JC’s Confessions #26

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

Ugh.

Folks who have been reading my blog regularly (thank you!) know that I have been dealing with a lot of loss and stress in recent years. I’ve been struggling to find energy to accomplish things and often feel like I can’t concentrate.

I’ve taken a lot of steps to cut down on what I’m trying to do in a day/week but there are still days that nothing of import gets started, much less done. I’ve tried to reach out for additional support but there are times when I can’t even manage to gather the energy needed to reach out and arrange to meet. Granted, the pandemic waves aren’t helpful, either.

I recognize from friends who study such things and from my reading that I am still grieving and that my brain is quite literally rewiring itself in line with my new reality.

A few weeks ago, I decided to try to shift my perspective. I decided to set aside some things I had been trying to do/worrying about and to give myself more grace/space to wait out the brain changes.

My doctor warned me it would be difficult and it is.

There have been little glimmers of hope. I’ve been able to arrange for some self-care appointments that I need. I’ve managed to post every day this month so far for Just Jot It January, although I confess I’m looking forward to February when that pressure I’ve put on myself will be off. I’ve made progress on preparing my chapbook manuscript for publication.

Overall, though, I am still struggling and struggling to accept that I’m still struggling, which is a large part of what I was hoping to do.

Maybe that is the way things must be for now.

I just need to accept it.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/27/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-27th-2023/

SoCS: count on it

Linda posts the prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday on Friday so that people have a chance to mull the prompt before writing the post, which is stream of consciousness so no editing allowed.

Confession: Sometimes, I write the post on Friday and just schedule it to come out on Saturday.

Second Confession: Sometimes, I plan the post in my head more than I probably should to be true stream of consciousness.

I usually do, though, manage to have some thoughts about the prompt or I just don’t participate that week.

Because it’s Just Jot It January and because I already didn’t do Stream of Consciousness one week because I had a post of my own I wanted to get out, I really wanted to do SoCS this week.

The prompt is to use “count on it” in the post.

When I read it Friday morning, I thought that it would be pretty straightforward. Something would pop into my head as the focus for the post.

But that didn’t happen.

A lot of things that I can no longer count on came into my head, but it seemed too unsettling to write about that.

I think the combination of personal losses, the pandemic, the divisiveness of the United States, and the feeling that I’m always waiting for the next shoe to drop – and it does – have left me unsure that there is anything I can count on.

It’s probably more feeling than fact.

It’s cold and grey today.

The sun will rise tomorrow.

I can count on it.

Yes, let’s go with that.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/20/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-21st/

Saying good-bye to Anita

This morning, I sang for the funeral of Anita Alkinburg Shipway. She was a member of the music ministry at a church that I attended for a number of years, but our primary connection was through poetry.

When I joined the Binghamton Poetry Project in 2014, Anita was already involved. I got to know her better when we were both invited to join Sappho’s Circle, a women’s poetry workshop convened by Heather Dorn. We later also participated in some workshops with the Broome County Arts Council.

I always admired Anita’s storytelling ability both in conversation and in writing. She often used the tools of narrative poetry to reveal the truth – and quirks – of human nature. She smiled and laughed easily while also being very sympathetic when we most needed it. I appreciated the depth of her wisdom as an elder.

When the pandemic moved the Binghamton Poetry Project to Zoom, Anita joined us as often as she could, despite some technical challenges. We often joked with her about the cuckoo clocks in her home that would add their voices to ours. She shared a poem about them here. You can find more of her poems in the Binghamton Poetry Project online anthologies.

Originally, Anita was scheduled to participate with me in a Zoom reading for National Poetry Month in 2021, sponsored by the Broome County Arts Council and WordPlace. Unfortunately, she got trapped in the Zoom waiting room and wasn’t able to be recorded. I sincerely regret not being able to share any video of her reading her work.

Anita died at Mercy House, a residence for those near the end of life. Anita had volunteered at Mercy House and it’s a comfort to know that she was in such a familiar and peaceful place in her last days.

