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I haven’t been anywhere actually. Aside from a weekly trip to get groceries and a weekly visit with the man in my life, I live a semi-quarantine existence. But here's where I've "been" nonetheless.
I count myself fortunate because I still have my job and the church has the funds to pay my salary.
To say that COVID-19 has changed everything else for me is of course a huge understatement. Doing my job now means I spend a fair amount of time on my laptop doing things like writing a weekly family devotional, leading a Bible study, participating in leading our worship services, updating the church website and Facebook page, and working on fall planning like trying to figure out how to do an at-home Sunday school and how to do a workable youth group without getting us all sick.
In July our pastor finally went on a much-needed vacation. I’m pretty sure he was just lurking around his house for three weeks, kind of like I’m doing now. While he was away, I was responsible for leading worship and doing the preaching. Worship for us at First United Methodist (Somerville) is on Zoom. While everything is done live and therefore subject to all the hazards of live streaming, our parishioners are overjoyed to see one another’s faces and hear their voices. Zoom also allows those who do not have the internet to phone in and listen to the service, and permits people who have moved away from the area to Zoom in.
No, I'm not robbing my church in this photo. I was getting ready to lead a Zoom worship service. There were only 2-3 other people in the building with me: the organist and our cantor, who sings the hymns so people at home know what verse they're on. As I said, the congregation are at home. It's a good thing, too, because it was hotter than the hinges of Hades the three weeks I preached. We're economizing on the air conditioning.
Anyway, the experience of Zooming worship has led us to two huge "ah-ha's": 1) The internet plus the phone-in option makes us accessible to a greater number of people; and 2) we’re going to continue live streaming even after we re-open the building (which might not be until 2021). The challenges are the need for updated and new equipment including powerful Wi-Fi, volunteers trained to work the new equipment, and getting the leadership team up to speed because we’re a bunch of aging weirdos… I mean, churchy-types. All right… we’re weirdos. But this weirdness is exactly why I have stayed on staff with First UMC for twelve years.
Neglecting My Book Business
It’s been a struggle to keep up with the writing and blogging. However, one thing I did do was close Squeaking Pips Press, Inc. in June and start a DBA called Squeaking Pips Books. This has simplified my life greatly as I only need to report my income and expenses regarding Squeaking Pips Books as part of my personal income rather than deal with all the nonsense of being a corporation. Huge sigh of relief.
Dan's son-in-law splashing around with our grandsons.
With My Family
On the upside, I have been able to kick back and spend weekends at Dan’s house, where we have started a tradition of small family gatherings at his pool on Sunday evenings. It’s a small group: just Dan, me, his daughter, two grandsons, and sometimes his son-in-law. Rest assured, everyone is appropriately physically distanced, and if anyone goes in the house, they wear a mask. But Sunday evenings have been a genuine blessing. I think Vida has enjoyed them, too. She appears to like visiting with Dan’s cat, Pantera, and our “grand dog” Snowfie, a little Shih Tzu with a big personality. (A small dog with a big personality. Are you surprised? Of course not.)
Vida with Pantera Snowfie "Strike a Pose, Girl!"
So, I have been juggling the above, leading worship and preaching the last two weeks of July and the first week of August, and pre-prepping all the stuff I usually do each week so I could take something resembling a vacation.
To put it bluntly, I’m pooped. Just like everyone else, I’ve dealt with the stress of life during COVID, the need to change how I do my work, and all the rest. So I need the break – even if “break” means finally catching up on blogging and doing all the other work that comes with being an indie author.
Meeting Tenacious D
One other odd little thing. I had the pleasure of hanging out with a couple of celebrities the evening of August 7. Let me come out of the closet right now and say that I am one of the moderators for a Facebook fan group called All Things Jables and Kage (Jack Black and Tenacious D). Regardless of how you might feel about Tenacious D (and sometimes how I feel about them), the group is fun. Also, our little admin team is fantastic. The four of us are tight considering I live in New Jersey, and the other three are in Chicago, Turkey, and Germany. After much haranguing by one of the group’s administrators, I gave in and joined her in a little online meet and greet. Part of my “job” with the team is to be an ad hoc pastor and advisor. So, I was doing some virtual handholding for my German friend that evening.
But I did get to visit with Jack Black and Kyle Gass. Check out the screenshot. Notice I’ve got my mouth open. I was talking as usual.
Jack and Kyle are very personable guys. I didn’t feel as if I was chatting with celebs. More like two guys who were comfortable to talk to and sometimes like annoying buddies. For instance, when I entered the chat room, they both shouted, “Janet!” That was followed by “Dammit, Janet” (yes, the song of the same name from the Rocky Horror Picture Show). And they concluded by singing the obligatory “I loooove you.”
I wanted to slug them. In sisterly love, of course. Because of all the songs dedicated to females out there, “Dammit, Janet” seems to be the only dang song in the world for my name. Naturally, that launched the three of us into a conversation about Rocky Horror – and then sadly, something went wrong with the system and the chat shut down at my end before our time was up.
I wish I had had a little more time to tell those two guys that in my head they are cast as two characters in the Saint Maggie series. It’s no secret that I picture and hear Jack when I write Eli. A little bit of Black edge really has helped my character’s development. And now – thanks to pressure from my lovely friends on the admin team – I have been forced to give Eli a new friend by the name of Shelby, who looks and sounds like Kyle. Shelby is a traveling musician (guitar and voice) and is still in the process of developing in the new novel. And yet, he somehow has managed to get himself a girlfriend who plays a mean fiddle. Characters… go figure.
So that’s what I’ve been up to. I plan to get myself back into the discipline of blogging, not to mention regular writing, during my vacation. Keep a prayer in and your fingers crossed that I’ll be able to continue when my workload resumes.
Meanwhile, stay well and stay safe, my friends.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder