Major Jackson is a poet and professor at the University of Vermont. He lives in South Burlington.
How are you handling self-isolation?As my wife exasperatedly complains, much of our lives feel like Groundhog Day: mid-morning rise, cue up coffee machine, shower (maybe), then a bunch of Zoom meetings with students and colleagues followed by a hike in the forest where we live. In the evening, after dinner, we watch a movie or serialized TV show or sit by the fireplace and read each other the news and friends’ social media posts. When we’re ready for bed, we lug our aging dog upstairs and fall asleep while reading a book. Frankly, the routine does not differ too much from our pre-COVID-19 lives, except I raked-up frequent flyer miles traveling around the country and ate out far too much for my bank account at local restaurants, both habits I am thrilled to temporary put the brakes on.
What has been the biggest challenge for you?Friends and family will tell you I tend to maintain an optimistic outlook on the future and a rugged, British-like calmness when tragedy arrives (I would have been one of those musicians on RMS Titanic) but I must admit the virus and its impact on local and global economies has me on pins and needles; I worry about retirements and property values. Every morning I wake up believing I am either in a dream or apocalyptic film (well, to some extent, that’s a pre-COVID feeling). Additionally, I recently lost an aunt to cancer and regretted being unable to attend the funeral, which would have not been a question prior to COVID-19. Many of my heroes, artists and musicians, are passing away. And African Americans are disproportionately affected by the virus and make up 34% of the deaths in America. These are tough facts that I am contending.
What has been the most pleasant surprise?I am moved by those videos that show us coming together. Amid the horror, I am a sucker for those social media videos that show large numbers of people banging pots and celebrating heath care workers, singing out their windows, leaving little gifts on their porch for those who deliver their groceries and Amazon packages. Personally, I have been holding hour-long conversations with friends across the country, literal phone conversations! We are going back to life before 2000s and becoming acquainted with the texture of each other’s voice. Also, turns out I am a very good cook with a specialty in soups. I am thinking of opening a small business after all of this called Poets’ Soup.
How much of what you’re doing do you think will you carry forward after the pandemic?I hope we are changed forever, that many of us, who are taking walks and waving at neighbors or stopping to check in on each other, continue this long after. I cherish the increased time outdoors and less hours in front of my computer screen.
And what do you feel the lessons will be that come out of all of this?Where I live (and this is being replicated around the world), efforts are made to care for the less fortunate and most vulnerable. Maybe, this is how it should be all the time, instead of the ongoing divisions politicians wish to profit and gain.