I was upset to learn that COVID played a part in her death. Apparently, a COVID infection interacted with other medical conditions and Anita could not recover. It reminded me again to remain cautious. I know that, despite my best efforts, I may someday contract COVID and could infect someone else, but I don’t know if I could forgive myself if I was being cavalier about infection and passed the virus on to someone who suffered grave consequences.

Anita visited Top of JC’s Mind and would occasionally comment on posts. More often, she would write to me directly. I remember having a discussion with her about what it means for something to be “top of mind.” Apparently, her Midwestern upbringing a generation before my New England one resulted in a different interpretation of the phrase.

No matter.

Today, Anita is at the top of JC’s Mind.

Rest in peace and eternal joy, Anita. May choirs of angels greet you and lead you to paradise.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/10/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-10th-2023/

XBB.1.5

A new COVID subvariant has emerged here in the United States. It is designated XBB.1.5 and is considered the most transmissible Omicron variant to date by the World Health Organization. It is also considered to be highly immune evasive, which means it is more likely to cause infection among those who have COVID antibodies, whether from vaccines or prior infection. However, the vaccines should still be effective in reducing hospitalization and death rates from infection.

XBB.1.5 is especially prevalent in the northeastern region of the US. It is powering the rise in regional cases accounting for 72.7% of cases in the past week. It is also likely the driver behind Broome County, New York, where I live, again moving into the CDC’s high community risk level classification. (That will mean mandatory masking at our concerts this weekend.)

The XBB.1.5 subvariant orignated in the US, but has spread to some other countries. Meanwhile, China is suffering through a huge infection wave, although there is no reliable official data on its extent.

In many places, especially in the Northern Hemisphere winter, there are also high rates of flu and RSV.

As always, I’ll repeat my advice. Vaccinate, if you are eligible and vaccines are available to you. In particular, if you are eligible for the bivalent COVID booster, get it as soon as possible because it is much more protective against all Omicron strains than the original formulation. If you are sick, get tested. If you contract COVID or flu, immediately contact a medical provider to see if you can take antiviral medication to cut down on symptom severity. When there is risk in your area, use a high-quality mask in indoor public spaces and avoid crowds. Increase ventilation and/or air filtration indoors. Wash hands frequently and avoid touching your face (more for flu/RSV prevention than for COVID). Try to eat and sleep well. Look out for one another.

We need to work together for this pandemic to end. We are all tired of COVID but we need to fight effectively and continuously. Ignoring the risk and letting the virus spread just gives it even more opportunity to mutate and develop more virulent strains. We are now in our fourth year of the COVID pandemic. Let’s work together to make it the last.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/06/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-7th/

Binghamton Poetry Project anthology – Fall 2022

I’m pleased to share the Fall 2022 online anthology of the Binghamton Poetry Project, which includes four of my poems, some of which need more explanation than others!

“Ode to Pentel P207” was written from a prompt during a summer workshop on response poetry with Samia Ahmed. Not surprisingly, we were studying odes that week. As it happened, odes were also a topic of a workshop on Romanticism with Samantha Flatt this fall, so this poem represents both of those sessions.

I do have a special relationship with my Pentel mechanical pencils! I started using them extensively when I was in college. They fit my hand well and are great for fine work, such as writing music manuscripts by hand, which we had to do before music editing software became readily available. I’ve continued to use them and they are my go-to writing implement when I draft poems and when I workshop them.

I hadn’t thought it was weird to have a favorite pencil until I was workshopping this poem, first published by Wilderness House Literary Review:

In my purse

cheap pens I won’t miss if they’re lost
my wallet, heavy with too many coins
ibuprofen for headaches
a pack of tissues
hair ties for windy days
a dog-eared calendar
my license to drive
a crumpled shopping list
emergency cough drops
a pyx
my favorite mechanical pencil, extra lead
credit cards – insurance cards – loyalty cards
a laminated prayer card from my mother’s funeral

Several people commented that the line that let them know something was up was the line about the mechanical pencil, which to me was just a normal thing to carry in a purse. Perhaps, though, it is a bit strange to make a pencil the subject of an ode, although we did study some odes that had been written about everyday objects.

