Category Archives: COVID19

The Virus and US by Russell Hvolbek

Miasma—www.stufftoblowyourmind.com

The Virus and US

So, now, a miasma here.

Not only over there, somewhere

backward, but here too in our towns,

gleaning away the soft jostling of

American life; a little money

made and spent, children maturing,

mothers and fathers dying of old age, normal

as it should be, has been, is

normal no more.

The virus roils, exposes our naivety:

Humans have no more purchase of earth

than a virus.

 

 

 

Meet Russell Hvolbek:

Russell Hvolbek is an intellectual historian with a PhD from The University of Chicago. He has written three books, the most recent, Humans: What We Are and Why We Exist, argues that language and the historical fields they produce, brought humans beyond the grooves of nature. Humans came into existence when they became able to name themselves. Humans are a language-historical creation. He is concerned that the utilitarian realm of facts and data have so overwhelmed us, we can no longer ponder what we are.

Russell now finds that people opposed to having to think through difficult ideas are more likely to engage them if they are presented as poetry. He now writes more poetry than prose.
Contact: Russell Hvolbek 818-746-0757 rhhone@hotmail.com

 

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Filed under COVID19, Guest Bloggers, Poetry

Hope and Determination

 

On March 10th I walked across the border into Tijuana on an adventure to discover the best street tacos and learn firsthand how refugees are faring at our locked-down border.  And while overlooking The Wall, clinking margarita glasses,  I didn’t imagine that 48 hours later I’d be back home with my husband, both unemployed refugees of COVID-19, locked down within my own borders at home.

 

Coronavirus has slowed things down.  My days are long and task-full as spring dries into our golden summer—I’ve pulled thistles, weeded the perennial borders, mowed the oats, piled the downed eucalyptus for dump truck pick up and filled jars of delicate Cecile Brunner roses to scent the house. I’ve cleaned my cupboards, closets, pantry, scrubbed baseboards, wiped the framed artwork, washed shelves, cabinets and walls and dusted away cobwebs. I’ve tried new recipes, invented my version of the Covidtini and howled with the neighbors at 8 pm.  Now I practice yoga with a Zoom group, walk with a masked walking group, virtually chat with girlfriends over wine, talk to friends for hours on the phone  and share socially distanced game afternoons with our neighbors. Wine and Punderdome anyone?

At first fear was the driving factor. How would we pay the mortgage? The insurances? Eat? Would we catch COVID? I remembered the Guatemalan moms and children in Tijuana, emigres from gang violence and poverty—waiting, hoping—even in the face of being 4000 names down on the US Immigration interview list.

 

In TJ,  what I found was hope and determination. I’m not going to let  Coronavirus get the better of my family. I learned Zoom and Canvas and restarted two of my classes. I joined a daily “write-in” and am busy writing the third novel in my Mexico series. I landed editing jobs, created a schedule and two months later, I’m more productive than before the virus. (Hoo boy! I’m tired.)

I credit my family’s recovery to the hope I found in the faces of people who don’t have our resources or opportunities. Every day I remember these refugees as I jot my gratitude in my journal or stop to smell the roses, iris, wild asters, lavender. . . . Lockdown has turned from a disaster to a happier, more relaxed and socially connected life. Imagine, I haven’t had to put gas in my car since the 4th of April! We’re managing to pay the bills, we’re spending more time happily at home (the 8 pm howling helps) and the stack of bedside books has dwindled.

Now please excuse me, it’s cocktail time, and I want to toast you with my newest creation, the I Beat It-tini. Here’s to all you writers. Now, let’s get back to work!

ZOOM and Canvas classes start up on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday  June 8th, 9th and 11th for six week sessions. Register for on-line Summer Writing Classes Now!

Mondays 2-4 on Zoom: Vintagehouse.org Fee (707​) 996​-0311 6/8-7/13
Tuesdays 10-12:30 on-line through Napa Valley College​  Fee  (707) 302-2452 6/9-7/14
Tuesdays 4-6 on Canvas​ through Napa Valley College Free  (707) 302-2452  6/9-7/14
Thursdays 2-4 on Zoom through Rianda House  Free (707) 968-5877 6/11-7/16
                See you in class!

Better busy than bored, cabin crazy or homicidal!

