How will you remember 2020 and 2021?

Here’s a brief excerpt from my upcoming book:

April 28, 2020
I read an article today about how we will remember—or not remember—this pandemic. The gist of the article is that we will not remember much of what we’re experiencing during this time. The days, and what we do in the course of those days, will merge together. We’ll remember key emotional moments, but not the experience in its daily details. I believe this, intrinsically, which is why I’m keeping this journal, and becoming obsessive about recording what I do each day, from the most trivial details—perhaps a note about what I had for dinner—to my inmost feelings.

Imperfect Heart: A Journal, a Book Club, and a Global Pandemic is my personal chronicle of the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic and the political chaos that our nation experienced in lockstep with the health crisis.

It also takes you on a month-to-month journey with a fictional book club. The book club consists of four friends who meet on Zoom to talk about books, the pandemic, their personal lives, and whatever political crisis is in the news.

Intimate journal, contemporary chronicle, sequential fiction, Imperfect Heart is familiar in its elements, yet unconventional in its juxtaposing of those elements. It follows an unprecedented time in our nation’s history –- a time that has touched everyone –-and a time that we cannot afford to forget.

I’m looking forward to telling you more about my new book!

Don’t let the bastards grind you down

If you don’t recognize the subject line, it’s from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood—a translation of a faux Latin phrase scratched into a closet wall by a woman who has mysteriously disappeared.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a high value for privacy. It’s not easy to protect one’s privacy these days, but it has just become exponentially more difficult.

Today we lost a privacy of inestimable value. The Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, a constitutional right for almost 50 years, attacks our very existence as private citizens in the United States of America.

How did we get here?

During the height of the pandemic, I wrote a book in which I considered this question, among others. The book is called Imperfect Heart: a Journal, a Book Club, and a Global Pandemic. It will be published in December by Adelaide Books.

Imperfect Heart follows the pandemic and the political scene in the months between March, 2020, and December, 2021. It is very personal as to my life and my opinions, but it also details the concurrent domination of a global pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes and a president who challenged our most fundamental moral imperatives.

It was the confirmation of three Supreme Court justices during the former president’s term of office that enabled the overturn of Roe v. Wade. And this is just the beginning of a massive invasion of our privacy.

The overturn of Roe v. Wade signals the seep of surveillance and control over every aspect of our lives, but especially our most intimate and private decisions. It will impact our health, our physical safety, our mental stability, the decisions we make concerning our bodies, and our right to privacy. It may well lead to arbitrating who we choose to love and marry, and ultimately who, in our right of self-determination, we choose to be.  

The habit of writing, or what Indi taught me

Recently, my dog, Indi, tore open the corner of a plastic garbage bag that I had sealed and temporarily left on the kitchen floor. She smelled some loose flour and was chugging it down when I got to her. Unfortunately, she spent some time choking and gagging on the flour stuck in her throat.

Since then, she has become a hardened criminal. She got into a grocery bag (just delivered by Instacart) and pulled out a plastic bag of tomatoes. She tore open the bag and was feasting on a tomato when I caught her in the act. She is now on the lookout for scavenging opportunities.

In case you’re wondering, Indi is an older dog, a gentle, lovable terrier who has never before engaged in criminal behavior. She’s wild about tomatoes, the crispy ends of iceberg lettuce, apples, hard-boiled eggs and, of course, anything made with flour. In my establishment, she has little access to meat, other than her dog food.

The point is, Indi picked up a late-in-life habit after one rewarding lurch into criminality. She was almost instantly habituated. And my question is, can we as readily pick up (or resume) the habit of writing?

I kinda think so.

My writing habit has always been to write in the morning. At one period in my life, for a long period of time, I got up at 5:30 in the morning to write, before I showered and dressed for work. For a couple of hours each morning, I wrote by hand, sitting cross-legged on the floor, at a coffee table now in the living room of my California family. I wrote my early novel manuscripts that way.

Mornings work for me. Sometimes I continue into the afternoon and evening but I like to start my engine in the morning–the earlier the better. I got up at 3:30 a.m. recently and wrote all morning and into the afternoon. I was, surprisingly, not at all sleepy that day, probably because I was on a creative high.

I have, of course, gotten off track many times. That’s when the writing is hard—-hard to come back to, hard to write when I do come back to it.

Writing on a regular basis is a homely habit. It’s simple, modest (a few pages a day, maybe?), and only rewarding in itself. It’s like housekeeping. You do it; it lasts for a day or so; you do it again. It’s both satisfying and frustrating, since you know it’s only good if you repeat it on a regular basis.

