Paul Haeder, Author

writing, interviews, editing, blogging

COVID-19 through a literary lens

COMMENTARY | My conversations with librarians have been the bright line in a ‘world of words’

 Paul K. Haeder | 31 Mar 2020

“Look, we have been on the front lines of all sorts of diseases. New strains of TB. Hep C. Even bedbugs are blamed on us. This virus doesn’t scare me. The people out there — the citizens — that’s what scares me, man, all that toilet paper hoarding and shit.” 
— Brooks, as we talked in front of the Waldport library
“I’m preparing for National Poetry Month, not for death.
“See, there I was time I thought I was going to die. I was really scared. And in that moment, no one was scared with me. Doctors didn’t take me seriously; my family even questioned if my illness was real.
“It was then that I was scared of all of you, your germs, your coughs, and your unwashed hands. It was then that I really didn’t want y’all to touch me.
“Doctors told me I needed a nap and that I was just stressed. But I, in fact, had a serious case of Babesia, a neurologically based tick-borne illness that impacted by brain, my speech, my cognition — and my life.”  
— Whit Easton, L.A. writer, from the piece  “I’m Making Art (and Love) This Go-Around of a Global Health Pandemic — One poet’s response to COVID-19”

I’m talking with John (he prefers this pseudonym) about his own desire that incubated more than three decades ago about becoming a novelist.

“I always thought about that as a career, even in high school.” He is not a 48-year-old “victim of circumstances,” though the average person might see him crossing the Alsea bridge at night with his backpack and bedroll as such.

He prefers to be called a vagabond. We’ve talked about intelligent design, quantum physics, zoning laws, solutions to housing precarity. 

He reads a lot. He spends a lot of time inside libraries reading. This pattern has been in his blood way before the seven years he’s been on the road. His own life philosophy is complicated, but in one sense it can be whittled down to, “Here today and gone tomorrow.”

“I am not a loner, don’t get me wrong,” he tells me while we share coffee. “I’ll associate with anyone who’s kind regardless of their station in life.”

Like many on the road, John doesn’t want specifics revealed. But he still is open about some things in his narrative.

He grew up in Los Angeles. He said he was a foster child. He has no siblings. He has no connection to his parents (he has negative things to say about both of them). The effects of a bullet to the lung and one to the hip at age 22 (both removed) are taking a toll on his ability to work long and grueling jobs.  

“Yeah, I think when you and I were talking a few months ago about the Influenza A, I figured anything like this new virus would put a kink in everything. Am I right?”

Social distancing is easy for John — he stays in his own tent — and difficult: He shares a bench with Brooks, and they swap tobacco and rolling papers for their cigarettes.

We talk about the concept of story. John and Brooks have a lot of them — stories. John, though, is steeped in the writerly way of framing narrative through his life and a universal lens. Brooks has tales about many dramatic brushes with the law, criminals, courtrooms.

“I still think about it — writing a book. You never know what I might be doing when I turn 50 … or 60.” This is John looking at me pensively but with no regret etched on his face.

We continue talking about surviving and how people on the streets, on the road, have survival skills the average person in the U.S. society doesn’t have. Not just the ways these people can find shelter, tap into resources and be blessed with other windfalls. They have a certain outlook on life that is “not filled with unrealistic pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.” 

John’s thrown in as a line chef, as a carpenter, cabinet-maker, and demolishing structures. He was once paid a penny a word for research through an online university. He worked in Arizona picking melons with mostly immigrant laborers. 

“Yeah, right out of ‘Grapes of Wrath,’” he said. “We got paid two hundred a week, but the manager kept our first week’s wages. And, we had to pay for food and this crappy shed to sleep in. We paid every time we took a shit.”

He thinks labeling anyone with “mental illness” is incorrect — “we can have mental issues and problems, but it is not a disease” — and a quick way to control people and taking away their rights.

John is skeptical of government services for homeless, saying, “The secular institutions aren’t capable of helping the homeless. When people help me, it’s members of the community. Religious institutions should be helping out much more.” 

John said, “It seems like the powers that be want us to freeze to death. Sometimes it’s just a place to get out of the cold that can make the difference.” 

