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.
In the last few years people on our planet have experienced gigantic fires, a volcanic eruption, earthquakes, rising oceans, rumors of war and now, a plague of the Corona Virus. Some think we’re living in “end times.” But there have been disasters as long as humans have lived on Earth, although people usually only knew about those close to where they lived before modern technology connected us all. Yes, we should get immunizations, prepare for evacuations, etc., etc. But how we live is more important. Let’s love, and help our neighbors when they need it, do our work responsibly, and spend our time focusing on what we have to be grateful for instead of worrying about the future. After all, most of the major religions in the world teach that people should have integrity (not be phony or dishonest,) compassion (feel with others,) and humility (know our place and not think we’re more important than others.) So let’s focus on the things that matter instead of worrying about the future.
As a writer, I’ve read lots of books about writing. This book by W. Terry Whalin is one of the most helpful I’ve read. As I started reading this book I dog-eared the pages with helpful information. But there turned out to be helpful information on EVERY SINGLE PAGE! Now my copy looks messy but I’ll certainly benefit from reading it. I think every writer – and potential writer – should have a copy of this book.