Life (and living) in the era of isolation and social distancing

April 6th, 2020



photo Creative Commons Zero – CC0

photo Creative Commons Zero – CC0




Dear Readers:

…..I hope you and your family and friends are well, and that you are discovering ways to find the right combination of solace and inspiration as you travel this demanding path.   I thought I would share some ways I am coping with this alarming situation, fill you in on a few things that are going on with Jerry Jazz Musician, and finally to invite you to share your own thoughts during this time.

…..I live in Portland, Oregon, a state that “locked down” on March 23.  As of yesterday, April 5, our state has 1,068 confirmed cases of COVID-19, although many believe it is much higher than that since widespread testing is still not available, and outcomes for tests being conducted can be long delayed.  My daughter was tested on March 26 and we still await her results (thankfully, she is feeling better).  A dear friend of mine was not tested but is in self-quarantine due to a doctor’s diagnosis of COVID-19.   Needless to say those of us who know him are concerned, but he is hopeful, and so are we.

…..Isolation and social distancing have no doubt led to economic and mental hardship.  While residential neighborhoods are alive with pedestrians, Portland is now a city of closed shops (including our iconic Powell’s Books) and shuttered restaurants – only the  grocery stores seem to be thriving, and many of us don’t dare step inside them.  Nonetheless, the strategy feels as if it is having a positive impact on the state’s ability to confront this health crisis, which was of course its goal.

…..An overabundance of information does not feel healthy, so I keep my news and screen watching to a minimum, and have discovered that if I tune out the politics and follow the advice of those local and national leaders who respect data and science, I can better control my own personal response to the situation, and keep my anger to a minimum.  When I do take in the news, I am frequently in awe of the efforts of the medical and mental health workers at the center of this (two of whom are my wife and daughter).  You hear this a lot of late, but it’s true – these people are heroes, and when this is over, should be forever respected as such.

…..An important component for my own health is to keep busy.  That has always been the case, and especially now.  In addition to publishing Jerry Jazz Musician, I am making time to read and listen more.  For sheer escape, I have been reading The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure by Deborah Davis, which is a fun history of early Warhol and his adventures while traveling with three friends in a Ford Falcon from New York to Los Angeles in 1963.   I am also slow-reading two wonderful books; 1) the Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh, which is opening me to the ideas of being more “in the moment” and living an aware and more spiritual life, and; 2) Brian Doyle’s One Long River of Song – a work so soulfully philosophical and soothing that, given all that we are currently going through, feels almost other-worldly.

…..I am also giving myself the time to listen to music. A few years ago my son gave me a 900-page book called 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die by Tom Moon, and last week I began making a game of every day opening the book randomly and (via Spotify) listening to an album recommended on that page. I never would have guessed that I would fall in love with The Decemberists last week, or rediscover Joe Henderson’s Power to the People.   I also have truly heard the brilliance of Van Cliburn on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3, and learned to better appreciate the importance of Gram Parson’s visionary Grievous Angel.  I am also active with a group of jazz enthusiast friends who choose a topic each month to discuss.  Last month we dug deep into the work of the jazz violinists (and discussed them via our inaugural experience with Zoom), and this month we are focusing our listening on jazz recordings made in 1969.

…..The work involved in editing and publishing Jerry Jazz Musician is a blessing because it keeps me busy, and it also connects me to a wonderful community of writers and readers, some of whom have been submitting their work or writing just to “check in,” and others to provide information that could be helpful during this time.  One example: the New Jersey poet Felicia Chernesky wrote and provided a link listing several resources to writers and musicians in her area, including information about the Jazz Foundation of America, which assists musicians in need, and is now in need of support themselves.  I am also hearing from writers sharing exciting news about their work.  In one such instance, Karen Karlitz – winner of the 22nd edition of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest – wrote to report that her book Stoner Ghosts of Santa Monica has just been published, which is a wonderful achievement.

…..In the coming days I will be putting together the spring collection of poetry, which I hope to publish by the end of the month, and have just made arrangements to interview Ms. Maria Golia, author of Ornette Coleman:  The Territory and the Adventure, which I am delighted about because it will put me deep into the world of Ornette for awhile.

…..So, minus the ongoing concern about the health status of my family and friends, and the sorrow for those who have been impacted by COVID-19 that hits me broadside time-and-again, that is some of what I have been thinking and doing during this initial time of isolation and social distancing, and I now invite you to share with readers your own activities and thoughts.

…..An example came from the poet Erren Kelly, who in an email to me yesterday wrote:


i have been listening to a lot of jazz the past three weeks, everything from tradition, hardbop, bebop, cool jazz , jazz fusion, etc as a way to deal with all of this…

i think some good poems will come out of this…

 i want us all to survive…beauty and life will come out of this crisis…


…..And, how about you?  What are you doing while living in isolation?  What are you discovering about yourself?  What are you listening to?  Watching?  Reading? Are you writing?  And, if you wish, please know you are welcome to share your thoughts on how the isolation is effecting your creativity, or your world.

…..You can send your responses to me at [email protected], and with your permission I will do my best to publish them – if appropriate, of course, and as time allows.  I am hopeful this can help bring our community of readers and writers closer together during such a challenging time.

…..Meanwhile, please take care, and heed the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose words often have a way of bringing humans to a reflective and sane place, none more suitable right now than “the first wealth is health.”




Joe Maita







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3 comments on “Life (and living) in the era of isolation and social distancing”

  1. Hi Joe: Very well written and very inspirational. Thanks for writing this for all of us. We need
    this, in these strange times. I liked Erren Kelly’s “I have been listening to a lot jazz.” What I have
    been doing is listening and watching jazz DVD’s. This kind of doubles the “magic carpet ride,”
    of both listening and watching. Great escapism!!!!!!! I recently got a DVD titled: “Al Di Meola,
    Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stanley Clarke, Live At Montreux, 1994.” Every track is great, and so are
    solos by the three main guys. What is amazing to me (also as an upright bass player, plus trumpet),
    is Stanley Clarke’s upright bass solo. Please, someone write, if you think this is one of the
    best upright bass solos you have ever seen and heard, really!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Best Alan

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