Reflecting on a Solitary Life Compounded by COVID-19 

As I sit on my patio at 7 a.m., sipping an Americano, my plants anxiously await being fed, groomed, and watered. They are oblivious to the fact that it is day 66 of lockdown due to COVID-19. Sounds like prison. Feels like prison. My 300-square-foot studio apartment in Montrose, California—a far cry from the 3,800-square-foot condo I shared with Carl Peter, my boyfriend of seven years, in Michigan, my birthplace—isn’t much larger than a prison cell.

I wish I was a plant.

Talking to my plants are the only conversations I have had in public without wearing a mask once it became mandatory. I don’t have any children, pets, or a significant other to hunker down with. Feels like solitary confinement. Thank God for my 19” TV (not a typo), Facetime, and Wi-Fi.

Montrose, California is a quaint town housing bars, restaurants, unique shops, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, a bank, a post office, and the Montrose Bowl built in 1940 (used exclusively for private bowling parties). Honolulu Avenue, the main street, has been hosting the Montrose Harvest Market every Sunday since 2002. The avenue is lined with tents filled with produce, hot ethnic foods, yogurts, homemade jams, French baked goods, plants, and arts and crafts. Bands take turns serenading patrons with rhythm and blues, rock, and country music. The banner suspended above the road, for 18 years, reads “SUNDAYS 9 AM TO 2 PM RAIN OR SHINE.” Who would have ever thought to add the words, “EXCEPT FOR A PANDEMIC”?

Not until March 19, 2020.

On August 8, 2018, Carl Peter died suddenly. I was distraught. Our romance was unmatched. We met at a Starbucks. I was the barista and he was the customer. Sparks ignited like Fourth of July fireworks. He was a majestic German man with gorgeous locks of white hair who had played soccer for 52 years. He was my European heartthrob. One of the regulars at Starbucks would say, when Carl Peter wasn’t there, “Hey Blondie, where’s Dagwood?” and painted a watercolor of Blondie and Dagwood and gave it to me. It now adorns my vanity table. Carl Peter and I were inseparable.

Since I had lived in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s, I decided to rediscover the land of milk and honey. I never lost touch with my California friends, but a twenty-five-year absence was a shock to my system. Rent, insurance, and gas were twice that of Michigan prices. But the cold, snow, and ice storms had become my enemy. I’d had enough, even though leaving my family and friends made me second guess my decision. If it wasn’t for the loss of Carl Peter, I would still be living in Michigan, going through the quarantine with him, tolerating the cold, snow, and ice storms.

And not alone.

Dazed and confused, I packed up all my cares and woes, boxes upon boxes, researching moving companies and auto transporters. I headed west like a madwoman on a mission, in search of my “new” normal, with a thousand questions dancing in my head. Am I crazy? Am I too old for this? What about a job? Can I afford California?

Before leaving LA in 1994, shortly after the Northridge earthquake, I was working in the film industry. Ironically, I was the costume designer on a Disney period film, Goodbye Miss Liberty (based on a true story). It was about the 1918 Spanish Influenza. Some of the sets were dressed with antique medical equipment, while actors portraying doctors, nurses, and patients donned vintage hospital uniforms and gowns. And here it is 100 years later and our world is reliving it … all over again. Daunting. What does that say for 2120?

California is entering Stage 2 now, with 90,000 + cases of Coronavirus and 3,600 deaths to date (approximately 220 cases and 9 deaths per 100,000 residents). Parks, beaches, and some retail businesses are reopening with restrictions. Even casinos and pet salons. Scary. Some say it is too soon while others are elated. I am concerned that people will jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

Montrose Harvest Market partially re-opened on Sunday, May 17. A large sign with guidelines was posted at the entrance. I walked there wearing my mask and glove ensemble. For the most part, people followed the guidelines, with one or two exceptions. The market was half the size of the “old” normal. Chalk lines were drawn at 6-foot distances. Produce, French baked goods, yogurts, and homemade jams occupied the tables. The missing links were hot ethnic foods (I miss the tempura shrimp sticks from the Tornado Potato vender), plants, arts and crafts, and bands, all to return as part of Stage 3.

As I sit on my patio at 4 p.m., sipping a glass of Pinot Noir, my plants fed, groomed, and watered, I hear a bird splashing in my birdbath behind me, oblivious to the fact that it is day 66 of lockdown. I remain still. I don’t dare turn around for fear I will scare him off. I don’t want him to leave. I enjoy his company. I call him Carl Peter.

I wish I was a bird.

—Barbara Anderson

What the Persistence of Rural Georgia’s Politics Means

I just want to say that this article is most likely the deepest and most analytical insight into Georgia political decision-making I have read to date. Its summation of Georgia’s varying political entanglements is indicative of an inner understanding and insight into the mindsets of rural Georgia politicians.

