Today is the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death.
As often happens with these dates, sometimes it seems that it couldn’t have been that long and other times it seems longer ago. This warping of time is even more prominent because of the pandemic. I remain grateful that my mother died before we were all faced with the impossible prospect of not being able to visit her in the nursing home where she spent her final months. That would have been a particularly heavy burden for my father, with whom she had celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary a few weeks before she died.
This year feels especially poignant for me as I await the publication of my first chapbook of poetry, Hearts, from Kelsay Books, most likely in June or July. The poems center on my mother with a particular emphasis on her last years dealing with heart failure. She appreciated my writing and I think she would be pleased to know she is the focus of my first book.
She didn’t enjoy having her picture taken, so I will share a photo, taken four years ago in her final days, of one of her favorite flowers, lily-of-the-valley, which was also her birth flower.
Love you, Mom. Miss you. Still cry every once in a while…
As someone who participated in a COVID vaccine clinical trial, who has other vulnerable people in my life, and who tries to be a diligent and responsible community member, I’ve been following the science, public health information, and news about the pandemic over these last, long 3.5 years. I’ve done so many blog posts about it, I’ve lost count.
As you may know, the World Health Organization and the United States are winding down their public health emergency declarations.
This does not mean, though, that the pandemic itself has ended. COVID-19 is still widespread across the world and hundreds die every day as a result. There is still the potential for new variants and COVID is not yet seasonal, like influenza. Eventually, COVID will become endemic, as the flu is, but we aren’t there yet.
While some US programs, such as tracking hospitalization rates and wastewater testing, will continue, others will end. I will miss the COVID maps and risk ratings that the CDC has been providing. Besides the overall community risk assessment, the transmission rate maps were important to me in deciding how much public masking I needed to do or whether large, indoor gatherings were advisable at all. It’s true that, with so many COVID cases discovered through home testing and never officially recorded, the statistics are not as comprehensive as they were during the months of testing centers, but, for example, it’s helpful for me to know that my county has a moderate transmission rate but the county to our east is currently at the highest transmission rate level, two notches higher than here. Having that information could inform a decision between using a drive-through or dining in on my way through the county, as well as alerting me that the higher infection levels could spread in my direction. After Thursday, that information will not be readily available to me.
I’ll still follow the science and public health advice as best I can and will get my next booster when recommended. I’ll test at home if I have symptoms and avoid being in public when I’m sick with anything, COVID or not. I’ll keep a supply of KF94 masks in my size nearby for high-risk situations that may arise. I’ll try to do all the things we should be doing all the time, like eating well, getting enough rest, and practicing good hygiene.
I still, though, don’t want to get COVID if I can help it. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been infected, although I could have had an asymptomatic case at some point. I know very few people who are in that category these days.
Will the end of the emergency declarations and the resulting decline in data be a factor in my eventually contracting COVID?
This month, my county (Broome in New York) has finally made it into the low community risk level for COVID-19, using the current US Center for Disease Control tracking method. Our community transmission rate is still in the medium category, the second lowest of four categories. Both of these are the lowest levels that I recall seeing since this tracking model went into effect.
In recognition of this, I’ve begun to back off from masking in indoor public spaces. For example, I went to church on Easter and this weekend unmasked. On Friday night, I ate and sang unmasked with Madrigal Choir at a retirement dinner in honor of a Binghamton University professor who is a long-time choir member.
It feels a bit strange after masking for so many months.
I know there is still risk. A friend came down with COVID a few days ago. I had not seen her recently, so I wasn’t exposed, but it’s definitely a reminder that I may not be able to stay COVID-free forever. The number of people I know in the never-been-infected category is tiny at this point.
I don’t want to get sick and I especially don’t want to transmit COVID to someone else but I’m feeling that, with the community risk level at low and major personal events like my two cataract surgeries and visit from our UK branch of the family completed, I can let down my guard a bit. I’ll still be tracking our local statistics so I can put more precautions back in place as warranted.
Madrigal Choir is going into a busy week, getting ready for our final concert of the season next Sunday, so fingers crossed…
A leak of a “low confidence” assessment from the United States Department of Energy that COVID-19 originated from a lab leak in China has set off another round of upset.
