All the news about people wearing masks because of the corona virus reminded me of the old radio show I used to listen to, The Lone Ranger. Of course his mask covers the top of his face, not the nose and mouth like the ones people are wearing now do. But my writerly imagination is acting up again. What if some disease could also be transmitted through people’s eyes, so we all had to wear sunglasses all the time. And don’t some doctors wear things that cover their eyes and let them see what the normal human eye can’t? And what if an army of heroes, wearing that kind of masks and eye coverings were to set out to save the world? Oh, wait a minute. There are already people doing that. We call them doctors. Like all the super heroes, they also have sidekicks. We call those nurses, medical technicians and scientists. Even the people who clean and handle paperwork in their offices and facilities are part of their teams. So let’s cheer for all the heroes and superheroes in the real world today.
Okay, I’ve posted enough about the epidemic on my blog. It’s time for something more positive. We live in amazing times, with international travel and instant internet connections that let us communicate quickly all over the planet taken for granted. But I wonder what people from the past would think if they were to time travel to our time. And, would we like to go back to times without things like the internet, cars, and indoor plumbing? If you could time travel to any time, past or future, where would you like to go?
My parents were little kids during the Spanish Influenza epidemic. That has made me think about all the plagues and diseases in the history of the world. In ancient times lots of people didn’t live to adulthood, and the life expectance was much less than it is now. Of course hundreds of years ago epidemics didn’t spread all over the planet, because way back then people didn’t even know he world was round. Even a hundred years ago travel wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now. But most medicines and medical devices were invented in the last century or two, many even more recently. And, thanks to modern inventions like the internet, we can share our knowledge all over the world quickly. Yes, these are scary times, and even after the epidemic is over the economic repercussions will last for quite a while. But people all over the world are sharing helpful information and showing that we care for each other. We really are all one family.
People (like me) who live alone and must avoid other people because of the Corona virus might be getting bored. We can only spend so much time on the internet or watching TV. I’m a bookaholic, and it’s a luxury for me to have hours of uninterrupted time to read books I’ve had on my shelves for years. But even that isn’t enough to fill up the days. Here are some other things to do. We may not want to open windows or stand on balconies to serenade everyone in the neighborhood like people in Italy are doing. (If I tried that my neighbors would probably have their ears poisoned.) But we can sing at home. And we can play old recordings of music and dance along with it. If we have any hobbies or projects we haven’t done in a long time we can take those out and revive them. There may be things we’ve been putting off around our homes or yards, like repairs or yard work. This is a good time to get them done. Of course we should all be doing deep cleaning now. And, since we may not be able to go out and shop for food, we can try cooking up some new recipes. Art is a good way to spend some time, even if we don’t have the talent or materials to do it well. Anyone can use a pen or pencil and some paper – even the back of an envelope – to draw things. We don’t have to let anyone else see them. As a writer, I know we can always make up stories. Every story has a main character who wants something badly, but there are obstacles to keep him or her from getting it. The character must try to over come the obstacles – usually there are three. The first attempt doesn’t solve the problem, the second try doesn’t work, but the third one is a success – unless the story is a tragedy. Those of us who have pets can spend more time than usual snuggling and playing with them. What else can people do while staying home?
The news and internet are even more full of negative things than usual. Everyone in the world is concerned – or even terrified – about the Corona virus. But I’m positively impressed with the amount of helpful information out there, especially on the internet. People aren’t only concerned about protecting themselves when they post what they know about how we can protect ourselves from that disease. They’re sharing helpful information all over the world in order to help each other. Instead of talking about hostile political views and trying to sell things, people are showing that they care about others. We are all one family and by helping others we are helping ourselves.
One of my claims to fame is that while working in a library as a student I became so good at mending books they had me mend a Gutenberg Bible. Just imagine before Gutenberg invented the printing press how long it must have taken people to make copies of the Bible by hand, with each letter detailed like a work of art. And when printing presses became more advanced books could be printed by the hundreds, and then thousands, in a single day. Today with modern technology people can download e-books in a matter of minutes. Imagine what Gutenberg would think if he could time travel to now! But I still prefer reading hard copy books, and hope they don’t become obsolete in the future. My bumper sticker says, “Bookaholics Unite.” I’m a bookaholic and never intend to get into recovery from that addiction.
In California we’ll be setting our clocks to ‘spring ahead’ tonight and that has made me think about time in general. Morning, noon, night, days, months, seasons and years are natural to our planet because of its rotations and circling around the sun. But seconds, minutes, hours, weeks and centuries are all human inventions. The ancient Romans had a system of alternating the number of days in each month. Their year started in March with the beginning of spring, and the months on their calendar alternated between 31 and 30 days. But when Augustus became Caesar (emperor) he wanted August, the month named for him, to have as many days as July, the month named for Julius Caesar had. So he took one day from the last month of their year and added it to his own month. That’s why August has 31 days and February only has 29 in leap year. And we humans seem to notice patterns in numbers. For instance, someone born on 2/20/20 or 2/2/20 might be considered lucky. At least most of us no longer believe in horoscopes.
The news about the Corona Virus reminds me of some family history. Back around 1920 there was an epidemic of the Spanish Influenza. My grandmother in California got it and, as a result, had health problems for the rest of her life. The other side of my family lived in New Jersey. The young boy who would become my father was sent up to live with his grandparents in the Appalachians since people in small towns in rural areas were less likely to be exposed to the virus. There his aunt was the teacher at the one-room schoolhouse. At the end of the school year when the epidemic was over he was able to return home. His grandparents gave him the kerosene lamp that had been next to his bed and his aunt (or great aunt) gave him the hand-held school bell she had used to call the children in. I don’t know why they could give those things away. Perhaps the grandparents were able to get electricity soon afterwards, and maybe his aunt would retire. I still have the items my father was given. The lamp has a crack in the glass so it can’t be used, but the rose colored glass still looks pretty in my cabinet. When I was a kid the only time my brother and I were allowed to ring the school bell was at midnight on New Years Eve, and I still ring it then.
There were 42 kids in my first grade class and half of them weren’t learning to read so the teacher had them chant the letter sounds every day while the rest of us did other work. Half of the class had to be held back, but some of the rest of us started second grade reading at fifth grade level. Hearing the later sounds in the background had made them sink no our brains. For many years I had a home preschool and, while I did teach the kids the alphabet, I didn’t push them to learn. But every day at the beginning of nap time I’d play a phonics record or tape. (Yes, that was quite a while ago.) Quite a few of the four year olds began reading on their own. I call having kids hear the letter sounds in the background while they do other things “subliminal phonics.” It doesn’t work for all kids, but it can be a big advantage for some.
I read books for kids all the time, partly because I write for kids, but mainly because I’m still a kid on the inside. I recently read The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela and enjoyed it a lot. The story is about a girl named India Wimple who is extremely shy. But she’s good at spelling and agrees to compete to get in a televised spelling bee. If she wins, that will help her family’s serious financial problems. The book encourages readers to face their fears and they might even learn to spell a few words while reading it. But the best thing about it is the unexpected plot twists and believable characters that make it fun to read. Now I want to look for more books by the author of this one.