How's Everybody Doing?

Apr 3, 2020

With the world turned upside down, Brave Little State has been collecting audio diaries from Vermonters, about what — and how — you're doing.

Note: Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening if you can! But we also provide a transcript below.

Brave Little State is VPR's people-powered journalism project, which means we include you in the decision about what to cover, and we raise up your voices. This time, thanks to your input, we're flipping the script, and asking you: How's everybody doing?

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The transcript

Disclaimer: Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Angela Evancie: Thursday night, March 26th. 6 p.m. Julielyn Gibbons gets a bunch of her old friends together.

Various speakers: Erin, where are you now, are you still in D.C.?  I'm still in D.C. Y’all this is Eddy! This is my husband! Hey! Oh boy!

Angela Evancie: There are about 20 people here, and a couple kids, and a bunch of pets. But here is a location that is everywhere and nowhere all at once: A Zoom video conference. 

Various speakers: Marta? Oh, you’re muted. Am I the only one down south? No. Oh yeah.

Angela Evancie: Julielyn is hosting, to speak, from her living room in Colchester. She’s introducing her newer friends to her older friends and vice versa.

Julielyn Gibbons: So we have folks from D.C. and California … and we have another Vermonter, welcome! Hey!

Angela Evancie: Depending on your circumstances, you may have spent a lot of time on Zoom lately. Over the past few weeks, our regular lives have been dismantled at an astonishing speed – at the same time that our physical movement has ground to a halt. Except for essential workers, nobody’s going anywhere.

And yet to Zoom has become an almost permanent state of being. Work meetings on Zoom. Classes on Zoom. Family hangouts on Zoom. And, in this case, a “Socially Distanced Happy Hour” – every day, right here on Zoom.

Julielyn Gibbons: I just want to share a couple, like, extra special guests. So we actually have Tracy – will you wave Tracy? – Tracy is actually an ex-pat living in Florence, Italy, right now. So she’s been doing this sh-- for 17 days now. Yeah. So she is telling us what to expect.

Zoom speaker: Tracy, have people stopped going to the grocery store, like, out of wanting something to do? Or is that still happening?

Tracy: Well, I think it depends on where you live. So like where I live, because I go to these really small little purveyors, I can maybe wait, like, two minutes for one person to go ahead of me and then go in, and so I can go every day or every other day.

Angela Evancie: The COVID-19 pandemic threads through every part of the conversation. But it’s mostly lighthearted banter. A guy named Jason props up his phone to show how he’s making homemade pasta from scratch.

Jason: OK, for this it’s the semolina dough. So I got semolina flour…

Angela Evancie: And there's much discussion of the custom Zoom background. It allows you to appear as if you’re sitting in front of a beautiful landscape, or, in the case of one woman, a giant cat floating through the galaxy toward a hamburger.

Zoom speaker: Lauren, damn, that is a good background.

[LAUGHTER]

Angela Evancie: And even though this is called a “happy hour,” not a single person appears to be drinking anything. They’re just here to connect and commiserate. 

Julielyn Gibbons: I mean I saw someone saying how on Facebook, if she sees one more person posting asking a hairdresser to come to her house to cut her hair, she was gonna report them. Which, I’m kinda like, yeah, you should.

Zoom speaker: I saw my hairdresser on the street, like, when I was on my way to get groceries, and she looked at my hair and she just was kind of like, you’re on your own...

[LAUGHTER]

Angela Evancie: It’s a fun group. A few days from now, Julielyn Gibbons will really need this company and support. That’s because over the weekend, she’s gonna learn that a friend from back home in Michigan has died from COVID-19.

[MUSIC: BRAVE LITTLE STATE THEME SONG]

From Vermont Public Radio, this is Brave Little State. I’m Angela Evancie. Normally our show answers your questions about Vermont, our region and its people. Today, we’re flipping the script, and asking you: How’s everybody doing?

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Sally Ballin: I am giving trying to each day a theme. So Saturday was a day devoted to food. 

Angela Evancie: You got in touch, and you shared the good and the bad.

Phoenix Crockett: Um, my wife is a nurse and she is also pregnant.

Angela Evancie: We hear from an expectant dad, and a nurse on the front lines …

Eva: A little bit of fear, you know? How are we gonna get through this?

Angela Evancie: Plus, a little bit of essay and poetry for our times. We have support from the VPR Innovation Fund. Welcome.

Doug voicemail: Coronavirus update, March 23, this is Doug in Bolton, Vermont. Just saying that we just upped our CSA share to the “mega share” where we get all kinds of other local goods, to try to help support our local farms and things that we cherish. Hanging in there. Go Vermont.

