Plague Diary

A glimpse into new possibilities

On day one we tried to learn the choreography to Lil’ Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Day two: My fourth grader did all of the math worksheets her teacher had prepared to last the next six weeks of school closure, while my first grader asked approximately one million times if he had coronavirus yet. Day three: We made cookies and promptly ate every single one. On day four we were a half an hour late to our only obligation — Skype piano lessons — which were coincidentally a half an hour long. Yes, I know everyone else is using Zoom.

I am an optimist, an overachiever, “not detail-oriented” (according to my spouse), and have long believed in the immunity-boosting social power of germs. Needless to say, I am having a come-to-Vesuvius moment with myself, as I suspect many of us are.
click to enlarge Ellen Welcker is a Spokane writer.
Ellen Welcker is a Spokane writer.

This is hard! I want to absorb my children suddenly home all day and keep their brains, hearts, and stomachs full while coming up with creative new approaches to my job and looking out for friends and neighbors and donating to artists, musicians, organizations and businesses that are the bedrock of our community, being available for my students, and being kind to my mom, a competent, healthy 72-year-old who now finds herself under lock and key with me, her very own private slightly-grumpy social-distance police.

I am looking at my notes from this week and they say things like “9:15 am: morning meeting” and “10 am: huge fit” and “noon: even more basketball” and I feel like hugging everyone with a 10-foot pole.

I am thinking of my friends with cancer. I am thinking of loved ones with other health complications. I am thinking of those who live alone, or who are in the midst of moving, trying to graduate high school, switching jobs, getting divorced. I am thinking of musicians and artists and restaurant workers who without warning do not know where their next paycheck will come from. I am thinking of the people who had to lay them off. I am thinking of the organizers and community builders who have faced challenge upon challenge and now this. I am thinking of the homeless. People in detention centers and prisons. The food insecure. Those who work to serve them. Those who work to serve us all — health care workers and bus drivers and grocery store clerks. How can we take care of them? Of each other? Of ourselves?

I hope we get through this. I hope we are never the same again.

There is an opportunity here, though I am not trying to be overly optimistic and indeed I don’t feel that optimistic. People are going to die. People have already lost and will continue to lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes. This affects us all. This is the unfortunate genius of a virus that knows no borders. As a writer obsessed with boundaries real and imagined, I can’t help but think about the amount of time our president has spent on his stupid xenophobic border wall (among other things). How often have we said “no one is immune” and meant it the way we mean it now? I am filled with awe by the magnitude, speed and scope of affliction that a tiny virus can wreak.

Yet, if we step outside of the catastrophic effects of all of this unfolding, the tumult in our daily lives — there remains an opportunity to live our lives in ways that just a week ago seemed unimaginable. Driving less. Slowing down. Sharing resources. Caring for our elders. Health care for everyone. Safety nets for all. Real collaboration to slow the climate crisis of which this is a part. The list goes on. We are seeing the first glimpses of this possible new world today.

Ellen Welcker is the author of Ram Hands (Scablands Books) and The Botanical Garden (Astrophil Press) and several chapbooks. She lives in Spokane and online at

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