April 15, 2020
Good morning, I hope you and yours are well.
Although I wish it were warmer than a brisk 42 degrees this morning, the sun is shining. The lilac bushes are in full bloom and the vegetable and herb seedlings in my living room are standing strong like little toy soldiers. Next week’s weather forecasts promise temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s. I’m anxious to plant the seedlings in the garden plot and in the three-tier wooden planter I ordered from Lowe’s, but surprise snowfalls are common in my neck of the woods until Mother’s Day. So, I’ll enjoy the lilacs, peonies, grape hyacinths, and daffodils in my flower gardens while I wait for consistent, good weather. I will also continue searching for the cortisone cream to relieve my annual bout of poison ivy. Fun.
Other than making online donations, I wish I could adequately express my thanks and gratefulness to the brave souls on the front line of this pandemic, all heroes. We, the American people, can never thank them enough for keeping us safe and healthy, fed and sane. If I ran the world, I’d pay each front line worker crazy amounts of hazard pay and pay them retroactively until we are safely out of the woods. I shudder to think where we would be without them. My local heroes are the trash collectors, the Fed Ex and UPS drivers, and my postal carriers. The best thank you at this time is for us to stay home and practice safe distancing if we can. I will continue to stay home.
Despite reading about a Harvard study that predicts we could be dealing with periods of quarantine until 2022, which seems both unbelievable and totally believable, I felt tentatively hopeful this morning. I can’t think that far into the future; my brain won’t allow it. It’s a day-to-day, new normal type of struggle for me. Although my routine often feels out of whack and forced, the early days of fear and despair, of feeling numb and experiencing immense sadness over the suffering around the world, and missing my children, are thankfully fewer and not as acute. But when I feel happy, I immediately feel guilty for being happy. Welcome to the new world.
I suppose it’s true we play head games with ourselves to get through traumatic situations, and maybe ‘faking it ’til you make it’ can help. On days when I don’t feel particularly happy (blessed, always), I acknowledge my feelings, write my Morning Pages or a blog post, work on my WIP, and I start a project, any project. Yesterday I cleaned out my medicine chest and bathroom cabinets. Tomorrow I might tackle the under the kitchen sink nightmare…yuck.
Some days (particularly on rainy, gray days), it’s more difficult to reach inside and pull out happy thoughts and memories, but I try. Thoughts of my children, family vacations of the past, and videos of frolicking baby goats really help. Whatever floats your boat, right? Oh, and food videos. They always do the trick.
And speaking of food, my crêpe pan and beechwood crêpe spreaders arrived yesterday! I’m off to check out recipes for sweet crepes and savory galettes. On Sunday, I watched beautiful Salma Hayek’s fun video for making no-bake chocolate bites with nuts (she is one of two celebrities I follow on Instagram). I found a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and a bag of hazelnuts from Christmas pre-COVID in my pantry and done. They taste amazing and perfectly satisfy my major chocolate cravings.
Well, I have yet to receive my stimulus check. We shall see. This morning I learned about Trump and his insane pulling of funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) during a global pandemic. I can’t stand it. It’s pure insanity. I’m super grateful I don’t live in the states whose Governors refuse to put a state-wide, stay-at-home order in place. What the hell is the Governor of South Dakota thinking? The depth of ignorance, short-sightedness, and stupidity in some people is mind-boggling. What doesn’t she understand? Doesn’t she care about her constituents? Okay, I’m not going there today. Not today, Satan, stand six feet back.
April 16, 2020
I’ve been a history buff as long as I can remember. As a kid, I read the encyclopedia for fun, so it should come as no surprise I write historical fiction novels and I love doing research. Before I began to write full-time, I was an exhibiting painter. My passion was rendering realistic portraits in pastel and watercolor (an unforgiving medium for portrait painting; actually, any painting). Clearly, I don’t do things the easy way, but I am tenacious.
In late February 2020, my son, who lives and works in Bangkok, urged me to pay full attention to worrying news out of mainland China. I listened and began preparing myself and my pantry for an epidemic. My blood pressure went up, but I prepared nonetheless. Remember the classic book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson? It’s a wise little story about the two mice named Hem and Haw, who are faced with a disappearing cheese supply. Well, I remembered it and recognized COVID-19 had moved the damn cheese in a dramatic way like only a global pandemic can. I became the curious, forward-thinking Haw, who paid attention, didn’t hesitate, and acted. I embraced (maybe accepted is more accurate here) and began thinking of ways to deal with the coming changes in emotional and physical ways. I recognized that adapting would be crucial to successfully get through the coming pandemic in one piece. It wasn’t always a pretty sight, but I didn’t hesitate to do what I thought might be the next helpful step.
Now…as the number of people in this country and around the world who died from this virus rose, did my new mindset help? No, not every day. Some days were/are harder than others, and each day is a new day for me, my community, this country, and the world. Let’s be clear, COVID-19 has caused MAJOR CHANGE and upheaval in our lives; it’s not as simple as a change of routine or mindset. This time in our history requires herculean efforts on our part to get by; it’s damn hard. We didn’t choose for any of this to happen and it’s more than okay to admit we are struggling. Yeah, I might clean out a closet or two, work on my work in progress, arrange lilac branches in an antique vase, and bake an ugly loaf of bread, but I’m struggling, too.
When the World Health Organization officially called the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, I began thinking about keeping a pandemic diary for posterity’s sake and started searching online for diaries from the past, specifically, diaries from the 1918 Influenza, the Spanish Flu. These days, my favorite past time is reading pandemic diaries as primary source in novel writing. Remember, I read encyclopedias for fun, so bear with me.
If you’re interested, check out the fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine by Meilan Solly, published on April 13, 2020, “What We Can Learn From the 1918 Influenza Diaries”.
Two excerpts from the article, “History may often appear to our students as something that happens to other people,” writes Civil War historian and high school educator Kevin M. Levine on his blog, “but the present moment offers a unique opportunity for them to create their own historical record.”
“Nancy Bristow, author of American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of The 1918 Influenza Epidemic, advises writers to include specific details that demonstrate how “they fit into the world and … the pandemic itself.”
We writers, specifically writers of historical fiction, use everything we can get our hands on while researching for our novels: diaries, historical photographs, memoirs, letters, journals, government documents, newspaper clippings, vintage magazine articles, and merchandise catalogs. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about using drone camera videos on YouTube of Old San Juan and Isla de Cabras, the settings of my work-in-progress (WIP), THE LAMENTS. They are all primary sources and useful tools for a writer’s research arsenal.
My WIP benefited greatly from deep and extensive research, and from articles like the one written by Meilan Solly, all fantastic resources. As an added awesome benefit, pandemic diaries remind us that people, our ancestors, remind you and me, that they lived through the 1918 pandemic in quarantine with lost jobs, illness, disease, depression, limited food sources, death, losing loved ones, and they survived. I don’t know about you, but that gives me tremendous hope and strength today.
This too shall pass. I will see my children as humanly and medically-safe as possible.
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Be well, stay safe.
Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the multi-award-winning, debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, published by Winter Goose Publishing. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses. She currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is in quarantine, working on her second novel, THE LAMENTS, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.