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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Battles of Isolation

My daughter and I had a battle. She barely spoke to me for three weeks afterward.

Like many other Boston-area college students, she came home for Spring Break and never left. Lockdown happened. At first, her biggest crisis was having only packed clothes for a week, not the month-long stretch we thought we were in for. 

The discussion started with reviewing ways to see friends and family and still stay safe. She and her girlfriends had met in a parking lot, staying in their cars or sitting on top of them. I was happy to know gloves and masks were worn and hear other ways they had practiced social distancing. Like for many of us, the first weeks were almost fun. We hadn't gotten bored yet. Social distancing challenges were still novel and creative. Longing hadn't set in.

My husband and I are extremely careful and follow all the protocols. We hadn't counted on our daughter being a potential weak point in our defensive wall against the virus.

Then tension filled our discussion. She said her boyfriend was going to visit, and she assured us they would follow every safe distancing guideline.

As much as I love and trust my daughter and her boyfriend, my maternal instincts were hard-pressed to accept he would drive five-plus hours to sit in a chair on our front lawn for a two-hour visit and then drive home. Somehow, I couldn't see how that was better than hours on Facetime or Zoom. He lives with his parents and younger brother. Seeing him meant expanding our defensive wall to include four points of contact. I said no because we needed to put our "want to" list aside and do only the actions on our "have to" list. There were too many unknowns. We needed to give the scientific world, and us, time to catch up on all the virus had changed. 

The battle continued. She assured me everyone in his home was extra cautious, following each and every precaution. We were over reacting and being ridiculous. I didn't doubt the precautions the boyfriend and his family were following, I just didn't want the risk of that one momentary lapse. What about touching his face after filling the car with gas? What about stopping at a rest stop? My concerns were for him as much as her.

My reasoning failed to resonate with her. Finally, I said that if she was truly hell-bent on seeing him, then she could go to him, but plan on staying there for the foreseeable future. She is an adult. We could not stop her, but we would not take the risk to have her return to us. Was it worth the risk of a two-week quarantine in our garage?

Then I got the semi-silent treatment for three weeks.

This morning, she looked at me in that way that said she had something to say. My stomach dropped. I thought she was going to tell me she was taking me up on my solution, that she was packing and leaving.

Instead, she told me everyone in her boyfriend's home tested positive for COVID-19. His mother is sick, but managing at home. His brother and father are not showing symptoms. Yet.

I hugged my daughter and she hugged me back. We sat around the kitchen, laughing at the antics of her kitten and planning the night's meal. I didn't say, "I told you so," as I think she may have expected I had a right to. 

Despite their best efforts, four members of one family tested positive and are now officially quarantined. Her boyfriend was shocked. He still feels fine. 

I do feel better knowing that I wasn't being over reactive. I watch the news, I question the right approach.

For this battle, the combination of maternal instinct and science won. I wonder what it will take to win the war.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


April 25, 2020, 3:00 pm via ZOOM
Mystery Making with Sisters in Crime New England
Newburyport Literary Festival, Newburyport, MA
Give a panel of talented authors names, setting, motives, weapon and more, then sit back and enjoy the fun as they create a brand new murder mystery on the spot! Join authors Joanna Schaffhausen, Bruce Robert Coffin, Carolyn Wilkins and Connie Johnson Hambley as they build a story while pulling back the curtain on the writing process! Special Note: This will be the first time our popular Mystery Making panel will be presented via video, no doubt adding to the fun for all!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Navigating Life in the World of The Other

I have at times been The Other and other times been The Tribe.

My past careers have been in law, investments, and banking. I have been that “pretty blonde” in a sea of suits before the dawn being seen as a novelty was wrong. Even as early as high school, I felt the sting of exclusion because I strove for something outside of a lane some believed my gender defined. The fight to be considered equal and worthy continues, but it’s different now.

Our public discourse is acquiring language for The Other to engage with The Tribe. In tandem with this growth, our society is developing a platform to discuss exclusion. Sometimes that discussion happens in the safe space among friends and like-minded people, other times it happens in the Wild West of public forums. By definition, inclusion means stepping outside of our comfort zone to see more, hear more, and experience more. The conversations can be heated, but are an essential part of a society’s growth. We must have these conversations and controversies to educate one another and ourselves, and to find the stepping stones upon which we can move forward.

At times, I still feel the cold shoulder of being The Other. I also must acknowledge that I am The Tribe.

I am the chapter president of an organization founded on the concept of merit and ability over habit and ignorance. Thirty years ago, Sisters in Crime was founded by women crime and mystery authors to garner the fair share of reviewers and publishers’ attention in a field dominated by men. Hallmarks of exclusion were noted and the mission statement was recently amended to articulate a vision that further erased the lines of gender and color. A code of conduct was added for its members.

In discussions about chapter membership, I realized I was The Tribe. I was on the inside. Conversations included words like “inclusion,” “diversity,” “outreach,” “ageism,” and “gender identity.”

