June 15, 2020
By H. Joseph Price, Jr.
After publishing my recent blog post, Lessons Learned from the Pandemic, a few readers reached out and asked us to find out what is keeping everyone sane during this time. So, we asked readers to share the activities they’ve been doing more than ever during the COVID-19 quarantine as well as the literature and music that keep them sane.
And the results are in!
By and large, more readers told us about their activities than the music they were listening to or the literature they were reading.
This was a little bit of a surprise. Lewis G. said, “My kids and I have taken up bird-watching. We’ve placed three of these houses in our yard and house sparrows have taken up residence in each of them. Our two feeders attract several northern cardinals, a handful of blue jays, too many common grackles, and at least one yellow finch, rose-breasted grosbeak and redheaded woodpecker. We bought a couple of books and Farmer John turned us on to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird project. It has a mobile app and you can track birds as part of a worldwide citizen science project.”
Heather told us, “I get to pay more attention to the birds. I always fed them before, but working from home allows me to watch them all day. I have a hummingbird feeder right outside my home office window. There are three bird families nesting in my backyard. I love it.”
Baking and Cooking
This was the activity that more readers wrote about than any other. Dennis from Cincinnati said, “I’ve been doing a little more baking than I usually do. We are watching our carbs, but of course beer – liquid bread – does not count. Instead of eating all that I bake, we share it with our elderly neighbors.”
Karin L. said, “While cooking is not something new, I am doing more of it now that we are avoiding restaurants and not traveling. We’ve hosted one couple at a time for socially distanced happy hours on the back deck, and for those I plan and prepare something to serve.”
Jennie C. shared, “Baking cinnamon rolls from scratch with my 9-year-old daughter.”
Tom N. mentioned, “We cook together most nights, exploring various beverages in the process.”
This came up frequently both on the work side as well as the social side. On the work side, Ray said, “The GoTo and Zoom meetings have been oddly productive for this team, particularly since no client wants to meet live yet. Although that is changing, as older clients like to meet ‘live.’ Having said that, I’m tired of them now.”
On the social side, Tom told us, “I’ve also been fortunate to have kept up communications with friends and family near and far via the miraculous Zoom and FaceTime apps, and other social media. It’s reassuring to see other folks’ overgrown hair, sweats and tees, novelty mugs, bedroom office ceilings, sofa art and goofy pets. Speaking of which, dogs are the best!”
Kevin, an instructor at a junior college, has been forced to use Zoom in his classroom. He said, “Teaching college classes – or any grade – through Zoom is a decent workaround, but it is a poor substitute for being in the classroom. Students are far less engaged, there is less interaction and it is hard to get to know each other. Getting back to the classroom is really important.”
John from New Hampshire is taking French lessons; he said, “I have taken up French lessons on the Duolingo app, which is teaching me useful phrases for a trip to Montreal, like, “The cats are eating the pizza.”
John also mentioned that he was engaging in online yoga classes at glo.com.
Readers told us about a number of interesting podcasts they had listened to. Heather mentioned daily podcasts, including NPR’s Up First, ABC News’ Start Here and New York Times’ The Daily.
Ian singled out The Plot Thickens, a Turner Classic Movies’ podcast about Peter Bogdanovich’s life and career.
Tom mentioned that he has binged a couple of series, including Schitt’s Creek, saying, “It has been a big hit here.”
Dennis said, “My wife and I are also enjoying all the old movies we can watch. I just hook the laptop up to our television and voila! Last night we watched Pocketful Of Miracles. Glenn Ford, Bette Davis and Peter Falk. My wife is a big Columbo fan.”
James said, “My wife and I have watched a bunch of TV shows together – The Hunters, Picard, season two of Star Trek Discovery and Homeland.”
Mandy shared that she falls asleep to Brian Williams at night, and that is what makes her sane.
Tom said, “A big plus has been moving my music room/studio to our former guest room. I have a very focused iOS-based suite of apps; my keyboards, guitars, amps, noisemakers, etc. all in one location; mic selection at hand. So far, I have recorded some beats and pads only, but I can hear melodies and song structures coming. The muses are circling …”
Dennis said he has been practicing guitar more and he finally believes he may be getting better. Since one of his favorite singer/songwriters, John Prine, passed away recently, he is currently working his way through Prine’s songbook, with Angel from Montgomery, Crazy As A Loon and In Spite Of Ourselves.
Farmer John said, “Having several research projects that are not necessarily ‘work-related’ helps me to soothe my curiosity about where we all come from and where we are going. Learning from and reading primary source (original) material about the men and women who came before us and were pioneers in this country, the difficulties and calamities they went through for us to even be here can be reassuring. They had it a lot worse, experienced vast degrees more pain, suffering, and loss than we do now. They persevered, they overcame challenges and they endured so that we can be here today.”
