Reading and writing in a time of crisis
By: Paul Haeder – Updated: 1 day ago
Editor’s note: this is the second and final installment of a two-part series on how stories aid Waldport’s homeless during difficult times. The first article was published in the March 27 edition of the News-Times.
I asked librarians and homeless people like John and Brooks many questions tied to the “new normal” of COVID-19, with all the fear connected to it.
Brooks told me he sees “more people on the streets coming together, talking, sharing things.” John believes with the virus hysteria things will get more draconian, “and people like me will be targeted more than we already are, treating us more and more like lepers.”
While John is pragmatic and road-toughened — and weary — he said he enjoys this part of the world for its amazing forests meeting the sea. Wallace Kaufman, a Newport published author, reiterates: “Now is the time we should be celebrating the wonders of the natural world and the genius of humankind.”
My own journalistic work is tied to getting under the skin of a story, to peel back layers of the people I interview. I use my bicycle in Waldport and Newport to meet so-called street people. I am seeing more in my neighborhood, walking the street in groups of two or three, always tossing my way a “how’s it going?” or “howdy.”
I just discovered my other gig, with the Portland award-winning street paper, Street Roots, is on hold in some ways. At a dollar each, the homeless vendors get to keep 75 cents of the dollar each weekly sales for, but for the first time in two decades, the street vendors are without actual newspapers to sell.
My work in Seattle years ago with another street paper, Real Change News (RCN), spurred me to hang out with many street newspaper vendors. I wrote stories about two of them. Sometimes, I would stand way back and blend into the crowd in front of places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
Newspaper vendors in Seattle were virtual street magicians, and buskers — some performed tricks, recited poetry, sang songs. Every so often, a tambourine and even a keyboard accompanied their newspaper pitch.
The outfall was many RCN newspaper vendors would get way more than a dollar for the newspaper. A few made $70 or more a day. Now that’s all gone for the time being — RCN is down, too.
Talking with Deborah Trusty, Toledo’s head librarian for the past seven years, I understand the challenges she was having before the lockdown and now with the shuttering of all Lincoln County libraries. She wants Wi-Fi still available, but for homeless people that could mean people driving to the parking lot or hoofing it to access that.
Congregating even in small numbers is not a good idea with COVID-19 orders around social distancing.
Trusty and other librarians are working for story time to be delivered online. She is open to videos and podcasts coming from writers of every stripe. She’s even just challenged me to do a presentation, record it and then send it her way. My new short story collection, “Wide Open Eyes – Surfacing from Vietnam,” might be packaged soon and sent to the libraries.
“I took this job because I love being exposed to, sharing, and hearing others share great reads,” said Trusty. “I know that a library is much more than that and libraries are evolving every day, but that was my original motivation. Libraries are perhaps our most valuable public space left in America.”
For readers who can access online resources, libraries in Lincoln County are offering their collective work collating online resources for families that offer activities and learning opportunities on their Facebook pages.
My last outing at a local library was in Siletz. It’s an amazing library, headed up by Carol Rasmussen Schramm. She told me that it’s been tough the past years to get people interested in book readings like my own gig. This was before the lock-down.
Yet folks like Rasmussen Schramm and Trusty see themselves as members of a larger community. When things get back to “normal,” our local libraries will be places for community gatherings, discussions and more. The Newport Library’s conference room has hosted many important speakers and events.
We are counting the weeks for those days to return. For writers and others, the best way to get the written word out is, many times, through the spoken word.
Support my writing and work by going to Wide Open Eyes, from Cirque Press: This literary arts journal has compelling art, photography, poetry, fiction, drama, interviews, and non-fiction. The newest one is the 10th Anniversary issue, about to come out. Yours truly is in that one, and many others. Support us, please. Us, being truth teller (AKA, soothsayers), journalists, poets, hard-nosed investigative writers, essayists, biographers, memoirists, and the like!