An oral history of the pandemic?

My biggest pandemic coping mechanism/stress response has been ordering books, and I just recieved Studs Terkel’s oral history of the Great Depression: “Hard Times.” It is sitting on my desk staring at me, and I’m wondering, again, if I should think about collecting OH’s from residents, small business owners, and health care workers during this crisis, and follow the same output plan as my current project (podcast, and transcripts + portraits in book form).

Is it overdone? I see long interviews everywhere I look, in all publications, on the radio. If I narrow the geographic scope to my neighborhood, will that be worth publishing? Should I think of another way to narrow the scope? Should I wait until social distancing is over? Should I focus on finishing my current project and continue just thinking about this one? Will I miss the moment if I do that?

Many questions.

Thinking like an oral historian rather than a reporter has changed my relationship with time and urgency, though. It all feels a bit less urgent. There is always time to have those conversations, and the reflections benefit from time.

Matt and I continue to try and adjust our schedules to make room for each other to think and work. When we can invite a babysitter into our bubble of safety, our lives will breathe again. Until then, childcare is a zero sum game.

My curiosity about the future is intense. Will we drive less, fly less? Will the world be less polluted? If this goes on for two years, will the earth actually begin to heal? Will we have a different relationship with nature? Will our economy move more towards sustainability, rather than endless growth through consumption? Will more parents chose to homeschool? Will kids have more independence, will they ride their bikes around town on their own like we did? Will our society value childcare differently? Will more parents do more of it, or will childcare workers be more valued? Will this trauma make everyone be more resilient? Will lots of people jump onto a new life path? Will the break in day-to-day inertia and brush with mortality make it easier for people to make major life changes? Who will make those changes, and what will they be?

I keep sifting through the internet, trying to figure this out. I know the answers actually aren’t there. The uncertainty is thrilling.

I walked downtown the other night, to have a walk and to see what is there: boarded-up storefronts, homeless people on guitars, non-helmeted bikers looking around in wonder, sparseness. I read that five hotels in D.C. have offered to house the homeless, and I do see fewer people on the streets. Non-residential neighborhoods in D.C. feel eerie now, too quiet, too lawless. A few people started following me, calling out, and I felt more theatened than usual without the crowds to disappear into.

I miss so much now: swimming (in pools, in the ocean, in the sea), feeding friends, inviting kids to our garden, sitting at the cafe, walking miles around the city, chatting with people I run into. All the unpredictability that city life usually entails.

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