Farmer John also mentioned, “I mow a lot of [expletive deleted] grass, both around the house and gardens, and the edges of the fence around the 30 acres, usually after [illegal activity deleted] and hopping on the tractor. I bought a Kubota L series last year and procured a brush hog, which I am usually on and running early in the mornings before everyone gets up on the farm.”
With more time available, a lot of readers have turned to various types of literature to keep them busy.
Farmer John told us that he had reread three books by Alan Watts – This Is It, Become What You Are and The Joyous Cosmology. He read Watts’ This Is It in high school at age 17. Farmer John said, “It’s a collection of essays Watts wrote while living in California and forging his views on spirituality and Eastern philosophy.” He was hooked when he read this passage: “It is in revolt against the insufferable heaps of unproductive paperwork that small businesses sell out to big corporations, and independent professional men take routine salaried jobs without responsibility.”
“Watts was railing against tradition and order. His writing is approachable even when it suggests that there is no reality but what we believe to be real/not real.” Farmer John was on board with that, and was reminded of Watts’ writing when in recent years he read about scientific theorists believing that there’s a better than 50% chance that this reality we are in is in fact a computer simulation.
Tom said he has read Hilary Mantel’s third and final volume of the epic Wolf Hall historical novels, The Mirror and the Light; and all but one – so far – of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. Tom called it “excellent.”
James shared that he read the two latest by Tom Clancy (James said, “Well, really his successors writing under his name”), the latest Steve Berry and the start of a new series by James Haley.
Dennis mentioned that his library is closed but his library card has given him access to their e-branch, which he had never tried before now. He just read Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing online, but he still prefers reading a real book. He is now listening to his third audiobook, which has been extremely popular, Benjamin Graham’s Intelligent Investor. Before that it was The Call of the Wild.
Ian recommended The Cuckoo’s Calling, a private investigator mystery by J.K. Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.
Lewis said, “My neighbor looped me into a group of eight or nine guys led by a history teacher at St. Theresa’s who was smart as hell. In the last eight weeks we have read Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Hemingway, Carver, Chekhov, Yeats, Auden, Owen, Sassoon, Kipling and Hardy. It’s been easy to tackle them in a single sitting and I see things I would not normally have noticed in poems I had never read.” He also noted that it helps provide some perspective about how strange these times seem.
There were several mentions of particular artists or albums that our readers had been listening to.
Believing that, “Variety is spicy,” Tom said he was all over the map when it comes to the music he has been listening to. It includes:
- Classical jazz (Coleman Hawkins, Basie, Miles, Bird)
- ‘70s-‘80s funk and soul (Delfonics, Bar-Kays, Chi-Lites, Isaac Hayes, Chic, P-funk)
- Newer indie music (stuck on Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, Flock of Dimes)
- Hippie rock (Steve Miller Band’s Children of the Future)
- New electronic (The Soft Pink Truth’s “Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?” is recommendable)
- Post-rock (Sigur Rós, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Tortoise)
- Ambient (Brian Eno, Stars of the Lid, The Dead Texan)
- New classical (Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Christina Vantzou)
- Film scores
Dennis said that last night he listened to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour.
Ian mentioned Station to Station by David Bowie.
John brought up a number of bluegrass artists we were not familiar with: Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings and Michael Cleveland’s Tall Fiddler.
Dysart Taylor Recommendations
In closing, we thought that we would contribute three albums from each of the recent half-decades that our readers should check out if they are not familiar with them. Fine albums have been omitted because we did not want to list an artist more than once. We invite our readers to prepare their own lists and submit them.
- What’s Going On? By Marvin Gaye
- Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie
- Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones
- Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan
- London Calling by The Clash
- My Aim is True by Elvis Costello
- Remain in Light by Talking Heads
- Purple Rain by Prince
- Avalon by Roxy Music
- Tim by The Replacements
- Doolittle by The Pixies
- Welcome Home by ‘Til Tuesday
- Souvlaki by Slowdive
- Across the Borderline by Willie Nelson
- Automatic for the People by R.E.M.
- OK Computer by Radiohead
- The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips
- Music has the Right to Children by The Boards of Canada
- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
- Gimme Fiction by Spoon
- Funeral by Arcade Fire
- Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers
- Boxer by The National
- Everything All the Time by Band of Horses
- Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83
- Contra by Vampire Weekend
- Lonerism by Tame Impala
- Norman F-ing Rockwell by Lana del Rey
- A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
- Capacity by Big Thief