Wednesday, December 30, 2020

COVIDiary: Let's Kick This One To The Curb, Eh?


It has been an historic year. One damn thing after another, actually, but lest I tempt fate on this almost last day of the year, I seem to have survived. So many didn't. No need for a yearly recap - who'd want that? Still, I do have some last thoughts to get down for posterity, so here goes. 

Things Done:

  • Stayed alive

And that's it. That's all. I managed to stay alive.

Things Left Undone:

  • Everything else

I didn't finish writing any of my great American novels, become a master chef, learn to knit or throw pottery, run a marathon, sort my finances, organize old photos, or become fluent in Urdu. I didn't even read as many books this year as I did in 2019. 

What I Learned:

  • I would be just as bad at total retirement as I always thought, so I'd better keep my job.
  • Teachers aren't paid enough. I've always known this, but they've really had to up their game this year, doing triple and quadruple the work for virtual school.
  • A good percentage of my sister and brother Americans are stupid and selfish (not the fault of their teachers). Harsh, I know, and something I always suspected, but if COVID19 and the 2020 elections taught me anything, it's that a solid knowledge and respect of science and civics is tragically missing among the populace. I know I'm breaking that commandment not to judge others, but I'm willing to swim a few laps in the Lake of Fire in the afterlife to calls it as I sees it. 
  • Teachers aren't paid enough.
  • Too many white people are dangerous assholes who need to sit down, shut up, and listen to non-white folks. 
  • Teachers aren't paid enough. 
  • Americans have no idea what socialism, with all its variations, is. 
  • Teachers aren't paid enough. 
  • I still remember how to do fractions and decimals (thanks to helping with Liam's virtual school). 
  • Teachers aren't paid enough. 

And that's all I have to say about 2020. It's been a watershed year in the most awful of ways. Too many senseless deaths, life upended in a million ways. I'm thankful that at least I can hold my grands close, and I pray all of us stay well. 

Let's tiptoe into 2021 and lie low until we see if it's safe.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

COVIDiary: A Very COVID Christmas

In the true spirit of 2020, I just ain't feelin' it this year. Normally, "not feelin' it" at Christmas would throw me into a cross between panic and depression, but this year I'm just letting myself sink into the lack of Christmas 2020 spirit without making a big deal out of it. 

I'm staving off holiday blues by reminding myself that 1) I'm alive - not only that, but I'm not - nor have I been, so far - hooked up to a ventilator; 2) daughter made it though a bout of coronavirus and son-in-law and grands have managed to avoid it completely; 3) the kids and I (and their teachers) have a welcome break from virtual school; and 4) meh - I wear a mask, mostly stay home, and keep my distance, but a major chunk of this is out of my control. 

In short, I view this as a go-with-the-flow Christmas. It won't be the best Christmas ever - memorable, but not the best. Major family traditions have gone by the wayside for 2020, but we still get plenty of laughs playing board games, creating outlandish art projects, and modeling in impromptu fashion shows. 

Yes, I have a tree with colorful lights. I'm watching Christmas movies non-stop. The balsam candle makes everything smell Christmasy. Christmas cards from family and friends connect relationships to the season. And, of course, the food. But that once-a-year-definitely-Christmas feeling is missing this year. 

So Merry COVID Christmas. The main thing is to stay safe. Try to live long enough to see the end of this pandemic and Trump. Wear a mask. Only hang out with my own little safe group. Vote. Get the vaccine when offered. And next year - next year - I'll double-dose on Christmas spirit. 

But this year, I'm just going to relax and get through it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

COVIDiary: Pandemic Thanksgiving

The pumpkin pies are chillin'. The spinach mornay has all its cheesy goodness stirred up, ready for baking. And the cornbread dressing, with the sauteed onions and celery and corny-breadiness lending a heavenly aroma to my home, is patiently awaiting the fine turkey drippings from daughter's star attraction tomorrow. A fairly normal night-before-Thanksgiving. 

Except it's not.

We'll be about a third of our usual Thanksgiving crowd, paring way down, and sticking to the immediate family to stay safe. We'll miss seeing everyone. We'll miss everyone's special recipes. 

Still. I'm thankful. I'm thankful that most of the family has avoided coronavirus so far, and the ones who have been laid low have recovered. 

I'm thankful we - and the teachers - have survived virtual school. 

I'm thankful I'm still semi-gainfully employed (The gainful part is in question.) 

I'm thankful we elected a normal, respectable person to lead our country and pray we can recover from the last four years. 

I'm thankful I can read and write. I'm thankful I have a comfy bed and a big ol' bathtub. 

Mostly I'm thankful for my family. Which is why we're staying as safe as we know how this weird holiday season. 

Tomorrow will be great. It will be memorable. The goal: To eat till our buttons pop and survive to see the new year.

And, of course, to be as thankful as can be for love, laughter, and good health.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

COVIDiary: What to Get Me for Christmas

Nothing. Please. Nothing.

This has everything and nothing to do with the current pandemic. It's really not the year to get twisted into knots about what to buy me. 

I don't need more stuff. And what I do need can't be bought. Sleep. More time and adventures with the grandkids, family, and friends. Peace of mind. Continued good health. Time. 

So please no gifts. Please. 

Christmas is my very favorite time of year. What most people hate about it, I love - all the carols, all the lights, the hustle-bustle, too-full calendar. All the corny stuff. And I love Baby Jesus. Santa.  A live Christmas tree. Lights. Peppermint. Pine. Cinnamon. Oranges. All of it. I love. 

But the prezzies? Nah. Don't need 'em. Please, nothing for me. 

And for the record, I'm not buying you anything, either. The only ones on my list getting gifts are the grandkids, because - you know - grandkids.

If you've already bought my gift, keep it for yourself or donate it. I truly do not want anything for Christmas, including any guilt that will ensue if you get me something and I have nothing for you (because I won't have anything for you).

So sit back and enjoy your November and December without wondering what to get me for Christmas. And that will be my gift to you. 

P.S. - I love Christmas cards. Be sure to send me those.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Dear Trump Supporters: Now It's Your Turn to Listen

Four years ago, millions of us were gutted to find Donald Trump elected president. How could this happen? What had we missed about folks who decided that this carnival barker of a man would be better at running the country than a brilliant, experienced woman? So the three million more of us who had voted for the smart woman were told to stand down and to spend time understanding the Trump voter - this mythical "heartland" voter. 

As a daughter of the South, I already knew - though I'll never understand - the Trump voter. They are family. They are friends. I know what drives them and what they're afraid of. I've listened to the fears. I've listened to the hopes. 

Many are one-issue voters - abortion, guns. Many come from a homogeneous background - white, Protestant or evangelical, consider themselves the "real" Americans, triggered by words like "socialism." Others see their world changing in a way that leaves them afraid and confused. And when constantly told that the "other" is taking your job, your way of life, killing babies, and coming after your guns, folks will follow anyone who promises to put a stop to whatever they're afraid of, whether it's bullshit or not.

Got it. 

Now, Trump voter, it's your turn. It's time for you to tuck away your fears and preconceived notions about us. You need to listen and really hear what millions and millions of us think. We outnumber you, so trying to understand us will be to your benefit. 

Like you, we represent a wide range of beliefs, fears, and hopes. 

Like you, we consider ourselves moral and patriotic. 

Like you, we want what's best for our country and the people - all the people - who live here. 

Unlike you, we're not a very homogeneous group racially, culturally, economically, politically.

Unlike you, we do tend to live in cities and their suburbs because cities are the financial, educational, and cultural centers, Cities are where the jobs are. Cities are more accepting - or ignoring - of differences. So, yes, a lot of folks who live in large population centers aren't white. Many have different religious views. They are centers of the richest of the rich, poorest of the poor, and everything in between. 

There are a lot more "unlike yous" that you need to understand, but those differences are as varied and personal as there are individuals. 

We are certainly not politically monolithic. We range from solid center - even a little right of center - to left-wing radical. In fact, we're all over the place politically. I know this frustrates you. It sometimes frustrates me. But I believe our crazy political spectrum is a strength, not a weakness. I'm proud that we don't have to tick off all the center/left boxes to work for good. 

So. Now it's your turn. You have to wonder why this country and cities around the world took to the streets to celebrate the defeat and downfall of Donald Trump. If you don't wonder or don't want to know, I invite you to come out of your very protective comfort zone and learn about us. 

Honestly, I'm not feeling very kumbiya at the moment. I'm over trying to understand you. It's time for you to take the time and effort to understand me. 

I don't know if any hearts and minds will be changed. But we all have to live and work and play in this country together. We are all citizens of the United States. It is in our best interest to at least find some common ground.

