Reading

Quarantine Diaries: Literati

Previous Story
Article Image

The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles [...]

Next Story
Article Image

BmoreArt’s Picks: June 30 – July 6

I am drawn to writers whose words are soft, in that they envelop me and cause me to return to myself through them. I believe writing should be soft and purposeful in a world where we are socially isolated, where the media has become a tool of propaganda and seemingly a mechanism to impart madness into the audience, rather than convey useful information. One of my favorite writers, my friend Ben Lewellyn-Taylor, is a master of clarity, allegory, and poetry, and his words hold an impeccable wit that is never patronizing or condescending. He makes what is apparently mundane feel poetic. His reliance on poetry as both a tool and an aim is something that I have attempted to adopt in my own writing. When I speak of writers being soft, I speak of their poetic nature. 

I am still reluctant to call myself “a writer,” in part because writers are my heroes. The idea of writing being my identity is something that terrifies me because I recognize the progenitors that influence me daily. My journey to my position as a person who is consistently able to think and write about art has been an interesting arc that I don’t ever want to take for granted.

Audre Lorde said that she “started writing because I had a need inside of me to create something that was not there.”  The question of purpose comes up for me and many other writers—I worry that my words are irrelevant or repetitive. What does it mean to write when so many others are already writing? Is there room for the words that I write in a world that celebrates the production of infinite words? But this rumination is not helpful for people like me who constantly procrastinate. And so, like Lorde, I have settled peacefully into using writing to tell my own story. 

Compiling this edition of the Quarantine Diaries was inspiring. I found solace in these reader-writer-literary advocate’s stories and hope that you do too. Their advice for continuing to create through these tedious months of quarantine is valuable and inspiring. Turning to beautiful words and language in times of turmoil is something that I have done consistently throughout my life. Reading has always served as some sort of luxurious escape, a way to connect individuals from across time, space, and distance. 

Baltimore is an inspiring place for both poetry and prose, for libraries and creative media collaborations. This edition of Quarantine Diaries focuses on five writers, literary advocates, and journalists. It focuses on their different but wise strategies for surviving quarantine, and especially the books and ideas that are getting them through.

 

 

The thing I am most craving post-quarantine is seeing the city gather for speakers, admiring the architecture of our building, and most importantly, connecting with each other as people. 
Heidi Daniel

Heidi Daniel, CEO, Enoch Pratt Free Library
Web: prattlibrary.org
IG: @prattlibrary
 

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? What has it been like for you?

I live in Bolton Hill. I’ve been quarantining with my husband David, my son Jack (age 12), my daughter Kat (age 10), and our beagle, Bayley (age 3 in human years). For three months, we have all been trying to work, learn, and play with nonstop togetherness. It’s been a little easier now that I’m back in my office at least a few days a week. 

Both children had birthdays during quarantine. Both had trips canceled for their birthdays. There was surprisingly little sadness about this from the two kids, and I developed a real appreciation for their ability to accept these rare and scary circumstances and make the best of it. I also learned the value of rowhome life in Baltimore during this time. We have great neighbors who also have kids, so there was singing on our individual porches as a birthday celebration. Seeing each other walking in nearby parks or sitting on our stoops talking really helped to lessen the sense of isolation while maintaining safe boundaries. 

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

I’m not amazing with the use of emojis, and my gif game is not strong either, especially compared with the rest of my family. But a quick review of emojis shows that I am partial to the basic red heart, the hug, and the winking-tongue-sticking-out emoji.

What are you reading? How has a specific author, book, article, or publication impacted your experience of quarantine?

When quarantine started, I’ll admit that reading was set aside. I found it hard to concentrate. Beyond the personal concern I had for my mom and my extended family, all of whom live out of state, there was the immediate heartbreak and stress of closing our 22 buildings, first to the public and then to staff. It was hard to wrap my mind around the idea of closing when the Library works specifically to bring people together. 

When I did start reading, I thought it might be helpful to re-read some pandemic-inspired books. I started with a book that I had loved when it came out, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Reading fiction has always helped me understand my own world better, in a way that nonfiction doesn’t. Which is to say that reading fiction helps me develop empathy and understanding for the world I exist in, and the others I share it with. This time, however, reading about a similar situation just added to my rising anxiety. I had the same reaction when someone suggested watching the movie Contagion

The book I ended up enjoying the most during quarantine was Little Family by Ishmael Beah. It led me to a completely different place and I became deeply attached to the characters as I pondered how beauty and joy grow in many circumstances, as well as the relationships between the powerful and the powerless. I also read Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid for my book club (which switched to Zoom) and because of my reading FOMO. This is the book that everyone was reading when COVID started, and I’m positive it’s destined for a streaming miniseries that we will all want to binge-watch. This is how I settle my mind at 2 a.m.—by slipping into the thoughts and experiences of someone else. And this is why I will always love the art of fiction. 

Of course, my reading list changed along with others after the horrific deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I’d read White Fragility by Robin Diangelo in the winter of 2019, and I started looking through it again along with Stamped from the Beginning and How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi. (Shameless plug: The Pratt and Prince George’s County are co-hosting a virtual program with Kendi on July 20 at 7 p.m. Check out prattlibrary.org for details.)

I’m looking forward to reading the remix, Stamped from the Beginning: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, which is for Young Adults, with both of my children over the summer. I’ve also just picked up A Black Woman’s History of the United States by Diana Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. (Reading lists on race by other Pratt staff can be found here.)

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine?

Although there were real challenges during quarantine with homeschooling and working, it also offered an odd, brief respite to connect with my children. I never stopped working, and as soon as Pratt closed we were planning virtual programs, expanding resources, and thinking of ways we could close the digital divide, such as Pratt’s drive-in wi-fi. At the same time, my children were suddenly always accessible to me. In the mornings I would roll out of bed and go get coffee in my kitchen, ready to start my workday the moment I woke up. I’d have a really lovely and previously unheard-of moment to have waffles and cereal with my children before it all started. Planning for an unknown future seemed less intimidating in my plaid pajama pants. And during the day I could check on them and see that they were there, safe and sound (if not always doing their assigned work). As we fell into a routine, the sounds of my family’s day became more of a comfort, and less of a distraction. I’ll enjoy being back in my office and in my work clothes, but the ability to hug my daughter after a tough meeting brought me needed strength during uncertainty. 

Also, my son learned to ride a bike during the pandemic, which at age 12 was long overdue. Because I could (and did) work while in my running clothes, he and I could squeeze in a quick lunch bike ride around the neighborhood. It helped us connect and talk about the small things, which was something we were starting to lose as he became a pre-teen boy. 

What are you most looking forward to after quarantine is over? What will you do, with great joy when you are allowed to?

Above all, I look forward to seeing the Pratt’s 22 libraries full again with the energy of community. I know it’ll be a while before there is unfettered use. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing customers browse the stacks and use the computers, hearing students enter the building in a clamor of afterschool joy, and knowing that our Library staff are engaging customers in the many ways that they do. I’ve ruminated on the feeling of loss when I look down at an empty Central Hall from the second floor of the Central Library. The thing I am most craving post-quarantine is seeing the city gather for speakers, admiring the architecture of our building, and most importantly, connecting with each other as people. 

What’s your favorite meal or food you’ve been cooking at home? 

I’m known as the “sugar monster” in our house. My sweet tooth is legendary. I love to bake, but I’m not in any way a professional. I don’t enjoy or excel at complicated cake decorating (I will, however, happily eat your complicated cake frosting). During quarantine, I baked whatever my kids were in the mood for and whatever I could get them interested in helping me with. Mini chocolate chip muffins, toffee cookies, salted caramel cookies, brownies, lemon bars, my mom’s “jello poke cake”…. We have a tupperware container that we fill and leave on the steps of our neighbors for social-distance cookie swaps.

One of my favorite things that I made during quarantine was my biological grandmother’s chocolate sheet cake. I’m adopted, and I connected with my biological father and his family for the first time two years ago. I look surprisingly like my biological grandmother. Baking her sheet cake gives me a sense of a biological ancestor tradition. And it’s delicious.

How have your professional goals shifted during this time? How can people support what you and your team do? 

So many people turn to the Pratt Library to connect to the internet in Baltimore. Our computer labs are always full. From the second we closed our doors, we’ve been working non-stop to try and bridge the digital divide. We’ve provided Drive-In Wi-Fi at 8 locations. We’d like the funding to add more. We’ve purchased Wi-Fi hot spots and internet-enabled Google Chromebooks to lend to customers. We’d like the funding to expand that even further. We’re partnering with some amazing local organizations to try and develop a mesh network to provide free internet service in communities. We’ve applied for federal grant funding to try and make that happen. The Pratt is always looking for innovative ways to help our community. We rely heavily on private donors to help turn those dreams into a reality. If you’d like to help you can visit prattlibrary.org and support our work.

 

 

I’m looking forward to spending time with my family after the quarantine. I haven’t seen my grandmother in three months and it’s driving me crazy. She’s my first stop when I leave isolation, but her safety was my priority. 
Sheri Booker

Sheri Booker, Writer/College Professor

Author of Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home and One Hustle One Woman: Poems
IG: @sherijbooker
Web: sheribooker.com

Where do you live? Who are you in quarantine with?

South Baltimore. I’m quarantining with the love of my life. 

What are the three emojis you are using most right now? 

Laughing with tears, tired face, and blowing a kiss

What are you reading? How has a specific author, book, article, or publication impacted your experience of quarantine? 

Right now, I am reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi. The world has shifted overnight and this book, which was written for young people, is a fresh perspective on the issues of race. I spent a lot of my quarantine time reading stories from my students as they tried their best to write about what was happening in the world in real time. Their voices and perspectives are so important during this time.  

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to? 

It has been difficult to adjust to the amount of dishes I wash every day. I cook 3-4 meals a day and it seems like I’m washing dishes every other hour. The dishes are annoying but I’ve found some really awesome recipes online. 

What are you most looking forward to after quarantine is over? What will you do, with great joy, when you are allowed to? 

I’m looking forward to spending time with my family after the quarantine. I haven’t seen my grandmother in three months and it’s driving me crazy. She’s my first stop when I leave isolation, but her safety was my priority. 

What’s your favorite meal or food you’ve been cooking at home? 

I found a recipe to make the stuffed chicken from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and it is amazing. With restaurants closed, it was refreshing to have a dish that felt like I was dining out. It even sizzled as I took it out of the oven. It was one of the highlights of quarantine. 

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making?

It has been difficult to write during this time, so I started drawing a little bit. My skill set is quite limited but it was therapeutic to just be free on the page without any pressure. I also spent a lot of time practicing using Canva. I made a bunch of e-books. I even made a quarantine prayer journal, which includes about 20 prayers to get you through these COVID times. 

 

 

I miss wandering around the blocks of Baltimore and talking to strangers, face to face. It was my life, my joy, my purpose, and (incredibly) my job.
Aaron Henkin

Aaron Henkin, Producer, WYPR, Out of the Blocks
Twitter: @aaronhenkin
Web: WYPR Out of the Blocks
 & The Daily Dose

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? 

I live in one half of a duplex with my wife, our 13-year-old daughter, our 12-year-old son, four cats, and a dog. We’re in a little Baltimore neighborhood called Tuxedo Park (which got its name because it’s where all the butlers and maids of the Roland Park mansions used to live).

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

Oh, yikes, my emoji game is weak. I do find the generic “thumbs up” to be a good all-purpose response. It can mean everything from, “I love this!” to “I have read your message and choose not to engage further.”

What are you reading? How has a specific author, book, article, or publication impacted your experience of quarantine? 

Well, once lockdown went into place, I went up in my attic and found my old college copy of The Plague, by Albert Camus. I figured, why not dive headfirst into the existential void? Not necessarily therapeutic, but a thought-provoking read: A bungling government bureaucracy, the erosion of social order, an increasingly nihilist populace. Written in 1947, but pretty spot-on.

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine? 

I like to get up before anyone else in the house is awake, make a cup of coffee, put some milk, sugar, and cinnamon in it, and enjoy the momentary quiet and solitude. That’s when I’ll habitually walk over to the kitchen radio to turn on the news, but more and more often, I find myself stopping and saying, “Nope. Not yet.”

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

I miss wandering around the blocks of Baltimore and talking to strangers, face to face. It was my life, my joy, my purpose, and (incredibly) my job. I have another job now, reporting the daily news about Maryland and COVID-19 [WYPR: The Daily Dose], and I’m grateful to be working. But I think about my old work the way you might think about an old, lost love.

