We have met the enemy and he is us

by Barb, in Maine, where it is gorgeous, still warm but fall is in the air

“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry to Major General William Henry Harrison, Battle of Lake Erie, War of 1812

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Walt Kelly, Pogo, Earth Day, 1970

Our next door neighbor when I was in middle school and high school, a good friend of my parents, owned a summer place, an old farmhouse on a dirt road with a pond and a bunk house. It was absolutely nothing special, and yet very, very special. When you were there, somehow all your responsibilities seemed to melt away. The rustic nature of the house was part of what made it so, there was no obligation to keep busy. And there was the isolation. It was the perfect place for reading and napping and taking dips in the pond.

Looking out over the pond

Our friend was there one night, sitting in a folding lounge chair, watching the stars, so beautiful in those places where there is no light pollution, when she heard heavy footsteps in the underbrush nearby. She was completely alone. No one would have heard her scream. She waited, stock still, heart banging, until the steps moved off. When it was over, she had the sudden insight that despite all the scary things it might have been, the species she was most afraid of was her own.

The species we are most afraid of is our own. I have thought of this so often. It always informs my mystery writing.

I’ve been thinking about this insight in a different way lately.

Last year Bill and I were very isolated. We fully stayed inside for two weeks before and after we saw our children and grandchildren, who were pretty much the only people we saw. Meal delivery and Netflix was a big night. This year is different. My grandchildren are in school or daycare, my daughter back in the classroom teaching college freshman. Bill and I are going to outdoor restaurants, and ball games, small gatherings with friends, and having house guests.

Our county in Maine is highly vaccinated and our infection rate is low. Still, we are aware that our three granddaughters are unvaccinated. Throughout 2020, before vaccines and effective treatments, our children tended to treat Bill and I, members of a vulnerable age group, like Faberge Eggs. They never would have forgiven themselves if they’d gotten us sick. Now we feel the same way about the youngest members of the family.

My daughter and family have a wedding and a baby shower to attend this fall. I did Books and Boothbay on Saturday, the biggest event I’ve been to in 18 months.

Books in Boothbay

Around every one of these activities and events, there’s a conversation.

“Is it outdoors?”

“Do we know who will be there? Are they vaccinated?”

“Will people be wearing masks?”

And then there is a weighing of risk, and a decision, to go or to decline.

It occurred to me recently: What we are afraid of is people. Not sworn enemies, people out to kill us. People we like and even love. True, these people are merely potential vessels for the real enemy, the virus, but we are in a constant negotiation about our relationships to and interactions with our fellow human beings.

Even some people who don’t normally suffer from social anxiety are finding re-entry freighted. We have to retrain our fight or flee instinct not to react to friends and loved ones. It’s bizarre and maddening and saddening.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Readers: How are you negotiating this time? I’m not looking for the political. (“Don’t get me stahted,” as we say in New England.) I’m looking for the personal, and if you’re comfortable sharing, the emotional. Let us know in the comments below.

60 Thoughts

  1. This has been a difficult time for me as well. I took a leave of absence from work due to Covid and work/family concerns. My bubble was small and outside. I am now working part time which helps, but what I miss the most (besides dancing- a huge stress relief for me!) is casual conversations with strangers. Sometimes it’s just the shared laugh but many times it’s more. To fill in my “I am” statement – I am a collector of life stories. Grocery lists and dates may fly out of my mind, but I remember the stories of strangers who have opened up big and small over the years. I’m looking forward to collecting and savoring more stories in the future.

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  2. I am fully vaccinated, but because our local area still is having cases in the teens (the red or purple zone), I have agreed to the local organizational rule of not meeting in person until we are in the green zone. While I miss being able to gather with others, even wearing a mask, I am making myself one less possible vector for the virus to use. I cannot help regretting we did not take quarantining seriously when the virus first showed up. I DID. But many others did not.

