Editor’s Note: Like everyone else, all of East Village Magazine‘s staff — none of whom are full-time employees and who juggle many other lives — have been sheltering in place since late March. We’ve stayed in touch by email and phone, and had one Zoom writers’ meeting where we rejoiced in seeing each other’s faces–from 10 different rooms, with 10 different sets of books, plants, pictures behind them — and figuring out how to keep EVM going in a time of crisis.
At that meeting, our writers made it clear they are coping with the pandemic by doing what almost all of them do best: writing about it. Prevented in many cases from doing traditional “old school” reporting, we agreed writing about their own lives would be one available way to process what is going on. So here, personally and candidly, are excerpts from what they offered in April, 2020–maybe useful for historical archives eventually when the world–if we survive–examines this remarkable era.
Tom Travis, assistant editor: 85 miles of pandemic walking
I used to scoff at people posting Facebook Live events. Events like cooking hamburgers, shopping for shoes at Target, drunk dudes filming who was drunker or God-forbid, a Facebook Live event of people taking a walk. I used to roll my eyes hard at this stuff.
The pandemic has changed us, brought us into new habits. And with so much time on our hands it has afforded us moments to reflect on the ever present challenge – our own character defects. So to avoid all that I took to the streets donning my brand new, seldom worn, Nike running shoes, jogger sweats, blue spring jacket, beanie hat and some mornings – gloves. And now, a gaiter mask.
Almost every day during the pandemic quarantine I have been walking the streets of Flint. I began doing Facebook Live videos because, even though I rolled my eyes at others doing it, I actually wanted to figure out how to do it. I needed to figure out how to do a “Live” event on Facebook without all my friends seeing what a fool I was being. But in the spirit of Nike I decided to “just do it!”. To my amazement people watched, then they commented, then they said they liked the walking videos, some even love them. Some who really can’t get outside because of physical limitations said they watch on their computer and “walk with me.”
I ended up turning my love for Flint and exploring unique, historical and naturally beautiful areas into a pandemic walking tour Facebook Live event. Some ask me to sing, or turn the camera so I show my face. I’m not ready for that. That’ll be the “next” level. Some have even asked me to do walking tours in the suburbs of Flint, but I decline. Flint is my vibe.
Over the last five weeks of the pandemic I have walked 158,706 steps, which translates into just over 85 miles. Which means I could have walked to Port Austin, or back and forth to Lapeer twice, or got some cheese in Pinconning, or Battle Creek or even to Detroit. But I chose to walk the streets of Flint.
Tammy Reese, staff writer: “So, I just am…sometimes I just can’t move”
Sprawled across my loveseat with my feet dangling over the arm, listening to the gurgle and splashes of my fountain, there are no other sounds than the occasional meow from one of my two feline roommates.
There are no other people here. I have TV and music, but I don’t usually have them going. I’m a water baby and the sound of the water comforts me. A friend mentioned one of the most interesting things about this time is how the Earth is healing herself. Skies are clear that have been overcast with pollution for decades are now clear blue.
Animals are walking freely where they usually hid from humans. It’s not hard to imagine that they would rule the world if it weren’t for us. We’re derelict in our duties as stewards of the Earth and all its inhabitants.
So, here I am. I’m not going stir crazy or bored out of my mind, but sometimes I am anxious. Sometimes I just can’t move. My mind tells my body to get up and do something, anything, don’t just lay here, playing on your phone.
For the first few weeks, it was like waiting for a job interview. That sense of uncertainty and possibility, of make or break, or maybe a complete waste of time because the outcome is already decided before I ever walk into the room. So, I just am. And, I can’t move.
Then, like an unexpected gift or a chance re-acquaintance of an old friend, just as suddenly as everything had frozen, it all miraculously thawed. “We have a mandatory Zoom meeting Monday at 9 a,m. to discuss reopening school as online classes…” my principal chirped on the phone. And plans needed to be made to welcome the children. I hadn’t seen them, felt their energy, their life-affirming casserole of hormones and emotions, their way of making me feel like I have a purpose for being, since that chaotic last day of school when the security advocate came into my room and foreshadowed the announcement of school closing indefinitely. Of course the kids were excited—like the day before a potential snow day, but this was different. This was a bit frightening.