“Beauty can be…” was written in response to Samantha Flatt’s workshop on Romanticism and Beauty with a prompt to describe my relationship with beauty. I was trying to capture the sentiment that I find beauty in many, seemingly contradictory circumstances.

“Hoosic” was written in response to the second week of Suzanne Richardson’s workshop on prose poems. Those three weeks were my first time to attend an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project workshop series since we went virtual in spring 2020 due to the pandemic. The prompt was to include in our prose poem an illogical or associative leap or a surreal moment or a mix of fact and fantasy. As often happens when presented with a prompt and the need to write quickly, I turned to a familiar topic, here, the Hoosic River, about which I have written several poems as part of my full-length manuscript centered on the North Adams, Massachusetts area. I will leave it to the reader to decide if my personification of the river fulfills the prompt.

The reason that there is a fourth poem listed is because “He Pines” was written at a special summer event, Much Ado in the Garden, a Shakespearean-themed festival. I participated in a Binghamton Poetry Project reading and mini-workshop, resulting in this very atypical poem. In keeping with the prompts, it includes some no longer used (and somewhat insulting) words. It also has the line count and rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, although not the iambic pentameter. I am notoriously bad at writing in Western received forms, so that I managed anything even sonnet-like is an achievement. This is a disclaimer, though, that I agreed to include it in the anthology only as an example of playing with language for this special event, not because it is actually a good poem!

This fall also marked the return to an in-person Binghamton Poetry Project public reading, although I had a conflict and couldn’t attend. Perhaps in the spring, I will be able to participate, if the tripledemic has alleviated by then.

Please feel free to read the whole Fall 2022 anthology. You can also view past anthologies and browse the site for other features. Enjoy!

a quiet Christmas

Spouse B, daughter T, and I were on our own this Christmas. While we had originally hoped that daughter E, son-in-law L, and granddaughters ABC and JG were going to be able to join us from London, UK, circumstances prevented that, probably a blessing in disguise given the travel disruptions caused by the extreme weather here in the US.

We here in Broome County, New York, were spared the worst of the storm. While it was cold and windy, we didn’t get a lot of snow and ice. Our hearts go out to places that suffered flooding or blizzard conditions. Erie County, about 200 miles to our west, has reported 25 deaths so far from the intense blizzard.

I did change my plan for when I went to church, in deference to the cold. I decided to attend the 4 PM vigil rather than the 10 PM. We had a prelude program from a wonderful brass quintet from Southern Tier Brass. I especially appreciated their rendition of “Lo, How a Rose” which was arranged from the Brahms organ chorale prelude that I learned when I was in college and which has always been a favorite of mine.

I also loved the introduction to the liturgy, which welcomed everyone whatever their state in life. It meant a lot to me to hear such an explicit statement of universality. The word catholic means universal but the Church has often strayed from that concept. I appreciated hearing this all-encompassing welcome at Christmas-time when people who aren’t members are often in attendance while visiting family or friends.

In the evening, B, T, and I watched Miracle on 34th Street, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. T had never seen it and it had been many years since B and I had watched it. It was a sweet way to spend Christmas Eve.

In the morning, we enjoyed cranberry and date nut bread so breakfast, made by B who does a lot of the cooking and baking, especially over the holidays. We opened stockings and gifts. I was especially pleased to receive a 10th generation iPad from B; our current one is 2nd generation, so definitely a step up!

We had a chance to video chat with our London family when it was mid-morning here and mid-afternoon there. The energy of a two- and a five-year-old was palpable, even five time zones away. B and I were also lucky to have phone conversations with our siblings.

When E and T were young, celebrating Christmas was a days-long endeavor. Christmas Day would be spent with my parents who lived nearby. In the following days, my sisters would arrive with their families for a couple of days and then we would travel to B’s parents’ home in Vermont, which usually involved a celebration with his extended family. Days and days of gifts, socializing, and eating.

With just the three of us, we scaled back on the extent of our traditional holiday fare. B did make lasagna for Christmas dinner, using Nana’s recipe. He also made fresh, artisanal bread and sauteed asparagus, followed by tiramisu for dessert. On Christmas Day, we used to have a variety of homemade Christmas cookies for dessert; we would make eight or so types, sometimes supplemented by homemade dried-fruit fruitcake and chocolate fudge. At the moment, we only have two kinds of cookies, pecan puffs from B’s family recipe and cranberry-pistachio biscotti.

Although our celebration was scaled down this year, it felt right, homey and comfortable and mostly low-stress.

I don’t know if we will ever return to a predictable pattern for Christmas celebrations. With all our elder generation now passed on, it’s unlikely that we will have big, extended family gatherings as we were accustomed. Last year, the first Christmas after Paco passed away, we went to London for three weeks over the holidays, just as the first wave of Omicron was cresting. It was complicated.

The pandemic has reinforced the lesson to expect the unexpected and to be open to change. It’s difficult because we often carve certainty and routine. The parlance you often hear is “return to normal.” For me, there is no way for that to happen – for holidays or for much of the rest of life.

So, this year I will be content with a quiet Christmas, having no idea what next year will bring but hoping I will have the grace and support to handle it.

two years into COVID vaccines

After yet another period of high community risk level for COVID here in Broome County, New York, we have just today returned to medium level. After a post-Thanksgiving spike in infections, we experienced a hospitalization spike which had increased our community risk level. With the US health system also dealing with an early, hard-hitting flu season and RSV, the dreaded triple-demic, in some areas hospitals are reaching capacity and sending patients to other locations. Additionally, infection rates are predicted to rise as family and friends gather for Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year celebrations in the coming weeks.

This comes at a time when only 14.1% of people five and over in the US have received the new bivalent COVID booster, which was designed to better combat the Omicron BA.4/5 variants and is proving effective against the current dominant strains, BQ1 and BQ1.1, which are part of the BA.5 lineage.

Furthermore, a recent study indicates that the US vaccination program likely saved 3.2 million lives and prevented 18.5 million COVID-related hospitalizations. The vaccines are estimated to have averted nearly 120 million infections. Another recent study shows that in the two years of COVID vaccine availability in the US, the excess death rate among Republicans is significantly higher than among Democrats, mirroring the difference in vaccination rates, a sad reflection of the politicization and misinformation around vaccines by many prominent Republicans.

It’s horrifying.

The mistrust sown over the COVID vaccine among Republicans seems to be spreading to other vaccines as well. A newly published survey finds that over 40% of Republican or Republican-leaning respondents oppose requirements for the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) for school children.

This does not bode well for public health measures. It’s frightening how many people will believe politicians or media figures rather than doctors and public health experts on these important issues. People have been infected because they weren’t up to date on vaccinations. People have been hospitalized, developed long COVID, experienced complications, or died at higher rates because they refused vaccines or boosters. The data show this.

Please, get a bivalent COVID booster if you are eligible. Begin or continue the primary vaccination series if you haven’t completed it. If you get symptoms, test immediately and contact a health professional if you test positive to see if antiviral medication is right for you. Don’t go out and expose others if you sick with COVID, flu, or anything else. Mask indoors when infection levels for COVID, flu, RSV, etc. are high in your area. Avoid crowds. Increase ventilation. Wash hands and avoid touching your face – more for flu/cold prevention than COVID. Try to eat and sleep as well as possible.

If you are someone who has been getting health information from pundits, please turn to your personal health care provider, public health department, or national health organizations, such as the CDC. Look for data and advice from public health experts, not anecdotes.

For readers outside the US, turn to your public health experts to see what measures are available and appropriate for you.

Reminder to all: COVID 19 is still a global pandemic. Act accordingly for your health, your household’s and community’s health, and global health.

Triple whammy

There are a lot of people sick with respiratory viruses here in the US.

We are still struggling with COVID. Today’s (Oct. 28, 2022) statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show a weekly case count of 265,893 with 2,649 deaths. The case count is almost certainly low, as many at-home positive tests are never reported to health departments and some jurisdictions don’t gather data at all. The uptake of the reformulated boosters has been poor, with only 7.3% of people age five and over having received an updated booster.