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Filed under Classes, COVID19, Events

My Lockdown by Dina Corcoran

Back by popular demand and coronavirus be damned! I’m thrilled to have Dina Corcoran as today’s guest blogger. Dina’s work inspires me to find the beauty and good in any situation—excuse me while I put on IZ’s CD and contemplate rejoining my “treasures” when the pandemic is over.

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My Lockdown

Old Toll Road is not a busy road under normal conditions, but under this lockdown it appears abandoned.  Alan and I walk it every day, and as we round a bend, we come upon a field of lupines and poppies busy being glorious—no one to notice them, except for us. 

A face appears, smiling a greeting from on high.  It’s the bee lady, up in the apple tree manipulating a pair of loppers as she prunes, surrounded by a few friendly bees. That’s it.  The only contact we have on the whole walk.

Back at home, the warm gentleness of IZ’s Hawaiian music soothes me.  I play it on Spotify to make it all go away—and it almost works.  IZ’s soft voice rolls over me like waves of the ocean.  When the waves break and calm down again, peace will reign.

My daughter Kim comes for weekly visits.  We sit outside on the deck, fifteen feet apart to maintain social distancing, and chat. She doesn’t even think of coming inside the house.  An attorney, she still has cases at her job; others at her firm have been let go, and she gets their work. This is sad for them, but a relief for her.  She can continue making the payments on the house she just bought. She enjoys working at home and being with her twin sons who must continue their college classes now via remote learning.

My son is an “essential” worker in Southern California for Cal-Trans.  He keeps the freeways functioning. With most everyone off the roads, the speed-demons have taken over, and its common for drivers to go 95 m.p.h. and crash into things. His mother worries about him hanging from light poles or overhangs, fixing the electricity, with this going on.  But he continues to get a paycheck.

Since we are over sixty-five, Alan and I are allowed to Email our grocery list to Cal-Mart, charge it, and have our purchases loaded into the car behind the store. No social interaction. When we get home, we don disposable gloves to unpack our supplies so we can wipe them down with a bleach solution. (Fresh produce gets scrubbed in the sink with water.) As they sit in the sun to dry, we notice that certain items have been left off the list—there’s never any toilet paper.

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My friends are tucked away like treasure to be saved for later. Except for the occasional phone call, we don’t see each other anymore. This virus! Gisela sits alone in a big house, since her husband died. She is saved by her German inclination to abide by a housekeeping schedule. Tuesday is laundry day. Every day has its own obligation.  Her week has structure.​​ ​Minna, from my book club, sips wine and reads Proust. 

th-5We all cope in our own way.

I write.

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Autobiographical Writing, COVID19, Guest Bloggers

These Days by Donald Turner

As COVID lockdown continues, folks are buzzing about how they’re managing. Our habits are changing, some for the better and  some for the questionable. We’re assessing our activities, our possessions, our purposes and letting go of what no longer serves us. Today’s guest blogger, Donald Turner, is letting slip his rigid schedule of accomplishment for  new habits: sleeping, flexibility and contemplating worms. 

These Days

Awake, I check the  time. Ahh. I can’t sleep, but I’ll rest a bit more. Smart phone in hand to track my sleep, I enable WiFi, Location, and Bluetooth for FitBit—slept five hours, thirteen minutes. Yuk. I want at least six hours, especially now, during covid-19 season. I’ve got to get to bed earlier and stop stimulating my mind near bedtime.

Sleep problems looping through my brain, I conclude adequate sleep is more important than completing projects, which can wait. I’ll give up some satisfaction in how much I get done in a day. Making daily progress will be enough.

Before rising, I spend about four minutes blessing my back by doing flexing procedures of ten-second counts each. A retired chiropractor and friends suggested these movements. The flexes are listed below for later reading by anyone interested. Start gently.

On my back, I do real motions on some imaginary devices.

  1. Bike pedaling
  2. Both legs together at the ankles, pedaling a single pedal.
  3. For slight twisting torque on my back, I keep my head against the bed while I arc my bent legs from one side to the other. The legs take turn being the more bent leg which crosses over the less bent leg. The less bent leg rests on the bed. As I get more flexible I push the knee of the more bent leg onto the bed. Repeat five times for each leg.
  4. Buttocks tightened against bed, then relaxed.
  5. Plank, supported by elbows and feet, I stiffen my back as I count to ten.
  6. As I let my back sag, I do pushups from my knees, not my feet.
  7. On hands and knees I do cat-like-spine-upward arcs and downward cow dips—beginning and ending folded as if in a Muslim prayer position.