As someone whose family background is of rural origins in the state, the societal divide between urban and rural is something I’ve grown to understand fondly, whilst still abhorring at times. It appears that our current governor’s propensity for catering to a specific segment of voters will be his demise in more ways than one. As someone who is a gun-carrying, mostly libertarian individual, I respect individual freedoms, but as someone with a college education and experience in corporate America, I also respect conclusions drawn from intensive data analysis and moderate decision-making. The governor’s recent decisions and lack of regard for data and logical reasoning lead me and many others to assume that he is acting as some leaders past; that is, acting with some input from ideological advisers, but without research or intellectual curiosity to draw his own accurate conclusions.

There is a sense among many in the liberal urban enclaves of Georgia that the governor is incapable of complex analysis or caring about broad societal needs. This sense will come to haunt the Republican Party in the state for years, if not decades to come.

By digging himself into the hole of core rural support only, our governor has distanced himself from the swing voters needed to maintain any semblance of political dominance in the state. He is, as Professor Cobb mentions, using a 150-year-old plan. This usage may be expediting the plan’s long overdue expiration date, coinciding with the expiration of Governor Kemp’s political party as a dominant force in the state. By veering too far to the right, he has alienated voters, such as myself, who fear that the inexplicably human need for interaction and living could be met even less over the course of the year as our state inevitably becomes an example for what not to do in a pandemic.

—William Gentry

Poems That Can Save Your Life a Little

During last night’s discussion I remembered that whenever I read a poem, I’m asking, “Does this save my life a little?” The poems that do are the ones that stay with me. I’m very happy to share a few of them here.

Firstly, there are poems I love because they make me feel like I’m being present with someone who understands what’s going on inside me. Secondly, there are poems that allow me to dwell somewhere else for a little while, until I can come back rested and ready to see the world a little differently. I’ve put together two lists, one for each of those moods, so you can choose your own adventure.

As I curated these lists of poems, I felt a little like I was assembling wine and cheese pairings. That is to say, I hope you will enjoy them! You never have to like or feel that you ‘understand’ a poem—if a poem isn’t doing something for you, just move on to the next one. There’s a little something here for everybody.

I hope these poems will save your life a little—and if there ever comes a moment when you feel like writing a poem, know that yours can do that too.

 

Playlist of Poetry for Distressing Times—‘Present’
Curated by Inez Tan

Gathering
1. “The Pomegranate and the Big Crowd” by Alberto Ríos 
2. “[Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way]” by Juan Felipe Herrera

Grieving
3. “[After great pain, a formal feeling comes – ]” by Emily Dickinson 
4. “Greater Joy” by Jason Bayani

Coping
5. “You Fixed It” by Zeina Hashem Beck
6. “Yellow Glove” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Questioning
7. “Magdalene—The Seven Devils” by Marie Howe
8. “Something with a Lifespan” by Katie Peterson

Singing
9. “Elegy” by Lisa Olstein
10. “Not My Bones” by Marilyn Nelson

 

Playlist of Poetry for Distressing Times—‘Elsewhere’
Curated by Inez Tan

Outdoors and Outer Space
1. “Meanwhile” by Mary Oliver
2. “Using a Hula Hoop Can Get You Abducted by Aliens” by Matthea Harvey

At Home with Other Animals
3. “Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy” by Thomas Lux
4. “The Wolf” by Kaily Dorfman

On the Dance Floor
5. “Danse des Petits Cygnes” by Chloe Honum
6. “Beyoncé’s Quadruple Platinum Single—an English to English translation” by E.J. Koh

In Love
7. “Love at Thirty-Two Degrees” by Katherine Larson
8. “To Myself” by Franz Wright

The Place Where You Are Most Yourself
9. “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
10. “The Heart Under Your Heart” by Craig Arnold

Inez Tan

Remembering Dog Heaven on Paradise Lane

I used to live on 8 acres at the end of half a mile of private dirt road in the Santa Monica Mountains outside of Los Angeles. It wasn’t particularly isolated; about a dozen families lived along the narrow one-lane road that ran alongside a little creek. Many of us had dogs.

Because it was a private road (named Paradise Lane, of all things) we were able to informally agree to forego the leash laws and allow our dogs to run free. Our three-house property was home to three families and five dogs. There were about a half a dozen other dogs scattered along the lane, and all were free to come and go as they pleased, even though, most of the time, they stayed close to their own homes and humans. These dozen or so dogs self-organized into a set of about four packs with surprisingly rigid boundaries and identities.

Remembering Dog Heaven on Paradise Lane | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Flora drinks from the creek. Courtesy of Nesdon Booth.

All of the dogs we had in these days, as well as the ones we knew from our neighbors, tended to be extremely healthy and long lived, most of them surpassing 20 years of age. In those years, before the drought, they were also able to drink freely from the creek, leading some of our friends, who envied the longevity of our dogs, to claim that the creek was a canine fountain of youth, and call our little valley Dog Heaven, as it probably was.

Ever since I moved away from that valley, I haven’t really been able to abide the thought of the life a dog might have in a house or apartment. After my sister, who lived and then died in one of the houses on our property, was gone, I took one of her dogs, a huge powerful Akita mix, to live with me in a shared house in Berkeley. He was not as lonely as most urban dogs might be, but still, I had to sometimes leave him home alone, where he would become anxious and chew adorable little round holes all over my bedding. Knowing the life he had had on Paradise, despite the great comfort he was to me during my grieving, I could not bear to keep him away from that life, and so returned him to live out his days in joy in dog heaven on Paradise Lane.

