Tuesday, July 07, 2020

COVIDiary: The Importance of Being Earnestly Mask Fashionable


Okay, all you non-mask wearers. Get with the program. You may as well get used to wearing a face covering from now until probably forever.

Take it from someone who is claustrophobic to the point of feeling buried alive when something covers my nose and mouth, probably growing out of the childhood trauma of having an ether-filled mask clamped over my 7-year-old face before having my tonsils out. So, yeah, I get it.

But if I can do it, anyone can. No excuses. Find a mask that suits your comfort zone, then practice wearing it around the house until it becomes like a second skin. I have to wear mine for hours at a time at work, but I hardly notice it now.

Got it? Great. Now stop thinking of it as just a mask, and start making a fashion statement. That's right. Seek out a wardrobe of masks that suits every day purposes, formal occasions, sports fandom, favorite artwork, book quotes, and movie scenes. Have one or two that sparkle.

Consider your mask choices Met Gala-ready. Think like Anna Wintour and Beyonce and Sarah Jessica Parker. Add a fake designer tag to your mask if that makes you feel more fashion-secure.

But for all that is holy and healthy, wear a damn mask!

Saturday, July 04, 2020

COVIDiary: Winning is Easy, Governing's Harder

Happy 4th of July, Coronavirus Edition. It's a good day to read the Declaration of Independence, watch the musical Hamilton, and eat a hot dog or two.

I celebrate those men who holed up in that sweaty Philadelphia room for months wrangling over whether or not to break with England and figure out how to unite a collection of colonies with widely differing interests and concerns. I celebrate their wives and families who indirectly had a voice in what Thomas Jefferson would craft into the historic document.

I celebrate the tenacity of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Henry Lee, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, Jefferson, and the others who brought intelligence and passion to the very difficult task of laying the foundation for the American Experiment, spelling out their grievances against King George III and Great Britain.

I celebrate the idea that all people are created equal and have the basic human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I celebrate the fact that the early patriots were brave enough to put in writing that they mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They were committing treason after all, punishable by death. 

But I'm having a hard time celebrating what we've become. We have the most divisive president in the nation's history, one who stokes racial, moral, and intellectual hatred. Yes, we've had some weak presidents in the past, but never has the United States had someone so soulless and ill-prepared to bind us together and move us forward as one nation with liberty and justice for all.

We in the majority are being ruled by a minority whose power comes from manipulating voting systems and suppressing votes. This minority works from fear and white privilege. It works from a skewed knowledge of history and governance. It works from strange financial interests that usually work against the real personal interests of the minority.

It's frustrating and tiring to try reason and goodwill with this 35-40% of our population.  Everything it stands for flies in the face of what was hammered out in Philadelphia in 1775-1776. There is no compromise. There is no intelligence. There is no true patriotism. Only hatred and fear that often wears a sweet "Christian" face. I can only assume the Beatitudes are missing from their teachings. Jesus wept.

And now we're in the middle of a pandemic that only seems to get worse because of these fearful, hateful people who refuse to follow the simplest rules to keep everyone safe. Freedom! Independence! Guns! White power! And so the infection rate and death toll climbs every day. At the very time we are called to come together to protect each other, we have the biggest failure of leadership and true patriotism in history.

The United States is badly broken. Facts are ridiculed. Science ignored. The magnet on our moral compass is missing. Until we can get back to liberty and justice for all - all races, creeds, national origins, sexual orientations, socio-economic groups - we are doomed. Perhaps this implosion has been happening for a long time. Perhaps we were never united enough to improve upon the original concept of our country. Perhaps we'll never figure out how to ensure that all of us - all of us - have the same opportunities.

But this is a nation built on hard (often enslaved) work, intelligence, and crazy dreams. My faith is in my sisters and brothers who can reverse this poisonous trend. My faith is in our people who are working to guarantee that everyone's vote counts. My faith is that our scientific community - made up of good people from many national origins - can find answers to climate change, pandemics, and other issues facing us and the world. My faith is that our creativity and humor and common sense will pull us out of this destructive vortex we find ourselves in.

It's not just about the true majority winning November's elections (and I'm praying for a real blow-out across the board). It's about undoing all the harm done over centuries, decades, and - yeah - the last three years. We have to find a way to rise up and govern intelligently and compassionately.

The work seems insurmountable. In the words of Hamilton's George Washington: "Winning is easy, young man. Governing's harder." But we can do this. I just know we can.

Happy(?) 4th of July.


Friday, June 26, 2020

COVIDiary: The Masks

"Tonight's tale of men, the macabre and masks, on the Twilight Zone."

A famous Twilight Zone episode entitled "The Masks" deals with four very selfish relatives of a dying man. It's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans, and the old man requires that each of them wear masks that supposedly represent the opposite of what they truly are if they want to inherit his estate. They kick up a fuss and refuse to wear the masks, but they want the money so they end up  indulging the old man's request.

I think of this episode every time someone complains about wearing a mask. Science (not an old dying man, I hope) tells us to wear a mask - not to inherit an estate, but to protect others from a global pandemic. These 21st century selfish whiners have the exact complaints that the mid-20th century Twilight Zoners had: "This is ridiculous!" "I can't breathe in this thing!" "You can't make me do this!" and so forth.

Put on that mask.

You can breathe in the mask. If I can do it, you can do it. No one is more claustrophobic than I am, but I've learned to be comfortable in my mask for hours at work and when I'm in public spaces.

The mask has to cover your nose and your mouth. Always. 

You don't have to take off your mask to talk to someone. Hands off. Others can hear and understand you just fine.

Wash your mask every day.

Have a spare or two. Keep one in the car. Keep one in your pocket or purse. But don't forget to put it on around other people.

The lesson here? If you want the inheritance - in this case life for you and those around you, you have to wear the mask.

Now there's plot twist in that Twilight Zone episode (it's the Twilight Zone, duh) and the faces of those mask-wearers are changed by the masks they wear. Those hideous masks were outward signs of the selfishness they carried inside.

And your mask actually reflects who you are on the inside. Unlike the Twilight Zone, the only way your mask will affect your facial features is that it should put a smile on your face.

Don't be stupid. Don't be selfish. Don't be ugly on the inside. Wear a mask.



Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Why Samuel L. Jackson Didn't Go To My High School


Last weekend, Liam and I were watching The Phantom Menace and when Samuel L. Jackson appeared as Mace Windu, I said, "You know, he grew up in Chattanooga, and he's just a few years older than I am."

"Did you go to school together?" he asked.

And so our conversation began. About white schools and black schools and the was it was way back when. Yes, in the middle of Star Wars.

I started high school in the fall of 1966. That was the first year that Chattanooga schools were integrated - twelve years after Brown v Board of Education. Twelve years. So after years of sinful foot-dragging and instilling silly fears in our young minds about integration, we finally got to experience it for ourselves.

Honestly, I don't remember feeling the least bit nervous about going to school with black students. There were too many other anxieties about going out of my neighborhood and across town to Chattanooga (City) High School, trying to negotiate new hallways and schedules, and worrying whether my clothes were cool enough.

For me, that momentous shift from segregation to integration proved pretty unremarkable. Turns out, they were just like us, with all the teenage craziness and brains and awkwardness and talent - just kids. But I can't even imagine what it was like for Deborah and Edward and Sandra and Rosa Lee and Ann and the other black kids who chose City High over one of the two black high schools in town. My hope is that they felt welcome, that all they really had to worry about was negotiating hallways and wearing cool clothes. I suspect that was not the case. It must have been so hard.

But of all the black students who opted for City, Samuel L. Jackson wasn't one of them. He had just graduated from all-black Riverside High (which was actually the old City High before the school moved to a new building across the river and up a steep hill) and was starting Morehouse College in Atlanta in the fall of 1966. He never had the option to go to my high school because desegregation hadn't kicked in yet in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

But whenever I see him in a film, I do wonder whether he would have chosen City over Riverside if he'd had the chance.

And I think about the black kids who did decide to make their way up that steep hill, where they were greatly outnumbered by us pale kids. And I think, wow. What courage. More courage than even Mace Windu.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

COVIDiary: Back To Work. Sort of.


Almost three months to the day I returned to work on-site at Atlanta History Center. My hours are greatly reduced, but I'm not complaining.

When I finished my shift on March 11, there was talk - nothing definite - about closing down for a while because of the rapidly spreading coronavirus COVID-19. We'd spent a trepidacious month, handling money and credit cards without masks, gloves, or shields, though we tried to separate ourselves from visitors as much as possible, wash our hands like Lady Macbeth, and furiously wipe down surfaces of the most touchable surfaces like hand rails and door handles.

We knew this thing was different. We knew it was coming.

The center shut its doors to staff and visitors on March 13.We re-opened the 33-acre grounds and gardens Monday, June 15, to members and paying customers who we hoped would enjoy the chance to explore our historic outdoor spaces.

Armed with masks, hand sanitizer, and plenty of clever signage that reminded guests about safe-distancing, we opened the doors. No on-site ticket purchases keep us from handling cash or credit cards; everything must be reserved online beforehand. No paper guides or information to hand out, as maps must be accessed via QR codes on phones. We even offer an outdoor pop-up gift shop and an indoor cooling station for hot days.


What I like most about the new system is getting to rotate around the various guest experience stations around campus throughout the day instead of just working the front desk or Cyclorama all day. So I might spend an hour or two at the shop, then move to the Swan House or Woods Family Cabin or one of the normally unsupervised open entry points like the Arbor or upper Swan Coach House drive. The day goes very fast.

Alas, visitors are very few at this point. I get it. Our biggest draws are the Cyclorama and the Swan House, both of which are closed to visitors right now. There's talk that everything will be opened up - with many safety guidelines and protocols - July 3, but we shall see.

It was great seeing co-workers, getting a lot of exercise (about 12,000 steps in a 6-7 hour shift), and enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous gardens. And it seems while all we humans were in hibernation, a family of foxes has made its home on the grounds and woods surrounding the Swan House - ma, pa, and four babes. I'm not so sure they're glad we're back but I'm hopeful we can respect each other's "habitat" for a while.

If everyone - staff and guests - will stick to the rules, we just might make this thing work.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

A Century Celebration for the Best Daddy Ever


Yes, we're in the middle of a pandamic, racial turmoil, and a dodgy election, but I can't let June 10, 2020, pass without celebrating the 100th anniversary of my daddy's birth.

Born in Nashville and raised as a farm boy in Henrietta, he loved history (something I inherited from him) and Latin (which I did not inherit from him, though he begged me to take it since I had writer aspirations), but he did not love farming. His goal was to attend Vanderbilt, but that was out of the family's league, so a few years after high school, he joined the Navy.

Cutting to the chase, he landed at the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, where he met a vivacious girl from Atlanta, Georgia, who was in the WAVES, and the rest is Frazier family history. So this rather reserved farm-boy-who-didn't-want-to-be-a-farm-boy from Nashville marries into the wild-and-wooly Bully Bartows from Atlanta, and they eventually settle in Chattanooga, Tennessee, midway between their two hometowns.

Along came four kids between 1944 and 1953 - two boys, then two girls - who got to grow up with the best daddy in the world.

He loved to do the grocery shopping and never minded taking us with him for his weekly Friday evening run. We could always talk him into a treat or two.

He let me stand on his feet while he danced around with me.

He would break into "Swanee River," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," or "This Old House" whenever the urge struck him to sing. Brother David was always terrified that the preacher would call on him to sing during a church service. Never happened.

He called Mother "Kitten," and managed to put up with the crazy Bully Bartows for the duration of their 55-year marriage (till death they did part). He did, however, have the foresight to get out from under the Atlanta crowd, moving us to Chattanooga for our growing up years. Aunt Nell said she always admired the hell out of him for doing that. (Okay, yeah, Mother and Daddy moved back to Atlanta after he retired from TVA, but the Bulliest of Bartows was gone by then, so it was safe.)

Our friends loved Daddy because he spoiled everybody with Cokes and Fritos and whatever else was the going snack food of the 50s and 60s whenever they came over.

Daddy was the parent who got up with us in the middle of the night when we were sick. He also taught me how to get to sleep by telling me "Your toes are now asleep, Your feet are now asleep. Your legs are now asleep." And I was usually out by the time he got to my shoulders.

He read to us - lots of Little Golden Books. He made sure we had encyclopedias. When I was in the 4th grade, he built me a bookcase - which I still have - for all my books.

In his later years, diabetes and arthritis caused him so much physical pain. His eye sight failed, which frustrated him because he could no longer read. Diabetes took him in 1999 a couple of months before his 79th birthday.

He was a wonderful man. I'm grateful every day that he was my father. Happy 100th Birthday, Daddy!

Thursday, June 04, 2020

COVIDiary: Path to Normal?

Except for five weeks the end of March and into April, the Atlanta History Center has provided enough remote work to keep me busy and a little solvent. Even the five weeks were covered either with PTO (paid time off) or unemployment, which AHC so graciously files for us. The rest of the time, I've been transcribing video interviews of World War II and Vietnam veterans for the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

That all may be about to change.

The History Center is hopeful it can reopen Monday, June 15. A very limited opening, however. - just the gardens and grounds, not the museum or the Swan House. The hours change. Our duties change. New normal will involve masks, much hand-washing and hand sanitizer, and keeping our distance. Lots of outdoor time, which won't be so bad except it's summer in the ATL, so hot and humid. Dress accordingly and wear a mask.

We were scheduled for on-site training this week, however another employee who had been working in the buildings for a few days tested positive for COVID-19. Sooooo. More online training. More building disinfecting. The hope is that we get in next week to familiarize ourselves with new procedures and reacquaint ourselves with some old ones. Will we open on the 15th? Hm. Maybe.

One thing is certain, and that's that our hours will be cut way back. Fortunately, Human Resources will file partial unemployment for us. Not sure how much that will be, but it will include the $600 weekly unemployment from the federal government through July.

Everything's still shifting sand. And when we do open, will people come? The biggest draws of AHC are the Cyclorama and the Swan House, neither of which will be accessible  in the immediate future.

Everything about COVID-19 is pushing us to think, plan, and act differently. Even when it disappears, work certainly won't go back to old normal. I suspect everything about life will be transformed - maybe a little, maybe a lot.

For now, all we can do is try to find that path to some kind of normal and adjust. Perhaps we can view this as the ultimate spring-cleaning of life. Onward. In hope.

Friday, May 29, 2020

COVIDiary: Shut Up. Listen. Act

This has to stop.

It's not the time for this white woman to pour out her thoughts or heart about these deaths. And it's sure as hell not the time to offer suggestions on how to protest injustice. Yes, I'm angry. I'm hurting. But my hurt and anger are absolutely nothing compared with what my dear black sisters and brothers are feeling.

So I'm just going to shut up and listen to those who have actual skin in this brutal game. Really listen. Then act on what that listening teaches me.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

COVIDiary: Corona Confessions

Truth or dare? Shoot, I'm just going with truth, because I don't have the energy to perform any dares.

I'll start with the biggest one:
  1. As of Mother's Day (last Sunday), I'm back in physical contact with my family. I got to hug the grandkids and my daughter, and Charlotte has spent the night with me twice since then. I've been on lockdown since mid-March, having left the house only four times. Daughter is a COVID-19 convalescent plasma donor, so I figure if something crops up within fourteen days, I have a mainline to the good stuff. I still wear a mask whenever I go outside - even to empty the trash - or if I need to go into a public building, and I practice safe distancing with non-family ALWAYS. But, boy, it was great to cuddle again!
  2. I have not cleaned out any closets.
  3. I have not switched my winter clothes to summer clothes.
  4. I have not organized all those photos that I've always said I'd organize when I have the time. (I've had the time since March.)
  5. I have not organized my "When I Drop Dead" folder with all my account numbers, passwords, lists of folks to notify, etc. I did, however, organize my office files, so at least info shouldn't be hard to find. Still. 
  6. I have not learned to knit, draw, or sing opera, studied physics, or read War and Peace (I've seen the movie, though. Does that count?)
  7. I have not finished my novel or Walter Wildgoose's memoir. Just not feeling the writin' thang right now. 
  8. The only personal growth I've experienced is in my waistline, though funnily enough, I haven't gained any weight. Go fig-yah!
  9. Still can't get into Ozark. Meh. 
  10. As I always suspected, if I don't have a job that requires me to get up in the mornings, travel to an office, and do some kind of productive work, I will just spend my time watching TV, reading, eating, or napping. 
I realize these aren't sexy, salacious confessions, but it's the life I'm living now. Not sure any of my truths are worthy of repentance (except, maybe, not cleaning out my closets - of that, I repent, though that sin will stay in place until the urge strikes me), but I feel better for getting them off my tee-shirt-full-of-crumbs chest. Stay well, y'all!

Monday, April 27, 2020

COVIDiary: Back to Work

First day back at work today since March 20. A new plan for working remotely and funds from the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program has allowed Atlanta History Center to put me back to work 25 hours a week, 9-2:30 M-F.

I'll be transcribing Veterans History Project oral history interviews. Each interview should take about 10 hours to transcribe, and we have interviews going all the way back to the mid-1990s, so plenty of work, eh? The video interviews and transcriptions are then sent to the Library of Congress, according to its guidelines.

I was worried about getting back on a schedule after over a month of staying up till the wee small hours of the morning and sleeping till mid-morning, but I found it invigorating getting up at at 7:30 to start the day.

Before work, I got a video call from Charlotte who's wanted to teach me how to make scrambled eggs her way. So she guided me through getting the eggs, adding a little salt, warming the pan, and whisking the eggs to make sure they are nice and fluffy. Now her process is suspiciously like my own, which she's watched many times, but I loved having her give me instructions every step of the way. Both her eggs and mine turned out perfect.

Then on to a team video call, where we got our assignments and caught up with colleagues. The rest of my day involved downloading various apps and instructions and previewing some of the oral history videos to get an idea of what I would be facing. The time went very fast, including the 30 minute lunch.

Getting back to work was really enjoyable, giving some real shape to my day while leaving me plenty of time to do other things after 2:30.

An early morning cooking lesson and a few hours of real work. I could get used to this!