Category Archives: Uncategorized

A different epidemic

Ena and I watched the BBC documentary: Keith Haring: Street Art Boy last night which was quite good. When Keith moved to New York and joined the late 1970s gay scene I thought, “He is going to die from AIDS” which brought back a flood of memories of that epidemic.

I was dating Chris Decaria. We were both in college at the University of Utah. Chris worked as a blood gas tech at the hospital in the evenings. I would go up and visit her during her shifts and walk the hallways with her as she went to draw blood from various patients. I remember when we started to see signs on doors of hospital rooms that said, “Virus of Unknown Origin”. This was code for patients who had HIV/AIDS. They had to use code because of the backlash against AIDS patients. People were saying that AIDS patients were being punished by God, that it served them right, that they should be shunned and sent out of society, etc.

AIDS Quilt on display on the Mall in DC

The AIDS Quilt on display in Washington DC. More than 50,000 panels make up the quilt of lives-lost.

In 1978 the assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were stunning events to the gay community and to many others. The HIV/AIDS epidemic and the social response by some was yet another.

Chris and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 to chase jobs in the medical products industry (the Bio Tech of then). AIDS was moving across the nation and AIDS activism was growing. The AIDS quilt project had been on display in the National Mall a couple of years earlier and it was now on tour around the nation.

I remember Chris and I going into San Francisco to the Castro district. We were walking around on a bright and sunny day (must not have been July) and enjoying ourselves as a young couple out in the big city. I caught the eyes of a man, dressed in loose white summer clothing. He was thin and pale and he had skin lesions – Kaposi’s sarcoma – on his face. I remember Chris looking at him and saying, “Kaposi’s sarcoma” sadly. What I most remember was the look on his face and in his eyes, a look of fear and aloneness and as if the world was judging him. Our eyes met briefly and I tried to say to him with my look, “I’m so sorry for you. You are not alone.” Now, I wish I had stopped to say something, though what, I don’t know.

Grace Cathedral in San Francisco was one of the few churches that opened its doors to people with HIV / AIDS. It did not judge but it offered support, comfort, and refuge. For the longest time, they had a sanctuary full of racks for candles for people to light in remembrance to loved ones lost to AIDS. A section of the AIDS quilt hung on the wall. I would go and visit and sit within that sanctuary and think about the epidemic and all the people who were upended and lost. It was and is stunning that Grace Cathedral’s response filled with compassion was the exception to human suffering. So much of America was filled with fear of and loathing for those who had gotten sick – by an unknown disease through an unknown way.

Keith Haring altarpiece at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

The Keith Haring altarpiece in the Grace Cathedral AIDS Chapel.

All of this came back to me watching the Keith Haring story. How little we have changed over the past 30 years. It is sad that we, as a nation, haven’t learned the lessons of compassion for others.

Keith Haring established a foundation upon his death that makes sure his artwork is accessible to everyone, that provides grants to children in need and the supports those suffering from HIV/AIDS. There is a lot we could learn from this gay artist about giving without judgement and caring for others.

Same as it ever was… same as it ever was…

Ena asked, “What do you want to do for your birthday?” My first thought was, “What can we do for my birthday that we aren’t already doing?” Neither of us think going to a restaurant is a good idea even though Seattle just opened up to Level 2 allowing restaurants to open at reduced capacity.

Same as it ever was David Byrne arm chop graphic.

I’m tired of not being surprised for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I do most of the meal planning and cooking. I’m a good cook so we are eating well. I’m also good at planning out a week or two ahead and stocking the fridge. This means that everything we do and eat; we think about, plan and cook. We cook new recipes all the time. New York Times Cooking has great recipes and most are good. But, it is all me reading and discovering, planning and shopping.

I miss going to a restaurant and being delightfully surprised by something on the menu that sounds lovely but isn’t something I was thinking about when I came in the door.

I miss going to The Dahlia Lounge (our favorite / was our favorite I guess… sigh) and seeing salmon or tuna on the menu but done in a really wonderful Asian fusion style or with some creative dish made from vegetables grown at Prosser Farms.

I miss unplanned trips downtown on the bus where we will “grab lunch someplace and maybe go to the museum or go for walk along the Sound”. Everything now is very carefully planned to minimize our risk of getting COVID-19.

What to do for my birthday that we aren’t already doing? We already go for walks in the off-peak times around here. We can’t take a lovely trip to San Francisco or back to Madison. We dare not, with Ena being high risk, go out to eat or to crowded spaces.

This is doubly true when you learn about the Long-Haulers syndrome that is a part of COVID-19. People have recurring symptoms for months. Some are completely debilitated by these recurring episodes. It sounds terrible and it is not uncommon. So far, the cause isn’t known. As The Atlantic put it, “The disease’s long-haulers have endured relentless waves of debilitating symptoms…”

Dr. Janina Ramirez commented on Twitter just recently about her recurring symptoms and many people replied that they too have been having recurring symptoms – some every two weeks.

