Guest column by Dixie Brown: Singing in the time of the coronavirus

  • The writer’s neighbors come out of their houses to sing. Tom Gardner

Published: 4/5/2020 6:31:59 PM

I am, among other activities, a freelance writer, so I’m used to being overwhelmed with loneliness and crippling self-doubt as I sit at my desk on a normal workday. But the isolation imposed on much of the world by the coronavirus has my negative thinking on steroids.

In short, I’ve been a major mess ever since I learned I couldn’t be in my office at UMass to do my part-time work as a writing coach — couldn’t come to campus at all for any reason for the indefinite future. Now, nobody’s allowed to go practically anywhere, which isn’t hard to adhere to as there’s almost nowhere to go anyway, with so many places closed. At least we can still buy food.

But my kids are freaking out about their mother’s bad habit of gently bending rules, in this case visiting a supermarket whenever I am so inspired because, as they keep reminding me, I’m 68 and I have asthma.

So I’m staying at home, where I live alone, eating weird ancient foods from my freezer and watching my mind go off on too many scary tangents to list here. Suffice it to say I’m scattered, I’m checking the news a million times a day, and I am so lonely I could bust.

On Saturday, hiding my nightgown under my winter coat (who hasn’t spent the day in their pj’s lately, I ask?) I walked over to a neighbor’s house and jumped up and down in her backyard, gesticulating wildly until she saw me through her sliding glass doors.

“You have to come out right now and sing a round with me,” I said. “If you don’t know it, I’m teaching it to you.”

She opened the slider a crack. “Get off my deck,” she said.

I’d crept up its steps in my misery, and was only 5 feet away from her. She’s a physician’s assistant.

I backed down. She stuck her head out. “Maybe,” she said. “I’m in my pj’s.”

“My nightgown is under this coat,” I confessed.

“Oh all right,” she said.

We sang.

Then somehow the idea bloomed in our brains to invite the entire neighborhood to come out and sing, if we could be 6 feet apart, that very afternoon.

We did. They did. It felt wonderful. We did it again a few days later. This time the 12-year-old girls led us through a forced march dance routine they’d choreographed moments before, a 4-year-old made requests, a 10-year-old brought his scooter and a neighbor who is a musician had fabulous suggestions for how to sing more and better.

We’re planning to meet again, 6 feet apart but in full view of each other.

It’s helping a lot.

Dixie Brown lives in South Amherst.
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