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  3. Here in Aroostook County we are also highly vaccinated, but the numbers are climbing. My husband and I are fully vaccinated. In the late spring and early summer, after the mandates were lifted, we delighted in going into stores and meeting friends unmasked and making party plans.I had my first haircut in over a year – YEA!

    By mid-summer when it was clear that vaccination might not be enough and we were hearing stories of breakthrough infections, we returned to semi-isolation and masks for our safety, and for the safety of those who are unable to be vaccinated whether because of age or other health issues. It was not an easy decision. Right now, I’m hopeful that in 2022 I will be able to again attend writers conferences and book signings comfortably. But I’m gonna need another haircut!

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  4. I’m right there with you. In lieu of grandkids I have other littles in my life, including a new baby. I’m grateful to have family and close friends I know I can trust to behave cautiously, because I refuse to go back to strict isolation. Around anyone else? “Pull that mask up and keep your distance.”

    I signed up for Crime Bake. Will they hold it? If they do, will I go? And do I want to wear a mask for an entire weekend? It’s all still up in the air. Glad Boothbay was good for you!

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  5. I’ve gone to eat at the 99 restaurants in two towns. I meet my friend Ann at the one here in my town and I’ve been taking my trivia team partner Maureen out once a month to the one in Fairhaven. Her husband Brian passed away (he was part of the trivia team as well) and this small thing gets her out of the house. And since they started up trivia at that location again last week (we won!) we’ll be doing that each Thursday they have it.

    I visit the bookshop, the comic book shop and the record shop but they are almost exclusively get what I wanted and get out kind of visits. The comic shop is probably the one I stay at the longest.

    But the big events, where there would be a lot of people, I’m skipping. No concerts, no comic conventions, no book conventions. And since there haven’t really been many in-person book signings, I haven’t gone to any of those. I might consider that but those questions you wrote about Barb would definitely be taken into consideration.

    Even going to my friend Ann’s place is taken as a carefully planned notion. We watch the TV show Lucifer together and the final season just started last week on Netflix. But I haven’t been there yet. I’ve been invited to parties she’s had and will be having, but I’ve passed on those.

    Careful is the watchword because it isn’t like I can afford to get sick and be out of work for two weeks (or longer). And I certainly don’t want to have to take chances with dealing with the worst case scenario if I got sick.

    So I’ll continue to miss out on a lot of things that I might’ve wanted to do with a carefully curated selection of activities that I will do. It’s just the way of the world and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

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  6. I’ve eaten in one restaurant since March of 2020. Our saving grace has been meeting people at the winery our daughter works at. There’s a constant breeze (one of their labels is Wind Swept Hills), we are outside, and the food is good as is the wine. I’ve traveled once to visit my mother. It was unnerving. Seeing the crowds at sporting events over the weekend was disheartening. Yes, they are outside, but they are packed shoulder to shoulder. It doesn’t seem good.

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  7. I go out. I get haircuts. I eat indoors and out. I’m vaccinated. If the store asks me to wear a mask I do, if not, I don’t. I’ve made three trips to Western New York in six weeks. Next weekend I’ll be at an outdoor book festival. I went to a Billy Joel concert with my sister (outdoors) a few weeks ago. I refuse to obsess about numbers.

    My neurologist strongly recommended I get a booster, so I’ll be hunting a location that’s offering the Pfizer vaccine after I return next weekend (not gonna do it before hand just in case I get slammed with the same side effects I had last spring). I was with my pregnant sister-in-law who is a nurse over the weekend and her view is pretty much, “Get vaccinated, don’t be stupid, and go live your life.” Sounds like a plan to me.

