Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis IX

They speak of milk and
Honey, but I dream of clean
Water in Flint, Michigan
~ Morgan Russell, Rhetorician and Poet
"Promised Land"*

I have been thinking a great deal about discrimination in our culture, how it is always present in one or another way, and what happens to those who suffer injustice in a pandemic like the one we're experiencing:

✦ What justification do you find for allowing a teenager infected with the vector causing COVID-19 to die because he lacks health insurance? Do ethics no longer matter? Who decides?

✦ Where do the women and children, and in some cases, men, find shelter from domestic violence, which our current news reports tell us is increasing as people are confined to their homes and every available space is being turned into a hospital?

✦ How and what level of care is owed to the individual experiencing homelessness, addiction, mental illness? How do you balance one need against another? How do you ensure that no one is overlooked?

✦ When you take that last package of spaghetti, after placing four other boxes in your cart, what excuse do you give for making your need greater than my own?

✦ Why do we favor the corporation over the individual, the dollar over human life? How do we begin to create a new paradigm to shift thinking away from consumerism and supply-side economics?

✦ What makes us take the word of an inept and ignorant man over that of a woman with a doctorate in a field of science?

✦ Which of us is willing to raise our voice against ? Who can explain remaining silent?

✦ Who among us, once we reach the other side of this global crisis, will argue for sociocultural change and work at the individual, local, state, and federal levels to make change happen?

Post-crisis assessment and planning are critical. We have so much work to do, so many lessons to learn and apply.

Can you imagine the enormous database that could be curated and assembled from the many separate Coronavirus/COVID-19-related resources now online and made available to citizens of the United States and countries around the world? Local communities, city and county governments, state governments, the federal government, artists and writers, art therapists, medical professionals and institutions, scientific organizations, policy analysts, ethicists, crisis managers, economics, nonprofits, including churches, social justice organizations, researchers, newspapers, all levels of schools, public and private businesses, and periodicals of all kinds have contributed a wealth of data that explain, track, suggest, advise, and help us understand the crisis besetting us. Perhaps the Internet Archive or the Library of Congress will collect these resources so that next time — and there will be a next time — such materials will not have to be re-created.


Of all the technology available to us during this crisis, a landline telephone and a cellphone may be our most reliable means for "visiting" friends and family and keeping communication open while we all are confined to our homes.


My reading over the last week has produced a number of disparate, if nonetheless curious, facts that might help a conversation along at a virtual cocktail or wine party; to wit:

✦ The cover of Rebecca Solnit's memoir Recollections of My Nonexistence (Viking, 2020) shows the writer dressed in a reversed man's vest and skirt, one of her go-to outfits for special occasions that she completed with elbow-length black gloves and a hat with a veil. One stand-out feature in the photograph is Solnit's tiny waist: just 20 inches.

✦ On enactment of the 1934 National Firearms Act, civilians in this country were prohibited from owning fully automatic weapons. (Patrick Blanchfield, "Top Guns", Review of Frank Smyth's The NRA: The Unauthorized HistoryBookForum, Apr/May 2020) Interested to know what kinds of weapons were at issue at the time, I learned through research that the ban extended to shotguns and rifles with barrels less than 18" in length, machine guns, mufflers and silencers, and "certain firearms described as 'any other weapons'." Subsequent amendments to the law expanded the definition of "machinegun" and added "destructive devices" (e.g., bombs, grenades, mines) and bump-stock-type devices for semiautomatic firearms to the definition of "firearm". 

✦ That same BookForum review by Blanchfield also revealed that Wayne LaPierre, chief executive and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association was a substitute special-education teacher and a former campaign volunteer for George McGovern, the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 1971.

✦ The Smithsonian magazine's first issue appeared on the same day as the first Earth Day: April 22, 1970. Both are 50 years old this year. A number of other events, such as the environmental awareness education event known as "Project Survival" (January 23, 1970, Northwestern University) and a "Teach-In on the Environment" that included the cast of Hair and folk singer Gordon Lightfoot, as well as a workshop on "Spiritual Perspectives on the Environment" (March 11, 1970, University of Michigan), preceded national Earth Day. The April 2020 print edition of the magazine features a story about the mock trial of a 1959 Ford Sedan at the March "Teach-In". (See "The Case Against the Car" by Kate Wheeling.)


* The poem by Morgan Russell is in Section IV of Take A Stand: Art Against Hate (The Raven Chronicles, 2020). See my review.

Monday, March 30, 2020

'Take A Stand: Art Against Hate' (Review)

There's no word for it so far, the word
for what it means to be in love with you
in our sinking world. . . 

The world that means we've loved
through the avalanches of our time, 
loved while the wars raged, . . .

The word that means we're not alone. . . .
~ Edward Harkness
"Union Creek in Winter"

Cover Art

The Raven Chronicles, an independent, nonprofit press in Shoreline, Washington, earlier this year published a new anthology: Take a Stand: Art Against Hate. Offering work by 117 writers and poets and 53 artists and illustrators, it is a highly welcome addition to our creative and cultural literature, documenting as only artists can, the too-common experience of racism, discrimination, and hate throughout the history of the United States.