The ball is in your court, Trump supporter. I'm ready when you are.

COVIDiary: Light in the Darkness. Finally.


Tuesday, November 03, 2020

COVIDiary: Vote2020

Please, God. For the sake of John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and those of us still living and breathing in this land, end the nightmare that started four years ago tonight. Amen. #BidenHarris2020

Thursday, October 22, 2020

COVIDiary: What a Long, Strange Trip

Sigh. A long, strange never-ending trip. 

We're finishing up the 9th week of virtual school, and I'm still in awe of the teachers. The amount of work they put into ensuring a variety of teaching methods, learning tools, apps and off-computer assignments that allows for just about every learning style is truly amazing. They seem to work around the clock, as assignments come through at all hours of the day and night. 

As a writer I'm particularly impressed with the amount of writing the kids have to do, both the 2nd graders and the 5th graders. All are getting well-schooled in grammar and parts of speech. Punctuation, capitalization, and neat handwriting count. Dramatic and information narratives, short dramas, and writing exercises for, yes, language arts, but also math, science, and social studies are required several times a week. Glad they're all getting lots of practice in expressing themselves effectively.

Virtual learning has its ups and downs - so much freedom and variety, but a lot of extra work for everyone (especially the teachers) and just plain ol' missing the structure of being at school, being with friends. 

And I have to admit - inwardly screaming, actually - that I'm tired. Working six days a week - three with the kids and three at the History Center - is testing me right now. It's a physical thing, but it's more than that. I feel dispirited. Part of it is this crazy virus, certainly, but it's also the awful things that Trump has foisted upon our nation and the stress of worrying about the upcoming election and its outcome. (Yes, I've voted and my ballot received and accepted.)

This could have been a time when we all came together to fight COVID-19, saving lives, the economy, and everyone's mental and emotional health. But this awful, low IQ, vindictive scam artist creep that a minority of us put into power has made everything - everything! - worse. I want him and everyone in his government gone. Out. Never to be heard of again.

So, yes, months of stress and feeling helpless and hopeless wears on one. Throw in working a 6-day week, and I'm beginning to sink. Even all the Halloween candy and horror films aren't doing much to bring me cheer. 

But like everybody else right now, I have no choice but to stay on this long, strange trip carrying a tiny  candle of hope that we'll turn a corner and behold a better world. 

So, fellow travelers, let's link arms and hold each other up as we struggle along. [insert hopeful Depression Era song here] Sigh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

City Limits: How Horror Films Made Me a City-Dweller

I love horror films, and if I've learned one thing from all my scary movie-watching it's never, ever leave the big city. 

Great horror stories - I mean really good ones - are hard to come by. Alas, most horror films since the 1970s seem to follow a few templates that wear thin after a while. Those story templates are:

Family living in New York/Chicago/Boston/London experiences some kind of trauma or upheaval  (impending divorce, death of a child, loss of a job, or all three) and believing that somehow leaving the city behind will solve things, hightails it to some small village or bucolic setting to start anew. Unfortunately, horrors beyond all imagining await them in these little idyllic burgs - ancient curses, possessed houses, creepy yokel neighbors - that make anything NYC can throw at 'em look positively Disney-esque. 


A group of villagers hiding a big secret causes something unspeakable to happen to one of the townspeople or to some poor schlub just driving through. Do not stop in a small town, city people. You'll be sorry. Especially if the townfolks' eyes are just a little too far apart. Also, don't stop in a cornfield.


College students leaving trendy campus for fall/winter/spring/summer break, heading to a remote mountain or lake cabin, only to end up chopped to bits by inbred goofballs or monsters from the deep woods or lake.  

These repetitive tropes, however, serve up an important lesson: bad things happen when you leave the city. I don't care how cute a cabin is or how peaceful that sweet small town looks, it's all a murderous, bloody facade. Flee the bright lights at your peril, children. 

Now, there is the occasional city-horror story - Rosemary's Baby, Devil's Advocate, and several films about haunted rent-controlled apartments left to broke, unsuspecting relatives - but none are as terrifying as venturing outside the city limits to small-town or countryside locales. Anyway, who can turn down a fabulous apartment at the Dakota with Ruth Gordon as a next door neighbor, eh? Makes baby-devil worth it, I say. And a rent-controlled apartment? Shoot, who cares if it's haunted? I mean, even after bad things happen, you can forget it all by going to a Broadway show or a museum. 

