Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Life in the Time of Corona: Figuring It Out.

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Yesterday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that the state’s Safer at Home order will be lifted April 30th. Nashville’s may last longer. We’ll all have a lot to figure out, and soon. More on that in days to come.

In the meanwhile, my friend Roger Moore, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Science and Principal Senior Lecturer in the English department at Vanderbilt University, is in the thick of things on campus (well, off). He and Brian Jackson, attorney at Butler Snow, stop in at Bacon today to offer their perspectives on how they’ve dealt with Life in the Time of Corona so far.

Hi Roger and Brian! Thank you so much for spending some time in the Bacon Neighborhood today!

What is your state of mind? (Note: this question was asked and answered prior to Governor Lee’s announcement.)

Roger:  I’m melancholy at times, angry at others. Mostly, though, I am optimistic. I try to look for the silver linings and remain confident that we will conquer this disease.

Brian:  Resigned, but hopeful.  I am resigned that the next few months will be challenging and disruptive, but hopeful that modern medicine will ultimately lead us out of this. In the meantime, I am trying my best to maintain perspective and appreciate the opportunities presented by the changes in our lives.

What does the rest of the school year look like for you, Roger? How are your students doing, and your colleagues on the faculty?

I’m working harder since the semester went awry, and I imagine that will continue through the end of the semester and through the first of the summer. All summer classes at VU are online, so that brings a host of issues – some anticipated, some not – that will keep me busy.

The students in my “Bible in Literature” class are, by and large, doing well. Students overall, however, seem bewildered and anxious. The seniors, of course, feel cheated of all of the special events associated with second semester of senior year. I really feel for them.

Faculty are doing the best they can despite having to move their classes online with about four days of notice. I think we are all a little worried about the future. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, however, with how easily I became comfortable with teaching class via Zoom. Of course, I still wear coat and tie on teaching days! I have to maintain some standards! 🙂

What is your law practice like in the time of Corona, Brian? How is the legal profession in Nashville coping with everyday challenges? Are you proud to be a lawyer in the Time of Corona?

A major part of my law practice was getting on airplanes about every other week and flying around the country, especially to New Jersey, where most of my clients are located and where I represent them in court cases. That part of the practice has changed dramatically! Courts are conducting hearings by phone, and many cases are being delayed until it is safer to have in-person interaction. But I am very proud to represent one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, which is now devoting massive global resources towards finding effective treatments and a vaccine. I know firsthand how many brilliant minds work there and at other pharmaceutical companies and that gives me hope for our future.   

I suspect that you are both working out of the house quite a lot. How is that working out?

Roger:  I’d say it has worked out pretty well. Brian uses the dining room as his office, and I use a room on the other side of the house. If I shut the door to my “office,” he can’t hear me on calls, and I can’t hear him. So far, I’ve only walked accidentally into the camera shot for one of his Zoom calls, and I managed not to say or do anything embarrassing!

Brian:  It has now been a month since our firm initiated remote working. Much of modern law practice consists of talking on the phone and sending and receiving emails, so the house works as well as anywhere. The hard part for me is finding divisions – where does work end and leisure time begin? Thanks to email that was already a challenge, but having your office at home makes it even more difficult to know when to unplug.

What has surprised you – about yourself – in the Time of Corona?

Roger:  I’m surprised at how much I long for interaction. I am a complete introvert and dream of how wonderful it would be to stay home all the time. Now that I am experiencing that, I realize I like solitude punctuated with at least some forms of human companionship. I’m also surprised that I seem to read for pleasure less since the pandemic. I thought I would be consuming books voraciously, but I always seem to be busy with other things.

Brian:  I am surprised how much I have enjoyed having time to get back in the kitchen cooking. We have gone from eating out three or four times a week to eating at home 21 meals a week and I am having a great time trying out new and old recipes. 

What has surprised you about others in the Time of Corona?

Roger:  The general goodwill that I encounter among others.

Brian:  I am surprised that, despite some grumbling, most people have accepted that it is our responsibility to do what we can to slow the spread of this virus. We are all sacrificing in many ways (not the least of which for many financially), but most people are voluntarily doing what needs to be done.  

One of my friends said she feels like she’s in the 7th hour of a 9 hour long car trip. I told her I felt like we were in the 7th hour of a 21 hour long trip. Thoughts?

Roger:  I agree with you, Jennifer.  It seems like we have a long way to go.  

How would you say your friends and community are doing, and Nashville in general?

Roger:  Overall, I think our friends have remained cheerful despite all of the sobering news and endless limitations. People seem to be looking out for each other, taking the time to connect with others through Zoom or phone calls. I’m pleased with how many people are looking after older friends, buying them groceries, etc. Nashville seems to be weathering the crisis as well as possible. I’m worried, however, about how many people have lost their jobs, especially in the hospitality and arts worlds.  

