And Just Like That, High School Is Over

I took this one at All-State Orchestra auditions a few weeks ago, before life became surreal. My son and the other auditioning violinists from his high school orchestra hung out together all day, waiting for their turns. They seemed to have a fantastic time. Jon Morgan is the one in the back.

The governor of Virginia announced today that state K-12 schools are closed for the rest of the school year. I don’t fault him for making the decision. Our schools were already closed through the end of spring break in mid-April, but anyone who thinks this global coronavirus pandemic will be over by then is, well, President Trump, who claims the virus will disappear “like a miracle.” And we all know how much his pronouncements are worth. Besides, Governor Northam is a doctor; he knows the situation better than most of us.

But I’m sad for my son. Jon Morgan is scheduled to graduate June 13, and the city school superintendent still says our seniors will graduate on time. They will have online classwork. But so much had already been canceled (most importantly, the school orchestra trip to Boston, which was supposed to take place in early April) and now I’m afraid online classes will provide all the things he doesn’t like about school, without the consolations of friends and laughter — and in his case, music.

He says he doesn’t mind never going back to high school. He has been suffering from extreme senioritis and was feeling so ready to move on. I understand being sick and tired of the classes and the routine. But now he’ll miss out on so much more than that:

  • The three-week Senior Experience program in May, when he was planning to volunteer as an assistant to George Washington Middle School orchestra director.
  • Senior prom with his girlfriend.
  • His final T.C. Williams High School orchestra concert, the one with special recognition for all the graduating seniors.
  • Most likely his final Washington Metropolitan Youth Orchestra concert — which is a shame, since the group was supposed to premiere a movement of the first symphony he’s composed for full orchestra
  • The premiere of another classical orchestra piece he’s composing now, one he was commissioned to write for the Francis Hammond Middle School orchestra to perform at its spring concert.
  • His final Northern Virginia District and Virginia State Reflections awards presentation.
  • Getting his yearbook at school and having friends and teachers sign it.
  • The All-Night Grad Party.
  • And, most iconic of all, his high-school graduation ceremony, which I assume will have to be canceled.

Maybe the worst is that he won’t be able to just hang out with his friends. It’s not like a snow day when they can get together to watch movies, drink hot chocolate, complain about teachers, and speculate about which colleges they’ll attend. The last part of senior year was supposed to be their time, what they’ve been working for all these years, and they deserve the chance to celebrate it together.

Jon Morgan and his girlfriend Kat went to the Winter Formal together, but now there will not be a Senior Prom.

The more I think about it, the more I’m grieving for what he has lost, even though it hasn’t hit him yet. I grieve for what they’ve all lost. My husband and I have been actively involved with his school orchestras for years, and we have gotten to know all of the talented, vibrant kids he performs with. They don’t deserve this.

Of course, it’s the right decision. We’re talking about the possibility of millions of people dying, and that has to take priority over wearing a cap and gown and going to parties and concerts. But our kids should have been allowed to be kids for just a few months more.

March 23 Writer Birthdays

1814 – Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga, Cuban-born Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright who sometimes used the pseudonym La Peregrina (The Pilgrim); her most famous work is the antislavery novel Sab, about a slave who is deeply in love with his mistress Carlota, who is entirely oblivious to his feelings for her.

1881 – Roger Martin du Gard, Nobel Prize-winning French author lauded “for the artistic power and truth with which he has depicted human conflict as well as some fundamental aspects of contemporary life.”

1882 – Amalie Emmy Noether (better known as Emmy Noether), German mathematician and writer who made important contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics.

1910 – Akira Kurosawa, Japanese film director and screenwriter who is considered one of the most important and influential figures in the history of filmmaking.

1912 – Eleanor Cameron, National Book Award-winning American librarian, critic, essayist, and children’s author, best known for The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, and for her criticism of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which she found tasteless, sadistic, and phony overall, as well as racist in its original depiction of the Oompa-Loompas; descriptions and pictures of them were revised for later editions, possibly as a result of her criticism.

1947 – Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Nebula Award-winning American author of science-fiction and fantasy novels and short stories who frequently collaborated with author Anne McCaffrey; she is also a registered nurse.

