The last time I was away from home alone was early March, almost seven months.
It’s a real luxury to leave home, to have a working vehicle and the spare time and income to travel, but the challenges of two people working full-time from a one bedroom apartment — as so many are now doing! — are tiring.
I needed some solitude.
I decided to head to small-town Pennsylvania on the recommendation of a friend, staying at a small hotel with a handsome Arts & Crafts design and a large, lovely garden. I had planned to stay seven nights, but decided to leave early, which surprised me.
It was a rougher part of the world than I generally prefer — tattoo parlors and shooting ranges. There just wasn’t much to do, although I loved my morning routine of reading in the garden for a few hours every day, catching up on months of the many unread magazines I lugged with me.
But the main reason?
It’s Trump country.
I did enjoy a break.
The inn was welcoming and their meals delicious.
I drove country roads in warm fall sunshine and enjoyed rolling hills and lush green farms, weathered barns and old mills.
But the vast majority of lawn signs — and signs posted on barns and other buildings — were overwhelmingly for Trump, a man I despise, who has destroyed many of the things I value, including 200,000 American lives lost to COVID.
I despair every day he remains in office.
So every sign I saw supporting him made me feel ill and alien, surrounded by people who don’t care about any of the things I care most about.
I didn’t have conversations about it. I don’t go looking for trouble!
But it’s been a useful and important reminder of the largely Democratic bubble I live in. I knew that before leaving home.
What I didn’t realize is how viscerally sick seeing so much support for him would make me feel.
It’s a constant subject of conversation now — what will we do if he wins again?
I spoke to an immigration attorney recently and learned that I can get a re-entry permit to leave the U.S. for two years and keep my green card. That’s welcome news, but it doesn’t solve the problem of my husband’s work, based physically in New Jersey.
One of the things that marks a hard news journalist is that, for better or worse, we wear, and take pride in wearing, a sort of emotional armor.
I started my professional writing career at 19 and even then was assigned some emotionally difficult work — like a story for a national Canadian women’s magazine interviewing women much older than I who had survived harrowing experiences: one whose house burned down, one who had a double mastectomy and one whose husband died in front of her.
It was tough!
But I did it — turning down offers of well-paid work is dicey when you work freelance.
The very nature of hard news journalism — whether you’re writing or editing or taking photos or video — means you’ve chosen to cover the world and the many things that happen to other people, some of which are simply horrific and traumatic, for them and for us.
The biggest stories, the ones that make front page or gain millions of page views online, are often the ones that can also exact a heavy toll on the people producing them, no matter how calmly they appear on-camera or taking notes.
Jose Lopez (my husband) at 23, on assignment, decades before we met
The interior of the prison after a riot and many murders
Jose covered the worst prison riot in New Mexico’s history as a news photographer.
I’ll spare you the details of what transpired, but they are the stuff of horror films.
It traumatized him, but he had chosen to become a news photographer, and it can come with the territory.
In later life, for The New York Times, he spent six weeks in the winter covering the end of the Bosnian war. His Christmas meal was a bowl of soup and one night he even slept in an unheated shipping container. When he finally left, initially flying into Frankfurt, he remained scared to be out after dark, his protective war instincts still functioning.
By definition, stories like this push us without warning or preparation into frightening, even horrifying situations, while demanding we shove our personal reactions — fear, anxiety, grief, despair, confusion — into a sort of lead-lined box so we can pay full attention to our work. To witnessing and reporting what we have been sent to cover. To telling the story accurately and in detail.
The day before my driving test, age 30, I covered the aftermath of a head-on collision between a bus and a small car on a Montreal bridge. I’d like to forget what I saw decades ago, and cannot.
My editors told me I was the only reporter to have gotten close enough to the wreckage to get the make and model of the car.
Not really “another day at the office”…
I’ve cried maybe once while in public covering a story, (the funeral of a young girl who was raped and murdered in Toronto), and have since covered many stories that left me shaken and upset, sometimes as upset as the people I spoke to — like those I wrote after 9/11 and a Canadian national magazine story about women who had suffered a severe side effect from taking the drug Mirapex.
The larger challenge, and burnout and PTSD are very real in our industry, is if, when and how we do finally acknowledge and process those complex emotions.
I’ve never studied journalism and have never been trained in trauma reporting. which de facto means you’re asking people who have faced trauma — rape, war, conflict, natural disaster, a shooting — to discuss it in detail with you, a stranger they have never met before.
But I’ve done a lot of it and I know it’s changed me. I don’t think for the worse, but it does stiffen the spine and harden your heart. I don’t mean you stop caring or don’t feel compassion for the people you are writing about.