Librarians in a time of plague 

So many homeless people I interact with see our local public libraries as both nirvana — a place to get out of the cold — and a gold mine of information and killing time with words.

Toledo, Ore., is a small mill town (Georgia Pacific), and the library there is run by the city. It’s pretty large compared to the size of the community. Deborah Trusty has managed it for over a decade. We talk about COVID-19; all the author readings and story-time events for kids were canceled. 

Other libraries in Lincoln County had already closed altogether, including Newport. She says more people from Newport were coming in for library cards. The staff saw more people than ever using the Wi-Fi services. 

“I’m concerned about people with issues. The elderly. The immunosuppressed. And I know that my patrons who are homeless count on the library. Here in Toledo, we just closed the pool. I am concerned now because that’s where people without homes showered.”

Cornel West praises Occupy Seattle movement at Green River Community College: By Yours Truly

We talk about having online author readings, Skyping and using Zoom for interactive literary events. We discuss other ways the library system can step it up in a time of COVID-19.

“I’ve done those tabletop exercises. You know, disaster preparedness for the big earthquake. There is no way to prepare for something like that. Other than laying in more food. But most likely what will happen is what all those movies have been showing us.”

But Deborah sees COVID-19 as an opportunity to do things differently and to ask, What can we do to change? She’s thinking of slowing down, stopping to smell the proverbial coffee and listening. Part of that denouement is reading more. 

I ask former Stockton, Calif., resident and now Portland resident (since 1975) Leanne Grabel what she thinks of these lockdowns, public cancellations, and quarantining due to a virus.

“Let’s face it. There is a thrill in crises, and I feel it. It’s an abandonment of routine, which has an excitement to it. Is there fear? Yes. We are over 60, and my husband has lung issues. But staying home, watching movies, working on projects, and now having a snowstorm, it has its sweetness. 

“Now, if we get sick, it won’t be so fun. And of course, there is huge concern and disgust over the current administration’s handling of it all since their first priority is not people but money. It just piles up the disgust that was already up to the sky. But local communities — schools, restaurants, stores — are being generous and people-focused.”

Her pedigree is long and varied, but most interesting to me is she’s worked in the Portland Public Schools focusing on language arts and special education. Much of her time concentrated on teenage girls in a lockdown residential treatment center: Rosemont.

 “As a writer, and a victim of trauma myself, I knew the act of writing one’s ugly story — could help — just help.” From that work, she published “badgirls,” a chapbook based on her experiences with the girls.

Poetry and music

I was on my way back from Spokane last week, plugging my new literary work, a short story collection, “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” when I heard an interview featuring Peter Sears’ poetry. Sears served as Oregon’s poet laureate from 2014 to 2016 and was active in the state’s literary community for more than 40 years. The story produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting was about fusing Sears’ poetry with classical music.

Teddy Abrams is one of classical music’s “biggest proponents of collaboration and breaking artistic barriers.” He is the music director of the Britt Music and Arts Festival in Jacksonville, Ore. In 2014, Aoife O’Donovan, a well-known songwriter, was asked to help him write a suite of music based on the work of this now deceased Oregon poet.

“Of all the human values we hear about that are wonderful — drive, resolve, insight, charm, empathy, whatever — we don’t hear much about imagination and it’s really, really critical. We live there a lot more than we know. Whether there are any results, that’s another matter. But if a person has an opportunity to engage that imagination, as they do in writing, things can happen that they never saw coming.”
– Peter Sears

Writing in a time of crisis

As the old adage states, a rolling stone collects no moss. Now that the stones of society and gearworks have come to a halt, and all public gatherings in many states across the U.S. have been “banned,” we have a crisis of more atomization in our society, more social dislocation, and more isolation.

My conversations with dozens of librarians, from big universities where I’ve taught to small towns where I’ve lived, have been the bright line in a “world of words.” These professionals support writers and books. Community libraries function as computer-based assistance, warming places for the houseless, and clearing houses for local information and bulletins.

