No comments yet

Nancy Drew and the Case of COVID-19

Photo credits, clockwise from upper left: Time Magazine, Wikipedia, CBC, The Boston Globe


Nancy Drew and the Case of COVID-19

I have missed the everyday pleasure and grace of the body moving freely through familiar spaces, reaffirming its geographies in a corporeal way. I have missed the shared gathering places that give us an embodied sense of community and belonging – workplaces, commercial spaces, arts spaces, institutional spaces.  The enactment of social bonds of many kinds. Now in year 2, I think everybody is at least somewhat crazier than they were two years ago, and some people are a lot crazier. I see many people behaving badly toward others in ways they would not have done pre-pandemic. I think there is a great deal more anxiety and pessimism, difficulty arriving at a reliable sense of the future. —MLP (Anthropologist and linguist, Union City, New Jersey)

The things I have missed the past two years are conflicting but equally present. I miss flexibility and I miss steadiness. Early in the pandemic I was evicted from my home and since May of 2020 have been wandering. I have become lonelier but also closer to a select few. I lost all my work. I was lucky enough to get unemployment and a few grants from artist organizations that kept me afloat. While this was incredibly stressful, I have noticed a fundamental change in myself over the last two years of not working (the first time in 16 years I have not worked full time). I used to define myself by my toughness, my productivity, and my ability to withstand difficulties. I no longer wish to identify so closely with those characteristics. I am more interested in being a person that is soft and tender, open and gentle. I do not want to be impressive for my ability to work, in fact I don’t know if I want to be impressive at all; I want to be a good friend, an artist that can create freely, and a kind spirit. —EH (Visual artist and graduate student, Brooklyn, New York)

For some, the COVID-19 pandemic that raged across the world for the past two and a half years changed their lives forever. They lost loved ones or were themselves so ill that they still suffer from the long-term effects of the virus. Millions have endured other related problems: the loss of a job, economic devastation, even homelessness. An interruption to their education, or other serious life disruptions. Shipping routes were affected, with goods piling up in major ports. Scarcities were commonplace in supermarkets and other stores. Some necessities disappeared entirely for periods of time, proving they were not, in fact, necessities. Still, given our consumer nature, hoarding reared its ugly head. People became fearful of getting sick or of making others sick. Sometime this fear inched toward paranoia. A proliferation of rightwing governments failed to meet their citizens’ needs, and individual and community responses varied. These problems are now a part of our daily experience, shaping current and ongoing fears, and modeling a polarization that has only deepened the breach that already existed between the extreme right and the rest of the population.

People spoke of COVID-19 as difficult, frightening, dismal, depressing, even apocalyptic. But what made it different from other crises was that it was worldwide. It affected, or at least threatened everyone: the Mongolian herder, Vietnamese pho chef, New York City hair stylist, Bolshoi prima ballerina, mail carrier in Schenectady. This wasn’t some distant disaster we read about in the news. It was here. Now. Us. Still, I want to say up front that these notes reflect one woman’s take on the phenomenon.

Such a worldwide crisis opened our eyes to shared problems, prompted us to get creative about possible solutions, and reconfigured time for many of us. We were challenged by an extremely complicated situation, that varied depending on governmental policy, economic status, belief, age, race, gender, and accompanying health issues. I wanted to find a way to think about these intersecting pieces of the puzzle. I felt like a sleuth and remembered the Nancy Drew mysteries I read in my youth. To solve each of her many cases, Drew always took an in-depth look at the clues they presented.

About a year into the pandemic, I created a questionnaire which I sent to more than 1,000 friends and acquaintances. My recipients were varied in terms of race, class, gender, age, culture and where they live. Those who responded were less so; many of them were artists or writers like me, willing to let their imaginations take them onto unexplored territory. Over the next several months, I received 80 responses, or 8%. Hardly statistically meaningful, but certainly individually interesting. My goal was to elicit some of the more complex aspects of a mass tragedy that I knew had affected people socially and economically but also emotionally. The above quotes are from two of my respondents. I will transcribe excerpts from others throughout this text.

