When you look back on this time in a generation or so, what will you tell those who came of age after the pandemic of 2020-21? How can you describe the fundamental ways that life on Earth changed while humans dealt with the coronavirus?
Through my business, blog and podcast, I capture peoples’ stories. Often the stories from 2020 were not explicitly not about the pandemic (although it comes up every time.)
To write that the past year has been challenging is an understatement. Shutdowns, social distancing and mask-wearing make it hard to feel connected to the rest of the human world. At the same time, I feel truly blessed to be healthy, employed, well-fed and sheltered during this time. The same can not be said of many of my neighbors here in the Kansas City area.
The past year saw several trends play out. First, the virus sent work and meetings and civic life online where much of the world already was. Second, culture continued to splinter where every imaginable show, film or concert can be found available to stream most anywhere, anytime. Third, the look-at-me culture continued to dominate how we talk to and past one another.
In launching my Missouri history podcast, I touched on – for better or worse – each of on those 2020 trends.
Podcasting has certain conventions. The craft – if we can call it that – is aural in nature, not visual. Most podcasts have a recurring theme, bed music and hosts. Many creators edit audio productions that are of a consistent length and on a consistent schedule. I learned all that this year when I started Mo’ Curious.
The podcast and these Field Notes function as a way for me to feed my curiosity about a subject while telling the world “Hey, this is what’s on my mind right now.” As it turns out, doing the work of creating a podcast and audio blog is satisfying during the pandemic. It forces me to call other people and have a focused conversation. It lets me take my study of a topic in whatever direction seems most fitting and useful. I ultimately want that work to prove educational and entertaining for you with each shared post.
Producing a quality podcast deserves real work, so I aim to be honest with myself about my capacity. In 2020, I produced three full podcast episodes and 11 shorter Field Notes interviews all of which live at RecollectionAgency.com. I’ll aim to match that in 2021. No pressure.
A couple of generations from now, when you think back about the pandemic and try to explain it to someone born in, say, 2022, what will you tell them? From what will you draw upon for your memory? All now born digital, our photographs, e-mails and texts are ephemeral mementos.
Consider using this time to journal or record your experience of now. Or you can hire me to capture your story. Either way, these are strange times. Once the virus is gone, we’ll all crawl out of our homes one day blinking at the bright sun. We will be different then compared to how we were before the pandemic. I’ll be glad to tell stories around the real world campfire in 2040 about how it was during 2020.
I can also tell them, “You want to know how it was then? Take a listen to my podcast.”
Mike B. Rollen grows food in the center of Kansas City. His culinary herbs fill a formerly vacant lot. Here, he shares his vision and some of the challenges to providing comestibles for urban residents.
Carol Romano is a long-time Columbia, Missouri resident and my former neighbor. On the eve of her 75th birthday, she talked about running away from home, finding her tribe and the role of contemplation in managing the pandemic.
Growing up in St. Joseph, Ramadhan Washington spent a lot of time at a local Church of God In Christ. Incarcerated as a young man in the Buchanan County, Missouri jail, he met fellow prisoners imported from Kansas City who were practicing Muslims. Over fifty years after his conversion to Islam, Washington is an elder of the Islamic Center of St. Joseph. On a recent balmy summer afternoon, Washington detailed his conversion from the front porch steps of the home he shares with his wife.
For 20 years, the Troost 39 Thrift Store has provided low-cost clothes, dishes, books and the occasional guillotine to shoppers. When the building was up for sale three years ago, Chuck and Toni Wurth bought it. Today, the couple maintains the space as thrift store with a mission.
In each installment of my Field Notes from the Recollection Agency, I talk to someone with an interesting backstory. Here, Scott Lunceford* talks about government cheese, how re-enacting 1855 can be a family activity and why it pays to bring your harmonica to church.
Late last year, Lisa and I migrated to a much bigger city.
My wife’s new job paid for the move. We rented a house with a backyard for the dog that is close enough to downtown that Lisa can bike to work. When I got to town, I immediately got a career-oriented job, too. This new role fit into my pattern of filling a series of interesting albeit entry level non-profit jobs. I worked my new gig for a few weeks and found the deep bureaucracy and endless driving to be distasteful. I quit effective immediately.
Lisa continued to go to her full-time job. I started volunteering. As a way to find like-minded folks, we’d go to lectures, movies and happy hours when Lisa got off work. Then, the coronavirus shut down the world.
Lisa now works from home. I work across the hall. From my home office I am developing my new business. The Recollection Agency allows me to use my listening, interview and audio production skills to help my customers preserve and share their life- and career-defining stories. Like Lisa’s job, my business can also be done remotely.
Since most social things aren’t really safe to do in-person right now, Lisa and I have both participated in catch-up calls with distant friends, talked online about recent reads with our book clubs and sang along at birthday parties on Zoom.
How we lived before the coronavirus and how we live with it and how we live after it are all different things. I acknowledge my privilege that lets me shelter-in-place. Many people now are not able to safely do so.
I sit and breathe into the emptiness that the pandemic has created. I meditate more and do less now. What I hear during our Great Pause is less traffic, fewer airplanes and the feeling of my heart still beating.
I have a hard time feeling settled however. I feel the need to go to an office that I no longer have. I have no job nor a boss or a matched 401K. I am figuring out how to be self-employed as the world resets itself for the post-coronavirus years. To ease the restlessness I garden and explore the urban grid by bicycle and ponder what my role here is now. My growing business is a grounding element.
These feelings of stillness – waiting for the new world to arrive – are familiar. When I was a kid, my mom would drive my brother and I to her parents’ house or to one of my aunt’s homes most summer weekdays. At the sitter’s, my cousins and I would watch Johnny Quest and CHiPs, hurdled shrubs in suburban yards, and swim at city pools and in repurposed stock tanks. I grew restless in the timelessness of these days. I recalled watching my cousins watching Wheel of Fortune, again, and wondering when my real life would start. I occasionally felt trapped in my childhood waiting for time to get us to the good stuff. I had my material needs met but often felt ready as a kid to skip the adolescence and get right to the glories of adulthood.
I can see my fourth grade gap-toothed self gazing out the wavy glass windows at my Catholic grade school as Sister Pat diagrams complex sentences on the chalkboard. I wondered when school and the numerous church services that accompanied it would finally be over. I counted only seven more years until high school graduation and felt demoralized at the interminable wait ahead for real life to begin. I finally arrived at real life sometime around 1994 and have not looked back much until now.
Today, I feel a similar emptiness as I wait for a future time with no announced ETA. Unlike my childhood feelings of waiting in limbo I am now an adult capable of making my own life choices. While I wait for whatever is coming, I build my business, visit in a socially distant manner with our neighbors and walk the dog. I wonder when life will be normal again or if this is what it is now. Where do I nominate Social distancing, PPE, intubated and curb-side pick-up as the buzziest words and phrases of 2020?
This waiting for a new world to arrive can be a gift especially when I use my time to reconnect with long-lost friends and family a few branches over on the family tree.
How are you spending this time? During the shelter-in-place days have you talked by phone or in person to any older relatives or colleagues who told you how it was ‘Back in the day?” If these stories of your earlier days are worth preserving, please contact me. I can help you clarify who you want to interview, about what. We’ll work out a when and where that works for everyone. It works to gather stories remotely if that’s what we need to do.
Making music and entertaining have long been part of who Stephen Easterling is. Here, the Columbia, Missouri singer-songwriter shares his recollections on what inspires his passion to play live music and how the local shelter-in-place order has him examining his purpose in the universe.
This Field Note is taken from a conversation of May 14, 2020.
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Brooklyn native Allegra Alcoff recently ended her service as a Peace Corps volunteer. When she was told she needed to gather her things from her Zambian site for a coronavirus-inspired return to the United States, Alcoff paused to think about if that was what she really wanted to do.
This is an edited conversation that happened on May 1, 2020.