Angela Evancie: To get a sense of how everyone’s doing, we put a call out for your voicemails and audio diaries. And we got a bunch of responses. 

Kim voicemail: I wanted to put out that I’m really hopeful that some of what we’re going through is going to make changes for the United States and possibly get medical help for all, as one of our priorities. 

Angela Evancie: Tim Wall of Charlotte shared a song he wrote called “Pandemic.”

[MUSIC: “PANDEMIC” BY TIM WALL]

Tim Wall: This jigsaw puzzle is staring me down, I can’t leave my home; this town is on lockdown...

Angela Evancie: Our callout, by the way, is how we heard about Julielyn Gibbons’ “Socially Distanced Happy Hours.”

Julielyn Gibbons: Hi there, this is Julielyn Gibbons, I live in Colchester. And I’m an extrovert. And this is a really hard time to be an extroverted extrovert. Couple of ways I’m staying sane, or at least trying to …

Angela Evancie: In addition to the daily web hangouts, Julielyn says she’s seeing her therapist on Zoom. Her yoga classes have gone remote, too. 

Laughing River Yoga video: Look skyward. As you exhale you’re gonna circle those arms out. Let the palms come back to the heart. 

Angela Evancie: Laughing River Yoga, which happens to be a VPR underwriter, is posting videos online.

Laughing River Yoga video: Wonderful everyone, beautiful ...

Julielyn Gibbons: So basically super grateful for online conferencing, not sure if I could get through this without it. 

Angela Evancie: It’s amazing, how much life went online so quickly. Luke Krueger sent us a recording of a weekly session he now hosts called, “Theatre in my Pajamas.” 

Luke Krueger: And we will begin a reading of “A Country Store.”

Angela Evancie: Luke hosts from his home in Manchester. Actors and non-actors get together to read plays.

Theatre in my Pajamas speakers: Are we going to close? Looks like it! No, Harry, come on, we can make this work!

Friends and housemates Melanie and Meghan, who are keeping active by training for roller derby in an empty parking lot. Burlington photographer Oliver Parini has been exploring his neighborhood and taking "social distance" portraits from 6 feet away.
Credit Oliver Parini / For VPR

Angela Evancie: Of course, the internet can’t solve all our problems. Here’s Julielyn again.

Julielyn Gibbons: Now that the governor has ordered gyms to be closed, now I’m really starting to stress. Because I’ve recently gotten pretty healthy. And I’m trying to stay that way. And it’s hard to stay healthy when you can’t do the routine and the exercises that you’re used to doing. Frankly, my small dog doesn’t even want to go on as many walks as I want to go on. 

[MUSIC: “BAROQUE” BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]

Sally Ballin voicemail: This is Sally Ballin calling from South Burlington. This is how I spent last Saturday: I’m in the high-risk category because of my age, and I live in a senior-housing — an apartment building in South Burlington in the midst of a usually bustling commercial area. Now, it’s like a ghost town.

I am giving trying to each day a theme. So Saturday was a day devoted to food. I went on a discovery tour of the fridge, the freezer, and the cupboards. It didn’t take that long; I have a very small apartment. For dinner, I made a pasta dish mixed with what was left of some basil pesto and smothered it in a stir-fry from the remaining contents of the veggie bin.

It was a lovely meal. And I’m now pretty much out of everything. Bye for now.

Angela Evancie: I followed up with Sally to make sure she was able to get more food. She says she was, and she’s finding new ways to get her staples.

In any case, that’s a little sample of what our fellow Vermonters have been up to recently. We also wanted to know how people are doing. And two listeners actually sent in audio diaries with recordings they made over multiple days. First up is Phoenix Crockett, of South Burlington. 

Phoenix Crockett

Phoenix Crockett: March 13, 2020. Phoenix Crockett. I’m calling this day one of the coronavirus situation. I have a buddy who’s an epidemiologist who says that it’s fairly serious. He said that he expects they might close schools down, or at least have like shortened days. 

Angela Evancie: It turns out Phoenix started keeping an audio diary before we even had this idea for a show. And it’s amazing how dated his early entries sound. This wasn’t even a month ago, and it’s like a message from an alternate universe.

[MUSIC: “WALTZ & FURY” BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]

Phoenix Crockett: I’m not scared yet. But I do know that I’ve been informed that I should get Zoom. Also I know this isn’t, like, "day one." But this is day one where people started freaking out near me in my hometown of South Burlington, Vermont.

