See if you can figure out the significance of my title before I finish.
* * *
The last few weeks, I’ve been living in the closet, producing the audiobook version of Staying Power: Writings from a Pandemic Year. I’ve never narrated an audiobook before, but it’s a trend, now—authors reading their own work for people who like to listen to books. So, I figured I’d give it a try.
The problem is, our house is well over a century old, plus it sits on the main drag through town. A recording microphone easily picks up everything from creaky floors to barking dogs to traffic sounds.
To shut out the background noise, I created a makeshift studio in our biggest closet. Size-wise, the closet is something between a walk-in and a reach-in. Maybe we should call it a “sit-in,” now. After clearing a small space among the hanging clothes, I moved in a chair, my laptop, and my recording equipment, then surrounded the whole set-up with insulating mounds of pillows and quilts.
My cramped “recording studio” isn’t exactly comfortable, and it’s stuffy as heck, even when there’s springtime snow on the ground. But you can’t hear a thing in there.
At least, that’s what I’d thought until this week, when I started to process the fifty-five audio files I’ve made. Oh, the gurgles from my stomach! The arthritic clicks from my neck! The wet crackles from my mouth! The dull scratches at the closet door, as the cat begs to be let in on the fun …
Is absolute silence even possible? Or is it just plain unnatural?
* * *
Speaking of unnatural silences, why aren’t the authorities releasing the video footage showing the killing of Andrew Brown, Jr., in Elizabeth City, NC? Brown is yet another man of color who may have lost his life due to excessive police force. On April 21, 2021, sheriff’s deputies shot him five times, including in the back of the head. His hands were on the steering wheel of his car.
Does withholding the footage serve the interests of justice? Or does it create suspicion of a cover-up?
* * *
Did you know that ferns can see us? Their leaves and roots have cells not unlike the simple eyes of insects and other invertebrates.
This piece of information isn’t exactly a news flash (though it was to me). Indigenous people seem to have long been aware of it, and some scientists, too. As far back as 1908, a front-page story in the New York Times reported that the British botanist Harold Wager had actually taken pictures using a fern’s epidermal cells as lenses. (View some of his photos here.)
Your houseplants just might be watching you. Does that creep you out? Or give you a thrill?
* * *
The other night I was talking with an eighty-four-year-old relative on the phone. She was so happy! She’d just hosted a family fish fry. Thirty-seven people had crowded into her condo.
With some pride, she then informed me that she hasn’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. She has no intention of ever doing so.
I was stunned. A long, awkward silence passed between us before she finally said, “You probably think I’m silly, don’t you?”
“Why don’t you want to get vaccinated?” I asked.
“There’s no evidence the shots do any good. Besides, they make a lot of people sick.”
Silently I weighed whether or not to counter her reasons. I doubted that I could change her mind. Yet, out of abundant concern, I decided to wade into the water.
She immediately pushed me back on the bank, disputing every piece of evidence I brought forward. Clearly, discussion was futile.
“We have strong differences of opinion on this,” I said, “so there’s not much point in our talking further about it. But I want to tell you that I love you, and I don’t want you to get sick.”
That’s where we left it.
What’s more loving—to engage with our dear ones on this issue, or to remain silent and abandon them to their opinions?
* * *
Every spring our city has a “clean up” period when residents can place on the curb any items they wish to discard. For several weeks, until city trucks haul the stuff to the dump, the curbs are littered with broken-down couches and old cabinets, irreparable lawn furniture, cast-off knickknacks and flowerpots and toys ….
I fell in love with dumpster-diving decades ago, living by choice on the streets of Columbus, Ohio. So, during spring clean-up, I’m always drawn toward the “junk.” I like to grub around in it for hidden treasure. Over the years, I’ve rescued perfectly fine area rugs, bookshelves, and more.
While on a recent walk with Jihong and Nathan, I saw something on the curb outside one house that stopped me on the sidewalk.
Two bulging bags of books.
I crouched to examine them more closely. They were children’s books, most in mint condition. (Look here.) As a youngster, Nathan—now approaching high school graduation—had owned several of the titles. In fact, he’d worn out his copies. “This one,” he said, picking up I Spy, “has a Rube Goldberg machine in it.” He flipped directly to the page.
Nathan and I carried those bags of books home. Since then, we’ve given them all away.
Junk? Or riches?
* * *
Last week, a woman who resides in my mother’s elder care community rejoiced when her daughter flew in from out of state. It was their first time being together since the pandemic hit. With the facility carefully reopening after a year of lockdown, such reunions are becoming more common.
At the end of their visit, the old woman had a heart attack. She died in her daughter’s arms.
Tragic ending? Or … ?
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