Honoring my good habits, like the flexing habit, improves my days.

Once I’m up, I write about what interests me. If I suspect others would find value, I submit the writing—after tweaking—for the comments of my writing group. I start by reviewing topical lists I’ve created from various ideas come to me as I walk or think in bed. Introspective discovery and the challenge of fiddling with words motivate me.

I know a bunch of writing rules, such as: spell out small numbers like five and thirteen instead of writing 5 and 13.  But, I want numbers as digits to stand out among gobs of words. After all, my STEM education in science and technology biased me toward numbers composed of digits with their lovely shapes. Merely 10 digits.

On behalf of the magnificent TEN, I exhibit them: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. These shapely symbols tell me, “We don’t get no respect–at least not enough.”

Now in my seventh decade, I use a repeated non-curvy digit to represent my age. The older I get, the faster I get old. To me, my remaining time increases in value. Life has been mostly good during many happy years of reasonably sound body and mind. If I falter in my seniority, may my mind be last to fall.

My life, all life, is evidence of organized matter. Entropy is increasing disorder. Each life briefly overcomes entropy. However, entropy dominates some regions of the universe. My house is such a region–temporarily, I tell myself.

When my bodily entropy is certain to accelerate, an anatomy lab can have me as a corpse—after my brain fails. Such a donation will avoid an expense to my heirs and be a contribution to medical students—especially if my parts correspond to anatomy books.

Perhaps the chap book I’ll write could be tethered to the better looking of my big toes along with an ID tag and a note about my synthetic lenses and the exceptional length of my near-sighted eyes.

Thinking ahead, I’ll be dead forever, so I’ll more than catchup on my sleep deficits. There won’t be an I, nor a me. There was an I, a me. Dust to dust. Atoms to atoms. Entropy wins, but some atoms from my body may yet come to be in another life form, maybe in an earthworm.

Maybe some of my writng group remember my wormy poem:

I’ve never been an earthworm….without a single tear.

 

I’ve never been an earth worm

Never wriggled through the soil

Never flooded to a road

Never plucked by any toad

 

Glad I’m not a worm

Glad I’m still a man

 

On my corpse worms may feed

Extend beyond an ear

Slide out a vacant eye

Without a single tear

 

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

~Mark 9:44 King James Bible version

Donald Turner retired to Angwin, CA. after 29 years of aerospace computer programming in California for the Navy at China Lake/Ridgecrest, for Northrop Grumman at El Segundo, & for Boeing at Huntington Beach. In retirement Donald keeps busy with writing, gardening, exploring the internet, attempting stock market profit, mixing music with Bitwig, and making his two acres more fire resistant. He is divorced with two daughters and four grand-daughters.

After graduating in 1966 from Pacific Union College, Donald taught high-school math, physics and earth science at Fletcher, NC. from 1966-69, then math at PUC prep in 1969-70.  He holds a  Master of Arts degree in  Physics from University of Wisconsin,  Milwaukee and a Master  of Science in  Electrical Engineering from University of California, Davis. He represents his age in non-curvy digits.

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Filed under Aging, Autobiographical Writing, COVID19, Humor, Students

Hug The One You’re With by Cliff Zyskowski

We’re all going a little stir-crazy under stay-at-home lockdown. Read how one author, musician and yogi manages. Please give a virtual hand (after purelling) to Cliff Zyskowski and his stalwart trees.

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Hug The One You’re With

I shudder in place and need a hug. My wife and son both go off to their essential work duties. I ponder the idea of going out to see who else can’t stay at home, alone, all day—for another minute. I freeze. I see them. Two vultures circling above my yard, on the lookout for vulnerable senior citizens on the loose. Won’t the kombucha, crystals and sage smudge protect me against all calamities?

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I’ve already used the new bidet three times this morning, twice just for fun. Roaming the yard searching for direction, I’m pulled by some magnetic force, a gravitational light saber of mythic propulsion. The rustling branches open wide to welcome my embrace. We hug, Oak and I. It’s taller than my son, not as soft as my wife, it’s girth more than I can wrap my arms around.th-7.jpeg

I feel. Listen. Gather. Hang…on to the laden wisdom. Stability. Security. Sanctity.