Although we are past the peak in most places, there is no doubt that the virus that emerged in Wuhan, China at the beginning of 2020 continues to ravage us globally. For some Third World areas where disease is rampant and widespread solutions impossible due to poverty and underdevelopment, it was just another terrifying illness, like AIDS, dengue, SARS, or Ebola before it. And once again, as in health crises prior to this one, big pharmaceutical companies refused to make vaccines available in ways that would have made a difference. In many places, people routinely live with diseases such as malaria or tuberculosis in endemic proportions. But for wealthier First World communities, it was a new phenomenon, straining acceptance and complacency.

Even its point of origin, which could have been anywhere given how we fail to protect our environment and social practices, gave rise to unjust prejudice against China and its people. Or anyone who looked Asian. This was painfully reminiscent of how we treated all Muslims—or those we might think were Muslim—after 9/11. Such magna events invariably expose an underbelly of racism and other forms of victim-blaming rather than collective responsibility. The pandemic also coincided with a US president who enjoyed denigrating people because of their race or gender.

It’s not just our recent—and to some extent ongoing—history that must find its way on this difficult map. Nor has the pandemic alone been responsible for the crisis we face. The following quotes shows that some were able to contextualize the situation:

I have to think back over my 82 years, many of which, if not all seemed to contain a major  “turning point”—say starting around 4 years old with paranoia about being Jewish in my house during World War II, and I was old enough to remember some about the war, certainly later hearing about the holocaust, the Polio Crisis, McCarthy in the 50s, then the civil rights movements, the Vietnam War, the first Earth Day, the Cuban Missile Crisis when those of us in NY really did think we might die—and I could go on and on. So, we’re talking really about a number of points at which it seemed the worst would happen.  The worst in this country so far probably being the Civil War itself. –SS (Writer and teacher, Manhattan, New York)

As with all life-changing events, our vocabularies and imaginations stretched to include new words and images. The “Chinese virus.” Vaccinations created from DNA. Herd immunity. Social responsibility. Corpses piled high in refrigerator trucks because mortuaries couldn’t dispense with them fast enough. Press photos of thousands of people partying without masks, eliciting kudos from those who obviate “personal freedom at any cost.” People drinking bleach recommended by an ignorant and irresponsible president. Social media spreading lies about the virus and about the new vaccines, telling people they are government attempts to inject us with controlling substances (a kernel of truth can often lead to exaggeration and massive distrust). As the pandemic wore on, families or small groups of friends became “pods,” depending on a presumption of safety that wasn’t always real. The battle between science and religion tensed us to the breaking point, with religion and/or superstition taking us in dangerous directions. Widespread misinformation and confusion became almost as problematic as the infection.

Historians and analysts point to other pandemics throughout history: the Spanish flu of 1918-1920, that affected a third of the world’s population and claimed the lives of between 30 and 50 million human beings. Or the bubonic plague also known as the Black Death, that killed from 75 to 200 million between 1346 and 1353. Comparisons have been made to the HIV-AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, with references to the ways in which the failure to respond quickly and aggressively cost hundreds of thousands of lives, then as now. As with AIDS, human solidarity and viable solutions often came from local groups rather than from governments or world organizations.

A great deal has been done to document this period. Statistical charts in the mass media continue to trace the rise and fall of infection in every region of every country and, although the numbers are underreported for reasons ranging from a politically motivated minimization of the crisis to an inability to keep accurate records, many of us follow these reports daily, hoping to see a descending graph line where we live. Thousands of scholarly and mainstream articles have been published. Writers have already begun to make the pandemic the subject of novels, short stories, and poems.[1] Almost all this documentation and literature, though, has focused on the human and material loss or lingering economic damage. It’s much more difficult to calculate the less obvious effects of vast forced isolation and other radical changes to the way we live and interact.

Almost embarrassingly, given the mass tragedy, not all these changes have been negative. The need to create new ways of working, performing, and even connecting with family and friends has led to innovations, some of which will surely outlive the pandemic. Virtual platforms such as Zoom have seen a boom. Dispersed family members began getting together on these platforms and in many cases see each other more regularly than when they had to travel long distances. A good friend who had recently received a fatal cancer prognosis decided to hold an online “going out party,” as she described it, to say goodbye to family and friends while she still felt good enough to enjoy the event. More than a hundred people from several countries took part. Had it been live, many of us would not have been able to attend. One read of birthday parties, weddings, graduations, memorial services, and other milestones celebrated in the same way.

