower starts. Primarily, he’s interested in growing potatoes. Not only does he love potatoes because mmmm, potatoes, but I get the feeling he’s taken by the character of them – the shape, the feel, the steadfast nature.

May 2nd

We walked almost two hours on Skyline, the most beautiful day of the year, summer really, in shorts and sunscreen. There has been no space in public spaces as everyone discovers the world outside meetings and schedules, but today, when I anticipated another afternoon of trying to find six feet from others, we were largely alone. Six, maybe seven, bikers passed us. We saw a cluster of three walkers once, okay twice. And then, as we neared the car, there were Bernie and Julie, daycare providers for both our kids when they were tiny. In tow were two of their three kids, teens now. We stood together on the gravel road, after years of no contact, and talked about unemployment and how to connect with preschoolers over Zoom.

May 2nd

We had a good long Zoom family chat with Elaine and the kids, with Fahri mostly in the background – except for one detailed bit where he explained, while Elaine translated, how he’s been making yogurt. I swear, when farmer’s markets open up again, he could open a yogurt stand. It was fun to watch him eating and then sipping tea out of a tulip glass, a hungry, thirsty figure moving purposefully back and forth across the backdrop; when we called, it was time for the iftar meal, so we he was going deep on the liquids.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole call was when young John had posed to the group a conundrum – you’re on an island with four people, yet you have a boat that holds only two, so who do you take with you off the island? – and as he talked through his own answer, he weighed the options of his family members: “If I took my sister with me, we’d just argue, but if I took my mom, she’d be bossy. And if I took my dad, he’d boss me, too. So I think I’d take Selin because I’d rather argue than be bossed around.”

Mostly, it was great to connect with these people who are family, who are negotiating their way through This Time in a state [Georgia] where deaths are climbing, yet the governor is re-opening the economy because money trumps life the same way guns trump safety in what people claim is best country on earth.

May 3rd

It’s been more than a week since I finished watching, but still: I miss the nuance – almost poetry — of the close captioning on Deutschland 83 and 86.

A person sitting in front of a window

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A picture containing indoor, person, table, sitting

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Another thing I keep thinking about, even though it’s been more than a week since I finished listening to Mob Queens, the podcast about Anna Genovese, wife to Italian-American mobsters, owner of drag clubs, source for Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, yet whose life story has been largely lost to time, is the way the hosts conclude their excavation of a fascinating subject:

In storytelling there’s this thing, the hero’s journey, the heroine’s journey. Well, patriarchal storytelling is usually linear and almost always win-lose, whereas matriarchal storytelling is a wheel, and it’s almost always win-win…In matriarchal storytelling, the heroine doesn’t have to kill the villain because she knows he will learn, or he will do that to himself. The heroine is always ahead of the audience; it’s the other characters who have to catch up to her.

May 4th

During yin yoga mat talk last night, B and I kept wondering aloud if the stream had frozen. We’d get into a pose, Ellen would talk, and then the screen would suddenly get quiet and motionless. From our perches on the floor, we’d roll an eye up to the screen and decide, after taking stock, that the stream was not working. It took two or three times of us saying, “Yup, it’s frozen” and then having Ellen start talking at that very moment before we conceded: the stream was not frozen. Ellen’s just really good at stillness.

May 4th

This is the day Paco would’ve gotten his braces off.



By Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

1 comment

  1. What a gift you were to that student!
    And that line–about potatoes–“the shape, the steadfast nature”.
    As ever, I appreciate your poetic insight on the world.

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