“Thanks for not chopping me down five summers ago because of how I shaded your Doughboy pool causing the water to stay cold all summer. Remember how the arborist said I was a Heritage Valley Oak and you needed a permit to level me? He lied to save me. Pool’s gone, I’m still here. Good move.”

I’ve since built a deck under its canopy. We visit twice a day—when no one’s looking—before I feed the cats, the tree feeds me.

Moving on to Plum, I hold its decaying branches with a weathered hand. Aging together. It sends out suckers from its root structure. A proliferation of white blossoms announces spring’s arrival. Precious few fruits to savor at harvest.

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“Sorry to prune you so severely last fall. Had to make space for Fig. We burned your fragrant branches on special occasions this winter. The wood paired well with butternut squash soup. Our downwind neighbor noticed.” Plum nods a whispered gesture.

th-3.jpegI make my way over to Sycamore in the front yard. Majestic. Our giving tree. Bark peels off its trunk like dead skin after a sunburn. The rope swing still hangs after 20 years of joy-giving. Your skin grown around the intrusion of thick twine as an afterthought. Parks closed, neighborhood kids clamor forth, waiting six feet apart, for a chance to swing on the only game in town. I vigilantly purell the rope after each use. New pandemic verb; purell: the act of cleansing. Dirt re-appears under the worn grass beneath the redwood plank seat, a sign of the laughter and play only children can muster these days, missing since my boys are men now. Like a scab on the knee in the summers of youth, the bare patch of grass gets picked at, stomping, braking, gliding little feet, pumping the air, digging the earth, gathering flight in Sycamore’s shade.th-2.jpeg

“I’ve been meaning to thank you for curving your new sidewalk twenty years ago around my surface roots. Sorry my feeders send out water seekers into your sewer line. We had a four-year drought, remember? When you stopped watering the lawn, I had to do something. The rotor-rooter you rent clears the line once a year. Like spring cleaning, we can work together on this. You love the shaded parking spaces!” Wink, branch wave, pollen-filled seed bomb drops at my feet. “The runny nose I send your way clears the sinuses of the plague, you know.”

A conciliatory embrace…who’s looking?th-5.jpeg

I grab an extra early-morning hug from Valley Oak. The crescent moon and Venus have long since set beyond the fog’s horizon. A mourning bird sings a harkening tale of day-break. Will this be the day the numbers of those infected have flattened? Parks re-open perchance?

th-1.jpegWhere have all the songbirds gone? Like the last Dr. Seuss Truffula Tree. Sing on. As nature calls my heart open, my arms welcome a restoration consideration.

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Cliff Zyskowski is a retired psychiatric technician and a Chicago native now living the good life in wine country. When not hashing out a long-winded memoir, he plays the piano for inspiration. His work has appeared in The Bohemian and The Sonoma Sun.

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Filed under Aging, Autobiographical Writing, COVID19, Guest Bloggers

My Happy Crusade

 

I am thrilled to introduce my followers to a new friend and writer I met at this year’s Left Coast Crime conference. Anne Louise Bannon saved my voice with menthol drops during Author Speed-Dating, where we presented our books to almost 200 readers. (I’d say she was a lifesaver, but they were Hall’s.) Later, after the conference went on the chopping block of coronavirus, Anne Louise saved my sanity (I couldn’t get my flight changed) at the bar, where we flirted with the handsome bartender and discovered we have in common  a taste for  Virusvodkatinis and Long Good Bye Gimlets.

Today, Anne Louise Bannon is helping us build a better story during lockdown with her Happy Crusade.   Let’s give her a warm welcome!

 

 

INTRODUCING ME AND MY LATEST CRUSADE

By Anne Louise Bannon

When Ana Manwaring stopped by my blog last month [https://annelouisebannon.com/ana-manwaring-on-writing/], she asked me to come by here for a visit. So, here I am.

I met Ana at the aborted Left Coast Crime conference last March. We both got to participate in one major event, the Author Speed-Dating. Basically, we authors go from table to table, and offer up a two-minute pitch to the readers at each table. I knew it was going to be intense as hell because I’d been at a similar event for winemakers a couple years before.

You see, I’m also a wine blogger with my husband. The blog, OddBallGrape.com [https://oddballgrape.com], is on an extended hiatus for now. But a couple years ago, we were more active and at a conference for wine bloggers, we tasted while winemakers went from table to table and poured in two-minute pitches. With the Author Speed-Dating, I was looking forward to being on the other side of the table.