A considerable number of people stopped going to offices and worked from home instead; today, even as we try to return to a “before,” many resist going back to physical workplaces. They like keeping their own hours or have become more conscious of exploitation and less willing to endure it on the job. Many service industries such as restaurants have had trouble hiring waitstaff. At the same time, people in the trades—plumbers, electricians, mechanics, police, firemen and woman, etc.—were forced to continue working It is obvious that the pandemic changed the face of labor in important ways. Gender also entered the picture. Working mothers with small children had to figure out how to juggle their work hours with caring for their children, especially when the latter weren’t yet physically back in school. One young mother wrote:

Working at home, with small children and without being able to reduce my workload or hours, was what most affected me emotionally. Mami, can you play with us? I can’t, my love, forgive me. That was our conversation, repeated day after day and several times a day. That constant rejection of my kids caused a depression that has been very hard for me to overcome, and I don’t even want to think about what it caused in my children. —LR (Biology professor, fifth year medical student and mother of two, Paysandú, Uruguay)

Along with these bread-and-butter issues there were others less visible to most of us. Profound observations about time, place, language, and other elements basic to human interaction, as well as the fear that the pandemic itself would provide cover and pretext for crimes against marginalized or outlier groups, surfaced in some of the testimonies.

Covid-19 and is the first event in my life that is common to all humanity. We all stopped. And this stopping provided a universal platform for individual stillness. Unable to distract ourselves from the constant entertainments we consume, we saw them for the distractions they are. Unable to run to the jobs we thought we needed to purchase these distractions, we actually experienced how little we need to survive. Of course, those of us who are serious artists have always known this. It was interesting to observe what we know surprisingly embraced by the mainstream. And even more surprising that many didn’t miss what they thought constituted their “real lives” —GS (Painter, Albuquerque, New Mexico)

New York is crying. The subways belong to the poor, the streets to the homeless. Those of us lucky/privileged enough to be able to Stay the Fuck at Home, as we are blared at constantly, do so, watching our supplies dwindle daily, counting the meals left till we will have to venture out to the mercado of dread. Who thinks of language rights at a time like this? In the US, the Wampanoag tribe certainly does – just as the pandemic hit the US, these Native Americans had their tribal status revoked by the Trump administration. The Wampanoags are the tribe who greeted the Pilgrims in 1620.The last speaker died over a hundred years ago. Now, though, the Wampanoags are a model for language revitalization, with a tribal center that has dedicated language classrooms and an ever-increasing number of speakers. This is the moment that Trump makes his power grab, to take all this away. Be vigilant to government intrusion under the cover of the Pandemic. —BH (Poet, cultural promoter, and advocate for languages that are going extinct, Manhattan, New York)

Healthcare professionals have probably been hit harder by the pandemic than any other group. They have been forced to determine who they help, and triage has been particularly difficult, sometimes to the point of trauma for those having to make such choices, adding PTSD to the mix. Faced with the overwhelming number of sick and dying, hospital personnel have had to work inhuman hours. And in situations in which family members cannot be allowed into hospitals, they have often been the only ones present when a patient dies. Suicides among healthcare workers increased in the pandemic’s early months. In the United States this stress has shown up the many weaknesses in a health system already held hostage by the pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Here are some testimonies from healthcare workers, medical students, and family members whose loved ones had to be hospitalized.