So, what to do for my birthday? I’m guessing the same things we have been doing for the past 3 ½ months – being cautious, staying away from people, and cooking at home. Same as it ever was… at least during COVID-19.

Damn! Or Good! I can’t tell…

Ena had another angina attack last night while watching TV. This was the first one in 13 days. Part of me is thinking, “Damn! I thought we had this under control!” Another part of me is thinking, “Good! At least this happened while she still has her EKG monitor.” I thought we would be sending the EKG unit back (Borg Ena) and the Doctors would be saying to us that they didn’t see anything.

So Damn! Or Good! Or a bit of both? One good thing is that she responds to a single nitroglycerin tablet and that the attacks last 3 minutes or less. A bad thing is that she seems very uncomfortable during them. My role? I start a stop watch and I give her 30 second increment time counts. This gives her a sense of when it should be over. But, every attack does start a bit of the “if this doesn’t go away with the second pill, we call 911” countdown.

It is hard to believe that the whole COVID-19 and Ena’s angina thing has been going on for 14 weeks now. I have been home from work since the second week of March. That is a whole season. But then, time is a strange thing. Monday through Friday can crawl along at a snail’s pace. But some how, 22 years have gone by in flash. This is Ena and me on a hike in the Oregon Cascades in 1998. Look at how young and cute we were.

That moment seems like forever ago and also yesterday.

As The Doctor says, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff”

Circles and circles

I don’t know… is it aging? Is it an anti-anxiety drug side effect? I find myself starting something… say… going out back to weed and I think, “Oh. I want to take that pile of stuff up to the shed” so I change and start towards the pile of stuff. Then I think, “Oh. That’s right! I want to put the hooks up in the shed” so I start towards the basement to get my cordless drill et al. This turns into a series of dawnings of additions to the original task that leave me turning in a circle like a dog lying down or wandering 3 steps in one direction to turn and go four in another then two in yet another or I dash around the kitchen – dining room – living room – kitchen loop a couple of times.

This happens more than I would like. It starts to make me feel flaky or old or both. It definitely exhausts me mentally and emotionally which I really don’t need much help with.

Tintern Abby view through destroyed roof to blue sky and puffy clouds.

Today was a dark day. The bottom kind of fell out. I think that getting some answers for Ena and drugs that seem to be working means that I could finally let my guard down a little bit. And all the things that have been at arms length since the beginning of March came rushing in. And, the anti-depression / anti-anxiety drug side effects are catching up with me. These take the form of a ½ a migraine-like headache, upset stomach, body aches, and general malaise (for lack of more fancy word).

The side effects and the circles just made me very down. Not to mention: race riots, COVID-19 pandemic, impending financial crash the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 20s, the implosion of higher education budgets around the world, layoffs of people who I really like and really care about, giant killer wasps, monkeys stealing COVID samples and breaking out of labs, and everything that has turned 2020 into a melodramatic soap opera of epic proportions. I mean, if someone wrote this story and sold it to Hollywood, it would be in the same category as Sharknado. We have moved out of reality and into a nonsensical farce.

Except that it is so terribly, terribly sad. So many people suffering and dying and facing financial ruin. So much turmoil and uncertainty. The horrible national leadership on so many levels…

So today has been very, very dark for me. Breathe.

[The photo is from Tintern Abbey in Wales. The abbey fell into ruins after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. We went there with Ceri and Ruth when we were in the UK last September. What wonderful memories to draw on during these times though September seems like it was at least a decade ago in another life. – editor]

Creativity and Constraint

This is my favorite painting at the Chazen Museum in Madison, Wisconsin. It is called the Cable Factory. It is a large painting (80″ by 53″) that was created by Nikolai Alexandrovich Ionin. It was painted in 1935 in Soviet Russia under the Soviet Socialist Realism edict. At this time, all art must be accessible to the people and represent the great work of the people. You get paintings and sculptures of potato farmers and worker revolts during this period.

And, you get this one of strong men making wire cable in the glow of fires and machine lights.CableFactoryHiRes.png

When you first approach it, you should take it in from far away across the gallery. Stand there and take in the color and composition. The structure. The elegance of the wire spools – you know them as tables from college days. The rolled cuffs on the workers – their strong bare arms, muscles bulging from years of hard labor for the good of the country. Their clean shaven faces – showing that they are good men. The light pours in the back from an open door or skylight. There is a bright sheen on the new wire cable and there is hot fire in the gauging / winding machine. The workers seem calm and capable. You can almost smell the hot metal and hear the mechanical whirl of all of it. The ironwork that holds the upper floor looks touchable.

But then walk up. Walk up close. [This is what we miss by not having museums open -the presence of art. The changing and morphing perceptions of art as we approach it and get close.]

When you are close, then look at the background in this painting – study the detail in the ceiling and machines.

Here is a painter playing with cubism – with abstract art. Think about what is happening in art in Europe and America in the 1930s. Mondrian is painting color block squares and rectangles. Freda Kahlo is painting her provocative nudes.

Joan Miró has gone full-on psychoanalysis-driven surrealist.

But, Nikolai is here, in the Soviet era, painting men making wire. And yet, he is also exploring the wild and abstract painting styles of 1930. Here in these rafters, he has found a way to explore cubism and abstract art. Even under the dire constraints and the threat of Siberia, Nikolai has found a creative outlet and a way to explore new ideas and new boundaries.

I hope that we can get creative under these new constraints and boundaries of COVID-19. I hope we can new ways to express our visions and creations. Let us celebrate the hard workers who are keeping us fed and alive. And, let us also explore the new ideas and ways of creating even under the dire constraints that wrap our everyday lives.

Stay well. Be well. Create.

A phone call from Charles

A couple of days ago, Charles and I talked on the phone. Charles and I have a long history of saying, “we should talk more often”. Finally, we followed through. We chatted like teens for over an hour talking of current life and history long since gone.

There was a period of reminiscing about Malls and what they meant to us and young adults – a place to gather with friends, a place to see who else it out, a place to eat and watch a movie and buy gifts. We talked about how those adventures brought, not only us kids together, but parents too. I remember my Mom talking Mrs. Durney or Mrs. Alison about plans – “I can drop the kids off at the Mall on my way to Albertsons and they can have lunch and see a movie. Can you pick them about 3PM? Great.”

We talked of old downtowns and department stores and the right of passage when you could catch the bus downtown or your parents would drop you off to spend the day downtown. I would go to Auerbach’s Department store (my sister worked there) and ZCMI.

We talked about Ye Olde Telephone days when you had the long curly cord on the phone in the kitchen and it had a small burn mark on it where it was drug across a burner at some point. We talked about having the long cord on the desk phone and how you or a sibling would drag the phone into the room and close the door. You carry dimes for the payphone in case you needed to call home.

We talked of sickness and health. But mostly, we enjoyed our friendship which is almost 20 years old. A bit of the crazy from COVID-19 evaporated from our lives for an hour.

I think with all the other “platforms” that are available (Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook, etc.). We forget the old phone call and how much it means to just talk to a friend. We said we would stay in touch and talk again soon. This time, I’ll call.

Give someone a call sometime. Stay in touch.

Appreciation – Art in the house

The bottom kind of fell out Tuesday. I was tired and had a nap (actually two) midday. I don’t know if I was on the back side of a anxiety period when all that anxious energy ran out or if it was emotional exhaustion from the Sunday – Monday (and every other day for the past 8 weeks) events. That night, I was having trouble falling asleep which is very rare for me.

As I was trying to fall asleep, I started thinking about some of the art objects we own and their story. I found this very comforting and full of appreciation for our life together. I thought I would do a post each week about some of these things. A switch from the regular angst and worry.

This was the first piece that came to mind. It was made by a friend of ours in Madison. Gretchen Olson. Gretchen lived a few blocks away. She also had a doodle named Bode. We would take Lola for a walk and stop and say “hi” to Gretchen and scratch Bode if they were out. Gretchen would host an art fair in her house around Christmas time. Each Christmastime, we would walk down with Lola and put her out back with Bode. At some point, while we were there, the dogs would get into the house and they would race around lacing through the people and furniture wagging like crazy. I was always waiting for the crash of bookcase full of pottery or a table full of glass but it never happened.

We already lived in Seattle when I bought this piece. I saw it on her Instagram account (@gretchenolsonarts) and wrote to her instantly saying, “Ooo! I would like that piece!” This sits out in the living room. It makes me smile and warms my heart with both its beauty – simple organic lines, lovely soft pale turquoise glaze, open form – and the memories that are bound to it.

We have many other pieces by Gretchen. She made this wine chiller for us as a special request. The small Bee Bowl was another Instagram – “Ooo. I want It Piece”.

Pottery wine cooler with red dot and organic circles in black

It is good to have things that you can look to for calm and warm remembrances. It is also good to realize that many of the things that bring us happiness and connect us to others are close at hand. All you have to do is sit calmly and look.

Stay well and healthy. I’m still looking for a new normal and new rhythms. I hope you are finding the places where there is peace for you in this turbulent time.

7 Weeks and 2 shirts

So week seven of working at home closes. How many more? 50? Sigh…

Tonight I wonder if I can do it. If I can make it through to the end of all of this in all of its aspects: health, social, financial, political. Tonight is a down night. I look around and I see things that need to be done or threats – boxes that need to be unpacked and groceries that need to be sanitized. I was looking for a small Apple charger and every drawer I opened I thought, “I should really clean this out.”

