We were thrilled to catch up with long-time BBF volunteer superstar, Sarah Schlesinger, who told us about her serious crafting abilities and how she once made flower crowns for a BBF event.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I work in accounting currently for an online retailer but have crunched numbers at a hotel, dot com and non-profit in my career. I am an avid knitter and all-around crafty person. The festival put me to work one year making flower crowns for a children’s event. For the past several years, I’ve volunteered regularly at the Womens Lunch Place, a day shelter in Back Bay.
How did you end up volunteering at the festival?
I honestly can’t remember! I had never gone to the festival before I volunteered. Most likely, I probably saw a flyer at Brookline Booksmith and it sounded like something I would like to do.
How long have you been volunteering for, and what kinds of different positions have you done during that time? Any favorites?
I have been volunteering at the festival since 2013 and have been an usher, worked at the merchandise table, and assisted in author hospitality rooms and with event booksellers.
What was one of the most memorable BBFs for you and why?
One year I was volunteering at the location of the YA Keynote. To see the line form hours before the talk, comprised mostly of young readers so enthusiastic to hear an author speak, was just a great sight to see.
What keeps you coming back volunteering year after year? I come back each year because I always have a great time. I love being a part of so many people in the city celebrating books, learning, and discussing. Some of my favorite moments of the festival have been chatting with fellow ushers between events about what we are reading.
Anything interesting you’d like to share about your time in lockdown over the last few months? I realized how much I read during my morning commute on the T. The commute to my home office doesn’t afford that much reading time!
What are you most looking forward to this summer? Mostly I am looking forward to venturing back out into the city and hopefully a return to a bit of normalcy. I look forward to the idea of sitting outside a coffee shop, with an iced coffee, reading, and people watching.
What do you have in the line up for your summer reads? I joined a virtual book group that is reading Deacon King Kong by James McBride, so am looking forward to starting that.
We were thrilled to catch up with long-time BBF volunteer superstar, Laurie Arnone, who told us about her many unique interests, her day as Paddington Bear, and the books that are getting her through these days.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a semi-retired physician assistant, living in the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale. I’ve worked for over 40 years in healthcare, starting out in Connecticut as a registered nurse. I’m an avid gardener, beekeeper, and cyclist. I’ve been singing with the MIT Women’s Chorale for 20 years, and I also sing with the One City Choir.
How did you end up volunteering at the Boston Book Festival?
I love to read and regularly do volunteer work (with WBUR, Community Rowing, Inc., and Head of the Charles in the past), among other groups. I really enjoyed the first BBF I attended and signed up the next year to work with it.
How long have you been volunteering for BBF, and what kinds of different positions have you done during that time? Any favorites?
I think it’s been around five years or so. I started in the year that the 2nd and last Hubbub Fest was held for kids. I’ve mostly been a “way finder,” which I really enjoy doing. Two years ago, I was Paddington Bear, which was a fun experience. I like being a way finder, since it keeps me moving and talking to a lot of people.
What was one of the most memorable BBFs for you and why?
I guess being Paddington Bear, because of the amount of effort put into picking the characters, the very fun interactions with the little kids and their families, and working closely with the other volunteers helping to don the ‘suits’ and being their escorts.
What keeps you coming back volunteering year after year?
It’s fun! And, it is a worthy event. Books and reading are important for everyone.
How would you describe BBF to someone who has never been?
I’d say it is a big party where you can visit and learn from vendors from publishing, writers, book sellers and some food trucks. You can listen to your favorite authors and authors you don’t know, hear about new books, old books and specialty topics – all in the beautiful settings used in Copley Square!
Any book that’s helped you through these challenging times?
Not one in particular but many. I find myself in two books at a time – suspense, mystery, nonfiction and nature topics. I use the e-books from the Boston Public Library, support More Than Words bookstore, and recently became acquainted with Frugal Books, too. My most recent read is The Friend by Joakim Zander.
Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this unique moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We want to hear it all from all corners of the city. Getting to read fragments of each other’s lives lets us remain close to each other, even when we’re pushed apart.
We were lucky enough to have local Boston writers Nakia Hill, Linda K. Wertheimer, and Suzanne Koven sit with us to provide advice on writing for At Home Boston. Read Nakia Hill and Linda K. Wertheimer’s submissions below.
My alarm sounds at 8:15 AM. I open my eyes and take a deep breath. I wiggle my toes and move my legs. I do this religiously every morning. Today, marks day 74 of staying at home.
My mornings are filled with reading biblical scripture, meditation, breathing in the scents of a hanging eucalyptus branch in the shower, and making tea before I log into my computer to work. After an hour and a half Zoom meeting, I decided to take a long walk to the post office and grab a fresh bouquet of burnt orange ranunculus flowers. I embrace the warm sun beaming on my face. I feel joy. I feel at peace.