As a bookend here, I want to chisel in the words of one of our Central Oregon writers, Wallace Kaufman. His bio is varied and diverse, the fuel of myriad of written forms. He has been a wrestling coach, museum curator, high school biology teacher, college professor, land developer, property appraiser, licensed construction contractor, conflict mediator, journalist, land-use consultant, adviser on housing and land reform to the government of Kazakhstan, Spanish translator, president of three statewide environmental groups, and economics researcher for World Bank and USAID projects. 

He lives in Newport and is the author of seven books: science fiction, nonfiction, memoir and poetry.

For him, the power of the word and why he writes are intertwined:

 “As a shy kid who could not sing or play an instrument and wondered what life was worth, I was seduced by the music of words that could also bring into focus the wonders of the world and engrave in memory important facts and enduring mysteries.”

I ask librarians and people like John and Brooks many questions tied to the “new normal” of COVID-19 and fear.

Brooks tells me he sees “more people on the streets coming together, talking, sharing things.” John believes under 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.”

The published author Kaufman sees the virus as emblematic of a modern world gone crazy:

“Humankind has mastered most of the powers of the natural world. This new pandemic makes clear that bio-engineered weapons can create more economic and social havoc and death than any other weapon, and that created viruses can be spread faster and farther with less effort than other weapons. Our powers are now god-like for both creation and destruction. We have met the Titans and they are us.” 

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. Kaufman echoed the same: “Now is the time we should be celebrating the wonders of the natural world and the genius of humankind.” 

For 32-year-old Whit Easton, this crisis of the pandemic is a blossoming cherry tree: “This week, in the wake of a society inundated by fear, an impending sense of doom, and a full-blown global pandemic, I find myself pensive — cautious yet calm — as I reflect on the journey I am about to undertake as a young entrepreneur. I’m on a mission to launch a digital platform in psychology and wellness that will be revolutionary for the diverse audience I aim to reach.”

Leaving behind baggage is Whit’s lesson now during this isolation:

“In 2019, I walked out of just about every damn closet that you can possibly walk out of in life. I came out as a transgender non-binary lesbian in nine months’ time. Once I knew I was gay, I figured why not get all the coming-out over with? I launched my freelance writing career and said goodbye to the 9 to 5 office life, published my first work of creative prose, and began to build a writing business.”

Paul Haeder is a seasoned print journalist, has been a college English faculty for a dozen colleges and universities, and now works on a statewide anti-poverty project, Family Independence Initiative, in Lincoln County. He just published a new book of short fiction, “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam” (Cirque Press, 2020). His Portland roots connect with Central City Concern, Lifeworks NW, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Salvation Army as a case manager for people who were homeless, developmental disabled, in foster teen programs, veterans and newly released from incarceration. 

3 thoughts on “

  1. Daniel says:

    Paul Haeder: Leaving a huge metropolitan area with more than 90 percent Hispanic population in El Paso and several million Mexicans right across the border in Juarez, to this almost alien quasi-barren place called the Central Oregon Coast has galvanized into him the word “significant.” Paul Haeder: The ocean, once considered immune to humanity’s despoilments, is as far as its chemical composition and ecological processes fragile with just the right forcers.


  2. theOwl30 says:

    While safety is important, are too many people over-reacting about the Covid-19 virus? Hear this video, and share it, and decide for yourself.

    HIV/SARS, Australia!
    Interesting — Of all the stuff on this/my blog, all the heroes and all the discussion about the voracious perversions of capitalism and the white race, you pick this one to comment on. SARS-CoV-2? Overreacting? You betcha. Do these two pasty faced folks in this video you linked hold weight? Not much. But Spiro does interview Francis Boyle (see below) who calls this turbo-charged bioweapon agent:

    Bioweaponized? Ahh, the gift that keeps on giving — HIV/AIDS, Lyme disease, MERS, SARS H1N1, Hanta virus . . . on and on and on:

    Quoting: In this interview, the author of the US Biowarfare Act, Professor Francis Boyle, uncovers four separate studies which he claims confirm as ‘smoking gun’ evidence the Wuhan coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, was in fact weaponized.

    Professor Boyle also discloses where he believes the true origin of the virus originated and the extent that the US government was involved.

    This is a must-see interview as Professor Boyle also reveals never before disclosed information.


