Videoanalysis and Vegetables

Last night’s Zoom videoconference was successful and not-so-successful. I think it was successful in that the participants (including me) enjoyed the opportunity to see and hear the voices of people outside today’s limited personal spheres. We all shared a little bit of ourselves and enjoyed the uplifting mood. It was not-so-successful in that some, perhaps most, seemed a little awkward or uncomfortable in an environment in which the only commonality among them was the fact that they know me.

In hindsight, I think I should have refrained from asking the world, via Facebook, about its interest in joining a happy hour videoconference. A better approach might have been to invite smaller groups of people, all of whom shared some commonality aside from knowing me; church acquaintances in one group, past joint co-workers/friends in another, etc. Groups with something that binds them together besides simply being connected to me in some fashion. Live and learn, I suppose.

The group was smaller than the expected twenty-plus people who said they would join. The maximum number of people who joined the videoconference reached only eleven, I think. Even that number was a bit too large. Six or eight would have been a good limit.

A future teleconference, especially one of the size of last night’s (or larger), might be more successful if led by someone who’s more gregarious than I. While I think I did a half-way decent job of faking it, a truly gregarious facilitator would have done a much better job of engaging the participants and getting them to open up. My friend Jim, who was on the videoconference, would have been a far superior facilitator, for example.

As I sit here this morning considering last night’s experiment, I’m reaching the conclusion that me attempting a video “happy hour” with many people was slightly insane. I am an introvert, pure and simple. In face-to-face “happy hour” environments, I tend to stay at the periphery with a few people with whom I feel closer than to the rest of the crowd. Though I’m capable of engaging and putting on an act of being gregarious, it’s not really me. I don’t enjoy it. What in the world made me think I would enjoy hosting a “happy hour” in which I would facilitate conversation? Madness.

But I did enjoy it, because it gave me the opportunity to engage with people whose company I enjoy. Just not as much as I might have in a more intimate environment with a smaller, more close-knit group.

One final thought about videoconferencing. I do not like talking on the telephone. Why telephone calls are unappealing to me, I don’t know. But last night, after everyone but one other participant and I had left the conference, I realized I really enjoyed one-on-one video. It felt very much like I was having a face-to-face conversation. I felt the same earlier in the day, when my friend Jim connected with me via Zoom to demonstrate using different background images. It felt like we were in the same room. I’m going to explore whether other friends also use Zoom or are willing to give it a try.

***

Because I cannot get COVID-19 off my mind for a single minute, I have to write about it. At this very moment, I feel overwhelmingly sad about what has happened and is happening worldwide. We are in the midst of a pandemic that is wrecking lives and livelihoods. The virus is sickening or killing millions and is ruining economies and the individual lives that depend on economic stability. When I hear predictions of “when this is going to end,” I think to myself, “this will never end; its impacts will be felt forever.” The repercussions of this pandemic will last many years longer than I will. And in those years I (I hope) have left, my way of life may be so radically altered as to bear no resemblance to the one I had until now. I try not to worry, but I do, about my wife. She’s getting physical therapy two or three days a week and I am concerned that someone else in that office may be shedding the virus. And when I go out to the grocery store, which is a rarity, I  am concerned that I might bring the virus home with me. I try to religiously follow CDC guidelines, but I wonder whether I am doing enough, or following them properly. I know I must lift myself out of this; I cannot let my sadness blossom into depression. I know that. But I worry that it might. When I realize, as I do at this moment, that there’s not a waking moment that the pandemic is not at least in the back of my mind, I worry that it might. I’ll give it a week; see what I write seven days from now.

***

I’ll try, today, between taking my wife to physical therapy and re-recording my poem for the Sunday church service (apparently, the sound wasn’t quite right), to coax the basil and chives and jalapeño plants into thriving. I now wish I had someplace to do more full-scale gardening than the few pots on my deck. And I wish I knew where to buy seeds. The old ways don’t work anymore. Nurseries are no longer open. I don’t want to go to the Lowe’s garden section (it may not be open, anyway). I’ve taken to saving seeds from tomatoes in the hope they will germinate when I plant them and will produce enormous, healthy, wildly productive plants. I’ve always wanted a tractor and a huge, secluded place to till the land and grow a garden. So much for that fantasy. Now, I’d be happy to have a few more pots and a source for seedlings.

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Thought-Skipping

Today’s post is evidence of thought-skipping, that experience in which one’s thoughts skip across many subjects in a short period of time. It’s like a smooth, flat stone thrown across the surface of a body of still water, the forward force of the stone causing it to touch the water surface, break away, and touch the water again; sometimes for several iterations. I won’t document all the thought-skipping this morning; just two or three.

***

Yesterday’s post ended on a weakly upbeat note, suggesting people the world after COVID-19 might have different attitude, having been taught that we need one another. After reading and essay by Robert Malley and Richard Malley in Foreign Affairs, even my weak optimism fizzled into gloom, tinged with despair. The writers argue that developed countries, even though they face their own monstrous challenges with COVID-19, should supply massive aid to developing countries in the face of the pandemic. Their reasoning is that conquering COVID-19 only in some places of immediate concern to us (our own countries, that is) will result in its return. They go on to argue that:

Many developing countries could suffer massive death tolls, economic meltdowns, and skyrocketing unemployment and poverty. The resulting social upheaval could take many forms, from violent intrastate conflict to massive refugee flows, a growth in organized crime, or terrorist groups taking advantage of the spreading chaos—each of which could eventually affect Europe and the United States.

The reason for my gloom and despair is that the developed countries, including Europe and especially the U.S.A, will be unlikely to be able or willing to provide the massive aid needed by countries in which containment and mitigation are extremely difficult or impossible. In my opinion, humanitarian arguments will not be sufficient to assure the necessary aid. But neither will the practical arguments about potential effects in the developing countries.

In places where people live in crowded ghettos with no running water, insufficient toilet facilities, and unspeakable poverty, the idea of “shelter-in-place” is akin to a death sentence; with no income, even from salvaging and selling valuables from garbage dumps, staying at home means starvation and dehydration. But ignoring steps to minimize the spread of the disease is just as much a sentence to death. The only realistic alternative is the injection of historically enormous types and amounts of aid. Depleting our own resources to dangerously low levels may be the only way to save the world and ourselves.

I doubt we have the collective will to accept and, indeed, embrace the concept of dramatically lowering our standard of living to give millions and millions of the poorest of the poor a fighting chance to stay alive.

Pessimism is an unpleasant attitude to have about this pandemic, but optimism seems irrational and ill-informed. Pessimism seems more aligned with realism. But the world may surprise me. I hope it does. I hope humanitarian decency blossoms with such force that we will collectively vanquish COVID-19 and improve the lot of all the people in all the developing nations, all while we are saving ourselves. Hope. Pessimism. Realism. Hope.

A significant part of my pessimism is rooted in my sense of the world in which we live, defined by a word I learned earlier this morning. Read on.

***

I read the word for the first time, I think, this morning. The word “kakistocracy” was included in an online image; no context, just the word. Naturally, I looked it up. And I discovered there exists a word for our experience with governance today. We are living in a nation that gives life to the word;  a living, breathing  definition.

According to Merriam-Webster:

kakistocracy
noun
kakistrocracy: kak·​is·​toc·​ra·​cy | \ ˌkakə̇ˈstäkrəsē \
plural kakistocracies
Definition of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

***

This evening, I am hosting a Happy Hour Videoconference. Thus far, nineteen people (me included) on Facebook have expressed an interest. Only two of the eighteen are people I have never met face-to-face. That’s interesting to me. I don’t know what it means but it could mean many things. It could mean that people I’ve known personally miss personal connections that have been lost (for a relatively short while so far) to the COVID-19 pandemic. It could mean that people I have not met face-to-face but who are on Facebook do not regularly read my posts and are therefore unaware of the event. It could mean that people I have not met face-to-face are less likely to want to engage with “strangers” in a live video interchange. It could have no meaning at all; it’s just coincidental.  Time will tell.

***

I am in the mood to prepare a meal I’ve never prepared before. (That’s a remarkably dense statement, isn’t it? Of course I’ve never prepared the meal before if I haven’t yet prepared it!) Something that combines pasta with turkey broth and vegetables; maybe with some fresh mushrooms thrown in. The turkey broth includes quite a lot of tiny bits of meat from the turkey. (I smoked the turkey quite some time ago and boiled the carcass to make the broth; I strained the broth, then picked the remaining meat off the bones and cartilage. The broth, which had been frozen, has been thawing in the fridge for days.) Some red pepper flakes might be advisable, inasmuch as we like food that wake up our mouths. What other spices should I add? I don’t know yet. I think I’ll have to taste the concoction before deciding.  Okay. Time to quit this and start the day.

Posted in Covid-19, Food, Language | Leave a comment

Transforming the Way We Relate

Last night, I posted a comment and question on Facebook: “Let’s have a long distance happy hour soon. Wine (or tequila or bourbon or…) and munchies via Zoom! Say when, people! Tomorrow?

Nine people initially responded in the affirmative; an additional four “liked” the post, suggesting to me that they, too, might be interested. So, I scheduled a Zoom video-conference for tomorrow evening and sent an announcement to group members who responded. I look forward to seeing how it goes, assuming people actually connect.

This afternoon, I will go to the building that houses our church to be recorded as I read a poem I wrote about this strange new reality that has been visited upon us by the novel coronavirus. No, that’s not true. The poem is not about the new reality. It is about our reaction and response to the new reality.  The poem is based, in large part, on my post of March 18, Life in the Times of Pestilence. In fact, I gave the same title to the poem and used some of the same phrases I wrote for that post.

I video-recorded the same poem for Wednesday Night Poetry last week (was it last week?); the person responsible for recording Sunday services (now in the absence of the congregation) asked me to send him the video file so he could incorporate it into the video for last Sunday’s service. But my video file apparently was not compatible with church video files and so could not be used. I was asked to come read the poem at church so the file could be used for next Sunday’s service.

These two experiences amplify the reality we have been experiencing for a short while. I suspect the necessary isolation and distancing will continue for a good while; it could be months. It is possible the coronavirus will impact our lives for years. The virus may reshape the ways in which we interact with others.