We are now adapting to a united solitary world. We must become tech savvy, attend Zoom meetings, create online Google classrooms, use courseware, and adjust to a different way of teaching. The students are natives to using their phones and social media, but they do not know all these new software better than we do. We have to teach them from afar.
My pastor’s wife shared an anecdote of an experience she and her son had. He didn’t understand how to do his assignment and neither did she. He bemoaned that he couldn’t just ask his teacher or whisper his question to his elbow partner. They both cried a little about how there is so much more to school than just academics. He missed his friends, his teacher, and the whole ethos of the school. Part of his life was missing. I felt the same way, but knowing they would be on the other side of my computer screen, and we would be there for each other were enough to get me up and moving.
My classes have mandatory Zoom meetings on Mondays also. It’s good to see each other.
Paul Rozycki, political columnist and staff writer: “At least the grass will be cut”
Compared to many others, I have many reasons to feel lucky about the impact of the COVID-19 virus on us. For all the problems and frustrations that so many face with the COVID-19 crisis, we have avoided the worst of them.
So far, we are healthy, and have shown none of the usual symptoms.
We have much less to worry about than our neighbors. One neighbor is a nurse who faces the full impact to the virus every day in her work, and worries about bringing it home to her family. Another has seen her business shut down, and wonders when it, and her income, will return.
In contrast, as retirees, we don’t have to decide about choosing between going to work, risking exposure to the virus, or losing our income, as so many do. The house is paid for, we don’t have student loans, and we don’t have any unusually large bills to worry about. Though one friend’s wedding has been cancelled until next year, so far, we haven’t missed many big family events.
Like most, we have seen our usual habits changed, as we stay at home, and stay six feet from others when we do go out.
When we need to make the infrequent trip to the grocery there are odd mixed feelings. On one hand, there is some enthusiasm. “Great, we’ve got something to do!” But then there is the haunting worry. “Is this trip really necessary? Am I likely to pick up something? When is a good time to go, when there won’t be too many people there?”
We’ve seen more TV than we’ve seen for years. It’s really been great to see all the reruns of Ken Burns’ documentaries on the Roosevelts, WWI, and the 1918 Spanish influenza on public TV. The travel programs are a decent distraction during lunch or dinner.
We’ve also discovered lots of old, long-forgotten programs on the various legacy channels. It’s kind of fun to see the old Johnny Carson shows from decades ago, and even “Gunsmoke” seems better than I recall it as a kid. Other shows raise doubts about “the golden age of television.” It’s also an odd feeling when “Jeopardy” is the main focus of your evening plans. Even ten year-old basketball games are starting to look interesting.
As a news junkie, I’ve always been an avid viewer of the news, both local and national. However, these days, I often find myself so saturated with all the COVID news, numbers, infection rates, and reminders to wash my hands, and stay six feet away, that I’m relieved when any other news story pops up. In a strange way, it’s almost refreshing to hear a story about bad storms in some other part of the country, a foreign policy crisis, a big fire someplace, or even the Flint city council.
Nancy, who is an avid letter writer, has written and received more letters and cards than usual from her friends. We’ve been gratified by the many calls and letters we have received from friends. While the junk mail has diminished, it’s still a big point in the afternoon to hear the mail being dropped off.
In terms of activities, I have been more frequent about my (almost) daily walks at For-Mar and elsewhere, and that’s been a good reason to get out, get a little exercise, and take a few pictures. As spring comes, I’m more willing than ever to find a reason to get out and “do something” in the yard. A few weeks ago, I was almost happy to see that the grass had grown enough for me to go out, and start up the mower for the first time this year. (I was even more surprised that it did start, after sitting in the garage for the winter.)
And, of course, the virus has brought pain and disappointments. Two relatives of our friends have been sick with the virus for several weeks, and they are only slowly improving. Two people I knew have died.
As we move towards the Michigan spring and summer, many of the events, activities and festivals that we enjoy have been canceled or postponed. I find that I miss even the “routine” meetings that were part of my week, more than I expected. I think it’s been almost three weeks since I filled up the tank in the car—though I’ll have to go out and get gas for the mower soon.
Some of the things that I was going to do “when I get the time” still don’t seem to be getting done. I’ve planned on starting to organize my books, and declutter some of the closets. It hasn’t happened. I blame it on the fact that Goodwill is closed, but I don’t think that’s the real reason.
