Back to blogging

Credit: Hover.blog

If there’s one thing I plan to do more of in my second retirement, it is to get back to my blog.

From last October through May,* I’ve averaged a measly two blog posts per month, a far cry from when I used to post seemingly every other day.

* I invited friends and family to contribute to a “Voices of April” idea intended to share stories about how we all were dealing with the first few weeks of coronavirus quarantining. Eighteen people contributed guest blogs to that effort, which not only sparked some great conversations but also expanded the network of people who’ve written for this blog over the years.

It’s exactly that kind of experience which keeps me going after several years of managing the original Rough and Rede on Blogspot and its successor, Rough and Rede II, on WordPress.

When I dipped my toes into the ocean of blogging, it was March 1, 2009. Barack Obama had been inaugurated as our 44th president just two months earlier. I was still at The Oregonian, working as Sunday Opinion Editor, and I’d been hired by Portland State University to teach a two-credit class over a single weekend called “Opinion and the Blogosphere.”

I figured I should have a blog myself, my own virtual space to serve as a personal diary to record thoughts, ideas, experiences, emotions, etc.

Little did I imagine I’d still be at it 11 years later, writing about everything under the sun — our children’s weddings and college graduations; travel to Europe and Mexico; career and work; family pets and family reunions; favorite books, movies and concerts; and everyday scenes and moments all around Portland.

A highlight, surely, has been seven years of hosting Voices of August, the annual guest blog project that has pretty much taken on a life of its own. VOA has become a platform for friends, family, co-workers and even some people I’ve never even met in person to come together in the digital space and then meet up afterwards over food and drink at a local brewpub. Some terrific friendships have developed because of VOA.

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, anyone can become a blogger without even having to set up their own website. We are all publishers now, free to share original posts, photos or videos, poetry or rants, or whatever strikes our fancy.

In my case, Rough and Rede II is one of an estimated 500 million blogs out of 1.7 billion websites in the world. Their authors account for over 2 million blog posts daily, according to hostingtribunal.com.

I’ve posted relatively little since last fall, owing to the amount of time and energy I’ve devoted to my college courses. But now that I’m officially retired as an adjunct instructor, I’d like to get back in the rhythm of regular posting, maybe three to four times a week.

For those of you who’ve been along for some or most of the ride over the past decade-plus, I thank you for reading and commenting and contributing.

Although this is an election year, I have no plans to flood R&R II with political content. I’ll share whatever comes to mind and I’ll make a point of dusting off some of my favorite blog posts from time to time.

And if anyone’s got an itch to scratch, you know I’ll be happy to publish a guest blog anytime.

At last, a turning point

Local residents protested against racism and police violence in downtown Pendleton on Monday, June 1. Similar rallies have been held in other communities in Eastern and Southern Oregon. (Photo credit: Ben Lonergan, East Oregonian)

It’s early Monday. The garbage trucks have come and gone, leaving a peaceful quiet in their wake. Today marks the beginning of Finals Week, my last as a college instructor at Portland State University, and I’m about to dive into one last stack of essays.

Normally, I’d be heading down to campus to give the first of two final exams. But in this age of Covid-19, students will log on from home and take their test remotely.

No complaints, though. As the term winds down, I find myself in a positive place — a far cry from a week ago, when I was despondent over a feeling that our country had come apart at the seams.

In just a few days, so much has happened across the nation and around the world to give me reason to believe that we have at last reached a turning point on a handful of racial, policing and political issues — foremost among them, an emphatic declaration that Black Lives Really Do Matter.

Who could have imagined what we saw play out last week? Donald Trump being widely ridiculed for the Bible photo op at a D.C. church. Retired and still-serving military brass pushing back against the president’s threats to mobilize National Guard troops against their fellow citizens. The National Football League admitting it was wrong when it criticized players’ peaceful protests against police brutality. An apology from the freakin’ NFL?

Maybe there is hope after all.

That belief comes in part from seeing how protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and so many other unarmed black people have spread virally into so many unlikely places — rural, conservative, nearly all-white communities in Oregon, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and other states.