Still, I highly recommend writing as a habit. The more you do it, the better the results. Indi picked up a (bad) habit almost instantly, because it was rewarding. My reward, as a writer, is words on a page, and more words on a page, and so on, until–voila!–it’s a finished draft, on its way to becoming a story or a novel.

Speaking of which, my latest novel, Only Yesterday, is now available both in print and as an ebook. Look for the print and ebook editions at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Other ebook destinations are Scribd, Smashwords, Kobo, and Apple Books.

“You never have to change anything you get up in the middle of the night to write.”
― Saul Bellow

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”
― Ray Bradbury

“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
~ W. Somerset Maugham

Happy New Year

Warm holiday greetings to you and your loved ones, and best wishes for a healthy and happy new year.

That said, at the close of our second year of living in proximity with a deadly virus and its various offshoots, I sometimes feel, as you may, that “normal” life is somewhere over the rainbow, and that even the Wizard of Oz can’t make it come back.

I tell myself it’s okay to be both hopeful and skeptical. In the work I’m just finishing–a personal chronicle of the past two years–I’ve tried to frame and to make meaningful the events that began in early 2020 and are still seriously impacting our lives. I’ve called on story in several forms–current events, fiction, memoir–to give some shape and rationale to the ways in which we’ve changed course–and why.

Meantime, it’s good to have you on my mind and in my heart as we close out this year and move onto the next. As E. M. Forster so famously reminded us: “Only connect.”

It’s in print!

Only Yesterday

I’m pleased to announce that my new novel, Only Yesterday, is now available in print at Amazon.

Only Yesterday, published by Adelaide Books, is a novel about passion, remembrance, and acceptance. In the last few days of his life, Pete Cameron (Cam) engages in a final struggle with self-doubt as he deals with memories of his past. The story takes place in the Midwest between 1961 and 2003, moving back and forth in time as Cam looks back on his life, his love for Maggie, and the choices he made.

Both print and ebook editions will be available soon through your local bookstores and at online sites.

Here’s to good health, good spirits, and lots of creative energy after our 16-month (and still counting) pandemic experience.

What were you doing a year ago?

A year ago, my stay-at-home lockdown date happened to be Friday the 13th. I went out in the afternoon, stocked up on groceries at TJs, filled the tank with gas, ran a couple of errands. Then I went home, and there I’ve stayed ever since—with some limited in-car excursions.

I’ve now had a first vaccine, and it looks as though my get-out-of-jail card will be good by about the middle of next month. That’s hopeful.

Was it worth it? It was, although it has been a long and lonely year. What has helped to get me through it? Writing, of course. That’s my oxygen. I have a manuscript that might grow up to be a book. I have supportive family and friends. A routine that gives me focus and a plan for most days. A regular dose of yoga. FaceBook and Zoom. A cozy nest of a home and, within that home, a canine companion who is a good listener and doesn’t seem to mind my off-and-on approach to housekeeping. As to that, I keep the kitchen and bathroom clean, the bed made, belongings in mostly orderly condition, and let the dust fall where it may—until I’m motivated to launch a vacuum/Swiffer attack.

In terms of following politics, I was addicted for most of the year and am only now moving away from hourly and sometimes minute-by-minute reading, listening, watching. The news was often, for me, terrifying and horrifying, and I use those words deliberately. There was a steady flood of “breaking news” from lockdown through January 6 and beyond—much of it generated by an out-of-control pandemic and an out-of-control president.

As we recover from multiple political tsunamis and, with a new administration, begin to experience a day-by-day calming of the waters, I have returned to a more normal news infusion. I know what’s going on but I’m not in perpetual crisis mode. It’s quite a relief.

We have all been subjected to the same political turmoil, and the same life-sucking pandemic. It’s not over, but it’s better. We’re not coming together politically, but we’re coming back to relative health and freedom of movement.

May God watch over the families and friends of those who lost their lives during this pandemic, and keep us safe as we carefully and with deliberation return to our blessedly “ordinary” lives.

Greetings from my island to yours

Garland with lights

Your island may be small and confined, or larger and more populated, but this year we’ve been more or less beached and isolated.

In this year unlike any other, my heart goes out to all those personally affected by the pandemic—and that includes most of us.

Warm—and I mean California warm—wishes for a healthy and peaceful New Year. The vaccine is here. A new administration is gearing up to turn our topsy-turvy world right-side-up again.

As I said last year about this time, all life is precious, especially yours. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Dancing in the streets

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme. 
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
Irish poet, playwright and translator
1995 Nobel Prize in Literature

This is a favorite Joe Biden poem, which I heard recited moments after he was announced President-Elect, on Saturday, November 7.

When I heard the news, at 8:25 that morning, I cried. I couldn’t stop crying. The feelings of relief, thankfulness, exhilaration, joy, were overwhelming. I had been waiting to exhale for months. Now, at last, we as a nation could do just that.

The street and neighborhood celebrations throughout the country showed me how many of us felt as I did and do. At the same time, I realize that, while 77 million Americans feel as I do, 72 million do not, are not celebrating, are frustrated in the way I’ve been for the last four years. 

I believe in the two-party system. I think it’s a good and necessary balance between political, social, and personal beliefs. Since Donald Trump’s election, the Republican party has become, in many ways, unrecognizable. Hopefully, it is still, in its essence, viable.

Throughout this election process, I’ve been cautiously optimistic. I hope we are able to get past whatever lies in store for us between now and January 20, when Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America.

The last four years were an aberration. I look forward to returning to an era in which qualified candidates engage in a fair fight for political ascendancy.

Hold on

photos Michael J. Fuhrman

One of the most important things I learned when I was a student of yoga was to hold a pose well beyond the comfort zone — that is, well beyond the point at which I felt I could no longer hold it.

At some point, my body responds to this extended hold. I begin to feel things other than my discomfort. I feel subtle changes in my body — a lengthening, a loosening, a letting go. Most of all, I feel a heightened awareness. The discomfort doesn’t go away — it just shifts, recedes. As I adjust to these strengthening and healing sensations, I realize that I can do what, just moments ago, I felt I could not do.

We have been holding a difficult and challenging pose for months now — far beyond any sort of comfort zone. It would be easy, and such a relief, to give up at this point, to relax, to escape the bounds of our homes, our rigorous adherence to masks, handwashing, sanitizing — as well as our voluntary distancing from families, friends, events and activities we desperately miss.

That’s why my message, both for myself and for you, is, “Hold on.”

Now, when more than 200,000 Americans have been tragically lost to this pandemic, hold on. Stay with the masks, the handwashing, the sanitizing, the physical distancing. Hold on, despite the inexplicable refusal of many of our fellow Americans to follow these guidelines.

Now, when climate change is so starkly visible — in excessive heat, wildfires, hurricanes, flash floods — hold on. Our votes are needed to put the brakes on this devastation.

Now, when we have a decent, well-qualified man and a decent, well-qualified woman ready to lead us out of the political, social, and environmental chaos of the last four years, hold on.

Now, when we have so sadly lost a beacon of women’s rights and equal justice, hold on. The spirit and legacy of the “Notorious RBG” will be with us as we move forward — along with the spirit and legacy of those we have lost to the pandemic.

Now, when voting is already underway that can potentially change our lives, and the future of our country, hold on. Plan your vote. Follow your vote. Verify your vote. Vote as if your life depended on it. This year, in so many ways, it does.

Hold that pose — even though it seems endless, and painfully uncomfortable — for as long as it takes.

photos Michael J. Fuhrman

Isolation and chaos

Trumpeter Swans

You and I — and everyone else in this country to a greater or lesser degree — have been incarcerated for four months now — voluntarily incarcerated for the most part, but incarcerated, nevertheless.

It has been a profoundly challenging and difficult time for all of us.

In an article published in The Nation on March 23, 2015, Toni Morrison said this:

“Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom.”

I’m searching for that information.

It would be so much easier if we could see light at the end of the tunnel. But that light has all but gone out with the resurgence of Covid-19. A California representative said recently, “We’re not driving this virus; we’re riding it.”

Somehow, we’ve got to make it through the next few months, doing what we can to halt the “resurgence” or “second surge” of the virus — a surge largely attributed to ignoring these simple guidelines:

1. Wear a mask (let’s all just do it, goddammit!) when you leave home.
2. Wash your hands frequently (to the tune of “row, row, row your boat”).
3. Keep your distance (now is not the time for hugs and high fives).
4. Do not reopen (schools, businesses, venues) too soon.

Somehow, we’ve got to make it through to November, and the opportunity we have to put an end to the madness of the current administration. So much depends on our vote, and the integrity of the voting system.

I’m hopeful — make that cautiously optimistic — that we’ll make use of the knowledge, perhaps even the wisdom, arising out of the simultaneous isolation and chaos of this unprecedented year.

God bless you. Be brave. Be patient. Be safe and well. My heart goes out to those who are coping with illness and the loss of friends and family members.