Pandemic Stories: A Snapshot In Time

Psychologically, speaking about our most difficult struggles and periods of life helps us to understand and heal. Until recently when we began serious exponential technological progress as a species, the oral report was the only way to collect, save, and pass on information. It's biological. Now, up until recently we had free reign to gather without repercussion, face-to-face. Because unless you've been marooned on an island as a soldier fighting a war that has long since come to and end and just emerged from your foxhole, you have been affected by COVID-19. Now, even though we can't ethically get together for a beer and possibly spew world ending viruses all over each other's atmosphere, we can definitely have a lovely, safe chat over the phone, recorded into a podcast to share with the rest of the ethernet world around us. No living thing can pass through that network protocol. So, we at What's Your Why have collected a few stories from across Wyoming to put each and every one of you in the shoes of someone else this pandemicseason. Everyone is struggling, and no one has experienced COVID the same. Listen, read, experience, empathize, share, and spread love. Thank you for listening and being a part of this journey!

Emy diGrappa (00:00):

What does the pandemic look like to people across Wyoming? In this episode of What's Your Why? we are sharing stories of how the pandemic has changed lives. Please listen and then go to our website to read more about people's personal journal entries and writings submitted to contribute to this historical time.

This is Wyoming Pandemic Stories, and today we're s- talking to Scott Henkel. Scott, tell us how the corona virus has effected your life and your work.

Scott Henkel (00:44):

Uh, oh my goodness (laughs).

Emy diGrappa (00:50):

(laughs). Oh my goodness.

Scott Henkel (00:50):


Emy diGrappa (00:50):


Scott Henkel (00:50):

Oh my goodness.

Emy diGrappa (00:50):


Scott Henkel (00:56):

Um, so, I am I'm a prof at the University of Wyoming, and I am the director of the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research, and, uh, at mid semester, uh, is when we had to change everything. All of our classes went from being in person to online and that just required a wholesale, a wholesale change in everything that we do. I've been, I've been a teacher in various ways, maybe for about two and a half decades, and I have, like, developed ways of teaching over those years and not everything, but a lot of that has just been upended in the past weeks.

                 But as the, as the director of the research institute, we do public programming that previously was on campus, there was lectures and events and readings and workshops and all sorts of ways to, uh, share the teaching and research that happens, at the university with the public, with the public, with large, in the state, country and around the world. And in the past, what, three, four weeks, we've had to re-tool all of that programming so that it's all online, uh, re-arranging speakers, figuring out what works in a virtual format, what doesn't work in a virtual format.

                 But he- here's the thing, whilst it's all very hard, like, the values of public education, the values of sharing our knowledge with the public and listening to what they say about it, like, the conversation between what happens in the classroom, or what happens in the laboratory, what happens in the library, and people in the world. I mean, that's the vital, that's the, those vital conversations back and forth are what drive our public engagements. And much of that, I'm proud to say, still exists in this new, in this new format. It's virtual, it's via Zoom or whatever, but I'm super proud that even in this much changed world, we're still able to, like, serve the public, I'm very proud of that.

                 There's a poem that a couple of friends have, uh, sent to me that I think really, it ha- it has really helped me to think about this changing world and what it is to do. The poem is called, To be of use, and it's by Marge Piercy. The people I love the best jump into work head first, without dallying in the shadows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to becomes natives of that element, but black sleek heads of seal bouncing like half-submerged balls. I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart who pull like water buffalo with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done again and again.

                 I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters, but move in a common rhythm when the food must come in, or the fire be put out. The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn are put in museums. But you know that they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry, and a person for work that is real.

Emy diGrappa (05:11):

That was wonderful. Okay, thank you.

Scott Henkel (05:23):

Thank you.

Jenna Mahaffie (05:23):

My name is Jenna Mahaffie, I am a graphic designer and writer in Jackson, Wyoming, and this is my pandemic story. So, I guess when this all kinda like broke loose and [inaudible 00:05:36] the day that it hit for me was when we were watching the news and Trump had announced that the borders would be closing between Europe and the US, and I actually had a friend who was planning on going on a ski trip and he was sitting with me kind of watching this, like, "Oh, shit, like, I have to unpack my bag." And he was literally scheduled to leave in, like, you know, the next day.

                 Um, and I think that was maybe Wednesday, and on Monday everything had sort of shut down, and on Sunday we had, you know, seen the resorts shut down after 17 inches of snow and it really started to hit then. And as someone who is self employed, my first reaction was that I might be okay, right? Because I work remotely already, like, I have a desk setup with everything that I need and, you know, I have my workspace dialed and I'm pretty comfortable working from home. One thing that I did not necessarily expect were to have, you know, a fair number of clients say, not necessarily fair, like, "Hey, we're not gonna do this anymore," but more just put clauses on projects, right?

                 And I think perhaps probably like the most difficult to grapple with was really just, like, this loss of, of, like, ha- the idea of having a goal, right? And I've been a graphic designer since I was 22, since I graduated college and, and I've written since I was 22 professionally and I, um, I'd gone kind of in and out of full-time jobs and freelance work and this is going on my second full-time year of, of, of really being completely self employed. And I really did want to, I had a really great first year, and I wanted to, um, kind of knock it out of the park with, in terms of, you know, how much I was making and the work I was doing and the projects that I was getting and I think that was a hard thing to grapple with was that that goal is probably, I mean, you know, things are better not but, um, that, that that goal wasn't necessarily going to happen.