The Floyd protests are the broadest in U.S. history — and are spreading to white, small-town America” — The Washington Post

“Unprecedented racial justice protests spread to towns across Oregon” — The Oregonian/OregonLive

That belief also comes from conversations I’ve had with my students. For their final assignment in one class, students had to record their media consumption during the last weekend in May and contrast it with what they had logged during the first weekend of the term.

Understandably, concerns about the coronavirus and lost jobs were most important then. Students’ media diets often leaned heavily toward escapism and entertainment — movies, TV, video games, Instagram and Snapchat — and strongly away from news content.

Their health and financial worries haven’t gone away, but now students outraged by the videorecorded deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have been moved to action themselves. They’ve set aside their studies to join in protests on Portland streets and bridges, using social media to connect with others and contribute to funds in support of fellow protesters and racial justice.

“We’ve so far survived a once in a lifetime pandemic, and we have watched the biggest civil rights movement in history unfold before our eyes,” one student wrote.

“It is really inspiring to see these small towns coming together to show support for this movement. It makes me hopeful that we are on the right path to creating some real structural changes that will better serve everyone in our society.”

To be sure, not all students have become politicized. Many of them have retreated from the sensory overload of 24/7 coverage to whatever gives them comfort, be it a cooking show, reality TV, K-Pop music or yet another episode of “The Office.”

I’ve encouraged that as a healthy reaction to all the stresses in their life. Just as a mix of media is essential to understanding today’s complicated world, so too is finding a balance in order to maintain good mental health.

From where I sit, all signs point to a long, long overdue societal shift in understanding systemic racism and demanding changes in police practices. If I’m right, we’ll see a big change in November, too, the one we have so desperately needed to end this train wreck of a presidency.

I’m glad to have my students fully invested in drawing meaning from recent events and understanding them within a framework that they didn’t have before.

Music to soothe the soul

It was just what I needed: a porch concert. Two professional cellists playing a selection of classical and popular songs to an audience of about 25 people gathered along the sidewalk and spilling out into the residential street.

A husband-and-wife duo organized the event and livestreamed it from their house, just two blocks away from where we live. Lori and I were there because she’s been taking cello lessons from the husband for the past few months.

Earlier that day, I was feeling pretty glum after so many protests against police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s death deteriorated into violent orgies that dominated our screens with burning buildings and cops in riot gear. Overcome by sensory overload, I wrote a blog post lamenting the fraying of our country’s political and cultural fabric.

“Coming apart at the seams”

I burned off some tension with a short run in the afternoon, but the real treat came with the evening concert, courtesy of Dieter Ratzlaf and his wife, Erin Jinks.

Both play in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and both have students of all ages that they teach out of their home. Because of the coronavirus, those lessons have moved online, just like everything else.

Needless to say, it was a treat to attend a live performance in the fresh, open air.

Imagine this, if you will:

A two-story house with just enough room for two musicians and their music stands, with colorful donated flowers in vases on both sides of the stairs.

Colorful handmade art, created by the couple’s daughters, welcoming guests to the venue. One sign proclaimed “Black Lives Matter.”

Attendees of all ages, nearly all wearing masks. Most sat in portable chairs on the parking strip, the driveway and the street. A few stood, and one couple sat on their front doorstep directly across the street.

The eldest daughter, all of 14, recorded the concert and managed the event on social media.

Between songs, Dieter and Erin took turns giving shout-outs to their business sponsors – everything from a florist, a winery, a brewery and a distillery to a coffee roaster and a violin sales and rental shop.

A couple of wind gusts sent some sheet music flying, so that prompted two of the daughters to help out keeping the pages in place. The cellists took things in stride, though, and simply restarted the songs.

The hourlong concert ended right around 8 pm, just as the third night of the mayor’s curfew was taking effect. The small crowd applauded, we returned our borrowed chairs to the front lawn, and walked home in 5 minutes, grateful for the respite.