Angela Evancie: A few days later, on March 16 ...

Phoenix Crockett: I’m continuing this little audio journal thing. I don’t know, I wanted to sort of mark down some of my, like, general worries and anxieties and that kind of thing. Um, my wife is a nurse and she is also pregnant. Um, and you can imagine the horror – I don’t know who “you” is, future me I guess – can imagine the horror that I’m really feeling right now. Apparently accommodations aren’t really being made for her condition. She’s not the only pregnant nurse.

And that’s, you know, scary, because she says it’s only a matter of time before these patients who she normally wouldn’t be working with, someone ends up on her floor that’s infected. You know, we’re not even that far into this thing and there’s already not enough personal protection equipment, there’s not enough masks. And, you know, she says the nurses are well-protected right now, but that might not be the case moving forward.

We’re terrified. We’re really thankful that we took a vacation, two weeks of vacation starting in a couple of weeks, so that hopefully at the height of it, we’re home. A lot of people are worried about their canceled plans and vacations. We don’t even give a sh-- at all. We’re just happy that she’s gonna be home at some point later. Um, yeah. I’m just really terrified. The CDC and a bunch of groups are saying there’s no evidence that coronavirus infects a fetus. My wife is young, she’s not in the group of people that are getting sick, but even if you don’t get very sick, um, there could still be problems, and, yeah. It’s really scary, I had a like freak-out about this morning. I was like crying, and just like, walking around my house and trying to pull it together. It almost worked.

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Angela Evancie: March 23.

Phoenix Crockett: I’ll probably be indoors from this moment until who knows how long, to avoid getting my wife sick. That’s kind of it. Everything else, closed restaurants, friends losing their income, etc., those are all worries. But I’m mostly worried about the pregnancy. I – everything else just really doesn’t matter at all. 

I’m also worried about if it gets worse, like, how long until the death counts surpass 9/11? How long until it affects people that I know directly? Not that that’s more sad than people I don’t know. But, you know how that worry goes.

I really can’t wait for summer. I hear that summer kills flus, it worked that way with H1N1, which, swine flu, I got when it came around. So let’s hope that the summer kind of kills everything. Thanks y’all for listening, putting this together. Yeah, and stay healthy.

[MUSIC: “WALTZ & FURY” BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]

Angela Evancie: Thanks to Phoenix Crockett for sharing those recordings. By Monday night of this week, the number of Americans who’ve died from COVID-19 surpassed the 9/11 death toll. When we come back, another audio diary – this time from a nurse on the front lines.

Eva's audio diary

Kellam Ayres works late at night once the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. Photographer Corey Hendrickson's family feels fortunate that Kellam's job allows for working remotely, despite Corey living in constant fear of creating the next "BBC Dad" meme.
Credit Corey Hendrickson / For VPR

Angela Evancie: It’s Brave Little State. Our next audio diary comes from a nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center. We agreed to go first-name only for this one. Here’s Eva, from central Vermont.

Eva: Today is Tuesday, March 24, 2020, and we’re in the midst of it. Schools have been closed for about a week now, and our three kids are home. Today, I feel a little discouraged because it snowed overnight and I was hoping to have the windows open and air out the house. But we’ll go outside and build a snowman. But I feel encouraged, however a little anxious. Sounds like things are going to get a little worse, according to the officials, as far as the virus and the infection rate. But I’ll check in tomorrow and see how things change.

[MUSIC: “THE BUS AT DAWN” BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]

Today’s Wednesday, March 25. I admit that I feel kind of a mixture of emotions today, because I’m getting ready to work tomorrow. I work as a nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. And, yeah, I have all kinds of feelings. Anxious. Will I have enough protective material — enough protection to take care of patients and take care of myself? So that’s definitely on my mind.

Of course it’s a privilege to take care of patients and vulnerable patients that need us right now. And I understand we have a new Stay Home, Stay Safe order, ordered by Gov. Scott. So, things are tightening up, and little more serious. But still. Let’s just stay positive. Stress doesn’t help. But yeah, so I will check in tomorrow after work, and let’s hope for better tomorrows. Thanks.

Thursday, March 26, 2020. Right now I’m in Burlington, Vermont. Just got to my car from a few hours at work. Walked to my car in the nearby parking lot. Didn’t take the shuttle just to be on the safe side. But today was OK at work. We’re still expecting a surge of patients, but so far so good. However, I admit, I still feel anxiety. And yeah, I don’t know how else to describe it, just anxiety, and a little bit of fear. How are we gonna get through this? Not just myself, but just everybody else, I see a lot of people out of work and I worry about that too. And ... I just feel a lot of people struggling right now. 

