When we used to return to school after Christmas we would all have exchanges around “what did we get” as gifts. It was as common a question as “what did you do last summer” when we came back in September. Fast forward many years and the refrain everywhere around me is “what did you get?” In this case did we receive the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson covid vaccination?
We have each received whichever was available when we went to get our shots, but this doesn’t seem to have stopped the conversations. Since my friends have mainly received just the first dose, we note whether we have a three week(Pfizer) or four week(Moderna) wait until the second dose or no wait at all for the Johnson & Johnson one dose vaccine.
A year ago you could not have paid me enough to believe that there would be a vaccine, much less three, available for this scourge. And you certainly would have had me laughing at the notion I would be comparing which one I got. What a difference a year makes!
I recently finished listening to the audio version of Kristin Hannah’s latest novel, published in February 2021, The Four Winds. Sometimes writers can take actual historic events and place a character neatly in the center of them allowing the reader a first hand sense of the times. Hannah does this with this long novel set in the Dust Bowl years of the state of Texas in the early 1930’s. While I was aware in a general way of the devastating climate catastrophe of those years, I had only a cursory sense of what it would have been like to live then.
So taken was I by the novel that after I finished it I found and watched a four hour documentary by Ken Burns on the Dust Bowl. Here numerous images filled out the ones in my imagination created by my reading. The drought and blowing away of nearly 75% of the topsoil during the 1930’s covered 100,000,000 acres of the central United States. While the drought was a significant factor, the farming technique of deeply plowing the grasslands destroyed centuries of drought tolerant grass which had held the soil in place.
But of course we know so much more today! While we can comfort ourselves by knowing more about farming land not designed to grow certain crops, we are just as headstrong in this country about where we choose to live. Ignoring the reason people never lived in the desert, huge population growth has taken place in the southwest US draining the Colorado River, using up the aquifer and relying on electricity to cool homes where the summer heat is now hitting 120 degrees F.
Perhaps some fiction writer in the future will chronicle a single mother in Arizona trying to provide for her family in intolerable desert conditions. She can look back to Hannah’s account of a woman trying to do just that in Texas as the soil blew away.
I have always loved learning about the origin of words or phrases. I also enjoy witty detective novels, especially if I can find a character who loves word play as I do. In Charles Finch’s most recent novel An Extravagant Death, Finch takes his Victorian sleuth from London to Newport, Rhode Island to solve the murder of a young debutante. While the murderer is easy to spot by anyone who reads a lot of murder mysteries, the joy in this book comes from the observations of New York and Newport society when a flood of newly rich industrial titans built ostentatious homes on a peninsula in New England. As a British observer, Charles Lenox, our investigator, sees how strange the jockeying for position seems in a society new to the idea of old and new money.
My favorite part of the novel, however, comes in the several instances that Lenox tries to entertain someone with the etymology of a word. In one case, he mentions the origin of backlog to someone who fails to either understand or be amused by his explanation.
Later he tells the reader that shrapnel was named after Lt. Henry Schrapnel who invented a cannonball filled with small lead balls which shattered on contact sending shards of hot metal into enemy lines. Was this necessary in the plot? Not at all, but this continues to help us see Lenox’ wit though few of his America contacts appreciate it.
So if you, as a very nerdy high school student like me, used to settle in with the Oxford English Dictionary on rainy days, you might enjoy meeting Charles Lenox in Charles Finch’s tales.
It’s funny, but I kept thinking about that disclaimer or statement before that webinar. I appreciate the comments I received so far because they show a balance of views. I agree that something seemed a little self-conscious about that wording as if it was responding to some issue I was unaware of. I also agree that it is important to know history of a place. But as a once 50 year resident of Oregon, I am aware of the much larger history of Oregon and non-whites, none of it pleasant. In addition to the treatment of the people already living in the land now Oregon, once it became a state it forbid freed blacks to settle there after the Civil War, it went ahead with the federal order to remove Japanese-American citizens from their land and businesses during World War II to be sent to internment camps, the KuKluxKlan had an active presence in the state, mostly against Jews and Catholics, and migrant workers, mainly from Mexico, were treated in an appalling fashion. And today, many young adults have moved into Portland displacing a formerly African American working class neighborhood of single family homes with tall “hip” apartment buildings.
I operate from a stance that all people over time have done things that people later on look back on and condemn. I am certain that future generations will question many things we do today. I am most interested in what actions we can take today that represent what we know today. For instance in Connecticut right now a disproportionate percentage of COVID vaccine has gone to white citizens. Rather than simply display that statistic, the officials in charge have looked to the root causes of this discrepancy. They are addressing the historical skepticism of communities towards “beneficial” government programs, the lack of internet access to book appointments, and the transportation barriers to getting a shot(not everyone can drive to the drive through mass site) and are acting on this knowledge. Working through churches and sending vans into communities they are delivering the vaccine in ways tailored to different situations which, though historically caused, can be addressed today.