View the concert here at Ratzlaf Cello Studio: https://www.facebook.com/Ratzlafcellostudio/videos/571488597112579

You can also make a donation via PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/Dieterratzlaf?fbclid=IwAR00IxrK2RNQjDzTruC2J9LIkEkPsMME82Za-ySX4xBuQ31k1_ZSS9vlyXc

Coming apart at the seams

A protester is silhouetted against the flames of a burning liquor store in Minneapolis on Thursday, May 28. (Associated Press/Julio Cortez)

It’s been a month since I last wrote something on my blog. Here I sit, trying to decide if “despair” or “discouraged” or “despondent” best describes my mood. All I know is I have rarely felt this low.

So many people, far more eloquent than I, have weighed in already on events of the past week. They’ve been numbing, frankly.

  • A black man in Minneapolis had the life squeezed out of him by a police officer who kneeled on his neck as he lay handcuffed, face smashed into the pavement, pleading to just breathe.
  • A black man in New York’s Central Park, a Harvard-educated birdwatcher, asked a white woman to leash her dog and then filmed her racist rant as she called 9-1-1 to report that an African American was “threatening” her life.
  • In Minneapolis and cities across the country, demonstrations to protest the death of George Floyd turned violent. Buildings burned. Businesses were trashed. Cops and ordinary citizens clashed. Curfews were imposed.
  • In Portland, shit happened, too. Peaceful protests in one part of the city were undermined by a full-out riot downtown. The mayor declared a state of emergency. Acts of vandalism damaged small businesses along with those owned by megacorporations.

All of this action on the streets deflected attention from what came earlier:

— A string of Memorial Day tweets from President Trump that insulted the looks of Nancy Pelosi and Stacey Abrams and, worse, smeared a MSNBC host by suggesting he murdered an aide in his congressional office nearly 20 years ago — despite an investigation that concluded the woman had a heart condition that caused her to faint, hit her head on an office desk and die of her injuries.

— A long-simmering feud that saw Twitter call B.S. on Trump for making false claims about vote-by-mail, only to have the president sign an executive order intended to weaken social media companies’ legal protections as a result of what gets posted on their platforms.

— And not least, the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus shot past 100,000 deaths as Trump played golf, then withdrew the United States from the World Health Organization.

All of this left me feeling miserable at a time that I would normally be looking at the bright side of things.

Sharing photos of neighborhood bike rides and my latest baking and cooking successes seems pretty trivial at the moment.

Even looking ahead to the final two weeks of the spring quarter at Portland State has me feeling down. Ordinarily, I’d be looking to tie a nice bow on the three classes I’ve taught this term, especially knowing that I am just days away from retirement.

But, no, this term has been hellish for too many of my students. They are stressed out by the combination of spending countless hours per day on Zoom, dealing with reduced work hours or lost jobs, worrying about health issues affecting their family members, and wondering if the fall term will bring more of the same remote teaching.

Somehow in the midst of all this, while America literally is burning, they need to turn in final essays, submit missing assignments, and prepare for next week’s final exams — which, of course, will also be done remotely.

Having taught Media Literacy for several years now, I’ve grown accustomed to setting aside a lesson plan in order to focus on a teachable moment. Sometimes that’s meant critiquing breaking news coverage of a mass shooting or a certain fatal helicopter crash. Other times, we’ve focused on understanding the context of the Kavanaugh hearings and the Trump impeachment process.

Just two weeks ago, we took time to talk about Ahmaud Arbery. Last week, it was George Floyd and the standoff in Central Park. This week, it’ll be an open forum on whatever my students have to say about this awful storm of calamities we are living through: racism, climate change, a shattered economy, a global pandemic, a nutjob president. Oh, and the who-knows-how-long-it-will-last suspension of face-to-face learning in higher education.

I know that sounds bleak. But I feel horrible as a baby boomer who thought we would hand off a better, healthier, more equitable world to our children and their children. Instead, we have a country plagued by shameful inequalities in health, wealth and education; demonization of immigrants; and political partisanship and conspiracy theories amplified and weaponized by social media.

Who knew that wearing a mask to prevent spread of a deadly virus would be interpreted as a political statement? Who knew that showing up with guns and camouflage clothing to a rally at the state capitol building would come to be seen as normal?

How must the rest of the world look at us now?

It’s hard to realize that just three Sundays ago I was inspired by a special section in The New York Times that reminded readers of the role of cities in America, as engines of growth and opportunity. And I quote:

“The nature of a nation is that we are bound together in a community of shared obligation, purpose and opportunity.”

“The urban areas where 80 percent of Americans live are the places that best enable us to care for each other, to interact with each other, to build together.”

“And as inequality deepens, the problem becomes harder to fix: The scale of the necessary changes is larger; those living in wealthy enclaves feel less need for communal infrastructure; and separation makes it easier to ignore problems — indeed, not to see them at all.”

It hurts my heart to see the destruction wrought in our cities, including my own. I understand the pain and rage that prompted so many thousands and thousands of people to stand up against systemic racism that has taken too many black lives and threatened or belittled so many others.

If I’m feeling despondent, it’s because I know we can do better than this. For the sake of our country, we’ve got to.

Finding community in these unsettling times

When I launched Voices of April earlier this month, I honestly had no idea what the outcome would look like.

But here we are, already at the end of the month with a total of 17 blog posts that have captured our attention and connected us in many different ways. Pretty sweet.

Thanks to contributions from friends and family in five states and on both coasts, we’ve been treated to beautifully written pieces that have opened our minds, touched our hearts, made us happy or made us sad.

We’ve read about personal setbacks centered around layoffs, health scares and general anxieties brought on by the coronavirus. We’ve read about personal triumphs, too, as in becoming a new homeowner or taking up a new hobby or completing a household project.

We’ve shared our fears and our doubts, reflected on our faith in a higher being and/or each other, and paused to appreciate these extraordinary, historic times we are living through, whether alone or together.

All these stories make up a tapestry of personal testimonies as to what we were doing, thinking and feeling during the early weeks of this global pandemic that has upended life as we know it. Schools and businesses are shuttered, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and now some states are taking the first steps toward reopening their economy, even as the public health experts warn us that it may be too soon.

To those of you who stepped forward with an essay for all of us to read and reflect upon, I thank you. That goes double for first-time contributors Wendy Alexander, Luisa Anderson, John Enders and Jamie Lynn Rede.

To those of you who followed along each day and left comments for the authors, I thank you as well. There is nothing any of us appreciates more than having someone else take the time to share a thought or offer a simple thank-you.

As the curator of this guest blog project, I hope you appreciate the sense of community that is created through this process of letting down our guards and letting the words flow. We often discover what we have in common — as well as what we don’t. We may find validation in what we are feeling or we may learn something from another person’s perspective.

Either way, it’s a win.

Voices of August is just four months away. I’m already looking forward to hosting another round of some of the best writing on the internet.

In the meantime, anyone up for a Zoom meeting to celebrate #VOApril? You can say so in a reply to this post — or on Facebook.

— George Rede

Staying Super Connected

By Maisha Maurant

Tuesday was Superhero Day, a time to show love to our favorites from the old-school comics, graphic novels, the small screen and the big screen. This year, it happened to coincide with the one-year anniversary of “Avengers: Endgame,” the finale of the Marvel film saga.

Seeing both celebrated on social media made me think of a text I got from my sister Dara a year ago.

“Who’s the ninja in Avengers?”

Huh? I text back, “There isn’t a ninja.”

“Clay?

“Clint! Hawkeye.” I respond.

She’s trying to make sense of “Endgame.” Hawkeye is a marksman who uses a bow and arrow. But, to be fair, his costume did make him look like a ninja.

I’m a Marvel fan. My sister only got drawn into the franchise by my then 8-year-old nephew and “Black Panther.” Dara would rather read a book than watch a TV show or catch a movie.

That led to me to catching her up on 10 years of Marvel movies via text.

“Who is Tessa Thomas?” Valkyrie from Thor’s world. “Clint and Black Widow are getting the darkness stone?” The Soul Stone. “Yup. Who is the long-haired guy?” Loki? Oh, Bucky. He’s also known as Winter Soldier or White Wolf. He’s Captain America’s best friend and becomes Captain America in the comics.

She asks me about several other characters. She recognizes the actors but knows nothing about their characters’ backstories.

“Wow, it’s a whole world,” she finally texts. I crack up. She’s in a select group who have managed to completely avoid all things Marvel.

