Staff Picks: Sensing the Moment

We’re now six months into so-called COVID life. Some are working from home and others in frontline jobs. Some with kids doing remote learning or some form of in-person school and others largely in isolation. Some of us are tending to ailing parents, friends, or pets. Others are suffering from flooding, fire dangers, or the loss of loved ones to the virus. At the very least we’re all experiencing some form of dysphoria—colloquially, the pandemic blues.

Taking time to indulge the senses helps us endure. Below, staff members of the American Humanist Association share what we’re sensing in the moment through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. We hope you enjoy, find some good recommendations, and consider doing a similar exercise with people you know.

Jennifer Bardi, Deputy Director, Editor in Chief

Reading: Intimations by Zadie Smith. “Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard.”
Seeing: Mrs. America on HBO. Phyllis Schlafly getting a pie in the face to the tune of “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Snapping: Pictures on foot in a radius reduced by quarantine.
Hearing: Simon & Garfunkel, “Kathy’s Song”

I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls…

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you…

Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager, Managing Editor

Reading: Hild by Nicola Griffith. This is my second attempt at reading it… and it might be time to quit.
Seeing: Dark on Netflix. If you had told me a German time travel series would (twice!) almost bring me to tears…
Hearing: The delightful podcast Newcomers in which comedians Nicole Byer and Lauren Lapkus watch Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings for the first time, with hilarious consequences.
Tasting: Trader Joe’s Green Tea Mochi.
Touching & Smelling: My dog, finally fresh from the groomer after a long pandemic-imposed hiatus.

Nicole Carr, Director of Development

Reading: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah; I’m reading it for the book club my extended family recently started to keep in touch while we can’t visit each other.
Hearing: Podcast called The Sporkful; it uses discussions of food to talk about cultural issues.
Tasting: Takeout from restaurants in my neighborhood. I’m supporting as many as I can because I want them to still be there when the pandemic is over!

Rachel Deitch, Director of Policy and Social Justice

Reading: Just finished In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado.
Hearing: Doesn’t Matter by Christine and the Queens, on repeat.
Tasting: Lots of coffee.
Touching: My pup (perk of working from home is giving lots of pets which seem to be more for my benefit than his).
Smelling: Lots of coffee.

Margie Delao, Social Justice and Policy Assistant

Seeing: The horror comedy House by Nobuhiko Obayashi. I’m a big fan of art house horror movies.
Hearing: Listening to Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook on vinyl. It’s my favorite album to put on when I cook.
Tasting: Iced jasmine tea from my favorite local tea shop.
Touching: Old wood as I refurbish an old vanity.
Smelling: Lavender from my room air freshener.

Andrew Hulett, Legal Fellow

Reading: Tort hypotheticals and their insane Rube-Goldberg-styled facts:

A train hits a fallen tree, launching it into the air and onto a roof,
which knocks a chimney over onto a flock of birds that scatter
and distract a driver who plunges into a telephone pole,
causing a wire to come down and knock out the power in the area
which further startles movers 5 blocks away
who lose their grip and drop a piano from the third-floor balcony of a building and
onto someone’s brand new Mercedes. Who’s liable for what? 

Hearing: Anything and everything Manwolves (current obsession).
Tasting: Coffee and Nature Valley granola bars (particularly the peanut butter ones).
Touching: Textbooks and flashcards (and forcing myself to lock my phone away).
Smelling: Bug killer, as my endless war with fruit flies wages on (my dog Hank is in Michigan until mid-October which is why I’m being liberal with the bug killer!).

Sharon McGill, Art Director

Reading/Seeing: I just finished The Wilding by Benjamin Percy, a great literary thriller with an environmentalist twist that reminded me a lot of Deliverance.
Tasting: Since the pandemic, I’ve been in search of the best fried chicken in DC. So far, Roaming Rooster is a clear winner!
Touching: My dog is getting older and has lost her hearing and some of her vision, so I’ve been giving her lots of little scratches, massages and finding more sensory ways to communicate.

Ron Millar, Political Coordinator, Center for Freethought Equality

Reading: Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes by Adam Hochschild.
Hearing: Chain saws, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers—intermittently interrupted by rain drops on my windows.
Tasting: Cool water and crunched ice in my withdrawal from caffeinated sodas.
Touching: Head-butts and paw touches from cats who don’t understand why I’m not paying attention to them since I’m at home.
Smelling: My spouse’s damp laundry on drying racks in my improvised home office.

Emily Newman, Education Coordinator

Seeing: The Umbrella Academy season 2 on Netflix.
Reading: The New York Times Art Section.
Hearing: Construction and people walking by window.
Tasting: Brooklyn bagels.
Touching: Old school documents and camp letters; my parents are cleaning out the house.
Smelling: Freshly baked banana nut bread.

Kristin Wintermute, Director of Education

Seeing: Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve in Grayslake, Illinois, snapped on a summer bike ride.
Hearing: A podcast called New Narratives featuring dispatches from Minnesota that highlight the stories of Asian America. (Bragging rights for this proud podcaster parent!)
Tasting: Any flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, perk of having an employed scooper in the house.
Touching: Paintbrush as I reacquaint myself with forgotten canvas.
Smelling: Stench of epoxy concrete sealant—because home repairs don’t stop for a pandemic.