Feeling the loss of so many gifts of daily life, we shelter in place while fidgeting | Editor’s Note by Martha Vickery (Spring 2020 issue)
Like most people who have the good fortune of gainful employment (i.e., my day job) during this pandemic, I transferred a home office about a month ago. I have learned a lot of techie things. Workarounds included attending more webinars than I ever attended before, participating in a Skype call with 76 people, getting a new display monitor and trouble-shooting it, converting a few large in-person meetings to shorter online ones (keep them short, or you lose your audience!).
Online is now my lifeline to my job, and the (virtual) line of folks waiting for IT help is very long some days. Like most of us, I have adapted – even learning some new skills – and hunkered down. At first, I was glued to all the scary, negative news. These days, I tend to avoid it.
The negative effects on Korean Quarterly have been profound as well. Our advertising has dropped off due to event cancellations, business closures or reductions in hours and staff. Plays, concerts and other events that would usually advertise, that we would usually cover (and that make the world a lot brighter for all of us) are all cancelled this spring. (We still managed two play reviews before the shutdown hit). Some restaurants are closed; others have struggled, reducing staff and hours a lot as they try to convert to carry-out/delivery only.
Each spring, I get interested in watching Eaglecam, a service of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. My interest started in 2017, when four eagles were successfully raised and fledged from the nest that is watched year-round by a video camera. In 2018 and 2019, in the nest that is re-habbed each year by an eagle couple, there were no babies. However, this year, a new, unbanded couple showed up in December and enthusiastically began redecorating. Eagle watchers got hopeful once again. The new eagle couple hatched and jointly cared for three chicks. Unfortunately one died, but there are two very round and gangly nearly-teen eagles still very much alive and flapping their skinny wings in practice for fledging. They eat a lot and seem to take up the whole nest with their huge feet.
Amid grim news of death tolls rising, and hundreds in hospital beds worldwide dying alone, the Eaglecam webpage headline echoes the thoughts we all have upon watching these successful bird parents raising their brood – “There are good things happening in this world!”
It gets pretty dull in my home office, so checking Eaglecam is a welcome distraction. Comically, the “Stay Home Minnesota” logo eventually appeared at the lower left of the video that monitors the lives of our country’s most iconic symbol of courage, who are, like most of us, sitting around and doing nothing.
I feel a special bond with Mrs. Eagle. Confined to my own nest (fortunately an empty nest now), Mrs. Eagle has become my model of patient hunkering down. When the chicks were tiny, on some stormy days, she looked more like an eagle blanket, flattened out during rainstorms and snowstorms with her wings carefully arranged to keep the maximum area of the nest dry. After the wind and rain tapered off, she would get up and feed the dry and fluffy chicks from her handy dead duck or dead squirrel kept on the edge of the nest. The smaller eagle father is nearby, sometimes coming by the nest to give some eagle greetings – they call and nod their heads at each other. Occasionally, he brings food, takes a turn feeding or sitting on the chicks. But in the early still-winter days, it was the mother sitting tight on those babies without a break, her big chest puffing out in the front, eating a bite or two, but mainly sitting, not bored, but watchful. She was a bird on a mission.
The world is full of risk and potential harm to eagle chicks, but to get through it, all Mrs. Eagle really has to do is stay home. She often looks wet and somewhat miserable, but she never gives up and flies off. That would be counter to her mission.
Hunkering down is not as easy for us humans. We don’t have that strong instinct to stay home for self-preservation and safety. We want to run out and do something useful. But for the present, staying in the nest and doing nothing is a safety imperative. From our hunkered down perspective, nothing is happening, and the results don’t really look any better for all our hard non-work and hunkering. We may never know if our individual efforts helped. Nonetheless, we have to continue with our mission to not be active, not be useful, to postpone everything. Because we have to see the mission through.
Among many tragedies small and large happening during this time of staying home is that funerals must be postponed, a very hard adjustment for loved ones left behind. For a couple years, I have kept current on news of Nikki Abramson, a Twin Cities Korean adoptee, through her writings on her Caring Bridge site and sometimes on Facebook. After doing a couple feature stories about Nikki’s work in local drama, she and I kept in touch about things both serious and silly. Sometimes she would just see I was on Facebook late at night and text “So how are you doing?” We would text back and forth about music, films, drama, and goofy stuff. I am sure I was just one of many people with whom she corresponded, since she was naturally friendly, funny, and had lively interests in many topics.
Nikki dealt with a rare disease, dystonia, that sapped her strength and caused severe muscle spasms and other symptoms. There were other health issues. Over the last couple years, she dealt with persistent chronic pain for many months after a surgery to remove a tumor. Nonetheless, she kept on writing about her daily life and thoughts on Caring Bridge. She died March 13 after an emergency surgery, days before the state shut down.
Despite many obstacles that would have defeated most people, Nikki graduated from college, then grad school. She advocated for people with long-term illness, and pursued a career as an actor, playwright, and drama teacher. Her one-woman autobiographical play No Limits, was in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. She also wrote a memoir entitled I Choose Hope: Overcoming Challenges with Faith and Positivity, as a way to encourage others dealing with personal difficulties to “choose hope” in the face of overwhelming odds. The message of her book and her play, a timely one in these trying times, is that being hopeful is a choice. It takes practice to make that choice; we have to get up and practice it every morning.
I am looking forward with hope to the day I can attend the postponed celebration of Nikki’s life, which may include a walk to benefit research into dystonia, the disease she struggled with. Of necessity, any ceremony will be after the risk of infection by coronavirus is well over with. At that point, we will be looking back on these times with a sense of relief that her pain is over, mixed with sadness that Nikki’s bright light of hope is no longer with us. But her legacy of how to choose hope will live on in those who saw her plays, read her memoir, and learned from her in person. It is a product of a completed life that we can all aspire to leave for others.
For this issue, I spoke to many local Korean Americans just to ask “how goes the battle?” We are hearing about the work force being divided into essential versus non-essential workers, and the feature story describes the lives of both categories of workers, in very different kinds of predicaments on how to live in these changed times.
Although I have developed an appreciation for all unsung essential workers like the people who deliver packages, collect garbage, run gas stations, work in grocery stores, etc., I also am beginning to recognize as essential many in the other category; the people who cut our hair, make our morning coffee, the restaurant owners and workers who give us diversity in our lives, places to sit and have a meal when we need to retreat, and all the librarians, book store owners, and especially all the people who wake up our imaginations through the arts. The shutdown of all performances as well as museums, is a huge loss. The next time I get to go to a play will be a happy day.
Thanks to advertisers who chose to stick with us through this tough time. We see you, and appreciate you supporting this non-profit media resource.
For all of you donors who kept donating despite the downturn, many thanks. For those holed up in home offices, with income coming in as usual, this is a great time to donate to Korean Quarterly! We need the cash flow to make up for the pandemic-related business loss. If you can spare a donation, please give online at our website: koreanquarterly.org or by sending a check to KQ at: PO Box 6789, St. Paul, MN 55106.
Also, thanks to all our thoughtful contributors, who together have informed us on this current crisis from a Korean American perspective. Your voices give us a needed human connection at a crucial time.
In solidarity and hunkering,
Martha Vickery, editor
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Martha Vickery is a long-time professional journalist and long-time amateur Korea watcher, co-founder of Korean Quarterly, and editor since its founding in 1997. She has raised three now-adult children, two of whom are adopted from Korea, with the help of the Korean American community in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area.