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  8. We feel very fortunate in that we love being each other’s company, even after all these years, and we were use to staying at home being retired. We have a love of photography and live outside the city with many daily critter visitors to give us photographic subjects. We are also eat at home folks, but I will admit I miss the occasional dining out with no clean up duty. What we miss is all the traveling we had planned. Our fear is that our bucket list won’t dwindle down before the heath issue get worse making traveling hard if not impossible to do. To young folks a year or two isn’t long, but for senior citizens it could mean the difference in following through on plans and having to give them up. What’s fearful to me and causes me to be maybe over cautious is to have to go to the hospital for any reason. I’ve had many surgeries involving hospital stays, both short and long, but hubby has always been by my side 24/7. The idea of having to go it alone petrifies me. Then you hear stories like was in the news yesterday about a man in Alabama having major heart problems, but ended up dying before he could get medical help because they had to call 48 hospitals to finally find him a place over in the next state. That’s incentive enough to be happy to stay at home. Pray every day for things to get better, that life can get back to a normal where we can travel again and not be leery of whether the person next to you in the store is vaccinated and we can get back to simple decisions about which item on our bucket list should be tackle next. Until then, we are happy to sit on the porch with camera in hand observing our little four legged and winged visitors.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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    1. My husband and I have talked too about how these years were meant to be our prime travel years, freed of jobs yet still healthy enough to get around. I feel sad about these lost opportunities. As for my husband, I love him dearly, but I think each of us could use a few days away from the other at this point.

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  9. Some of my interactions had returned to nearly normal but may regress due to higher numbers. I am vaccinated but well aware that people may not be by choice. We can all unwittingly and unknowingly be carriers to vulnerable people.

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  10. My husband and I are too very leery of passing the virus onto our young grandchildren. We remain overly cautious and life can be lonely. I feel that most people are going about their “normal” life and here we sit, watching and waiting. Life is precious, and yes, we have missed a few outings however we would never forgive ourselves if anything happened that could be prevented happened to our granddaughters. They are our world and well worth protecting.

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  11. I used to go to theater at least once a week, sometimes more. I haven’t been since March 2020 and don’t know when I’ll be back despite the work that’s being done. I meet friends, but outside. Massachusetts has good vax rates, but the students are back so there is likely going to be a surge this fall even here. We have to take care of our most vulnerable, and that includes your grands.

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    1. My daughter-in-law is teaching at UMass Amherst. Despite being very careful and wearing a mask all day, she’s taking advantage of on-campus free testing (optional for her) and getting it every week. Because…being careful.

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      1. My daughter, teaching at Assumption, has mandatory testing that they’ve just move from once to twice a week. My son-in-law can get tested anytime through work and has mandatory testing when he returns from a work or personal trip. That does feel like it adds a layer of security.

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  12. Thanks for putting into words a dilemma we seem to meet everyday. I just hadn’t thought of it that way. May we all stay safe.

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  13. How am I moving through this: one day at a time or one hour at a time. I get on a plane tomorrow and I am less worried about that than a stop I made at a favorite coffee shop Saturday, where all the outdoor and indoor seating seemed packed. So I got to go, came home, and shut my door in isolation. Perhaps, I’m just “reading the room”. Take good care, all Wicked ones.

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  14. It’s absolutely terrifying to me. When we go to the grocery store hardly anyone wears a mask. In this state, AL, our governor does not really put for the vaccine at all. It’s like people here don’t care. Both my husband and myself have been vaccinated and so has our daughter and granddaughters. Our oldest granddaughter’s husband finally got his first vaccine, work made him, Saturday. At least he’s getting it finally. Our SIL will have to as he contracts for the government. So many in our family just flat refuse. They say they don’t believe this is real. I don’t get it. It’s just mind blowing how crazy people are. Our hospitals are full and so so many children. The children are the ones I honestly feel sorry for. The adults had a choice. They could have been protected, they could have protected their children. It’s just sad and so scary.
    I agree one day at a time. That’s all we can do. Stay in, stay safe. Wear a mask if you go out. Get the FREE vaccine. 🙂
    Thank you for writing this. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I had thought by now, “everybody knows somebody who’s had it,” and “everybody knows somebody who’s lost someone,” would have kicked in–that this would be a whole-of-society experience. I get (kind of) having different reactions to and ways of dealing with the pandemic, but I do not get denying it exists. At least you and your family are making some progress in your corner of the world. Stay strong.

