2020 April 5
I left for college my freshman year driving a Pontiac crammed with Advent stereo speakers and a Yamaha receiver. I was wearing my uniform of the times, Nike sneakers with a sky blue swoosh, a polo shirt and Lee jeans. Elvis had just left the building, he died in August of 1977, so the radio played In the Ghetto incessantly. I thought of my siblings and felt a certain sorrow like I had left the building. Our time together was eternal in a sense, even though I had only lived under the same roof with my youngest brother for 9 years. And yet that period of shared life has made all the difference for me. My brothers and sisters are my heroes. Those days spent with a shared name and identity were not utopian, but there were moments that were perfect. And I choose to remember those times and that moment when I had no idea what it really meant to leave, listening to Elvis and wondering what life had in store for a kid with too much stereo equipment, an uncertain path, and a deep well of sibling memory to draw upon.
2020 April 7
I was reading about leisure and how the original greek word came to be translated into Latin as the word we now use for school. Leisure does not mean what it once meant. We’ve lost the meaning of leisure in our hellbent rush to perfect our work ethic. What’s replaced our traditional idea of leisure is vocation. In the midst of reading a David Brooks article about leisure, I found my foil, a man who contradicts much of what I believe.
His name is Antisthenes, a man who often hung out with Socrates and Plato.
- Antisthenes had no feeling for celebration.
- He was a-musical.
- He was a foe of the Muses who only paid attention to poetry for its moral content.
- Antisthenes felt no responsiveness to Eros (he said he “would like to kill Aphrodite”).
This man, considered a Greek cynic philosopher, is sometimes cited as the originator of the worker obsession, being one of the first to equate effort with goodness and virtue. He coined the original workaholic paradigm.
I think Antisthenes would have made a fascinating dinner guest.
2020 April 8
Susan Orlean was asked this question in an interview, “What did you know at age twelve that you wish you hadn’t forgotten; and/or what do you know now that you wish you knew then?”
I wish that when I was twelve I knew that the days are long but the years are short, and that nothing was as dire as it seemed at the moment.
2020 April 9
My mother-in-law was so overwhelmed when she first met me that she skipped the first two stages of social greeting, handshakes and hugs, and went directly for the third level of social greeting from pre-contagion days…she kissed me on the lips. Which stunned me.
But who was I to re-write customs north of the Mason/Dixon line? In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul instructed followers to “salute one another with a holy kiss.” A kiss on the cheek in France is known as la bise. In Paris, two kisses is common. In Provence expect three, and four is the norm in the Loire Valley. I think the Loire Valleyans are sipping a little too much sweet wine.
According to Nina Strochlic, National Geographic, March 12, 2020: “It’s thought that during the plague in the 14th century, la bise may have stopped and wasn’t revived again until 400 years later, after the French Revolution. In 2009, la bise was temporarily paused as swine flu became a concern. At the end of February the French Health Minister advised against it as the coronavirus cases increased.”
2020 April 10
Our prophet du jour, Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you…not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country…we’ve got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory illness.”
One of my Dad’s favorite parlor tricks was to feign missing your hand when offered in handshake. To the dismay of the uninitiated, the back of Dad’s hand would brush the back of the offered hand and ride up the side of the extended arm leaving the potential handshaker awkwardly looking at the palm of their own hand as if maybe it was their mistake missing the handshake. This is perhaps a useful ploy if someone offers their hand to you forgetting the current state of non-touch protocol.
The handshake began as a gesture of peace. Grasping hands proved you were not holding a weapon. In literature, it goes back to the Iliad and the Odyssey. A 9th century B.C. stone relief reveals King Shalmaneser III of Assyria shaking hands with a Babylonian.
In America, it’s likely that the handshake’s popularity was propelled by 18th century Quakers. In their efforts to eschew the hierarchy and social rank, they found the handshake a more democratic form of greeting to the then-common bow, curtsy, or hat doffing.
“In their place, Friends put the practice of the handshake, extended to everyone regardless of station, as we do still,” writes historian Michael Zuckerman.
In her book Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, behavioral scientist Val Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says that one possible reason for the kiss and handshake as greeting is to signify that the other person is trusted enough to share germs with. Because of this, the practice can go in and out of style depending on public health concerns.
2020 April 11
Is oil so cheap now that alternate forms of energy will be delayed? Are green policies so yesterday? This pandemic seems to be resorting to the low density high separation ways of suburbia.
For instance, when Karen reached for the reusable cloth grocery bags, I told her to leave them…they are filled with contagion and eyed with suspicion. Use the plastic bags provided, like the old days. Starbucks stopped using my reusable cup.
Suburbanites have the natural edge in terms of social distancing. Forget about sharing. Mass transit? Not without a hazmat suit. And what about high density apartment living designed for the sharing of spaces in crowded urban areas with high density high touch surfaces?
The quaint suburbs seem suited now to this socially spaced life. Someday, distances will shrink…but how will policies be affected? Sometimes environmental policies, have externalities that result in unforeseen consequences. Green policies for now, have taken a back seat to the urgency of mortality.
2020 April 11
And finally, stay strong and persevere. One day we’ll look back on these moments with wonder. Here is a final word written by my brother Toby about how quarantine has affected life.
“I liked your wording of how this virus changes how we come into the world, leave the world and even marry…so many life events happening right now. Events that usually bring us together. We now are experiencing apart. We look at pictures of the first Taylor great grand baby, our first nephew. We did not all gather for the wedding of Jacob and Sydney, while our Dad is panting and rubbing his head. I really hated missing a wedding, really, really would love to hold my grandson, but so, so thankful to sit by Dad rubbing his head.” Toby Taylor