Montpelier writer Thomas Greene discusses how he has been affected by self-isolation and the pandemic.
How are you handling self-isolation?I’m doing fine. I want to first say I’m aware of how privileged I am that I get to stay home and work on my seventh novel, and I can be safe. There are lots of people without that privilege and there are lots of real heroes who are going to work every single day in life-threatening situations to keep the rest of us OK. That said, I’m trying not to treat my home as a glass prison, but as an artist’s residency. I’m writing a lot. Taking long walks in the woods. Cooking. Trying not to start giving the squirrels outside my office window names, but they sure do look like they’re up to something.
What has been the biggest challenge for you?I’m an extrovert, and I love the public square that is my city of Montpelier. I miss being able to go into a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop and finding a conversation. I miss my friends. I miss telling stories and hearing stories. I miss the fundamental human connection that comes from living in a great community like ours. Some days I take walks around the empty city and I wonder how we will rebuild. But then I know that we will, and I want to be part of making it happen.
What has been the most pleasant surprise?I’m one of seven siblings and we’re all very busy people — I’m not the only college president in my family, for instance. But this virus has slowed us down. We’re around. For the first time we have a group text going and it goes all day. We’ve done the Zoom calls. And I think it’s symbolic of something positive that is happening for lots of us who have avoided getting sick. We’ve hopped off the treadmill of life for a moment and when you do that you can sometimes get in touch with your core values. What’s truly important can come into focus.
How much of what you’re doing do you think will you carry forward after the pandemic?I think this realization that life is short so stay in touch with those who matter to you. Reach out. Also, the cooking. I was always someone who cooked, but in recent years I have gotten away from it. There’s no panacea to living in a time of a pandemic, but the smell of an all-day braise filling one’s house is perhaps as close as we can get.
And what do you feel the lessons will be that come out of all of this?I think the biggest one, and I’m sorting through in my mind what this means, but I think we’re leaving a period of globalization for what I would call a new era of localization. All progress is really going to be local and based in our communities. That’s going to require a different way of thinking but for us Vermonters, we are well-equipped to do it. Also, it has put in stark relief the plight of restaurant workers in our country. This is an industry historically taken for granted by policy makers and one, not through the faults of owners who are generally good-hearted and trying to just stay afloat, that has a business model that makes workers vulnerable. There has to be a way to do it better.