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When My Fitbit Talks to Me


We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.


-Marshall McLuhan



My husband bought me my second  Fitbit for our anniversary. The first one died just out of warranty several years ago and I didn't replace it. And though, in general, I resist tracking, and don't need incentive to exercise, I'm enjoying my new and improved Fitbit.


Does it matter that I am being surveilled from afar? Yes and no. I find it interesting that, except for the step counter, most of  the functions stop working when I am indoors, hidden from the eyes of various satellites; they click in again when I am outside. Therefore, it follows, that when the GPS is fully engaged, Fitbit, despite disclaimers and promises, knows exactly where I am a lot of the time, and is selling this information to someone or other somewhere. Does this matter? Not to me. Not one whit. I'm not a rapacious consumer and really don't care.


I have a cousin who keeps her Fitbit on at night. It lets her know how she is sleeping and if she still has a heartbeat. Of course, she has to wake up in the morning to find her pulse underneath her Fitbit, which has already recorded her spectral data. Let sleeping bones lie, I say, without the intrusion of yet another electronic device.


My husband wisely chose a fashionable black Fitbit. It's very thin and light, and goes well with everything I wear, which is mostly work-out clothes now that I live far away from glamorous urban streets. And it talks to me, or sends me messages, white letters on the black screen. Forgive the paraphrases as I barely read them, though I know they are designed and written to affirm and reinforce my efforts:


           Time to get ready for bed.

           You've really accomplished something. Give yourself a hug.

           Don't forget to breathe.

           Take a break.


The first time I took my new Fitbit into the pool I forgot to start the swim function. That's what I told myself. In truth, my glasses were packed away and I couldn't see it. No worries! When I checked the app on my phone, the app and the Fitbit  perfectly synched, Mr./Ms/Mrs. Fitbit told me, in so many words, that it/they/him/her/he noticed I'd been swimming. Well done!  


We all need reinforcement, so they say. Not me. I'm reinforced enough. Mostly I am enjoying my Fitbit because I can see the time, albeit only when I am indoors, I can praise myself for reaching my "goals," which are more or less the same every day, and I can admire the way the really cool wearable electronic device looks on my wrist.


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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 80

Early in the pandemic, before masks, long before vaccinations, the author ventures out in her home-made hijab. Photo © copyright Jim Bergman 2020.




What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died...


from "Small Talk"

by Eleanor Lerman



I thought she was a nice woman, a woman who might become a friend. I'd given her my card, chatted poolside, but when I met her in the locker room this past Saturday, a small space, and asked her to put on her mask, she refused.  "Well I don't know, Carol, I've been vaccinated," she said. 


I tried to explain what I'd heard, what I knew about breakthrough infections, the refusal of our gym to institute a mask mandate for everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, as Mayor De Blasio has smartly ordered in the city.  I tried to calm down. At least she's vaccinated, I thought. It had taken her a while, but she'd done it, finally.


Still, I decided right then and there that we couldn't be friends. It was the defiance. Her brother-in-law was visiting, they had been partying the night before. "So you've had exposure to someone outside the area," I said. "As has my husband. He was in the city yesterday. So I'll keep my mask on to protect you." 


"Well I don't know, Carol, I'm vaccinated," she repeated, sarcastically this time. The definition of sarcasm is "tearing flesh." That's what her retort felt like.


"Have you heard of asymptomatic exponential contagion?" I asked, ever the professor.  I tried not to condescend, but I was upset.


"You seem to have the inside scoop. You've always had the inside scoop." 


No sarcasm this time, just impatience. She must have been referring to our brief conversations before she got vaccinated. She was a resister, a defiant ill-informed skeptic. How did that get broken down, I wondered?  It wasn't me that had done it.


"No inside scoop. I just read," I said.  "I listen. I pay attention. So many stories. We're not done with this pandemic yet."


She left in a huff, a trail of disappointment and frustration behind her; my disappointment, my frustration.


It's the first time in my life I've not been able to persuade, or inform, or educate. The defiance has become a wall, deeper, stronger and more insistent than simple resistance to the facts, or an ignorance of the facts.  It's aggressive, confrontational, the battlefield of our divided country.