I enter my apartment and excessively wash my hands and face. I pour a glass of iced kombucha. I sit at my table and look at the text message on my phone. My coworker writes that she is thinking of me during this difficult time. She must be referring to the Amy Cooper incident. I learned shortly that she is not.
I Google Minneapolis and see his name: George Floyd. And just like that a simple and beautiful day transitions into a day of sorrow.
I wanted a peace I thought we could still find. It was late March during the early weeks of the pandemic, and the parking lot was packed at Concord’s Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge.
“Maybe we shouldn’t stay,” my husband said.
But Great Meadows was a sanctuary where my family of three could just be. I envisioned past trips when we stood at the wetlands’ edge, waiting, hoping to spot a heron or beaver.
“Let’s stay,” I said.
Going on a nature walk that day quickly became terrifying, as if we were Pac-Man dodging ghosts. With no state mask order yet, keeping distance from others was our only protection. Our 12-year-old son Simon ducked his face into his coat as we walked. We dodged passersby by stepping into bramble and lingered only for moments in viewing areas, fearing the breath of strangers. We saw a beaver dam, but no beavers.
Back home, my son looked worn. “We’re going to take care of each other, ok?” I said, hugging him. He grinned, offering a tween coping strategy. “I make you pancakes,” he said, referring to the breakfast he made today. “You make me everything else.” Home for now can be our sanctuary.
Boston Book Festival has launched a community writing project to capture this moment in history. We asked residents to send us stories of their experiences during the pandemic, from the acts of kindness by neighbors to the challenges in our biggest hospitals. We wanted to hear it all from all corners of the city. The following is the first selection of stories selected to be featured in the Boston Globe, our media partner in this project. Submissions will be accepted through June 30, 2020.
By Jane deLima Thomas, who is a palliative care doctor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
My father had a massive stroke on April 13th. My mother called me and said, “If you want to see him, you should come now.” Without thinking about COVID or my mother’s fragile immune system, I leaped into the car and drove to their home. I looked down at the man who had raised me and I scanned his face and hands, committing them to memory. I told him I loved him and I believe he mumbled that he loved me, too.
I am a palliative care doctor, and during the pandemic I’ve had to call families and tell them they couldn’t come to the hospital to see their dying loved ones. I have withstood their anger, tears, and begging, knowing it was safest for everyone – patients, staff, and families themselves – if they stayed away. I did my best to be compassionate, but it wasn’t until I felt the primal need to see my father one last time that I truly understood the terrible loss families experience when they are denied the same. And now I feel the heaviness of it deep in my chest every time I reach for the phone to make another call.
By Shahrin Islam, who is an AmeriCorps member serving as a Case Manager with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
The last hour of a Ramadan fast goes by the slowest. I always find myself watching the clock more closely in this last hour but today, I am extra vigilant. My 12-hour shift at a facility for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive for COVID19, will start at 7:00 PM.
At 6:50 PM, I enter the donning station, ready to gear up in personal protective equipment (PPE). I hesitate. And I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Shortly, I must take off this PPE to break my fast when the sun sets. Using a set of PPE for only 30 minutes seems wasteful.
We usually take a break half way through our shift to conserve our limited supply of PPE. The other choice is to break my fast early. Again, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. But I swallow my guilt along with a swig of water and finish donning my PPE by 6:59 PM.
Before I go in, I pray that my fast, though incomplete, is still valid. I pray for a cure, a vaccine, the government to make decisions with the safety and health of people in mind and for all of this to be over.
By Kate H Schlesinger,
Katie’s video wasn’t working on Zoom, so I couldn’t see her face for our last class. Juliana didn’t make it to class at all. I had taught them in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, watching them grow as thinkers, writers, and people, and this was the end. I never imagined that my students would become floating heads on a screen for brief weekly sessions rather than the living, breathing teenagers who burst into my classroom for class or help with an essay or because their friends were there or just because. I never imagined seeing students – athletes, artists, historians, mathematicians, noisy, thoughtful, quirky, determined, anxious, dancing, laughing, flirting, falling, thriving – flattened to two dimensions.
I never imagined that in our last history class students would only be faces in boxes as they analyzed documents, focusing on screens or books, never quite looking me in the eye. I never imagined that, not wanting to try to be inspirational to a screen, I would cut short my goodbye speech and let them go, my finger hovering over the “end” button as they said goodbye and left, knowing that without awards ceremonies or graduation, I may never see their faces again.
By Amrapali Maitra, a resident physician in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an anthropologist.
I often revisit the scene in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things where Ammu and Velutha meet at the riverbank. The Big Things are overwhelming—the caste differences that forbid their love—so they focus on Small Things. An insect has built a home out of rubbish and leaves. They tend to minutiae like life depends on it.