                 And, you know, I acknowledge the fact that, you know, I'm probably aware of my privilege and that I wasn't necessarily suffering, but I also at one point, you know, figured, like, I think it's okay to be upset by the fact that I did have a lack of work and that I was frustrated by the unknown and, like, I said, kind of, saddened by these goals that now felt impossible, and moreover just annoyed and really frustrated by what feels like, or perhaps just really was kind of this robe- robbery in the face of a, of a public health crisis, right? And I, I do stand behind the idea that this could have been prevented, um, this shut down could have been a lot better handled than it was.

                 And basically, you know, I, I kind of, like, approached it with this idea that, like, all right, there's comfort in solidarity, like, at least, like, there's so many other Americans that are unemployed and are still unemployed. There are plenty of freelance creatives who are feeling the wrath of what's going on just as much, if not harder than I am. But, you know, I kind of, I, I felt a little bit, like, I was just, I was sad. I was, I was upset, and I, but really at the end of the day, like, I was, I was bummed out. And I think that's because it's just, like, when you are, you know, whether you're a graphic designer, or filmmaker, whatever, but when you work for yourself, like, so much of goals and, and motivation has to come from yourself, right? And that was a tough thing to kind of understand and, and work around.

                 And fortunately, like, I've had a lot of clients who seem like they're in better places, um, and those small businesses and the non-profits that I work with are kind of coming back to their, you know, regular scheduled programming. And I do have more work, but it is this hard thing to, you know, I, I think also as a freelancer, you're always wondering, like, oh god, like, work ebbs and flows so often, um, when will it ebb and when will it flow? When will I be busy and when will I not? And, uh, it was a little scary to have not that much work for such a long period of time (laughs), that's something that usually is always, kind of, you know, made me a lose a little bit of sleep.

                 But at the end of the day I, like I said, you know, I'm probably aware of how lucky I am to live in a place like Jackson and not, you know, an urban center like New York City and to have the outdoor spaces that we have to play and to explore. And I think, you know, I, I got a PPP loan which was great and, you know, we have government funding and I volunteer with Hole Food Rescue so I, I kept my days fairly busy and, um, I think, yeah, at the end of the day, like, it really could have been a lot worse than it was. But it is still something that I'm kind of trying to understand as, like, that idea of, like, what does it mean to kind of not self, I mean, not consciously, but, like, you know, inadvertently kind of lose sight of what you've been working so hard for. Um, and, you know, especially when it's not your fault, I think that's a really tough thing to understand.

Emy diGrappa (10:50):

Thanks Jenna.

Joanna Kail (10:59):

My name is Joanna Kail. I am the executive director of the Wyoming PBS Foundation. I am a mom and a wife in Lander, Wyoming. And here is my COVID-19 story. COVID-19 has changed my life in just really understanding the, the way Wyoming comes together, the way our communities come together in crisis. My daughter is a, uh, senior at Lander Valley High School, and it has been beautiful to see how out fa- our families and parents and leaders in our little community have come together to recognize the seniors of COVID-19 of 2020. Um, it's been inspiring to see when people need to sacrifice, um, what they'll do to help one another and come together. It's, y- we've put together these banners on Main St, we have a fan- fantastic parade for our kids, and we're about to do a celebration with a big firework show and a graduation. I think it's just been incredible to see what, uh, what Wyomingites do when we are called in these sorts of crisis' to come together.

                 I guess that's how I, it's changed my life in a way to know that we can sacrifice. It's terrible what our poor state, it breaks my heart what our poor state is going through right now, but I really have faith, uh, that, um, that we're gonna come out of this. I have faith that we're gonna do, um, we're gonna do even better next year. We're gonna conquer this, and we're gonna be stronger for it.

Marcia Hensley (12:47):

My name is Marcia Hensley. I live in Laramie, Wyoming. The pandemic has effected my life in, uh, an interesting way. Uh, my grandson who is a college student had come out to li- to, uh, go skiing on his spring break, uh, from college. He went to school in, uh, at, um, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. While he was here they closed the school and said that they would just be doing online classes. So, he has been with me, living with me ever since because his mother lives in New York City, and that wasn't a good place to go to, and his dad lives in China. So, (laughs), uh, I was the, uh, safest place to be, and he has been, um, h- he finished his college years, it was his senior year.

                 Uh, he, we made a little makeshift, uh, office for him in my living room, and he finished all his courses online here, and we had a, a graduation on Zoom, a ceremony with family. And, um, now he has, is a, uh, an intern with Microsoft, but they are also doing their internships, uh, remotely. So, he is here for the rest of the summer, and he has a little office where he's going to, uh, do his Microsoft work, um, and still living with me. And we have no idea whether the university he's been accepted to for graduate school will be having online courses or real classes.

                 So, I'm having a wonderful opportunity to spend a lot of time with my grandson, um, because of the pandemic, and it's been good to have his company and his help, um, during this time. I'm so pleased that because of the pandemic, even though it's been a terrible thing, it's been a joy for me to have this time with my grandson and to be able to offer safe haven for him at a time when, um, he, he really needed it. And I think this is a time we will always remember and will be a life changing, uh, experience for both of us.

Stephen Lottridge (15:22):

This is Stephen Lottridge. I'm a retired 83 year old psychologist living in Jackson, Wyoming. The pandemic has effected me in many ways. One of the primary ways has been that I am unable to be close or touch my family and friends. And I am a person who thrives on physical touch and close contact with people that I care about. So, I find that I have turned to other resources and other beings. And one of them is the trees that live with me in my yard. They're not really my trees, they're simply their own beings living there. But I've come to seek physical contact with them and have found it very moving and very reassuring in this time of isolation.

Emy diGrappa (16:32):

Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why? Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to, subscribe and never miss a show.