It does mean, to stay sane and productive, especially on tight deadlines, having the ability and self-discipline to create and maintain a critical, detached distance from whatever is distressing — physically, emotionally and intellectually. No matter how terrible the details, we need to learn and share them.
So it’s one of the reasons I miss being around other career journalists, because we all know what the work requires and there’s an unspoken sort of code about it all.
It’s not really like most other jobs in this respect.
Jose and I were talking about this in regards to our unusually phlegmatic reaction to the endless death rate from COVID.
We sleep well at night.
We don’t spend a lot of time discussing it, or listening to (in fact, actively avoiding) Trump — because there’s nothing we can do right now to change any of it.
I see a lot of people complaining, daily, that they suffer insomnia, anxiety, grief.
If you’ve lost your job, income and housing, I get it!
If you’ve lost someone to this terrible disease, I get it!
But if you’re marinating in anxiety, I question the utility.
We can, unless we are in truly dire shape, control our moods and reactions.
I have since posting this been told that many people with chronic anxiety are managing this with much greater difficulty and this post seems unfeeling or uncaring about their issues.
Underlying these stress-induced changes are hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol that can cause trouble if they persist too long in our circulation. Sustained anxiety increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, clinical depression and, ironically, infectious diseases like Covid-19 by weakening the immune response to a viral infection.
“The stress of Covid-19 is now acute, but if it persists long after April, which it likely will, it will take an enormous toll on world health,” Mr. Ropeik said.
Thus, in addition to heeding the recommended personal precautions to avoid an infection, people feeling unduly stressed about the pandemic might try to minimize the damage caused by unmitigated anxiety.
A psychotherapist I know has advised his patients to limit their exposure to the news and discussions about Covid-19 to one hour a day and, if possible, in only one location, then use the rest of the day and other parts of the home for productive or pleasurable activities.
As Covid has slammed shut many borders, especially to Americans — boldly accustomed to ready, sometimes grateful access to other countries — it’s an interesting time to look at one’s passport, and national identity with fresh eyes.
From an EU website:
UNWTO estimated that US tourists spent €119 billion ($139,712,545,000) on international travel (excluding international transport) in 2017, showing an increase of €8 billion on 2016.
Over half of US citizens’ outbound travel is to neighboring countries, making up the top two destinations.
The entire top ten of outbound travel from the US is comprised of
Mexico Followed by
But a passport isn’t just an essential for international travel. It’s a portable symbol of your country and its values, from the images printed on its pages, to the cultural baggage we carry with us as well.
Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market — and a red-coated Mountie
Here’s an essay from The Atlantic about what it’s like now to hold an American one, my husband’s.
An excerpt, written by a man with an Indian passport:
An American passport, until recently, could bring you anywhere with minimal need to worry about visas and border checks. But this is the world of immigration that Americans must now familiarize themselves with. Before the pandemic, more than 100 countries were willing to admit Americans; now, by one count, fewer than three dozen countries want you. What you have done matters little; instead, your movements are limited by factors outside of your control, and your passport locks doors rather than opening them.
I spent my university days in London envious of friends with “good passports” who could hop on a train to France or cross the Irish Sea to Dublin without any notice. My vacations, by contrast, had to be meticulously laid out. I visited consulates with flights booked, hotels reserved, itineraries planned, and travel insurance paid for, worried that I would nevertheless be rejected. On one occasion, my girlfriend and I flew from Jordan to Beirut, where colleagues had airily assured me I could get a visa on arrival. When we landed, however, immigration officials told me my colleagues were mistaken, and those rules did not apply to Indians. I was put on a flight back to Amman while my girlfriend, with her British passport, collected our bags.
Even these stories are ones of privilege: holidays undone by byzantine, hazily interpreted visa rules; reporting assignments turned down because travel could not be arranged as quickly as it could be for colleagues with British or American passports. Others have, of course, suffered far more difficult and painful experiences—an array of migrants must endure complicated refugee and asylum processes, and even those who travel for tourism or study must dig deeper into their savings than I must to pay steep application fees.