So we’ll wait and hope for the curve to flatten, the numbers to decline, and a return (someday) of something resembling ‘normalcy’. I suspect that even then, I’ll still have cluttered closets and disorganized book shelves. But at least the grass will be cut.
Patsy Isenberg, staff writer: “We all have something to fear every day”
I’ve thought a lot about how the pandemic has affected me. Each day I seem to have a different attitude. There’ve been days when I am depressed and feel kind of hopeless. Then there will be days when I tell myself to lighten up and keep enjoying life despite the “new normal.
One thing though is that when another problem pops up it’s harder to cope with because my mind is so preoccupied with all that goes along with trying to avoid catching the virus that I can barely handle the extra problem. I don’t like going out and prefer to stay home. I don’t like wearing a mask and gloves and I’m constantly trying to remember what needs sanitizing and what order to do it all. I think masks will bet better though. There are probably designers working on it and it would be a good money-making venture for some. Gloves will also start becoming more readily available.
I keep falling back on the thought that if we had more testing available it would alleviate a lot of fear in people. I think this will go on for a lot longer, until there’s a vaccine. I just watched a Ken Burns’ documentary about New York City. The last episode (which was added after the first several from 1999) which was made in 2001 was all about the attacks on 9/11 were hard to watch but actually reminded me that people get through hard times.
This pandemic is different in many ways but all of those crises people my age have lived through (there’ve been so many) but this changes our lifestyles so drastically and we all have something to fear every day.
I saw a man walking his dog the other day who I’ve spoken to before and this time he was wearing a mask. I said hello to him and we talked a little about the pretty spring day. He said, “I’m 71-years old” — [my age exactly] — “and I’ve never seen America in worse shape.”
Coner Segren, staff writer: “Everyone looks urgent and frozen in amber”
I am one of the people experiencing the coronavirus pandemic from a distance, where everyone looks urgent and frozen in amber at the same time. As a student at U of M, all my classes moved online about a month ago, and the transition has been a little jarring, despite the best efforts of the faculty, who have nonetheless been very helpful.
As a substitute teacher, my job has also evaporated with all the K-12 schools closing down, which has been tough because I’ve found myself missing a lot of the classes I’ve come to know over the past year and a half on that particular job. In addition to K-12, the semester at U of M is over, and that all means a new kind of stasis around the corner.
It’s often an uncomfortable distance because you know there is nothing you could do to change the course of events except stay home and prevent it from spreading. So, it’s lots of waiting and seeing. Seeing empty schools. Seeing the empty parking lot of the thrift store by my house on its half-off sale day, when it would normally be overflowing with people. All of it a little surreal.
Being shut in puts into perspective a lot of the little things you take for granted, like going to see a movie or going out to dinner or even just speaking person-to-person at the credit union. And then you realize that you’re one of the lucky ones, one of the people who doesn’t have to go to work for low pay and then on top of that have to work with an overwhelming paranoia in the pit of your stomach that you could catch it simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Madeleine Graham, staff writer, “Tough measures for the safety of all”
At the Linden Lane Apartments, the safety of all has resulted in some tough measures. Only two people at a time are to do laundry. Only two people on the elevator at a time. US mail notifications are sent to our phones via text message when the mail is delivered. A lot of people are walking to the Dollar Tree for essential items.
Zach Neithercut, staff writer: “The blessing for me…has been time”
All things considered, this whole experience has truly been a mixed bag for me, both a curse and a blessing. The curse is the fact that I or someone I care about might come into contact with the virus and get sick.
Especially being a type I diabetic myself, I’ve had my fair share of days filled with anxiety and low mood. However, I’ve had time to take a step back and really reflect both on my life and life as a whole and where it might be heading. I
I’ve been able to be more mindful of the fact that I’m alive without constantly being on autopilot and rushing out the door for the next thing. Time to learn more things about myself, others, and the world. The blessing for me during this experience has been time.
These writers can be reached as follows: Tom Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tammy Beckett at email@example.com; Paul Rozycki at firstname.lastname@example.org; Patsy Isenberg at email@example.com; Madeleine Graham at firstname.lastname@example.org; Coner Segren at email@example.com; Zach Neithercut at firstname.lastname@example.org.