I have misgivings about how pets, especially well-trained ones, are essentially enslaved by their human masters. I have had dogs all my life and find enormous comfort in their company. They are so eager and willing to be with us it used to feel as if we were not really violating their sovereignty when we collar, leash, and confine them. My experience living in the Santa Monica mountains with dogs who were able to live so freely and closer to the way humans and dogs may have lived together, without fences or leashes, for the thousands of years that we co-evolved to develop the special bond we share, changed the way I feel about owning a pet. Dogs are, in fact, sovereign beings, with their own needs and desires, and some right to live their lives on their own terms. I do not now have a dog, despite having a little granddaughter whom I would so love to expose to the ecstatic and overwhelming love of a puppy, something that was one of the greatest joys of my childhood. I’m not completely tainted by the knowledge of how divine a dog’s life might be, even as a pet, and may yet rescue a puppy to live here with us in our suburban backyard. But neither am I as cavalier as I once was about dominating the life of a dog.

—Nesdon Booth

Further Thoughts on Making Farm Work Healthier

After participating in our conversation about improving farmworkers’ health, I had some further thoughts about how we should take bold action to fix the problem.

Farmworkers are essential workers. But more than that, they’re the critical lifeblood of our agricultural economy. Yet, in addition to farmworkers being denied many of the same benefits workers in other industries cherish, the communities where they live often lack the amenities found elsewhere—sidewalks, clean water, schools that are not located near pesticide spraying, green canopies, parks, transportation, and medical care. This is a discrepancy that works against some of the hardest working people in the country.

What it means is that the people who grow the food that you eat live not only as second class non-citizens, but with far worse health—virtually by design.

If you care about the environment or your own health it’s easy to see that this is blasphemy!

The short list of what farmworkers should receive is:
1. Health insurance
2. Paid Sick leave
3. Retirement
4. Higher rates for any incentive for the conversion to Greener living (solar, electric vehicles, charging at home infrastructure, electric lawnmowers, LED lighting, help converting from natural gas to electricity, etc.)
5. Dignified and affordable housing opportunities
6. Access to health and social service resources in their communities.
7. Ongoing job skills development opportunities in green and other rising renewable technology industries
8. Citizenship!

This would result in the economic development of the neighborhoods and cities where the farmworkers reside. Healthy places provide for healthy people and a strong economy! Let’s make sure that all developments are designed for long term resiliency and sustainability. 

A rise in the tide lifts all boats!

Rey Leon, Mayor of Huron, California

Reading of a Sacramento Garden and Remembering Home

As I sit here in my 12th-floor apartment in Toronto, thousands of miles away from my beloved homeland India, I read Mark Paul’s letter from his garden and my thoughts flew homeward to Dehradun, a beautiful, once-sleepy town situated on the foothills of the Himalayas.

Living in an apartment is new to me. I have a beautiful view of Lake Ontario from this beautiful and bright apartment, but I miss the warmth of my cozy and welcoming cottage at home, with the pretty lace curtains gently blowing in the wind, shooing away the bees and wasps that seek the cool interiors.

This is the middle of April and my garden must be a riot of colors. The roses, dianthus, pansies, petunias, and poppies must be in their brilliant and best attire coaxing the honeybees to visit them. My lychee trees must be loaded with green fruit which will soon turn to red as they ripen and put forth plump and juicy lychees (a fruit that grows in abundance in the Doon Valley). My mango trees must be festooned in blossoms promising a generous crop of the sweetest Dussehri mangoes that are native to the place. I’m not there and I long for these blessings or luxuries.

My mind wanders to the bare Gul Mohr tree where the parrots, a brilliant green in relief to the brown branches, gather—hundreds of them—each evening to chatter and shriek. They are discussing the events of the day. I could almost read what they were saying. And then, as if by some unseen signal, they would all fly away in different directions to their nests and perhaps to their nestlings, to settle in for the night.

The sound of birdsong that woke me every morning is now replaced by the banging and clattering of the garbage trucks in the lot downstairs. I long for the day when I return home again and sit on my veranda, my faithful dogs beside me, a mug of coffee in hand watching the dawn of a newborn day, looking at my vegetable patch and pondering what to get my cook to make for my lunch. The luxury of having garden fresh organically grown vegetables is now a distant dream.

I wonder if my ‘monkey brigade’ still visits my garden. Led by a fierce and aggressive male, this band of monkeys would come over the wall and into my garden every morning looking for fruit to eat. This brings to mind an incident. One day when the ‘visitors’ arrived they set upon a bush of bright red very pungent chili peppers in the garden. They happily surrounded the bush and began plucking the chilies and when they tasted the chilies all hell broke loose. They went on the rampage and uprooted all the chili plants in my garden. I never planted chilies again.

Homesick and lonely, I pray that this deadly virus that has robbed me and the world at large of the few joys of life will be defeated—never to return again.

—Alicia Mayer


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