The document is elegant. No one can dispute that. The deep navy blue of its slightly pebbled cover, the understated gilt imprint of the royal arms of Canada, which somehow looks faded even when new — the passport is a classic. Its cover may be harder, more durable, the pages inside more decorated than when I was a boy, but, in the hand, its familiarity is heavy, anchoring. A passport is a little book printed for a single situation, the condition of being between countries. To hold it is to be going from home to elsewhere or from elsewhere to home. Over time, the booklet assumes the association of distance and belonging, of leaving and returning. This year that association, often subtle, like a half-remembered smell from childhood, clarified itself in the atmosphere of trauma that overtook the world. This was the year when we remembered what it means to hold a Canadian passport…The passport gave me the sensation of homecoming, familiarity, the knowledge of my physical safety, an assumption of care that has become less and less easy to take for granted in a sickening world. To have a passport, to have papers is a blessing we could ignore before COVID-19 but not after. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge a positive presence, too, a connection with a people. I was grateful to be among Canadians…I was grateful for strong institutions. I was glad to return to a country where the administrative state is maintained and supported, not just by politicians but by ordinary people.
It’s an odd experience to live in one country, as I do, while still using the passport of another. This sometimes prompts surprise or a question from an American customs/border official.
But that slim blue object carries more weight for me than its physical size. If nothing else, it’s a comforting bit of my first home and, depending how the U.S. elections go this year, still offers me an escape some Americans now deeply envy.
John Lewis — the first of the Freedom Riders, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people, including me at the time, until his final day on this Earth — he not only embraced that responsibility, but he made it his life’s work.
Which isn’t bad for a boy from Troy. John was born into modest means — that means he was poor — in the heart of the Jim Crow South to parents who picked somebody else’s cotton. Apparently, he didn’t take to farm work — on days when he was supposed to help his brothers and sisters with their labor, he’d hide under the porch and make a break for the school bus when it showed up.
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
It’s a drink that contains two to seven layers of alcohol, added by weight, to create a colorful array of stripes in one glass.
America’s rage is a pousse-café, with so, so many layers.
People are being tear-gassed and shot by police with rubber bullets.
Protestors, including professional journalists, have been targeted by police and permanently blinded.
Stores have been attacked and destroyed and looted, from mass market Target to luxury brands like Chanel.
Some Americans are appalled, astonished, gobsmacked.
A classic image, taken by the late photographer Bernie Boston
There are so many layers to American rage now:
— the endless lethal parade of African Americans who are shot and killed by police (ooops, wrong apartment!) or hunted down by gun-happy civilians, and here are only a tiny few of them: George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery…
— the daily fears this has created, for generations, that simply being black, going for a walk, walking too fast or in the “wrong” neighborhood or wearing a hoodie or even birding in Central Park, is an invitation, as it is, for some people to wield their white privilege and entitlement and choose to endanger or end others’ lives.
— the “talk” every black parent has to have with their children, especially teen males, about how to walk through their lives on eggshells because so many others will choose to see their basic existence in the same spaces as a threat.
— the income inequality that has kept so many Americans at such deep disadvantage in a nation whose comforting myth is “just work harder!”
— the extraordinary costs of attending even a public university or college, acquiring massive debt that dogs graduates for decades, even as they drift into poorly-paid jobs that make it impossible to repay those loans, and loans that — unlike any other — cannot be discharged by declaring bankruptcy.
— health disparities that have killed many more people of color thanks to COVID-19 because POC have underlying health conditions (“co-morbidities” in medspeak) that left their bodies more vulnerable, like obesity, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.
— 100,000 Americans — with many more to come — already dead of COVID-19.
— a Federal minimum wage of $7.25 that has not been raised since 2009; only 29 of 50 states have made theirs higher, more than $11/hour.
— extortionate costs for health insurance.
— the loss of millions of jobs.
— the loss for millions of their health insurance coverage — because that’s how many Americans get the only coverage they can afford, when their employer picks up some of its cost (i..e. benefits.)
— widespread police brutality, even blinding permanently some protestors, including journalists
— a deep, abiding despair at the lack of political leadership, and shocking passivity on all sides, to address any of this.
The pandemic has laid bare many behaviors we didn’t really see clearly before, or not as clearly.
If you grew up — as I did — in a nation with a clear commitment to the common good, Canada (yes, with terrible treatment for a long time, and still, of First Nations) — the American fetish for individual rights just seems weird.
It’s possible to live freely and still actively care about others’ health and welfare.
If you want to.
There’s actually quite a continuum from being controlled and monitored 24/7 by your government and selfish, lethal mayhem.
Welcome to mayhem.
Check this out.…images of protesting Americans determined to keep infecting themselves and others because the whole social distancing thing is such a drag.
They feel oppressed.
They’re angry that they’ve been told to stay at home, to wear a mask, to stay distant from others to protect them.
