I suspect that for a while to come, I’ll view each week through the lens of where I thought I’d be, and what I thought I’d be doing, had COVID-19 not intervened.
This past week, I would have been in Houston for the annual conference of the Texas Library Association, which has long been one of my highlights each year.
I started attending the conference before I was published, just to soak up as much knowledge about the children’s publishing and literature ecosystem as I possibly could. When my first book, The Day-Glo Brothers, was published during the Great Recession and my publisher did not attend the conference, I was there anyway, sporting three matching, bright green T-shirts reading “Ask me who invented this color.”
When Jennifer and I got married in spring 2013, we essentially honeymooned at TLA. That’s how much we love that conference and the friends we get to see there, and that should give some idea of how acutely we felt the absence of the conference this year.
Instead, Jennifer focused on grading the work of her MFA students in the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ low-residency program in writing for children and young adults while I made some progress on a new writing project. I also pulled together resources for educators and students now shifting to at-home teaching and learning, and I shared the essay I wrote for School Library Journal on writing about grief and tragedy for young readers.
I kept myself informed on current events — mostly, though not exclusively, relating to the pandemic –through a handful of trusty sources:
- The New York Times Morning Briefing and afternoon Coronavirus Briefing newsletters
- NPR’s Up First podcast
- The Texas Tribune’s The Brief and TribCast podcasts
- Vox’s Today, Explained podcast
- The Lone Star Project, a daily email summary of news from Texas’ leading publications
- The Weekly Sift, a blog that summarizes the week’s events each Monday, with lots of analysis and a perspective that’s a welcome alternative to the minute-by-minute onslaught of breaking news
And for a welcome alternative to all of that, there’s walking Ernie:
During the previous week — the first full week of our sheltering at home — I went out of my way to establish a sense of routine for myself. I’m a creature of habit anyway, so what I’m saying is that I went above and beyond an already pretty substantial amount of regimentation, but I wanted to keep Friday from feeling like Thursday from feeling like Tuesday, while also having some sense of distinction between weekdays and weekends. It seemed important to me.
And it is important to me. I do think the schedule helps. But I’ve let a few things slide, lowered expectations of myself here and there, and in general calmed the heck down in a way that I think will make me a more tolerable person to be around in the weeks and months ahead. I’m still dressing better than usual, though. Button-down shirts Monday through Friday are my little reminder to myself that I’ve got a purpose each day, some worthwhile things to accomplish, and the self-discipline to stick to what needs sticking to.This past week featured my first serious grocery shopping since March 13, and it got off to a rocky start. Jennifer and I stopped by our neighborhood market while walking Ernie on Sunday evening, with the intent to load up a backpack with a few necessities. We got there at 8:08, only to learn that the store’s new closing time is 8 p.m. — and also to learn that I’m more susceptible to should-be-minor frustrations than I’d like to think. I went back on Monday afternoon, and what I saw inside was pretty demoralizing.
Wednesday morning, I was in line at our much-larger neighborhood H-E-B around 6:50 — I’d expected there to already be a substantial line, but I was maybe fifth from the front for the 8 a.m. opening. The store staff was on top of things, supplies were mostly ample, and what I saw of people’s behavior was reassuring. That reassurance was the result of a lot of work and planning on H-E-B’s part, as I learned from this Texas Monthly article a couple of days later about how H-E-B had gotten ready for the pandemic.
This week, we filled out our census questionnaire, I critiqued a friend’s new picture book manuscript, I created a discussion guide for What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and I marveled at how last-minute decisions that must have been agonized over just a couple of weeks before (such as the cancellation of TLA) have quickly given way to facing reality well in advance (as with the cancellation of the June conference of the American Library Association).
I’ve been listening to lots of music. Or, rather, I’ve been listening to music a lot, which is pretty much the norm for me.
In mid-February, I began curating a work-in-progress playlist for myself. It began with Elvis Presley’s “A Big Hunk of Love” and has mutated (it’s a long story) into nearly 600 songs including — among other things — these albums:
- Arctic Monkeys — Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
- The Beach Boys — 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow
- Bessie Jones — Put Your Hand On Your Hip, And Let Your Backbone Slip: Songs and Games From the Georgia Sea Islands
- Bobby “Blue” Bland — The Definitive Collection
- Bryan Ferry — Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974
- Eddie Floyd — Rare Stamps
- The Fleshtones — Hexbreaker!
- Floyd Red Crow Westerman — A Tribute to Johnny Cash
- Gloria Jones — Vixen
- The Kinks — Face to Face
- Linda Ronstadt — Canciones de Mi Padre
- Linda Ronstadt — Mas Canciones
- Neil Young — Mirrorball
- Pixies — Doolittle
- Ralph Stanley — Clinch Mountain Country
- The Reivers — Pop Beloved
- The Traveling Wilburys — The Traveling Wilburys Collection
- Various Artists — The Bahamas: Islands of Song
- Various Artists — Come On Up To the House: Women Sing Waits
- Various Artists — Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films
- Various Artists — Tulare Dust: A Songwriters’ Tribute To Merle Haggard
- Vince Gill & Paul Franklin — Bakersfield
- Will Kimbrough — This
When this is all over, the songs that remain on whatever this playlist evolves into will very likely be permanent reminders of this time in my life and our history. In the meantime, hearing this music just makes me happy.
And as I did last week, I’d like to close with an image of my Survivor Tree seedling, just as a reminder to all of us that beauty and life continue to unfold right in front of us, along with everything else.