Dumping pieces

This post doesn’t offer answers. Rather it serves as a way for me to get the pieces on the table. The way you start one of those 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Open the box. Dump out all pieces and turn them over so the printed sides are facing up. Gradually sort pieces that have straight edges, and the blue ones that surely are part of the sky, and the ones that show they have trees or tiny windows or are part of a boat. Only then can the puzzle start to be assembled.

At this point, in the midst of political chaos and COVID-19, headlines about the stock market, countries closing their borders, people thankfully worrying if children who aren’t going to school will get lunch, and Italians singing their national anthem from balconies, I think about social distancing. I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the term until a few week ago. Now I think about it often.

I was traveling in New Mexico, a trip planned months ago with two friends. When we left Montana by train on February 28, we weren’t concerned. By the time we were in New Mexico, we began to think about it and wash our hands compulsively. On the return trip this past week, we seriously considered our actions and interactions.

Social distancing. Don’t shake hands or hug. Don’t attend large gatherings. Cancel the restaurant reservation. The sort of social distancing techniques which is part of particular socio-economic groups. As the train pulled into Los Angeles, and left again following the Los Angeles river, the meaning of social distancing took on a different meaning. Miles of homeless encampments along the tracks. A young woman sitting in the rain next to a pile of garbage. A man washing himself in the river. Some areas had been bulldozed with only a few plastic bags left to signify the tents and belongings which had been hauled away. This is America.

There is certainly social distancing between the individuals who try to survive living in these tents in urban encampments and my window on the train. I suspect residents perched in houses on the California hills also have a significant social distance from those living in these encampments. And the constant reminders in the news to wash our hands frequently? I don’t see evidence of hand washing facilities at these camps. I suppose individuals can go to the river but do they have soap which we are told works well when used properly?

Some political leaders find ways to get those children lunches who aren’t in school, or find alternatives where parents work and children need care during the day when schools have closed. Who resolves issues for the homeless when our attention is focused on the latest broadcasts about COVID-19? How does one stay three to six feet away from people when you are living on the street in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland? How do you get groceries delivered when you don’t have a street address? How do you wash your hands when there isn’t soap?

Mosaic lesson

Yes, I enjoy traveling. One of many reasons why I have the traveling bookstore. Sometimes I travel with the bookstore and sometimes I leave it at home while I go off using other means of transportation.  Now I am in northern Italy traveling by bus and train with a friend who is a mosaic artist (thirstylaketileworks.com) and thus experiencing a lot of mosaics. There were first century ones in Aquileia and today contemporary ones in Ravenna.  And of course we spent time in Spilembergo as well. Seeing this incredible range of mosaics and talking mosaics with people along the way, I learned mosaics can take all sorts of shapes.  Not only stone or glass, but paper and clay, even shells and hair. While I had been slightly hohum about mosaics at the beginning of this trip, now I want a large table and a variety of materials to experiment making my own.

The wonder that I appreciate today is the reminder we can push boundaries in many ways.  Not only art and music but in relationships, community, politics.  Surely it helps to know basic techniques, to have a sense of how to create things that endure, to have standards but even with this, there can be so much room for trying something new.  I like this concept of exploration not only geographical but with our minds as well.