1942 – Ama Ata Aidoo (née Christina Ama Aidoo), Ghanaian novelist, playwright, short-story writer, professor, and Minister of Education; her work, written in English, emphasizes the paradoxical position of the modern African woman; some sources list her birth year as 1940. She is considered one of Africa’s greatest writers.

1943 – Winston Francis Groom, Jr., American novelist and nonfiction writer, best known for his book Forrest Gump, which was adapted into a wildly popular film.

1950 – Ahdaf Soueif, Egyptian novelist, essayist, nonfiction writer, and political and cultural commentator; in her works, she focuses on Egyptian history and politics and also writes about Palestinians.

1951 – Plantu (pen name for Jean Plantureux), French cartoonist, political satirist, and sculptor.

1952 – Kim Stanley Robinson, American author of science-fiction and fantasy books and short stories, best known for his Mars trilogy; a winner of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, he has produced work that the Atlantic calls “the gold-standard of realistic, and highly literary, science-fiction writing,” and he has been called by The New Yorker, “one of the greatest living science-fiction writers.”

1960 – Yoko Tawada, award-winning Japanese writer, novelist, essayist, playwright, Germanist, and literary scholar who is based in Germany and writes in both Japanese and German.

1968 – Mitch Cullin, American novelist, poet, and short-story writer who lives in both the United States and Japan.

1972 – Judith Godrèche, French screenwriter, director, actress, and novelist.

March 22 Writer Birthdays

1712 – Edward Moore, English dramatist and poet.

1771 – Heinrich D. Zschokke, German/Swiss author and reformer.

1846 – Randolph Caldecott, British artist and illustrator; influential in children’s book art; the Caldecott Medal is named for him.

1901 – Gabrielle Roy, influential and critically acclaimed French-Canadian author.

1908 – Louis L’Amour, popular novelist of the American West.

1908 – Albrecht Goes, German poet, author, and theologian.

1910 – Nicholas Montserrat, British author of sea stories inspired by his time the Royal Naval Reserve.

1911 – Jack Popplewell, British author, playwright, songwriter, and rhubarb farmer.

1922 – Stewart Stern, Emmy Award-winning American screenwriter; twice Oscar-nominated, he was best known for the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause.

1930 – Stephen Sondheim, Tony Award-winning American lyricist, best known for West Side Story.

1931 – Igor Hajek, Czech writer, editor, and translator.

1931 – William Shatner, actor, starship captain, and author of the TekWar series of science-fiction books.

1931 – Leslie Thomas, major Welsh-born British author, journalist, and autobiographer.

1941 – Billy Collins, poet, professor, and U.S. Poet Laureate; the New York Times once called him, “the most popular poet in America.”

1946 – Rudy Rucker, American science-fiction author, mathematician, and computer scientist; one of the founders of cyberpunk fiction.

1947 – James Patterson, popular author of bestselling adult thrillers and young-adult novels.

1948 – Wolf Blitzer, German-born, U.S.-based journalist, author, and television news anchor who has also worked in Israel.

March 21 Writer Birthdays

1893 – Geoffrey Dearmer, British poet whose works dealt with the brutality of war.

1902 – William Downie Forrest, Scottish journalist, editor, and war correspondent.

1905 – Phyllis McGinley, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author of children’s books and poetry.

1919 – Geoffrey Pinnington, British reporter and editor.

1928 – Peter Hacks, German playwright, author, and essayist.

1929 – Jules Bergman, broadcast writer and journalist; science editor for ABC News, he is most remembered for coverage of the U.S. space program.

1934 – Ved Mehta, Hindu author and magazine writer who lost his eyesight as a child but went on to write novels, nonfiction, travel books, nonfiction books, and an autobiography.

1935 – Hubert Fichte, award-winning German novelist, essayist, and journalist.

1936 – Margaret Mahy, New Zealand author of children’s and young-adult fantasy books.

1953 – David Wisniewski, Caldecott Medal-winning American children’s author and illustrator.

1981 – Lauren Kate, bestselling author of adult and young-adult novels, especially known for historical fiction.

