One of the last things we did before the lockdown was see the Beauford Delaney exhibit at the Knoxville Museum of Art.
Through the Unusual Door opened at KMA in Feburary and focused on the Knoxville-born artist's life, and friendship with the writer James Baldwin. The exhibit coincided with a Baldwin/Delaney symposium held at the University of Tennessee, one of the last big in-person events at UT before thousands of students moved out after spring break and the university joined the rest of the country in a massive emergency shift to online-only instruction and events.
We went to the museum a few days after Tennessee reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, in Williamson County. Days earlier we voted in the Super Tuesday primary, which coincided with a deadly tornado hitting the Nashville area. At work, I had helped stand up a little section of the website with some information on the coronavirus, linking to the CDC and some general safety information. At this time (early March), the CDC was reporting that face coverings were not necessary for ordinary people becuase of a shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE), one of several terms and acronyms that would become part of our household vocabulary.
Neither Eleanor nor I would return to work in-person for months. What a difference a few days can make.
Everyone handles emergencies differently. I think my experience of the first six weeks of the global COVID-19 pandemic was better than the following nine months. We were not in a "hot spot" for several weeks, but Knox County shut down much like the rest of the country. We started refreshing the now-ubiquitous daily case count dashboards and made a bunch of homemade face coverings from old shirts and fabric scraps. I built a table and set up a home office in our living room. I didn't start baking daily (although I did execute a good gluten-free pizza crust) or attempt a novel. My plague year project was to develop a regular exercise regiment (I chose jogging and Couch to 5K), and to avoid getting the virus or spreading it.
Homemade yard signs, window painting, and sidewalk chalk interventions sprang up in our neighborhood to thank healthcare workers. Eventually these were supplemanted or replaced with more yard signs and other sporadic interventions declaring solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Then more general election yard signs and a handful of Trump flags appeared during my morning jogs or dog walks later in the summer. I proved that I could work at home for six months and still get things done, for the most part. Expectations of what is "productive" may have shifted during the global pandemic.
I've struggled and managed depression through most of my adulthood, and 2020 will definitely get chalked up as one of my lousier years. I know I'm not alone in this. Who hasn't experienced loneliness, disappointment and several dark nights of the soul this year? As I write this in mid-December, the whole state of Tennessee is a "hot spot" and the U.S. has lost the equivalent of the population of St. Louis, Missouri to COVID-19 deaths. The same number of people who perished in the September 11 terror attacks is dying daily around the country.
The Beauford Delaney exhibit stayed up through October, and the University of Tennessee is showing a smaller Delaney show in its gallery in downtown Knoxville. The summer and fall was good for hikes in the woods and small outdoor gatherings in our back yard. I returned to in-person work (masked and at a distance 2 days a week) for a brief while in late September, but since Thanksgiving our team is fully remote again, at least through the end of the holiday season.
This time last year, we were in upstate New York for a huge wedding gathering. We spent Christmas day with my grandmother, one of the strongest women I know, but someone who is a member of a vulnerable population today. If this were a "normal" year we'd be getting ready to make a trip to Albuquerque or Phoenix to spend the holidays with our families. But this is the year of postponed visits. We are writing longer Christmas cards and making video chat plans instead.
The New York Times informs me I'll be one of the last people in my state and country to recieve the vaccine. I will get the vaccine as soon as my number is called. I expect I will be indoors and physically distant for much of the winter. Our county is breaking our previous records in new daily cases. I want to do a little more with my website here at the end of the year and into 2021. That and finish painting our hallway. Offline, I'll do what I can to organize and participate in mutual aid. To whom much is given, much is required.
Thankfully I have not gotten sick or knowingly exposed to the virus this year. This is certainly due to personal privilege and my ability to work from home as much as my vigilance to the public health guidelines. Its getting colder and darker and I'm doing my best to jog regularly each week. I deleted Facebook back in 2018 and have stayed off Twitter for more than a year now. My preferred way of staying connected with friends and family is through texting, email, or a phone call. Nine months ago I was choosing "stay resilient" over telling people to "stay sane". Now that word, 'resilient' feels like it is ringing hollow too. If we know each other and I have not reached out to you this year, I am sorry. Hopefully you have my number or know how to reach me. I'd like to hear how you experienced this plague year. None of us are alone.