Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Report from Planet Earth

Dear Mom,

I felt your presence the yesterday and looked at the calendar. April 7th, one day after you left us six years ago. So I guess it’s time to give you the report from Planet Earth.

Well, it’s interesting down here! As I write, I’m in the 4thweek of quarantine from a virus that has spread over the entire planet. We’re mostly hunkered down in our homes and the good news is that I havea home and I like my home and I have many projects that I love doing. Not just busy work, but things that engage me and give me pleasure. Always the piano and the choice of reviewing the 300 jazz tunes I once memorized or playing all of Bach’s Suites, Partitas, Inventions, the Goldberg Variations and when I’m tired of that (which probably I never will be), there’s all of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel to delve into. For starters. Have even thought that with Youtube’s help, this could be the time to finally learn clawhammer-style banjo or master ukulele chords. I could get back into my Bulgarian bagpipe, but I suspect my neighbors would kill me. So I’ll let that go for now.

Then there’s all the sorting and organizing and cleaning that I saved for my retirement and I did make a great start in the front room. Not quite ready to get into the photos or boxes of old letters or T-shirts I couldn’t bear to throw out molding in the basement. Not to mention the cassette tapes and VHS videos. But it’s all there waiting should I ever get bored.

But I am deep into a 15-years-waiting-for-someone-to-help-me-and-now-I’ll-just-do-it-myself project—the SF School Songbook!!! 97 down, another 60 or so to go and then figuring out how to organize it and present it. That is the kind of A-Z satisfying project I love—each spare moment, just working my way through the alphabet. Concrete, clear, not too much thinking, useful. Also waiting are the next books I hope to write, the continued discipline of these daily blogs, my handwritten journal. And then of course, reading. Push comes to shove, I think I could re-read every book in the house and quite happily so. 

It’s a blessing that weather-permitting, I can get out on my bike each day and keep the body exercised, the lungs filled with fresh air and the eyes filled with sights beyond the walls of my house, Spring still happily announcing its uninterrupted cycle. 

And thanks to Zoom technology, my work is continuing in new forms. Gave an online workshop to 90 people from around the world yesterday, many of whom I know (and so wonderful to see their smiling faces all together on the screen!), I’ve now set-up weekly sings with alumni, had some with kids at school and hopefully more to come. It’s weird to have it all mediated by a screen, but better than nothing. And I’m giving street/sidewalk singing classes with the neighborhood kids twice a week (at a proper distance) and that feels great. My one sadness is not being able to do any singing with the Jewish Home folks. Maybe I can figure something else out. 

The first two weeks of this pandemic found our house again filled with the patter of little (but ever-growing) feet as Zadie and Malik came with Kerala to shelter in place with us. You met Zadie when she was a baby and never met Malik, though I could just see you pinching his cheek over and over again! They are great kids and we had a wonderful, energetic time before they returned home to Portland, where Ronnie is now being their home-school teacher and apparently enjoying it a lot.

So you see that in terms of a worldwide crisis, things are not personally terrible—we have food, gas, heat, TV series to watch, pianos, books, computers, bikes and parks. Not to make light of it because I’m okay at the moment. I recognize the privilege of my position and feel the hurt of so many who are suffering. Including elderly folks with dementia or Alzheimer’s wondering why their kids aren’t visiting. It would be unbearable if you were still with us in that situation. The lines outside the food stores are bearable but weird, the boarded-up shops on Market Street a bit grim, the hovering sense of uncertainty about when this is all going to end or how has many of us on edge. Like I said, an interesting time here on Planet Earth.

I’d like to think that you—or some semblance of you—is in the place where viruses can’t reach nor politics nor Fox News and that you are still feeling my love for you six weeks after your departure. I’m sorry to report that the plant in the back yard I planted over your ashes has died, but am thinking about a new one and spreading more of yours—and Dad’s—ashes in the soil. You both are resting in your urns on the front room mantelpiece, your photos are on my desk, Dad’s paintings on the wall, little ways in which you stay present with me every day. 

So Mom, that’s the news, such as it is.

Your loving son,


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