Update From the Land of Social Distancing

“Within Mother Nature, by Katie J., 11th grade. This won 1st Place in the Northern Virginia District PTA Reflections contest, and went on to win 1st Place (the Award for Outstanding Interpretation of Theme) in the state.

It’s the end of the first week of The End of Life as We Know It, as we all try to adjust to our new, Coronavirus-induced reality. Everything is weird and tense and depressing, but you already know that.

Virginia does not yet have a statewide order to close businesses, but many have closed anyway; those that are open are not allowed to have more than 10 customers in the place at a time, and restaurants can do takeout only. Even if I wanted to go out, there aren’t a lot of places to go. And, of course, we’re all being told to stay away from people outside our own families, as much as possible. So I have been sticking close to home, where we are limited to our own, familiar germs.

I’m not going stir-crazy yet. But I saw too much news yesterday and am staying away from it today. (Note to self: avoid future presidential press conferences or risk breaking the TV when I give in to the compulsion to throw hammers at that lying orange face.) Breaking the TV would be unfortunate. We have been binge-watching Outlander. My teenager says it’s an educational show, teaching him all about Scottish history and sex.

I am keeping busy putting together information and copies of Reflections art contest entries for a local newspaper editor who has realized schools being closed means no material for his student art page! He appealed to me for Reflections contest student art, and I’ve been sending artwork and other info for the last couple days, glad for the publicity, especially since the April 16 awards show I’m planning will likely never happen. And yesterday I used disinfectant wipes on my Little Free Library and everything in it, having decided for now to keep it open for now but clean it often and stop accepting book donations. Yes, it tells you something, that the big excitement of my day involved cleaning something. But the neighbors seem grateful.

The artwork on this page is the 1st Place High School winner in the Visual Arts category of the Northern Virginia District PTA Reflections contest. It was featured today in the Fairfax Times, too, a result of my frantic efforts to compile and submit artwork.

Bob is teleworking some days and going into the office on others. He’s home today, but for most of the day he has been in his office in the basement (we keep him down there as much as possible) so I see him only when he comes up for coffee. Jon Morgan will be out of school at least until the end of spring break in mid-April, but I’m assuming that will be extended, possibly through the end of the school year. No word on how that will affect his graduation in June. He is in his room now and claims to be working on Latin, but I’m pretty sure he has spent most of the day (and week) playing video games and texting his girlfriend. His best friend is home from college and is perplexed when Jon Morgan says he can’t go see him. Apparently he is oblivious to the whole “social distancing” thing, though my son seems to get it and so far is cooperating.

Everyone stay safe!

Photo Friday: Cherry Blossom Time

It’s cherry blossom season in and around Washington, D.C.! Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic is keeping people at home, so many of us will not be heading to the Tidal Basin to see the blooms in person. Predictions for peak bloom time range this year from March 18 to March 30, so this seems like a good week to post a photo I took of a previous year’s sakura splendor.

In 1912, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki presented Washington, D.C., with 3,000 cherry trees, forever transforming the Tidal Basin at springtime. Three years later, the United States reciprocated by sending dogwood saplings to Japan. Today, he trees (and their descendants) symbolize not only the promise of spring, but also the friendship between the two countries.

For more photographs (not mine) of Washington’s cherry blossoms, check out this link:

March 20 Writer Birthdays

43 BC – Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid, Ancient Roman poet best known for the Metamorphoses.

1828 – Henrik Willem Ibsen, Norwegian playwright and poet, considered the “Father of Realism.”

1845 – Lucy Myers Wright Mitchell, classical historian and archaeologist.

1904 – B.F. Skinner, influential American psychologist and author.

1907 – John Hugh MacLennan, Canadian author and professor.

1908 – Kathryn Anderson McLean (pen name Kathryn Forbes), American memoirist and short-story writer.

1917 – Kalervo Hemming Hortamo, Finnish poet and teacher.

1922 – Carl Reiner, popular comedian, actor, director, and screenwriter.

1923 – Marc Saporta, Istanbul-born French journalist, novelist, and literary critic.

1928 – Fred Rogers, author, screenwriter, songwriter, and minister who was the iconic host of the classic children’s TV show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

1937 – Lois Lowry, multiple Newbery Award winner for her children’s and YA books.