Those who care and those who don't. Is that a place to begin to understand this unpleasant moment? Maybe this woman, who I had thought might be a friend, doesn't know anyone who died, or lost her job, or couldn't travel to visit her family three-thousand miles away and then missed her father's last days. Maybe she's been living in a snug pod all these months oblivious to the suffering of her neighbors, her town, her county, her country, and the world. 

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It Was Like a Dream




Awakening, basically, is a reversal of this: the patient ceases to feel the presence of illness and the absence of the world, and comes to feel the absence of his illness and the full presence of the world.


-Oliver Sacks, "Awakenings" 



Before the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan, there were:  248  TV Networks, 438  Radio Stations, 1669 Print Outlets, and 119 News Agencies throughout the country.  A mass media renaissance, rural and urban.  Women reporters. Women with microphones and notebooks in their hands. Men and women working together to get the story.


Disregard the public relations gambit as Kabul fell; the veil has dropped again in Afghanistan. Women are walking around in burqas and men are growing beards to protect themselves from abuse, and worse. And there is much transpiring in other cities and the countryside that is not being reported.


According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the new government, or re-instated government, depending on one's politics and point-of-view, is already imposing  harsh constraints on the news media (100 outlets have suspended operation entirely), harassing reporters, and threatening them.


"Two journalists working for the privately-owned TV channel Shamshad were prevented by a Taliban guard from doing a report outside the French embassy because they lacked a permit signed by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," says an RWB press release.  "But when they asked the guard where they should go or who they should ask for such a permit, he said, "I don't know."


As of today, foreign correspondents are still able to work, but they are all asking, "For how much longer?" And they are few in number so cannot report everything.


When the international news cycle tires of the chaotic and mis-managed American withdrawal, ordinary citizens will still be trying to survive in Afghanistan. But they will have no information or news to guide them that is not tainted by Sharia dictates of "good" and "evil."  


Any nation-state that slips back into fundamentalist feudalism, or reignites a former despotic regime, threatens global equilibrium. War, the degradation of the environment, migration. and yet more terrorism, will continually challenge our well-being and safety; disequilibrium will reach our shores. Sitting comfortably in our  western enclaves is an illusion; we are not protected from the repercussions of what has transpired in Afghanistan. We cannot just change the channel and hope for the best. A smart, humane foreign policy is essential going forward; no sitting president gets a pass.


I still have reporter friends and aid worker friends in Afghanistan. For this reason, I have not mentioned anyone by name here, or interviewed anyone I could mention by name, though the reporting I have done to write this blog post has been corroborated.  I urge my readers to continue monitoring the unfolding Afghanistan story, and to offer help to the refugees seeking asylum.




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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 79

A Meditation on Socializing in a Plague Year



We instinctively protected our friends from the knowledge we possessed…We were sure that they didn't want to know what we knew; we didn't want to know it, either.


       -Alexsander Hemon, "The Aquarium"


He can contain the fears of other men, and give them a sense of solidity in a quaking world.  


-Hilary Mantel, "Wolf Hall"



Labor Day Weekend. We had planned to eat outside with friends but the weather turned cool under a louring sky, as Charlotte Bronte described it. We almost cancelled but then went ahead. We drove up the Thruway to Saugerties to a renovated farm house set on ten acres. Horse country, a getaway home of two city friends. They had wanted to celebrate my husband's birthday in mid-August but couldn't make it to the barbecue. So, this was yet another celebration with a balloon and a cake, sumptuous food, and wine, held-in stories spilling rapidly, breathlessly, even though we'd kept in touch on phone and zoom and email.


So, we were indoors with the windows wide open, six of us in a small space, all vaccinated, but there'd  been recent travel beyond the borders of the state and the nation state, much needed travel to see family after the long Covid hiatus. Had anyone brought the Delta variant home with them? We didn't voice this concern, and for the moment, we didn't care about any potential danger. Was there any? Were we being care—less? Is the protective vaccine waning? Of a certain age, shall we say—and how can we ignore it these days, a target on our backs—only  my husband and I had landed boosters; we encouraged our friends to do the same.


