Friday, July 10, 2020

Filipinos #CopingWithCovid -- Brian Ascalon Roley, Ohio USA

The following is part of my series, Filipinos Coping with Covid.

Responding to my interview questions, Brian Ascalon Roley describes life  in Ohio, USA, during the time of coronavirus. This was written on May 24, 2020.

Update July 10, 2020 by Brian Roley: "Since I first answered these questions, the lockdown ended, but now there’s been a surge in my county and masks are required again. Not much has changed in terms of my work patterns. But I am preparing my two undergraduate classes this fall classes online. 

Brian Ascalon Roley has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, the University of Cambridge, Cornell University, the Ohio Arts Council, the Association of Asian American Studies, the Djerassi Foundation, Ragdale, the VCCA, and others. An English Professor at Miami University of Ohio, his books include the widely taught AMERICAN SON (W.W. Norton), a New York Times Notable Book, and THE LAST MISTRESS OF JOSE RIZAL AND OTHER STORIES (Northwestern University Press). More at:


Interview of Brian Ascalon Roley by Cecilia Brainard

Copyright 2020 by Cecilia Brainard 

CECILIA BRAINARDAre you still in lockdown? Are you alone or with others? Do you see other people, and do you practice social distancing if so?

BRIAN ASCALON ROLEY:  Here in Ohio we are still sort of in lockdown. That is, it’s now called something different, stores have partially opened up, and even restaurants are permitted to serve with conditions, though most are still tentative, mostly closed. My habit of getting out of the house with a laptop over coffee is sorely missed. A friend of mine joked that she’d never thought she’d miss Starbucks. So I keep to home, with my wife and two boys. My oldest son’s graduation was a ceremony of one; we followed him with a video camera.

CB:      Are you working? If yes, are you working from your home or do you have to go to your place of work?

BR: I write and teach. My university classes were abruptly made remote; we never had a chance to say goodbye in person. What made it most painful was that the in person rapport was especially good this semester. They never had a graduation. Some had jobs, now gone. I feel bad for them, feel their shock. I’ve camped out in my home office, with laptop, learned to make videos and hold remote meetings. My RSI has flared up from all the computer work.

CB: Were you affected financially by the pandemic? Did you lose your job? Did you get assistance?

BR: I didn’t lose a job, but I lost a leave. That was painful. I felt a book slip away.

CB: Do you go out? To take walks? To see relatives or friends? For exercise?

BR: Fortunately we’ve been able to go outside. My youngest son is learning to drive, so I’ve had him drive me to hiking. That’s been great time together. I know it wouldn’t have been possible in some other states. One painful thing is not being able to take our trips to see my elderly parents and in-laws in California. We don’t want to catch germs on a plane and give it to them, even now that flights are permitted. Precious together-time has been lost. Still is.

CB: Do you wear a face mask? Do you practice social distancing?

I wear a mask to the stores and distance whenever outside the house. But mostly life has been a quarantine of four.

CB: Please describe in a few sentences your daily routine.

BR: In the morning: I retreat with coffee to my room above the garage, and write or read for inspiration. Currently it’s a novel-in-verse, Ludlow, by David Mason about a 1914 massacre in Colorado. I do yoga. Afternoons, I hike.

CB: Do you go buy your own groceries? What precautions do you take?

BR: We go to Kroger, Whole Foods. Everyone wears masks, and we do too. Whole Foods gives them away, so people pretend not to have one.

CBDo you order food to go? What precautions do you take?

BR: We tried in-car pickup from a restaurant. We waited thirty minutes in a hot, clicking car past the time it was supposed to be ready. That happened once. We eat in.

CBDo you shop online or do you go out to stores that are open?

BR: Online, mostly. 

CBDo you worry about the future? Do you have nightmares or bad dreams? Do you feel some anxiety? Or do you sleep well and feel normal as usual?

BR: There was more anxiety, day and night, before. It waned with the weather this cloudy, cold spring— my perspective and prognosis for our common lot could differ radically with the movement of cloud over sun.

I worry about fall semester. The higher ups plan on a return to campus in the fall, but I don’t see how that’s going to work safely, unless the virus disappears—which seems not to be the goal of flattening the curve. We’ll see.

I worry even more about being able to visit my parents, with the kids. I've regretted living two thirds of a country away from them, and feel geography's blunt force reality more now that ever. I look through pictures of family visits, over the years. It strikes me how few pictures there are of work or other things; family is life, and life is finite.

CB:   What do you miss doing, with this pandemic? For eg eating out, or going to church, or seeing relatives?

BR: Seeing relatives, taking trips outside Ohio to regenerate, writers residencies, Cambridge, being around people, church. We live a block from church and the parking lot was empty at Good Friday, Easter. I miss helping out there with communion.

CB:   Do you have tips about surviving this pandemic?

BR: None that you probably haven’t already thought of and been telling yourself. I try.

CBPlease share any other thoughts about the current situation.

BR: I tell my graduating seniors to take advantage of this time and write. I can hear their thoughts, that this is true but--, that their jobs are gone, that they’ll never see their college friends again. I feel the unspoken avalanche of loss. The loneliness. I tell them to read Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet, which I’ve reread myself, which oddly still speaks to me, though I am no longer young.

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