[MUSIC: “THE BUS AT DAWN” BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]

Today is Friday, March 27, 2020. And I just completed another day at work at the hospital in Burlington. The day started with all employees being screened for temperatures or fevers. So that was a good thing. You know, I didn’t feel as much anxiety as I did before, but still, you know, of course that’s on everybody’s mind, how are we going to get through this.

Looking for new ways to deal with being home, confined to our homes, and just finding out that our kids, all Vermont kids, will be out of school for the rest of school year. So trying to find some creative ways to keep them occupied and not lose what they have gained in school. So that’s going to be interesting, but we have a weekend ahead, and these recordings have been really helpful for me to sort my fears and feelings, and really get in touch with all the emotions that I’m going through. I’ll check again tomorrow.

Today’s Saturday, March 28. So it’s the weekend and a day off. And everybody’s home. I did kind of have a moment of sadness this morning when I looked at the latest numbers of confirmed cases and mainly the number of deaths caused by the virus. I was also sad when I thought about what our kids will be missing with all the school closures. So, sad for a while. And then I felt like I needed to snap out of it, so … went for a walk with the kids, did some yard work around the house. Yeah, so, we’re hoping for better days, and we’re gonna enjoy the weekend, and that’s my update for Saturday.

Saturday, March 28, and this is my second recording for today. And I realize that my emotions have been changing, at least today, and I really want to express just the feeling of, it’s anger, really. I’m normally not angry person, but I’ve just been thinking and really angry when I see the numbers of the cases of the disease and the people who have died, and I’m angry at kind of the slow response, of, I guess our government, just people not being informed properly. About the risks. And what really the danger of the virus, and I just feel like it’s getting worse. Anyway, this just shows emotions do change during the day. That’s all I wanted to express today.

Today’s Monday, March 30, 2020. And this is my last recording. I’m doing OK. I had a sore throat and body aches yesterday and was all worried, and working in health care. But it’s OK. Better now. Thinking of all the people that are not OK. I hope they get better very soon. And get through this. I understand we have several rough weeks ahead of us. But we’re gonna get through this. And we’ll, I believe we’ll come out of as better people. Hopefully kinder to one another. It’ll be different, but it’ll be OK. Thinking of everyone, and curious what the future will bring.

[MUSIC: “THE BUS AT DAWN” BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]

Angela Evancie: Thanks very much to Eva for sharing those recordings and doing that work.  

Living in Holland

Angela Evancie: So both Eva and Phoenix – the expectant dad we heard from earlier – described these kind of amorphous feelings of anxiety, fear, and anger. The next person we’re gonna hear from would use a different word for these kinds of feelings: Grief.

Ethan Dezotelle: Mourning on a scale that eclipses my previous personal touchstone of September 11, 2001. 

Angela Evancie: This is Ethan Dezotelle of Franklin. He sent us an essay he called “Living in Holland.” The connection to Holland is a little circuitous, so stick with us. Ethan is a writer and a behavior interventionist. He works with kids who need educational and social support. He says the traditional view of grief is one of stages:

Ethan Dezotelle: Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. 

Angela Evancie: And we experience grief after something really monumental:

Ethan Dezotelle: A relationship ends, or a loved one passes away, or a job is lost. 

Angela Evancie: But for parents with disabled children, Ethan says, the situation is different. They can experience a different kind of grieving. This is where Holland comes in. Ethan told us about a popular essay in his field …

Ethan Dezotelle:written by Emily Perl Kingsley

Angela Evancie: The essay uses Holland as a kind of metaphor for parents who find themselves in a different world. 

Ethan Dezotelle: It explains what these parents go through as they constantly readjust parental expectations as their children grow up. Kingsley conveys this dynamic by describing a person who thinks they’re traveling to Italy. 

Angela Evancie: Imagine it. You’ve got tickets to Italy. You get on the plane, and you’re so excited to check out the Roman architecture, take a gondola through Venice. But when the plane lands, you’re not in Italy. You’re in ... Holland.

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Ethan Dezotelle: “So you must go out and buy new guide books,” Kingsley writes. “And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.” 

Angela Evancie: Holland isn’t a bad place. It’s just a different place. But it’s hard, because all your friends are always going to Italy and having so much fun. You’ll always be sad that you couldn’t go there, even if you’re also happy in Holland. This, Kingsley writes, is what it’s like to raise a child with a disability. And it can be isolating. But it’s a feeling that Ethan Dezotelle thinks we’re all now experiencing together.