It seemed as though every few paragraphs of shared stories, we'd redound to the pandemic, and to the logistics of staying safe in the months ahead as we move around, carry on regardless. The numbers of breakthroughs don't look good; 80 active cases this week in our small town, the SUNY students back on campus, and all the other schools starting, kids under twelve still unvaccinated, a FB photo from a friend of a Covid infected baby girl in the ICU and an admonition to pray for her.  I wish prayer would help. I wish everything and anything would help persuade those who are unvaccinated, especially, to get it done. No soft landings for anyone during a pandemic, a democratizing experience in some ways depending on individual circumstance—money, shelter, access to medical care. Yet, among all strata, classes and castes, there are many heartbreaking stories.


The conversation at the converted farmhouse was kinetic, joyful, suffused with laughter. The vegetable garden was overgrown, lots of kale and basil to pick, some homemade ice cream with blueberries, avocado, honey, the end of summer's bounty folded into the menu. How much we'd missed the physicality of connection, bodies in three dimension, hair a bit grayer, bodies bulging from Covid indulgence in home-cooked meals. How privileged we all were to have survived this ordeal, we agreed. None in this immediate cohort were in mourning for a loved one, though we all had suffered losses—of time, of income, of insularity from a troubled world. No such thing anymore, surely this has now clarified: Virus Without Borders. The New York Times reports this morning that we won't feel respite until next summer, that the worst of the pandemic will not be in the rear-view mirror until then.


Best to steel ourselves, stiff upper lips, remain calm and carry on, as the Brits would say, and how I do love them for that. It's not always an appropriate response, but I think it is at this moment of disappointment, the euphoria of vaccination evaporated.


Did we bring this plague on ourselves? Or the exacerbation of the plague, at least? Are we in any way responsible? And where does our individual responsibility reside? Are we so enamored of our post-modern digital lives that we've forgotten we are made of organic material, embedded in nature, susceptible to fires and floods, collapsing infrastructure, a corrupt and decrepit health care system that is not a system at all, desperate migrants pushing against our borders, mega corporations continuing to exploit labor, the rich getting richer, Mother Earth under siege? What can we do right now, this very day, to contribute to the end of this pandemic? Dear Reader, all suggestions are welcome in the comments.

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Why It Matters When Writers Are Tortured and Killed





A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated...

― Khaled Hosseini, "A Thousand Splendid Suns"


If policy makers know little about Afghanistan, the public knows even less, and few care about policy failure when the effects are felt only in Afghanistan."


― Rory Stewart, "The Places in Between"



On August 4, in Uruzgan province's Chora District, where there was fierce fighting, and media outlets were looted and shut down, the Taliban targeted and murdered two PEN International members: poet and historian Abdullah Atefi, and journalist and spokesperson Dawa Khan Menapal. Please note that these killings took place before the Taliban over-ran Kabul, and before the American surrender. The world was not yet paying attention. In the ensuing rapacious takeover in Kabul, the news cycle focused on the evacuation and the airport, not on the notable Afghanis who had already been targeted and killed in the provinces outside Kabul.  


The swift, deliberate murders of Atefi and Menapal does not bode well for the future of writers and journalists in Afghanistan, especially women. The consequences of such evisceration of dissent are dire:  If reporters, writers, and broadcasters are silenced, or killed, it is tantamount to a news blackout. We will not know what is going on, and the Afghan people will not know what is going on, whether good news or bad news.


Who will hold the new government in Kabul to account? Who will speak out, demonstrate, remonstrate and petition if not the writers and journalists in the world that is still free? I call upon my students and colleagues to continue to provide whatever sustenance is possible to the beleaguered, terrified, hungry and suffering civilians in Afghanistan, and the refugees who have landed on our shores. Please do not switch the channel to more comforting news, or start binging on another Netflix program, or go to your refrigerator for yet another snack just yet. Please know that members of the international mother ship of  PEN (an acronym for Poets, Editors, Essayists & Novelists), the writers you know and love, authors of the books you read and then discuss in your book groups, or donate to your local library—and be grateful for that library—are  in mourning over the assassination of two of its members. They have faces, they have names, they have families:


Abdullah Atefi, was a member of Afghanistan PEN since 2008. He was a renowned poet and highly educated economist and  historian who had published a history of Pashto literature and culture. He made his living cultivating his land and teaching literature at a local secondary school. (I've been searching for his poems online, hopefully in translation, but haven't been able to find any as yet.)


Journalist Dawa Khan Menapal  worked as the chief of the now-collapsed media and information center. The day before his murder, he spoke out against the killing of Abdullah Atefi.


It was the Americans who created a free press and open space for dissent in Afghanistan, and it is the Americans who bear responsibility for its extinction. Yet another miscalculation.



 Sunday is my day for deep reading of the paper copy of  The New York Times. Home delivery is erratic in my area so I pick it up at a local Stewart's after my morning hike. The smell of the newsprint calms me, even if I know that the news reports won't. Last Sunday, I put the paper down and started an inventory of my published short stories, then made a decision to add a PDF Bookstore tab to this site. All proceeds will go to PEN America. Founded in 1921, PEN was one of the first international human rights organizations. I am proud to be a member of the PEN America branch in long standing.

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seventy-Eight


Fifty Million Children



From the start, elected officials seemed  more concerned about reopening bars and restaurants than safely reopening schools that hold the future of 50 million children in their hands.


New York Times Editorial, "School kids Are Not Alright," August 22, 2021



So here we are, in the mitigation stage of this pandemic, most of the world still  unvaccinated, the children on this continent under 12 still unvaccinated, and school starting. Most parents are relieved, counting the days until their kids can get back into the classroom; kids, too, probably, unless they have forgotten what school is. One parent of a five-year-old told me, "He likes to get really close to his friends and hug and talk. How will his teacher navigate that?"


It is still really hard to see little ones masked, though we know they have to be in certain situations and will have to be all day at school. The other day, I drove down to the Gardiner Library to observe Carolyn Best-Hall and her trained miniature poodle, Fletcher, host a "read to Fletcher" session. Three kids had signed up, or their parents had, I should say. Carolyn had hoped the session could be outside, but it was too hot, so we went into the capacious community room. She laid out her magic blanket on the floor, everyone masked including the hovering parents nearby. Was this safe enough? Let's hope so.


There was much needed joy in these brief moments at the library. Carolyn was immediately connected to the children, asked interesting questions, and remained patient if there was a faltering word. The children stopped occasionally to talk to Fletcher, or pet him. Mostly, he was snoozing, comfortably. As I was smiling under my mask, I assumed that the parents were also. The scene was sweetness amplified.


Carolyn is a volunteer with Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause She and her husband own Cherry Top Dairy in Newburgh, NY, if you are ever up or down that way—they specialize in soft ice cream—and  when she's not bookkeeping, cleaning machines and running for supplies, she spends her time making therapy dog visits, mostly to nursing homes before Covid hit, and now to local libraries for "literacy visits," a welcome respite from at-home learning. One  fraught parent I chatted to said she was looking for something to do with her active child, anything at all, to get her away from the computer and out of the house on a sunny day. 


I don't have young children so can't imagine what it's been like this past school year, but I can attest to the exhaustion of  teaching Zoom classes, much as I appreciate the technology. I am beat to a frazzle when I'm done and have trouble unwinding. I want to eat, even though I always eat before a workshop. Last night, my internet crashed in the middle of critquing students' work, and I was even more frazzled. Thank goodness one of my calm students texted me as I was rebooting. "We are continuing, the conversation," he wrote.  After we signed off, I could barely watch the baseball game though I knew I wanted the Yankees to win. 


Strange, that this is the second post in recent weeks I've written about a special dog, and the first I've written for a long while about children. It got me thinking about the less privileged children left behind, or the children in war zones, or the children at the airport in Kabul. I hope they get to flip the pages of a book in a safe school setting or a library soon. And I hope all the dire predictions about missed days in a classroom are wrong, and that all children everywhere will catch up and speed ahead into a less stressful, mask free and/or war free future.