I am a pretty confident public speaker, which means I appreciate the value of rehearsal. Ana, who would also be presenting that morning, caught me muttering my pitch to myself, and came over and gave me another chance to rehearse. I may have mentioned that I was a touch nervous (which one should be – it keeps you on your toes). What a sweet offering! I did, of course, then remembered my manners, and heard her pitch, as well. It was wonderfully dramatic – just enough tongue in cheek for the occasion, but gave a lovely sense of the more dramatic work she was presenting.

So, we got to talking afterward, exchanged contact information, and we both have dates for a drink when we land in the other’s territory. Assuming we ever get off lockdown, that is.

Which brings me to the main reason I wanted to write about Ana’s act of kindness. You see, as scary as things are, it helps me to feel better when I can do something nice for someone else. Also, at a recent Zoom meeting, I pointed out that happy or funny stuff often helps me deal with the more dire events of the day. The idea that we’re helpless in the face of being stuck at home as the headlines get worse and worse is not the way it really is. There are things we can do, including being present to somebody whose anxiety levels have hit the ceiling. We can look at Mary Tyler Moore re-runs for a good laugh to restore our spirits. We can write about our scary feelings and turn them into a really, really powerful story.

At that same meeting, somebody asked for some happy stuff to read. What I’m proposing:  in the comments here, you share books that make you happy for one reason or another. Admittedly, what constitutes happy stuff will vary from person to person. Some folks might love a good horror story, with the return to order making them feel a lot better about the scary stuff we’re facing. Me? Not so much. I want to laugh, but that’s me. The idea is to discover new faves and maybe stretch ourselves a little, if that helps. Authors, here’s a chance to help your friends.

Like my friend Carol Louise Wilde, who has a wonderful series called the Nagaro Chronicles. It starts with Gift of Chance. It’s technically a fantasy because it doesn’t take place in the real world as we know it, but there’s no magic. The story is about a young man whose escape from political intrigue and those who would control him forces him on the journey to his true destiny. It’s not exactly funny, but it’s a rip, roaring good yarn, and that makes me feel good, too. Oh, and Ana Manwaring has some lovely thrillers, too.

But it’s your turn. What’s your happy stuff?

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Anne Louise Bannon is an author and journalist who wrote her first novel at age 15. Her journalistic work has appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Wines and Vines, and in newspapers across the country. She was a TV critic for over 10 years, founded the YourFamilyViewer blog, and created the OddBallGrape.com wine education blog with her husband, Michael Holland. She is the co-author of Howdunit: Book of Poisons, with Serita Stevens, as well as author of the Freddie and Kathy mystery series, set in the 1920s,  the Operation Quickline Series and the Old Los Angeles series, set in the 1870s. Her most recent title is Sad Lisa. She and her husband live in Southern California with an assortment of critters. Visit her website at AnneLouiseBannon.com, and look for her latest release:

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Link to books: https://annelouisebannon.com/fiction/

Editor’s note:

I’m currently enjoying, Death of the Zanjero, Book 1 of the Old Los Angeles series, set in 1870, the time ranchers and farmers paid the zanjero for rights to access water. I heard the pitch at Author Speed-Dating, “When life was cheap and water could cost you everything.”

When Burt Rivers’s body floats up out of the irrigation ditch, or zanja,  winemaker and healing woman Maddie Wilcox must find out who killed him, a chase that will tax her intellect, her soul and her very belief in humanity before she’s done.

 

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Filed under Books, COVID19, Guest Bloggers, Inspiration

Shelter In Place, A Poem

COVID-19 has changed life as we know it across the world. Here at Building a Better Story we’ve been sharing stories and wisdom on the inevitable—aging. Now the universe has tossed a time bomb into our timelines. Instead of aging gracefully, we need to stay alive! I’m asking our guest contributors to share their thoughts on the Coronavirus pandemic. Returning to Building a Better Story, please welcome poet Theresa Ortez with her positive message on the lockdown and disease, Shelter in Place. Welcome back, Theresa!

By Theresa Ortez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you meet on the street
Stay away 6 feet
Cover mouth and nose
Don’t get too close
Stay inside
Seniors should abide
Still, I want to go outside
No handshaking to greet
Can I use my feet?
Stay healthy until we meet
We are in this together
We shall defeat

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Filed under COVID19, Inspiration, Poetry