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making? 

In the before-times, I played drums in a couple of bands, and I loved that creative outlet and camaraderie. That’s in a deep freeze at the moment, of course. No new hobbies to speak of, but I actually picked up an old hobby: skateboarding. Sometimes, I go to the skate park in Hampden early in the morning, when no one else is there, and I basically just roll around and try not to hurt myself. It feels great (until I get too bold and end up hurting myself). Skating injuries take on a new and perilous dimension when you’re 46 years old. Oh, and I also taught my son how to play poker, which may have been an irresponsible parenting move, considering how much he seems to love the game.

How have your professional goals shifted during this time? How can people support what you and your team do?

I’ve spent a good bit of time calling and texting with the people I’ve met through the years on my radio program/podcast, Out of the Blocks. It’s been great to reconnect with them. I’m actually partnering with a video production crew right now, and we’re sending iPhones to some of these old friends from around Baltimore, so they can shoot video diaries about their lives right now. We’re going to assemble the footage into a new video version of Out of the Blocks. My longtime creative partner, Wendel Patrick, is going to score it, which I’m really happy about. And I like the energy that the video crew is bringing to the table. It’s a nice blending of old and new. I know I’m going to feel emotional when I get that video footage and see those old faces and hear those old voices. I miss them, and I’m glad to be able to share their ongoing stories in a new way. So keep an eye out for that in the next month or two. It should be beautiful.

 

 

Early on in quarantine, I taught my kids how to play Hearts, a trick-taking card game and we all play it after dinner most nights.
Pete Devereaux

Peter Devereaux, Writer-Editor at the Library of Congress Publishing Office,
Author of Game Faces and The Card Catalogue

Where do you live? 

Baltimore, in Roland Park. The original suburbs of north Baltimore, designed by Edward Bouton and Frederick Olmsted, Jr. It has tons of foliage and old-growth poplars, beech, red maples that provide a shady canopy. It’s very quiet and pleasant to walk around, both the streets and the paths. There’s a great book by Robert M. Fogelson called Bourgeois Nightmares: Suburbia, 1870-1930 that really gets into the history of the restrictive covenants that shaped these leafy respites adjacent to our hollowed-out urban cores. What’s apparent is that fear of others, minorities, and change was, and still is to a point, a unifying characteristic in these types of neighborhoods. 

Who are you quarantining with?

I’m quarantining with my wife Josephine, our nine-year-old twins Margot and Tim, and our two cats Harvey and Luna. 

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

Let’s see what the most used on my phone are… The “thumbs up,” “thumbs down,” and “mug o’ beer.”

What are you reading? 

The quarantine has definitely affected my reading habits. I used to ride the train to DC every day which was a lot of time to read. In theory, you’d think I would have more but I feel like I’m reading less. That said I’m currently reading Dog Soldiers, a novel by Robert Stone. It’s really good so far. 

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine?

Early on in quarantine, I taught my kids how to play Hearts, a trick-taking card game and we all play it after dinner most nights. It’s fun and although we are going a little stir crazy all day, it’s still nice to sit down together.

How has your living space changed to accommodate you during this time? Is this a physical change, a work-life balance change, or mental?

I’ve noticed how much I’ve neglected things around the house and yard. I repaired part of dry stack stone wall that had failed, pulled a lot of weeds, and planted a lot of trees and ground cover. I’ve become more aware of my surroundings and relate to how Michael Hurley put it in a recent interview when he was asked what he was doing during quarantine, “Got down a couple hours’ worth of cutting back blackberries bushes from over-taking my rhododendron bushes. I’m grooming my environment.” Grooming your environment. I like that.

What’s your favorite meal or food you’ve been cooking at home?

Pizza! Make the dough a day ahead of time, let it rise overnight in the fridge and then cook it the next day. I follow Joe Beddia’s recipe. It’s basic, Philadelphia style, the focus is on the dough, the sauce, and the cheese. 

How are you supporting local and creative businesses, makers, and/or health care workers in Baltimore? If you have a favorite org or charity you recommend supporting, please list.