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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seventy-Seven


We Haven't Forgotten



I want to tear myself from this place, from this reality, rise up like a cloud and float away, melt into this humid summer night and dissolve somewhere far, over the hills. But I am here, my legs blocks of concrete, my lungs empty of air, my throat burning. There will be no floating away.

― Khaled Hosseini, "The Kite Runner"




The word "unprecedented" surfaced out of  an anxious restless sleep last night. I wrote a poem in my journal out of this mood while I was still in bed. I didn't want to lose the inspiration. I can worry about everything, that is easy for me; writing is the centripetal force that grounds me. Not only is the American government abandoning an estimated 200,000 translators, workers, journalists— only all the gods know who else—they  are doing this so that everyone in the world can see what they are doing. Darkness visible.


Excuses abound: Covid at the American Embassy delayed the visa applications. That was a good one.


Watching the first episode of the series Unforgotten last night for the second time, the protagonist, a detective—what else these days—is struggling with a buried skeleton. Shall the police spend limited resources on a possible murder that is long ago history? Is moral responsibility so easily expunged? Certainly not if people are still living who are affected, the detective tells us. She's played by Nicola Walker, one of my favorite British actors. The script has an ethical center, a joy for any actor with a conscience to learn. It zings off the screen into our hearts and minds.


When does the past become the past? If ever? I thought of the slave trade, enslavement itself, and the reckoning that is efflorescing in literature and the arts. I thought of the catastrophic US departure from Afghanistan. A poet, or dramatist, or novelist will certainly remember and write about it.


Unprecedented, the word that surfaced in my anxious, restless sleep. I wrote a FB message to Brian LaGuardia, another soldier who became a relief worker. I thought he was in Kabul, but he was posting photos of Central Park—ducks in Central Park. R&R, visiting his family, he was safe, returning to the field soon to help the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. I remember the day Brian came up to me at an Another Day in Paradise book reading at NYU. He was just home from Iraq, and like Robert Séamus Macpherson, intended to segue to humanitarian work. He had presence, in the Buddhist sense, and I've followed him all these years on FB.


What accounts for people who have altruistic impulses? And for those who don't? Is there any corner of the world that feels stable and healthy right now? That has a humane government and health care system, beaten back the pandemic, donated extra vaccines willingly, quieted their white supremacist, nationalistic rage, emptied their jails of dissident writers and journalists, and committed to ZERO carbon emissions RIGHT NOW?


How we move forward to end war and hunger and disease and corporate greed when the pandemic is really, truly in the rear-view mirror will be inscribed in Heaven, or in Hell.


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When a Soldier Becomes a Writer






There's something happening here/ What it is ain't exactly clear/ There's a man with a gun over there /Telling me I got to beware

Lyrics by Stephen Stills, "For What It's Worth" 


   Performed by Buffalo Springfield, it was recorded on December 5, 1966, released as a single on Atco Records 



It's never a good idea, or even respectful, to ask a former soldier if he thinks a war has been worthwhile, or all for nothing, but after reading Robert Séamus Macpherson's gripping book, Stewards of Humanity; Lighting the Darkness in Humanitarian Crisis, I decided to take the chance. He hadn't been an ordinary soldier, he'd been a Colonel in the United States Marines for thirty years, and segued to humanitarian work with the agency CARE. Even more unusual, he'd become a writer, and a good one. So I asked about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, our most recent 20-year war. Colonel Macpherson had started his military career in Vietnam, and after a very bad day, he'd ended up in the hospital for a year. Had it been worth it? His own injuries, all those lives damaged and lost, comrades and civilians? We were on a Zoom call so I wasn't sure if he threw up his hands, shrugged his shoulders, or just quoted casualty and death statistics. Maybe both. Thousands, I thought I heard him say. And where are we now? Just this past weekend, the Taliban has taken three regions in that beleaguered country and families with means are scrambling to get out. It's reminiscent of the airlift out of Saigon when the People's Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong  entered the city on April 30 1975. The Fall of Saigon, as it became known, led to the reunification of the country. Not to detour too much here, but the future of Afghanistan, with its fundamentalist warlords, does not bode well for women, or future tourism.


