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On COVID-19 Pandemic - One Week In

The view from home, by Joel Mabus
March 22, 2020

As I write this, it is the early days of Spring in west Michigan. It's the time when folks are typically shaking off their winter hibernation, rejoining nature, face-timing with sunshine and gathering together with friends & neighbors and planning travel to distant family. What snow cover there is - like tonight's - is beautiful but fleeting. For many, Easter eggs would soon be scattering lawns at the end of Lent.

But in this Spring season everything is different. Everything. It is suddenly the time of quarantine, self-isolation, lockdown and shut-in. Easter is cancelled. Resurrection is postponed.

For my friends & family, fans and all others who may now stumble upon this page, or un-earth it in the future while combing archives, my true wish is that you are all healthy, and your loved ones are safe and well. That may sound like a corny platitude, but I don't mean it so. (My sense of irony waxes and wanes these days.) What I want to express here today are my sincere thoughts on where we are - and where I am - in this very strange time of global pandemic.

My first response is extreme frustration. As a performing musician these past 49 years - and a folk singer at that - I can recall those many times of sudden crisis when I took to the stage for no pay, alone or with many other musicians, to benefit an urgent cause for relief. At a moment's notice, we would raise money for the hurt and homeless, victims of disaster or disease, orphans of war, or the beleaguered first responders. I am talking about local benefit concerts. Sometimes we raised more consciousness than coin, but it was always about the community coming together. Music heals. Togetherness heals. The laying on of hands heals. That belief is in my bones.

But like most Americans - and many more around the world - this Sunday evening, I am securely "sheltered in place" behind closed doors, yet oddly at-sea with my situation. My intellect can understand the authority's need to restrict my daily interactions, the lock-down on my human contact. But on a deeper level, I just can't grok it. ("Grok" being a hipster term coined by sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein in his legendary 1961 novel, "Stranger in a Strange Land." To grok is to fully and deeply connect on all levels: with another person, a thing or an idea, feeling, or emotion. Science fiction is morphing into science fact like never before. Each new day reminds me of yet another old Twilight Zone episode.)

I get the idea of "together apart." I get the argument to "flatten the curve." The plan is to avert an acute crisis by turning it into a manageable chronic condition - draw the illnesses out over time. But I just can't comprehend the actuality of it all, and what it will be like when and if we open our doors and meet again - and finally exchange our stockpiled cooties. I can't fathom it!  ("Fathom," as you might recall, is traditionally the measure of an average man's spread arms, fingertip to fingertip. It rounds out to six feet. Which is the distance apart we are now to keep. And is the distance under the ground we are trying to avoid. Hey, there's my sense of irony again!)

What's a poor boy to do? For now, I'm just following instructions, staying put, visiting the grocery store intermittently in hopes of discovering a freshly re-stocked shelf of necessities before the zombie-shoppers can pick it clean again. I play music and sing every day here at home, as does my wife. Keeping in musical shape, rehearsing for un-booked gigs far in the un-certain future, while all the up-coming gigs get cancelled. Playing music keeps me sane. Singing the very old songs is a big help, too. I might not sing them all that well, but it's the singing takes me home.

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, the politicians in charge will move some financial relief to the folks newly unemployed because of this imposed self-internment. The talk is going around that they just might even toss a bone to gig-economy musicians like me this time. I'm not holding my breath. We have never been included in the unemployment tax & benefit scheme before, no matter what the disaster.

Truth is, nobody has it easy these days. I'd say we're all in the same boat, but we're not, really. We are each in our own little boat. Some are much smaller and leakier than others. A fleet of individual Noah's arks adrift on a rising tide. And it just keeps raining. But if you should happen to find yourself floating at an even keel sometime soon and would like to a little something to help out your favorite out-of-work musicians, the best way to do that is to buy some of their recordings. Either mail-order some CDs or buy a download or two. The streaming of our songs would be no help. A million streams won't equal the proceeds of one CD sale, which itself doesn't amount to all that much - the going price of a pack of jumbo toilet paper.

You say you already own all the CDs your favorite musician has made? Well, then, bless your heart, and thanks! Maybe consider buying one as a gift for an old friend, now shut-in? Think of it as a few shillings tossed into the virtual guitar case of a lonesome busker on the virtual street corner.

As for my part, I intend in these next few weeks to get my laptop's seeing-eye fired up and record some songs here in my home office to throw up on my YouTube channel - for free. I will let you know when I do an upload, if you are already on my email list. (Click HERE to join the e-list.)

With that, I'll sign off for today. Not much more to be said: Hang in there. Keep a stiff upper lip. God bless us everyone. There's no place like home. And, as Pete Seeger would always end his letters, "Take it easy, but take it!"

Joel Mabus
March 22, 2020