1948 – Pamela Sargent, Nebula Award-winning science-fiction author, editor, and feminist who has written, among other things, alternate-history stories and Star Trek novels, as well as editing anthologies that spotlight women’s contributions to science fiction.

1954 – Louis Sachar, popular American children’s and YA author.

1955 – Nina Kiriki Hoffman, American fantasy, science-fiction, and horror author.

1959 – Mary Roach, author of popular science books with a whimsical edge.

1968 – A.J. Jacobs, American journalist and author.

March 19 Writer Birthdays

1084 – Li Qingzhao, Chinese writer, poet, essayist, artist, and lyricist; she is considered one of the greatest poets in Chinese history.

1721 – Tobias Smollett, Scottish poet and author best known for his picaresque novels and for his work’s influence on Charles Dickens.

1821 – Sir Richard Francis Burton, British explorer, translator, and travel writer best known in the literary world for his translations of eastern texts, most notably The Thousand and One Nights; he was one of the first Englishmen to explore Arabia and reach Mecca.

1824 – William Allingham, Irish poet, diarist, and editor who is best known for his posthumously published diary, in which he records his lively encounters with Tennyson, Carlyle, and other writers and artists.

1844 – Minna Canth (born Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson), controversial Finnish writer, playwright, journalist, businesswoman, and social activist; her work addresses women’s rights in the context of a culture that was antithetical to the expression and realization of women’s aspirations; she was the first woman to receive her own flag day in Finland, on March 19, also Finland’s day of social equality.

1872 – Olivia Susan “Susy” Clemens, American literary critic and biographer who was the daughter of writer Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and the inspiration for some of his works; at 13 she wrote a biography of him, which he later published in his autobiography. Her father was heartbroken when she died of spinal meningitis at age twenty-four. Her biography of him was published in 1988 in its entirety as Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain, a volume which also included a biography of Susy Clemens and her correspondence with her father.

1903 – Bettina Ehrlich (née Bauer), Austrian author and illustrator of children’s books who relocated to England in 1938 because her Jewish background put her in danger when the Nazis invaded Austria.

1916 – Irving Wallace, bestselling American author of novels, screenplays, and nonfiction; he often wrote about characters who were outsiders, and was known for the amount of historical research — and sex — in his books. One critic said Wallace invented a style of novel that is at once a strong story and encyclopedia, with “some sex thrown in to keep the reader’s pulse going.”

1918 – Mary Bartlet Leader, American novelist who wrote on supernatural themes; her work was the inspiration behind the popular Fleetwood Mac song “Rhiannon.”

1926 – Valerio Zurlini, Italian filmmaker and screenwriter.

1930 – Lina Vasylivna Kostenko, award-winning Ukrainian poet, writer, children’s author, and professor; she was a leading representative of the group of Ukrainian poets of the 1960s known as the Sixtiers.

1933 – Philip Roth, Pulitzer Prize-winning and multiple National Book Award-winning American novelist and short-story writer; much of his work is semi-autobiographical, often centered around a secular, idealistic Jewish man trying to distance himself from Jewish traditions, but Roth also incorporates social commentary, humor, and satire.

1933 – Renée Adorée Taylor (née Wexler), American actress, screenwriter, playwright, producer, and director; she was nominated for a Best Screenplay Academy Award for the film Lovers and Other Strangers, but is best known for playing Sylvia Fine on the television sitcom The Nanny.

1938 – Sai Paranjpye, award-winning Indian screenwriter and film director.

1950 – James Redfield, American author, lecturer, and screenwriter whose new-agey novel The Celestine Prophecy was a bestseller.

1955 – John Burnside, award-winning Scottish novelist, poet, short-story writer, and memoirist.

1956 – Alina Fernández, Cuban writer, radio personality, and anti-Communist activist; the daughter of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, she is one of the best known Cuban critics of her father’s and uncle’s regimes.

1965 – Dunya Mikhail, Iraqi poet, translator, and journalist; her work often addresses themes of war, exile, and loss.

March 18 Writer Birthdays

1652 – Anne Margrethe Qvitzow, Danish poet, writer, memoirist, and translator.