I was talking with Bob, his wife Veronica, and Bob's service dog, Blue, while they were on vacation in Maine. At my request, Bob introduced me formally to Blue, trained by Southeastern Guide Dogs . And, yes, I was talking to this adorable 90-pound white Labrador, who is by Bob's side 24-7, an "empath," the trainers call him.


Though it is not easy to read at times, Stewards of Humanity is both a reminder and a warning. All those quagmires: Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Rwanda. Refugees. Genocide. Death everywhere. Danger constantly. Is it any wonder that soldiers and humanitarian workers return from the field with PTSD, and worse? It took a while for Bob to acknowledge his struggle, but he faced it, as he has all the other challenges in his life.


Empathy seems to expand inside the Zoom room as we talk, filling the virtual spaces with healthy, focused energy. Bob has read my blog and commented on my obsession with justice, like his own. It pleases me that he's noticed, though I am supposed to be interviewing him, and now the tables are turned, a bit disconcerting. Never mind, we have a lot in common, a lot to talk about.


Veronica is by Bob's side, also. They met in Atlanta at the CARE headquarters, second marriage for him, first for her. She's now a clinical social worker with a specialty in oncology, and helps Bob with his website and social media. Two children from Bob's first marriage are doing well: his daughter is a lawyer, his son a tattoo artist in Hawaii. "I'm proud of them both," Bob says. He has grandchildren now,too.


And then there's the writing, which all writers, including yours truly, know full well is therapeutic, albeit it is not therapy per se.


"Tell me about your writing process," I asked in an email exchange after our interview.


"My absolutely best writing day is to get up, take Blue for a long morning walk with Veronica, come home and have nothing in front of me for the morning except my writing. After three or four hours, I'm expended. Then, I go to the gym, come home, feed Blue and spend the evening with Veronica. Those days are perfection." 


"The book is very detailed. Did you keep notes or a journal all those years?"


"I did not keep notebooks. I believe the events I write about affected me deeply. I found that once I started writing about them, all the facts seemed to unfold like a movie. Every name, event and nuance seemed to appear in front of me—just when I needed it."


As I am always telling my students to keep a journal, I was disappointed. How else to retrieve stories when memory is usually so elusive? But for Bob, they've been etched into his brain, a permanent record to carry forward into his work.


After such an accomplishment—the book took five years to complete—I wondered if he would continue. I needn't have worried. He's already at work on a second—about his relationship with Blue.


To pre-order Stewards of Humanity, go to Robert Macpherson's website:




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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seventy Six

Writing Our Own Headlines


I am the daughter of Earth and Water,

And the nursling of the sky:

I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;

I change but I cannot die.


-from "The Cloud" by Percy Bysshe Shelley



It's my husband, Jim's, birthday this week, a big one. We're having three celebrations, though we've had to postpone the live city gathering with his table tennis friends, and will have it on Zoom—an abundance of caution—until boosters, probably.


Jim is a tournament table tennis player and has been commuting to the city to play since he got vaccinated. An entrepreneurial coach opened ping "pods,"  limited in size, hepa filters, vaccination required. It feels safe enough for right now. Who knows when the abundance of caution will not be necessary? No one. Or, maybe it will continue to be necessary for a good long while and we'll just get used to it. Adaptation.


First headline of the day: Humans are adaptable.


I'm reminded that Jim, with one leg shorter than the other, is an (undetected) polio survivor. The left side of his body is smaller than the right, and despite a delayed diagnosis, numerous orthopedic problems over the years, and numerous surgeries, he's always been an active athlete. Needless to say, remembering the blessed advent of the polio vaccines, which came too late for him, he was first in line for the Covid vaccine. No anti-vaxxers in this house.


When he was a boy, Jim played the hoops at the local playground in San Francisco, and when I met him at UC Berkeley, he was into touch football.  I taught him how to play tennis and never got a game off him since. In London, he learned squash, then racquetball when we returned to New York, and now it's table tennis. He's watching the Olympic TT finals as I write. Table Tennis is an Olympic sport that amateurs play at tournaments into their 90's and beyond. 


Second headline of the day: Hit that ball right and feel joy.


