The Things I Learned During the Pandemic

Every time I meet up with my older brother, a retired teacher who continues to learn and who also demands that I continue to learn, he hands me a hefty plastic bag of newspapers and torn out articles on topics that I should pay attention to: lowering my cholesterol, saving for retirement, when to take Social Security, how to avoid backaches from sitting too much, and the like. Although I call it a “goody” bag, I should mention that it weighs a good two to three pounds because he oftentimes includes the Sunday editions of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and with great excitement, I cart the bag home, only to let it sit in the corner, by the couch. While I am determined to read, or at least skim the bag’s contents, my good intentions falter. 

That is, until March of last year when during the early days of the pandemic, I eagerly opened up the bag, grateful for the time to read, and for the extensive library I’d been given. I relished every story, every supplement, and read stories I’d typically never read in my regular pre-pandemic life. Too busy, not enough time, too many places to go to, people to see.   

This continued through 2020, and in January 2021, I was diagnosed with Covid and forced back into isolation for the next 14 days. Again, I went to the bag of newspapers after I’d finished writing an eBook, inserting the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle I’d been working on, and needing a break from serial killer documentaries. It was like I had hit gold with the selections my brother had chosen and left at my doorstop because he knew I must’ve needed a new batch of reading material. (I did still have a bag from our previous get together, but shhhhh.)

What follows is a little run down of the fascinating things I read during the course of my Covid experience. I hope you will enjoy them as well.

What I learned about Beethoven  – Classical music experts weighed in on the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven and provided snippets of the manner in which he approached his compositions. One particular story caught my attention as it mentioned a Beethoven piece that I actually knew: “Moonlight Sonata.” The writer discusses the movements, the first one considered “moody,” but it’s the third one that music reviewers feel represents Beethoven’s anger at his increasing hearing loss as he composed with violent “crashing chords” and “lightning quick arpeggios.” This piece would later be seen as Beethoven’s  touch of madness, and his period of deep depression; later he would acknowledge that the writing of this masterpiece saved his life.

What I learned about chess – The Netflix streaming subscription was a lifesaver for me, especially The Queen’s Gambit, the popular series on the game and one woman’s almost lifelong triumph in the sport. Of course, stories about chess boards and their pieces began to appear. As a chess player myself, a story about the creation of a chess set caught my eye. In describing the high cost of a well-made chess set, the writer explained that we can blame that on the knights. These pieces are typically carved by hand to resemble a horse’s head, and because each piece has to be carved identically, and with rich detail around the mane and sometimes the teeth, it is a tedious and labor-intensive process. Fascinating.

What I learned about the Macy’s Santa – It was the black and white photo, a scene from the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street, as we see Natalie Wood, Maureen O’Hara and Edmund Gwenn, that caught my eye. This particular article called, “Holiday Central,” focused on the history of the Macy’s Santa, who’d been arriving at the iconic Manhattan landmark each Thanksgiving for the past 159 years. O’Hara portrays Doris Walker, the store’s executive in charge of the holiday events, and for this story, the writer interviewed the “real life” Walker – Macy’s present holiday events manager, Susan Tercero. The following is a hilarious run down of the conversation between the writer and Tercero who explained that the preparations for Macy’s holiday season takes about 18 months, during which time Santa’s elves are recruited.  

“Who plays Santa?” asks the writer.

“Santa is Santa,” she says. 

“Right, but how to you choose him?” he asks.

“Santa is Santa,” she repeats.

“He is a magical being,” she adds. 

I thought that was hilarious. 

Among the other tidbits I learned during that time:  

That Rosa Parks had quite the life of an activist way before the 1955 bus incident, in fact almost twenty years’ worth.  In 1931, she worked to support the Scottsboro Boys falsely accused of assaulting two white women, among her other activities. 

I discovered the podcast. Years ago, it may have been called just another radio program. But this article covered some “new agey” programs meant to make me feel “less alone.” The fact that I might need to feel “less alone” was a bit troublesome. But, if I did feel troubled, I had a selection podcasts to discover, i.e., “Kind World” (focuses on human decency); “Griefcast” (focuses on grief, but in a humorous way); and “Beautiful Stories” (a phone conversation which sounds like a Seinfeld episode, “about nothing,” but probably ends up being about something).

Virtual museum tours. OMG. From the comfort of our couch, I read about how we can go on a tour at Washington’s National Gallery, the Morgan Library & Museum, and by now, probably every major museum in the world. It makes complete sense: if we can create virtual tours of homes for sale, why now a tour where we can see the Mona Lisa up close and personal! I particularly enjoyed my tour of an exhibit at the Louvre, where with the click of the mouse, I was able to move in dangerously close to the artwork; I actually feared being carted off by a French gendarme for my faux pas. 

When my Covid quarantine came to a close, I had cleaned out a good number of plastic bags’ worth of assorted papers. I felt better off having learned these bits of interesting facts and of these audio shows.  I will never question the future of the newspaper since, for me, it has proven to have a real purpose in our lives, or maybe just in the lives of my brother and myself. I am a bit put off, though, knowing that I have to work until 70 to get my full Social Security payments. But until then, I have lots to keep me busy. Like lowering my cholesterol.

Photos courtesy of MJ Hanley-Goff

About MJ Hanley-Goff (97 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to WomanAroundTown since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday and for ten years wrote for the Sunday Real Estate section. A move to the Hudson Valley brought her to the Times Herald-Record where she continued to write for a Sunday Real Estate section, and also joined the writing team at the monthly Orange Magazine. MJ then became editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, and contributed articles to Hudson Valley Magazine, AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. and conducts writing workshops, and as a self-proclaimed book “whisperer,” works with new writers on their books. Now back on Long Island, she continues to enjoy the opportunity to write for Woman Around Town, and the amazing adventures it offers, including reviewing concerts, events, and tourist attractions in New York, and around the world. “I particularly enjoy drawing attention to the off the beaten path kinds of events and experiences,” she says. “It’s great big world out there, with so many talented and creative artists, doers, and thinkers.”