icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


Virus Without Borders: Chapter Sixty-Two


Interlude; Buds & Bees



In a dark time, the eye begins to see…


-Theodore Roethke



When the bees are swarming around the hives, we know that they have survived the winter and that spring is here, or nearly here, and that the queen bee has been protected by the worker bees, huddling together in the man-made hives to stay warm, using the nourishment of the well-preserved and preservative honey for fuel, though not much is needed when there are no blossoms to pollinate. My daughter was not certain if they were visiting bees, awake from wintering, searching out the remnant honey, or indigenous bees that they had nurtured last season. Bees can travel a ways, which can be a problem when one neighbor lays down pesticide and the other doesn't. But the sight of those bees, the soft thrum of their ricocheting flight, made us stop our walk through the homestead and marvel at the beauty of returning life and the miracle of survival itself. We thought of friends and family, near acquaintances and far, even colleagues, who did not make it through the winter. We thought of their loved ones.


It was a too-warm day. We let the dogs lead us onto a well-worn wooded path. Detritus of storms everywhere—a harsh winter exacerbating our lockdowns, ice not fully receded. Yet the fruit trees are budding and the frogs have returned to the pond after their winter hibernation—soon there will be an orgy, my daughter explained. Like the bees, they dig deep into the blanket of the earth and stay very still until the earth turns again. We reveled in the chorus of their joyful croaking, eager to disturb their song by piercing the cold pond water with our vaccinated bodies.

Post a comment

Virus Without Borders: Chapter Sixty-One


Passing Judgment




The fact that behavior is commonplace does not mean it should be mistaken for behavior that is normal.


-Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, March 15, 2021

"How Parties Die"



I've been thinking about Governor Cuomo all morning and began to write this post as I was swimming laps. I've been loading up on well reported descriptions of a toxic workplace environment, the accusations of the Governor's female employees, the nursing home fiasco, and even worse, the cover-up. If true, none of this is good news. We relied on this elected official's leadership during the pandemic and were in thrall to every pronouncement at his weekly news conferences. We took his advice and we trusted him. Many women friends of mine joked that they were standing in line to date the Governor; he was hot, he was competent, he gave us clear instructions. The revelations of recent weeks don't change any of that except for one thing: many of his staff were suffering, and not from Covid. And though none of the allegations have been proven, and must be proven before we pass our final judgment, it is difficult to keep that judgment in abeyance when we feel shocked and disappointed. Nonetheless, we must. The abrogation of the rule of law these last four years has damaged our democracy. I find the prospect of trial by media rather than trial by jury as troubling as anything the Governor did or might have done. Have we succumbed once again to America's "persecuting spirit," as described by Nathaniel Hawthorne and amplified by McCarthyism? 


Here are my more specific thoughts in no particular order:


1.    Has the Governor been living in such a protected bubble that he's by-passed the protocols of sexual harassment law? They are very specific, stipulated by New York State law. At NYU I must review this law with a video course and answer questions before re-entering the classroom every term. Did the Governor, in fact, take the course?


2.    Would it be possible to view the Governor's alleged sexual advances as pathetic rather than malevolent? Or desperate rather than malevolent? The attempts to connect sound as inappropriate and immature as a teenager's. Except for the "groping" allegation, they are not violent.


3.    Andrew Cuomo was known as the "enforcer" for his father, Mario, when Mario was Governor. This backstory is well known and proven. Tough guy. Strongman. If it's true that he still bullies, shouts, and threatens to obliterate, why hasn't  there been a protest by the women and the men who have worked for him all these years?  Has he only hired men and women who are easily intimidated? Are his staff so eager and ambitious that they'll swallow all aggressive and abusive behavior?


4.    Last but not least, as a mom of a strong daughter, who forced her to take karate until she got her black belt, I do have some questions about the women who have come forward. I believe them totally, but I also am concerned that accomplished ambitious women still do not speak up, or know what to say in situ—providing there is no threat of violence. Did the women in this story have any responsibility, any agency at all, or were they only victims? I hope not.


 I am reminded of the complex and troubling discussion about Pablo Picasso's misogyny and Woody Allen's pedophilia. Must we disregard the art, destroy our pleasure in it—if we can still feel pleasure in it--or does the work stand alone, apart from the biography? Will Governor Cuomo be remembered for his management of the pandemic in New York State,  the allegations against him, or for the results of the investigations once they are delivered?

Post a comment

Virus Without Borders: Chapter Sixty


False Ending



People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible forever for what you've tamed. You're responsible for your rose."


           ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "The Little Prince"



I was talking to my college friend, Dr. Stephen Goodman, a frontline worker all these past months, and he told me that he was sorry I'd ended Virus Without Borders. Had I ended it? He wasn't sure. Nor was I, as it turned out. I'd had a week of endless work-related distractions, most of them unpleasant, and the grounding of writing a VWB post at  the end of the week was missing. I had tried writing a "regular" post about returning to fiction, rereading a couple of novels to prepare for a new writing escapade, but nothing worked. I was stuck, not blocked, but stuck. Fully vaccinated, I'd assumed there was nothing else I had to say about the pandemic and that it was time to move on. But we are not finished with this plague, far from, and there is a  lot more to say about it, a lot more to document. Just look at the numbers, consider the variants, think about the scramble for vaccines, the insanity of governors re-opening their states completely, the  re-opening of public schools. I will be back in the classroom in September. Will it be safe? Will I be teaching with a mask on, or off? Will the union committee I am on insist on proper ventilation before we re-enter the classroom? And so on.


It's as though we've escaped from a war zone but are still inside the war zone, hampered, trampled, halfway home but still at risk. Sitting outdoors at a café with a couple of local friends, celebrating my birthday with a decaf  latte, skim milk, and a vegan chocolate chip cookie, we raised our arms in a hallelujah, and beyond one singular birthday, celebrated all our birthdays, and our survival. Then we tried to figure out what we could and could not do now that we are fully vaccinated. Our children have not been vaccinated and are still super cautious, hyper-vigilant at times, as they must be. And though we see an ending, beyond the false ending we are now living, it will not be definitive like a light switch going off. Closure maybe, a return to activity, and an assessment of the economic, political and personal challenges that lie ahead, but not a definitive ending and a return to what some call "normalcy." No, life will be different, that is a given. And though the plot seems to be heading to a conclusion, dear reader, there's still more to the story.

Be the first to comment

Virus Without Borders: Chapter Fifty-Nine

"Inner Freedom" © copyright by Malak Mattar 2021. Malak is a Palestinian artist from Gaza who is now studying in Istanbul. As my March birthday is also the one year anniversary of sheltering-in-place, I decided to treat myself to one of Malak's paintings. 


Inner Freedom



I've always wanted to write a poem that ends/at the ocean. How the poem gets there doesn't much matter, just so at last/it arrives.


-Jim Moore, from "Poem That Ends at the Ocean"



Since I became a writer, I have always wanted to write one book a year. These past few years I have almost fulfilled this ambition, but I never thought I would get to Chapter 59, much less 35 or 40 or 50 in Virus Without Borders. I never imagined that a dedicated blog by that domain name—one  I own—would  be hacked by bad actors, and that I'd have to shift it to my more secure Authors Guild site, or that I'd only be writing about the pandemic and putting other projects aside for an entire year. Indeed, the blog/ book began to feel like the pandemic itself: unending.


It began as a project to maintain a writer's discipline, to keep track of time passing or fading away, to process the constant challenges we have all experienced, to acknowledge the struggle, mourn the dead, and to document my personal experience of the pandemic. My intention was to write one chapter every week or ten days, and when the pandemic was over, to donate the book blog—or blog book, I never could decide—to an archive somewhere for future historians to use. I am sure many other writers and artists will do the same. But the pandemic is far from over and won't be for a long while. What else do I have to say about it? We all know the deal: vaccinate as fast as we can, continue vigilance and safety protocols, and return to life and justice initiatives with other survivors—friends, families, colleagues, neighbors, kindred spirits. We are survivors. Will it be difficult to accept that very fact? 


I  am gratified that this blog/book has sustained me and others. Some readers have written to me privately with their own comments and stories, some have commented on the website's comments function. I hope that I'll continue to see you on the same Authors Guild site in the weeks and months ahead, that this post today is a coda for Virus Without Borders, but not the end of connection between this writer and her readers. As the restrictions of the pandemic recede, we can move on together and continue a conversation. I'll be returning to ruminations, interviews, reviews and stories about writing, the writing life, and much else, some still pandemic related, some not. All the posts, including Virus Without Borders, are archived, dating back to 2008. Dip in. Enjoy. Comment. Share your stories.



Post a comment