I remember thinking, not long after reading recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control about maintaining at least six feet of separation from other people, that the recommendation might be harder in some cultures than in others. There’s a term in sociology, proxemics, which is the study of humans’ use of space and the impact that population density has on social interactions. I suspect epidemiologists’ recommendations about personal distance may influence cultural norms on “personal space.” In North America, “acceptable” distance between acquaintances engaged in conversation is about four feet. Italians, on the other hand, tend to be comfortable with closer proximity, two to three feet. Consequently, I think it may be harder for Italians to adapt than for North Americans; but it’s apt to be a challenge for both cultures. And I wonder whether, in another ten years, both North Americans and Italians will have adapted to greater physical distance between themselves and others. Might the cylinders of their “personal space” grown larger to the point that those who study proxemics will be unable to measure any significance between the cultures?

Though physical distance might expand, we might witness a transformation in interpersonal video. Rather than seeing on screen what commonly is, today, an image of a person’s upper body, we might see close-ups of faces, so we can share the unmistakable changes in our expressions when we smile or laugh or frown. I can envision that expectations of technology might change; consumers may demand that computer cameras have the ability to zoom in and out. Why out? Think of the stereotype of Italians; their hand gestures are as much a part of their vocabulary as their words. It’s not a manufactured stereotype, by the way.

What if? What if? What if none of the transformations in the way we relate, physically, to one another come to pass? What if the virus subsides and disappears? What if this entire episode becomes just an ugly memory? No matter what happens, if we are intelligent beings, it will have changed the way we relate to one another as human beings. It will have taught us, for the umpteenth time since humans began walking on two legs, that we need one another. It will have taught us that the well-being of others, even those outside our immediate spheres, matters. It will have informed us that looking out after the interests of everyone (every creature, every living being, too) is the only way to survive as a species. It will have taught us, but will we have learned? As I often say, time will tell.

 

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Fiction and Reality, One and the Same

There was a time, not so long ago, that I found it easy to write about fictional dystopian horrors, experiences unlike anything I ever experienced. My imagination allowed me to picture those ghastly nightmares as a dispassionate observer, watching through an artificial lens and analyzing from the safety of abstract distance. I think I can still write about such horrendous ordeals, but the process is no longer as easy as it once was. The pain and fears associated with fictional calamities too closely resemble the reality I see playing out worldwide today in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I wonder whether the harsh reality of catastrophic events becomes real only when the events come so close they cause the hair on the back of one’s neck to stand up? The anguish suffered by Syrian refugees in recent years has been visible, but distant. The pain and starvation that famine-plagued Somalians experience today is horrible and upsetting…but sufficiently distant to cushion the punch-in-the-gut horror the Somalians must feel. The terror and hopelessness that drive Central Americans to risk everything to reach the United States are real to me, but only in the same sense that a newscast about a fatality highway accident is real to me.

My hunch is that the intensity of my emotions about those events would expand exponentially, were I in the midst of them, watching from inside out, rather than from outside in.  Compassion and empathy in the abstract morphs into love when confronted with concrete human suffering, I think. When realism embraces us and forces us to see ourselves—and feel ourselves—in the shoes of others suffering from the throes of unthinkable experiences, we become saturated with humanity. I am not suggesting that only when thrust into horrifying personal circumstances can we truly understand others’ suffering, but suffering must surely accelerate the process of understanding.

I watched a video sermon recorded by our church minister last Sunday. He closed the sermon by saying he hopes our collective experience with COVID-19 will lead us to greater tenderness with each other when the crisis passes. I think that’s what such experiences do to and for us. We become more understanding and compassionate toward others in similar circumstances; we do become more tender, I think. I hope we do. If we do, will it last? Can it fundamentally change us, the collective “we?” Time will tell.

In the meantime, I will continue to write about challenging experiences and dystopian futures, but it will no longer be as easy to do. I think my writing will show characters’ compassion grow as they thrash their way through the brambles.

Posted in Compassion, Covid-19, Empathy, Writing | 2 Comments

Barbara, Fill in that 40-Year Gap

On New Year’s Day this year, after taking a short respite from my blog, I returned to it to find a comment on a mid-December post. The comment was from a person with whom I had had no contact for forty years. The comment was from Barbara, a woman with whom I worked in my first association management job. I was surprised (and honored) to read that she credited me with instilling in her an appreciation for the value of good communication skills. My memory, clouded by forty years of intervening events, tells me I called her Barbara Jane or B.J. back then. Maybe not. It may have been just Barbara all along.

When I discovered her comments, more than a week after she left them, I checked for the email address for the person who left them (I don’t permit anonymous comments here—to post a comment, visitors must leave an email address). I wrote an email to her, thanking her for her generous comments and inquiring about her life. I never heard back from her. It’s possible she left a bogus email address; I might have done the same, protecting myself from the possibility that I might be dealing with a stalker. Too bad. I would have liked to learn about what has transpired in her life during the past forty years.

As I sit at my window, watching woodpeckers and flickers drilling and drumming on tree trunks in search of food, my mind wanders back in time to various people with whom I’ve had occasion to work. Don, the tall Chicagoan who, along with his wife, took up scuba-diving to explore shipwrecks in Lake Michigan. Augie, the owner of the association management company that employed me for awhile. Mary, the co-worker with whom I grew extremely close and kept in close contact for many years after I left Chicago. Gus and Finis and Peggy, co-workers at the same organization where I worked with Barbara. Mike, the Canadian who moved to New Zealand and invited us to visit his venues there, treating me like royalty. Darrell, the guy I hired to be a  magazine editor and who, years after he left the job, started an architect search firm.  David, the British coatings specialist who treated us like family when we visited him during conferences in London. The guy, whose name escapes me, who insisted I try a main course of kangaroo when I visited his stadium in Melbourne. Like the birds that stop briefly at the trees outside my window, those people probably will never re-enter my life. Some of them, I know, have died. Others have may done the same. And still others have moved on to live lives of which I know nothing. Like Barbara, who might have remained in Houston or may be living in Paris.

The people I did not like or respect also come to mind occasionally. But I spend only fleeting moments thinking about them. It’s true that people remember how others made them feel. I suspect I am not remembered favorably by too many. I can’t change that now; the opportunity has passed.

Barbara, if you stumble across this post, tell me about your life these last forty years. The same goes for Mike and Don and Peggy and Mary. You all know who you are.

 

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An Irrelevant Milestone and a Little More

Yesterday’s post marked number 3200 since I began this blog in August 2012. Almost eight years. A few years ago, I explored some of my earlier blogs in an effort to tally the number of posts I had written at the time. After I counted those posts, I wrote that “Musings from Myopia, my earliest blog, and the one I deep-sixed in a fit of writer’s existential rage, survived 1262 posts. It Matters Deeply, which apparently didn’t, lasted  82 posts.” There have been others, but the number of posts they contained is insignificant. I’ll round up and say I’ve written at least 4550 posts. Just 450 to go before I reach 5000. What will I do then (assuming I have not succumbed to the coronavirus or some other fatal affliction)? Probably the same thing I’m doing now. I’ll mark the occasion with a yawn.

***

“I’ve never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” Clarence Darrow is said to have uttered those words, though a quick online search did not satisfy me that the words really were his. No matter. I appreciate and relate to them nonetheless. I can imagine much joy at reading the obituaries of select people I’ve never met. I realize, of course, that harboring such thoughts is contrary to everything I’ve been taught; such an attitude is anathema to the morality to which I subscribe. How is it, then, that I can believe in the worth and dignity of every human being, yet simultaneously acknowledge that I might get an attitude lift by reading an obituary? Hard to say. I suppose, deep down, I do not consider those whose obituaries might lift my spirits to belong to the category “human being.”  That may well be it. All human beings share the qualities of empathy and compassion. Hominids that do not possess those traits are not human. It’s the only explanation I can come up with to justify my hypocrisy.

***

I looked at my Twitter account (to which I very rarely post) this morning and found some interesting (to me) things I shared in years gone by:

  • The sharp pain of personal loss cannot be shared, except in the abstract. All we can do is to try to weather the pain. And remember.
  • Worshipping the gods of angry weather…and sacrificing a bottle of wine to them.
  • Evaluating Fresca and vodka as an alternative to psychotropic drugs for the treatment of career-related depression.
  • This is the time of day, just before I leave for work, that I feel like having a mourning martini.
  • I’m stunned, saddened by Gwen Ifill’s death. She was the face of professionalism and decency in journalism. My sincere condolences to all. (That was my most recent Tweet, November 14, 2016.)

I have yet to appreciate the appeal of Twitter. Though I find Facebook more appealing than Twitter, neither compare to personal blogs, in my opinion.

***

One year ago today, this blog provided me with the opportunity to complain bitterly about a searing pain in my esophagus, courtesy of my 60 sessions of radiation therapy. That pain is, thankfully, gone. At the time, it was deeply upsetting, but it permitted me to engage in dark humor. This blog seems to have become my personal journal. I think I’ve said that before. About seven thousand times. Time to go toast an English muffin and top it with a delightfully hot and spicy homemade (by my wife) marinara sauce.

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Love Letters

I tend to keep personal letters I receive in the mail, whether handwritten or typewritten. Maybe my practice is driven by their rarity. Or perhaps they offer evidence someone thought I was worth the time and energy required to write and mail them. I think it’s the latter. The letters have no value except to me. I’ve come to realize over time their value declines. Though I hold on to them, sometimes for years, eventually I discard them. The desire for order and minimalism ultimately overtakes sentimentality, I guess. But sentimentality always returns.

The topic of letter-writing and letter-keeping is on my mind because I spent time the other day reading a letter I received from a friend ten years ago. Not a close friend; more of an online acquaintance with whom I developed a relationship. We still keep in touch on rare occasion, but the ties between us seem to have frayed to threads. That happens, I think, when communications wither over time and distance. The very few times (three, was it?) I met her in person were brief. Once, in New York city, my wife and I had dinner with her. Another time, I met her and her friend (I don’t recall his name) for dinner; I think it was dinner, anyway. And a third time she joined my wife and her sister and me briefly for a segments of our train ride between Boston and Aurora, Illinois (to attend a memorial service for my sister-in-law’s husband).  The details of our friendship are irrelevant to my musing about the exchange of letters, aren’t they? Yes, but that’s what old letters do. They dredge up experiences long since buried under the rubble of time and experience.