So I'll take my chances in the chaos of city life. The crimes are predictable, and by taking a few precautions can usually be prevented. Besides, all sorts of weirdness and horror await in small-town Maine or on that Spanish moss approach to a Louisiana mansion or inside the rustic mountain cabin belonging to crazy grandpa. 

I'm a city girl, and I'll take the Dakota and Ruth Gordon every time.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

COVIDiary: After Virtual Week Four, Is It Getting Any Easier?

Let me start out by making two points. One: Nothing beats learning in a classroom of your peers with a teacher being able to look you in the eye to gauge how/if you're receiving the instruction (also, Recess! Lunch! Book fair! School carnival! etc.). Two: Teachers aren't paid enough. Even the so-called "bad" ones.

After four weeks of virtual learning, you'd think all the kinks would've been ironed out, all technology glitches un-glitched, all transitions from app to platform to app would be seamless, and all stress levels at a post-yoga session calm. But, well, no. 

With two 5th grade boys - in the same class, so they can work together and keep each other motivated much of the time - and two 2nd grade girls - different classes with the same assignments at different times (oy!) and a proclivity for a lot of social interaction, my job as monitor/proctor is to keep them on task, get them from one class to the next, and keep everyone engaged with whatever's happening on their screens. There have been melt-downs. There can be confusion. And every once in a while, Charlotte looks up and sends up a plaintive cry, "I want to go to school!" 

I feel ya', girl! 

Now, to be fair, there's a lot that has gotten easier. We're getting better at completing and submitting assignments. We've discovered the value of vigorous exercise (running, trampolining, hide-and-seek) during all breaks - even during the 10 minute ones. It makes a huge difference in the kids' ability to focus on the next class. The lessons are incredible - well thought-out and varied with short, cool videos, brief teacher instruction, group work, and interesting assignments that are fun to do. 

But as tiring and frustrating this can be for our kids and their monitor, we do have the technology and the art supplies and the science and math journals, and a safe, organized place to work. My heart breaks for all the children who don't have those things. My heart breaks for parents having a hard time following the instructions (shoot, I have trouble with that) and making sure their kids understand the assignments. This is hard. It's hard for me as an English-speaker with a post-grad education. I can't imagine doing this with anything less, Plus still having to go out to work, which I'm doing but only part-time. How full-timers are handling this, I'll never know.

All any of us can do - those of us with resources and those blessed ones without - is to keep going, plow ahead, and not give up. Easier said than done on many days - I get it. And for all the teachers working 24/7 creating and distributing lesson plans, schedules, assignments, and offering counseling times, words cannot express our appreciation for you. I pray this translates into higher salaries and benefits for you. 

So on to virtual week five. We're living through historic times and as long as we all keep well, everything will be fine. Really.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

COVIDiary: In Praise of Virtual-but-Real Teachers

With week one of virtual school under our belts, we're heading into week two older but wiser. I hope. It's simply amazing how teachers, students, and parents have been able to adapt to changes - sometimes hourly - in schedules, technologies, and limits to understanding and attention. I'm particularly impressed with the planning and creativity that the teachers have put into this new reality, not only the lessons but also how to engage their students online and keep them actively participating in what's happening on the small screen.

Of course the kids miss in-person connection with friends and teachers. Right now, however, that's not possible. Even if they were to get back into the classroom, safe separation and wearing masks would be required (and so hard to monitor and regulate). At least they can see their teachers and classmates when online, so it's a (safe) trade-off.

The teachers communicate regularly about changes in technology access, daily/weekly lesson plans and expectations, where to get and send in assignments, and ways to ask questions and clarify instructions. (Yes, there are apps for all those things.) The amount of work that has gone into making this new way of teaching/learning work, is incredible. As a former high school teacher, I so appreciate that the teachers' workloads have increased beyond all reason. 

I cannot praise these educators highly enough. Such remarkable work, all in the cause of giving our children quality education during this historic time. 

We'll all get through this and come out the other end with learning, adaptability and technology skills we didn't have before. All of it will stand us in good stead for the future once we can get back to real brick-and-mortar school. 

And most of it is thanks to our virtual-but-real teachers. Thank you!