Because the number of Americans potentially walking around feeling just fine — still shedding virus everywhere they go — could be as high as 50 percent
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield told NPR that an estimated 25 percent of coronavirus carriers experience no symptoms. Meanwhile, data out of large-scale testing for coronavirus in Iceland found 50 percent of those who tested positive with COVID-19 said they were asymptomatic, according to CNN.
“Information that we have pretty much confirmed now is that a significant number of individuals that are infected actually remain asymptomatic. That may be as many as 25 percent.” Redfield told NPR Tuesday.
The American Constitution — amended 27 times since it was first written — promises “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is lovely, except that 40,000 Americans have died — so far — from COVID-19, a lethal virus whose ability to destroy the human body is quick, powerful and still little understood.
Have always hoped, somehow, my journalism would make a difference to the world, to its readers, maybe even to voters or policy-makers.
In my early 20s, I tackled a grim and difficult and important story, the testing of cosmetics and other products on animals. I won’t detail what I saw, but I never forgot it, and to see that as a young person is to be changed. I wrote it for a brave editor, the late and much missed Jane Gale Hughes, whose Canadian national magazine — as small in size and apparently unsubstantial as a TV Guide — was called Homemakers.
Its name was misleading, suggesting anodyne chitchat.
Quite the opposite!
Jane, extremely rare for any editor who hopes to keep their job, had to fight the advertising department because, of course, the advertisers of the products being tested would object and pull their lucrative ads.
The ads whose revenue paid her salary and my freelance work for her.
She ran my story anyway and I’m really proud of it and grateful for her belief in me as a younger journalist to produce it.
This tension between money and truth-telling never goes away.
In 2005-6, when I was a reporter for the New York Daily News, then the nation’s sixth-largest paper, I did a huge investigation of the cruise ship industry.
What I learned persuaded me to never take a cruise.
Of course, the editor refused to run my stories — for fear of losing their ad dollars. They finally ran one-half of my work.
Every story that digs deeply.
Every press conference — pure theater! — during which smart journalists ask challenging, tough questions, even in the face of sneers, insults, pompous political lectures and hostility.
It all adds up.
Jose and I are soon at the tail end of long and challenging and satisfying careers in journalism. We remain deeply passionate about the need for intelligent, analytical, critical reporting on every aspect of life.
But both of us were cautioned — long ago — to remember that even a lifetime of our committed excellence, even for the largest and most influential outlets, and all the work of all our talented colleagues, is the equivalent of water drops on stone.
One at a time.
Each story — each image — only a drop.
How can it matter?
Drop after drop — repeated over and over and over and over — as we and others continue the work, and stone wears away.
As someone with a green card, I can’t vote — so my enthusiasm for how New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo is handling this crisis will carry no political weight.
But every morning now, at 11:30 a.m. EDT on weekdays and noon on weekends, we watch his 30-minute press conferences, live, and listen to another 30 minutes of questions from reporters and his replies.
Jose , (my husband), spent eight years in the White House Press Corps as a New York Times photographer, covering Presidents Reagan, GW Bush, Clinton. He’s heard plenty of political spin and is not easily impressed, but is a huge fan of Cuomo’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis — and New York City is the hardest-hit city in the United States.
Unlike the joke in the White House, Cuomo — another born-and-bred New Yorker — doesn’t bullshit or blather on about how great he is.
Nor does he insult the press corps, whose job it is to question every elected official and keep them accountable, as 45 does, most recently telling two veteran reporters: “Don’t be a cutie pie” and “Be nice. Don’t be threatening.”
During the conferences, Cuomo’s team also shows viewers clean, clear graphics with the numbers of infected, where, in the hospital, recovered — and dead. He explains who is most likely to die from the disease and why.
We live in a small suburban town, so density and crowding are less pressing for us than in the five boroughs of New York City.
Yet the state’s patient zero lives in a suburban town on the other side of our county. He went to synagogue (infecting many), traveled into the city by commuter train (more) and went about his business there (more again.) He’s alive and out of the hospital.
In the past few days, the National Guard equipped the enormous Javits Convention Center on the western edge of Manhattan as a hospital with 3,000 beds.
The Javits Center is an amazing facility,” said Semonite, [Gen. Todd Semonite, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers.] “Every 10 feet there’s a great big steel door in the floor, you open it up in there is all the electrical; there’s cold water, there’s hot water and there’s a place for sewers, so you can actually do things like sinks, right in the middle of a convention center to be able to make that happen.”
The hospital will be staffed by 350 medical personnel from FEMA and 600 medical personnel serving with the two Army hospitals.
Non-COVID-19 patients will be transported from hospitals in the New York City area to the convention center, just as they will be at the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort when it is operational in New York Harbor on Tuesday.