Though I treasure the exchange of letters, I seldom write them. It’s not a matter of being lazy, though that might contribute to the dearth of written communication in my history. I think it’s that I’ve learned through experience that other people do not necessarily appreciate letters as much as I. Many people do not seem to attach much value to letters; neither writing them nor receiving them. Have I always responded to letters I received with letters of my own? I doubt it. Thus, I suppose others might wrongly assume of me what I may wrongly assume of them.

I have never been one to write letters by hand; I always type them. While some say a handwritten letter is more personal and intimate than its typewritten counterpart, I say my handwritten letter would be impossible to read. That having been said, I do appreciate handwritten letters I receive; they do seem more personal than typewritten letters. But my handwriting has long since deteriorated into the illegible scratch of an illiterate chicken fed hallucinogens, bound with stiff wire, and given a paint brush dipped in tar to use as a writing implement.

Letter-writing has become so rare, it seems, that sending and receiving letters are almost deviant acts. Recipients of personal letters are assumed to have overly-intimate connections with senders, as if the letter was an open admission of a sordid relationship. The same assumptions are made of senders. They must be engaged in some sort of disreputable affair, the details of which are contained in the private communication. Yes, I’m overstating the type and scope of judgment about those who exchange written communications by mail; but I’m not sure just how far beyond reality my overstatements are. Email and text exchanges do not seem to enjoy the same bad reputation as letters send by mail. However, they may be on their way to condemnation and shaming. We shall see.

It is interesting to me that a letter that runs two or three pages or more is viewed as a precious gift, illustrating the value the sender places on his relationship with the recipient. On the other hand, people often decry a lengthy personal email, judging it overly-wordy and ego-driven. Maybe I’m wrong on both counts; I am touched to receive either form of personal communications. But especially when sending an email, I try (but often fail) to limit its length for fear a longer missive will be set aside for later reading, only to be forgotten and ultimately discarded, unread.

I predict personal letters will one day experience a resurgence. As some point in the future, society will reach a level of emotional isolation that triggers a backlash. Letter writing will be part of that reaction. When? Tomorrow. Or five hundred years hence.

I love letters. When I receive them, my day brightens. They elevate my mood; even when it’s already good, it becomes stellar. Tiny leaves beginning to peek out from naked tree branches after a long, bare winter lift my spirits. Letters have the same effect on me.  Whether I receive replies or not, I think I will begin writing more letters to people I have not seen in a long while. If nothing else, the letters will surprise them. Perhaps letters will delight them. There’s no way to know without mailing them, now, is there?

Posted in Communication, Just Thinking, Philosophy | 2 Comments

Contemplating Commerce

I think there’s a continuum of economic commerce that ranges from offering neighbors a needed cup of sugar to unflinchingly demanding a pound of flesh before even a grain of the sweet stuff is released. Maybe the spectrum is even broader. Maybe it begins at one end with freely sharing any and all of one’s possessions. At the other end, perhaps, is absolute control by one individual or group over other human beings; economic slavery or actual bondage.

If I am right that there is a continuum of commerce, then I may be right as well that commerce operates along two tracks: social and pecuniary. Neighbors sharing sugar clearly would fall on the social track. A refinery’s demand for payment before releasing a truckload of packaged products to a retailer is a pecuniary transaction. But even the social track involves payment; the exchange is emotional as opposed to monetary. The two tracks  increasingly, it seem to me, are blending with one another. I suppose they have been merging for a very long time, but I sense a more rapid combination in recent years.

The social track of commerce slides toward the pecuniary track when barter is involved. (But maybe the definitions are at odds with my thoughts; pecuniary involves money, while barter involves trade. Trade and money are not synonymous; but for the purposes of this morning’s musing, I’ll consider them blood relatives.) I wonder whether there exists a precise point at which the social, human element of commerce becomes secondary to the pecuniary or monetary element? There must also be a point at which the social track goes off the rails (pun intended), replaced entirely by an expectation of precise financial payment. Farmers’ markets at which payment in cash is expected, but where some bartering may occur with respect to reducing unit costs based on volume, retain some of the social elements. A grocery store with fixed, inflexible unit pricing on vegetables, regardless of volume, is clearly driven by financial expectations.

Progressives tend to favor the social track, I think. Conservatives tend to favor the pecuniary track. In my ideal world, sugar-sharing would be common in every component of human interaction. Money would be merely a convenience to enable more comfortable and efficient sharing. For my conservative doppelgänger, the ideal world would remove the unpredictable emotional aspects from commerce, ensuring absolute consistency in all transactions, devoid of emotional messiness.

My ideal form of commerce would necessarily intertwine with the political environment within which it would function. I suppose I would call that political structure Humanitarian Socialism. But maybe I shouldn’t call it that. I just learned, thanks to an online article published by the Jamestown Foundation,  that Chinese political analysts judged the collapse of the Soviet Union to have been caused by Gorbachev, who “was beguiled by the siren song of ‘humanitarian socialism,'”

Enough of this. Contemplating commerce will not achieve my goals for the day.

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Healing

To heal. To me, the term conjures a string of related words and a host of related thoughts behind them. Healing leaves scars from wounds. Those wounds and their consequent scars may be physical or emotional or a combination. Whether injuries are minor or traumatic beyond description, scars left in their wake suggest restoration. Scars, though, sometimes lie. Scars that appear as confirmation of healing may be merely imposters masquerading as recovery; scabs, easily torn away to reveal the wound underneath.

Scars. They are evidence of injury. Evidence tends to prove or disprove an assertion. In connection with injuries, scars offer proof. But in connection with healing, scars neither prove nor disprove the extent to which healing has taken, or is taking, place. Scars may form in the absence of healing, their energy directed not toward restoration but as armor against further attacks.

A bullet lodged in the belly can remain, its damage camouflaged by new skin. The overt manifestation of the agony of rejection or abandonment can fade and disappear. But the scars left by those wounds do not necessarily offer assurance that healing took place. The bullet can be dislodged. A simple word or an unexpected memory can cause anguish to emerge anew.

A weapon or a word can cause a wound. Whether the afflicted can recover from the trauma depends on innumerable factors.  Recovery does not necessarily translate into healing, though. Recovery might lead only to a scar and ongoing pain. Healing from a wound, in my mind, means returning to a previous state in which the pain from the damage is gone. A scar may remain, but the pain is no longer present. Unless the pain has disappeared, healing is incomplete, at best. Scars may simply hide the damage; or they may preserve it, ensuring the damage lingers on and on.

How does one measure the extent to which a body or mind has healed from an injury? I think most of us can only guess and estimate and assume, when it comes to healing. Certainty is the province of professionals.

My thoughts this morning are fuzzy. I’m trying to wrap my head around something with tentacles and claws. My efforts are not working. The tentacles are wrapping around my neck and the claws are scratching my chest. And I think the beast may be carrying a pistol.

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Dimensions

I tell myself I am not superstitious. I say I dismiss the concept that coincidences have “meaning.” There is absolutely no reason to believe that, when I think about a person with enough focus, enough intensity, that person will reciprocate by thinking of me. It’s all magical hogwash, yes? Of course. But, still, some irrational thoughts occasionally emerge to the surface of my consciousness. Those thoughts invade what I consider an otherwise rational brain. Perhaps they are planted there by hopes and wishes and desires. Or fears. Maybe those thoughts arise simply to test the strength of my certainty about such ill-conceived frivolities.

When considering these instances of twisted magical thinking, I sometimes question just how certain I am that this reality, the one we see before us every day, is the only one. Frankly, it bothers me that I ever entertain the possibility that we may be experiencing just one of several dimensions. The idea is absolutely absurd! But it is not absurd. It is simply an untested, and perhaps untestable, theory.

The way I sometimes seem to conceive of it, those multiple dimensions blend with one another. For example, the idea of purposeful thinking as causation. Wishful thinking. Magical thinking. There must be multiple terms for it. Insanity? Maybe.

Sometimes, when confronted with my own complex—impossible-to-fully-understand—ideas, I write short pieces of fiction that incorporate those difficult ideas. That’s my way of trying to work them out in my mind. My attempts rarely succeed, at least not to my satisfaction. But at least they enable me to express them more fully in a fictional setting. I think I would be labeled dangerous and subject to commitment if I tried to express them in a real-world setting.

As I sit here, contemplating my use of writing fiction to think through such strangeness, I realize that I have many, many thoughts and ideas that I dare not share with anyone for fear of irrevocably changing others’ perceptions about me. I suppose it’s a matter of trust; or, I should say, lack of trust. This is nothing news. I think about it with some degree of frequency. And, I suppose, it’s one of the reasons I keep trying to get at the answer to the question of who I am, underneath all the layers. Another unanwerable question. I’m afraid I am incredibly complex, but not necessarily in a good way.

I do not believe finding and picking up a penny on the ground will bring me good luck. But I pick up the penny, “just in case.” The statements in fortune cookies are simply random comments on pieces of paper produced by the millions. But I read them. Do I put any stock in what they say? No, I really don’t. But… There are others too embarrassing to divulge, even to myself.

I wonder, am I sliding in and out of another dimension in which magical thinking is normal and natural? In this other dimension, is superstition an effective means of self-preservation or accomplishment? Is it possible to know the answers to absurd questions?

Four-year-olds believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and monsters under the bed. Adults should have long since grown out of the ability to entertain the possibility that an unseen dimension, parallel with our own, could exist. Yet we’ve always been taught to refrain from judging ideas unless they have been fully explored. How does one explore ideas that appear closely resemble symptoms of dementia?

Dementia. It could be. Dementia that has been progressing at a snail’s pace for sixty-plus years. Dementia that is routinely beat back by hard, cold logic and a life-long insistence on relying on measurable data. Dimension and dementia don’t have the same roots, do they? No, they do not. But I learned some interesting information about Alzheimer’s disease while exploring the etymology of dementia.

Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist, in 1906 noted the hallmark plaques and tangles of the disease in the brains of people who died of the disease. At around the same time, Oskar Fischer, another German psychiatrist, saw those microscopic plaques and tangles. The prominent psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin, in 1910 named the affliction Alzheimer’s disease. Fischer’s contributions to understanding the disease have been largely forgotten.

As this little exercise in looking for answers demonstrates, even troubling questions about one’s own intellectual sturdiness can lead to learning. Not necessarily answers, but learning.

 

 

Posted in Ideas, Intellect, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Conjecture

My mind wandered deep into my past this morning, suddenly and for no apparent reason. In my mind’s eye, I saw images of items I probably last saw when I was a very young child.

I remembered tiny replicas of bulls, made of plaster of paris (I think) and covered in a velvet-like material intended to look like cow hide. And I viewed brilliantly-colored paintings of bullfights, rendered on black velvet and accented with glitter or other sparkling materials. Perhaps the setting for those items was a public market. Maybe some of them were in markets and some were in my house. The figurines of bulls, especially, seemed to belong to me. And I recalled how they appeared when they were broken; that’s where the idea they were made of plaster of paris comes from; when broken, I saw the hard, white interior beneath the velvet. I recall, but only vaguely, the powdery residue from the break.

Those items, I think, were imported from Mexico, which was just up the street from our house, as the crow flies. The bridge to Matamoros probably was more distant.  Those memories were dredged up from deep in my childhood; I must have been no more than four or five years old, still living in Brownsville, Texas. I tried to find samples of the tiny bulls, to no avail, by searching the internet. I suspect molded plastic replicas have replaced the plaster of paris figurines I remember from my childhood.

It’s only a guess, but I think, perhaps, large-scale dislocations in the social order, of the type and scope we are now experiencing, thanks to the coronavirus, tend to dredge up odd recollections of a lifetime ago. Those recollections trigger strange longings for things we may never have enjoyed in years gone by, but which today evoke a sense of safety and comfort. Again, it’s just conjecture. Why else would one remember such trivial stuff? Actually, I have a theory that our brains record almost every experience in our lives, but memories of most experiences erode over time, leaving for many of them only a tarnished skeleton, stripped of most of the meat of the event. When, for whatever reason, we retrieve the memory from deep in the recesses of our minds, we unknowingly pad the skeleton with facsimiles of the details that one might reasonably expect to have covered it. So our memories are based on both fact and fiction. Just like our present-day lives. More conjecture.

 

Posted in Covid-19, Memories, Mexico | Leave a comment

Struggles (AR) in the Times of Pestilence

The fictional town of Stuggles, Arkansas morphed from a small town coping with abandonment by its principal employer, a manufacturing plant, into a community on life support, thanks to a virus for which no immunity nor any treatment exists.  The center of the dying town’s social life, The Fourth Estate Tavern, was ordered closed to help limit the spread of the virus. The tavern’s owner, Calypso Kneeblood, well on his way to recovering from lung cancer surgery, finds himself confronted with yet another calamity. His sole source of income dried up instantly with the tavern’s closure, just months from making the last few payments on the mortgages on the building that houses his business and the house in which he lives. Kneeblood’s health insurance payments, too, are in arrears, leaving him vulnerable to further financial ruin; and to illness from which, if he is infected, he may never recover.

Almost every business in the vanishing community is shuttered, even the gas station. The shelves of the sole grocery store are almost barren within hours after being restocked by the grocery supply company. The grocery’s hours have been cut back to four hours a day, three days a week.

The hospital in Grandview Springs, Arkansas, twenty miles away, is full. Patients arriving at the emergency room are shuttled into hallways, where exhausted doctors and nurses try to make them comfortable while they either slowly recover their health or die. Struggles’ only doctor, Melissa Daniels, no longer answers her telephone. No one knows what has become of her.

In the midst of this already cataclysmic scene, a fire engulfs the shuttered plant, killing three fire fighters and eliminating the possibility of attracting other businesses to fill the void left by Sternberg Refrigeration; Sternberg was the refrigerator manufacturer that abandoned its plant in Struggles.

With this gruesome situation as a backdrop, we notice a thirty-something woman come on the scene. Her face concealed by a surgical mask, she knocks on the window of The Fourth Estate Tavern. Kneeblood, keeping busy by sweeping the floor of the tavern, hears the knock and looks up.

“We’re closed. Everything in town is closed!” His voice is loud enough for the woman to hear him. He’s sure of it.

Still the woman knocks again, this time harder, the insistent rapping against the glass causing the window to rattle against its frame. “I know, but I need to talk to you! Come closer, please, so we can talk, okay?”

Kneeblood shuffles to the window, keeping his distance from the young woman even though there’s glass between them.

“You’re Calypso Kneeblood, right? I have a proposition, Mr. Kneeblood, that could save your tavern and this town. If you will put yourself at my disposal for twenty-one days, I think we can beat these gut punches!”

During the course of the conversation that followed, Kneeblood’s initial skepticism turned to curiosity and then to interest and then to enthusiasm. His enthusiasm would become passion before the young woman walked away.

Her plan would be hard to implement and would require him to sell the ideas, hard, to the remaining influential residents of Struggles, the thought, but it just might work.

***

The idea for this obviously as-yet-unfinished story has been rattling around in my head for a very long time. The idea of introducing the virus is new, but the rest is almost old enough to grow mold. I lose patience with myself when I’m writing fiction; my mind gets so far ahead of my fingers that I just can’t keep up. When I find the words on the screen so far behind what I see in my mind’s eye, I get frustrated and step away. The idea is that I’ll return when the frustration subsides. But I rarely return. This story, I think, has legs. But it will require discipline and the ability to corral my frustration, no easy task. Perhaps I should follow one of my recent ideas: write short stories that, collectively, can become elements of a full-blown novel. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. 

The outline above was not written as a component of a story; it’s simply an outline of ideas. The way they are presented would be very different. The summary above would be revealed by showing actions and thoughts over the course of several months and several chapters. Patience. 

Posted in Fiction, Writing | 3 Comments

What I am Learning, Even Today, from Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath. I remember (though indistinctly, as if through a heavy fog) reading Steinbeck’s classic novel depicting the struggles of Depression-era Dust Bowl migrations. What I remember clearly about the story, though, is the intensity of Jim Casy’s and Tom Joad’s efforts to overcome the overwhelming avarice of the haves versus the have-nots. The theme of the struggle for “the greater good” permeates the story.

Now that I’m thinking of the book, I’ll have to find it and read it again; surely I must have a copy here at home, right? I would not have discarded it or sold it, would I? I hope not.

But back to this morning’s contemplation. Steinbeck’s novel is on my mind this morning because the struggles of the Joad family, and their compatriots, fighting for justice and survival, suggest another struggle, a struggle we may soon face. The particulars of the struggles are different, but the underlying theme of Steinbeck’s novel foreshadows an emerging theme today.

I think the safety and contentment and comfortable predictability of our lives already has begun to unravel. Whether that untangling is simply a short-lived inconvenience or a long-lasting and massively catastrophic upheaval remains to be seen. If the latter, I think the clear divide between today’s haves and have-nots has the potential of evolving into an undeclared war that could dwarf the class struggle depicted in The Grapes of Wrath.  The degree to which minor incidents of social unrest might blossom into unrelenting demands for the wealthiest of the wealthy to return their stolen largess to the commoners will depend on how much pain is inflicted on the common citizens and their tolerance and endurance.

If The Pestilence, AKA COVID-19, disrupts food supplies and/or leads to massive unemployment or under-employment, the pain inflicted will eventually become unbearable. People who today are conservative and self-interested may transform under the weight of those conditions to furiously demanding soldiers in the war for social justice. Or maybe not.

Perhaps, even if The Pestilence were to lead to apocalyptic societal disintegration, the common citizenry will have been so thoroughly trained to respond to orders that they will silently and obediently become willing slaves to the plutocracy.

I do not know why my attitude these past few days has vacillated so wildly between hopefulness and despondency. Yesterday, I felt certain we had the wherewithal to combine our efforts and defeat the scourge that’s confronting us. Today, I’m not sure we even recognize we have permitted economic disparity to rob us of our ability to think for ourselves and clearly understand what is happening and may happen.

Is it wishful thinking to envision a struggle like the one that took fictional root in The Grapes of Wrath might actually take hold today? If I remember correctly, the book ended in grief, but with a ray of hope even in despair. What am I doing, comparing a fictional response in a fictional environment to an unpredictable outcome in the real world? In spite of the obvious disparities between 80-year-old fiction and current reality, there may be lessons to be learned from re-reading an old book. Or perhaps I am engaging in lunacy, comparing apples to alligators.

It just occurred to me that I know very little about John Steinbeck, other than the fact he is among my favorite authors. There must be a well-researched and well-written biography of Steinbeck. I’ll have to try to find it and read it.

I remember, again very vaguely, reading Tortilla Flat when I was just a sixth-grader. I distinctly remember sharing a quote from the book with a school-mate during class one day, saying, “Sicilian bastards! Scum from the prison island!” My teacher—I think her name was Mrs. Peterson—got very upset with me and took my copy of the book away. She told me I was not to read such books because they contained foul language. I told my mother than afternoon about the incident, though I may not have mentioned the passage I read aloud. She instantly called my teacher and very firmly told her that she was to return my book to me and that she should never discourage me from reading any book because my mother encouraged me to read anything I wanted. I don’t recall anything else about the interaction or its aftermath. But I remember that incident as well as I remember anything from my childhood.

At some point today, I will do what is necessary to completely clear my mind. I’ll then see what thoughts and ideas return to fill that tiny little space.

Posted in Philosophy | 2 Comments

Solutions Already Exist

Solutions to the problems we are facing exist, already, in our heads. We just need to find ways to mine for them and process raw ideas into finished, implementable processes that yield results.

Creativity blossoms when monstrous challenges  confront us. Impossible threats spark otherwise dormant ingenuity and inventiveness. We ignore futility in search of solutions to problems too enormous to solve yet too deadly to permit surrender.