Our chapter co-sponsors an annual regional writers’ conference. I was heartened when a suggestion to include a choice of pronoun ribbons upon registration was enthusiastically supported by other committee members. Attendees could self-identify. They could choose to be addressed in forms of “he,” “she,” or “they.” This was part of our organizations’ efforts to create an environment of inclusion, acceptance, and safety.

Some people were baffled by the ribbons but donned them anyway. Others shrugged and didn’t wear them, but engaged in conversations with those who did. Igniting conversations was exactly the point. I welcomed the chance to talk about and learn from the experiences of others. Conversations included examples of being the only one of color in a room, of being the only white when traveling, of being the only one celebrating, or not, a religious holiday. The list goes on. The Other.

It is gratifying that more circumstances of exclusion are being identified and discussed. The many facets of exclusion, tribalism, and “other-ism” are being recognized as pervasive, insidious, and destructive. Exclusion is one form of harassment and ignorance another. Neither gets a pass when the goal is to include and respect an individual.

One attendee wrote this: “I am exploring my gender identity . . . I was very happy when I came to [the conference] this year and saw the pronoun badges. Thank you! With some trepidation I wore the ‘they/them’ badge -- my first small step to some public expression, but in a place where I felt safe.”

Isn’t that what we all want? To feel safe among a crowd of strangers?

In one of the moments that marks growth as well as pain, two incidents required public statements be made by the conference committee to condemn harassment. With our acquired language and awareness, we were able to identify, understand, and condemn the equating of sexual orientation with criminality, and be at the forefront of the discussion of this issue. Sadly, the other incident only served to highlight that attitudinal change is difficult and slow. A presentation allowed certain statements to go unaddressed. Some said the comments were sexist, other claimed them to be misogynistic, others heard nothing wrong, others shrugged that such comments have always been made, so what’s the big deal?

I’ve struggled with how to conclude this opinion piece. I write this as me, and not in any official capacity. I can only observe that harsh public discourse is an inevitable symptom of growth, as is an individual’s discomfort for being called out on behavior once considered acceptable. Private statements can also be caustic, but more often than not, those who may be reticent to express support publicly are relieved to do so privately.

We are learning whether our education comes informally in private or public conversations or formally in workshops and educational forums with a curriculum designed to help us hear and see our way to inclusion.

A reality none of us can evade is that at one time or another, you, too, will be The Other.

Thursday, April 2, 2020


I went grocery shopping today.

Big deal, right? Yeah. It was a much bigger deal than I expected it to be.

My husband and I were early in preparing to shelter in place. We expected not to go out for a month or more and had planned accordingly. We were forced out into the world due to an oversight. Delivery would take days. We decided only one of us should go. 

I raised my hand. If we had to go out for one thing, we'd replenish what we needed and I am the meal planner of the family. Besides, I wanted a bit of an adventure. I am lucky to live in a small town with a major grocery store. Shopping mid-week, I figured I'd have the place pretty much to myself.

We tripled checked the list the night before. We YouTubed and Googled best practices for staying virus free. Some of the steps were a bit over the top, but safety is safety, and knowing we were starting the clock again for any exposure, we were willing to take precautions to keep our peace of mind. 

Planning made me feel like a special agent. Gloves. Mask. Dirty area. Decontamination process. My adventure was beginning!

The store created special early morning hours for seniors and I wondered how they would enforce that. It's been years since I had to skulk past a bouncer, but this time I wanted to be carded. 

My first shock: At 6:00AM, the store lot was nearly full. It seemed like people had even parked their cars in a social distance way leaving a space between each.

My first disappointments: I was not carded and I could not bring in my reusable shopping bags.

A sign said to keep six floor tiles apart. Employees in gloves, some in masks, counted people in and out of the store. Red tape marked where folks should stand in line. One employee wiped down each cart.

By the time I passed half-full refrigerated cases, my sense of fun had begun to wilt. I was no longer shocked or disappointed. A prevailing feeling of numbness crept in as I walked inside a movie set of dystopian life.There was still plenty of food, but the choices had thinned. Many shelves were empty. I did not sense tension among shoppers as I had during an earlier shopping trip when news of the virus was just breaking. People were resolute. Everyone wore gloves. Those who wore masks or scarves seemed to make an extra effort to put a smile in their eyes. I know I did.

I took note of who was there. I checked my normal impatience at the door and shuffled at least six tiles behind everyone. A stooped rail of a man peered at his list, then up at a shelf, and back. Heavy scrawled letters on the wrinkled paper confused him. I had visions of his wife at home, taking care to write as clearly as she could, knowing the choices would be bewildering to him.

It took a minute, but he made his choice and moved on.

I almost reached for the sole remaining paper towel roll. A knotted hand reached out for it. I stepped back and continued checking off items on my list.

Every-other register was open and a line formed to retain social distance. Employees helped manage the cue and give instructions for checking out safely. While I waited, I realized how fortunate I was. I could buy food. I felt safe. I wondered about too many people who did not have the options I almost took for granted in my zest for adventure.

I followed the new rules and loaded up my car, switching out one pair of nitrile gloves for a clean pair.

Then I put my face in my hands and cried.