Organized in five sections — Legacies, We Are Here, Why?, Evidence, Resistance — the 368-page collection features poems, stories, essays, and images, many of which could be placed in multiple sections—an illustration of the complexity of the topics and subjects, of the many forms of hate itself, which no one generation in any period of time can lay claim to. Browsing the Table of Contents, we recognize names we know well and names that may be or are entirely new to us. Among the former are Jericho Brown, Lucille Clifton, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Ilya Kaminsky, Dunya Mikhail, Marge Piercy, Susan Rich, and Danez Smith.  Among the latter are Sara Beckman, who experienced more than a half-dozen years of homelessness because of mental illness and addiction; Sharon M. Carter, a retired physician; high school student Brynn McCall of Denver, Colorado; and Penna Ava Taesali, a Samoan poet, educator, and cultural arts activist. That the publication's editors selected so demographically diverse a group of writers and artists — all age groups, those at the beginning, middle, or peak of their career, the famous and the un-celebrated, those comfortably self-identifying as, for example, Native American, Iraqi, Chilean-Puerto Rican, Ukrainian-American, black Muslim, butch-trans, Thai, or poz and queer — is a testament to their determinedly democratic approach to inclusivity, their defiance of current political divisions, and the power of art not only to speak for those denied voice or not heard but also to make equals of us all.

As the voices raised in this volume make clear, prejudice, intolerance, cruelty, and violence — in a word, hatred — dislocate, cause division, bring war; they leave us broken, in sorrow, without acceptable explanation, and all too often even dead: Attesting to the unrecognizable body of Emmett Till, Jericho Brown calls out the "[w]e [who] "do not know / The boy's name nor the sound / Of his mother wailing" and asks, "What are we? What? / What on Earth are we? What?" ("Riddle") Lawrence Matsuda, born to parents who were forced into an American concentration camp in World War II, knows first-hand how "[d]oors slam and hands / of kindness withdraw. / You are not among the privileged / huddled masses." ("Just a Short Note to Say Something You Already Know")

The perpetuation of hate, generation after generation, Marge Piercy declaims, "is official and encouraged: anyone / not just like you is a danger. Fences, / walls, no trespassing, neighborhoods / gated, built into a maze, so those not / rich and white enough are kept out." ("Dread, Not Envy") The truth, Ryan Roberts acknowledges, is that "[o]ur history" is the legacy of "monsters we cannot hide". "From the time of Cain, he acknowledges, "billions have died, / Jewish Gypsy Native Black / Mexican Dykes and Fags thrown / from buildings, burnt at stakes / just for breathing the air—I must say, / God puts a new spin on the word Queer."  ("After the Pulse Murders, 2016") In another of her several poems in Take A Stand, Marge Piercy asserts, "We're considered white now but not / by all" and warns, of "[t]hese years we tend to be out, even proud" but the "Little Hitlers abound." ("They were praying")

Even aware, as Faiza Sultan is, that "[it] may be good to form new laws" ("I Have Plenty of Things"), creating the "new story & history" of which Danez Smith writes ("dear white america") requires more than thoughts and prayers. "We march lest we leave our children / a fractured sphere", explains Susana Praver-Perez. ("Just Breathe") Nevertheless, Risa Dennenberg points out, "We who say never forget / also know that it could happen again / to us / and we do not know more now / than we did then / how to make it stop." ("Yellow Star")

It is necessary, Stuart Gunter maintains, that "when I speak about gun control / I wear my son's shoes." ("When I Speak About Gun Control I Wear My Son's Shoes"). "It is good," argues Ellery Akers, "to stop machines—giant needles that drill into the earth— / because what they are stitching is The End." ("Taking Action") It is acceptable, suggests Keanu Jones, "to reclaim our identity as the warriors and chiefs we once were." ("Identity") Mothers, offers Jennifer DeBie, must teach their daughters how "[t]o unwrite the legends scripted / by chisel and stone." ("Lessons") And, declares Gail Tremblay, "Each one of us / needs to remember to give back to earth more than we take, / [. . .] / and work ceaselessly to transform everyone's consciousness, / so we can celebrate together the shift to a new way of living in harmony". ("Strategies for Outlasting Trumplandia")

One of the many attributes of this collection is that it is both linear and not. Though the volume begins with what we've been left — the legacies of colonialism, the sin of slave-owning, the "border of stories" of physical violation and dislocation — and impels us forward through the history of our own making to today's crises of climate change, environmental degradation, and ongoing wars, it also looks back, asking us to assess, reevaluate, understand, work together. It shows us that when we forget, we fall back; when we recall and suit up and speak out, we progress. The revolution isn't down the street; it's where each of us lives. And if we look both ways, back and ahead, we may find the common ground, make the "swerve in a different direction" (Ellery Ackers, "At Any Moment, There Could be a Swerve in a Different Direction"), and, in the words of Rajiv Mohabir, "Behold the miracle: // what was once lost / now leaps before" us. ("Why Whales Are Back in New York City")


Style, presentation, choice of words, subject matter, tone: they are in full array in Take A Stand: Art Against Hate. Though every reader will discover his or her own favorites, two poems I found notable and beautifully illustrated follow. Both use un-embellished words and are brief in length, the first, the moving "Threat", which is complemented by Tom Kiefer's sensitively photographed Wrist Rosary #1 from his series El Sueno Americano ("The American Dream"); the second, just three matter-of-fact lines complemented by the thought-provoking photograph Beyond Walls, View from an historic School for African Americans, Maryland, 2017, by Sarah E.N. Kohrs.


in a detention center
along the southern border
a janitor removes rosaries
from the trash,
photographs them
so they will not be forgotten.

Discarded, it was said,
for the safety of the officers.

~ by Kathleen Stancik for Tom Kiefer (p. 178)



Raise the wall higher
Monarch butterflies cross the border
every winter without work visas

~ by Mary Ellen Talley (p. 281)

I wholeheartedly recommend this collection. It will reward with slow reading, perhaps refresh, if not open your eyes, to the ways artists and writers capture lives as they are lived and experiences as they occur. It surely will leave you thinking, and perhaps even resolving to commit to some action, including a change in attitude or behavior, that could change your own or others' lives, one person at a time. As a tool to be shared and discussed with teens and taught in social history, communications, and writing classes in high school and college, I think it would be superlative.


