Last night I read a CNN article written by a therapist — John Duffy — that described people who weren’t all that anxious to return to “normal” life after the pandemic was over. “These people thrived in pandemic isolation — and aren’t ready to return to ‘normal’ socializing.”

The writer essentially labeled such people as “socially anxious” and described it as a kind of pathology. Personally, I don’t think being reluctant to wander around in a world in which a deadly pandemic is flying around is pathological but definitively sane. I know that social avoidance CAN be a problem for people, but not all people who are not super eager to return to “normal” life are struggling with a mental health issue. One thing the article never mentioned was people like me who do things — enjoy things — that you just don’t do with a bunch of friends or out in the world.

I remember very well the night I typed the last word on the finished rough draft of my first novel, Martin of Gfenn. I had little time to work on it — an hour or so in the evening which made the finished (ha ha) draft very repetitive because I had to catch up where I’d left off. Anyhoo I shut down my computer (an old Apple) stood up and wondered where everybody was. I’d spent so much time with all these interesting people, the characters in my book, and now my house was completely empty. It was one of those moment in life when you think there should be champagne and a big celebration but my house was empty (except for six dogs). That’s when I realized that to write I’d have to accept a kind of solitude most people might never even know.

At the same time, I’d had this incredible experience that was impossible to share with anyone. I’d written a novel. I’d brought my story, my vision, for Martin (the character) into real life. I’d done the work, the immense research, all of it, the library time (back then). Because of my book, I KNEW people who’d lived in the 13th century. The experience catapulted me into a different Martha, but I couldn’t share that, either. I remember sitting in my living room thinking, “If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to accept solitude.”

My mom had social anxiety and she was always afraid her kids would, too. It was one of the reasons she didn’t want her two artistic kids to be artists. “You’ll always be alone.” But she didn’t know. Maybe the great designer puts each of us together exactly right for who we are.

I don’t dispute that there are people with social anxiety and that maybe it’s a problem for them (it was for my mom because she wasn’t happy). But not all people who are less than eager for a return to “normal” life fit into that slot. I came to understand this when I was teaching. There were meetings in which NOTHING happened. Problems weren’t solved. Some people talked and some people didn’t. I seldom did. Then someone would end the meeting and invariably say, “This was a good meeting. Thank you so much for sharing your concerns.” They would point to a list they’d written while the talkers were talking.

Two things went through my mind. First, only the concerns of the people who’d spoken up were on that list. Second, the REAL reason for the meeting had nothing to do with solving problems. These people just needed to get in a room together and yammer at each other. The act itself was meaningful to them. For me it was a complete waste of time. When I felt something needed to be changed I’d go find the person who could change it and talk to them or write them so they could share my thoughts clearly and compellingly laid out rather than in an emotion-laden rambling rant.

Social anxiety or not, we’re stuck in the world with each other and extroversion is “normal.” Many an introvert (like me) has no particular social anxiety, it’s just that “out there” is tiring and requires effort that being alone probably requires for the extroverted. I have friends who’ve had significant stress during the past year because they have been precluded from doing the things that they love to do. They’ve engaged socially much more than I would (or did). For them the risk of NOT engaging was worse than the risk of getting ill.

“A year ago, most of us could not imagine a world in which we not only didn’t have to go to work, school, restaurants, concerts and churches, much less that any such activity would be forbidden. And my socially anxious clients have now been basking in a wholly false sense of security for the better part of a year.”


In other words, the world in which the socially anxious are comfortable can’t last. They don’t own the world.

And then…in reality when I was 12, and had to give a prayer at church, in front of the congregation, I passed out, fell on the floor, humiliated myself and my mom. I was THAT afraid of public speaking. I knew even then that I could not live the life I wanted if I was that afraid to stand and say my say. I worked hard to overcome that. The moment I knew I HAD overcome that happened almost 40 years later, when, at the invitation of one of my students, I gave a lecture (one I’d given to this student’s class) on overcoming the fear of public speaking. There were 300 students in that room waiting to hear me. Some were there because it was required or extra credit for their communication class; some were there because they wanted some hope. They, too, knew they couldn’t go forward in their lives without overcoming that. I had a good slide show and a good speech. I also wore clothes in which my armpit sweat wouldn’t show because yes. I was terrified. But what’s the point of terror like that? There is none. It was a bit of an operation to set up and prepare, but…

I gave my speech. It was well accepted, applauded. Then, afterward, when nearly everyone had left and I was packing up my stuff, a young woman came to talk to me. She was so nervous her face was shaking, her hands were damp and shaky, too.

“Can I ask you something?” she ventured.


“Did you REALLY get over being afraid?”

“No.” I slipped off my jacket. My pit stains went to my waist.

“How do you do it? I never imagined you were nervous.”

“I had something important to say,” I told her. “More important than how I felt when I started to speak. That’s my secret. I think of what I have to say and who needs to hear it. And, I prepare. And I know that whatever happens, it’s not going to kill me.”

She wrote all this down, no longer shaking. Then, “Thank you, thank you so much. I think you helped me.”

ONE person in that room NEEDED that message. Was her personality a pathology? No.

But after that…I gave several papers at conferences and all the normal things that were part of my life and job, but I was (with the exception of my book reading in 2019) never nervous again. Social anxiety — which I believe everyone has — is not “abnormal.” It’s human.

De-compressing, continued.

I spent the morning cleaning up half of the front yard before the wind came up. Tomorrow is supposed to be chilly again so Bear and I will be free. While few cranes remain in the Valley, a few flew over me this morning.

As I have been maybe subconsciously involved in decompressing from the past five years, and the last year in particular, I’m sometimes overcome with realizations of what’s happened and the emotions that go with them. Today it was the realization that more than half a million people died in this country from Covid-19. That’s an incomprehensible number. That statistic — like a lot of other things — I pushed down inside because there was nothing I could do about it, no way to change it, no way to understand, no useful way to express my anger at Trump for his cavalier handling of the virus (i.e.“And I said to my people, slow the testing down.” -Donald J Trump, April, 2020), no way to provide knowledge to the people — doctors and nurses — who were struggling to save lives and comprehend a new and unpredictable illness at the same time. How must they have felt when their ignorance led to deaths? And it did, through no fault of the doctors or nurses. When my cousin got sick, it was late enough in the disease’ trajectory that the hospital knew pretty well what to do.

A friend I was talking to earlier said, “Remember Anderson Cooper when the number hit 200,000? His face was red, he was so angry and so sad.”

I do remember that, though, like a lot of things over this past year, it was pushed away in the bin of “SEP” — the “somebody else’s problem” forcefield from the Hitchhiker’s Guide, a forcefield that renders things invisible. It’s a useful tool when there really is NOTHING you can do to ameliorate a situation or solve a problem and it’s really NOT your problem, but I’ve had to use it too much in the past 12 months. Along with the “problem” I hid my feelings from myself.

Yesterday morning, I went looking for my copy of Goethe’s Faust. My thought was to write about Easter as depicted in the opening act of the play. It’s beautiful and Eastery, but as soon as I started reading, I knew I wasn’t going to post about that on Easter, and I didn’t.

I haven’t read Faust in many years. As I plunged into it yesterday, I felt a real sense of calm. This is good work written by a man with serious questions struggling with fiction/drama using an ancient “hero” (Faust) to confront a lot of big questions. One of the questions early in the play is the limits of human knowledge. Faust’s father was a doctor (as is Faust) and when the public thanks him and his father (posthumously) for the good work they did in saving people from the plague, Faust backs away from their gratitude, telling his student, Wagner, that he is sure his father and he killed more people than they saved, not out of malice but out of their ignorance.

“The medicine was there, and though the patient died,
Nobody questioned: who got well?
In these same mountains, in this valley,
With hellish juice worse than the pest.
Though thousands died from poison that I myself would give
Yes, though they perished, I must live,
To hear the shameless killers blessed.”

It made me sad to read that.

If you know the story of Faust, he ended up selling his soul to the Devil to finally find out the ultimate truth behind the phenomena of nature. Christopher Marlowe’s Faust hasn’t stayed with me except as a good story well-told and entertaining. Goethe’s is, I think, more complex. Faust struggles with the fact that the Devil turns out to be a pretty superficial little shit who leads him into temptation without helping him understand anything or get closer to the answers he seeks.

Goethe’s love of nature shines in everything I’ve read, and so, here is this beautiful, resonant thing that is the truth about humans and why, maybe, we thank the doctor for having done the best he/she could and we move on, letting the dark pain emerge when and as it will. Anyway, it speaks for me as did the small group of late cranes calling out as they flew over me this morning, above the low clouds, where I could not see them.

“Our body grows no wings and cannot fly,
Yet it is innate in our race
That our feelings surge in us and long
When over us, lost in the azure space
The lark trills out her glorious song;
When over crags where fir trees quake
In icy winds, the eagle soars,
And over plains and over lakes,
The crane returns to homeward shores.”

Goethe, Faust Part I


Yesterday I made what I have imagined would be my final pilgrimage to pick up groceries. I remembered the first time when I was apprehensive about even finding the right place to pick them up (easy to find). Now I ace this grocery pick up thing. As I listened to the car radio (which played my favorite song and anthem) I wondered about the future.

I have thought a lot about how relatively easy it has been to develop totally new habits. I remembered before Covid seeing young people, grocery store employees, wandering around the store, picking things up, putting them on three shelved carts and then checking out the stuff. I thought, “Who’s organized enough to do that?” I didn’t know how easy it was. The only thing I’ve missed out on is the rare occasions my store might have something like Swiss Emmenthaler cheese.

I had semi-resolved that next week I will go into the store because my vaccine will have kicked in. As I waited for my stuff in the parking lot I thought about that some more. This is really easy. I go online, I find my stuff, I choose a day and time, I pay, I drive, I wait a few minutes, I get my stuff and come home. I don’t go to any store in the middle of the week because I did a thorough job by choosing my stuff online. I very very rarely forget anything. A trip that was once a two hour chunk of a day + random trips for forgotten items is now an hour. (I have a 20 minute drive to the store…)

I thought, “Why would I change back to the old ways?” Suddenly I knew I wouldn’t. Why should I?

So now I’m curious. What changes have you made to accommodate Covid that you’re going to stick with, other than maybe continuing to wear a mask?

After the Shot…

Some of you had questions about what happened after my second shot since a lot of us are getting to that point in our Covid trajectory.

I had my second Moderna Covid vaccine four days ago. I expected (hoped for?) some side effects because I’d had some after the first one, specifically I was very tired for two or three days after. When I got my second shot the nurse explained that there were often MORE side effects with the second vaccine because my body would have anti-bodies against Covid-19 and they would get into formation and charge the enemy (my metaphor, not hers).

The night after the shot, my neck and shoulders hurt and it was a hard to sleep. I cannot take NSAIDs, but I can take Tylenol, which I did. It’s not always very effective, so I took a B complex, also. It’s amazing how effective they can be against pain.

The next day I felt OK, I only had a sore arm and a minor upset stomach. In the evening, briefly, I had chills. Sunday I was fine. Monday, also, just a little tired and cranky, and I couldn’t taste jalapeño peppers.

This morning I noticed a large, red spot at the injection site. Later, after I took a shower, I saw that the inside of my left leg looked like someone had sprayed it with an airbrush and an incredible amount of cheap blush. No spots or anything. As we all do, I went to Dr. Google who had nothing to say about body rashes after the shot. There is a LOT about the arm rash (common occurrence) but nothing about body rashes.

So I emailed my doctor and described the rash. It didn’t seem like anything urgent to me, but I still thought I should find out if it WERE important. My physician’s assistant called me a little later and said she’d had the same but it had turned to hives and was very itchy. She recommended cortisone cream or Benadryl and said if it gets worse to call the clinic.

I guess the bottom line here is that it’s good to be aware that stuff can happen. I’m actually happy. All of these are Covid symptoms but sporadic and mild — at least so far — and the first shot is busy chasing down the bad guys in the second shot and converting them to allies.

That’s the physical stuff. Psychologically I have NO idea where I am right now. That’s another kind of side effect of the Covid vaccination. I’m sure some people can’t wait to jump back into whatever they were doing when this all started. I’m actually doing cooler stuff now than I have ever done before.

Vaccinum consummavi

I am vaccinated. My neighbor had an appointment at the same time, and, as fate and small towns would arrange it, I followed them to the rodeo grounds in Alamosa where the “Vaccine Event” was set up. I took Teddy because I didn’t want to go by myself. I wore my Dead Kennedys T-shirt for obvious reasons — short sleeves and I don’t want to be a dead Kennedy. The dark and jagged humor pleased me.

When I entered the driveway, a friendly woman gave me a clip board with papers to fill out. She noticed Teddy, and we held up traffic talking about Australian shepherds. Nobody honked at me to hurry up, get moving, illustrating once again that I’m not in California any more.

As with the last event, this one was filled with very happy people. Seriously can you think of anything that would make people happier than knowing that they are doing something that’s going to save peoples lives, bring back their jobs, prevent them from falling ill. After my shot, Teddy and I waited in my car listening to music. Teddy wanted to meet all the people, but Teddy wears a seatbelt in the car so he wasn’t going anywhere. A nice woman came up to check on me and said, “Is he OK? He seems anxious.”

“He just wants to meet everyone.”

I could tell she wanted to meet Teddy, too, but since that couldn’t happen, we talked about dogs. Then she told me what to expect from my shot in the next few days. I soon got the impression that she was a nurse, doctor or university professor. “The worse you feel, the more it means the antibodies from the first shot are working, attacking, the, uh, icky guys in the vaccine. ‘Icky’ is a scientific term.”

“Latin, right?” I said, “Like ‘ickius magnus‘.”

“Yes. ‘ickii’.”

“The plural?”

After our fifteen minute wait, Teddy and I came home. Last night my arm started to hurt pretty bad and then my neck and shoulders. I can’t take anti-inflammatories so I hit it with a Vitamin B complex which worked well enough that I could finally get to sleep. So, the paradox is that I don’t want to feel lousy but, thanks to that nice woman, I’m also hoping that I’m hit with ickus magnus.

I’m sure Teddy has no idea what we were doing yesterday, but he seems to have liked it.

There’s something sobering about this whole thing. I can’t wrap my head around it and haven’t been able to this whole time.

~ ~ ~

The featured photo is my neighbor’s little boy looking out the window of their car at the tables set up where we wold get our shots.


“What a Long Strange Trip…”

I feel like I’ve been in a storm for the past year. As I read the latest text this morning from the people who are giving me my vaccine, confirming the location change they advised me of yesterday, I thought, “this has been so fucking weird.” I realized that I developed a position where I could stay a little balanced and now I’m afraid to disturb it. I think I’ll just go draw more pictures.

Box elder bug


Finished Reading…

It wasn’t exactly a behemoth job, but it was a lot of books. I’m finished now.

As you might expect, there were books dedicated to or written about the pandemic. I generally found that a little odd since we don’t know how it turns out yet, but I understand the urge to write about the experience, to get it out where a person can see it. As today is apparently the anniversary of the day The WHO called it a pandemic, I’ll tell you a little about what I found.

I decided to look at those books as if I were a historian in the future. Any first person rendering of a moment in time can be useful, but a historian needs more than that to understand well. Out of the pandemic books one stood out as useful to a future historian because it comprised many voices, was focused on ONE location and was filled with photographs. It is an anthology of brief reminiscences by “ordinary” people. A journalist who lost his job but is out there taking photos anyway. A woman who, with her husband, is “sheltering in place” in a New Jersey apartment. A woman who works with substance abusers. Another woman with the courage to describe “lucky deaths” — people who were already dying of something worse who ended up dying of Covid. A young woman and her boyfriend who finally get together for dinner, but don’t touch. The stories are simple, every-day and short. They are every historian’s dream. “This is where I was and this is what I saw. This is what I did.” The book is “of the moment” in that very few writers attempt to analyze the experience. They are truly “being there then.”

