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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts

From The Asian Reporter, V30, #06 (May 4, 2020), page 6.

Staying home

When Oregon governor Kate Brown announced the "Stay Home, Save Lives" executive order on March 23, 2020 to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, I was already experiencing depression. Oregon Childrenís Theatre (OCT) had abruptly cancelled a play I was directing, The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, on March 12, the day Oregon banned gatherings of 250 or more people. We still had two weeks of performances left. Many theater closures soon followed. The performing arts season suddenly ended and people lost jobs.

But once there was no choice but to stay home except for essential needs such as grocery shopping or going to the pharmacy, I felt relief.

Iíve basically worked from home since my college graduation. I frankly enjoy a quiet home office and not having to worry about commuting or dressing up. Sometimes, maybe a few days a week, projects require a person-to-person meeting. When Iím working on a stage play, I need to attend production meetings or rehearsals, but otherwise Iíve relished my home office.

I had an unpredictable childhood, which I believe prepared me for hard times. My husbandís parents survived the Great Depression, as did my grandparents and my dad as a child. My mom was a survivor of World War II and experienced starvation and poverty. Our parents taught us to save money for tough times and also to keep ample supplies on hand, including toiletries, batteries, candles, jugs of water, first aid kits, and anything else needed in an emergency. Following the devastation we all experienced after the September 11 terrorist attacks, my husband and I learned to keep our basement pantry and kitchen stocked with food items to last several months.

For a few years, I was a teaching artist at different public schools and social-service agencies. During this time, I became sick for four months (I lost my voice and was only able to whisper), so I made permanent changes to my routine. I stopped teaching children and am very cautious about how close I am to others. I learned to habitually wash my hands and avoid communal food. I began taking additional vitamins and supplements, including probiotics, to shore up my immune system. I started cooking with ginger nearly every day and added it to my lunch of spicy and sour ramen soup. These things make me feel healthy and fortified.

Since the March 23 executive order, Iíve experienced less anxiety about staying at home. I had worried about being near other people and exposure to germs. Working in theater is generally touchy-feely, with a lot of hugs and being in close spaces with others. It was actually calming to not have to worry about staying well.

With the government moving toward loosening restrictions, I feel new anxiety about being in close proximity to others and potential infection.

Iím skittish about in-person work encounters. I attend meetings via Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom, e-mail more, or conduct business in an old-school manner ó phone calls. Iíve even reached out to longtime friends with whom I havenít spoken in months or years. Many artists and groups have turned to online performances. Through MediaRites, Iím adapting The ĖIsm Project theatre monologues into short films that can be shown and discussed through video conferencing. The films will focus on recent coronavirus-related racism, particularly hateful acts against Asian Americans. We are also planning to present them on May 16 and 23 at 6:00pm as part of the first-ever digital version of the Vanport Mosaic Festival, which will be featured online at <>.

Lately Iíve felt depression creeping in again, especially negative thoughts, as Iíve had more time to think about life. Many others are experiencing the same feelings. When it hits me, itís usually because Iíve spent too much time indoors or replaying memories or thoughts. To feel better, I take vitamin D, go outside, and get some sun or at least outdoor light. And air. Plenty of air. It helps. Taking walks, riding my stationary bike, and exercising every day helps purge my stay-home funk. Binge-watching my favorite television shows and movies is therapeutic as well. And my house is actually a bit cleaner now that I have extra time.

I know many people are struggling financially because they lost their jobs due to businesses closing or scaling down their operations significantly. Itís hard on our mental health to not have personal contact and social interaction. Itís a challenge for families and especially children, many of whom receive breakfast and lunch at school. I feel for those who have lost loved ones. I am devastated about our elders who have passed away because they contracted the virus. I have compassion for the homeless who have few options.

During these tough times, Iím trying to help by supporting charities such as the Oregon Food Bank and Portland Rescue Mission. Iíve also donated to arts groups and individual artists. Iím cheering on healthcare and other essential workers on the frontline of our battle against COVID-19. Unfortunately, tough economic times are still ahead as we try to contain this crisis, but nothing is more important than oneís health. Please stay healthy. And stay safe, everyone.

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