Pretty much everything but the supermarkets have closed. Steve has made one trip to the Safeway since the shelter in place took effect, Ben and I both nervous for him. Our local library has closed (and I realize that for me, books qualify as an "essential service"). When my husband and I took our walk today, I was touched to see a new little free library, the first in our neighborhood.
There are many folks out taking walks now. We cross the street to preserve our six feet of social distance and wave at each other, grateful for the smiles of strangers, all in this together.
Nature unfolds as if people all over the world weren't dying in a global pandemic. It's spring in Northern California. Freesia pops up in random spots all over our yard. The apple tree has just started to bloom.
A week ago the university announced that all classes would go online. Two days ago most of the counties in the San Francisco Bay Area announced a "shelter-in-place." More counties followed yesterday and now 1 in 4 Californians is under semi-lockdown. No one is to leave their houses except for essential services. All businesses not offering essential services are closed. Schools have closed. There is such a weird apocalyptic atmosphere. Many people are stepping up and offering kindnesses. Many others (especially in other states) are ignoring the pandemic. It's frightening to see college kids swarming the beaches in Florida for spring break when at the very least they should be practicing "social distancing."
Steve and I are both in the age groups and health groups designated as particularly vulnerable to serious, potentially fatal, cases of coronavirus. California is one of the worst hit of the states. We are 47th in the ratio of available hospital beds to population. Italy, which has been devastated by COVID-19, had a better ratio. The pictures and stories from Italy are heart-breaking. I can't help but be scared.
We asked our grown son Ben, who shares an apartment in Oakland, to come home for the shelter-in-place and he's here, which is a comfort and makes meals together feel festive. He's working from home (working hard for the Public Utilities Commission). We're working from home. I'm trying to teach my class online but just can't focus on the papers I should be grading. When I got online early Tuesday morning and saw that my students were flooding our Blackboard Discussion Board with comments on each other's essays as I'd asked them to, I almost cried I was so happy. That's the shape I'm in.
AWP failed to cancel their enormous conference in San Antonio (5,000 attended instead of the expected 12-15,000) but all conferences over 1000 have been canceled in California, and many much smaller ones. The NBA has suspended the rest of the season! (The writers running AWP seem woefully unenlightened about the importance of curbing the spread of the virus. Almost as bad as Trump.)
My writing group in San Francisco took the unprecedented step of having a meeting via Skype last night. There were five of us, and it worked pretty well. Definitely better than just trading emails with marked-up drafts. Really, all the writers in my group are brilliant, and there's synergy in our discussions. A lot comes up that we haven't written in our notes.
Usually we meet at Alia Volz's, I've been going there every other Wednesday night for about nine years now (!) and she holds the group together. I'm so sad that her first book, years in the making, will be published next month in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and all the changes about public meetings. She's about to cancel her publicity tour and is afraid her book will be lost in the shuffle. I hope not. Her book HOME BAKED is stunningly good.
I may have taught my last face-to-face class on Tuesday without knowing that was the case. It was a great workshop discussion. Arrived home to an announcement that all face-to-face classes on our campus have been suspended. Classes were canceled today to give faculty time to get their classes online. Which will be incredibly difficult for a class not designed to be an online class. I have a feeling that mine won't be very good, as I may avail myself of Blackboard only (and don't even know some basic things like how to have them hand in an assignment via Blackboard rather than email).
I am now spending all of my time on the computer. I wish I could say I was writing, but mostly I'm doing work for CRAFT, and my class, and my writing groups. And wasting time browsing social media and the internet. Hardly any writing, though there are plenty of things that I should be revising.
Genia Blum wrote to me soliciting a flash on the theme of depression for a chapbook (folio? four writers and a photographer) for QUEEN MOB'S TEAHOUSE and that spurred me to write something that I just did with my group last night. Still needs revision.
Genia is Ukranian-Swiss, a wonderful writer whom I met online when we both had essays in UNDER THE SUN. She's been a tremendously supportive reader and we follow each other's careers closely. Genia is good friends with Renee D'Aoust, also in the chapbook, whom I met when we were both in the anthology ROOTED. Now that my world of on-ground social contact is shrinking, my writer friends online are more valuable than ever.
It’s here! PASSAGES NORTH is one of my dream publications, and I’m so excited that my hybrid essay “Madeline’s Trunk” appears in this year’s issue (along with work by Meghan McClure and Jill Talbot and Amy Wright and Matthew Vollmer and Dina L. Relles and so many other great writers).
Here’s the full table of contents (I’m loving everything I’ve read so far). This issue and previous issues can be purchased through their Submittable page. The excerpt below is near the end, one of my favorite passages.
"Madeline's Trunk" is based on an inmate at Willard State Insane Asylum, and her trunk is one of the ones that Jon Crispin photographed for the Willard Suitcases Project. The essay is part of THE LUNATICS' BALL, so I'm especially happy to see it out in the world.
On Friday, I had a great two-hour chat on the phone with Katelyn Keating, the editor-in-chief at CRAFT, but we could have talked in person at AWP.
And now, in one of those last-minute reshuffles of panels, the editor-in-chief at F(R)ICTION asked if I could fill in on their creative nonfiction panel at AWP: "The Evolution of Truth: How Nonfiction Has Changed Over Time." Patricia Horvath canceled for health reasons. Phillip Lopate (!!!) and Lee Guttkind (!!!) are on the panel. Wow! That would have been the opportunity of a lifetime. But I'm not going.
With the coronavirus it seems just as well. Steve and I booked a getaway to a lake in the mountains outside Seattle for spring break—plane, rental car, airbnb—and now we're wondering whether we should reconsider. Right now Seattle seems to be the hot spot in the U.S. for the virus, with six deaths.
LITTLE FICTION/BIG TRUTHS just announced the writers they'll include in their special issue on Flash Fiction. I'm so excited to be on this list, and to see that I know and love pretty much all of these writers. In fact I've met two of them (Claire Polders and Tommy Dean) in person. Their Flash Nonfiction issue last summer was great. I loved every single flash. Can't wait for this one, which I thought was going to be in the summer, but looks like it will be sooner.
Yesterday Steve and I went into San Francisco for this year's Crossroads Irish-American Festival kickoff event: "Telling the Untold: Uncovering and Healing in Irish-American Writing." The three writers—novelist Emer Martin, poet and collagist Linda Norton, and essayist Eanlai Cronin—were amazing and I came away brimming with ideas. I've been thinking of Famine as the central trauma in Irish history of the past two centuries, but they were talking about the fatal grip of the Church, colonialism and the loss of the Irish language and "learned docility," sexual shaming of girls pregnant out of wedlock, the horrifying Magdalene laundries, and abusive boarding schools purporting to educate poor children in industrial trades. I bought Emer Martin's novel The Cruelty Men (and discovered when I got home that my son Ben already had it). I talked a little to Linda Norton after their readings and panel discussion. I wish I'd bought her book, but I read her long essay online later: "The Great Depression and Me: Notes of an American Thinker-Tinker." Her brother was bipolar (and an aunt, I think?) and I identified myself as bipolar. Didn't say I was a writer, or a professor (she teaches at SFSU). (Shades of what interactions at AWP are like for me. Even without the coronavirus, I'm just as glad I'm not going this year.) She gave me her card, but she's pretty eminent and I'm not sure I have the nerve to suggest meeting. She does really cool collages as well as hybrid memoir/poetry texts.
Exciting mail: Claudia McGill sent me her art for "Why Indeed" and her art for my flash last year as well. Love it.
Still no sign of my contributor copies of the new PASSAGES NORTH.