The book is Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter. Its focus is the first four months of the pandemic in New York City and New Jersey where the death rates were high and the health system struggled to help all those who needed it.

Proceeds from the book go to feeding the hungry in America. If you want a memento of this time, this is a good one.

Someone asked me yesterday about whether I have to read all these books cover-to-cover. No. I have a rubric, a judging sheet, with “points”. In my first pass, I look at each book as a whole, a product. Some books disqualify themselves from winning for various reasons — being submitted in the wrong category, poor grammar, visual appearance, design impeding the message. Some people actually have their books printed in pale gray ink or use tiny fonts or bleed the print into the spine of the book. When I open one of these I ask the writer, “Did you think NO ONE would EVER read this?” It’s easy when you put your own book together to forget someone ELSE might actually READ it. Physical readability is important. My books would be disqualified by me on the basis of rampant typos and, I guess, that’s exactly what happened when I entered this contest a hundred years ago. The books that don’t fail in these areas — and most books don’t fail — I read cover-to-cover.

Then comes the moment of determining the book’s value to its intended audience. This is the most important question. In some categories there is a very wide range of books, from kids’ books to legal guides. The books are all basically in the same category but have widely divergent audiences. I enjoy imagining the audience for each book and thinking of how the book would be used or appreciated by the person for whom the book was written.

I have to contend with my biases, too. I don’t think anyone can fully overcome this, but it’s good to challenge them. I’m not a fan of self-help books or any flavor of spirituality. I know there is an immense audience for these two kinds of books, but that audience is never me. This is a hard thing for me to deal with when I am judging one of these books, and imagining its REAL audience is so helpful.

I love this job. Oddly, I’ve even been trained for it. One of my responsibilities as a writing teacher at a university was reading exit writing proficiency exams. We were a team of maybe a dozen instructors who met for one grueling Saturday from 8 am until whenever every semester to read thousands of tests that would determine whether the students would graduate that semester or be required to come back one more semester for one more writing class. Since a lot of students think of writing classes as something to “get through” another “stupid requirement” they pretty much hated this and many felt betrayed. “I’m going to be an engineer not a writer!” But clear communication matters in every field and we didn’t want employers who came to us for graduates to bitch that our graduates were illiterate.

You can imagine that all of us were a little insane by 3 pm on those Saturdays.



A lot of us are going to emerge from this chrysalis we’ve been in — to one extent or another — and we’re going to be butterflies our friends don’t recognize. Maybe we won’t recognize them, either, maybe we won’t recognize ourselves as we flit around awkwardly in milieus that were once familiar.

I’m just a few weeks away from that moment, and while I would not wish this pandemic, this virus, or this strange year on anybody (not even myself) I have mixed feelings about “getting back to normal.” I don’t know how I feel about that normal. It was OK at the time but was it REALLY OK? I don’t know. Most people have probably done more to retain a “normal” life than I have. I felt early on that if the existence of a disease and its possible consequences could be politicized, and people could BELIEVE it didn’t have the sorrowful potential it has had, I didn’t want to play. I didn’t want to know who among my neighbors didn’t “believe in it” any more than I wanted to know which were passionate Trumpists. Here and now is the location of our lives.

Yesterday I went to the Post Office and saw that my town has decorated itself for a Crane Festival it isn’t having. It looks beautiful. There are banners hanging from light posts and fastened below are beautifully hand-painted steel cranes that will be auctioned off this coming summer. The sun was shining, it was a warm March day. People waved at me, which was at first surprising, but then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I live here, and I was famous that time.” It isn’t that I haven’t been out at all, I have, but on the verge of emerging it felt different.

ANY-hoo I have one category of books to evaluate, a pretty large one, so I’d better put my nose to the grindstone.