Monday, August 17, 2020

COVIDiary: Remote School 2.0

Today was the first day of school for Liam and Charlotte. Since Georgia's still a hotbed of coronavirus cases and deaths, the kids' school system has started the year the way the last school year ended: virtually. So, remote school 2.0. 

Daughter and Son-in-Law have done a great job setting up the workstations and providing all the necessary technology and supplies. 

The teachers have done a fabulous job getting everything organized. So many apps, links, logins, passwords, schedules - oy! 

We had a shaky start, at least getting Liam up and running. Liam's class was to start via Microsoft Teams, but none of the logins seemed in work. They finally switched to Zoom, but still, we couldn't get his video camera to work and the audio was sometimes garbled. It was touch and go, and he managed to do the assignments and set up his virtual locker in Google Classroom. (See? So many apps . . . )

Charlotte's set-up, however, went tickety-boo. Her classes started via Zoom straightaway, and she had no video/audio problems. Her morning was filled with greetings and getting-to-know-yous, a story about first day jitters, a coloring assignments, and a word find. I'm so proud of her reading skills - she's on her way. 

It was a day to beta-test remote learning 2.0. There were kinks. We all survived, however, and based on what I saw, the teachers have been amazingly creative in providing fun, interesting, engaging ways to do this virtual learning thing. 

Yes, we all want things to get back to normal. Everyone wants the kids, teachers, and staff back in the classroom. But things are way to dangerous right now. Despite the shaky techno-start for Liam, we're thankful that at this time and place, we can work together with teachers and classmates to continue receiving a quality education. 

Remote school 2.0 is underway. It will get better, easier. Just different. For now.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

COVIDiary: Pandemic Kills the Handshake (I Hope)

I've never liked shaking hands, mainly because I don't know where those hands I'm shaking have been. I'm not obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness, and I have a good firm handshake, to the point of arm wrestling some people. 

But, eeewww, shaking hands has always seemed a disgusting ritual, the pressing of my palm against someone else's sweaty, hot/cold, greasy, who-knows-where-it's-been palm as a form of greeting. Or sealing a deal. Or doing an initial power-dance. 

So if there's one Western custom that I hope is obliterated by this coronavirus pandemic, it's the handshake. 

The East has a much better, more respectful form of greeting - palms pressed together and a slight bow. I don't touch you. You don't touch me. Namaste. I bow to you. The divine light in me bows to the divine light within you. My soul recognizes your soul. Good to see you. Let's get this meeting started.

It's a perfect, non-contact, respectful greeting or deal-sealer, eliminating the initial power display of who has the firmer grip, who's top dog. Though it's a Hindu greeting, it seems a very Christ-like way to acknowledge a first meeting, an old friend, or the beginning/end of a business agreement.  

And maybe, just maybe, a simple prayer-like greeting might bring more humanity and empathy to our comings and goings, meetings and greetings. That certainly can't hurt. 

And besides, I don't know where your hands have been. Namaste, y'all.

Monday, August 03, 2020

COVIDiary: The Un-Back to School Season

The late summer cicadas are buzzing and clicking, and even though it's still steamy hot in Atlanta, there's the occasional cooling breeze that promises the glories of autumn to come. Yeah, okay, that's a couple of months away, but still. And there's something in the air besides a cooling breeze. It's usually the smell of new bookbags, notebook paper, pencils, and crayons. New shoes. End of summer haircuts.

Usually. But not this year.

A virus has changed all that. Bookbags aren't needed in a virtual classroom. Neither are new shoes. Pencils, notebook paper, and crayons may come in handy, even if most of the work will be done via computers. End of summer haircuts are probably still in order for all those zoom classes.

But first day of school photos with bright shiny faces, new clothes, bookbags they won't grow into until later in the year, and freshly combed hair won't be happening. The search for the new classrooms and meeting new classmates won't be happening, either.

It's weird. This whole thing is weird. It's this generation's duck-and-cover. JFK assassination. 9-11. Different - they're all different - but something that will shape their lives going forward. And these kids will get through it fine. I'm not so sure about the teachers and parents, but the kids will be fine.

And though I'll miss the first day of school photos, I hope and believe that this pandemic will bring about some long overdue changes - greater appreciation (and remuneration) for educators, sensible affordable healthcare, workable nationwide and statewide plans to handle such unexpected events, and other foundational changes that will benefit generations to come.

All right, all right. Naive. But I can hope. Until then, I'll sharpen some pencils, bury my nose in a box of crayons, listen to the cicadas, and look forward to cooler air and colorful leaves.