The anthology was edited by poet and fiction writer Anna Balint, founder and host of Seattle's Safe Place Writing Circle at Recovery Cafe; cultural activist and book designer Phoebe Bosche, managing editor of The Raven Chronicles; and retired writing instructor and spoken word performer Thomas Hubbard, whose book reviews and short stories have appeared in such publications as New Pages, Florida Review, and Red Ink.

Back matter includes publication credits and biographical notes for all the artists, illustrators, photographers, writers, and editors, as well as the contributor of the anthology's Foreword, Diane Glancy, a poet and writer in many genres. Poet Carolyne Wright, co-editor of Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workplace (see my review) contributed the Preface; each of the editors includes a statement in the Introduction to the collection.

The anthology is available from The Raven Chronicles and online booksellers.

The Raven Chronicles Website

The Raven Chronicles on FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube

Note: I received a copy of the anthology for review purposes.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thought for the Day

How beautiful and devastating, to let things become the past.
~ Sarisha Kurup

Quoted from Sarisha Kurup, "Memory vs. History: On the Neverending Struggle to See Clearly Into the Past" at Literary Hub, February 12, 2020

Sarisha Kurup, Short Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Writer

Friday, March 27, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis VIII

. . . we don't enter it [a work of art] all at once, we enter it
in spaces, and they all add up to  the work, to the whole. . . .
~ Percival Everett
"Trout Fishing in America" in BookForum, Apr/May 2020

Since reading the interview with Percival Everett, I've been thinking about his quote about visual art, how he has to "steal glimpses" of such work as Jackson Pollock's before he can fully understand it. He applies the "lesson" he says he learned about art to writing as well, pointing out that when working on a novel, he does his best to not think about "ideas about writing." Rather, he just does the writing, lets whatever part he's working on move through him for however long it needs to become what it will be.


Jeanie Tomanek, In Place, 2020
Acrylic on Panel
8" x 8"

Used With Permission

I look at and read about art all day throughout a day. One thing I'm giving extra attention to is how visual artists are responding to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis. Some are sharing uplifting images, especially paintings of beautiful flower arrangements and gardens, birds, and landscapes, or abstracts in cool colors; some are posting images of work specific to the season of Lent, to remind us of the need for reflection and contemplation; and some are posting images of spring, which arrived with the virus itself. Others are directly referencing the crisis. One is Jeanie Tomanek, whom I have featured in my Artist Watch column at Escape Into Life. She is a figurative and allegorical painter whose narratives touch upon the lives of women. Jeanie painted the work above. Its reds and blacks and grays make it an intensely strong work; the white, mere lines of it, illustrate what is disappearing in the flames of the hell we're experiencing. Its title, "In Place", speaks directly what people the world over are doing, must do, to protect themselves during the pandemic. Note, however, the sharpness of the lone female figure's heart-shaped face and also the glasses, one lens of which is blacked-out, the other still somewhat clear. Those glasses represent a duality—the closure of our minds to what is happening, the need for clarity and truth. A searching for hope.


If you are on social media, you've probably seen, if not used yourself, these hashtags: #ShelterInPoems, #ArtCanHelp, #PoetrySaves. Use them. Believe in them.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis VII

Never waste a good crisis.
~ Andrew Wolstenholme
"Wolstenholme Report" (2009)

Every little thing counts in a crisis.
~ Jawaharlal Nehru
First Prime Minister of India, Independence Activist


Some of us have returned to blogging for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. I've read posts by quite a few friends who say they cannot write, though they try. None of us should worry too much about what we write. The point is to write and in writing to feel connected.

Have you ever noticed how often someone will respond to a posted poem by saying, "This is just what I needed today"? #ShelterInPoems #ArtCanHelp #PoetrySaves

Never have so many made so much Web content free (The New York Times mostly excepted; its coverage of the Coronavirus is very good, so just register to receive it). Of course, as Robert Farrar Capon might say, there's no telling what attracts the "loving eye".


Artists, poets, and writers generally are devoted to the practice of social distancing. It is the only way we get anything done. Increasingly, I have to admit, the thought of receiving a friend's hug at the end of this crisis is what gets me through my day.

No one who has used FaceBook for any length of time was surprised a week ago by the number of conspiracy theories that popped up about the company's plot to keep our Coronavirus posts from being seen. So much of we posted was marked "spam" or "against community standards" and taken down. FB attributed the entire issue on a "bug" in its anti-spam program but declined to confirm that it was because the company had sent home its scores of employees who spend their days looking for content that violates those "community standards". It did apologize, at least to me, though not publicly, and restored the disappeared posts. Was the lesson that artificial intelligence is no substitute for humans learned? Update: some of my posts and opinions, no matter how eloquent or artfully the latter are phrased, continue to disappear.

Could it be true? Did those "men" who troll FB, always in search of a new "friend", who have posted photos only of themselves, have taken a hint that the pandemic is not the time to let us know how good-looking they think they are? As soon as I wrote this, I took a look at FB to find I'd had several of these "friend" requests. The e-mail spammers (bots?) also are still out in force, offering every kind of action one might imagine. Talk about a mass deletion!


The White House press conference, meanwhile, has reached news-lows, Anthony Fauci excepted. The unanswered question is, where is Stephanie Grisham?