Bars, bookstores, record shops, local businesses are what make a city for me. I was a bartender for 15 years and can’t imagine what they are going through. We’re trying to get carry-out and order books through the local shops, but it doesn’t feel like enough. I hope to see them all on the other side of this nightmare. Peace.

 

 

When people tell me it’s the perfect time to write and to finish my book or to enjoy my time at home, I give it a pregnant pause. The black writing circles I belong to are numbed by this experience, faltering like me, stricken by how we got here, grappling with how this country has been brought to its knees by racial discord once again? 
Carla Du Pree

Carla Du Pree, Writer, Executive Director, CityLit Project
IG: @darkndifferent, @citylitproject
Web: citylitproject.org

The views represented are mine and not CityLit Project.

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? How has it impacted you?

I live in a townhouse in Columbia, and work at the Motor House in Baltimore. When sheltering took place, I was home with my husband of 42 years, my 28-year-old daughter—both of whom began working from home—one of my 25-year-old twin boys, who was finishing his first year of graduate school at Columbia University, and three dogs, Papi, our chocolate lab, Diamond, a softie, blue-nose pit, and Layla, her lovable, ADD pup. 

It meant redefining living and workspace. It meant musical chairs for Zoom meetings and a rush to press mute for barking dogs. It meant cooking galore and a lot of emotions teased up especially through those first few weeks. It also meant staying closely connected with my other son and Zoom days with my 5-year-old grandson. That matched with daily construction woes on our street with the replacement of water pipes, meant the street and sidewalks were torn up and the cacophony of jackhammers and backhoes was enough to render us crazy. 

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

The wispy pink heart: There’s so much to love on, including the blessings of FaceTime to stay connected, the circle of family—even in small spaces—my health and a job.

Brown praying hands: There should be several emojis depicting prayer since we all know there’s a difference between praying on your knees and praying on your face.

Brown fist bump: When the words or the feelings speak truth to life.

What are you reading? How has a specific author, book, article, or publication impacted your experience of quarantine?

I’m reading everything. I’m reading nothing. While many books have gotten my attention, I’m afraid it’s hard to plant my attention anywhere for long. Call it COVID-While-Black. The immediate onset of the pandemic and how it had us shifting gears at a moment’s notice.

In our household alone we dealt with: (1) the upset of a graduate study moved online after students had to leave campus, where the disparity of poverty and privilege was made prominent; (2) death during coronavirus—a live video feed of a funeral, and the horrific search for my son’s roommate who was found in his apartment having been sick with COVID-19, alone and in despair, who at 26 took his own life. How we grieve during this time will root and resonate for years; (3) And for me alone, the postponement of a daylong CityLit Festival featuring 80 local, regional, and national poets and writers, and 20 frickin’ awesome sessions that would’ve moved you to action on so many topics to list.

I emerged from being a wholly-exhausted lone staffer to the uneasy realization that the fight now was how we stay “alive” through and after the pandemic; (4) The thrust of working closely to stay abreast of my three twenty-something-year-olds and what the dreaded future holds for them being young and gifted and Black in a country that DOES. NOT. PROTECT. THEM, and a grandson who reminds me days after I see but cannot hold him, “I don’t have the virus, Grandma.” Sheltering in place from the onset has had its share of loss and angst, but We’re. Still. Here.

What has been the most difficult for you to adjust to?

What continues to plague me, as someone who thrives on hope and what’s next, before this pandemic took root, I felt complete and utter dismay at how inequities run wide and deep in Baltimore, along with the need for structural changes in some institutions, not “cosmetic diversity.” As a person of color leading a literary cultural institution that is not Black but stands in its power of inclusive voices, don’t think for a minute I haven’t met my set of challenges along racial lines where the expectation is do more, reach higher, but go unseen.

I am a Black woman leading an institution that isn’t exclusively focused on either of those two groups; celebrated, yes, but not exclusive. As much as I have championed inclusion and equity in my professional life, it has become a weight too heavy to withstand, too hard to lift, and too rooted to unearth without others tending to it. I am not alone in saying this. I do enough, but it’s not enough. Witnessing this country come undone by a trail of brutality, past and present by the men in blue, is just part of the national conversation. Racism and inequities—as subtle as they can be—exist everywhere, but this kind of violence forces Black Americans to live between rage and grief. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. As if watching George Floyd lay on the ground, a knee pressed on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds wasn’t enough, what broke me was when he called for his mother, and EVERYTHING in me wanted to save him. To. Save. Them. All. 