We've got this. The kids have got this. Chill.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

COVIDiary: Unemployed/Employed

I was laid off and re-employed all on the same day. We were told a week ago that our employment would be terminated Friday, July 31. The staff was going to be pared way, way down since guests hadn't returned to the museum in the numbers we'd hoped. We were given the opportunity to reapply for our jobs - mostly with the same duties we'd had, though extra responsibilities would be added.

So last week I had to send in my resume and references and submit to a job interview ("Give us an example of when you've shown initiative in your work," etc. Oy.) We were told we'd know our status Friday afternoon.

I wasn't scheduled to work on Friday, so when I left work on Thursday, I wasn't sure whether I should say my farewells or "See you next week." Weird.

But, yay! I got the call Friday that I was indeed rehired - I think only 7-8 of us out of 15 or so. It will mean another change, another reality brought on by the pandemic. We expect the number of days the museum is open will be cut and opening/closing times adjusted. We'll be covering some positions we hadn't been responsible for before this lay-off/re-hire.

So, onward. Glad I still have a job. I like working at the History Center. I have plenty of masks and hand-sanitizer, so I'm ready to go. Whew.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

COVIDiary: A Hard Year for Heroes

This is a hard year for heroes.

Everyday heroes who keep our basic services up and running. Medical heroes who are trying to keep us alive. Heroes taking to the streets in protest of racial injustice. Performance heroes who have found ways to entertain us while not getting any sort of remuneration. Unknown heroes who died of COVID-19 and other diseases without loved ones being able to properly celebrate their lives.

It's been a particularly tough year for heroes of the civil rights movement: the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Connie Curry, C.T. Vivian, and now my congressman, John Lewis.

In 1986, when John Lewis ran for Congress for the first time, I was working as a producer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's short-lived Video Edition. Everyone thought the race was a foregone conclusion because Julian Bond came within a couple of points of winning the primary outright. But a run-off had to be held between Bond and John Lewis, though most thought Bond would be the winner.

I mean, I was all set to vote for Julian Bond. He was smart, well-spoken, good looking, and another civil rights icon. In 1966, when the Georgia General Assembly refused to seat him as a duly elected member because of his anti-Vietnam War activities, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Bond won a 9-0 decision from the court. What's not to vote for, eh?

Lewis hadn't fought in the Supreme Court. He'd fought in the streets. On the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. He'd spent 40 days in prison because of his activities as a Freedom Rider. He had the scars. He, too, was smart and a powerful speaker, but he just didn't have Bond's style and finesse.

In the great scheme of political talk shows during election years, I had to set up interviews with both Lewis and Bond for the political editors of the AJC. I started with Bond's campaign office. I was handed off to at least three different staffers who promised to get back to me. Frustrating. I felt I had to get Bond on the schedule first (because he was going to win, right?), and after a few days and who-know-how-many phone calls and call-backs, I got him on the interview schedule.

Now to get John Lewis. Dreading what I assumed would be the same days-long cat-and-mouse back-and-forth phone tag game, I dialed (yes, we dialed back in 1986) Lewis' office.

Guess who answered the phone? John Lewis himself.

It threw me for a loop, and I stammered out my request for an interview. I knew I was talking to a major force in the civil rights movement - and he answered his own phone! Lewis was so gracious and humble throughout our conversation. It was the opposite from my experience with the Bond campaign.

And this voter's mind was changed. I've voted for him ever since.

It's a hard year for heroes. Farewell and Godspeed to you all. Especially John Lewis.

COVIDiary: Employment Plot Twist

I've been fortunate on the employment front so far during the pandemic. The Atlanta History Center kept me busy working remotely through April and May transcribing veterans' interviews and reviewing guest experience procedures. The Center opened its outdoor exhibits and gardens in June, allowing me to get back on campus (well-masked) and work with guests (also well-masked).

Three weeks ago, we opened the indoor exhibits with a few restrictions and changes. The work has seemed as normal as possible in this time of extreme sanitizing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing.

Today, though, we got the news that all part-time staff was being laid off the end of July. There are new job opportunities (some of which look a lot like our old jobs), but everyone has to re-apply for the positions and only a few of us will be re-hired.

Sad news, because I really like working at the museum. I like that the days and hours are easy. I like meeting people and working with history buffs. Sigh.