While the community risk level map shows the majority of the country in the low (green) level, the community transmission rate is substantial or high in much of the county. You can see the various maps using a drop down menu here. The community transmission rate is based on case counts and/or positive test results; the community risk map also includes data on other factors, such as hospital admissions and stresses on the health care system. A personal illustration: Although the community risk level in my county (Broome in New York State) has been low in recent days, I have had a rash of friends being sickened with COVID. This is explained by our community transmission rate being high, which is the highest of four levels. (As I was writing this post, the maps were updated. Due to the emerging strains on the health care system, our county community risk just shifted from low to high.)

Meanwhile, the flu season has hit earlier and harder than usual. The predominant strain is H3N2, which is known to have a high incidence of complications, especially among young children, elders, and the medically vulnerable. Like many other illnesses, the effects of inflammation from the flu raise the risk of heart attack and stroke for weeks following the initial infection, further endangering not just personal health but also the stability of medical institutions, such as hospitals. So far this flu season in the US, the CDC reports 880,000 flu cases, with 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 deaths. Generally, flu season starts in October but this year it is running about six weeks earlier than usual.

The third virus that is currently surging is RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). For most people, RSV is like a cold but for infants, young children, and elders it can progress to lung infections. These can lead to hospitalization and even death, especially among elders. Unfortunately, there is not yet a vaccine against RSV. I actually participated in a clinical trial for one a few years ago but none has yet reached a level of effectiveness to be approved.

The triple whammy of COVID plus flu plus RSV has already pushed some pediatric hospitals to the edge of their capabilities. Ironically, the RSV rate is a critical factor. Because so many infants and young children were isolated due to COVID risk and lack of day care/school interaction during the pandemic, there is a much larger group than normal that is vulnerable to RSV infection.

There is also concern that the rate of new cases of all three viruses may climb even higher as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors.

Some things that people can do to help: Vaccinate as appropriate. Wash hands frequently. Avoid touching your face. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay home and away from people as much as possible if you get sick. Mask in crowded places or avoid going to them. Get adequate rest and eat healthy foods. If you develop symptoms, talk to a health care provider so you can get testing and supportive treatments to help keep you from developing more severe symptoms and avert a hospital stay, if possible.

I know some level of sickness is inevitable but we can help cut down the case numbers if we watch out for ourselves and our communities.

BHPC reunion residency 2022

My apologies for the infrequent posts as of late. There has been a string of important events and I haven’t had much time/brain for posting, but I did want to get the word out that I am back at The Studios at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) for the annual reunion residency of the Boiler House Poets Collective.

We have three first-time members joining us this year and there have been some renovations at the Studios. With ever-evolving COVID protocols in addition, things feel somehow new as we make our way together, taking the opportunity to re-vamp our usual routine.

I’m very excited that we will be doing our first public reading in several years on Friday, October 14, 2022 at 4 PM at the Artist Book Foundation in North Adams. If you are in the area, come join us for a sampler of the work of eight members of the Boiler House Poets Collective!

long COVID and ME/CFS

One of the fears that I have about COVID is the risk of experiencing long COVID, where any number of a vast constellation of symptoms occurs for months/years after the acute infection phase.

The symptoms are very similar to those that characterize ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome). I have a family member with ME/CFS, so I am achingly familiar with the level of disability that can result. ME used to be referred to as fibromyalgia in the US, but now the ME designation is more common.

The October 5, 2022 edition of the (US) National Public Radio show On Point features an extensive discussion of long COVID and ME/CFS and how long COVID researchers and clinicians are learning from their peers who have been working for years on ME/CFS. All of these conditions are underdiagnosed and undertreated, so I wanted to share this with all of you. I believe this link will permanently take you to a recording of the episode. If the link breaks, you can try searching from the On Point link above or searching on your favorite podcast platform.

Anyone who has experienced these conditions or seen a loved one contend with them knows how difficult they can be. I want to raise awareness so that everyone affected can get the help they need. I also want everyone to realize that these conditions exist and are serious. Too often, affected people are dismissed and told their symptoms are “all in their heads.” While there is still much to learn, help is available, although it may be difficult to find, depending on the medical resources nearby. I hope we will all support research and treatment expansion so that the millions of people affected get the help they need.

%d bloggers like this: