The number of known COVID-19 deaths in the United States is over 200,000.
It’s hard for me to grasp the total, knowing that each of these was someone’s child, parent, sibling, co-worker, neighbor, friend.
A few days ago when I was working on this post, I needed to look up the population of Broome County, New York, where I live.
It’s about 190,000.
I am imagining the city of Binghamton empty, the University and all the other schools without students and staff, all the towns and villages without people, just the wild creatures and birds alive.
In reality, Broome County has lost 85 residents to COVID, each person a loss to their family and community. Somehow, though, my thought experiment in concentrating the loss to our country as the obliteration of our entire county has given me a sense of scale and of grief that the statistics alone did not elicit.
Last night, we received the sad news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer. She was an amazing woman with a remarkable record of achievements, overcoming the discrimination she faced as a woman, a mother, and a Jewish person. As a lawyer, she argued landmark sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of the six cases she presented. One of her keys to success was that some of those cases were brought on behalf of men who suffered lack of access to careers or benefits that were ascribed to women, for example, allowing men to study nursing. This was able to reach the all-male justices in a way that a case brought on behalf of women did not. It was a way in to address the injustices of sexism.
As a judge and then in 27 years as a justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a strong voice for equal justice under the Constitution, regardless of race or gender. As the Court became more and more conservative, she was well-known for her well-reasoned, cogent, and accessible dissents, many of which may be the basis for reversals over time, as we have seen with some infamous Supreme Court decisions in the past.
Millions of people around the country are sad, but also terrified. The terror is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be replaced this year by the current president, even though the election is only six weeks away. This totally flies in the face of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did in 2016, when conservative justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly ten months before the election and he refused to even have hearings to vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama. He said that the people should have a voice in the selection through their presidential choice. The Supreme Court had to operate for over 400 days with only eight justices. Even more scandalously, there was the threat that if Hillary Clinton had won, McConnell would still not have allowed a Court nominee to be voted on in the Senate. It’s such an abuse of power.
Which brings me to the “-tion” word that popped into my head, compunction. In the midst of the mourning that immediately followed the announcement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, McConnell announced that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote in the Senate. That he had no compunction in doing so is appalling. The level of hypocrisy and the naked abuse of power is off the charts.
I am hoping that a significant number of Republican senators will stand up and say that they will not vote on a nominee under these rushed and suspect circumstances. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said last night that she would not vote on a nominee, saying “fair is fair.”
I wish I could say that I am shocked that McConnell also had no compunction in releasing his statement on a replacement right after news of Justice Ginsburg’s death broke, but he acted similarly after Justice Scalia’s death. I hope that we can focus on RBG’s legacy and life in the coming days, not the political and partisan circus that McConnell has unleashed.
WordPress has helpfully reminded me that today is my seventh blogiversary!
Sending out a big THANK YOU to all my readers, including my 1,400 followers!
Okay, it’s time to calm down and not end every sentence with an exclamation point.
Over these past seven years, I have published 1,383 posts and had over 24,000 visitors from 119 countries. It boggles my mind. I hadn’t really thought about stats seven years ago when I started. Truth to tell, I don’t think about stats that often now, either, but I do appreciate sharing my thoughts with so many people around the world.
I also appreciate that I have been able to keep my blog eclectic. I knew starting out that the recommendation was to target a blog to a specific topic with a regular posting schedule and a plan to build followers, but I chose to take a path that fit my personality better. I have wide-ranging interests and like to be able to bring them up as they become “top of mind.” Circumstances have arisen that have had me writing more about my personal life than I had originally expected, but having an intentionally eclectic blog accommodated that.
For millions around the world, 2020 has been hard to navigate in terms of time. People’s schedules have been disrupted to such an extent that a week can simultaneously feel like forever and a flash. For me, most of the past seven years have been like that, as I’ve lived in a web of intergenerational health problems, moves, on-site and long-distance caretaking, and lots of unpredictability. I didn’t know seven years ago how important writing poetry would become in my life. I didn’t know that we would lose both my mother and mother-in-law. I didn’t know I’d now have two precious and faraway granddaughters.
Sometimes, in writing a post, I need to look back into my post archive to refresh my memory on when something occurred. In reading older posts, I am gratified to find that, in most cases, the writing has held up pretty well. You all have an open invitation to stroll through the posts from prior months and years. You might stumble across something that interests you.
I have never kept a diary or journal going for any length of time, so I am glad to have Top of JC’s Mind as a keepsake of these past seven years.
Which reminds me, I really need to figure out how to do a proper back-up…
Motivated by writing this post yesterday, I started searching for more opportunities to submit my chapbook for publication. After not finding any contests currently available – I could find lots for collections, but not chapbooks – I started looking through the Poets & Writers database of small presses that publish poetry.
I was looking for presses that are currently open for unsolicited chapbook manuscripts, but had to wade through broken links, the almost inevitable changes in schedules due to COVID, and the unfortunate number of presses that seem to have disappeared since they had listed with Poets & Writers two to three years ago.
I did manage to find what seemed to be a good match. The database said they accepted unsolicited manuscripts from September through December, but, when I visited the press’s site, I found out that they had moved up their open reading to the summer and were closing to submissions September 6. So, as it was September 5th, I stopped searching and got to work on the submission.
Given that I had the manuscript in my google docs, you might think that it would be relatively quick and easy to get the submission in, but it actually took a couple of hours. The press preferred a .docx in 5.5×8.5 inch format. I admit that I don’t know Word as well as google docs. I got the page format changed relatively easily, but struggled a bit to get the margins the proper size. I usually write short to medium length lines, but there were some lines long enough that they didn’t fit with the smaller pages. In some instances, I wound up changing my lineations. For the handful of multi-page poems, I had to be mindful of the page breaks to make sure that they weren’t falling in awkward places. I was grateful that there is an easy way to update the table of contents, as it changed considerably.
In the end, I was able to complete the submission yesterday, so, at least, I didn’t send on the very last day! It took a while, but I learned some new Word skills.
And the next time some press wants a 5.5×8.5 inch format, I’ll be ready.
This spring, I entered my chapbook manuscript in eight contests. So far, I’ve received five rejections, although I was a semi-finalist in one of them, which is encouraging, even though it is still a rejection. I expect to hear back from the other three sometime this month or next.
I did another round of revisions and have entered this newest version to one (knowingly virtually impossible to be accepted by) press. I have two other contests in mind, but should probably get myself motivated to search for others.
As long as we are on the topic of things I should do, I should also try to do some journal submissions. While I have made some strides in improving my poetry, I am still a neophyte when it comes to the world of publishing. Trying to choose among hundreds of journals which are most likely to consider the kind of poetry I write is perplexing. Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out where not to send something, such as the contest that wanted you to prove you had read all their requirements by quoting your favorite rap lyric in the cover letter – and I don’t know any rap lyrics. Most often, you read a sampler from the journal and try to guess if they might like your work. Because there are usually reading fees involved, it helps to try to figure out which journals are most likely to be interested. With so much else going on, I have trouble getting myself motivated to slog through lists and databases and spend time following all the different rules for submission, knowing that then you are looking at waiting periods of various lengths and most likely a bunch of rejection emails.
I don’t think surrealer is an accepted English word, but it’s all that comes to mind right now.
When I was away for a week, I didn’t follow news as closely as I usually do, but after a few days back at home, it seems that the levels of contradiction and absurdity and fear-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing have reached new highs in the United States.
Serious journalists have to try to try to explain QAnon. The Republican convention played up fear of anarchy and violence as being part of “Joe Biden’s America” – despite the fact that Donald Trump has been president for over three and a half years – while neglecting to confront the very real fear of the spread of coronavirus. The official case count in the US is now over six million and the actual case number is probably much higher. That’s terrifying.
If the consequences weren’t so disturbing, I’d laugh. Instead, I’m stuck with the bewilderment of surreal-er.
I realize that people who are in a media bubble or conspiracy mindset are not generally inclined to factcheck, but I implore people to seek out credible sources of information. Go to Joe Biden’s campaign website for his positions on issues and his public statements. Go to the Johns Hopkins website for US and world COVID statistics. I was hoping to provide a link for Donald Trump’s plans for a second term, but his official website doesn’t have an issues and plans page; I haven’t heard him give a clear answer about plans in interviews, either. It’s a major problem, especially with so many challenges facing the country right now and so little effective action from the administration.
