Hello! I am writing to you today as if there is normalcy. I am pretending. Maybe you are reading this pretending, too? If so, hey there. Here we are!
Do you remember in fall 2016, when Garrison Keillor famously suggested in the Washington Post that people who weren't happy with the outcome of the US presidential election should just spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, and reading Jane Austen? Well, whether he was joking or not, that advice turns out to be very wrong.
Those of us who read and love Austen's fiction—and history's other women novelists of her era—ought to resist thinking in this way right now, for many reasons. First, the tomatoes-meditation-Austen route isn't really possible for anybody, except the super rich. Today's Lady Catherine de Bourghs are already hiding out from coronavirus on their yachts or in bespoke bunkers or at well-stocked cabins in Idaho. The rest of us need to be good to each other. Austen is not our escape. She is our connector.
If you read and admire Austen, you probably appreciate strong women and fine writing. You likely value relationships, humor, social criticism, and happy endings. May all of those things continue with our new COVID-19 realities. With that wish in mind, here are a few ideas I'm sharing about getting through this. Let us not doubt, with Emma Woodhouse, whether we have transgressed the duty of woman by woman, or of human by human. Please send me more ideas. I'll collect and share them in the next newsletter.
Things to do to take care of yourself:
Keep your immune system strong: exercise, nutrition, sleep, de-stress.
Join me in trying out the Headspace app. I'm also trying to limit my compulsively reading coronavirus news this weekend. Maybe you don't have this problem, and if not, good for you! As I say, I'm trying.
Check out virtual museum tours.
Watch the Metropolitan Opera perform, as it live streams past performances at no cost. Here's the schedule.
Things to do to take care of others, using your time, money, or both:
Join the global #viralkindness movement, to help those self-isolating, described here in The Guardian. It involves hand-delivering stamped self-addressed postcards to vulnerable neighbors, asking them what kinds of help they need.
Find the neighborhood social network that's most popular in your area (an old-style neighborhood association, Nextdoor, etc.). Communicate and connect.
Ask for help, if you need it, and give help where it's needed. Read this story of a woman who shopped for strangers in a car who gave her their grocery list and money. Needs are likely to become greater.
Buy a gift card from an at-risk local small business you love, giving it an influx of needed cash. I read about one woman's sending her favorite restaurant a check and a self-addressed stamped envelope, asking that a gift card be mailed to her. Independent bookstores need help now, too.
Advocate for incarcerated people, and those who work in prisons, who face greater uncertainties in this pandemic. Calls for parole, clemency, and early release have taken on greater urgency.
Support a writer by giving to the PEN America Emergency Fund. Our favorite arts organizations need us as well.
Things to do if you have extra time on your hands:
Learn how to add to woefully inadequate content on women in Wikipedia or join a Wikithon. Only 20 percent of the biographies on Wikipedia are of women. (I'm grateful to the editor who just wrote mine.)
And otherwise: teach, help, read, make, think, do. I'm trying to stick to that plan, as I work to complete my next book, Sister Novelists. (I got to talk about that project in a short video released in February.) I'm also trying to figure out new ways to help from that list I gave you above.
Things to read, listen to, and look forward to, related to Jane Austen:
Read this Washington Post feature on "Five Myths About Jane Austen." Email me if you can't access it and would like a copy. (It now feels like a million years ago since I wrote this, not one week.)
Read or pre-order Jane Austen titles: Christina Boyd's fine new Quill Ink Collective edition of Austenesque stories, Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl, Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin's Jane Austen Embroidery, and Tom Keymer's forthcoming Jane Austen: A Very Short Introduction, to name just a few. (I'm reading Keymer's book now in proof and loving it.)
Finally, please take care, and practice social distancing, if you can? It's a great time to encourage others to share in our Regency-inspired appreciation for gloves! Those of us who can afford to engage in social distancing should, respecting the needs of those in high-risk categories. Like many of you, I live in a household with a loved one who is high risk. New data suggests that in the US four in ten adults may be at greater risk.
Social distancing helps us all if it turns out that the virus is spread asymptomatically. It will free up scarce hospital resources for those already infected and those whose jobs require them to risk infection. It is not fair. I am not pretending that any of this is fair. If you are one of those people who must be in harm's way to feed yourself or your family, or because your job requires it, thank you. I don't even really know how to thank you.
Your humble, obedient servant,
P. S. And, as ever, the usual stuff, if you, like me, are sometimes going through the motions.
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UPCOMING EVENTS WITH DEVONEY
20 March 2020: Cambridge, England, Laurence Sterne / Sterneana Conference. POSTPONED
2-4 April 2020: Las Vegas, NV: Las Vegas Writers' Conference. POSTPONED