Ethan Dezotelle: We are, as a species, living in Holland. Our planes landed at roughly the same time, and we’re experiencing the collective revelation that our plans aren’t lining up with reality. 

And in a way similar to the parents Kingsley writes about, we are discovering that the grief process stretches far beyond the major life events we typically reserve it for. 

We are mourning school closures, empty grocery store shelves, the inability to celebrate birthdays with loved ones, the postponement of weddings, childbirths happening away from partners in isolation, the loss of jobs, hugs, handshakes and high fives, hours spent sitting with friends over dinner at our favorite restaurants, community gatherings, vacations and the list goes on and on. 

As a species, we are mourning life as we knew it, and it’s happening in countless ways. 

I’m not saying all this with a solution in mind, though I wish I was. Rather, I’m sharing this to make people aware that even in self-isolation, even as we physically distance ourselves from one another, we are still profoundly connected to each other.

And we cannot and should not confront these cycles of grief alone. Call, FaceTime, or shout to someone. Find common threads of mourning, joy, and compassion. 

There is, after all, still much to celebrate in our collective Holland. Find the tulips and windmills and Rembrandts that surround us, and celebrate them. 

Angela Evancie: Thanks to Ethan Dezotelle for sharing that essay. He was one of the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Vermonters who filed for unemployment in late March.

Oliver Parini photographed Rolf and Bea from 6 feet away while they were out for a stroll in the South End of Burlington.
Credit Oliver Parini / For VPR
"Love in a time of coronavirus"

Angela Evancie: From Holland, now, to the town of Chelsea. That’s where poet Taylor Mardis Katz lives and farms with her family. We all take care of ourselves in different ways, but Taylor makes a few suggestions for this moment in her poem “Love in the time of coronavirus.” We’re gonna close with an excerpt of the poem. Here’s Taylor.

Taylor Mardis Katz:

Sleep as much as you can, sleep when darkness comes.

Nourish yourself with water and three good meals

and don’t ask more of your body than it is willing to give.

If possible, eat the greens that grow outside your door,

drink the remedies that grow outside your door.

Read poems. Read novels. Watch old films, or new ones.

Watch that well-produced Netflix show about cheerleaders,

read interviews with people you admire,

read writers who are long dead — they too lived

through disease, panic, extinctions.

Rebel against the idea that this is how things are now

and there is nothing we can do about it.

Consider all the ways that life is long

even as it feels taut, even as your breath gets caught

in your throat, your chest, even as you worry

each time you sneeze, or have a tickle in your throat.

When you do go out, nod to each person you see,

as each of them is also undergoing this crisis.

Even as all the hard questions come at once

remember that your body is your house, your home,

your haven, your hideaway. Breathe air into your nose

and out your mouth. Whether or not you are a parent,

you are a parent to your own entire being.

Watching old tv shows can be medicine. Doing stretches

can be medicine. Baking bread can be medicine.

Cutting a loved one’s hair can be medicine.

You can be medicine to others

in ways you never expected, just by calling,

just by video calling, just by writing an email,

just by sending something in the mail,

just by sitting at home and making friendship bracelets

like you did at summer camp when a summer

was a lifetime you’d live through with delight.

This is not a time of delight, not a time of light,

though the light is returning to us each day,

the days lasting longer, the birds arriving to build.

So what can we build inside our own homes

that wasn’t already there, and what can we build

between each other that wasn’t already here

so that the next time this happens to us

we will have already built a home for this fear,

we will have constructed the walls out of love

and the doors out of love and we will sing to each other

through the windows out of love and feel held, though untouched.

Angela Evancie: Taylor Mardis Katz.

[MUSIC: "HICKORY INTERLUDE" BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]

Thanks so much for listening to the show. And thanks to everyone who shared their stories and writing.

If you’d like to tell us how you’re doing, or ask a question about coronavirus in Vermont or anything else, head to bravelittlestate.org. While you’re there you can also sign up for our newsletter. And we’re toying with the idea of a BLS Book Club, so let us know what you think about that.

Also, the Vermont Folklife Center has a new initiative for keeping Vermonters connected during the coming weeks and months. It’s called Listening in Place. You can learn more about their crowdsourced archive project and virtual story circles at vermontfolklifecenter.org.

We’ll be back soon. And now more than ever: Be brave.

This episode was produced by Angela Evancie, with editing by Lynne McCrea. Our digital producer is Elodie Reed, and we have engineering support from Chris Albertine. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.