    I am composing something to get through the pure bullshit, the lame-brained, the confused, the utterly repugnant views of bloggers, mental midgets, Mainstream Media pigs, and of course all the pro-Trump and pro-Biden bullies.

    Gates? Forced vaccinations? Bad? Duh.

    And so is the forced deaths and murders and polluted soils, air, soils on Turtle Island and the rest of the world. The military industrial machine? The USA’s military-chemical-mining-ag-edu-prison-finance-insurance-real estate-AI-law- machine? The technocrats and AI whizzes controlling the universe, including Facebook, Google, all data, and even messed up Word Press?

    The Chickens have come home to roost. You think native tribes and people of color in this country have not undergone massive generational economic murder, physical harm, theft of land, resources, culture through the white devil of death ?

    Hmm, vaccines is one topic separate from another, and alas, this is what the world vis-a-vis USA has created:



    The leaders of two controversial pandemic simulations that took place just months before the Coronavirus crisis – Event 201 and Crimson Contagion – share a common history, the 2001 biowarfare simulation Dark Winter. Dark Winter not only predicted the 2001 anthrax attacks, but some of its participants had clear foreknowledge of those attacks.

    During the presidency of George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, something disturbing unfolded at the U.S.’ top biological warfare research facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Specimens of highly contagious and deadly pathogens – anthrax and ebola among them – had disappeared from the lab, at a time when lab workers and rival scientists had been accused of targeted sexual and ethnic harassment and several disgruntled researchers had left as a result.

    In addition to missing samples of anthrax, ebola, hanta virus and a variant of AIDS, two of the missing specimens had been labeled “unknown” – “an Army euphemism for classified research whose subject was secret,” according to reports. The vast majority of the specimens lost were never found and an Army spokesperson would later claim that it was “likely some were simply thrown out with the trash.”

    An internal Army inquiry in 1992 would reveal that one employee, Lt. Col. Philip Zack, had been caught on camera secretly entering the lab to conduct “unauthorized research, apparently involving anthrax,” the Hartford Courant would later report. Despite this, Zack would continue to do infectious disease research for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and would collaborate with the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) throughout the 1990s.

    Read it. There’s more and more:

    The head of Belgium’s Covid-19 Task Force has a PhD in BioTech, an MBA, and a certificate in Private Equity-Investing & Creating Value from Wharton. He is the head of Digital Transformation and served as a member of European Parliament. We are living through the dawn of an age of straight up biocapitalism. Watch this video. It is a wake up call. Listen to these white pigs:

    And more of these rotten perverse capitalists —


    The three companies behind the leading proposal to build a “national coronavirus surveillance system”, an initiative spearheaded by Jared Kushner, boast deep ties to Google, intelligence-linked venture capital firms as well as one of last year’s eerily predictive “pandemic” simulations.

    On April 7, Politico reported that the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was spearheading an all-private sector taskforce that aims to build a “national coronavirus surveillance system” in order to “give the government a near real-time view of where patients are seeking treatment and for what.”

    This proposed nationwide network, according to that report, would be used to better inform government decision-making regarding which parts of the United States may “safely relax social-distancing rules” and those that may not. Politico treaded lightly in its discussion of such a system’s likely effects on civil liberties, but did note that some critics have compared this proposed system “to the Patriot act enacted after the 9/11 attacks.”

    HOWEVER, Info Wars? No way, Jose.


  3. haederpaul says:


    This official U.S. Army history of its involvement in the U.S. biological warfare program provides a detailed account of its activities from the early Cold War through the end of the U.S. biological warfare program in 1969. Supplementing this history (found in Volume I) is supporting documentation in Volume II, which include information on biowarfare research and development contracts between Fort Detrick and U.S. universities and private industry, biological field testing of potential biowarfare agents, safety concerns regarding open air tests with pathogens, and testing on human volunteers.