Like many people, we have a coin jar at home. When our daughters were young, when the coin jar was full, I would roll the coins and bring them to our credit union for deposit to the girls’ accounts.
That was a long time ago now, but I still have a coin jar. I didn’t fill it very fast in recent years because I would only take coins out of my wallet when it got over-full. I used to do a lot of my everyday shopping in cash, so I would spend my coins. Since the pandemic, though, I seldom use cash, so I’m not accumulating coins.
I was concerned this spring because there was a coin shortage caused by lack of commerce and I was anxious to find a couple of 2020 pennies. Two of my long-time friends have penny boxes that I gave them for their birthdays. The idea came from a book for children titled “The Hundred Penny Box” which had a centenarian who had a penny from each year of her life. Each year, on my friends’ birthdays, I would send them a penny for that year.
My friend with a May birthday had to take an IOU, but I was pleased to pay cash at the grocery store self-checkout one day in late June and receive three shiny 2020 pennies in change. I sent a (very belated) birthday card to my first friend and had a penny to send to my friend with an August birthday on time.
I used to supply pennies to two other boxes. One was a birthday box for my friend Angie, who passed away in 2005. (If you search her name, posts will come up about her here at TJCM.) The other was an anniversary box for my parents, known here as Nana and Paco. We added the last penny to it last year, a few weeks before Nana passed away.
Someday, I may make a penny box for B and my anniversary. Maybe in two years for our 40th. That was when I gave my parents theirs and they wound up making to their 65th.
This is my last full day in the North Adams area. MASS MoCA is closed today, so I planned to go back to Monroe Bridge, Paco (my dad) and my hometown, and Hoosac Tunnel, Nana’s (my mom) hometown. I thought it would take a couple of hours this morning and I’d be back to the hotel by noon.
I got carried away.
I wound up stopping at a lot of old-but-changed haunts and taking tons of photos. (Don’t worry. I’ll only share a few.) Many of the ones I won’t show are unlikely to be meaningful to anyone without long-standing personal history in the area, as there is a lot of “what used to be here” in play. Warning: There will also be a lot of dams and reservoirs and hydroelectric plants. Paco was superintendent of the Upper Deerfield River (southern Vermont/western Massachusetts) for what was then New England Power Company and my sisters and I grew up traipsing around powerplants and such.
The building in the photo below was built by the WPA in the 1930’s. My father and some of his siblings attended school there when it was new. It also housed the town office and library. They are still there, but most of the building is now offices for the current successor of New England Power Company. The array of mailboxes is a poor substitute for the post office, which was the center of town life for many years. Olga, the postmistress was a good friend of my mom’s; they saw each other nearly every day and stayed in touch after retirement and moves put them at a distance.
I went down to the river and crossed the bridge; our town’s name was Monroe, but the mailing address became Monroe Bridge because they would leave the mail at the Monroe bridge. This iteration of the bridge was built in 2015. The dam is quite a lot older. Part of the old paper mill was torn down and replaced with a little park. The rest is still there, although the worse for wear.
I continued downriver. I visited the Dunbar Brook picnic area, which was deserted except for a toad that I startled as I walked across the grass. I got to take a ride on a swing, which was refreshing and nostalgic. When I went back to my car, I was surprised to see that the old road along the river leading toward the Bear Swamp lower reservoir was open. I drove all the way down to the gate just before the Number 5 Station.
When I went back up to the main road, I stopped to pay my respects at the Legate family cemetery. When Nana and Paco were first married, they lived in the old Legate House, which was then owned by New England Power. The house was torn down decades ago, but the little cemetery is still tended to.
I wish I could show you a decent photo of the lower reservoir for Bear Swamp. I wish even more that I could tour the underground powerhouse that we visited with Paco so many times as it was being built and after it was completed, but it is all fenced in for safety and security reasons. I will close, though, with a photo of the Hoosac Tunnel. Nana grew up in Hoosac Tunnel, a part of the town of Florida, Massachusetts, because her father headed a maintenance crew for the Boston and Maine Railroad. At the time it was built, the Hoosac Tunnel was an engineering marvel. This is the less-fancy eastern portal. The North Adams side was more decorative, befitting a growing city in the late 1800s.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit my roots. I hope that the sense of connection and the energy and the comfort of familiarity will stay with me so that I can make progress on my poetry collection after I am home.