I still don’t know if I was expected to learn something from the wording before the webinar, feel ashamed before the event, or moved to action after the talk. Thus my continued pondering.
On Sunday I tuned into a webinar featuring a former colleague from my art college days talking about his lifelong art making life. It was hosted by a university art museum and delivered on its promise of being well done and in depth. But before the talk started, the moderator began with a speech which I saw as a disclaimer, though I am not sure of its original intent. She explained that the university was built on land formerly inhabited by an indigenous group who had been dispossessed of the land in the mid 1800’s. She went on to say that descendants of that people still lived in the state.
After the webinar I remembered how much I had loved working with the featured artist and felt renewed gratitude for my twenty-five years teaching among artists. But this morning I began to ponder that opening talk by the moderator. It had nothing to do with my friend, by the way. He neither works for the university nor does he live on that land. It was a history lesson which may or not be told before every university talk. But to what end, I wonder. For some reason on this morning in Oregon the moderator felt the need to tell us the history of the land under the school hosting the webinar. I continue to question why.
I don’t want to get into a rancorous discussion about this, but I am curious about other times any of my readers have encountered this kind of announcement. Do you have any insight about its value?
In the United States at the moment each state is responsible for distributing the Covid vaccine. I am grateful to be living in Connecticut which, while not particularly exciting, is known for its motto “the land of steady habits.” In the case of the vaccine this low key, no nonsense approach is paying off. Our governor looked at the mortality rates for our state and determined that we would distribute the vaccine by age brackets beginning with 75 up and then opening up by 10 year spans in the ensuing weeks. While many complained at his system, he showed a chart which clearly showed that although only 18% of our population is over 65, over 90% of deaths occurred in this age group.
Last week I joined a very well organized process shown above on the left and received a shot in my left arm (I have no idea who that person is on the right!) A drive through operation coordinated with uniformed National Guards and staffed with doctors and nurses, it runs smoothly. Apparently the health clinic worked with a business used to handling crowds. Both skills are needed for this kind of mass inoculation site.
I am thrilled to have received the first of two Pfizer shots, with the second in two weeks. My grandchildren are excited to be able to come in the house with us after one full year of sitting outside, rain, snow or sun, to visit a good distance apart.
Our country has done a disastrous job with the pandemic, losing over 500,000 citizens to a disease once described by the then leader as “nothing worse than the flu.” Thank goodness change has arrived.
While I am still not fully adjusted to the vision from the two cataract surgeries, I wanted to at least put my toe back in the blog waters. I wrote earlier explaining that the difference between the vision in my eyes was unusually pronounced. The doctor and I decided to try to keep my left eye for reading and my right eye for distance as they had been most of my life. It is impossible to predict the focal distance after a new lens goes in to replace the original one. While he aimed for about what the reading distance had been, the actual distance at the moment is further out, necessitating reading glasses. Of course these over the counter lenses don’t take into account my right eye’s needs! Hence reading,writing and doing any close work is challenging. It takes several more weeks before I can know what final prescription requirements I have for glasses. In the meantime, I am trying to be patient, not my strongest trait.
I am deeply appreciative of all the comments I received in the last month. Since my connections are all online, I had no idea if it would matter to anyone if I disappeared. Nor did I have any confidence that I would meet any of my friends again once I began to write. I thank each person who assured me that they weren’t going anywhere. I have needed to know I could return to a practice which has sustained me through the pandemic.
I will begin to follow my friends’ blogs little by little, and I hope to catch up in time.
My eyes are very different from one another. One is used to seeing close, while the other sees distance. After the cataract removal in the near eye, my brain has not yet adjusted. I have still not managed to be able to stay on the computer long enough to catch up with everyone. I miss the interaction and look forward to being able to rejoin you all. I have a second surgery in three weeks, but I hope to have an intermediate plan to see in the mean time. Until then, peace to you all.
Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I lost my younger sister three years ago. Today was her birthday, and it gave me a chance once again to reflect on what a sweet spirit she was born with and carried with her through life. She suffered greatly during her life, losing both her husband, two of her children, and three bouts of breast cancer, the last claiming her. Throughout it she remained more upbeat than I ever could have been. She relied deeply on her Christian faith and when she was near death assured me she would “see me later.”
She was a very compassionate nurse and I think she would have come out of retirement to tend to covid victims. The disease would have broken her heart as she watched politicians downplay the pandemic and citizens disregard common safety precautions. While I miss her dearly, I am grateful she isn’t having to live through this dark time for medical professionals.
Give those near you a big smile from me and Patsy, a girl almost always smiling.