Plague Year Greetings, Everybody!
[An expanded version of the annual newsletter I mailed to friends and family shortly before the Winter Solstice.]
In all the 32 years I’ve been writing these annual retrospectives, there’s never been as bizarre a year to look back upon as 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic kept friends and families apart since mid-March, when the government-recommended social isolation measures kicked in here in the part of Georgia where I live.
Fortunately, neither Randy nor I became ill with the virus – and our health in general remains good to excellent – so there’s that to be very grateful for. And because Calvin retired over seven years ago (!) and has been rather introverted all his life anyway, the lockdown did not wreck either my daily routines or my psychic equilibrium as much as it has other people’s. (The prolonged shutdown of the local public libraries as well as Emory University’s library – and the still-ongoing disruption of the Interlibrary Loan system – was quite a bummer, however!)
Even though Randy and I maintain separate residences (approximately 3.5 miles apart), we’ve continued our pre-COVID pattern of spending half the week at my place and the other half at his place. Another blessing was our having spent so much time and energy before the pandemic making our houses as congenial and comfortable as possible: we certainly spent a LOT of time this past year in these two buildings, or (and this was super- important also) in the yards surrounding them.
Another lucky break for us was our being able to spend several days each month at a Third Place – the group-owned mountain cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia (a two hours’ drive each way).
The most difficult adjustment for us was seeing so little of our friends and family this past year. Very few social get-togethers at all! Also for us, we did minimal shopping and enjoyed very few restaurant meals, especially during the earlier months of the pandemic when so many people (in both Atlanta and Blue Ridge) refused to wear face masks while out and about.
The huge spike in the number of our stay-at-home days and nights resulted in my not only working a record number of jigsaw puzzles this year, plus playing – virtually – a huge number of Scrabble games with my friend and neighbor Charles, but also in my doing a heap more television-watching during the evenings than I’ve ever done in previous years. My brother Michael having already arranged for me to share his Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming services, I added Disney+ and (via my local public library) a free streaming service called Kanopy. Randy added BritBox at his place (which we also have access to at the cabin), so we’ve been plowing through numerous (and ancient) episodes of the Agatha Christie Miss Marple and the Poirot series, among many other more recent series, movies, plays, and documentaries. Happily for someone who doesn’t want to spend too much of my short life in front of a television screen, I’ve confined my tv-watching so far to the evening hours that Randy and I spend at my place or his (or at the mountain cabin).
Meanwhile, the excessive time spent in front of my computer during the daytime has ballooned even further due to all the Zooming the pandemic has forced most computer-owning Americans into becoming familiar with. All the former in-person socializing activities for the past several years I’ve been doing since mid-March via computer instead:
- Weekly tai chi classes that I’ve been taking for twelve years.
- Monthly meetings of the local calligraphy guild.
- Twice-a-month meetings of the Men’s Enneagram Study Group, which began its fifth year in 2020.
- Monthly meetings of a local GLBTQ+ archives/history project that I’ve been involved with for seven years.
- Monthly meetings of a book club Randy and I joined several years ago.
- And my most recent Zoom: a weekly Candler Park Seniors Support Group.
Add to that an excellent – albeit virtual – weekend-long Gay Spirit Visions Conference in September and a couple of sessions of the annual (and, this year, virtual) Decatur Book Festival – an excellent interview with Jericho Brown and another (also excellent) interview with Natasha Trethewey – and, well, you get the picture: a lot of time spent in front of my computer! (I could be doing even more Zooming if I hadn’t decided to give up until after the pandemic attending meetings of the local Quaker congregation.) All this Zooming isn’t ideal, but, hey, Zoom is a blessing – as is the Internet in general – and I’d have gone bonkers during the COVID era without it.
Dept. of Domestic Bliss
With the extra time spent at home this past year, you’d think I’d have made plenty of improvements to home and garden. And I might have, if I hadn’t already spent 25 years tweaking my domicile to get things pretty much like I want them. This year definitely marked a shift from undertaking additional interior projects to improving a few more things outdoors.
Indoors, however, I did replace a nondescript overhead light in my dining room with a Victorianesque cut-glass hanging fixture.
I also imported from my garden shed a small IKEA table (and yet another IKEA halogen reading lamp – maybe the sixth or seventh I’ve bought for the house and the cabin?) to create in the library/guest room wat’s become my home’s most comfortable and most practical reading nook:
Outdoor projects completed this year:
- Planting a butterfly/hummingbird garden. It would’ve worked better, methinks, if the location of this new garden got more sunshine, but I have higher hopes for next year, when the many plants I bought (or were donated by Randy) for this project get better established.
- Expanding my favorite part of the back yard – the potted herb garden – by installing a metal rack to hold additional pots. I now grow over 30 herbs – and my annual pilgrimage to The Herb Crib near Blairsville to buy most of the seedlings remains a highlight of my gardening year.
- Adding to my tiny outdoor domain a fourth metal bench on the backyard patio in front of the fountain, replacing a dilapidated wooden table and chairs.
- Near the bench on the smaller patio in the front yard,
I planted a third Japanese maple, and paid a handyman – no more ladder-climbing for Calvin! – to give a severe haircut to the creeping fig that I’d allowed to swallow the front of the house.
(Since the haircut, however, I’ve decided to allow the creeping fig to grow back: the front façade of my house looks so nude these days!)
Well, there’s been no travel to speak of this year. My annual trip to St. George Island to spend a week with a dozen gay friends from Gay Spirit Visions got canceled; ditto a planned trip to Chicago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Library Association’s GLBTQ+ task force that I helped revitalize in 1986. (Two looked-forward-to annual local events – an international calligraphers conclave in July and the annual Decatur Book Festival in September – were also canceled.)
As far as trans-Atlantic trips go, airplanes and cruise ships still seem way too unsafe to travel upon and, besides, Mr. Trump and his cronies made sure that American tourists are unwelcome in most of the overseas places I’d like to visit (or revisit).
Whether or not there will be any trans-Atlantic trips in 2021 – or even any ambitious road trips somewhere in the USA – is anyone’s guess.
I’ve continued posting (albeit sporadically) to two blogs that I started ten years ago. Although I haven’t managed to post more often during the pandemic than before it arrived (I posted 50 times to the booklover’s blog, and this blogpost is only the 14th one for my personal blog), I did revamp the formats of both blogs to make it easier for readers to skim through (and for me to edit) my growing collection of quotations.
One surprising development this year, blog-wise, was being interviewed last summer by a fellow biblioblogger; the interview can be found at https://atkinsbookshelf.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/profile-of-a-book-lover-cal-gough/
One of the Internet sites I’ve been monitoring via Facebook this year has been The AIDS Memorial. Seeing several posts every day from friends and family members of the mostly very young people (mostly very young and beautiful gay men) who AIDS killed off during THAT pandemic has been very moving and very sobering.
My absolute favorite Internet-related news of the year is the fact that Randy created a website to showcase his recent art work. An example:
I am hoping Randy will eventually add to the site some of his non-recent art work as it is also wonderful.
Incidentally, this was the year I began using postcards for my bookmarks, an idea I got from a fellow Atlanta biblioblogger who I haven’t yet met except via email. Replacing my stash of handmade or purchased or gifted bookmarks with a stash of postcards may seem like a non-newsworthy development, but I’ve been thrilled with how useful it’s been to use sturdy, same-sized postcards instead of variously shaped and weighted bookmarks. For one thing, it’s given me a great way to enjoy seeing more often some of the great postcards I’ve collected over the years – including the set featuring William Morris textiles and wallpaper patterns that I bought during a trip to England that Randy and I made last year.
- Randy and I celebrated our third anniversary on September 29th. Most days I still feel like we’re on our honeymoon. Randy is an interesting fellow, and I feel very lucky indeed to have (re-)met him.
- The settling of mom’s estate is almost complete now; handling that has been the sobering and sometimes frustrating task you might imagine it to be (or know it to be if you’ve ever handled one yourself). Spending a second round of year-end holidays without Marge being a part of feels (predictably) odd, as there’ve been very few Christmases in my 72 years on earth that Marge wasn’t a part of.
- Thanks to Zoom, I was able to participate in more calligraphy workshops than in previous years – four of them, in fact, as well as joining in several hands-on exercises conducted during the (virtual) monthly meetings of the local calligraphy guild. I wish I could report that these activities had resulted in my establishing a daily or at least weekly routine of practicing my calligraphy, but, alas, that still hasn’t happened.
- Back in the late spring, Randy and some of his artist friends installed an ecology-themed project in Atlanta’s Blue Heron Nature Preserve.
Some of our friends joined us for a look-see a few weeks later:
- My friend-since-Mercer-University-days Franklin Abbott interviewed me late last summer for the GLBTQ+ archive at Georgia State University’s library. The interview ended up being six hours long! It was quite an interesting experience preparing for this comprehensive look-back to some of the circumstances, the experiences, and the individuals who I/ve decided have most influenced or most profoundly changed the arc of my little (and many-chaptered) life. Once the video interview gets processed, it’ll be posted to the Internet for the edification of anyone with the stamina to watch the dang thing.
- Late in the year, I decided, yet again, to re-finance the mortgage on my house. I’ll have a lower monthly payment and end up paying approximately $18,000 less in interest fees. Of course, I’ll still be 98 years old before I own the house (if I don’t sell it beforehand), but, hey, I actually wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up living that long! If my health holds out as it has so far, I think I might like to do that.
- In December, I finally got around this year to the cataract surgery almost all of my friends had already undergone years ago to improve their own eyesight. The surgery itself was, as promised, miraculously quick and pain-free, but I’m still coping (not very happily, I must say) with trying to replace a 72-year-old habit of not needing reading glasses at all to depending totally on them for every single instance of any book-reading, screen-staring, thermostat=checking, or label- or recipe- or price-tag deciphering I need to do. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to be able to drive without glasses – and to drive at night without worrying about encountering oncoming headlights. I’m also glad I chose to get this inevitable surgery done in 2020, since it cost me about as much as a trans-Atlantic trip (off limits this particular year) would’ve cost me.
