Day 709

With the omicron wave subsiding, there’s cautious optimism that we’re entering a new and less-restrictive phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, I’ve been giddy over promising news before, and again, so I’m going to wait this time before declaring victory.

It’s been a while since I’ve summarized the pandemic protocols at various locations in my world. Here’s where we currently stand.

***

At the community college where I work as a tutor, mask wearing is required throughout the campus, regardless of vaccination status. My shifts are four hours long, but as I’m sitting the entire time there’s little inconvenience. We’ve had very few students walk in to the tutoring center since the start of the semester last month; many are still requesting virtual consultations via Zoom. Spring break is in three weeks… maybe, maybe, the mask requirement will be lifted when classes resume after the break.

***

At the grocery store where I work on Fridays, employees are required to mask at all times. The store requests customers also wear masks but does not require them. Mandatory masking for customers would lead to a lot of negative publicity and reduce store revenues. In other words, public health standards are fine so long as they don’t affect profits.

Yeah, that’s pretty cynical and unfair, but this isn’t a time for generosity.

***

The public library also requires masks of all patrons. I go there to check out books and movies I reserve online, but given a choice between writing at the library while masked and writing at home without covering my mouth, I’ll keep the car in the garage.

I haven’t written at the library since the summer. When the mask mandate ends, I’m there when the library opens the next morning.

***

Employees at any health-care facility or business are all masked. Outside of health care, it’s hard to predict which businesses require masks of their employees. I still wear mine when I go into any public building out of respect for the general public.

***

I also haven’t been to the community gym since the summer, and I can’t remember the last time I was at the Pilates studio. I don’t know what their masking policies are either. Once the library ends its mandate, I’ll investigate these activities as well.

***

The place where I long to return is the fencing club.

The deciding factor for me will be the masking policy. If I have to cover my mouth while also wearing a cage over my face, I have to stay away. I know many people do so on a regular basis, but I was never comfortable doing so during my two-month resumption of fencing last summer. That might mean this is the final place I return to. So it goes.

***

I haven’t been exercising enough since the Delta variant hit last August. We have a recumbent bike and Pilates machine at home, and while I use both once a week I don’t feel satisfied. I need to get moving again, and I’m hoping that within the next two-three weeks I can get back into something like my former workout routine: a day at the gym… a night or two of fencing… one morning Pilates class… get on the bike while watching a ball game on Sunday…

Anansi

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

“He’s in Foreign Languages,” Chaim said. “French shelf.”

“Odd,” Pam replied. “Don’t remember him being in the basement before.”

“Probably avoiding the winter draft.”

Pam descended the concrete steps to Chilton’s Used Book’s lower level. She found Anansi where Chaim had reported, his orange-white head peering above the Hugo novels. Anansi’s eyes widened on seeing Pam, who’d convinced the bookstore staff to adopt the stray kitten when it mewed outside the door one Saturday morning.

“Anansi?” Pam called, kneeling down. “Hungry?”

Mkgnao!

Pam removed three books, replacing them on the shelf after Anansi hopped down and raced up the stairs.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

The Missouri Review

Another in my ongoing, semi-regular reviews of literary journals and genre magazines

The Missouri Review, founded in 1978, is published four times a year by the University of Missouri.

What They Say About Themselves: “The Missouri Review, founded in 1978, is one of the most highly regarded literary magazines in the United States. For the past four decades we’ve upheld a reputation for finding and publishing the very best writers first. We are based at the University of Missouri and publish four issues each year. Each issue contains approximately five new stories, three new poetry features, and two essays, all selected from unsolicited submissions sent by writers throughout the world. The Missouri Review maintains an “open submission” policy; we read year-round, sifting through approximately 12,000 submissions each year.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 44, Issue 3 (October 2021)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Picnic, Ocean, Hatred,” by Kristen Iskandrian. Katie suffered a loss 20 years ago that still angers her. “She knew there were people out there who turned their grief into love, but she wasn’t one of those people, in the same way that she wasn’t a gymnast or a farmer.” An unconventional tale about grieving which is at times funny without any jokes or laugh lines.

Exploding Helicopters: One Explosion. Far more focus on interior struggle rather than exterior conflict in these stories.

Profanometer: Dammit. Each story had a solitary f-bomb

A Valuable Guide to Ulysses

Last week I finished reading Ulysses for the third time. I’ve written several posts about Joyce’s novel, starting in 2009 and three more times in 2013, and while I’ve often cited the marvelous Naxos audiobook reading by Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan I’ve yet to mention another resource that’s been even more valuable for making this very difficult work accessible.

The Great Courses offers a 24-lecture course on “Ulysses.” Taught by James A.W. Heffernan, Ph.D. of Dartmouth College, the lectures break down each of the 18 chapters of this intimidating work. Characters are identified, settings explained, literary and philosophical references defined. Heffernan even navigates Stephen Dedalus’ mental perambulation through Sandymount Strand with relative ease. If you’ve attempted to read the novel and reluctantly given up in frustration (yeah, that’s me), Heffernan’s lectures will help you finally get through Joyce’s dense masterpiece.