My parents both died this year—my father of covid, my mother of other health problems. My father died early in the epidemic when we were not allowed to visit him in the hospital or nursing home. He had dementia and would not have known where he was or why he was alone. I feel sad every time I think of this gregarious and loving man isolated in death. And my family was not able to gather for our Jewish ritual of sitting shiva. We had a “zoom shiva,” which was nice enough—I heard many stories about my father’s kindness and mentoring—but it was not a substitute. —AH (Writer and editor, Boston, Massachusetts)

We live in Canada and the government has taken steps. Economic and health related, on a day-to-day basis. Guaranteed incomes and free shots, well organized.  But we do not see either an effort to open health education or the health professions to a wider, larger group of people. As our nurses said to the bureaucrats recently, “It is not all about the money!” But maybe it is about capitalism? —S and KK (Creators of handmade books, Quebec, Canada)

As a result of the nurse shortage, administrative nurses have been forced to return to the frontlines of care, donning protective gear, relearning how to use equipment and care for patients once again. When you advance in the nurse/manager hierarchy you remove yourself from the direct patient care environment. Basically, the management focus is to cut cost, keep under budget and minimize staff. For years those who face the day-to-day care of sick patients did not complain because they were overstaffed. The opposite is true now – they are consistently understaffed. Most nurses believe the profession is a commitment, a higher calling if you will, that allows us to be an integral part of our patient’s life. They work long hours with limited resources. It is a 365-day job, oftentimes interfering with weekends, holidays, and family events/celebrations. As a result of the pandemic, Nurse education programs are expanding recruitment efforts and requesting monies from state legislators to provide funding. The nursing shortage is now a priority! It took over 1,000,000 human beings to die to address a reality that has existed for the last fifty years. —CM (Longtime head of nursing at a large city hospital, Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Education has also suffered. Public education, traditionally relegated or abandoned by state and federal government, experienced the additional strain produced by fear of contagion, closing of classrooms, and the uneven success of telelearning. Teachers from grade school through higher education have had to learn to teach online, involving new ways of presenting material and getting students to participate, learning to manage breakaways to mentor individual students as well as the overall technological challenges of the virtual classroom.

Respondents with school-age children spoke of the variety of adaptations and stresses they experienced, as well as some interesting solutions. One issue is the degree of discomfort that may exist, especially for younger students who long to play with their classmates, or those of any age who have learning difficulties that may render the technology more difficult. Some respondents had important things to say about education in general, and how the pandemic brought its shortcomings into sharper focus.

In September 2017 we suffered in Puerto Rico the worst hurricane ever recorded. In January 2020 we suffered a 6.4 earthquake, and thousands suffered its aftermath. In March 2020 there was a lockdown imposed for months. Teachers and university professors have been thrown into a vacuum with little or no technological resources to impart a class. The number of children and youth suicide has doubled in the past year. Maybe the answer resides in a new way to impart education. To break from the mold of classroom settings and promote an education that engages the students directly with the material in a creative way. The present school system is not the answer. —HMM (Teacher and social activist, San Juan, Puerto Rico)

I work with middle school students and think of it this way: When the pandemic started, my 7th graders were in 5th grade and many of them still act like they’re in elementary school. So, we’ve got “5th graders” in 7th grade bodies and that’s a problem. My thoughts about mitigation don’t involve upholding the current educational model. It’s time for change. I believe we need to have smaller schools, and I mean radically smaller, like no more than 30-50 students, of mixed grades (like 6th – 8th grade at the same school). I would like them all to work on the same curriculum, with modifications and differentiation as necessary, and I would like the students to teach each other in addition to being taught by a teacher. —JB (Special Education teacher, Boston, Massachusetts) 

My high schooler ended his freshman year online disastrously. The battles over algebra cost too much in our relationship, but he passed, and switched schools. He started a new school online and quickly became a classroom leader, not always a role he previously occupied. He also felt more relaxed with school, for which I’m thankful. When schools resumed face-to-face in April of 2021, he remarked how similar it was to the first day of school, even though students had been in the same classes for 8 months by that time.

My daughter started college in the dorms and online. While she enjoyed having her own room in the dorms, she made few new connections. She did learn, however, that sitting alone leaves her too much in her own head, which is not good for her mental health. As the spring rolled on, she did deepen some ties with new friends and renewed acquaintances with school friends from long ago. Sitting in the park became a treat, as did walks around campus at odd hours. I think there are many lost opportunities for education in the constant desire to return to “normal.” I’d have liked to have seen a massive infrastructure push for wi-fi to reduce connection/equity gaps. The ability for students at home to stay current if they cannot attend physically is important, and the ingenuity of teachers to adapt to hybrid pedagogies to engage learners in a variety of ways is an underappreciated point. —ZS (Associate dean at a community college, Albuquerque, New Mexico)

I worried about kids. Their world was closing in on them, getting smaller at a time in their lives when it needed to expand. As a retired middle school Spanish teacher, I understood the importance of breaking down the walls of the classroom: Taking the kids out of the school building to learn first-hand about the Latino community in their city and inviting Latino adults into our classroom to share their culture and language with us. Every year, I would take my students to a local Latino grocery store where they could practice using food vocabulary in Spanish by going on a “scavenger hunt” in the store—listing the ingredients in a can of pozole or recording the names of all the different chile peppers in the fresh food section. At the end of October, my students would sit in small groups in the classroom, learning how to decorate sugar skulls with brightly colored royal frosting and bits of foil from Spanish-speaking women I invited to join us. The room was filled with smiles and laughter, the messiness of sticky frosting and the elbow-to-elbow back and forth conversations between the kids and the adults. It was the physical connections that were now missing. Despite teachers’ heroic efforts, virtual classrooms were not big enough for these kinds of activities and the pandemic made it impossible. Teachers told of too many kids who were disengaged and losing interest in school. When individual students’ Zoom screens would go black, teachers could not be sure the kids were even there, in “class”. I wondered if the joy of learning had become a distant remnant of the past. —KG (Visual artist and retired teacher, Eugene, Oregon)

As a poet, and one who saw two years of live readings and lectures cancelled, I’ve participated in hundreds of online events since the pandemic began. While these are no substitute for live performances, they’ve had their advantages. Audiences in the hundreds, and sometimes in the thousands, tuned in to my readings.[2] And they “attended” from across the globe, places such as Canada, India, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Holland, Germany, Denmark, all over Latin America and throughout the US. This broadened the number of listeners and increased my readership enormously. Many of these events also allowed me to participate in group readings alongside poets I wouldn’t have had the opportunity of hearing without this technology.

I taught many online classes, read for elders on the Suquamish reservation in Washington state, participated in a workshop of veterans who call themselves Wounded Warriors, and read in solidarity with young people protesting violence in Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, and the US. A particularly moving event organized by a feminist collective in Nicaragua brought the families of that country’s political prisoners and internationally known women’s rights advocates together in powerful solidarity.

Online performances, classes, and workshops still present issues that must be ironed out. Not everyone has access to the internet, creating yet another class divide. Even those who have internet access don’t always have reliable connectivity, and this makes for frozen screens and spotty audio. For a performer such as myself, the failure to generate income is also a problem. While I get paid for live events, this hasn’t been true of their virtual counterparts. Bookstores have also had to innovate how to sell books; several of those that have hosted my launches have had me sign bookplates to place in the copies they sell, and then deliver them curbside. Despite all our gains, there is nothing like live interactions between performers and public.

I have missed live audiences for readings, both being in the audience as a listener and as a performer. The stakes seem higher during a live event. I miss traveling and being ‘on the road’ and all the forms of travel that it breaks into: cars, ferries, trails, trains, etc. —CS (Suquamish poet, performer and teacher, Poulsbo, Washington)

Virtual is almost or like, very close to, but not the same thing as something in front of you in three dimensions, alive, talking, smelling, moving, thinking. A flat screen projecting images of people you actually know and seeing them virtually, is almost like not seeing them at all. Someone sent me a cartoon comparing a nineteenth century séance to a Zoom meeting. “Hello, Elizabeth, can you hear us? Are you there? We are here.” However, a séance was an attempt to speak with the dead. —RS (Visual artist and substance abuse worker, Santa Fe, New Mexico)

And, no matter who we are, there has been the missing, that great communal longing that seemed to grow with the pandemic and find its way into every crevice of our lives. Many respondents expressed this eloquently. Isolation in and of itself has been a leading cause of pain, depression, fatigue, and even trauma. It’s clear that emotionally healthy families and couples have fared better than individuals who live alone. Some single people I know say they didn’t experience the touch of another human being for more than two years. Age, disability, and fear of contagion kept many from leaving the house.

Decisions about the need for isolation have varied from person to person and within communities. In US cities and towns, just as in those around the world, political considerations and policies favoring one group or another often determined how mentally as well as physically healthy a person might be. For me and for other creatives, isolation has meant more time for productive work, and many exciting projects have resulted. What this has meant in general social terms has been mixed, perhaps leading to further polarization, and also as one of its byproducts.

I really dislike thinking in binary terms, but I really see two kinds of people during this pandemic: the ones who want to take care of everyone else, and the ones who choose to hate being inconvenienced. So, the answer is more caring and less caring, more and less concerned—and everyone feeling numbed and immobilized as a result. —ZH

And then there are the questions, compliances, or lack of same. What if China had admitted to the existence of animal-to-human transmission in November or December of 2019, when it was first discovered? What if every country had taken the quarantine precautions established immediately by Taiwan? What if the United States had put appropriate protective measures in place in February 2020, like South Korea? What if scientific research had been shared for humanity’s benefit rather than jealously guarded in the hope of winning some big prize?

There are those who question the rapidity with which the new vaccines were developed, not understanding that they had been in the works for years. Was one pharmaceutical company’s vaccine better than another’s? Could we really believe their promotional claims, when the lies they tell about all sorts of medications have been the norm for so long? What about the vaccines developed in China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba? Who got vaccines and who didn’t? How were they distributed among rich nations and those so poor they can never afford what they need? How were age groups established and underlying conditions determined?

Vaccinating millions of people worldwide required tremendous planning and organization. Not surprisingly, the campaigns went more smoothly where governments put people above profit. Efficiency often depended on volunteers, who labored long hours with unfailing courtesy. We witnessed uncontrollable public displays of rage and unexpected acts of kindness. But fake news has been rampant, and conspiracy theories abound. There are families, my own among them, in which one or more anti-vaxxers remain adamant in the face of others grateful for the ability to protect themselves and their neighbors. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is the absolute need for international cooperation in such situations: laboratory scientists freely sharing their research findings, pharmaceutical companies producing vaccines at cost and the transportation industry moving them where needed, businesses and individuals refraining from profiting from disaster.

Personal responsibility has been important. Basic precautions such as wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and disinfecting surfaces, was easy for some and much more difficult for others. Large groups of citizens refused to follow these important guidelines, claiming they impinged upon their personal freedom to dissent. Their belligerent stance endangered everyone.

Privilege entered the equation early on when the vaccination rollout wasn’t yet running smoothly. Some could purchase face masks and all the cleaning products needed to follow health department guidelines. Those with the means to do so might drive to another state to get vaccinated while those without stayed home and waited their turn. People lied about underlying conditions in order to get vaccinated more quickly. Even isolation became a matter of privilege; the poor who live in crowded conditions lacked the luxury of being able to isolate.

Most exciting to me was the variety and resilience in many of the responses I received. I will end with a few excerpts from them because I believe we don’t just need hope in the abstract but a realistic materialized hope that points to renewed personal agency and the demands we must place on those who govern.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times—a time like all others. I choose hopefulness as a politics, and I reject all determinisms—from the optimists and the pessimists, the idealists, the Marxists, the cynics, and the Pollyannas. I choose hopefulness precisely because I don’t know what will happen, and I’m willing to dive into the unknown, swimming as hard as I can toward a distant and indistinct shore. —BA (Social activist and educator, Chicago, Illinois)

I do believe that the pandemic, and the advance of zoonotic diseases in general, mark a turning point for humanity–that is, for humans as a species. We, and the environments we’ve created, are drastically out of balance with ecosystems throughout the world. Global warming, for me, is both a reality but also the sign of the problem that touches so many others. I’m surprised that this connection between so-called “modern plagues” and the varied social crises we face has not been addressed more directly. The more species we destroy–through the ceaseless desire for profit and capital–the more we will be vulnerable to the very cross-species diseases that plague us and our planet. The consequences of our actions touch more than humanity as we face the prospect of vast species extinctions. I trust that I’m not being simplistic here, since there is of course no one source of the problems we face. But I do believe that we are at a moment when we can begin to see that vast social inequities in our own species are part and parcel of a much larger problem concerning our disruption of ecosystems within the workings and ravages of capital. —RS (Americanist and retired university professor, Albuquerque, New Mexico)