It’s one of my favorite sister moments because texting a whole conversation about a movie is so us. We often have a hard time catching up with each other to talk over the phone. So texting has become a lifeline for staying in touch.

I live in Detroit, and Dara lives in Maryland with my brother-in-law and two nephews. The last few years have been hectic. We haven’t had a lot of one-on-one time as we’ve juggled jobs, grad school, husband and kids, board/sorority/mentoring and other responsibilities.

And, now, we’re dealing with the way the coronavirus has changed our lives. She’s an OB-GYN working long shifts under extreme circumstances like so many others on the frontlines of this fight. I’ve been working in HR at a health system, spending the last few weeks focused on helping employees get through this crisis.

So, we’re still texting – and emailing and finding a few minutes for calls. But we touch base more frequently. It’s a mixture of normal and not. We regularly commiserate about how we wish we could ground our parents to keep them inside. We’re editing essay drafts for my 15-year-old nephew’s leadership academy application. I share disappointment about my planned culture and engagement work that won’t get done this year. She tries to help me understand the Common Core.

We still also exchange book recommendations and pictures of shoes, as well as debate who’s going to win music battles on Instagram Live.

But, instead of being frustrated by not having more time with my sister, I’ve come to really appreciate our bits of conversation. I am so thankful that our current technology gives so many ways to connect with the people we love.

As I’m finishing this, she emails me after reading the first draft. “So cute! I didn’t know another Marvel movie was coming out” with the shrug emoji. Lol! That’s my sister.

I send her a list of the upcoming movies. Fortunately, I’ve got time to get her ready before Marvel revs up again.

***

After a long career in communications, Maisha Maurant has shifted her focus to organizational change, employee engagement and workplace culture. She was most recently Culture & Engagement manager at a health care system. She first met George at a journalism job fair in Detroit. He selected her as a summer intern at The Oregonian, and she promptly fell in love with the Pacific Northwest.

Tomorrow: George Rede | Finding community in these unsettling times

Mom, I’m hopeful

By Patricia Conover

My mother, wearing her blue velvet robe, sat down gingerly on the bed. She reached over and touched my shoulder.

I sat up.

“You’re not ready,” she said.

The urgency in her voice scared me.

“Not ready for what?”

She looked at me with undisguised impatience.

“The river is flooding. It’s overflowing its banks. You should go to higher ground!”

Now I was frightened. There had been several terrible floods in this little town. Many people lost their homes. But that was long before my time here.

“Everything is fine, Mom,” I said. “We aren’t leaving.”

She looked at me the way she always did when she was alive.

Her eyes were shining and she touched my shoulder again, this time more forcefully.

“You have to take this seriously,” she said. “No one can help you if you don’t leave now.”

And then I woke up.

Joan Barlow

It was the second time my mother appeared in my bedroom this year. In March, she woke me up and warned me that a hurricane was about to strike.

She told me that we had to pack up and leave quickly and then she disappeared.

Is this COVID-19 angst?

Or is my mother, who has been dead for twenty years, warning me about the toll this catastrophe may take on my family and our entire earth?

It’s true that I’ve lost sleep since we first became aware of the coronavirus. I’m worried about my husband, my family and friends, my community, my country and my world.

My mother used to tell me stories about World War II. She was a little girl living with her parents and older sister in New York City when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

She was panic-stricken. She never forgot her terror when ambulance sirens blared or low-flying planes whirred above the city. She was sure that her apartment building was about to be bombed.

“I hope that you never have to face anything like that,” she said. “I hope you always live in peace.”

Mom died amost exactly one year before 9/11.

Now, we are facing the biggest crisis most of us have ever lived through. Yes, most of us were woefully unprepared for this unseen enemy’s onslaught.

But now, with hard-won experience, research, and understanding, we are beginning to win the battle against the coronavirus.

Our arsenal consists of sheltering in place, social distancing, washing our hands, disinfecting every surface, and wearing masks and gloves.

The real hard work of fighting against this invisible foe is also, strangely, invisible.

The most advanced minds in every country around the globe are working day and night to find a cure for COVID-19. Behind the scenes, far from the headlines, scientists, biologists, and doctors are working to develop a cure.

They’re figuring it out piece-by-piece and sharing information at an unprecedented rate.

So whether my mother is visiting me, or my unconscious mind is working to consolidate my anxiety into a more familiar and less terrifying narrative, I’m hopeful about the future.

The next time my mother stops by, I’m going to say:

“You’re right, Mom, we were not ready for this crisis. I’m frightened. But the greatest minds are co-operating with each other without regard to borders in a race to find a cure. So don’t worry about us. We’ll be okay.”

Oh, and one more thing:

“Mom, come by anytime! I love seeing you. I miss you! Next time, bring Dad along. We’ll catch up.”

The author, in hat, with her mother and brothers and sister.

***

Patricia Conover worked at G.P Putnam’s Sons and Random House in New York City before becoming a freelance writer for publications including The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian, Kirkus Reviews and The Montclair Local.

Patricia is currently a project editor and writer for Going Global, publisher of guidebooks on culture, careers, economies, education, health, and travel. She is also an English and Writing instructor. You can connect with Patricia on twitter @ParisRhapsody.

Patricia landed in Portland after working in publishing for ten years on the East Coast. She was inspired to write about the experience of being a fish out of water: A New Yorker in Oregon. Three stories later, she stopped by my office to drop off her typewritten pages. Yes, it was pre-internet times. We published those original stories and many more in The Oregonian. A few years after that first meeting, I had to convince Patricia that a computer was necessary if she wanted to continue her writing career. She bought an Apple laptop and has never looked back. I’m pretty sure she still has her Royal typewriter in her closet — just in case. — GR

What is essential for now, and maybe tomorrow…

By Andrea Cano

It was Wednesday, March 11, when all of THIS shifted my life.

For several weeks, I had been going back and forth with my sister Ellen about how COVID could affect a family dinner at my home sometime mid-March for an early St. Patrick’s Day meal. All of our grown daughters and sons were set to travel in a week or so in the U.S. or Europe for work or vacation, so it would be great to see everyone, especially the grandchildren.

By 10 am that morning it was a ‘go’ with Ellen, and off I went to get groceries for the meal – tons of corned beef, heads of cabbage, carrots, potatoes, horseradish, and ingredients for Irish soda bread.

By 4 pm into the evening, texts signaled most of the family was planning to stay home starting the following Saturday or Sunday. Even Ellen joined in! How the world shifted in a matter of hours was astounding to me. Even my son Michael texted “If Tom Hanks can get it in Australia…!”

Now six weeks into this new way of living, loving, working, relating, cooking, eating, thinking, feeling, and even being liminal, I’ve thought about what is really essential and have asked a lot of questions. Among them:

  • What about the return of fruit and veggie carts (maybe SUV’s or panel trucks now) to go into neighborhoods for stay at home moms, elder adults, persons with physical challenges, any of us for that matter? Or well stocked grocery trucks for neighborhoods in food deserts in the city? During the fourth week in, I confessed wanting to hear the Good Humor jingle on my street.
  • We use so many plastic bottles. What if we could refill our large plastic detergent jugs at small tanker trucks set up at community centers or farmer’s markets, or tanks at local or big box stores like we do water?
  • For me, food is primarily nutrition and medicine – except for occasional baked sweets. We are what we eat and drink (or don’t). How best to factor this in as a serious part of our health literacy – or when fresh produce is not available, or protein not affordable, or social disparities limit what’s in the fridge?
  • This physical distancing and physical nearing shifted our social and emotional well-being, depending on who was in the house with you. I experienced the worst and the best of me with my partner Bruce, and of him with me. What is essential to support that core sense of security, of self, of living, of being – as individuals or as a couple – as the ‘you’ or ‘me’ and the ‘we’? How does this extend to what is essential now for our families, friends, neighbors, the stranger as we live in isolation – and when we are able to live in community again.
  • How do we reframe THE ECONOMY, not from an investor perspective, but an earner perspective? How do we value our essential workers, or build a system which meets the essential needs of the many and where everyone can prosper, not just profit?

Some of these thoughts came up as I did my taxes, prepped my garden beds, and foraged the freezer and pantry for essential meals. And after all of this time, I still have one head of cabbage left.

***

Andrea Cano is easing into semi-retirement vocationally as an organizational consultant and on-call hospital chaplain. On the home front, she has no choice now but to do some Covid-Spring deep cleaning.

In 2011, a mutual friend, Consuelo Saragoza, introduced to me to George while he was still at the The Oregonian. I recall the first ‘coffee’ we shared, and was impressed by his openness and gentleness. We also shared some common strands to our early years as journalists in California. Months after the coffee, he invited me to write a commentary about the state of the Hispanic/Latino community, and then later to join the unique and treasured community of Voices of August (and now Voices of April) writers.

Tomorrow: Patricia Conover | Mom, I’m hopeful

I was made for Quarantine!

By Wendy Alexander

I never thought of myself as a people person.

I tend to avoid crowds anyway and I like being home alone with my animals. I don’t care for visitors. I don’t like sharing the remote. If you talk to me during a movie or TV show, you’re dead to me. I don’t like pants. It’s just easier to be by myself. So sitting around in my pajamas for weeks working at my little desk at home with total control of the remote and neverending access to the refrigerator snacks sounds perfect for me!

Someone I work with tested positive for COVID-19. Because I already have a compromised immune system, I left that day to work from home.

Sure, the first few days were a bit challenging. I work for an amazing company that got us set up for success right away. I wasn’t bored because I was actually working. I would take my breaks as usual, but also a few extras to microwave pizza rolls and do the dishes while waiting for an email. Indulging in all 8 seasons of Vampire Diaries playing on Netflix in the background.

I have two adult kids that are out on their own and one that just finished college at home and she recently started a job where she is considered essential, so I would take her to work and come home and jump into my workday. Worked pretty well for a week or so. Then I started to cough.

Just a little at first. Like an itch in the back of my throat. Then a bit more. Within 24 hours it was a lot more. I emailed my doctor’s office and because of my age, my health, the fact I was exposed to someone that tested positive, I was scheduled for a test. If a medical professional tells you something will feel like a brain biopsy, believe them.

Before I can get my test results back, my breathing is labored and the coughing is much worse. I was told that with my symptoms, I was to assume I was positive and go to the ER if I got worse. So I did.

I told my kids I was sick. They were immediately scared. How do you tell them that you have this virus that is killing thousands but you’re ok? They wanted to go to the ER with me but they couldn’t. They couldn’t come see me before I went. They couldn’t hug mom and mom couldn’t hug them.

Even my ex-husband called to tell me he’d do what he could for me as part of my support system. Oh man, this must be bad!

In the hospital is when it really hit me. I would have to do this completely on my own. No family, friends, kids, loved ones at all. Just me and a sea of mask covered faces who can’t even offer a smile for comfort. At least not one that can be seen. IV’s and blood work. Xrays and EKGs. Not a hand to hold.

Humans are social beings. Loneliness has been linked to the worst physical and emotional health outcomes and poorest wellbeing. Not having a social support system and being lonely, releases the stress hormone Cortisol and creates stress on our bodies. (https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/good-company-why-we-need-other-people-be-happy-ncna836106)

We are not meant to weather the storm alone. I think this might be why this virus is so terrifying. Because honestly, the numbers are in our favor when you think about it. Yes, people are dying, but the numbers show that so many more people get better than do not. What makes this terrifying, is the isolation. The not being able to be there to hold the hand of the one you love, or have your hand held. To not be able to have those last conversations and personal contact if it comes to that.

Turns out, I’m lucky. My oxygen levels were very good and I did not have any organ failure issues or pneumonia. I was able to go home and I am being telemonitored by a Coronavirus medical team via text and phone calls. I have my own little oxygen meter and thermometer and have to update my vitals every 4 hours. But I am home. With at least one of my kids. And others that drop things at my door and can see me from the walkway to tell me they love me. Not quite alone. And I am getting better.

I was not made for Quarantine. None of us are.

***

Wendy Alexander is a Contract Administrator with Performance Contracting Inc in Hillsboro. She has “three amazing grown kids that are my world and support system through good and bad.”

I met George back in 2007, when I felt compelled to write about something that hit me hard emotionally and sent it in to The Oregonian opinion section. George kept in contact with me over the years and asked me to write a couple more times. Because of meeting George, I went to college in my 40’s and got a BA in Journalism (also one in Social and Criminal Justice at the same time). “Thank you for always encouraging me to keep writing.”

Serving as Sunday Opinion Editor for The Oregonian brought me into contact with so many good people over the years, including several in this VOA community of citizen-writers. I’m glad to welcome Wendy into the circle and humbled knowing that my reaching out years ago prompted her to get her degrees. — GR

Tomorrow: Jamie Lynn Rede | New York Rede’s Roost

Held

Kristen Mira

By Kristen Mira

March 16th. They delivered the last couch into my new apartment.
Then I sunk down into my oversized, easy chair to take in the reality of having my own place. Exhale. My nervous system relaxed a few notches.

It was a stark contrast to the experience of living the previous 3 years in an old NE Portland house, where I shared one bathroom with two other women. Throughout my stay they were constructing a 7 story condo across the street, with AirBnB guests going in and out of our basement daily and our next-door neighbor elevating his entire house to fit an apartment underneath.

Needless to say the solitude of my new apartment brought a welcome silence.

While living at that house, I worked from home, which made it hard to focus or have an uninterrupted call. I also didn’t choose the decor of the house nor have enough room for one week’s vegetables in the fridge. I grew more aware that my life long pattern of making my needs small to accommodate others reflected how I was living in that space.

I realized it was time to change my living space for a time so I could honor my needs without having to consider anyone else.

Little did I know how the world events were about to support my process.

March 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st. COVID-19 consumed more and more of the news. Then March 23rd Portland went into Shelter-in-Place where no one could leave their homes except for necessities. Soon after, the physical separation from my boyfriend turned into a breakup.

There I sat isolated between four walls, which initially felt like relief, now echoing with loneliness.

As the volume of panic increased throughout the world, I wondered, what had I gotten myself into!?

Sudden isolation, loss of connections, health concerns set in without knowing how long I’d need to go without real person to person contact.

I am alive. Inhale. I have food. Exhale. I am sheltered. Inhale. I have work. Exhale. All things considered, I didn’t have it that bad.

Actually total solitude was exactly what the doctor had ordered. Except I felt like a shivering toddler looking at the length of the nurse’s needle about to give the injection.

All of my normal escapes–boyfriend, coffee with friends, denying my needs to please others, were gone.

I had no one left to seek validation from except myself.

Ok, you’ve got this.

I crawled daily into my easy chair and pulled out my journal to respond to my fears coming up:
Do I believe everything is working out for good and I’ll be ok?
Am I loved, even when I feel abandoned?
Can I trust that I am totally held–even and especially in this isolation?

Yes, I mumbled. Then day by day I felt a stronger YES, as I experienced receiving the things I needed at just the right moments–a friend’s Zoom call, a neighbor’s cat to pet, a grocery store delivery.

April 21st. I am feeling grateful and held in the embrace of these four walls. Like a nurse saying this will only hurt a moment, it has been a more drastic solitude than I would have ever chosen, but it has forced me to recognize the power of self honoring.

I may have days or months yet to go in this solitary space, but I am relaxing into the process and it is amazing how all the constriction, all the loss, all of the shaky emotions feel like they are leading ultimately towards more solid ground.

***

Kristen Mira is a Portland-based Relationship Coach who loves helping others around the world to create better connections to themselves and others and she does bookkeeping for small businesses on the side. She met George over 10 years ago through his daughter-in-law, Jamie, at his son Jordan’s wedding and they became friends over the experience of blogging.

Without Kristen, there would be no Voices of August, let alone a Voices of April. When she asked me to contribute a piece to her blog several years ago, I thought to myself, “What a wonderful idea!” Not long afterwards, I realized, “Hey, why not expand this to a whole month of guest bloggers?” And just like that, VOA was born. Kristen was among those who helped me get that baby launched in the summer of 2011. — GR

Tomorrow: Wendy Alexander | I was made for Quarantine!