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      1. I agree. I know a friend who lost both of her parents yet her and her husband still refuse to get vaccinated. Several who have lost family and close friends and they still refuse to accept it’s real. I do not understand their thinking.

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  15. What I keep telling myself and trying to do is to be grateful for what we do have. We are vaccinated and so are our children, but not the Grands. I think about the British and their saying of Be Calm and Carry On. We wear our masks to the grocery store and buy online for everything else. I so appreciate all in the service industries that are working to keep our country going. And, those of you who are authors, I cannot express my appreciation enough! Reading for fun is so important.

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  16. My husband, daughter and I are all fully vaccinated and will get the booster as soon as it is available to us. We do go to the grocery and certain restaurants, and occasionally to some other store, but we always wear masks and do our best to keep a social distance. I did go to a book signing last week. It was a very small affair in a small indie bookstore where I know all the people. Everyone had to wear a mask. I felt safe enough. Of course, the rate of infection around here isn’t as high as in many parts of the country. We still avoid all large crowds even outside. We are hoping to go on a driving vacation to a specific place to see some friends in October. But we haven’t made any reservations yet because we want to see how things go.

    And yes, we are definitely getting older to the point that if we don’t do things soon, we aren’t going to be able to. We really resent those people who refuse to get vaccinated and wear masks. They are stealing our lives away.

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    1. We are going to Virginia at the end of the month to see our son’s family and then on to Williamsburg for a few days. We’ve been there several times and feel comfortable we can amuse ourselves.

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  17. This is so true for me, certainly! I recently backed out of an event because it was indoors and although I was told that we could make “mask required,” I didn’t want to be the enforcer. It wasn’t the library’s policy (which it wasn’t) for all patrons to be masked, and I had a sinking feeling that someone would push back or simply wear their mask incorrectly (i.e., under their nose). I know that being fully vaccinated I’d most likely not end up hospitalized. But with the increased number of breakthrough cases with the delta variant, I just didn’t want to risk it for me or my husband. Along the same lines, when a traveling friend asked if he could stay with us, we were able to come up with a quick protocol – he’d get tested before he left his home and we’d do a quickie home test (15 minutes!) once he arrived. (We all offered to do one, and if any of the three of us tested positive, we’d get him a hotel room instead.) Alas, although he’s vaccinated, he’s traveling from a hot spot (Louisiana), and so many of his other friends balked, he’s cancelled his trip… He’s not the enemy, nor (I hope) are we. But we do all fear each other these days.

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  18. I’m trying to find the balance. Realistically, this virus will be with us for a long time. As much as I wish we could wave a magic wand and it would all go away, that isn’t realistic. It is related to the flu and the common cold, and they are still with us after years of fighting it. So we have to figure out a way to live with it.

    And the only people I want to die are the victims in the murder mysteries I read. Because a murder mystery with out a murder is rather boring.

    However, I am still hesitant going back out into the world. I’m thrilled on multiple levels that I’m still working from home. Yet I am taking a vacation soon, my first real vacation in 5 years. And I can’t wait!

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    1. I got really curious about the 1918 pandemic recently and wondered–how did it end. The answer is it didn’t. It was an H1N1 virus. So I agree, covid will become like the flu–another shot us oldsters get every fall. The one thing that I found interesting though is that viruses apparently eventually get weaker. At firs the mutations may make them stronger–like delta–but eventually all those mutations take a toll. So if covid does become like seasonal flu, I do have hope it will become less deadly, even as we learn better how to treat it.

      Have a fantastic vacation!

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  19. I’m a full time caregiver for my 94 year old mother and my boyfriend is the one who comes over and helps when there’s a problem since my brother lives an hour away. We’ve been back and forth about getting away for a week. We need a break but he’s worried about getting sick even though we’re all vaccinated. We finally decided that we need the break for our mental health. And my mom’s been pushing us to go. My brother works remotely so he’ll work from my mom’s for a week.

    We decided to drive to PA and stay in an area that we’re familiar with. We know which restaurants have outdoor dining and when the slow times are. He wants to take in a show so we may do that. I’m leaning more towards outdoor activities so we still have to work that out.

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    1. We too are taking a few days in a place we are familiar with. While I’m missing the adventure of new places, somehow “figuring it out” in a place you know well seems less daunting.

      Have a wonderful break.

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  20. I’m in panic mode. Because of my health issues, I have to be extremely careful, so yes I’m wearing a mask no matter what. What I don’t like is seeing people wear the mask wrong. Seriously cover your nose. I have to be out and about because of the many medical appointments I have. So my emotions are strong about the mask mandates. I don’t like wearing it, but I must. I want this to be over and we need cooperation for it to be done and we are not getting it.

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    1. I don’t like the mask either. Just like you turn the radio down when you’re driving and lost, when I’m searching for something on store shelves I have an almost overwhelming urge to pull my mask down. But I don’t. Every place I go for medical appointments requires a mask and I am totally on board with that. Like I said to Jay above, it’s been great not having a cold or the flu for 18 months, so masking in a doctor’s waiting room may be something I keep up after the pandemic.

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    2. Dru, I’ve also had a lot of medical appointments in the last year, and am always so grateful masks are required everywhere. Some places hand out a new mask at the door and make you put it on. Stay safe!

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  21. My husband and I are vaccinated, our daughter that lives here, our son in law and our 2 grandchildren that we have with them are all vaccinated also, we go to our granddaughters HS home tennis matches and we all mask up, we can never be too cautious, not knowing where everybody else has been or if they are vaccinated. COVID is on the rise here unfortunately. My husband usually goes to the grocery store, and I stay home. Our son and his little family live 6 hours away, he and his girlfriend have been vaccinated but not our 10 yr old grandson, unfortunately he is too young for the vaccine. All we have to do is just be cautious . My husband has gigs in wineries and I go with him and it’s o.k., because it is outdoors. Have a great week and stay safe. It is so very true, that we can be our own enemies. We mask up to protect our selves and others.

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  22. In California we’ve had an indoor mask mandate (2nd time) for about 6 weeks. In my county of 2M, we are averaging 300 new infections a day and we’re over 80% vaccinated. My gym holds classes outside and I wear a mask if I’m inside doing weight machines. I’m fully vaxxed as is every member of my immediate family ( no one is under 12). Yesterday I went to an indoor Pizza joint with great beer to watch my beloved football team. I kept my mask on about half the time, given the pizza and beer in front me. The place had about 2 humans per 120sq feet, so I wasn’t feeling like I was in an indoor crowd. I had hopes that the beer’s alcohol content would sterilize any germs I inhaled🤣. So far today, no breakthrough COVID.

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    1. Books in Boothbay was the same. Indoors, but with the windows open and the authors working shifts so their table were spread out, everyone masked. I felt quite safe. I hope you have a tremendous football season. (Within reason. I have to remain loyal to the Patriots.)

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  23. I’m going to the NinC conference later this month at St. Pete Beach. Will observe all the rules they’ve set in place, remembering that I may not be the only valuable Faberge egg present.

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  24. I’ve been very cautious in venturing back out into the world: my medical issues, my 94 yo mom and all the residents at her facility that I need to protect, and having nearly lost both my brother and sister to covid while they were waiting to be able to get a shot. I do curbside pickup for groceries and most things, but if I have to go inside anywhere I always wear a mask and use wipes to clean my hands and face. Mask mandates are here but some people don’t seem to get it that wearing them as a necklace is not what is meant….

    Edith’s thoughts about Crime Bake resonated with me. In addition, I’m wondering how I would eat in public?