In this time of The Pestilence, I believe the only solution to the problems facing us is boundless creativity. I am not referring to finding a vaccine or a cure. Those solutions, too, will require infinite resourcefulness; but answers to those needs already are in the process of being explored, now, by people who have the requisite technical and medical and epidemiological knowledge. The problems to which I am referring are those interconnected ramifications brought about by The Pestilence: economic collapse, required personal distancing, unemployment, supply chain disruptions, panic buying and hoarding, and dozens of other complications of the pandemic.

Creativity requires neither superior intellect nor extensive experience with the problems at hand. Practicality and “common sense” often overcome intellectual and experiential deficits. An entrepreneurial mindset, whether that mindset has heretofore been applied in entrepreneurial endeavors or not, can go a long way toward crafting innovative solutions to problems that seem too big to solve.

If this country had a true leader, he or she already would have clearly articulated the problems confronting us (both nationally and globally) and would have stated clearly what the government is doing to address them. Beyond that, the leader would have challenged members of society to consider creative ways of confronting and overcoming the obstacles in our way. That same leader would have orchestrated a mechanism of collecting and assessing the viability of the creative ideas that arise from that challenge. That process, in itself, is enormously complex. But I think it is essential to ensure that all of us clearly understand the problems we face and understand that we, collectively, must work and think creatively to solve them.

There is a word for collective problem-solving: brainstorming. That’s what we can and should do. But I see some obstacles and questions:

  1. How can the process get moving (i.e., who has enough influence and reach to get it started)?
  2. How can we get people engaged in the process?
  3. How can we overcome self-limiting doubt? (i.e., “I’m just a nobody; I have nothing to contribute.)
  4. How can we convince people that the “someone else” who will solve the problem may well be the same person they see in the mirror?
  5. Once ideas with potential emerge, what processes will ensure that they are communicated to people who can act on them?
  6. What processes can be used to quickly assess ideas, without the danger of dismissing ideas too quickly?
  7. What pressures can be brought to bear to demand swift action to implement solutions?

The brainless, mind-numbingly self-centered dimwit in the White House would not recognize the value of the process of brainstorming if it bit him in the ass. We need leadership to facilitate finding solutions. That’s the biggest obstacle. Maybe the first order of creative business is to find a way to quickly and completely remove the biggest obstacle.

 

 

 

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Speculation and Organization

The threats posed by the coronavirus have changed my life, thus far, in only limited ways. The seismic shifts taking place throughout the rest of the world have begun here, but I spend most of my time at home, anyway, so I haven’t been terribly inconvenienced yet. Barren grocery shelves, closed retail establishments and restaurants, and social distancing while “out and about” have been noticeable, but not pestilential in scope. Yet. Life goes on, almost as normal but with a few tectonic upheavals. But I feel the ominous breath of change against the back of my neck. What was, heretofore, normal is fading into the background, leaving an empty space where contentment once lived. I already feel a sense of loss of normalcy; like heartbreak.

“Normal.” The dictionary definition is changing with every breath and each new death caused by the coronavirus. No deaths yet in Arkansas, but it’s just a matter of time. And as those traumas and tragedies mount, and as routines are more deeply interrupted and upended, normal will take on a new, increasingly sinister meaning. Normal will become synonymous with toxicity. Reality will crush the temporary idea of “the new normal” under the heels of a savage enemy. “The new normal” will disappear into the mist and emerge simply as “normal,” the caustic reality that requires us to constrict our movements and limit human contact.

I remember how I felt, as a young man, enthusiastic but inexperienced, when I was spurned by girls I thought would be my “one and only.” Like that heartbreak, this pain will morph into anger and, then, bitterness. But, instead of the flames of anger dying into embers and then cooling into ashes, the anger that accompanies this normalcy could erupt into volcanic rage. But against who? Against what? The only logical place for it is to turn it inward; I hope that will not happen often, but I’m afraid it will. The longer we experience social isolation and the deeper the financial upheavals dig into people’s lives, the more likely we will see explosive rage in public places and the more likely we will see dramatic spikes in suicide rates.

I do hope my dystopian vision is utterly wrong. I hope our society, instead, comes together (albeit at a safe distance) to willingly suffer sacrifice and engage in supportive, helpful, constructive behaviors.  It’s really far too early to tell what will happen. It’s probably too early even to predict possibilities. But my underlying pessimism seems to be bubbling to the surface. I would so much rather be hopeful and optimistic. I could really use a hug right now, but that would be dangerous and reckless. So goes reality in mid-March, 2020.

***

I spent a significant portion of the day yesterday creating an inventory of our pantry. Actually, pantries. We have one small pantry in the house and an enclosed plastic shelving unit, meant for tools but which we use as a pantry, in the garage. I created a list, shelf by shelf, of everything. I segmented each item according to a system I devised but probably will change (e.g., beans, condiments, fish, flavorings, etc.). Then, I further categorized the items (e.g., black beans, canned; olives; kipper snacks, canned; liquid smoke; etc.). I recorded how many of each are on each shelf and which shelves they are on. In preparing the inventory, I discovered that we have multiples of some items stored in different places; we don’t have a particularly voluminous pantry, but we have so many individual items of “stuff” that makes it difficult to keep track of what we have. Consequently, we sometimes buy more of an item we already have. If we can keep up with this inventory, we can avoid such wasteful behaviors.

Don’t think you’re the only one who thinks yesterday’s endeavor was indicative of some aberrant psychological patterns. It’s odd that I can focus on such a menial, repetitive, mind-numbing task for a while, yet usually I can’t keep focused on anything for more than a short while. Like ADHD with anal retentive tendencies. Hmm?

Now, will I maintain and update the inventory religiously? I seriously doubt it. Yet when I discover that it has not been updated and is no longer reliable, I will become agitated and angry at myself for my lack of reliability and dependability. Ah, well. It will give me an innocuous mental flaw about which to occupy my mind.

***

In just a while, I will attempt to conduct an online audio and video committee meeting with four or five members of my church. The intent of the meeting is to get some feedbak on a section of the church website dedicated to our efforts to collectively treat the planet with greater respect. In addition, I’m going to try to get the other members of the group to commit to write a blog post for the Green Team (that’s us) blog I created. Maybe these activities can take our minds off the impending end of civilization as we know it.  If the video and audio segments of the meeting go well, I might try to set up video chats with friends in the near future. I’m looking at you, you know!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Lone

I sometimes reflect on my life thus far as if it were a single event playing out across a spectrum of time. That viewpoint allows me to contemplate the experience from an unusual perspective; as if I were watching it take place on a graph, with the X axis showing time and the Y axis emotion. If I were better-equipped to present the examination in the form of a graph, I would draw it; a graph might better illustrate my thoughts than my words will do.

When I view the graph in my head, close-up, I see a  line marked by a series of sharp, jagged upward bursts followed by precipitous declines into deeply negative territory. Seen in expanded form, as if viewed from a distance, the line is relatively smooth; a gently rolling pattern on an oscilloscope. Close up, though, the line is more like the EKG of a patient suffering from an extreme incidence of left ventricular hypertrophy. These views are similes of me. More serene, calmer, and more pleasing to the eye from a distance; frantic, frenetic, and unsettling in close proximity.

We cause our own loneliness, sometimes. Loneliness is symptomatic of a lack of emotional and perhaps even physical intimacy. And a lack of intimacy is symptomatic of a lack of…something. I don’t quite know. But I can see when I look at the X and Y axes of that chart that something periodically goes missing. I think that missing element may be a willingness to reveal both weaknesses and needs or desires; that unwillingness to open up is a response to a fear of unfavorable evaluation or mockery or some other form of judgmental assessment. Fear. That’s the root of loneliness, isn’t it? Fear of outright rejection or, from another angle, fear of being dismissed or rebuffed.

The raw ingredients of fear are worry, anticipation, and lack of control. So where does that leave us in the Times of Pestilence? I can almost laugh at the thought process that led to the creation of this post. But not quite. We are expected to voluntarily create empty spaces around us, spaces that discourage intimacy and encourage lone experiences. Lone. Solitary. Sole. Alone. Deserted. Secluded. Isolated. All those sharp, downward spikes on the Y axis. From the distance created by time, they may be just rolling patterns of the oscilloscope. Close-up, though, they suggest severe myocardial infarction.

Is that my life I’m looking at? Or is that the collective lives of all of humanity? They’re one in the same, aren’t they? They are, indeed, for all of us. We’re all lonely creatures, practicing loneliness in different ways.

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Life in the Times of Pestilence

We have no weapons to fight this war. Our only realistic hope is to hide from the enemy; play dead and hope the beast does not call our bluff. If we confront him, face to face, the best we can do is survive; the worst we can do is declare victory and gleefully thump our chests in self-congratulatory celebration, all the while sharing hugs and becoming accomplices to murder and mayhem.

This is an odd experience, one in which love is shown by avoidance and distance. Some people will react with anger to such expressions of concern, viewing exclusion as rejection, as opposed to its new definition: affection. Others will be joyous; finally, the world will acknowledge the value of their seclusion and aloofness will become a mark of superiority.

In this new world, in which a caress is akin to an assault, we will be forced to rethink our vocabularies and our cultural inclinations. Isolation will morph into a term of endearment. Abandonment will become the ultimate act of love. A gentle squeeze becomes as abhorrent as swinging an axe or thrusting a knife or firing a bullet. Turning one’s back to another person may be interpreted as a decisive act of respect. Kissing a baby could be punishable by imprisonment or worse.

Before this surreal new world comes to pass, though, the young will take their revenge against their elders. The young will make them pay, the ones who frittered away the environment and eviscerated the planet upon which the young will be forced to regrow. The elders will watch in horror as the young ignore pleas for social distance, opting instead to engage intensely in physical contact with one another and then laugh in the faces of the elderly, spraying them with virus-infused aerosols.

I remember what it was like being young and coping with a compassion-deficit-disorder. When I grew up I made up for it, but discovered the corrective was somewhat skewed; overly compassionate with some people and mercilessly cruel to others. That’s a little like our new-found virus, isn’t it? Almost fond of some people and malevolent in the extreme to others.

