Welcome to 2023! I hope you had a great New Year’s Eve. I did. I spent it, and the two weeks before it, at home in the Poconos, writing, with Shayna by my side. (See photo) Then again, that has become our default mode ever since March 2020.
Shayna and I spent the many months of the quarantine, right here, in this house, about two and a half hours from Philadelphia, and a world away. I’m not sure how long we remained isolated. Time became so amorphous that I’m still shocked that March 2020 is almost three years ago.
During our pandemic seclusion, I spent hours trying to imagine what the future might hold. I’m not sure what Shayna dreamed about, perhaps city squirrels teasing her from low branches just beyond her highest leap. On my part, I struggled to dream up feasible solutions for the increasingly dangerous world beyond our mailbox. That lead to me writing up a storm, channeling my dark reflections about the world “out there” into my new novel-in-progress. But when I tired of traveling down the twisting corridors of hate politics, racism, antisemitism, and such, I imagined what I’d want my personal life to be beyond the pandemic. That’s when I pictured hugging loved ones, long lunches and meandering conversations with friends, and tapping into a wider world of creative thinking and writing and being. (And that, too, was channeled into my novel.)
At some point in the portion of the time continuum that is behind us, I started to see some family and friends, even though I was worried that both Shayna and I might have become a bit feral during our long isolation. It may have been in early 2022, or a few months before that. Forget about traditional new years’ celebrations; I felt like I had awakened to a new world with such wondrous creatures in it. [Apologies to Huxley.]
Then, little by little, I started to reach for the creatively energizing life I had imagined. One of my first “outside” excursions was to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With its high ceilings and large rooms, I felt as safe as I would in one of the empty fields in Fairmont Park. I basked in the warm auras of old friends (like Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Brancusi) all of whom had new things to tell me. How I’d missed our intimate friendship and the stream of feelings and ideas that they inspire in me.
Going further afield, I braved participating in Worldcon, ICFA, and Philcon this year, and what a joy it was to once again share the fellowship of such creative communities. On a smaller, more intimate scale, I participated once again in events at The Rosenbach, Philadelphia’s famed rare book library, and one of my favorite gathering places in the city. (After all, how could I not enjoy being with people who love books as much as I do?) This summer, I attended a “Behind the Bookcase” tour during which Judy Guston, the Rosenbach’s curator and senior director of collections, showed participants (and allowed us to touch!) some of the library’s incunabula (books printed within 50 years of the introduction of the Guttenberg printing press). My essay about that evening, Judaic Incunabula: An Evening’s Encounter With Survivors From My Distant Past, is HERE, on the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent’s website.
Two other Rosenbach highlights of my year were when they asked me to be the “interlocutor” for a couple of “In Conversation” programs with authors Samuel R. Delany and Stephanie Feldman. Talk about creative stimulation! As a result, Galactic Philadelphia (the author reading series Lawrence Schoen and I curate) will have its first salon since the pandemic started, and I’m delighted that it will be at The Rosenbach on January 18th.
But when I look back on 2022, it’s the people who shine in my memory. Just being with my sister Amy, talking about everything and anything over a long lunch. Laughing with Lee (my sister by marriage) over Shayna and Maggie’s antics. (See photo). Getting together with a group of Philadelphia writers at Little Pete’s “diner,” talking about writing and concerts and people we’ve known. Visiting my niece Elizabeth and her family, learning so much from my young great-nephews Nate and Evan, and then having Evan come visit me for a weekend in Philly, where Shayna won out over all the animals in the Zoo in his estimation.
No, I still haven’t had my fill of hugs. And I fear that I may have to keep my distance once again if the current spike in infections continues. In the meantime, just being near the people I love has made me realize how much I depend on a physical presence that no digital screen will ever be able to replicate, and not even Shayna can replace. I believe that human connection, that awareness of each other even when we can’t touch, is one ingredient we’ll need if we’re ever going to come up with feasible solutions to the dangers that threaten our country and our world.