- I want to mention a few Food / Dietary Notes that are going to seem minor but that are pretty substantial changes for my eating habits:
- As has probably been the case for practically all Americans, the number of times Randy and I ate out at restaurants this year (after mid-March, anyway) was minuscule compared to earlier years – especially the decade preceding the year I met Randy. Despite the lucky fact that Randy loves to cook at home (and to cook some really exotic stuff), I do sorely miss our occasional splurges eating in restaurants.
- I’d like to report that COVID restrictions caused me to expand my modest (compared to Randy’s) culinary repertoire expanded, but, in my case, that would be a lie: I still rely on a half-dozen Reliable Recipes for the half of the time that I prepare dinner for us (rather than the other way around)
- In the Fast Foods Restaurant Patronizing Department, Randy and I discovered the “Classic Chicken Sandwich” sold by the Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen franchise. (This discovery also makes it a lot easier to continue our boycott of the anti-gay Chik-Fil-a franchise.)
Popeye’s has gotten the lion’s share of our pathetically small restaurant take-out budget in 2020, and buying its chicken sandwich will go a long way in reducing the number of hamburgers Calvin consumes.
- And speaking of hamburgers, I doubt that I’ll be eating many more of them. Ever since November 2019, when my aunt Gloria introduced me to my first “Impossible Burger” at her local Burger King in North Little Rock, I’ve consumed several more of them. Also, one can now buy at ye local Kroger something called “Beyond Beef”! It’s also excellent, and makes buying any more actual beef unnecessary – which is gratifying, considering how ecologically unsustainable industrialized cattle-raising has always been. By the end of the year, I hope to sample “Beyond Sausage” to see if it’s tasty enough to begin using that instead of chicken sausage. . . .
- Earlier this month, my friend Franklin gave me an “air fryer” that one of his relatives was no longer using. Having heard about the amazing things this counter-top device can cook up, I am looking forward to exploring its capabilities in the upcoming months.
- After years of neglecting my duty to compost (totally due to my laziness), I signed up with a local company that provides a compost bin and picks it up every other week. (The outfit I use, CompostNow, is very affordable, very user-friendly and user-responsive, operates in many cities and offers different pickup plans for people who compost more material than I happen to.) I keep the bin just outside the kitchen door, and look forward to one day receiving from CompostNow my first bag o’ compost for my garden!
- Once again this year, I compiled a CD of some favorite music as a gift to friends who I think might appreciate having something to listen to during the holidays besides (or in addition to) Christmas carols. As has been the case every year, this year’s playlist instantly became my new favorite! Randy helped me prepare this year’s batch of these gifts by printing out for me on his color printer the jewel case covers and (a first for me) the disc labels.
If you didn’t receive one of these music CDs – either because you’ve not yet asked to be put on the delivery list or because yours went astray because of the COVID-challenged U.S. Postal Service – and would like one, just let me know and I’ll mail you one. Nothing would make me happier than to know you might be enjoying from time to time some of this soothing, calming (mostly piano) music.
- I still sorely miss my friend Blanche Flanders Farley. She always came to visit for a few days around the Winter Solstice, so spending these past two without her congenial presence in my abode has been sobering. As it was Flanders who introduced me to “Constant Comment” tea back when I first met her in the late 1960s, I’ve been drinking more of it during the holiday season as a way of remembering her and honoring our friendship.
- I count myself blessed that no one in my family or my closest circle of friends and acquaintances died – of any causes, including COVID – during 2020. Several much-admired cultural celebrities did die this past year, however – something that, of course, happens with increasing frequency as I plunge further into my 70s. This year the departed ones from my personal pantheon of literary, musical, or political heroes and heroines included:
- Needless to say, my fingers are crossed – nay, they are tightly clenched – in the hope that my fellow Georgians will elect non-Republican Senators to the U.S. Senate in the upcoming runoff election. Depriving Mr. McConnell of his spiteful stranglehold on progressive federal legislation is every bit as important, in my book, as ejecting Mr. Trump and his creepy crew of henchpersons from the U.S. federal government (and Mr. Trump from the POTUS Twitter account).
2020 Reading Note
I’ve continued to post to my personal blog mini-reviews of the books I read (there’s a link to them in the blog’s sidebar). The mini-reviews of the 32 books I finished reading in 2020 are posted here.
Randy and I spent the Winter Solstice and are spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning here at my place, in front of the fireplace before heading out to spend Christmas Afternoon with Randy’s elderly mom, who lives in Kennesaw, Georgia. Next week we will de-camp to the cabin in Blue Ridge to see in the New Year there.
I did a LOT less decorating this year than usual, so not many photos to show!
I’d love to hear from you about what your year has been like – including some information about what books you most enjoyed reading this past year. You can mail me a card or letter at 1576 McLendon Ave., NE, Atlanta GA 30307; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; text me at 404-377-0476; leave a comment at one or both of my blogs (www.calgough.wordpress.com and www.atlantareader.wordpress.com); or message me on Facebook.
A happier New Year to all the planet’s (surviving) inhabitants – including, dear reader, yourself!
A Sentiment for the New Year
“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”
– Maya Angelou