Coping with life in the times of pestilence will be an exercise in dancing on the pointed ends of needles, I think. One false move and the sharpness will transform the dancer into a howling kebab.

***

And now, a completely different communique:

News reports offer little in the way of real hope. Some of the reports make half-hearted attempts to look on the bright side, but it seems to me those positive slants were dictated by editors rather than arising naturally from the minds of the writers. But this morning I wonder whether some of the negativity in comparing country infection figures fails to account for differences in population between countries? (Is this just me, looking for silver linings behind bitterly grey clouds sprinkled with loathing and rage?)

Whatever the reason for my curiosity, I’ve been updating a chart that compares the experience of Italy—which is undergoing a catastrophic failure of its healthcare system in response to COVID-19—to the USA. I originally encountered the chart three or four days ago. The chart suggested the USA’s experience was tracking with Italy’s, based on “days-out” from original first infection, almost exactly. The implication (and, I believe, the explicit assertion) of the person who created the chart was the the USA should expect its healthcare system to experience the same catastrophic failure as Italy’s unless draconian steps are taken immediately.

I agreed with the writer, as I looked at the chart. Given the other grave predictions I’ve been reading, it just seemed to make perfectly good sense.

Until this morning, when I decided to compare Italy’s population (60.4 million) to that of the USA (327.2 million). Hmmm.

The dates of comparison would equate the USA status as of March 17 (6135 confirmed cases) with the Italian status as of March 6 (4636 confirmed cases). The incidence per population figures translate into 0.007665 percent for Italy and 0.001875 for the USA.
So, Italy’s number of confirmed cases as a percentage of population was 4.08 times the number for the USA as of the same number of days since reported first case. (assuming my numbers are correct).

What does that mean? I’m not sure. But I assume it should be a reassuring figure. Maybe.

A number of other factors could come into play. Population density. Cultural differences in the amount of personal space accepted and expected between people. I suspect the list of potentially intervening factors could go on and on.

This is Life in the Times of Pestilence, it is.

Posted in Covid-19, Health | 1 Comment

I’m Not Going to Work Today

On Labor Day several years ago, my wife and I listened to the Glenn Mitchell Show as we drove around Dallas. I was enthralled by Mitchell’s talk show, especially his “Anything You Ever Wanted to Know” segment; the tag line for that segment was: “All Questions Answered. All Knowledge Revealed.” The audience called in with both questions and answers on an enormously wide array of topics. It was a huge hit that involved the listening audience in a big way. Whether that was the segment we listened to that day, I do not know. But I remember distinctly listening to a song he played that Labor Day (maybe it was in 2005, before his death in November) in celebration of the holiday: I’m Not Going to Work Today. What was distinctive about the song, as I remember it, was the way the word “work” was pronounced. The person singing the lyrics pronounced it “woik.” Immediately after hearing the show and for years afterward, I would periodically search for information about the tune, but never had any luck. It seemed to me that Mitchell had played an old audio that was no longer available.

My search for evidence of—and information about—that tune ended an hour or so ago. A quick search on Google revealed sources that yielded a treasure trove of information. The song was written by Kevin B. Martin and recorded by Boot Hog Pefferly and the Loafers (more about them at the bottom of this post). I found a 45 RPM vinyl disc of the tune, with Jump & Shout on the reverse side, for $25 plus $4 shipping. Another one is available for $34.99 plus $3.99 shipping. I do not plan to buy either one because I also discovered a version by Clyde McPhatter on Spotify. While the McPhatter version is good, the “woik” is not quite as distinct as it was what I heard on the radio. And I don’t know for certain that the version I heard was the one performed by Boot Hog Pefferly and the Loafers; I could not find an audio version of their performance. It really doesn’t matter, though. I’ve satisfied a years-long quest. “Quest” seems a bit too intense for my search. Even “search” seems a little over-the-top. It’s not like I’ve dedicated my every waking hour to finding the tune. But I have looked for it on occasion. And this morning I found it all over the internet. And it has spilled into Spotify.

So I am a happy (relative term in this era of the novel coronavirus) man today. My search yielded results. Hallelujah!


According to Lyrics.com, following are the song’s lyrics: to work today

mm, yeah
I’m not going to work today
I’m not going to work today
I know I won’t get no pay but I’m not going to work today
Cause I was up all night with the baby
She was cryin’ like crazy
But I thought that maybe I could stop her
If I would change her wet diaper
But it seems she wanted her her mother
Who was playin’ asleep under the covers
So I walked the baby ’til it fell asleep and now I got achin’ feet
You know my feet hurt yeah
Lord my feet hurt yeah

(Background chorus)
He’s not going to work today
He’s not going to work today

I won’t get no money but yeah

(Background chorus)
He knows he won’t get no pay but he’s not going to work today

Well I’ve got a big son and a daughter
Who have no pity on their father
Well I come home from work yesterday about four and they wanted me to do the limbo
Now I’m a good sorta pappy
Who likes to make his children happy
So I went out and did the limbo
And now my back is sore
Now my back hurts yeah

(Background chorus)
He’s not going to work today
He’s not going to work today

I won’t get no money but yeah

(Background chorus)
He knows he won’t get no pay but he’s not going to work today

Blow your little horns boys

Well now please don’t you get me wrong folks
I love my children and that’s no joke
But this here modern generation whoa
They gonna be my whole ruination
Doing the limbo and walking steeples
I’m gonna leave it to the young peoples
Stick to what I know doing that’s, that’s being the family bread winner

(Background chorus)
He’s not going to work today
He’s not going to work today

I just wanna tell you that I

(Background chorus)
He knows he won’t get no pay but he’s not going to work today

Alright now one more time

(Background chorus)
He’s not going to work today
He’s not going to work today

Here’s what Lyrics.com says about Boot Hog Pefferly and the Loafers:

The band included members of The Carnations, Tren-Dells, Monarchs and other Louisville groups from the early 60s. Vocals: Johnny Hourigan (lead), Mike Gibson, Jimmy Settle, Bill Mathley, Paul Penny and Judy Woods. Musicians: Eddie Humphries (sax), Tom Jolly (trumpet), Leon Middleton (sax), George Fawbush (guitar), Dusty Miller (bass), and John Campbell (drums). It was produced by Hardy Martin and Ray Allen (Floyd Lewellyn) of the famous Allen-Martin Studios in Louisville, KY.

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Fear and Dark Humor and Complete Disorientation

Fear drives both rational and irrational behaviors. In times of chaos, we find differentiation between them increasingly difficult. For example, are consumers rational when they stock up on toilet paper and non-perishable foodstuffs? It depends on perspective. If information available to consumers suggests the supply chain will be disrupted for a very long time, perhaps stockpiling toilet paper and canned goods and dry foods like rice and beans and beef jerky is a rational response. But if that rational response is apt to result in supply shortages for some and oversupply for others, perhaps the response is actually irrational; selfish and detrimental to the greater good. Information availability is important, but so is the reliability of available information.

If one can reliably trust information made available, the decisions arising out of fear are more likely to be made in a rational way.

“The government says I need to stay at home for two weeks, but they say the supplies of toilet paper and food will not be curtailed during that time if consumers behave rationally and do not hoard, so I will buy only enough to last two weeks.”

But if available information is judged unreliable or, worse, purposefully inaccurate, decisions arising out of fear are more likely to anticipate the “real” situation one is apt to encounter and produce what may be an irrational response.

“The government says I need to stay at home for two weeks. They say the supplies of toilet paper and food will not be curtailed during that time if consumers behave rationally and do not hoard. But initially they said this situation was totally under control and not to worry. Now it’s obvious it was a big deal and there was plenty to worry about. I doubt I can trust them, either that this will require only two weeks or that there won’t be any supply chain disruptions. I better stockpile as much as I can possibly get my hands on. And I may need to buy a gun to protect myself from people trying to break in to steal my food when things get really bad.”

It is against the backdrop of being unable to rely on the validity of information that irrational fear erupts into full-blown panic. When dissonance exists between reassurance and evidence that reassurance is artificial, as in the current pandemic situation, irrational fear explodes into panic. For example, the Trump administration has been assuring the public for weeks that this “thing” will magically disappear and all will be right with the world. The president (lower case “p” used intentionally) has either lied intentionally (his modus operandi) or has been utterly clueless about the seriousness of the pandemic (also his modus operandi) or both. Evidence of the seriousness of the situation is all around us. Reports from Italy, Spain, China, etc., etc., indeed worldwide and within our own country, is at odds with all of his reassurances. The Peace Corps has taken the unprecedented action of suspending all its operational globally.

I wish I knew what the weeks and months ahead will bring. I don’t. I wish I knew when to believe information from the Federal government and when to dismiss it as either intentional lies or bumbling, accidental misinformation. In most cases, I don’t. In that context, I expect to be making what decisions I can based as much on gut instinct as on reliable fact. Knowing that irrational fear can lead to awful miscalculations, I will try to hold my fear in check.

I’ll try to use dark humor to get through this difficult time. I do not use dark humor, though, with my wife, as she does not find it amusing. So this is my outlet. I’ll reproduce below a slightly modified version of a Facebook post I stumbled upon this morning. The author apparently is Iam Myers, someone I do not know.

“If you’ve found yourself with a lack of childcare due to school closings, might I suggest letting the kids roam the streets unattended? Youth gangs are a crucial part of any proper dystopia, and with a head start your children will be well on their way to leading their own packs, getting the best scraps and the largest share of the pickpocketing. They’ll learn the important skills needed to thrive in the impending totalitarian hellscape.”

And with that, I’m off to enjoy the day.

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Facts, Bias, and Slant

Media bias is real. Yes, there are fake news sites. But the “main stream media,” a term right-wing near-nazis (note I did not call them neo-nazis) does not, by and large, conform to my definition of the propagators of fake news. Those low-life scum are not simply biased; they are biased and they manufacture stories they present as factual. They lie. They cannot be trusted. Their operators belong in prison cells, where they would eat only if their friends or family brought them food; just my opinion, of course.

Fortunately, there are sources of information about media that reveal the degree to which an outlet is biased. My favorite is Media Bias/Fact Check whose website is, surprise, https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/.

The reason this topic is on my mind this afternoon is that a person associated with a program operated by my church (though she is not a member of the church) offered a link to a website to support an opinion she had earlier given (in an email). I found her opinion to be stupid, short-sighted, and tied inextricably to an ill-informed conservative mindset. A website she cited was one I whose quality and reliability I judge to be only moderately better than The National Inquirer. The paper to which she linked is The Sun; the U.K. version of TNI (well, not quite that bad).

At any rate, after reading her comments, I decided to check the bias-rating of her source. It is rated as being “MIXED” in terms of factual reporting. It is rated with a right bias (which I knew, but wanted to verify). In describing rags of rating, Media Bias/Fact Check says:

These media sources are moderately to strongly biased toward conservative causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Some sources in this category may be untrustworthy.

That having verified my opinion, I decided to check out some other media outlets. One to which I pay quite a lot of attention, but which I have lately thought is not entirely unbiased, is National Public Radio. Just as I assessed, NPR is said to have a left-center bias, though Media Bias/Fact Check rates it VERY HIGH on factual reporting. Its description of media outlets that fall in the same rating category as NPR:

These media sources have a slight to moderate liberal bias. They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor liberal causes. These sources are generally trustworthy for information, but may require further investigation.

What about CNN? I suspect it would not surprise anyone to learn that CNN is MIXED with respect to factual reporting. And it is judged to have a left bias. I used to believe what I saw/read on CNN television and its website. I’m not longer ready to accept it without question. The description of media assessed in this way by Media Bias/Fact Check:

These media sources are moderately to strongly biased toward liberal causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes. Some sources in this category may be untrustworthy.

FOX News is CNN’s fraternal twin, on the other half of the spectrum, with MIXED factual reporting and a right bias, described as:

These media sources are moderately to strongly biased toward conservative causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Some sources in this category may be untrustworthy.

All right. Who is both reliable from the perspective of giving us facts and relatively unbiased? Not surprising, the Associated Press is among the highest rated media resources, judged VERY HIGH on factual reporting, though “borderline Left-Center Biased due to left leaning editorializing, but Least Biased on a whole due to balanced story selection.” The description of such high-rated organizations:

These sources have minimal bias and use very few loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes). The reporting is factual and usually sourced. These are the most credible media sources.

Interestingly, though Public Broadcasting (PBS) is judged by Media Bias/Fact Check as left-leaning, NextAvenue, a digital platform created by PBS, is considered by the site as least biased and HIGH on factual reporting. NextAvenue, though, is not strictly a pure news site, so it’s not necessarily a place to rely on for news of the day.

So, where do I go when I want unbiased news? I have a link to the Associated Press news website on my desktop. I will have a link to NextAvenue, before long. I’ll keep my links to NPR, PBS, etc., etc. (and FOX) just to keep abreast of who’s saying what, but when I want facts, I really want facts. Not spin. Facts. So AP is the place to go for the highest degree of confidence that what I’m reading is factual and reliably free of bias.

Some days, though, I want to see and hear and read something that makes me feel good; something that suggests I’m right in my thinking. That’s when I go to CNN or MSNBC or Slate or Salon or the Atlantic or…many others…to get both information and the right, affirming slant.

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Restlessly Waiting

Avocado toast and bacon improved my state of mind yesterday morning. Lunch yesterday helped, too. We had leftover (from the night before) cioppino. My wife found a recipe that married the Italian-American dish to Korean flavors (the latter courtesy of gochujang). The seafood components of the magnificent dish included cod, shrimp, and bay scallops. Absent were the mussels and squid I crave in “old-style” cioppino, but I didn’t really miss them because the flavor was so good. Oh, and she included firm tofu in the stew. Instead of serving it with bread, she served it over rice. Oh, the joy!

In spite of my gustatory satisfaction, though, the reality of COVID-19 continued to grow closer yesterday. With every passing day, it seems, we learn of another positive test, nearer and nearer and nearer. Yesterday, Little Rock media reported that all previously “presumed positive” tests had been confirmed. Simultaneously, the local newspaper reported that a member of the Village United Methodist Church is being tested; in response, the church is cancelling all services and activities for the immediate future (which our church already did, a day earlier, but not in response to a threat posed by a suspected case of the virus on our “home turf.). I read this morning that a couple from Camden, in the southern part of the state, are in isolation after their return from a vacation in Italy. I am relatively sure hundreds, maybe thousands, of people throughout the state have been exposed to COVID-19 in one way or another and in one place or another; whether they develop symptoms remains to be seen. And so we wait and we watch and we wonder.

I went out and about yesterday, despite suggestions to the contrary from the CDC, et al. I went to a different grocery store from the one I visited a day earlier, the latter at which I found more rice and dry kidney beans (but, alas, no dry pintos) and some canned pintos; I bought a little of all three. And I went to a liquor store. As I sat in my car, about to leave with my cheap gin, I got a text from a church/writer friend, inquiring as to my whereabouts. Long story short, we met at a coffee shop and sat and chatted until the place closed at 3:00 p.m. I hope I did not expose myself to the virus with my wanton recklessness yesterday. Today, I plan to go buy gas for one of the cars and I may attempt to buy potatoes if I find them. Because what does one do in the midst of a pandemic if one runs out of potatoes? (No, I just checked; we have potatoes. If I bought more, I would have to store them in the trunk of the car.) After complete my explorations, I may stay in for the duration, though probably not; if nothing else, I’ll address the certainty of getting cabin fever by taking brief drives to see the world around me.

I’m so fortunate to have the luxury of preference; a lot of people have no choice but to go to work and risk exposure to a world that’s growing more dangerous by the minute. And others suddenly have no work and no paychecks because the rest of us are locking ourselves in our houses. Ah, the sustenance of guilt is assured no matter which courses of action we take.

As I look at the week ahead, I see that another World of Wine event is scheduled for Thursday. I strongly suspect it will be cancelled; even if not, I doubt we will attend. We’ve already paid (handsomely) for it, though.  I had scheduled Subaru service for next Monday, but I cancelled that already. The following week my wife has two back-to-back days of doctor appointments in Little Rock. Whether the doctors will cancel is as yet unknown; and if the doctors don’t, I suspect my wife won’t, either. If she goes, I will go as well.

I am restlessly waiting for the pandemic to reach its crescendo and then subside. I hope that actually happens. And I hope it happens without the massive numbers of sicknesses and deaths that have occurred and are occuring in Italy and Spain and Iran and…on and on. Humor helps us wade through the morass. But this morning the little bit of it I could muster has temporarily left the building. It will return. I just hope it doesn’t bring the virus with it. (That was a failed attempt at humor.)

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Confronting Two Enemies

In the wake of a growing concern about a mysterious disease, when will a gnawing worry evolve into fear? What incident will cause fear to mushroom into terror, breeding deep suspicion of anyone outside our immediate circle? At what point will we begin to shun our friends and neighbors and, finally, ourselves?

Perhaps that grotesque evolution will not occur. Conceivably, we will come to realize the the environment giving birth to panic must transform into an atmosphere of levelheaded, rational behavior. Yet I’ve already seen evidence of dangerous herd mentality targeting individuals who do not subscribe to group-think. The evidence has been online, where people tend to be more likely to openly attack others than they would in a face-to-face setting. But online bullying of those whose opinions differ from one’s own can morph into physical behavior. Will it?

Less than three weeks ago, I wrote that preparing for the potential pandemic (involving the COVID-19 virus that the Centers for Disease Control suggested was on its way) was probably in our best interests. Several days later, I saw some evidence that people were taking heed. But there was no frenzy.

Yesterday, I witnessed frenzy. When I went to the grocery store to buy a few items on our regular and “just-in-case” grocery lists, I saw evidence of panic hoarding. The parking lots of two nearby grocery stores were full to overflowing. Inside the store I visited, the aisles were jammed with shoppers, their carts piled high. As I wheeled my cart toward the canned good aisles, an employee thrust a 6-roll package of toilet paper in my direction, saying “You want the last roll of toilet paper in the store? This is it. We’re out!” Toilet paper wasn’t on my list, so I declined; a man right behind me said to her, “I’ll take it!”

Entire sections of shelves were empty. There was almost no dry rice left. Dry beans were gone. Long sections of shelving dedicated to canned tomatoes were empty; fortunately, canned tomatoes were not on my list. I had planned on buying a 5-pound bag of rice to replenish our dwindling supply; I bought one of the only remaining 2-pound boxes. I had planned on buying dry pinto beans; there were none to be bought, nor were there any canned beans left on the shelves. The queue for the pharmacy spilled out into the main aisle; apparently, people were trying to make sure their prescription medications would last for…awhile.

Yesterday and again this morning, I saw evidence online that some of the “medical experts” residing in the Village were in attack mode. Posts on Nextdoor, many laced with misinformation and, in some cases outright lies, dripped with acerbic comments directed both at people who “hoard” and those who do not take the pandemic seriously enough to prepare. Everyone, it seems, is at fault for disagreeing with someone’s opinion, regardless of whether the opinion is based on facts or dim-witted fictions fed by an orange-haired idiot. I wonder whether the posts I read this morning will spill into the physical world in the form of flying fists and spraying bullets? I hope not. But I’m not confident that peace will prevail.

Yet not all of the responses to the pandemic are “shoot from the hip” reactions fueled by rage and blind fear. Some reactions have been measured, though bold. The board for my church, for example, decided yesterday morning to close the doors for services and other meetings until further notice. Some schools are closing in nearby communities. Events are being cancelled. In short, the advice of the CDC is being heeded. (Though, I have to wonder whether the CDC is the best source of advice, given some of its recent failings. But I don’t know a better alternative.) Will these very adult reactions to an emergency unlike any we have faced before lead us safely back to stability?