Cats and dogs always grab the limelight on FB. Some are even speaking directly to us these days. The two dogs of friends from the art world make regular appearances online; sometimes they dress for the occasion. A headline spotted earlier in the Daily Dog: "Humans Stay Home: Dogs Overjoyed". I do miss my sweet boy Jack, the best Westie I've ever owned.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis VI

. . . It is always sunrise somewhere. . . .
~ John Muir
Naturalist, Explorer, Conservationist, Writer
John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

The eye, when it opens, is like the dawn breaking
in the night . . . a new world is there.
~ John O'Donohue
Priest, Poet, Author, Philosopher
Anam Cara


Sometimes we need to open our eyes, look around, and remind ourselves how awesome Earth is, that the same planet on which deadly viruses exist also generates wonders: a "flipped over" iceberg in Antarctica of "vivid green-blue color"; the "chance discovery" of a tunnel in Mexico leading to the Temple of the Plumed Serpent; the natural, pesticide-free way that a South African vineyard, rice paddies in Bali, and agricultural plots in China all find to protect the environment and ensure harvests.

One of the greatest wonders available to us is our own universe, which we can investigate as quickly as our computer will come online. Thanks to NASA's extraordinary technology, especially the Hubble Space Telescope, we can explore, albeit virtually, colliding galaxies, supernovas, black holes, cosmic clouds, comets, the Milky Way, Jupiter, and so much more in deep space that would remain forever unseen but for the images sent back to Earth. Those images currently are collected in NASA's online Universe Images Archive and also featured in the agency's Image Galleries, where we'll find an Image of the Day, an Astronomy Pic of the Day, NASA Image Library, and Mission Galleries. No one can look at these images and not be in awe of God's creation and beauty.

Black Hole Disrupting a Passing Star
Astronomy Pic of the Day
March 24, 2020
Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech


From here on Earth, however, it is possible sometimes to see the unforgettable, which for me is a night-time trip many years ago through the high Colorado Rockies. Above the tree line we noticed cars were pulling over and people getting out, so we stopped, too, thinking some terrible accident must have happened. And then we saw it, the Milky Way, the galaxy containing our Solar System. It was spectacular to take it in from the mountain top, with no city lights to shut it out. Recently, astronomers have discovered the edge of the Milky Way, which is 1.9 million light-years across—a number we have to hold in our imaginations to realize.


The red-veined darter, a type of dragonfly common in northwestern Europe, particularly England, Wales, and Ireland, is certainly one of the wonders of the natural world. A male, its color is bright or deep red; its eyes, brown above and blue below; the base of its wing, yellow. In symbolism, that red connotes both eternal love and death, a dual omen for the yellow-brown females it must attract.


And, then,  spring—and its promise of rebirth. Spring, which Pablo Neruda said, you "cannot keep from coming."* Who cannot include all the seasons among mentions of wonder? They chart our seasons of life: our joys and loves, our hopes and despairs, our freedom to explore, our maturity and transitions.

* "Podran cortar todas las flores, pero no podra detener la primavera." ("You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.") During Arab Spring, the words of resistance appeared on Cairo streets; then again in 2017 on posters at the Women's March. I have yet to find the source of this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis V

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit
and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, 
this is one of the strongest things you can do.
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
"We Were Made for These Times"
"Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times"


When it's all over, what happens to all the stories told in FaceBook posts, Twitter comments, lines of poetry shared?

What is one of the most important but unanswered questions about COVID-19?*

In leadership and human resources literature, I learned the other day, focusing on failure is called the "Wallenda factor". The term was coined after the 1978 death of the legendary German-American high-wire artist Karl Wallenda, founder of The Flying Wallendas. According to Wallenda's wife, on the day he died in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the aerialist had been overly worried about not falling instead of concentrating on getting across a 75-foot-high wire. (See Warren Bennis's Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, one of many books that discuss the subject.) Something other than fear of failure is driving U.S. leaders' response to the pandemic.

I have little to no fear of dying, even in the solitude I keep daily; I have my faith, the beauty of my art to turn to, the several hundred books of shelved poetry, always available to open and read. I am, however, scared of how I might respond if my only child, who lives an entire country-worth-of-miles-away, were to become infected and not be allowed to be tested. All mothers, in their own way, are like that Orca whale who grieved her dead infant for 17 days.


What has become of all the children locked in cages at our border with Mexico?


On the day I married for a second time, while headed to the reception in an open carriage, the sniper team of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boy Malvo was doing its deadly work in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. How many of my friends remember the wedding? How many the shootings?

How many times have you recounted your last intended words to a beloved?


We know how to use 3D printing to make ventilators for patients and face shields for health care workers. What we don't know is, are we willing to risk enough to make enough in time?

When I ask a friend how she's doing in self-imposed isolation, she tells me she's making romantic dinners for herself, lighting candles, dressing up, and playing the music she's always liked.


In this crisis, we tell our stories as we live them.


* See Brian Resnick, "The 9 most important unanswered questions about Covid-19", Vox, March 20, 2020.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis IV

The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres
March 23, 2020


I have been thinking about the United Nations Secretary General's call to put down firearms and cease fighting throughout the world to help stop the spread of Coronavirus/COVID-19. Consider that: humans warring against each other even while so many elsewhere, those on the front lines, the scientists and health care professionals, are working themselves to exhaustion to stop the spread of a virus that is devastating countries like Italy and may soon explode in the United States. North Korea is still sending off rockets. Americans are still being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hostile nations remain hostile. Pompeo trades barbs with Khamenei. Who, Guterres asks, is tending to the needs of the most vulnerable among us: the already sick, those experiencing homelessness, women, children (especially those held in ICE cages at the U.S. border with Mexico), those over 65 residing in assisted living places, people with disabilities, refugees, asylees, and the displaced, the incarcerated? Who cares about protecting them? If we don't, who will?