COVID Ponderings (and Akbash Dogs)

Since I got the first shot, I’ve been trying to understand the invisible effects of the pandemic on me. I know, solipsistic, but something’s happened. COVID-19 appeared in Colorado almost exactly a year ago, March 5, though now it’s believed it was here in January. I remember taking a long walk (big surprise) and thinking about what it would mean for me. I believed that my responsibility to the world and my community was simply not to get sick. Our hospitals are small and since I am not obliged to do anything like go to work, and I’m not caring for anyone, I could easily “isolate” and I did.

I’m sure everyone’s “Covid story” follows a pattern and it’s likely our patterns are somewhat similar.

In my small life the pattern is essentially the same as depicted in these memes, but with some differences. The second image (going left from the top) is everyone around me scurrying to make masks for our hospitals and discussing what we all could do. The image bottom left is everyone realizing that this isn’t going away any time soon and feeling haggard, tired and a little betrayed. This isn’t supposed to happen to us!!! The bottom right is resignation. I hit the Nutella in picture two, top, but decided that was a bad idea unless I wanted to buy a lot of new clothes. It’s amazing, though, how many psychological problems are healed by Nutella. I hit the bottom left picture (middle version) a few days ago when I woke up thinking, “I want that damned shot NOW!” I’m still there.

The shot left my arm very sore and me very tired for three days. It also shoved in front of me the reality that this life I’ve chosen, and to which I’ve adapted, is going to come to an end. Since I have come to understand through this year (thanks to the cranes) that what matters most in life is life itself, specifically my life, I’ve been wondering if many of the things we do are nothing more than time fillers and illusions. We need human connection, but, at the same time there is no human connection without human life. That was one of the first things that struck me on those early COVID walks. “If I’m not here any more, then I’m not hanging out with my friends.”

The sudden and necessary prioritization of self was shocking until I realized that we rely on others to take care of themselves. That’s what makes a person trustworthy, knowing that that person is NOT going to throw him/herself willy-nilly into oblivion. That is (I think) why sane people reacted so vehemently to DJT (jokingly?) telling people to inject bleach and Dr. Scarf not standing up for medical science (and herself). Deep inside each creature (I believe) is a small wise voice saying, “There’s a meteorite around every corner. Break the ice in the trough or die.” I see the cattle out there finding the ONE warm place, a pile of dung, on which to lie during the deep cold.

I’m not the same person I was in March 2020, and I’m not sure I want to “return” to that person. I can’t NOT know what I’ve learned in this interval. Are you the same person or has this experience launched you into self-discovery, too?

In other news, here’s a video that shows what Akbash dogs (like Bear) do when they have a job:



Communication is challenging, and yesterday I had some experiences that reminded me how difficult it is, maybe especially in writing, but I’m not sure about that. I think voice and 3D are fraught with dangers, too. I have a friend with an old Golden retriever. The dog is having trouble going up and down the small flights of stairs in my friend’s house. The friend is anxious that he’s going to have to put the dog to sleep soon.

I said, “I was thinking that B doesn’t get a lot of exercise. Maybe if you just started taking him on short walks he’d regain some muscle. It would help with his arthritis, too.” (I know this because I have arthritis.) My goal — to give my friend something positive to do with his dog that might help (and his dog might like). I got?

“Why are you always telling me what to do? I don’t want to argue.” I wasn’t telling him what to do, and I wasn’t arguing. BUT to assert that would lead to an argument AND whether or not he walked his dog wasn’t my business. I remembered again that, in one way or another, we’re all fucked up.

A couple more experiences like that via my blog yesterday, and, this morning I realized (again), “It’s very very difficult to make sense to other people. Everyone (me too) is in their own head, and we don’t always (ever?) understand what another person says.” That’s why we often think, “I wish I’d said this instead of that.” It’s possibly exacerbated because in the last year we’ve all lived a lot more in our own little worlds added to the increasingly polemical and aggressive social and political culture everywhere. So much of my social life has been here on this blog.

This morning the band-aid fell off the site of the vaccine, and I was happy to see it is a yellow band-aid with Daffy Duck on it. The side effects are a sore arm and a little tiredness. The backbone seems fine.