I bought the lectures on DVD many years ago during some type of sale, which makes me glad now because the current price from the publisher’s web site seems exorbitant. The course also isn’t currently available on Amazon Prime’s Great Courses channel, and my county library system doesn’t own it. I found someone offering the set on eBay for $15, but I doubt that deal will still be available by the time you read this. If a similar deal’s available, take it — the course is that good.

After my third reading, and with the help of the Naxos audiobook and Heffernan’s course, I finally don’t feel overwhelmed by “Ulysses.” I still can’t say I understand it, but I’m finally at the point where I can follow along and not feel “like a drunk man trying to read hieroglyphics while riding a motorcycle,” a line from one of my earlier posts which I like enough to repeat. When I feel the urge for a fourth reading (gimme a good five years to work up the moxie) and have a good month to spare for the required commitment, I’ll rewatch Heffernan’s course, load the audiobook, and make another effort at deciphering this glorious mystery.

Nineteen and 87

PHOTO PROMPT © Bill Reynolds

Pa bought this truck when I was five, and it’s made many travels across our 427 acres.

It’s where I learned to drive. Pa gave me the wheel on the dirt roads connecting our fields. I was eleven, legs straining to reach the pedals.

Stopped registering it in oh-eight so it can’t go on public roads anymore. Do our own maintenance, gas it from storage tanks outside the grain silos.

Don’t use it for much now. Got better vehicles for towing, hauling. But it’s still what I use for inspecting our property, this beast Pa bought in 19 and 87.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Mundacious

adjective | mun-da-cious |  mən-​dā-​shəs

: persistently dull <information technology is a well-paying but mundacious profession>

History and Etymology

mundane, Middle English mondeyne, from Anglo-French mundain, from Late Latin mundanus, from Latin mundus world + tenacious, Latin tenāc-, tenāx “holding fast, clinging, persistent” (from tenēre “to hold, occupy, possess” + -āc-, deverbal suffix denoting habitual or successful performance) + -IOUS

Harper’s Magazine

A couple years ago, I began posting reviews of literary journals and genre magazines. I maintained a nearly weekly commitment with that series for about a year, but my enthusiasm definitely waned the following year. Been over three months since my last post, and with so many more journals to review it’s time to renew this series.

Harper’s Magazine, founded way back in 1850 and the subject of numerous recent controversies, is a monthly magazine of literature and journalism published from New York.

What They Say About Themselves:Harper’s Magazine, the oldest general-interest monthly in America, explores the issues that drive our national conversation, through long-form narrative journalism and essays, and such celebrated features as the iconic Harper’s Index. With its emphasis on fine writing and original thought Harper’s provides readers with a unique perspective on politics, society, the environment, and culture.”

Issue Reviewed: February 2022

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Late at Night,” by Matt B. Weir. Intrigued by a line in a video game review, Adam Edwards lets his curiosity lead him on an after-midnight research journey on a prominent 20th-century political movement. A story where literally nothing happens — the guy reads a Wikipedia article on his phone, gets out of bed, watches an online documentary, goes back to bed — it’s nonetheless compelling for its portrayal of a man who realizes his desire for understanding is constrained by his limited knowledge: “He didn’t know enough… to be able to think as deeply as he desired to think.”

Exploding Helicopters: Zero Explosions. I haven’t assigned this rating to any journal yet, but the complete void of activity in this issue’s only short story, which is still fascinating, calls for this initial honor.

Profanometer: Dammit. The story doesn’t contain any coarse language, but other journalism in the issue did.

A Day Like This

“If you want to be a successful writer, don’t have kids.” In my limited experience in the literary world, I’ve heard this narcist nonsense more often than I care to remember.

I couldn’t help thinking of this sentiment as I read Kelley McNeil’s 2021 novel, which depicts the adventure of Annie Beyers, a former painter and currently the mother of a five-year-old girl. After a car accident, Annie wakes to find the world around her has changed. She is now a renowned painter, but her success comes with a terrible price — her daughter was actually miscarried.

It’s an intriguing setup, and for the most part McNeil tells a gripping story. Convinced that her daughter really was born and still exists, Annie fights the mental health workers trying to convince her to not trust her memory. She loses a key ally as her marriage disintegrates because of the miscarriage; the scenes between Annie and Graham, genuinely painful and touching, are the novel’s most memorable parts. An investigation into alternate universe theories leads to a flight over to London and an encounter with an investigative journalist which is as improbable as it is fruitless — Annie gains no useful knowledge from the journalist. The actual resolution to Annie’s problem comes almost by accident, and is a bit disappointing.

As I read the novel, I kept an eye out for echoes of the “family is incompatible with art” argument. Passages such as “I was so enamored with the beautiful little miracle of her that after many years of painting being my first love, it began to pale in comparison to the wonder of the perfect little child’s face” stood out. But to give the author some credit, McNeil does walk back this idea in the final chapter, after [spoiler alert] Annie returns to her daughter’s world and resumes her painting career. “Instead of shunning the art and imagination that ran through my veins and in my DNA, I welcomed it and shared it alongside my daughter,” Annie discovers. “I didn’t need to choose between dreams.” I’d have preferred Annie dismiss the idea before she was reunited with her daughter, but it’s not my novel, right?