The vocabulary of a pandemic
“Adam has rona.”
“He tested positive.”
“He has corona virus.”
Okay, I do live in an isolated area of Morton County, but not so isolated that I haven’t heard we are experiencing a resurgence of the pandemic, but apparently my vocabulary has not caught up to the times. That started me thinking.
“We need some 12x18 coated paper,” I said to my favorite print shop. “Is it possible to get a couple hundred sheets?”
“Sure thing.” Until an hour later when Miss Kelsey calls me back and said, “We don’t have any 12x18 paper. There’s a paper supply chain shortage.”
“I can cut you some from 13x19-inch stock, but I have to charge you for the cutting,” she said.
“Do it,” I said not ever expecting anyone to say that to me. Sure, I have heard it on the news, but.
Working for a time before this time on local food systems, I have heard about supply chains. We have been trying to connect local producers to schools and restaurants. That requires breaking into chains that have dominated the market for years.
I never expected to be affected by these words in any other context. Within the next week, I’m on the phone for 30 minutes to acquire some toner so I can print the newsletter – half of which is laying in the tray and the other half not somewhere in limbo land because… you guessed it, “a supply chain shortage.”
Other new words that have popped up in the last two years include “social distancing” and “quarantine.” Of course, we have maybe come across the quarantine word in history books but being asked to quarantine was a difficult experience for most people. I, myself, rather like to be out here alone with no social obligations so I can spend time creating and planting things.
Upon Googling new words used during the pandemic I found many takes on social activities like such as drinking a “quarantine” or “coronarita” during “walktail.”
We have entered a new year. For more years than I can remember, the first day of the new year creates the need to clean out my house. Perhaps straighten up my surroundings while on hiatus from our busy summers and throw things away.
So, here I go. My studio contains a workspace for writing and designing documents. There’s a printer, computer, file cabinet, bookcase, and several trays for holding papers. From across the half wall separating the fiber design area from the office space, I can see bins of yarn, stacks of fabric, my sewing machines, cutting table and loom, among other things.
As I grew wiser in years, my mantra has become “simplify.” And, I try. When the ball drops, I become annually determined to clean out my studio and closets to reduce my possessions. I also would like to get rid of all the things I have been saving for projects I will never get to in my lifetime. Hello Pinterest. Just what the creative thinkers and makers of the world like me needed. It wasn’t enough to have ideas of my own trying to escape my brain; now, I also have everyone else’s up there.
Throughout my career as a “maker,” I collected ideas that stimulated other ideas, so I collected the things I needed to create those things at will—time being the biggest roadblock. I had to have a job to buy all those supplies, kits and yarn. I have been doing this for years, looking forward to retirement, which I recently put off for another three months.
When I was a young stay-at-home mom, I read a book about how we should always have a store of threads, fabrics, elastic zippers, etc. etc. on hand so, at a whim, we could walk into our sewing room and 1.5 hours later leave with a new shirt, skirt or stuffed animal in hand.
Thus began my shelf-stocking for all the projects I will never have time to complete. Therefore, every year, I say to myself, “let it go. You will never have enough time in your life to make all the dolls, stuffed animals, crocheted mittens, woven dishtowels, skirts and shirts you would like.”
Not surprisingly, I have loads of things an average person would consider junk, such as old tins, corks, blocks of bee’s wax, unique buttons, broken jewelry – you know, the components of some fabulous piece of artwork.
(Insert laughter here).
So, I begin each year with a notebook (a bullet journal deconstructed) and a nice pen (I collect those kinds of art supplies also) to clean out my house. To expedite finding something for a particular project, I inventory my collection of yarn and fabric and throw those things out, which I cannot even fathom getting to soon.
Well, that’s a problem. As I kneel on the floor sorting the brown kraft paper I save from all the boxes of stuff delivered by our great UPS, FedEx and mailmen and women, I’m muttering to myself, “well, I will need this for pattern drafting, winding warp or wrapping packages.” I smooth it out, sometimes iron it, and put it back on a different shelf.
That opens up a new shelf, and I rearrange my stacks of linen and cotton fabrics and take note of all the beautiful things I have yet to make from it. Currently, I have three looms with projects, one scarf to finish, a batch of soap to wrap, and an art doll to make out of old quilt squares from my grandmother. Like dominos, this continues, for I cannot find the strength to let go of any of my treasures.
The moral of this story – there is no cleaning out or throwing away; it’s just a re-newed year with a desire to create. Happy New Year.
Back to the books
A few weeks ago, I was going to share my reading list. My thoughts were interrupted by the passing of my aunt, followed shortly by the transfer of my father from his apartment in assisted living to the nursing home. It's like heartbreak after heartbreak – but we remember the circle of life and eventually accept it.
Our almost-blizzard was a blessing. The outdoor gardens were covered with snow protecting the soil from erosion and adding subsoil moisture for a spring jumpstart. And speaking of spring, I have visions of seeds and soil blocks dancing in my head as it's almost time to begin gardening again.