Where will you go, first, when it is “safe” to travel? Is it helpful or not helpful to think about this?

Roger: I think it is definitely helpful to think about this! I first want to visit my father who, as a nonagenarian, is strictly isolated at home in Alabama. I can’t wait to get back to London, my spiritual and intellectual home. I’m scheduled to give a series of talks about Jane Austen around the country next academic year, and I hope to be able to travel and deliver those.

Brian:  Last year, I was fortunate to spend five weeks in Europe, three for work and two for play. I find myself thinking a lot about the places I saw, the people I met, and the meals I enjoyed there (in France, the U.K., and Germany). I can’t wait to return. On the darkest days I think of a particular small hotel in London and imagine myself being deposited on the doorstep by taxi, settling down by the fire, and being served a very dry martini for which this place is famous. I don’t know if that is the first place I will go, but when I am able to go there, I will know this is really over.

What are you reading/watching/listening to? We would all be grateful for your recommendations!

Roger:  On Netflix, we’ve enjoyed the third season of “Babylon Berlin,” a wonderful series set in Weimar-era Berlin. It has it all:  mafia intrigue, warring Communists and Nazis, gender-bending burlesque shows. We love “Schitt’s Creek” and are sad to see it go. On the recommendation of a friend, we’ve become enthralled with “Elite” (also on Netflix), a Spanish-language series about the travails of students at a private high school in Spain. Kind of an updated, sexier “90210.”

As for reading, I’ve wanted to re-read Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, but it hits just a little too close to home.  I’ve enjoyed an immensely readable new history of the French Revolution titled A New World Begins, and just finished Lady in Waiting, the new memoir of Lady Anne Glenconner, an intimate of Princess Margaret and wife of the man who developed Mustique. What an unbelievably intriguing life! I highly recommend it.

Brian:  Fortunately I have Roger to relay the high points of his reading to me so I can vicariously enjoy his books and my own. I have a (bad?) habit of reading multiple books simultaneously. Right now I am reading David Canandine’s readable history of Nineteenth Century Britain, The Victorious Century. I am also reading The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, a really fascinating discussion of political violence in the years before 1860. Finally, In an effort to get a better understanding of the dangers before us, I am reading The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe, by Robert Gottfired, which is considered the best one volume history of that plague. I don’t recommend this if you are feeling at all blue.

What do you miss most in the Time of Corona? What do you miss least?

Roger:  I miss dining out, especially at Cafe Margot, and miss my regular Friday lunches at Midtown Cafe with my friend Julie Fesmire. I miss the freedom to go anywhere I wish. I miss performances of the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Ballet, as well as arts performances in other cities. 

I miss being able to go to the grocery store and not regard everyone I meet as a threat! 

Miss least?  The traffic and noise pollution in my neighborhood.

Brian:  I miss travel. I sometimes complain about the amount of travel my work requires, but I realize now that I actually enjoy the change of scenery and the energy of moving around this great country and the world. My world seems much smaller now. However, I do not miss the TSA security lines.  

What have you learned so far? Will this experience profoundly change you – or our country – or our world?

Roger:  I’ve been reminded of how fragile we are. All of our medical and technical advances have made us think that we are invincible. The pandemic reminds us that we are just as frail and vulnerable as all of those who came before us. I fear that our sense of community will become even more frayed the longer we have to observe restrictions. On the other hand, we may have regained a sense of responsibilities to others, and we may learn to put aside material distractions and focus on the simple things.

Brian:  I had hopes that maybe this experience would unite us as a nation behind a common purpose. Unfortunately we seem to be devolving into the same partisan divides. But I am hopeful that at the end of the day this experience will make me a more thoughtful person, and the country a less divided place. One can always dream.  

And here are some speed dating questions…

Favorite food in the Time of Corona?

Roger:  Fritos Corn Chips. Justin’s chocolate peanut butter cups.

Brian:  Anything cooked slowly – roasts, stews, soups.

Favorite beverage? 

Roger:  Any kind of wine. I’ve also begun drinking jasmine green tea.

Brian:  Very dry martinis ade with Plymouth gin. In fairness this was my favorite beverage before Corona as well!

Greatest annoyance:  

Roger:  Dodging joggers while out for my daily walks.

Brian:  Not being able to see smiles behind masks.

Greatest  joy:

Roger:  Early morning walks on Vanderbilt’s empty campus

Brian:  Having the time to cook at home.

Very warmest wishes to you both, Roger and Brian! You’re terrific. xoxo

 

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