Here in the U.S., our Congress needs a time-out, an appeal from all Americans to cease-fire, to get past its deadlock. To do what's right. To cooperate and collaborate to save lives, not ensure each other's job or wealth. And when this pandemic resolves, all Americans need to ask these questions: Who am I? What is my responsibility? What might I do to help heal this broken country? Where and how do I begin?


News media are replete with photos of people not practicing recommended social distancing. Too many are gathering in large groups, using public transportation, insisting on their "right" to be out. What is it these people do not understand? If they cannot follow medical professionals' advice to stay home to save their own and others' lives, who is it they will listen to?


This from PLOTUS: "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!" Pardon me for not quoting this in all caps, the way he tweeted it. For the first time in all the years I've been on Twitter, I stopped posting my finds on poetry and art to challenge him. I called him out for his lies and incompetence, the confusion he's created, his inability to get out of the way of experts such as Anthony Fauci. What I did doesn't and won't change a thing but at least I spoke up. It is when we answer with silence only that we should most be concerned.


It is said that the pandemic we're experiencing now will be one if not the "defining" event for the younger generations. My own: Vietnam (I wrote to soldiers in my brother's company), 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.; the March on Washington, the burning of Washington; the 2017 Women's March on Washington; every Newtown; the birth of my son, the sudden death of my father at my home, my beloved brother's death at 59 from cancer; being able to write poetry again and to love again following my conquering of a profound depression; finding faith and hope in a community I thought I'd lost.


I was born in November 1952. I have never known what it might be like to pick up a morning newspaper, turn on a radio, catch the latest happenings online and learn that everywhere the world is at peace and the birds are singing, the way they do most mornings now, when our streets are empty and we are sheltering in place.

Musings in a Time of Crisis III

I also believe that language is powerful and we might
 consider reframing the terms....
Christine Valtners Paintner
March 22, 2020


As someone who studied origins and deep structures of language many years ago, I have long been fascinated by word usage. I have been paying close attention to new words the pandemic has elicited or coined, as well as brought back into common and daily use: Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, outbreak, clean, asymptomatic, presumptive positive, essential personnel, social distance, social distancing, physical distancing, sheltering-in-place, secure in place, index case, incidence, cluster, novel, community spread, contact tracing, herd immunity, patient zero, super-spreader, zoonotic, morbidity, self-quarantine, self-isolation, lockdown, hunkering down, flatten the curve, and others.

Some of these words, as expected, are from science or medical articles or literature but even those words are finding their way into lay usage through our newspapers or other media, including blogs, or when used, require definitions to clarify or differentiate meanings; for example, infectious and contagious, bacteria and virus, pandemic and epidemic, respirator and ventilator, quarantine and isolation.

Then there are words I'm encountering for the first time: fomite, meaning an object, for example, a doorknob, possibly contaminated with an infectious organism and aiding in that organism's transmission.

A few words have what some describe as "unfortunate" associations: for example, lockdown, which has an association with a security measure in a jail or prison to prevent rioting and harm. More recently, the word has been used to describe a security measure taken in schools when a shooter is believed to be on the premises or nearby. Currently, we are seeing it used to describe steps being taken by local, state, and in some cases federal governments to force the public to stay home and not to go out except for "essential" reasons, such as needing to purchase groceries. Some of the orders include punishments for violations, including arrest or jail time.

In her Sunday e-mail to subscribers of her Abbey of the Arts blog, Christine Valters Painter addressed the subject briefly, noting that she prefers a more positive usage of some of the words: instead of social distancing, for example, use compassionate retreat or compassionate retreating; instead of isolation, use solitude. (The link to this e-mail is above.)

Are there pandemic-related words for which you might substitute a different term? Share them in the comments section following this post.

For those so inclined, it's easy to search these words online, or look up their derivations and usages; just be sure to include the word Coronavirus, so that your search returns with results specific to the pandemic.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis II

Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human
 vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable
 indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital
 connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion
 of companionship without the demands of friendship.
~ Sherry Turkle
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology
and Less from Each Other

For some time now, researchers have been addressing the subject of how technology is leaving entire populations of users more lonely than ever; more forgetful of social graces, such as putting away the iPhone at dinner time; more subject to safety hazards, because of always looking down at a screen; less healthy, because not getting outside and into the sunshine might leave our bodies with an insufficient store of vitamin D. How ironic, then, that computers and phones and the miracle of electricity are rescuing us, even if only temporarily, from at least one thing on that list: loneliness. It seems, at least for now, that the very thing we still can rely on, if we're lucky enough to have it, is our 5G Internet that is allowing us to check in with each other, Skype or Zoom or FaceTime, lead book groups, write, visit museums, or even see the cherry blossoms in bloom at the Tidal Basin—all virtually.


My hometown newspaper The Washington Post is seeking ideas from the public on how the world might mitigate the effects of the novel Corona virus.* Here are several I've been thinking about:

• Install a smart package delivery locker, especially in a condo or rental apartment building. I used one when I was a renter three years ago. Every building should have one, I think. When a package comes in, it is logged and placed in a drawer in the locker. The recipient receives an email message with a code to enter on the computer that is part of the onsite locker. The recipient goes to the locker's location, keys in the code, and, voila, the drawer opens and the package can be retrieved. Having a locker keeps common areas clean and clear, reduces possibility of theft, and avoids the contact problem we're all experiencing now. Obviously, sanitizing the equipment is necessary but I am sure some tech whiz probably could figure out how to make the equipment self-sanitizing. After all,  the problem's been mastered for those self-cleaning public bathrooms in San Francisco, New York City, and Paris, France.

• I'd like to have a badge to use to enter and exist my building, enter and exist our garage area, lock and relock the door to my condo, and lock and relock doors to enter any common area available to residents, including trash rooms, without having to carry and use multiple keys. If we had such a badge to use, we would lessen the need to touch contaminated surfaces. If anyone knows of such a badge that could be worn, please note it in the comment section for this post. I'd like to propose it to our condo board. (I do know that various badges can be placed in a car or used at an entrance post to a garage. What I'd like is one that goes inside my car whenever I need to enter or exit the garage.)

• Create for use specifically in condo and apartment buildings a robot capable of sanitizing fronts of entry and exit doors, mail box fronts, hand rails, light switches, and any common area surfaces that require touch. If you haven't already, note the number of surfaces you touch in a day, what they are, where they are. It's a significant number. In this pandemic, we've been told to wash our hands every time we touch a surface. Yes, this would mean humans would not do this work during a pandemic such as we're experiencing now. At least it would protect them in a way they are not protected in our common areas at this time. 

Share your ideas here or with The Washington Post (link below).


* Go to this link: 

Thought for the Day

Sorrow . . . is this very thread, spun of tears and confusion,
that God requires for binding severed relationships. Why?

Because sorrow evidences love.

Only someone who has been arrested by love can be gutted
by grief. The ache of loss and the weigh of having wronged
are the most intolerable to the person whole-heartedly given
to another. Sorrow felt deeply communicates, undeniably, 
"I care."
~ Hannah Williamson

Quoted from Hannah Williamson, "The Root of Repetance," The Lent Project, Biola University Center for Christianty, Culture & the Arts, March 6, 2020

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis I

Being in touch with the heart tells us the quality of our existence, tells us how we recognize the truth...The heart also is the place where we know who we really are.
~ Russ Hudson
Center for Action and Contemplation

AIDS, Ebola, SARS, MERS, Corona Virus/COVID-19. We know them all by their acronyms, no definitions, no explanations, needed.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, 600 billion tons of melted ice, record temperatures in Antarctica: Our gleam of the awful.* Earth destroying parts of itself. How, after this crisis resolves, do we ensure we re-create the world once given to us as Eden? The new earth to which we're pointed by Revelation 22?

Can you imagine a world with sufficient Corona virus testing kits; enough respirators and ventilators, N95 face masks, personal protective equipment (gloves, gowns, shoe coverings); plentiful stocks of insulin; plentiful stocks of pain-relieving drugs; an equivalent ratio of health care professionals to patients; humans smart enough to practice social distancing, not to keep from becoming infected but to prevent their nurses and doctors from becoming infected? To prevent an Italy from happening?

What happens in the life of a child that he grows up to be a bully, a liar, a president corrupted by power bestowed by the very people he hurts?

How do we learn to hear the refugee, the drug addict, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the forgotten, the unforgiving, each other?


All week we've watched our futures fall with the declines in the stock market. The billionaires, exercising their options, are still billionaires.

Even cash has become too dirty to use in our commerce. 


Gun sales in America rise the longer the current crisis lasts.** But we also have this:

Mozambique Tree of Life, 2004
Crafted of 600,000 Weapons
3.5 M, Half-Ton
Installed at British Museum 2005

And the leaves of the tree [are] for the healing of the nations
(Rev. 22:2, NIV)


Consider: if you're lucky enough to have two houses, one at the beach, both hidden behinds walls and a security gate, will you have enough multiple 12-roll packages of your favorite brand of toilet tissue for every bathroom?


If hope is a prayer, teach me the words.


* This phrase appears in Jeremie Begbie's essay "The Future: Looking to the Future: A Hopeful Subversion" in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker Books, 2010), edited by W. David O. Taylor. It's a relatively short collection of wonderful essays.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

New Artist Watch Feature at Escape Into Life

Suchitra Mattai, Boundless, 2019
Woven Vintage Saris and Wire
96" x 40"
(Photo by Wes Magyar)

Suchitra Mattai, exodus, 2020
Woven Vintage Saris
50' x 10'
(Photo by Jordan Spencer)

© Suchitra Mattai


I am so pleased to introduce the work of Suchitra Mattai in my March 2020 Artist Watch column for the international online arts magazine Escape Into Life.

Born in Guyana, South America, and currently a resident of Denver, Colorado, Suchitra creates large-scale installations and mixed-media works that address the subjects of 19th Century colonialism and indentured labor and their relationship to more recent periods of displacement and migration. Focused on women and such domestic practices as weaving and embroidery, her profound, well-researched artworks aim to inform our sense of history while also "giving voice to people whose voices were historically quieted."

Today's Artist Watch feature offers eight images of Suchitra's richly conceived works, an Artist Statement, a brief biography, and links to Suchitra's social media sites and gallery representatives.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Normal (Poem)


Already, I know too many people
who cannot help flatten the curve

who cough till they gag
no ventilators left to channel them

air in the absence of drugs to
keep open a passage to breathe

They watch as their temperature rises
and their cliff grows more steep

their doctors gowned
in personal protective equipment

we all likely need
We watch each other

fighting for a twelve-pack
of baby-soft Charmin,

taking the last potato, the aloe
gel and alcohol, the antiseptic

wipes that can’t do the washing
away of clean water and soap

Who’s sick
who’s not

we can’t be sure
We’re told to practice

social distancing and self-isolation
turn to our Facebook and Twitter

screens that too-long bathe our faces
in light of disinformation

Today, an earthquake in Utah
shuts down what yesterday

still worked, Canada closes
its border to

what’s not essential
tents go up as hospitals

again, the president speaks up
to take no responsibility

Here, where family is not,
I scrub my shower with Lysol

dress for a day that will repeat
itself after every tomorrow

ask for nothing
when so many need more

Monday, March 16, 2020

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell's 'Andalusian Hours'

Cover Art

I last read and reviewed a work by poet, writer, and educator Angela Alaimo O'Donnell in March 2017; it was Lent, and the book was the luminous sonnet collection Still Pilgrim. Three years later, it is March 2020, once again Lent, and O'Donnell has published a new book, also a collection of sonnets, titled Andalusian Hours: Poems from the Porch of Flannery O'Connor (Paraclete Press, 2020). Publication dates may be purely coincidental but these two books share a number of attributes.

Both collections are monologues in the voice of a woman. In Still Pilgrim, it is the fictional, unnamed narrator whose experience of and stories about the mysterious, the profound, the joyful, the tragic, and the prosaic color her travels "upon the path/walked so many times before" ("The Still Pilgrim's Refrain"), the path of any woman as she gets on with childbearing and mothering, falling in love, dealing with illness, confronting loss. In Andalusian Hours, it is the voice of real-life novelist, essayist, and short story writer Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964), whose recitations of some of those same ups and downs of a woman's life, glories and tragedies, loves and losses, O'Donnell channels not only with deep understanding of O'Connor's short life and abiding Catholic faith but also with remarkable consistency of tone and deliberate attention to the speech rhythms, accent, and likely expressions of the Georgia writer. If, before reading Andalusian Hours, you listen as I did to any of the available online recordings of O'Connor's voice to fix its sound in your mind and ear, you will appreciate just how well O'Donnell captures the intelligence, sharp wit, and poignant self-remarking that O'Connor evinced. O'Donnell need not offer, though she does, a "Poets Apology" for her "brief trespasses on [O'Connor's] private mind", for "speak[ing] for [O'Connor who] . . . stands there silent" (page 122). The "devoted fan" that O'Donnell clearly is — she's a reader of all O'Connor's work and the writer of four books about her "boon companion" — erases any doubt we readers initially might have that she can render in verse the tongue of her "sister self."

The 14-line sonnet form common to both books, and with which O'Donnell admits she took some liberties to convey the rhythm of O'Connor's southern nasal drawl, is especially conducive to Andalusian Hours. As O'Donnell explains, the sonnet form gives "each poem structure and music"; helps to "convey the color and flavor of Flannery's articulations"; and "as container of her thoughts also pays homage to O'Connor's meticulous craft as a writer" (page 9). In fact, O'Donnell's own literary artistry is as much on display; were O'Donnell anyone but the esteemed poet and masterful sonneteer she is, she would not have succeeded in revealing us to ourselves in Still Pilgrim or in so subordinating herself to her Andalusian Hours subject that it is O'Connor the writer who comes vividly alive and remains so to the collection's end.

As "act[s] of imagination" — their narrators' as much as O'Donnell's — these two collections chart the territory of mind and heart and body. But while Still Pilgrim is the product of O'Donnell's singular imagination, Andalusian Hours draws on O'Connor's own writings, excerpts from which appear as epigraphs, thus evolving from the work of two fertile minds, two imaginations, which ultimately become one "lit from within," ultimately revealing a mind turned inward, a life reflecting on itself. Amid those reflections are more than mere glimpses into the woman who called herself "a country fool" ("Flannery & St. Thomas"), who was "fond of fools / and freaks in part because I am one" ("Flannery's Folly"). What also stands out is that "vision of the self [that] hide[s] within" ("Flannery's Tattoo"): the "lonely soul" ("Flannery's Note: Dear Maryat") who knows "what it is to burn low with no / one seeing the quiet glory / you are" ("Flannery's Fire"); the sinner who has "courted the Seven Deadlies" and been "led into temptation" ("Flannery Comes Clean"); the woman in love who was not loved back and spent "years [waiting]  for the fire to go out" ("Flannery in Love, Take II"); the writer who "always did want to be famous / ever since [her] chicken-raising days" ("Flannery's Talent"); the dreamer who got to visit Europe but couldn't wait to get back, vowing, "Next time I leave by box or croaker sack" ("Flannery's Pilgrimage"); the eschatologist who can admit to herself that "[a]ll the holy / water in the Church wouldn't whole or heal me" ("Flannery's Dread"). In short, Andalusian Hours is a portrait fully imagined, fully painted, sonically just right. Until the appearance in the Epilogue of "Poets Apology," it is O'Connor alone, storyteller, pen pal, fame-seekeer, and misfit, who has our reading eyes and listening ears. The voice of O'Donnell doesn't, in fact can't, intrude.

Another feature that the two collections share is delineation of time and place. I described Still Pilgrim in my earlier review as "[b]oth an incomplete biography of a pilgrimage, the one we all begin the same way . . . and a still-to-be-finished autobiography of the Still Pilgrim herself. . . ." Time in that collection is ongoing, being lived. In Andalusian Hours, biography and autobiography are necessarily circumscribed — O'Connor no longer is alive — yet time is revisited through the writings (The Habit of Being principal among them) that O'Donnell quotes to set each poem's theme or mood or tone. Movement within and through time over a day is contracted, limited to the liturgy of hours in which O'Connor narrates the poems as O'Donnell has seen fit to organize them "in keeping with the pattern of Flannery's life at Andalusia"*: Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, Matins. It was a life, O'Donnell explains, "as deliberate and predictable as [that] of a consecrated monk" (page 9).

But time and its corollary, place, are expansive, too, existing as they did for O'Connor when she was alive and as they do in the imagination — O'Donnell's, a reader's — capacious enough to encompass the whole of O'Connor's biography (or, because the poems are monologues, autobiography) as gleaned from and re-viewed through dated excerpts from letters, novels, stories, or essays that made O'Connor's reputation "as one of the finest writers of the twentieth century" (page 7).

Time can be brief or used up on O'Connor's porch; a reader can linger over a poem or move from one to another in the collection, even in no particular order, whenever the reader desires, until the reader reaches the collection's end. Moreover, though O'Connor's actual time on earth is past, in Andalusian Hours it re-runs its course over both day and lifetime and gets re-experienced, first through an epigraph that often conveys some telling autobiographical details, and then a second time in a poem relating some thought or event that could or might have occurred in Andalusia, that place that "is a world of its own," a door to a "rich" interior life characterized by dualistic thinking, as well as a door to the hereafter, where time is an eternity. One way to think about this, perhaps, is to consider how time re-presents itself in the series of humorous and poignantly expressed sonnets about O'Connor's true and unrequited love, Erik Langkjaer. Our first introduction to that topic is in Lauds, early morning prayer time; we return to it at Terce (the third hour of the day, or 9:00 a.m.) and then again at None (the ninth hour, or midafternoon, 3:00 p.m.) and Compline (evening or end of day, before retiring to bed). Truth and wisdom emerge over the course of time spent thinking about Langkjaer but neither relieves the stronger feelings of desire and loneliness that remain forever present.

At "Andalusia," we come to understand, once O'Connor arose and "took the Georgia light" ("Flannery Rising"), she made of time her work of reading and writing, with no particular concern to disrupt the predictable routine she tended to practice: "Long as I have my hands and my sight / I can work. I don't ask for length of days, / just enough to do what I was meant to" ("Flannery's Gratitude"). Perhaps this concept of time and place and imagination is nowhere better represented than by this poem concluding the section titled Compline:

Flannery Considers Andalucia at Andalusia

My home is named for a place I've never seen.
Red clay and white pine seem tame beside
the long kill of bullfights, erotic thrill
of Flamenco flaming across the bare floor.
Regina and I go to Mass. Then I write
stories about the world I know. I fill
pages with places I have been before,
places where I feel some sense of kin.
I don't see myself traversing so far
on this bum leg and this crumbling hip
just to find out what's in a name. All the same
if I could arrive by train or by car
I might make the trip. I might know then
what Andalusia has to do with Jerusalem.

O'Donnell's is a brilliant, highly readable collection of 101 poems. It invites us to make room to imagine ourselves making a pilgrimage to Andalusia, where we sit on O'Connor's porch and travel through O'Connor's 39 years of life, all of us destined "to go, leave / this life for the next" ("Flannery In Extremis"). After all, the road O'Connor traveled, like the path on which Still Pilgrim found herself, was and is our own.

* "Andalusia" was the O'Connor family's farm. It was there, O'Donnell notes (page 8), that the writer lived a "life in exile" because of her disability (she suffered and died from complications of lupus).

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, Ph.D., is a poet, essayist, memoirist, and professor of English, Creative Writing, and Catholic Studies at Fordham University. She also is associate director of Fordham's Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. Her many books include the biography Flannery O'Connor: Fiction Fired by Faith (Liturgical Press, 2015) and The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O'Connor, a "book of hours" (Paraclete Press, 2012). In addition to Still Pilgrim and Andalusian Hours, O'Donnell's poetry collections include  Lovers' Almanac (Wipf & Stock, 2015), Waking My Mother (WordTech Communications, 2013), and Saint Sinatra & Other Poems (WordTech Communications, 2011). Her work can be found in numerous periodicals, anthologies, and magazines, such as The Christian Century and America.

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell on FaceBook and Twitter

Note: I received a copy of O'Donnell's collection from Paraclete Press for review purposes.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Thought for the Day

If you board the wrong train it is no use running
along the corridor in the opposite direction.
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Quoted from Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Chapter 12 (Thomas Nelson, 2010), page 176

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945),  German Protestant Theologian, Pastor, Anti-Nazi Dissident, Founding Member of the Confessing Church


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Coronavirus (Poem)


            for Crystal Hardin
                        and parishioners of Christ Church Georgetown

Where do we go
once the gates lock,
the churches close

our fists full
of spring’s purple irises
daffodils and pansies

to flower the now-covered cross
we’ll raise again
on Easter

We had been praying
in our houses of worship
so much

shuttered against the unseen
Our planes fly empty
but our borders are manned

We who have called
down upon us
this plague

just ask

There is no one
to tell us
how long 


Crystal Hardin is a priest at Christ Church Georgetown (Washington, D.C.). I first met her when, as part of her training to be a priest, she served with us at my parish, St. Michael's Episcopal (Arlington, VA). Yesterday, in response to the pandemic, all Episcopal churches in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia were closed for two weeks as part of a call to cancel events anywhere where large groups of people might gather. Christ Church had already been quarantined by the coronavirus outbreak in the District. See the following articles:



Sunday, March 8, 2020

Thought for the Day

Inhabiting the art of expressing ourselves is what
lets us fit things together rather than break things apart.
~ Mark Nepo

Quoted from Mark Nepo, Drinking from the River of Light: The Life of Expression (Sounds True, 2019), Part I: Basic Human Truths, page 1

Mark Nepo, Poet, Spiritual Writer, Teacher, Author

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Thought for the Day

. . . Against everything, we have to protect our
permeability to wonder. That's the nucleus
around which all interesting art orbits.
~ Kaveh Akbar

Quoted from "Word By Word: Reflecting on Fifteen Years of Debut Poets" in Poets & Writers, page 64

Kaveh Akbar, Award-Winning Iranian-American Poet, Editor,  Scholar; Founder and Editor, Divedapper; Columnist, "Poetry RX", Paris Review; Professor, Purdue University and Randolph College

Kaveh Akbar Profiles at Academy of American Poets and Poetry Foundation