Somewhere along life's timeline, I decided to make time to read every day. What I would lose in sleep each night reading would not be missed. Sometimes, the only difficulty in this practice is finding good books to read.
And then finishing them.
I currently have about four books in the queue – half-finished at that. I'm debating if I should find a book less than interesting at my age should I toss it aside rather than spend precious moments finishing it? The jury's still out.
One of my goals is to read some classic old novels. After reading the invisible man, which is nothing like any movie of the same name, I downloaded Siddhartha. That classic was a fascinating read, but I was interrupted by the latest Stephen King novel, "Billy Summers." I feel it was the best book King wrote since his accident. It was a love story, and I almost couldn't put it down.
Because I admire and wish to support local writers, I opted to try Clay Jenkinson's book, "The Language of Cottonwoods." I agree with his love of North Dakota and its treasures worth preserving, but somehow, I couldn't get more than halfway through until it became about him. I will finish it someday when I wait for a few more books from my favorite authors, but I am sorry, for now.
Then, my friend Sarah Vogel wrote a book. She is talented and a great writer. I put that book on my hard pile (along with Jenkinson's) and opted for a book from the soft pile. It wasn't a difficult choice because Louise Erdrich had just published her latest work, "The Sentence." I love Louise. The terms hard and soft piles came from that read. Until then, my dresser and end table contained only piles of books.
I may very well have read everything that Ms. Erdrich has written. It all began with "Tales of Burning Love." Erdrich's stories are based on North Dakota places. She recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her book, "The Night Watchman," a story about her grandfather. Someday I would love to visit her independent bookstore in the Twin City's area or online at: https://birchbarkbooks.com. Until I read this book, I was unaware the staff did mail orders. I am remiss that I didn't order a signed copy of "The Sentence" directly. My apologies.
"The Sentance" is about a haunted bookstore, among other timely topics, but the very best part of Erdrich's latest book is a list of the main character's favorite books behind the final chapter. BONUS.
Let it blizzard all it wants, with this list in hand; I shall not run out of books (both hard pile and soft pile) for a long, long time. After my December Sun magazine, I will begin "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I can't wait
Read on, my friends.
The Changing of the guard
Sixteen. First, there were 39; now, there are 16. I have 16 aunts and uncles left in this world. They are unsystematically moving from this world to the next in no particular order. Monday, it was my Aunt Luella’s turn. Her funeral was Monday. My aunts and uncles dying ushers in the end of a time that I thought would never end.
As my extra-large family would gather at the holidays and reunions and the aunts and uncles were everywhere, and I thought these times would last forever. But forever has come, and it signifies a couple of things.
First, my many cousins and I are becoming orphans. Secondly, we must assume the role of the oldest generation – no more calling “mom” or “dad” to solve problems, schedule visits or get cooking advice. Third, we see each other less and less each year as our own families grow larger and larger and spread themselves across the country.
I’m sad, and yet in a small way, I can picture the joy my mom and her family experience every time one of the flock joins those in heaven.
My Aunt Luella was one of my mom’s older sisters; she was 97 in August. I loved her. In my mind, I can still see her doing a jig at one of our annual picnics with her red shoes; she was in her 90s at that time. I told people I wanted to be just like her when I grew up – lively and good-humored.
As large as my family was, I knew them all. There was no questioning where we spent our Christmas and Easter holidays, always meeting at my grandparents’ house. That’s plural because once they moved to Wishek, they lived maybe eight blocks apart. My dad met my mom at his brother’s wedding to my mom’s sister, so I have three double cousins. I thought everyone’s family was fashioned, so we all had the same set of grandparents. I found out that wasn’t true. In college, I learned that not everyone in the state was German-Russian and not everyone was my relative.
The year I was born, Grandma Meidinger insisted on an annual picnic held for more than 50 years religiously on the third Sunday in July. First, the family met at the farm, then at the Wishek park. Let me tell you, the food was phenomenal. Even in the hottest weather, the potluck included fried chicken, homemade sausage, knephla and kraut and desserts of every make and model. One thing about my relatives – food meant love. And, they loved each other a bunch.
When my mom, her sisters and sisters-in-law got together, the visiting was endless. Like a flock of chickens clucking in the farmyard, they visited up a storm. Perhaps you guess why words spill from my mouth in the rapid-fire fashion they do. To this day, when I meet up with one of my many cousins – somewhere in the 40-50 range – I have to allow for minimally 30 minutes of catch up. It’s so sad that most of the time, we meet at funerals as the weddings have dwindled to nearly none.
Things change, we change and times change. Today, I remember those times, my aunts, my uncles, the food, the laughter, the music in a positive light. I’m very grateful for the Christmas holiday and the memories – the most beautiful memories of the generation that shaped me, nearly gone but never forgotten. Rest in peace, Aunt Luella and say hello to my mom until we meet in heaven.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.