The base problem is that no one has access to all the data to come to a definitive conclusion and likely never will.
Most epidemiologists, researchers, and US government departments think that the most likely origin is from markets in Wuhan that dealt with wild animals that harbored the virus which then jumped to people. This article in Science is representative of that opinion. The animal to human route is a common mechanism which we have seen with diseases such as ebola and SARS-CoV-1.
Rather than arguing about lab leaks, we should put our energies toward strategies that will help to avoid or contain future illnesses. Yes to tightening controls at laboratories doing research on pathogens. Yes to limiting exposure to wild animals that can carry diseases to humans. Yes to rapid response and open sharing of information about emerging diseases.
No to wild speculation that is not grounded in fact. For example, there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was lab-engineered rather than naturally occurring. It is irresponsible to share disproven theories.
As I know from public health statistics and recent cases among friends, COVID-19 is still out there, sickening millions and adding to the global death toll of over 6.8 million people. Protect yourself in accord with your local conditions and resources. Vaccinate and receive the bivalent booster if it’s available. Increase ventilation in indoor spaces. Avoid crowds. Wear a high-quality mask indoors when transmission rates are significant. Wash your hands. Take extra caution if you or someone you live with or visit is especially vulnerable due to age, medical condition, etc. Make sure you have accurate, scientifically valid information behind your decisions. Be respectful of those who choose to mask in public. They are trying to protect themselves and their loved ones. It’s possible they are getting over an illness themselves and are being cautious in order to protect you.
At some point, COVID-19 will become endemic. We aren’t there yet. Do your best to be a help, not a hindrance, to that end.
Given that we live in the US and our granddaughters live in the UK, we prize any time that we have together.
Our five-year-old granddaughter ABC lived with us and her mom until she was a bit over two years old. Then, E’s spousal visa came through and they joined their spouse-and-dad in London. We made our first trip “across the pond” a couple of months later, hoping to return again in the spring, but that was 2020 and the pandemic struck, so, no.
We missed the birth and whole first year of granddaughter JG’s life. We met her first on a bittersweet trip here so that E could have a last visit with her grandfather Paco. We will always be grateful that Paco was able to meet JG and that ABC, who remembered him from living here when she was a baby/toddler, was able to see him and dance and sing for him. E was Paco’s first grandchild and it was so important that she got to see him one last time. I’m crying now just thinking about it. It was just after that visit that Paco began his last, steep decline and he died a few weeks later.
That visit had been very confusing for JG. As a pandemic baby, she hadn’t been out of her house very much, much less flown across an ocean and plunked down in a new country with new people. She was also at a developmental time of stranger anxiety, so we had to be careful not to intrude on her comfort zone.
Without having to care for Paco, we were able to make a couple of trips to the UK (although they happened to be during omicron surges); still, JG was not too sure about these people who occasionally appeared on her mom’s computer screen suddenly showing up.
Enter 2023. JG is now almost 2 and a half and having a surge in language development and is able to make connections that she had been too young to make previously. She starts calling us by name when we video chat and wanting to say hi and showing us things. When we went to visit earlier this month, she gave us hugs and played with us and let us pick her up and called us by name and stayed with us at our Airbnb while her mom and dad did errands and snuggled and fell asleep cuddled on the couch.
For the first time, she knew we were her grandparents, her mom’s mom and dad. Correction: her mum‘s parents, as mom is the more common American expression and she is, of course, adopting the more British mum.
What a prize! I had been afraid that JG wouldn’t really remember us because we are so far away and that occasional visits wouldn’t be enough to establish a real relationship with her as we have enjoyed with her sister ABC.
Transatlantic grandparenting will still be challenging. I don’t have personal experience with such a long distance between grandparents and grandchild, but I think we’ll figure it out.
We are hopeful that E and her family will be here in April for Easter, JG’s first trip back since she came to meet Paco just after she turned one. I don’t think she will remember having been here, although ABC will probably still remember every nook and cranny of our house and yard, as she did when they came back to see Paco a year and a half ago.
It was a week ago that we said our good-byes to fly back to the States. Anticipating a visit from them in just a few weeks made it easier to leave them. Although JG won’t remember the house, she will remember us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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!