Every now and then I write a column that lists 9 things I've liked recently. When the pandemic arrived, I figured I wouldn't be making such a cheery list for a while. And yet there are things to like even in hard times, so here are 9 of mine, pandemic version.
1. Solvitur ambulando
A reader sent me this Latin phrase, which means "It is solved by walking." According to Wikipedia, it's widely attributed to St. Augustine and has been cited by thinkers as varied as Henry David Thoreau, Lewis Carroll and Oliver Sacks.
I'd never heard the words, which technically refer to a problem solved by a practical experiment, but I hear them in the looser definition: You got a problem? Walk it off. More than ever in this perplexing time, walking is a solution and a solace.
2. "Deacon King Kong" by James McBride
Like a lot of people living in the coronavirus news blitz, I've had trouble focusing on a book. But this one grabbed me. Set in a Brooklyn housing project in the 1960s, it centers on a hard-drinking old man nicknamed Sportcoat, who in the first paragraph shoots a young drug dealer. The story unspools from there with suspense, laugh-out-loud wit, and the most energetic writing I've read in a long time.
In a New York Times review, Junot Diaz praised it as a "great" book, "a mystery novel, a crime novel, an urban farce, a portrait of a project community. ... It is also deeply felt, beautifully written and profoundly humane."
3. Masks and the people who wear them
I resisted masking at first, except in the grocery store, on the grounds that when I was out walking I was diligent about keeping my distance. But you can't always keep your distance, so I became more disciplined about masks. And you know what? It's not that hard.
Masks are just one step in controlling the spread of COVID-19, but they're a critical one. A basic cloth mask isn't great protection for the wearer, but it can significantly block the number of virus particles emitted from your mouth. In other words, wear one and you protect others. When others wear one, they protect you.
And wearing one sends a signal: This disease is serious. I don't want to spread it.
Find a mask with some flair and you might almost like it.
4. "Unorthodox" on Netflix
A young Jewish woman in an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn flees her arranged marriage and heads for Berlin, where she connects with some hip, young musicians, changes her hair, her clothes and her behavior, and discovers her voice. But her husband and a buddy follow her, intending to bring her home. Things get very tense.
This German-American miniseries, based on a real story, is brilliantly acted and written, harrowing, illuminating and hopeful.
5. Three housekeeping tips
Enforced isolation has forced a lot of us to get more in touch with our domestic sides, and every day my domestic repertoire expands. Three useful tips I've learned:
Drop a penny in a vase of water to keep tulips from wilting. Clean from left to right. (I'm sure my father taught me that, but I'd forgotten until I read it recently.) And thanks to the Tribune reader who wrote to tell me that if you don't have a bread box, you can keep bread fresh longer by putting it in a Dutch oven.
6. Tree bark
I've become obsessed with tree bark. Maybe it's because now that parks and the lakefront are closed and my walk routes can't be as varied as they used to be, I'm reflexively seeking variety in other forms.
Once you start looking at bark, you can't stop. There's rough bark and smooth bark, gray bark, black bark, brown, red, green, shiny, dull bark, bark that's scary to touch but when you do you think: Why haven't I noticed this before?
I finally splurged on a pair of these goofy-looking devices because I needed them to teach yoga online for Yogaview, where I ordinarily teach in the studio. Until I had that excuse, I'd resisted the expense and the goofy look, convinced that earbuds were good enough. But the AirPods - I bought the basic pair - are liberating and worth it if you can afford them.
I love my work for the Chicago Tribune. In the midst of the pandemic that has cost so many lives and jobs, I've been grateful to have the structure, the purpose and the paycheck. For me and all the journalists I know, writing about this strange and terrible time has felt like a duty and a privilege.
Starting next week, however, I'll be taking three weeks of unpaid furlough - one week a month through July - along with most of my unionized Tribune colleagues. Our union leaders fought hard for us as the company attempted cuts; this was the best deal we could get.
So I'll be intermittently out of the paper and off email but still keeping an eye out for stories.
9. A deep thought from Lao Tzu, the ancient (and perhaps mythical) Chinese philosopher:
Take the world lightly, and your spirit will not be burdened.
Consider everything minor, and your mind will not be confused.
Regard death and life as equal, and your heart will not be afraid.
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