Many think these riots are just about Floyd, but it’s so much deeper than that. When you unpack the stories of Breonna Taylor (don’t get me started on the perpetual violence against Black women in this country), and the fact that those no-knock cops shouldn’t have been in her home in the first place, in search of someone who not only didn’t reside there but who had already been apprehended, it’s a travesty of justice. The tragedy of Ahmaud Arbery, as old as my twin boys, gunned down while running in a video I refuse to watch. How is it possible it took so long to arrest the perpetrators? From the Amy Cooper story of the white damsel in distress who knew her rising plea to the police would render her protection and Christian Cooper’s potential death. (Have you forgotten the Central Park Five?) To the lesser-known story of Monica Shepard in Pender County, North Carolina, a mother who fought off an armed off-duty corrections officer and his posse, his foot wedged in her doorway as he demanded her 18-year-old Dameon give himself up. A senior graduation sign on the lawn bearing his name, Dameon loudly chanted his name over and over again—and the crowd would come to understand he was NOT who they were looking for. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to just wear the white hood. At least we’ll know what’s coming.

Regarding the riots and the mass destruction we are witnessing right now, who among us can stand in our truths and say we’ve walked in those shoes and met that kind of despair where you’d take to the streets with balled fists? I mean those who’ve been given up on with no way to make a decent wage, who live in food deserts with inadequate transportation, who act like they have nothing to lose, who survive in the world of the not-enoughs. Not enough money, not enough experience, not enough security. America, your history is showing. I don’t condone violence, obviously, but as you stand in your privilege, who among us can say how anger should manifest itself when that knee isn’t on your neck? 

The tragedies before Floyd didn’t get the world to pay attention, but his story became the straw that broke this country’s back, and here we are, a lit tinder box of rage. Story after story, year after year didn’t lend itself a way to right the wrongs. 

Never mind the fact that we are in the midst of a global health crisis and the number of blacks dying from COVID-19 in our cities haunts us, nor the tragedy of living in an America who tends to love your black culture but not your black skin. When people tell me it’s the perfect time to write and to finish my book or to enjoy my time at home, I give it a pregnant pause. The black writing circles I belong to are numbed by this experience, faltering like me, stricken by how we got here, grappling with how this country has been brought to its knees by racial discord once again? 

In our house, we stay in close touch with our elders. My parents were born and raised in ‘Bloody’ Lowndes County, Alabama, the bedrock of the civil rights movement, at one point the most violent place in this nation. My husband’s grandfather traveled through the south as the driver, working to convince grocers to purchase the Pittsburgh Courier to grocers with his white-skinned, grey-eyed colleague as a passenger in the back seat, passing. His uncle Rev. Jimmy Joe Robinson marched frontline with Martin Luther King, Jr. In our lifetime we still see it coming, these modern-day lynchings, in the wake of social media where we get to experience upfront racism at work. Where photos are posted of knee-kneeling cops. 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Click. Unprovoked shootings inaction. Click. In a car in front of our children. Click. In our bedrooms, our homes, and on the street. Click. Click. Click. 

As a closet introvert, I could see managing my shelter-in-place time in somewhat of a blanket bliss, if it wasn’t for the fear of how to keep a salary and health care past six months, how to pray my way through this with three willful children who are easy targets, while I try to stay home and stay safe, uplifted in my own privilege of having a salary, for now, and health care, for now. Make no mistake about it, no one in my house is sleeping and breathing normal. We don’t even know what that is anymore. 

 … you asked.

How has your living space changed to accommodate you during this time? Is this a physical change, a work-life balance change, or mental?

Right now I’m working harder and longer given the urgency of matters. I work at the kitchen table, looking for beauty any place it shows itself. I find it in the music I place in my ears every day, if I can help it. Most definitely in my grandson’s Zoom calls, who shares his day and the life of his hermit crabs with me. I find it in reading small passages and quotes that give me light, and short walks through the neighborhood and on my walks to water. I find it in a wee bit of laughter when my daughter drums up stories. She’s a caution.

Real talk, I’m wrestling with the artist in me that begs for the headspace to create—a poem, a story, a mixed discipline program that answers the heart of what I’m feeling right now—or to use my hands making jewelry or something beautiful to stay whole and to believe we’ll find our way through this. I’m also tending to how to self-care and so wish I had the mental and physical capacity to do those home projects that await my attention, and a host of other things like container gardening. If I could, I’d go away for a badly needed residency so I’m wishing that for myself. Two weeks away but not in a pandemic, and not when you have to think about where it’s safe to travel. COVID safe and safe for black people to go. Yes, I’m serious. I’ve been to places in Maryland that would not serve me.

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making?

I find art in the everyday, in simple things like the beauty of a neighbor’s flowers, in children’s laughter that filters through my windows, in seeing and listening to artists and in music. I’m working on how to meditate often enough to steel the nerves that lead to a stronger hold on my creativity. Right now much is percolating, but not much is showing itself on the page. Not yet.

How have your professional goals shifted during this time? How can people support what you and your team do?

The pandemic and the racial climate have opened my eyes to three things. In many ways as an executive director of a literary nonprofit, I love finding different ways to create space and opportunities to showcase writers. We’re working to launch a new website that’ll become an interactive platform for stories during this time and will be just one of the ways we work with poets and writers and how CityLit will see its way through this. We will learn the breadth of our humanity through the wealth of our stories.

In a new, virtual reality, I’ve come to realize there will be no “perfect” experience in navigating the digital world of planning events. If you know anything about CityLit, you know we tackle real-life conversations, relevant issues that resonate in modern-day lives, and we provide premier instruction for the craft of writing. We had prepared one of the best festivals yet, with so much promise to anybody who deemed themselves a writer or invested in literature. The support we need now is training for a virtual experience, and for people to financially support us in small and large ways to get to the other side of this. This virtual scene is new to me. As someone who likes to read the room, and take in what is said and left unsaid in a conversation, going digital isn’t easy for me. 

The ultimate fantasy is to have one week where every African American experiences some measure of peace, to ride on the joys of being Black and lay down the burden of being feared, to not have to worry about dying at the hands of those meant to protect us. What would it be like to have seven days of waking up to met expectations, to put in the work and reap all the benefits, to be welcomed into rooms of opportunities and supported in new efforts where you weren’t expected to know all the rules, to have someone welcome you into new spaces to pull you aside and clue you in on all good things, bonuses, ways to get promoted, the company car. To provide a way for one and all to live our best lives, and thrive in the aftermath. In church, sometimes the pastor will say lay your burden at the feet of Jesus. I wish it could be that easy.

If I could leave you with one last thought it would be this:

What does generational trauma look like to you?
“The three main types of trauma are acute, chronic, or complex.
-Acute trauma results from a single incident.
-Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged such as domestic violence or abuse.
-Complex trauma is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature.”

What does trauma look like, act like, feel like when you walk with it every day and it starts to seep into the lives of our young? I sure know how it feels. Quarantine is a nightmare I can’t awaken from. Two public health crises at once, the virus and the viral killings. Call me one of the lucky ones. I get up and go to work. I’m still breathing and living on a wee bit hope that a change has gotta come.

I, too, sing America, and we are not okay. Sadly enough, if you’re not a person of color, if you have an ounce of humanity in you during this time of civil unrest, neither are you. How could you be? Do your part for the children who will be left to pick up the pieces when all of this falls. Imma do mine.

 

 

Related Stories
Michaela Coel, Ziwe Fumudoh, Killer Mike, canceling cancel culture, Beirut’s waste, a big victory for Native Americans, stop dining out

The internet was kinda great this week and it was filled with profiles and interviews.

Finding Cancer's courage to leave its protective, outer crab shell

The challenges of Blackness and queerness are central in this book, articulated together through the lens of family.

Community accountability, the politics of storytelling, capitalizing the B in Black, Vanessa Guillen, COVID-19 parties, and more

The internet seems to be forgetting that we are in the middle of an uprising, and people are actively ignoring that we are in the middle of a pandemic!

Arthur Jafa, the future of bail funds, James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, Elijah McClain, the Church of White Guilt, and more

People are still reeling from Beyonce’s Juneteenth drop, coronavirus cases are increasing as states reopen, and protests continue.