Shalom Gorewitz

NYC, 3/20 The war is raging. It’s every person against themselves. It’s every person against every other person. It’s an invisible enemy. Everyone is a potential suicide bomber. The neighbors are terrorists leaving their mark of disease on every surface. Media fanned mass hysteria causes a complete breakdown in communication. Confrontations, conflicts, tensions, simmering before, lead to irrational fear and violence. People living during a war simultaneously experience physical and psychological danger. Every decision carries risk.

People are writing like crazy. Posts, living wills, journals, memoirs, and poetry. Social media is saturated with sadly optimistic pictures of nature, a brave flower poking out of dusty earth, dancing raccoons, or cute cats, that give little solace. The ancient mantra is more useful than ever, be here now, but where is here and when is now? Suddenly, virtual space is the best one can do. Social distancing, swerving, suspicion of transmission crowd consciousness even while walking on empty streets.

NYC, 4/20 The heroes expire from the breath of the dying. This virus seems to be beyond human capacity to contain. Conspiracy theories, lies disguised as truth, facts without evidence, and nativist thinking contribute to its spread. Horror is magnified by distance. Not knowing is knowing. Everyone is an expert without expertise. The news is filtered through the personal. Believe what you want to believe.

Then Tanya O’Brien, our neighbor in Vermont started calling and texting. The message was always the same, “What are you waiting for? Get your asses up here now.”

Danville, VT, 5/20 In a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business. Our house is in a remote part of a hidden neighborhood in the sparsely populated north east corner of Vermont. It requires driving on dirt roads. On a nice spring day, one might see a few walkers or bike riders and maybe the same five vehicles. Today, one of required isolation and staying at home, there are too many vehicles driving by taking note of our New York State license. By tomorrow everyone tuned into the various channels of community gossip will know that the flat-landers are back. We understand their concerns. As soon as the isolation time is over, we will be Vermonters, too; not wanting to catch something from someone arriving from a hotspot.

New Jersey governor Murphy is saying today that the state is heading toward financial Armageddon. We both work for the state of New Jersey. Is our boss talking about the annihilation of the planet? The end of time? The dissolution of the New Jersey State of Mind. Our species seems to be self destructing into something like the mutually assured destruction of the Sergio Leone spaghetti Western, The Good, Bad, and Ugly. The good is not really good and the audience has sympathy for the ugly, who is at least as bad as the bad. The bad is bad for good reason. Humans, the good; the virus, the bad; and climate change, the ugly. The same outcome, weapons poised and pointed, leading to certain death.

Danville, VT, 6/20 In Vermont, so far, we feel safer. Vermonters are correctly known as notoriously good at hunkering down. We’re in the right place for sheltering in place, self-quarantine, isolation, separation, distancing. Our neighbor Joel Schwartz is telling everyone that his PhD in Solitude is finally proving its worth. We can see the snow-covered mountains and dense forests form the distant boundary with New Hampshire. We won’t visit the “Live Free and Die” state, even though it’s convenient for shopping. We hear that many people in New Hampshire are heedless and getting sick at a higher percentage than the stay at home Vermonters. Southern Vermont abuts Massachusetts, which is teeming with cases that could easily cross the porous border.

A news diet. Things feel so much safer here. Few neighbors, few needs. Maybe it’s fortunate that our rural community doesn’t have better cell signal. There are no sirens whistling through the meadows. There are no body collection vehicles, although we hear that Avery June Withers who lives in the next house, hunted a wild turkey and killed it with one shot. (It happened in late April, during the short season for this, up here.) She cleaned it, wrapped it with bacon, and cooked it for her family. We hear that there is a meat shortage. One bullet: dinner.

Danville, VT, 7/20 The first wood cord covers the yard outside the barn. Looks like we will stay here for a while. We’re making lists and no longer just dreaming about winterizing this 150 year old farmhouse. Meanwhile the number of covid 19 cases explode across the US, but not Vermont. It is beginning to feel that the danger is far away.

Now we’re listening to VT governor Phil “Spigot” Scott, a Republican who believes in Science, instead of the Andy Cuomo show. Except for a few local bad boys speeding through town with their trump bannered pick-up truck, we don’t hear much about national politics. Vermonters live in the real world and despise liars and hypocrites. Beside the face masks, the sadness of being away from our family, friends, and colleagues; the horror of death and national disunity, there is joy in being here. We listen to the trees translating wind and rain; tend to the garden in its first emergence; and cultivate our stoic roots under the canopy of the fast moving sky.

Shalom Gorewitz (1949), a graduate of California Institute of the Arts, is an active media artist, filmmaker, writer, and educator.