Brain – that is not really the help I need right now.

It didn’t help that I looked at a work email from the President of UW that was talking about the unknown financial impacts to the University. They are big – what ever they are. I had just come in from planting some new native plants out back and I was feeling pretty good. I needed to get on my computer for a minute to look at the list of native plants that I’m thinking of ordering when I saw the email. I really shouldn’t have read it. Once again, brain – not really the help I need right now.

I also noticed that I have bleach marks on two of my shirts. I’m sure that this is from disinfecting everything that comes in to the house. So now I have a new thing to add the protection procedures – change into old clothes first.

I find myself looking for solace in aphorisms and Winnie the Pooh. There are so many news stories about – “What is the worst thing that could happen” like what if next Fall/Winter’s influenza season is also awful at the same time COVID-19 Part 2 hits the box office. The What Ifs are not really the help I need right now.

Someday, in a week or so, Ena will be off her crutches and more able to help I hope. That’s a positive thing to look forward too. She hasn’t had another angina attack since the one right after her surgery (4 weeks ago). That’s another good thing to think about. Spring is springing in a big way now.

As for the What Ifs that run through my brain? I look to Pooh’s and Piglet.

Stay well. I’m pulling for you. We will get through together.

So Sunday… and the ever resetting 5 day clock.

Last week was… challenging to say the least. Ena had surgery on Tuesday to remove a melanoma from her calf. She is now on crutches. During all of that, we discovered she has a cardiac issue too. So now we are dealing with that.

On Thursday, I had just gone to the grocery store in the hopes of not leaving the house for two weeks. Instead, we seem to running to Kaiser for tests and follow-ups every few days. When we get back from the clinic visits, we put our clothes and coats in the wash, wash our hands, then put on clean clothes.

I have set up a sanitation zone in the garage. All groceries and packages come into the garage. They sit for 24 hours if possible, then I unpack and sanitize things. If we don’t need them immediately, they sit on a shelf (dated of course) for 5 days. I’m willing to wait this out.

Every time I go out with people, I start a 5 day clock in my head. “How about today. Any symptoms?” At this rate, I never get past day three. We are back to Kaiser tomorrow morning.

From the amazing file: King Arthur Flour is out of flour and oats. There must be people who haven’t baked in 20 years who are now sitting on 50 pounds of All Purpose flour wondering if you put milk or water on it. They have it stacked in the back room on top of their 20 cases of toilet paper. Or maybe the US of A is discovering baking along with guns and beer.

There is an interesting trend according to this article. Baby chicks and seeds are sold out too. To quote:

“People are panic-buying chickens like they did toilet paper,” said Tom Watkins, the vice president of the company [Murry McMurry Hatchery].

People are heading back to the land and self-sufficiency. As the article says, “a new Victory Garden era”?

Finally, there is some light at the end of tunnel, at least in Washington. It appears we are bending the curve and getting towards a constant rate of new cases. We are NOT done with SARS-CoV-2 but we are getting out of crisis and more into maintenance. According to this prediction, the peak will hit us around April 17th. That doesn’t mean the end but it does mean that we can keep up the good (stay at home and 6 feet away from everyone) work and not have this get any worse.

To use a baseball analogy, which Brian McDonald of MOR Associates say I should never do: It is a home game. The visitors scored seven runs in the top of the first inning. We scored 4 runs to get back in the game. The games not over but at least we have a swinging chance.

Stay and healthy. Have a video conference dinner with friends. Buy some chickens and plant some seeds.


Week 4 begins

About to start up my fourth week of working from home (and thinking I should wash my hands and go sanitize all the light switches). Still looking for a more normal routine. I have really dropped looking at social media, news, websites from my routine. I check them in the morning. For the most part though, and for my sanity, I just plow on with my day. I check in to see how friends are doing and what they are posting but I skip the wider “I wonder what is happening on Twitter” which is always crazy-making anyhow.

I am trying to find a good book to read that will be the right balance of captivating and lighthearted. I watched and old Jeeves and Wooster yesterday. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are such a great comedic duo. I might have to buy the complete series to get through the next few months.

I feel like we are waiting for the storm. This must be something like waiting for a hurricane to make landfall in old times before modern weather forecasts when you could see dark clouds on the horizon and rough swells and a boat pulled into harbor telling tells of 40 foot seas and winds that would blow you right off the deck. Or like waiting in England as WWII builds in Europe and you are listening to the news and wondering if war will break out and if so, will we be involved and how long it will go on for.

To keep myself buoyed up and my head above the Seas of Anxiety (located near Charybdis), I imagine the time when I will sit with friends and we will have a glass of wine and talk about COVID-19 in the past tense and be glad it is behind us.

Until then, stay well and healthy.