Day Eleven

I awoke yesterday morning to the news that one of my oldest friends has the corona virus. He was tested Sunday, after exhibiting several of the standard symptoms, and has been home in quarantine with his wife (who is a nurse) ever since. He sent a text, which I read first thing and sent my sympathies.

I spent the day worrying about it, both about my friend specifically and about the situation in general. It’s funny, things are quiet outside, the spring is coming on, there is little traffic on the streets. I work as much as I can, but I am not as busy or stressed about work things as usual. I have groceries and toilet paper at home. There is an odd, embracing calm.

But then things hit close to home. Yes, I am in one of the demographics–people above sixty–most likely to succumb to COVID-19. That’s worrisome. I do the recommended things, as most of us do, but who can ever be careful enough? You can’t see a virus, you don’t know where it might linger, it is all very frightening.

Last night I called my friend and we spoke for a while. He’s not doing bad. His temperature has not climbed above 101.3. He has a little trouble when he walks around with shortness of breath, but is far from needing a ventilator. All in all, he feels on the mend. His biggest problem now is that his employer sent a courier with paperwork asking him to waive his HIPAA confidentiality rights, and that is a concern. But it’s reassuring to know that someone in my age group can contract the illness and live to tell the tale.

But then, my friend is a tough old bird. I hope I am too.

Day Ten

I saw an interesting item online today. It was a sort of clock face with an arrow, with the question beneath it, ‘Do you think life in America will be different after the Coronavirus?’ You were supposed to move the arrow from side to side to indicate a range from very much different to not different at all. I didn’t respond.

There is nothing more unreliable than a prediction, especially a prediction in the middle of a poorly understood crisis. Predictions rarely serve to make people feel better, and are really only indicators of your own level of pessimism or optimism.

I am optimistic. I am not sure why, but it does make me feel better. Walking to the library this morning I passed through a four-way stop. There is very little traffic out these days, but even so, if you watch at intersections, people will stop, look, and then proceed. This is because we are Americans. I’m not kidding.

Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian-American author. She wrote Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America. I heard her interviewed when the book first came out. She told about her Iranian father, standing at the window of their first home in America, watching the street out front. He was ceaselessly amused at how Americans would pull up and stop at a stop sign, even though nobody else was in the intersection.

We have a deeply ingrained sense of civic life. America is a strong, successful, functioning democracy because most of us, most of the time, follow the rules. Even when nobody is watching. The stop sign does not represent oppression to us, something we must do, but an agreement amongst us, that we will share the roads with our neighbors, and all work to make them safe. Americans have been making such agreements for a long time–it can truly be said that America began when the Pilgrims sat down and signed the Mayflower Compact, agreeing to all abide by the same rules, and creating a society based on those rules.

We are asked to shelter in place, to not congregate. We are asked to make quite a few sacrifices in the name of containing this virus. I am encouraged to think that most Americans will do it. Sure, if you spend too much time online or watching cable news, you’ll see stories about some guy somewhere who purposely coughed on a grocery store clerk, or somebody who lost his cool at a Walmart and began knocking over displays. But for every story like that, there are many, many thousands of us who are trying our best to get through, and are doing a good job of it, because our lives and the lives of our good American neighbors depend on it.

So yes, I am optimistic.

Day Nine

Today I am thinking about literature that might be pertinent to our situation. Sure, there are the morbid selections, like Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, or¬†Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague¬†by Geraldine Brooks, which is set during the same plague (bubonic) in the same city (London) as Defoe’s earlier work. There are books that sound more fitting than they really are, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, which is really a love story, though one of the characters is a physician concerned with eradicating cholera.

There are also non-fiction works. John Barry’s 2004 book The Great Influenza is probably the best history of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. (Read this one to learn why the ‘Spanish flu’ should be renamed the ‘Kansas flu’). But reading about such things, while edifying, might only serve to make us worry more.

Walking the eerily quiet streets these days I am reminded of On the Beach, Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel about the end of the world. Set in Australia, there has been an apocalyptic nuclear war, and the Aussies are just biding their time, waiting for the cloud of atomic radiation to drift across their island and kill them all. It’s a strange but compelling concept for a novel. It was made into a movie in 1959 starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire. It was much criticized at the time as being a piece of Red propaganda: Director Stanley Kramer had more than his share of problems with the House Un-American Activities Committee, so maybe there was some truth to that. Was fear of nuclear annihilation unpatriotic? The movie was remade in 2000, not a bad version, but it added very little to the story.

But for some reason, the book that most calls to my mind where we are right now is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, the sixth book in the Little House series. If you are familiar with this literary franchise only through the treacly 1970s television show, you may be startled by the harsh realities Wilder narrates in her books. This is not a long winter of bobsledding and Christmas parties, but a months-long struggle for survival after a blizzard strands the Ingallses and their neighbors with dwindling supplies of food and fuel for heating. The setting was the very real severe winter of 1880-1881 in the Dakota Territory.

It is the isolation of the family that most comes to mind now. Long days spent indoors with limited light and little to do, trying to keep warm, trying to keep up their spirits. Young Laura concentrates on what schoolwork she can until it grows too tedious. The family run out of wood and spend many hours twisting hay into makeshift logs; they run out of flour and spend entire days grinding wheat in a hand-cranked coffee mill. Kind of makes a little social distancing seem tame by comparison, and through it all the sense of family togetherness never wanes.

There is room for heroics too. When the entire village is threatened with running out of food, Almanzo Wilder and a friend make a hazardous journey through the snow to a farm rumored to have plenty of wheat. (This is the book where the Ingallses and the Wilders first become acquainted.) I don’t think that kind of sacrifice is going to be needed in our current situation, but every time someone smiles at me and says good morning–even from a distance, I ponder the resilience of the human spirit.


Day Eight

More than a little reluctantly I walked through the library this morning removing posters and flyers advertising current or upcoming activities. So many great experiences we won’t have–or that we’ve had to postpone.

There’s the exhibit of wood-cut prints by Patrick Murphy, which went up at the beginning of March. Wonderful mostly black and white images. People who had the chance to see it really liked them.

There was a scheduled visit by author Steve Logue, who wrote the wonderful book The Joy of Down Syndrome, about raising his own son. When I first met Steve I thought I had never met anyone who spoke quite as passionately and eloquently about the positive aspects of what so many of us perceive as merely a disability. I hope to reschedule his talk.

There was author Julie Bradley, who gave up a promising career to buy a sailboat and set out on adventures on the sea. Her travels around the world with her husband are recounted in her books Escape from the Ordinary and Crossing Pirate Waters. Her book tour has been cancelled, so we might not be able to get her back again.

Staff from our Children’s Room and Reference Department have long been planning an exhibit and event about ancient Egypt, and now that has been postponed too. Not to mention lots of story hours, craft times, book discussions, and everything else that keeps a vibrant modern library going.

All I can do at this point is look forward to reopening and starting to reschedule all of these things. Stay tuned!

Day Seven

It’s Monday, and new restrictions from St. Louis County are in place. They last through April 22, so we have at least a tentative timeline of how long services such as ours and many, many more may be closed.

It was nice to have a weekend off, even though it was cold and even snowed on Sunday. This morning I awoke well before the alarm to the sound of insistent birdsong, reminding me that spring is on the way. Yesterday I was filling my feeder, an act that always reminds me that no matter what, some things continue in their course.

On Saturday I was working in a friend’s yard. I was scooping handfuls of leaves out of a flower bed, when one handful came up with a lot of white and gray fur. In a hollow beneath it, three or four tiny bunnies shivered. I replaced the fur mat, packed a little layer of leaves back on top, and hoped for the best.

Later that day, I took a long walk. If you have not had a walk in the past week, try it. There are many people out walking–young people, old people, couples, whole families. When you can’t go to restaurants, movies, libraries, museums, or other places of entertainment, or simply visit family and friends, cabin fever begins to set in. Especially when the weather is this bleak.

Walking along Maple Avenue, I saw that many neighborhood children had been out chalking the sidewalks. Brilliant colored designs bedecked the walks and drives: flowers, suns, smiley-faces and curlicues, with words like ‘hello!,’ ‘welcome!,’ and comforting messages like ‘love is all you need.’ Of course Sunday’s wet weather erased all of that, but it can’t erase the warm feeling I got from it.

Day Four

It’s the end of the first week of closure–not really, because we were open Monday. But it feels like a long four days, and that’s not good. I have told the full-time staff that I think it’s good to come to work, to have something to do besides sitting at home. Yes, there’s reading, and watching movies, and cleaning the house, and walking the dog–but how long will all of that last? At some point we’ll run out of ‘little projects’ here for people to do, and we’ll also be spending too much time at home. I don’t look forward to it.

When we closed on Monday, I named a sooner opening date than any other MLC library. Others named dates anywhere from April 3rd to 6th, and three of them just said ‘until further notice,’ which was the wisest course of action, since nobody, at this point, has any idea how long it will be. It took a few days before I realized that some staff members were concerned that I really planned to open back up on March 31st. That is not likely, and naming that date was just something to put on signs and Facebook posts. We’ll see as time goes by.

We have had calls from people with specific problems that we cannot presently help with. A woman needed to get on a computer to file for unemployment. A man who had already filed for unemployment needed to fax them some papers. While these needs are specific to the current national emergency, it reinforces what we tell people all the time–that the library offers a variety of crucial services to the public, aside from checking out books.

Yesterday there was a Webinar on libraries dealing with corona virus. I invited everyone to watch it. Several of us settled in, the Webinar began, and it was clear within about ten minutes that the presenters had little or nothing to say. By the third slide of their PowerPoint they were saying to people listening, ‘so what do you think? Does anyone have any ideas?’ Their pleas for input grew more insistent, and it was soon clear that they knew nothing that we didn’t already now. We all bailed on the Webinar and went back to what we were doing.

I hope everyone has a good weekend.


Day Three

Here we are for day three of the shutdown. It is a rainy, foggy day, not much weather-wise to bring a smile to anyone’s face. But it is March in the Midwest, so rain is to be expected–and, at least in the long run, welcomed. Driving to work is odd, as many of you have experienced. Very little traffic, even along Lockwood and Big Bend and other major roads.

We got much done yesterday. Deep cleaning of the staff room. Scouring all the table tops in the meeting room. Several staff members began an inventory of all our materials and made good progress on that. Reference staff finally accomplished a long-term goal of getting some of the Katy Moody historical archive online at the Missouri Digital Heritage site. We hope to have a link to that soon on our Website. We all ate lunch together, sitting about ten feet away from each other.

Some things are breaking fast, and you almost need a scorecard to keep up. Late Tuesday, the Board of Elections emailed to confirm that we would still be a polling place on April 7. I told them the library would likely still be closed, but that I would open the Meeting Room to accommodate the election. Then yesterday we got the note cancelling the election. It has been moved to June 2–at least for now.

Which brings another thing to mind, somewhat minor, but it fills the mind of a fussy librarian. I have seen so many ‘canceled’ signs lately that I wonder, is it spelled with one ‘l’ or two? Turns out both are correct, though Americans prefer canceled while Brits prefer cancelled. And when using the words cancelling or cancellation, it has to be two ‘l’s.