    The Secret Arsenal; Chemical and biological weapons —
    By Seymour M. Hersh
    Aug. 25, 1968


    This is the second book (The Silent Weapons–p. 220, 1968) to appear in as many months about the new warfare mankind, and in particular the United States, seems diabolically bent on improving. The question may well turn from the moral conjectures of overkill to the more practical problem of control. For one thing, where does one drop a test plague? This book deals more particularly with America’s policies and program which Mr. Hersh also views as immoral, not to mention irresponsible, with haphazard stockpiling of gallons of incredibly toxic gas, vast dangerous experimentation, etc. The author gives a history of the development of CBW, describes the variety of chemical and biological agents and their various effects, the extent of usage in Vietnam, and of the military bases, commercial corporations and universities devoted to this research. One fatal irony is that despite the amount of money and energy the government is expending in this area, it could only come up with say, enough civilian gas masks to protect one man in 10,000 in a national emergency. More so than the earlier book, this hits where it may very well hurt, close to home. For anyone with any sense of moral or social concern.


    They harp on Syria and Saddam, but but but . . . . they cut off a caller questioning the Assad lie. Can these people just stop the CIA crap? This PhD is really off her rocker!

    CBW: Chemical and Biological Warfare.
    by Steven Rose.
    Beacon Press. 209 pp. $7.50.

    Chemical and Biological Warfare.
    by Seymour Hersh.
    Bobbs-Merrill. 354 pp. $7.50.

    The Silent Weapons.
    by Robin Clarke.
    David McKay. 270 pp. $4.95.

    Chemical Warfare: A Study in Restraints.
    by Frederic J. Brown.
    Princeton University Press. 355 pp. $9.00.

    The United States, its enemies, and its allies are arming themselves with poison gases and disease germs for use in warfare. Chemical warfare agents—crop poisons, nerve gases, other poisonous gases, and incapacitating gases—are in extensive development and production in the United States, and biological weapons preparations are going forward. These are the clear, repugnant facts discussed in these books.

    Chemical warfare agents are being used, for the first time since World War I, in Vietnam. Crop-destruction with arsenic-based herbicides, defoliation, destruction of much of the mangrove forests of South Vietnam, repeated spraying of vast areas with the persistent herbicide picloram, and experimentation with toxic gases, are providing much operational experience in the arts of chemical warfare. Nerve gases are in standard and steady production in this country, and our stockpile of nerve-gas bombs, missiles, and artillery shells can only be compared with our stockpile of nuclear weapons for sheer useless destructiveness. Chemical weapons are dispersed throughout the world with United States forces, and it is not at all clear under what circumstances we are prepared to use them.

    Our own nerve-gas weapons are manufactured at a plant in Newport, Indiana, by the Food Machinery and Chemical Corporation of New York City. The vast surplus of nerve gas had been stored at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal until recently, when a group of scientists in nearby Denver pointed out that the gas was directly beneath a main approach of the Denver airport. The bulk of the arsenal has now been moved on flatbed railroad cars to Utah, where chemical warfare experiments are carried on over large areas of the state.

    At the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, where new chemical agents are tested, a recent experiment involved spraying nerve gas from a jet aircraft at low altitude. Through a series of gross misjudgments, and the mechanical failure of the spray cut-off mechanism, the gas drifted several miles from the test area, and killed thousands of sheep. A recent article in Environment magazine points out it was only good luck which spared the town of Dugway in this incident.


    Military thesis:

    Click to access a067456.pdf


    ccording to corporate media reports as well as reports from some “independent” media outlets like Democracy Now over the past week, UN-backed investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were being “blocked” by Syria and Russia from reaching the alleged site of a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria that ostensibly triggered the recent bombing of Syria by the U.S., U.K. and France.

    On Monday, the OPCW’s director general, Ahmet Üzümcü, wrote:

    The Syrian and the Russian officials who participated in the preparatory meetings in Damascus have informed the [investigators] that there were still pending security issues to be worked out before any deployment could take place.

    Later in the week, the OPCW declined to place blame on the governments of Russia and Syria, as had been alleged–stating that it was “unable to share operational details about this deployment.” The statement, issued by the OPCW’s press service, continued:

    This policy exists to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process and its results as well as to ensure the safety and security of OPCW experts and personnel involved. All parties are asked to respect the confidentiality parameters required for a rigorous and unimpeded investigation.


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