Last night we went out to eat at a local restaurant with a scenic view of the Minnewaska Ridge. The sunsets are glorious up here in New Paltz, NY, and I caught a magnificent one on my iPhone. Jim complimented me on the composition, said I was a good photographer, but I demurred and said, "It's the iPhone camera."  I didn't know the scientific name for the clouds, but there was something about them that was familiar. I put a pic up on Instagram and FB and got a reply or two, then looked them up in my "cloud book" when we got home. I get swept away by new knowledge, never stop reading, or studying, or writing. Nor does Jim. Ours is a long marriage and I'm grateful I have a partner who enjoys sport, beautiful landscapes, the acquisition of knowledge, and writing as much as I do. He's a pretty terrific guy, gentle in nature, smart as all get out, and funny.


Last headline of the day: Happy Birthday to Jim. This Virus Without Borders chapter is dedicated to you.

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seventy-Five


Whiplash; Some Thoughts




The American political system has come down with a case of long Covid.


 -Alexander Burns, Political Memo, The New York Times, 7/31/21




How are we doing this week, how are we feeling? Not so good. The parking lot of my apartment complex is empty, everyone traveling and visiting and hugging and breaking bread together in faraway locations, and no mechanism to mandate vaccination or masks in the private sector. But my son-in-law's parents are not traveling from the UK, nor is his sister and her family. A reminder that this is still a global pandemic. On we go.


We're all exhausted by the restrictions, of course, and skeptical of the dangers of Delta if we don't know anyone who is afflicted. Nothing to do with me.  Really? Fully vaccinated friends headed for Boulder to see a new grandchild are navigating the conundrums with care. Do we wear a mask to protect this baby, or not? How will babies grow up only recognizing their grandparents' eyes and eyebrows? Though seemingly humorous, this is not a joke. Remember those experiments with motherless monkeys? They became attached to mannequins. What does this tell us? That attachment is vital and always possible, but can be odd and sad. We—humans and apes and other sentient beings—will  grab onto anything, anything at all to survive.


Am I supposed to applaud the ingenuity of mannequins and robots? My own personal Bank of America robot, Erica, just wrote me a very personal email suggesting we get together for a heart-to-heart talk about my finances. Not interested.  This writer insists on real-time connection. Mask-free real-time connection. Not telehealth. Not labyrinthian customer service, dial 1 or dial 2. Dial? Who dials anymore?


But we've got the Olympics to distract us. Simone Biles, for example. What an athlete, what a person, what a back story. Human to the core despite the intense sometimes robotic training and sacrifice of that training, despite the sexual assault, she has survived and thrived. And there  is even an announcement today that she will compete again this week. Bravas are not enough. I envy the editor or ghost who will mentor and shape her book. Or has she already written one? Oh, I just checked, she has. Well, maybe she'll write another in a few years' time.


Simone reminds me of myself—if that is possible. When I was about ten-years-old, I, too, reveled in the release and joy of athleticism; I told my parents I wanted to be a competitive ice skater. They obliged. My stepfather took me to Wollman rink early in the mornings before school for training. But books and school were just as important to me, and to my highly educated parents, so after falling asleep at my desk for a month or two, I quit, or they persuaded me to quit. I did have choices, however: I chose to not compete. In other words, I did not require--or latch onto--an athletic training to survive. I was not a baby monkey in search of surrogate parenting. Are Olympic athletes symbiotically attached to their trainers who push them and push them relentlessly? Just a question.


In order to do one thing, one often has to sacrifice another. I still had plenty of sport in my life—tennis, track, field hockey, basketball, softball, volleyball, swimming—and loved it all. To this day, I get up from my desk at regular intervals and move around athletically, if only for a hike, or to take the compost to the Village compost pile, or swim laps and laps and laps. I only know a few writers who can sit at their desks for hours and hours.


So what is happening today, as I write? I've got a Zoom call in a few minutes. I have read the headlines and await announcement of boosters, as do all of us who got our shots early. A mask is in the back pocket of my shorts again, and I look forward to hearing about any ingenious protocols my friends devise to bond with their new grandchild. How is it possible to remain distanced from a baby? Beats me.






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