I will re-apply to see what happens. Still, I'm not sure of the work-day requirements - will I be required to work weekends, for example? So it's all up in the air.

The other plot twist is that I've volunteered to guide Liam's and Charlotte's distance-learning when school starts up again. I did teach for a few years, after all. Yes, it was high school, but I'm sure my kid-facilitator skills will kick in. They attend a German-immersion school, so I'm praying my college German will come back so that I can help with that, too.

Let's face it. We're in a whole new world right now. We have to think and behave differently. We have to teach and learn differently. It may be the new normal, or it just may be the new normal-for-right-now.

I grieve for the kids who aren't getting to attend school with teachers and old friends and new friends. I feel for all the really hard work those teachers are doing to give the kids a new way to learn and absorb information. I grieve that people can't experience museums, theaters, churches, and concerts up close with fellow worshipers, enthusiasts, and fans. And of course I grieve that I might lose my job.

But grieving gets tiresome. We have to find new ways to work and teach and learn and entertain and worship and just be. We'll figure it out. The world is full of smart, creative folks, so who knows what will come of this.

So yes, the employment plot thickens. We'll see. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Summer on the Breakfast Shift

Fifty years ago I had a summer job as a breakfast-shift waitress at a Holiday Inn on I-75 at the Tennessee/Georgia state line. I'd just finished my freshman year at college and needed a job that would get me as much money as possible for a 19-year-old in 1970. The opportunity of a 3-week special semester in London in January 1971 was being dangled in front of me, and my parents agreed, as long as I earned half of the travel cost.

Then - as probably now - the fastest way to make a buck was waiting tables. The pay was $1.25/hour, but, oh, those tips! So I wore a little (and I do mean little - it was 1970) black skirt, white blouse, and a red and black pinafore with big pockets for the order pad and all that moolah left on tables.

I worked with two other waitresses: Charlene and Lona, both in their late 40s/early 50s I'm guessing. Charlene was a country girl with black hair and a few missing teeth. She was jolly and fun, and we had a lot of laughs. Lona, on the other hand, was an old sourpuss who did a lot of mumbling about how my short skirt got me better tips. She was probably right on that one.

The hours were lousy: 5:30am-2:30pm, so breakfast and lunch shift. I don't remember getting a lunch hour or break times. As I recall, we ate on the run back in the kitchen, asking the cook to whip something up for us when there was a lull. Many, many club sandwiches and fries. And all the Coke I could pull from the machine.

Folks weren't big tippers in those days, certainly not at breakfast and lunchtimes, and tips were usually coins not paper money. As adorable as I was in my short black skirt and my mouthful of braces, if I pulled in $25-30 in tips, it was a good day.

I budgeted those tips to ensure I built up enough money to fulfill my London trip obligation but also to have enough left over for cute-dress buying. So once a week after work, I'd head over to a trendy little Chattanooga dress shop called The Vogue where my friend Linda worked to spend some of my hard-earned tip money on adorable college-girl clothes.

London and cute dresses made early morning hours slinging plates of  sticky pancake syrup and concealed fried eggs worth it. Both the trip and the clothes were the sweet results of my 19th summer.

I do, however, carry something more permanent with me from that waitress year. Every time I look in the mirror I see the little white scar on my left eyebrow. Thanks to sourpuss Lona. And here's how it happened.

The heavy swinging doors between the kitchen and dining room didn't have windows, so we worked on the honor system: Always come and go from the door on the right. That avoided crashing into each other as we were moving between the rooms. This worked for everyone except Lona, who felt entitled to use whichever door she wanted.

After several near-misses and a few minor accidents (and all of us begging her to always use the door on the right), Lona managed to tear through the wrong door as I was taking a tray to the kitchen. The edge of the door caught me hard right on the left brow bone. I saw stars.

Who knew a clip on the brow would bleed so much, but it did, causing the restaurant manager to take me to the emergency room to have it checked. No stitches were needed, fortunately, but I did sport a sweet little bandage for a few days. And when the bandage came off and the wound healed - voila! - a nice little scar that makes my brow pencil do a little extra work every day.

I got a lot out of that summer - my first trip to London, really cute dresses for school, a scar over my left eye, and a lifelong understanding of how to treat wait staff.

Some things are worth more than money. Never pass up the chance to soak in all the crazy things life throws at you. Even spending a summer on the breakfast shift.

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!