Here’s a New York Times piece about Cuomo:
To the surprise of many who did not associate the name “Andrew Cuomo” with the word “empathy,” the governor has become a sort of national shrink, talking us through our fear, our loss and our growing stir-craziness.
“This is going be a long day, and it’s going to be a hard day, and it’s going to be an ugly day, and it’s going to be a sad day,” he told officers from the New York National Guard on Friday, charging them to fight this “invisible” and “insidious” beast and “kick coronavirus’s ass.”
Because New York is at the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, with 519 deaths and 44,635 confirmed cases, as of noon Friday, Americans have their eyes on the state. Cuomo knows this. “New York is the canary in the coal mine,” he said during one of his passionate televised pleas for the president to provide more ventilators.
It is more than passing strange that in this horror-movie moment, with 13 people dying on Tuesday at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and a refrigerated truck parked outside to collect the bodies, the nation’s two most prominent leaders are both Queens scions. Both men grew up in the shadows of their fathers, the hard-working sons of European immigrants.
The Trump family is a model of bad nepotism — noblesse oblige in reverse. Such is their reputation as scammers that congressional Democrats felt the need to put a provision in the coronavirus rescue bill to try to prevent Trump-and-Kushner Inc. from carving out a treat of their own.
“Government, presidential elections, it was tweets, it was all one-liners, it was all personality, character, celebrity. That’s what politics had become. And all of a sudden you have changed the lens,” he said while an aide brought him a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. “Government is about real capacity and real consequences and really knowing what you’re doing and real leadership. Elect the people who know what they’re doing, because you elect somebody because they are a celebrity, or because they have a great slogan, and then you ask them to perform. What do they say?’ ‘I never told you I could perform. I told you I was good looking. I told you I tweeted a lot. I told you I had a great slogan. I never told you I was competent.’ And by the way, it’s really serious. It’s not about celebrity and slogans. That is a stark shift. This is government at wartime.”
And, in a lighter vein, this from Michelle Collins, in Marie Claire magazine:
But the one thing I do have to look forward to every day like clockwork has been New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings at 11 a.m. (Sometimes he’s late, and starts them at 11:30. I’ve started referring to this waiting time as “Cuomo FOMO.”) Like a velveteen gravity blanket for my soul, the second I see this man’s perfectly weathered face and tousled curls, the moment his Pacino-like accent fills my living room with its mafia-like authority, my blood pressure drops, my breasts seem to perk up on their own, and a tingly feeling of optimism washes over my imprisoned body as I think to myself… I think we’re gonna be okay.
Also: I think I’m in love with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
So we’re doing some of our usual silly banal things, like watching Jeopardy and playing gin rummy and tossing a softball into our battered leather gloves then sitting for a while on a bench in the sun — far away from anyone on our building’s property.
They are comforting and familiar and we need them so so badly.
We haven’t yet, thank God, lost anyone we know to COVID-19 but our minister has it and two of our parishioners, (who are recovering.)
Those of us old enough to remember it, the only time, domestically, that feels like this was the 1980s and the AIDS crisis, which I covered for The Globe & Mail and the Gazette in my native Canada.
Thank God, we still (for now!) have the same smart, tough, wise, no-bullshit public health expert today that we turned to back then, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
But, no matter where you live, we’re all grappling with a sort of life that makes no rational sense right now:
— millions out of work
— no idea if, how or when the economy will recover
— millions still at work endangering their lives and those of others, whether healthcare workers, first responders, police, grocery staff, delivery staff, to care for us
— the world’s richest nation with so few ventilators, let alone trained ICU staff, that triage is going to become brutal for everyone
— a “leader” who babbles and lies and and sneers at and insults any journalist who dares to challenge or question him
We are lucky, so far, to be healthy.
We are lucky, so far, to have continued freelance work.
We are lucky to live in a quiet suburb with places we can go out for a walk safely without dodging dangerous/selfish crowds of people.
The governor repeatedly assailed the federal response as slow, inefficient and inadequate, far more aggressively than he had before.
Mr. Cuomo was once considered a bit player on the national stage, an abrasive presence who made his share of enemies among his Democratic Party peers. He was too much of a pragmatist for his party’s progressive wing, too self-focused for party leaders and too brusque for nearly everyone.
But now, he is emerging as the party’s most prominent voice in a time of crisis.
His briefings — articulate, consistent and often tinged with empathy — have become must-see television. On Tuesday, his address was carried live on all four networks in New York and a raft of cable news stations, including CNN, MSNBC and even Fox News.