1634 – Madame de La Fayette, French writer, novelist, historian, lady-in-waiting, and correspondent; her novel La Princesse de Clèves was France’s first historical novel and one of the earliest novels in all of literature.

1829 – Mary Ann Harris Gay, American writer and poet from Decatur, Georgia, best known for her Civil War memoir Life in Dixie During the War, which inspired passages in Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind.

1842 – Stéphane Mallarmé, French symbolist poet.

1892 – Robert P.T. Coffin, Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet.

1893 – Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, English poet, known for his shocking, realistic war poetry.

1915 – Richard Condon, American novelist, known for political satire.

1927 – George Plimpton, journalist best known for his sports writing and for the founding of The Paris Review.

1929 – Christa Wolf, German literary critic, novelist, and essayist.

1932 – John Updike, American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic, and literary critic who has won two Pulitzer Prizes.

1935 – Muzi Epifani (full name Maria Luisa Gabriella Epifani), Italian writer, poet, journalist, and translator.

1939 – Marja-Leena Mikkola, Finnish author, poet, screenwriter, and politician.

1945 – Joy Fielding, Canadian novelist and actress.

1948 – Di Morrissey, prolific, bestselling Australian novelist and children’s book author.

1948 – Susan Patron, Newbery Medal-winning American children’s book author and librarian; best known for her novel, The Higher Power of Lucky.

1953 – Franz Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose father, James Wright, won in the same category.

1959 – Luc Besson, French screenwriter, film director, and producer.

1960 – Mariam Tsiklauri, Georgian poet, writer, children’s author, and translator.

St Patrick’s Day

Right now, we need all the luck we can get.

The legend says that Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. For Saint Patrick’s Day this year, can we get him to drive away the coronavirus?

Seriously, the world needs a whole lot of luck right now. Good public health policy would help even more, and so far, that’s in short supply here in the United States.

In Italy, doctors who don’t have enough ventilators for all the patients who need them are deciding who will get one and who will die. In this country, we are not yet at that point, but many of us believe it’s only a matter of time. In Paris, all restaurants and cafes are closed. Maryland has now followed suit, as have Chicago and New York City. That’s not the case here in Virginia yet, but I expect it will happen in the next few days. Already, some businesses are closing, except for takeout orders. Some have shut down completely, in order to encourage social distancing. And others have so little business that they’ve been forced to shut their doors, unsure of whether they will be able to open again once this has passed. At a White House press conference yesterday, our so-called president and several actual scientists urged people not to gather in groups of more than 10 people. And we’re all washing our hands many times a day.

UPDATE: Virginia has not closed down restaurants, bars, and stores, but today issued an order prohibiting restaurants, fitness centers, and theaters from operating with more than 10 customers present. So that will pretty much shut things down.

Monday I took my son to the eye doctor to have his glasses fixed, and, while I was out, ran a few other errands. But that’s my last day out. Today I began social distancing in earnest. I plan to stick mostly close to home from here on out — at least, until we need groceries or other necessities, though I think I have enough supplies on hand for several weeks. I’ve seen the articles and simulations. I know this is our best bet for slowing the spread of the disease. No, it’s not that bad yet, in this country. The number of cases is still low — though, in part, that’s because tests for the virus are difficult to get, so very few people have been tested. With confirmation impossible, confirmed cases are still rare. But the numbers are growing, and will grow exponentially.

We took a walk around the neighborhood this evening. The experts say that is all right, as long as you don’t get too close to anyone you meet. We saw some neighbors — taking care to remain six feet away — and enjoyed the gorgeous early spring weather and flowering trees. We enjoyed talking to people, but everyone seemed nervous and strained.

I grew up on stories of the 1918 flu pandemic that killed something like 50 million people. Two of my great-grandparents died on the same day that fall, leaving my grandfather and his sisters orphaned. To help support his little sisters, he dropped out of school to work for the coal mines. He was 11. I don’t think the numbers will be anywhere close to the death toll in 1918, but the loss of life will still be devastating. I always knew another one was coming; the only question was when. I guess we know the answer now.

Be careful out there.