I am a strong believer in the usefulness of government. But I abhor totalitarian or authoritarian systems. And as with the environment, such systems are no less polluting than so called “free enterprise” systems. Governing by the consent of the governed is the goal and the skills to get there all involve the arts of legitimate persuasion and a cultural ethic of compassion and solidarity. When those don’t exist, as they no longer do in our country across partisan divides, and in many other places around the world, government action is hindered and a certain kind of us/them thinking takes over. Short of heavy-handed punitive action, stubborn behavior is hard to change among the unwilling. We all know that the essence of fascist and authoritarian systems, as well as capitalistic consumer systems, and religious systems of all kinds, is cultivating big lies, little lies, oceans of falsehoods and fantasies, and creating inflated self-images or a hatred of scapegoats to the point that no one knows what to trust and finally submits to a narrative that supports their status, gender, “faith”, class, “race,” theory of history and ideology. I can see only one thing that I’d call completely and objectively positive to come out of the pandemic. It’s given us clear evidence that the majority of the world’s people, regardless of class or culture, can make a radical behavioral change very, very rapidly when convinced individually that they need to do so in order to have a chance at avoiding potential horrific suffering and death or causing the same in others. Subjectively, but less certainly, I think many people, perhaps even a majority, have been strengthened by successfully encountering the hardships of the pandemic. —VBP (Poet, anthropologist, journalist, and teacher, Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Action is always a choice. Viability? We shall see. But kindness and humane behavior. I operate from the point of trying to reach out personally, one by one to people each day. I try to be kind to people, listen, care about folks. I give what I have to offer in this context. I think many people do. —BB (Visual artist and retired special education teacher, Albuquerque, New Mexico)

I am an inveterate optimist. I believe we have lived through moments at least as bad as this one (think of the mid-twentieth century) but I think we are going to have a very difficult time. You ask if people are less concerned about others. I don’t know. People have distanced themselves from each other. But in mid-pandemic people went door to door, using proper protection, and gathered 800,000 signatures (from a population of three and a half million) that enabled us to defeat an unjust government law. We’ve also seen enormous generosity! For example, what I’ve seen at the University where hundreds of colleagues have worked in technology, medicine, the social sciences, psychology, etc., in order to help. That allows me to continue to believe in human beings. —GR (Professor of Engineering and administrator at his country’s only public university, Montevideo, Uruguay)

I am not optimistic, but I will say my most ‘optimistic’ view of what’s going on is that we are enduring the death grip of patriarchy (it is rising up with a seeming unstoppable life force with its dying breath), and that we are the transition team between patriarchal hell and feminist utopia. This hyperbole does make me feel better, if only momentarily. Another story that helps is from a South African friend who worked as an emergency doctor. When Bush won a second term, I was despondent. She told me to hang on, because “two years before apartheid fell, if anyone had told us the end was so close, we would never have believed them—we were seeing the absolute worst of the cruelty and violence. So, the turn may be just around the corner…” That keeps me going. And really, what’s the alternative? —KH (Writer and social activist, Santa Fe, New Mexico)

The foregoing are fragments of longer texts from those who took the time to answer my questionnaire. Although limited by the small sample of respondents, they reveal the brutality of the tragedy, our resourcefulness and resilience in dealing with it, and some of the subtle realizations and gifts we may want to preserve going forward. Priorities have changed for many. This is the tip of the iceberg of a great collective conversation waiting to happen. And such a conversation is urgent, not only about the pandemic now beginning to ebb about us, but also about the certainty of future pandemics to come.

[1] Toward the end of the pandemic’s first year, I produced a collection called Starfish on a Beach: Poems from the Pandemic (San Antonio, Texas: Wings Press, 2020). The book was translated into Spanish by Sandra Toro and appeared as Estrellas de mar sobre una playa: los poemas de la pandemia (Buenos Aires, Argentina y Bogotá, Colombia (Editorial Abisinia and Escarabajo Editores, 2020).

[2] Events might attract fifty to one hundred initially, and many hundreds more when the videos were put on social media. One event, sponsored by Mexico’s Library of Congress, received more than 7,000 visits.