Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Life in the Time of Corona: An Idle and Dangerous Person

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Good morning, Bacon Neighborhood! I’ve been given permission to share a few journal entries from my friend Jack Barnwell, who has been chronicling his life and our times for many years now.

I asked him to share journal entries from April 13 and April 18 because they reflect states of mind that many of us may feel right now, or sometimes: I am not good enough; and also – what consolation there is in things that grow.

The first journal entry on April 13 just makes me laugh…

From Jack…

April 13

It is no wonder that I like Elizabethan drama so much, being at this stage of life apparently an idle and dangerous person…

Here is an excerpt from from James Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, a book I am enjoying immensely:

London’s civic leaders submitted a petition to the Queen’s Privy Council requesting that the city’s playhouse be closed because what they staged contained “nothing but profane fables, lascivious matters, cozening devices, and scurrilous behaviors;” moreover, the audiences consisted of “vagrant persons, masterless men, thieves, horse stealers, whore-mongers, cozeners, coney-catchers, contrivers of treason, and other idle and dangerous persons.”

April 18

Faithfully each morning I read Bacon on the Book Shelf. Each installment now consists of an interview by Jennifer exploring how her friends are dealing with life in this time of Corona Virus. Those friends are uniformly very intelligent and highly articulate. They have important, demanding jobs that they are successfully managing from home while many of them are also housing and feeding their children who have returned home from shuttered universities and high schools. They take long walks, or run, or hunt turkeys for exercise and seem to read multiple books a day. One is tempted to think that, in their spare time, they are probably creating non-profits to cure the sick, feed the hungry, and bring about world peace.

I almost long for an interview with a poor, ordinary soul whose prose is rife with misspellings.

I don’t know how her friends manage all that they do. True, I am walking a lot (averaging well over four miles a day for the past four weeks), but I am not working from home, and I barely manage to read three chapters a day of Shapiro’s Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. It is not that a single project or chore consumes the entire morning or afternoon; it is the multiplicity of things that need maintenance or fixing or otherwise doing here at the  house: clean the bathroom; sweep off the deck above the boat lift; fix the finish on my Chester County chest after the sun has darkened it except where the lamp and coasters were placed; fix the broken support on the small, dropleaf table; cut the grass; string trim the weeds in the side yard; and trim the branches on trees in our neighbor Matt’s yard that are overhanging the flower bed running the length of the picket fence.

That last task called for use of the pole saw that I haven’t wielded in at least ten years.

The damn thing is a lot heavier than it looks, and my upper body strength at 72 has sadly declined in the last decade. By good fortune none of the tree limbs or branches I cut fell on me or on Pippin who felt compelled to help by chasing squirrels while I worked.

As disappointed as I was with my diminished stamina, it was nevertheless a joy to be working in the spring sunshine and admiring the flora. The Irises that cousin Rosa gave Beth are in bloom (not sure, but I think they may be the Japanese variety).

And beside them were Job’s Tears, flowering in purple.

*      *      *

Dear Jack, You are getting out of bed every day and staying sane and keeping busy and helping the people around you keep their sanity. 

I myself have been wildly volatile during this time.

Please don’t underestimate the value of your steadiness right now and what it reveals about your character.

*      *      *

From Jack: In terms of character, Beth and Leigh [wife and daughter] have mentioned to me that I take the big things in stride pretty well. I hope that is true. (“Human affairs are always checkered and viscissitudes in this life are rather to be expected than wondered at.”) What is certainly true is that I react with disproportionate anger to little, trivial things. It is a character defect that I have worked on for decades with little success.

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