    Thank you, Barb, for this thought-provoking post. I’m looking forward to the time when I can replace being wary, cautious, and afraid with my old feelings of joy, anticipation, and excitement.

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  25. Your quote also is the theme for “Lord of the Flies.” The enemy lies within. We got our vaccines in Jan and Feb and are getting the 3rd one Wed. All Pfizer. To make it easier for us to be together so much, I go upstairs and work jigsaw puzzles or read my books. He stays downstairs with the tv and his laptop. Our pup keeps us company. She is very good for the geriatric set that we are. I have worked 29 puzzles of 1000 pieces this year alone and read about a book or more a week. I do not feel like doing housework or my other interest of genealogy lately.; though I have done some organizing and getting rid of stuff. Not enough. We did all online and curbside until after our vaccinations. Then we started going out to eat, some doctor appointments, hair cuts and my stylist, the grocery store, etc. But have cut back on a lot of that until we get the 3rd vaccine. In 2018, I decided to visit my best friend in Flower Mound, Texas (we live in Georgia now) at least once a year for a couple of weeks. We did that in 2018 and then in 2019 and now that is stopped. No flying or visiting. Don’t want the alternative but want to live life and not be afraid before it is my time to go. We need to quit worrying and live. My nephew, who is a road manager for many rock groups, was out of a job with no money for 18 months. He got covid, survived, got the vaccine, and finally got a job again. Went on tour for two weeks in August, with two weeks off and then 2 months of concerts; but he got let go because he asked others in the band and staff to get vaccinated and mask up as it would mess up their schedule. So they let him go after the two weeks. The moral is–you are vaccinated, just be careful and figure out what to do, but don’t tell your boss or others what to do. They have their own enemy and it does not also have to be yours.

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  26. Work from home and teaching evenings when friends are free keep me pretty isolated, so it’s not been too hard for me.

    Not visiting family got to me at the start of covid, but meditation gets me up feeling positive every day. And we’ve found we all can handle the isolation and still stay connected.

    Having my husband work from home and share some chores has, for the first time in my married life, taken some of the load of chores off me.

    It’s been a blessing to not be doing 100% of the chores and no commuting has added 3 hours to his day.

    I miss writing at the local coffee shop, but can handle this life. And would like to hold on to this slower pace after things get back to normal.

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  27. When the landlord decided to sell the house in which I’d lived for the past decade on the Cape this summer, I had to move. I moved across the state to the Berkshires. I’m vaccinated, but I’m still very, very cautious. The conversation you mentioned above — yup, constant. I would like to get to know the community, especially the vibrant arts community, but it’s still mostly via Zoom. People are much more responsible here, and masking wihtout fuss, even though almost everyone is vaccinated. But it’s very much a community (and I feel safer and more welcome than I did on the Cape), and much more supportive of the arts. The post office is the happening place around here; I’ve met so many people (masked) there. A typical response, when someone on Cape asked what I did and I said I was a writer, was “No one does that.What’s your REAL job?” while here the response is to tell me about upcoming events and ask if I want to take a walk around the lake so we can talk character development.

    I’m also lucky in that, as a full-time writer, my work is fully remote, and I can decide how much real-life interaciton to have with people. I have cancelled out of all conferences and apperances in person until at least next summer, I’m still doing some via ZOOM. I have a Big Birthday coming up in March, and had hoped to have a Big Trip to celebrate, but that’s been cancelled. I will probably do something much smaller.

    The big discussions I’m having with my editors in the series books is if, when, and how to integrate the pandemic into contemporary work. Some planned storylines just won’t work with it, so some books are going to be marketed as “pre-pandemic.” Some work will be modified so that, in a few books, it catches up. Some projects may not be viable at all. I’m also working on a site called “Grief to Art” so that we have a place to collectively mourn and place our sorrow and our loss. It sounds flippant to say “It’s a process” but that’s what it is. We have to be ready to adapt to whatever new circumstances keep evolving. It’s exhausting.

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