“the new normal”…

photograph by Richshell Allen, Pasadena City College photographer

– “What compelled you to write about social justice issues?”
– “How do you push past ‘writers block?'”
– “Can you talk about why many of your stories focus on mothers and daughters?”
– “How do you make decisions such as when to use first person versus third or when to choose present or past tense?”
– “Who are your favorite writers?”

At my reading at Pasadena City College last Tuesday, I was greeted by informed and engaged students, who asked questions such as the ones above. During my visit, I responded to students’ questions, performed poetry, read from Black Wings, and presented excerpts from my memoir-in-progress while projecting images. After my presentation, students lined up to purchase Black Wings and Borderlines volumes (on discount).

Referring to a comment that I had made about my secondary eduction in Karachi where I studied British writers without exposure to writers of color, a Latina said, “That’s my experience too. I enjoy Jane Austen, but I want to read literature that reflects my story!”

Another young man walked to my table. He didn’t ask to shake my hand because of COVID-19 warnings. Instead, his eyes pinned on mine, and he said, “Thank you!”

When I walked toward my car with my host Simona Supekar, she told me that her department almost cancelled my reading. “I’m glad we didn’t,” she said. “But your reading is probably the last public event this semester. Our courses are about to go online.”

The last time I blogged about a natural disaster was in 2008 when Hurricane Ike hit Houston. Schedules were disrupted, but people had experienced hurricanes before and knew that schools and colleges would reopen, electricity would be restored, and water would recede. Life would normalize. But now, as COVID-19 impacts all corners of the globe and governments close borders and airports as they attempt to contain the virus, no one can predict what lies ahead.

Over the 24-hour period since I began this blog post, seven million people residing in six counties in the Bay Area have been told to “shelter-in-place” and Italy’s death toll — as a result of the virus — has surged past 2,500.

Earlier this morning at Trader Joe’s, a line wrapped around the parking lot. Employees stood at the store entrance, allowing only 10 customers at a time to enter, and the purchase of meat, water, eggs, and other objects was rationed. Afterwards, I visited an Indian grocery store to pick up daal and a few other items for my kitchen. Most groceries and produce were in stock except for yellow onions — without which I can’t cook desi food. And earlier in the week, when I was purchasing classroom supplies at an office store, the first announcement that caught my eye was: “Hand sanitizer sold out!”

So much can change in just one week. And no one can predict how much time will pass before we land in the “new normal” – and what life will look like on the other side.

L: “Hand Sanitizer sold out” is a common sign; R: rotten yellow onions at an Indian grocery store