The pandemic is a study in Small Things. On a walk, I hear a blue jay’s liquid screech. Enjoy fuchsia eruptions of rhododendrons in the Arboretum. Inhale ash from my neighbor’s backyard, conjuring nights of s’mores and songs. Spy a family of squirrels relocate to the rain gutter
COVID has transformed my identity as a doctor. In March, I cared for cancer patients. But while pregnant, every moment in the hospital became a negotiation between duty to others and obligation to the life inside me. So, I transitioned to virtual care.
Sitting at my dining table, I begin each phonecall, “This is Dr. Maitra! How are you coping?” The words are chalky in my mouth. I swallow the guilt. Sheltering in place, I’m no hero. Then I feel my daughter’s forceful kicks and realize, I’m exactly where I need to be.
By Daina Wynot, a quintessential millennial who occasionally pretends she can write.
My grandmother called me over to her apartment complex to pick up a leftover meatball sub. She didn’t want it to go to waste and wasn’t taking no for an answer — I don’t think any grandmas will accept a “no” from their grandkids, especially when it comes to overfeeding them.
I donned the mask I made of leftover fabric from my attempt at crafting dog bandanas and set out to retrieve the package.
Grandma was standing outside when I arrived — folks who don’t live there aren’t allowed in — and I approached her with my phone facing outward. My 7-month-old nephew, her great-grandson, was on the screen, babbling away with a bottle in his mouth.
“Can he see me?” she asked, absolutely thrilled to learn that he could. “Oh, no wonder he’s shouting so much! Look at me, a crazy lady in a mask.”
After ending the call I was informed I would be taking her to get “one of those things” as soon as stores reopen.
“I can’t take my money with me,” Grandma said, and using it to buy a magic machine that lets her see her great-grandkids whenever she wants is a pretty good deal.
By Deborah Vatcher is a retired physician and oboist.
When was the sky ever so saturated, so clear, so blue? Absent that smoky haze? These cerulean depths—a Côte d’Azur overhead—invite a daring swim in a sky of pure color, as the Cooper’s Hawk dives for prey; and standing outside now, watching him, I feel giddy, caught in the undertow of these waves of clarity.
When was it ever a two-hour walk to the turtle pond and back? Before this pernicious twist of coronavirus slipped into circulation, it was a thirty-minute outing with DixieDudeDog at most. These days, I just never know. Between pauses to stare at the sky, mute, and in awe, I meet the neighbors, all home now, out in their yards, with tools and trimmers—busy with projects long-planned, and now, at last, well underway. Bill and his kids are planting a garden, and we spend some time talking about all that. And when I’m nearly back home, two women stop me, ask directions, and seem in no rush to move on. I’ll visit the egg farm on Hancock Street later this afternoon, walking there, of course, and pet the gray barn cat; and when was this cat ever so friendly, before?
By Jennifer Serafyn, a lawyer who lives in Dorchester with her husband, two sons, and their dog, Barkley.
It’s mid-March and our dog doesn’t realize that we’re all home in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. A school day. A work day. She doesn’t mind that when we go for our usual walk in Dorchester Park, we see no one. Not the guy who also has a beagle or the lady who doles out treats from her pocket.
It’s Easter and our dog doesn’t understand that no one is coming over for dinner. She doesn’t know about being over 70 and having lung disease. Instead, our dog jumps onto my lap as we Zoom with family to celebrate virtually. Safely.
It’s mid-May and our dog doesn’t notice that the bike path along the Neponset River is more crowded than usual. She wags her tail and sniffs the grass as runners, cyclists, rollerbladers, and walkers pass by. She doesn’t care that most of them are wearing masks.
Soon it will be June. My sons will turn 9 and 11. School will end. Our dog will continue to meander through the days, unaware. That’s all we can be sure of.
By Chris Kelly, a public relations consultant and walker of Buddy.
My son and I were walking our dog when we saw someone walking toward us on the same side of the street. The person was wearing a long coat, a baseball hat, and over the bottom half of their face, a bandanna. “Let’s cross,” I said, steering us to the other side of the empty street.
As we passed, the person called out. “Hi! Windy day, huh?”
“Yes!” I agreed as we walked past. A block further, my brain connected the voice and the covered-up form with our neighbor. Not only had we crossed the street to avoid her, but we’d barely acknowledged her greeting.
Often, we walk our dog another route, past a home built in the 1600s. It’s been there through wars and assassinations, a Great Depression, 9/11, hurricanes and blizzards. So many different events with one thing in common: people gathering to support each other through them.
But now, we can’t gather, and “social distancing” means that when we see someone approaching, we cross the street or trespass someone’s yard or dart into traffic; anything to avoid contact. Today, hurriedly moving away is a way to take care of one another.