We’re very early into this unprecedented experience, I think. We may have to alter our behaviors for many weeks, perhaps several months (or longer), before the threats of the pandemic have subsided enough to return to “normal.” If, indeed, “normal” is possible after what we’re about to go through. We may discover that the discords and divisions sown by and in response to the current administration are so deep that we can never come together as a nation again. We may come to realize, sooner rather than later, that even the most powerful country on Earth cannot survive going to war with itself over a deadly disease for which it was woefully unprepared. Perhaps we are witnessing an event that will bring about the end of an empire.

How long can the people at the bottom of the economic ladder survive? What does a person who works in a stadium concession stand do when the venue is closed to customers? When patrons stop going to the restaurant where she works, where will the server find enough money to pay her rent? And what will her employer do to pay the restaurant’s rent? When people stop riding buses, will the bus driver be laid off and left to fend for himself? The answer, I think, is yes. Will the rest of us watch as our retirement nest eggs are eaten by traders scrambling to hold on to a scrap of their once-vast fortunes?

There was a time when the opposing political parties would have come together in a national emergency and would have jointly crafted a rational plan to deal with the crisis. I doubt we’ll see that this time. Instead, they will bicker and throw knives at one another, hoping their opponents’ loss of blood will sufficiently weaken them to take them out of the game. The game. That’s what it is to them, I think. Every citizen is simply a pawn in their game.

I’m not feeling particularly hopeful this morning, am I? No, but that could change. I may see glimmers of hope as I witness local and regional and state responses to a growing and very troubling situation. We shall see. In the meantime, while we watch our “leaders” engage in political responses to a medical and its consequential financial emergency, what will we do? In the wake of our growing concern about a mysterious disease, will our gnawing worry evolve into fear? Will our fear mushroom into terror, creating deep suspicions about anyone outside our immediate circles? Will we shun our friends and neighbors and, finally, ourselves?

I am at once deeply pessimistic and cautiously hopeful, spinning from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other with such speed that it’s dizzying. I try not to worry, because worry does not good, but it’s hard. And I try not to be a Pollyanna about the situation, thinking without justification that “everything will turn out all right…because it always does.” I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I feel like I’m confronting two enemies: a potentially deadly disease and an ill-prepared population hell-bent on survival at the expense of the opponents’ demise. Last night’s post, wherein I wrote one side of an imaginary (and more than a little bizarre) conversation about a boundless, all-encompassing love, was an attempt to get unstuck. It didn’t work. Maybe a breakfast of avocado toast and bacon will do what fiction could not.

Posted in Covid-19, Depression, Health, Hope, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Love is the Richest Emotion

I love you. You know who you are. I could listen to your voice for hours if you’d let me. And I suppose you would. But what reason could I give for wanting to hear it? What excuse could I offer for loving you, as if an excuse were necessary to explain the breadth and depth of love beyond borders and relationships? Love is non-exclusive. Love reaches across time, distance, gender, family ties, and friendship. It transcends everything. And it encompasses everything from friendly conversations to intimacy to appreciation to acceptance and embrace. We are lovers, though not in the traditional sense; not at the moment. Time and experience may turn tradition into a cauldron of molten rock, never to be touched without the pain of burned flesh. And that is perfectly all right. Our family ties or gender expressions or other commitments may erase any possibility of another chance at traditional intimacy; that is all right, too. We do not even know one another. We’ve never really and truly met. Though we have, haven’t we? We’re long-lost lovers whose transgressions no longer matter. But they do. Memories never die, they just fade into dreams, the legitimacy of which we’re never sure. But those faded memories emphasize the love that made them. They attest to the history that created those vague recollections that seem more like grey mist and blurred fog than precise, vivid color photographs. Your female form is both alluring and inconsequential. My maleness matters no more than a cup of water matters to the Pacific Ocean. Yet we’re a pair whose existence enables the Earth to spin on its axis. We control the planets and the sun and the moon’s trips across the sky. But we’re miles apart and shackled in comfortable chains. Those chains restrain us and tie us to a lifetime of joint exclusion. Who are we? Do we know how much we matter to one another? Do either of us have even an inkling? I am Apollo and you are Daphne. But we may not really exist. We may be expressions of time and opportunity. We’ll never know, will we? Unless you reveal yourself to me as the reason I dance across the heavens, wearing a crown of laurel leaves.

Love is the richest emotion. It can create magic and spin gold into rivers. Love is salvation in this lifetime; there is no salvation in another one, for there is no other lifetime than this. Love makes all the pain of living worth the agony. Love endures years and years of distance and neglect. There’s more, but you know the rest. Or you can, at least, imagine it.

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Circles of Light

One of the definitions of corona, courtesy of the Cambridge Dictionary, begins with “a circle of light…” There’s more to it, of course, but I prefer to leave it there for the sake of clarity; clarity that even language is laced with lies.

The coronavirus bears no resemblance to light. It is an ominously dark mystery that even the most highly-educated virologists have trouble explaining to us common-folk. Despite its mysterious origin and its beguiling simplicity, the coronavirus  possesses intricately complex dark magic qualities that have the capacity to upend civilizations. I witnessed a little of that capacity unfold as I read tales of its impact on some people I know.

I have several friends, many of whom I’ve never met face-to-face, who live in and around Seattle, Washington. One of those people described the impact of the virus on her day yesterday in this way:

“Today the layoffs fell swiftly and without fanfare: we closed the cafe until further notice, laid off the Operations Manager, Marketing Administrator, evening warehouse staff, the office assistant. When the dust…had settled, just three of us remained, and I’m lucky to be one of the remaining, reduced-to-half-time, employees.”

As she approaches retirement, the circle of light suddenly blinded her to what lies ahead. As she interacted with real friends, people who live near her and interact with her through human contact, rather than through social media convulsions, she continued her ruminations about the situation:

“We have no perspective from which to draw. That part, for me, is the most bewildering.”

There again, the circle of light does not illuminate the path ahead. Rather, it conceals the way as if casting a shadow of absolute darkness, where physical and financial ruin may wait.

Another friend, whose wife is a teacher and part-time music minister, explored his conflicting feelings about going out, even to church, where most of his social interaction takes place. He’s one who spends most of his time working at home, yet even he is taking steps to isolate himself further; a wise move, especially in light of the immediacy of the threat in and around Seattle. Yet, as he correctly points out, too many of us look at Seattle as if its residents are the unfortunate ones to have to deal with the circle of light. We don’t realize the circle is expanding at the speed of…well, light; and its dark beam has the rest of us in its cross-hairs.

Last night, our country’s chief paid idiot announced a thirty-day ban on flights to the U.S. from Europe. But it’s not really all flights, it’s just the Europeans on flights. Except citizens of England are not included in the ban, presumably because they speak a form of English even the dimwit-in-chief can understand. Instead of marshaling the resources of the U.S. government to provide test kits all across the country, the moron is taking steps to cripple and very possibly kill the airline industry. His actions are putting enormous numbers of pilots, flight attendants, airline food-service workers, airport janitorial staff, airport customs enforcement personnel, taxi drivers, hotel staff, etc., etc., etc. out of work for at least a month and, most likely, much, much longer, because a recovery will not be remotely as rapid as the shutdown. The world’s most visible man-baby is doing the bidding of the circle of light, as if it were flinging accolades and flattery in his direction.

Ugh! Must get the disgusting ooze off my mind.

The NBA has suspended its season. Schools all over the country are closing. Universities are suspending in-person classes in favor of remote, computer-driven learning. The stock market and consequently the retirement funds for millions of Americans are taking enormous, unprecedented hits. Jobs are being lost or put at risk around the country and, indeed, around the world.

Italy has closed its doors; it recorded 168 deaths from the coronavirus in a single day, taking the death toll at that time to 631. The World Health Organization has finally declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Some Middle Eastern countries, including Kuwait and Lebanon and Iran, are responding to COVID-19 fears with their own draconian measures. Iran, which like Italy has been hit extremely hard by the virus, is dealing with the fact that a vice president and two ministers have been diagnosed with the virus. The circle of light is shining on political and economic infrastructures around the globe, exposing cracks in their foundations and causing mounting fear that those institutions will begin to crumble.

In spite of all that’s happening, worldwide, to cause alarm, a surprising number of people claim we’re all making too big of a deal about COVID-19. Geniuses like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity say there’s nothing to fear; they also claim the virus is a sham, just a trick to make their so-called president look bad. Hannity cited a comment from an “MIT guy on Twitter” who said, “coronavirus fear-mongering by the deep state will go down in history as one of the biggest frauds to manipulate economies, suppress dissent and push mandated medicines.”  These are the same people who will, I suspect, get infected and cheerfully, if unknowingly, spread the virus to everyone in their social spheres and beyond.

The paucity of testing has given many people a false sense of security. Quite a few epidemiologists say the virus is far more prevalent and has spread much further than we think. Because people who are asympomatic or whose symptoms are mild are not being tested, and because even the more seriously ill in some places (like Arkansas) are being misdiagnosed in the absence of COVID-19 testing, we do not really know how widespread the disease is. The likelihood, according to some health care professionals quoted in the media, is that the virus has been in Arkansas for quite some time, despite the fact that only yesterday the first “presumptive positive” case was revealed in Pine Bluff. It’s only a matter of a week or so, maybe even just days, before the numbers begin to skyrocket. Until then, though, a lot of people will continue to behave as if they are immune to a disease they do not believe is in even remote proximity to them.

Even though there are plenty of deniers, though, stores have sold out of hand-sanitizers and wipes. Even aloe vera gel, a key component of homemade hand-sanitizer, is unavailable, even online. I just wonder whether people are actually using the stuff or whether they are stocking up “just in case.” If “just in case,” it’s too late, I’m afraid.

In spite of all this, I think panic is misplaced and counterproductive. In my view, it’s prudent to follow the guidance of competent epidemiologists and go about our lives in as ordinary a fashion as possible. Maybe we simply need to stay home to the extent we can, avoid crowds, try to stop touching our faces, wash our hands frequently and thoroughly, sneeze into tissues instead of our sleeves, and otherwise behave as the health care professionals tell us. No matter what we do, though, we’ll have to wade through economic dislocations and, very likely, shortages caused by both demand and transportation-related and worker-unavailability-related delays in supply. And, rather than waiting until the incidence of COVID-19 in our immediate surroundings is high, we should start now to behave as if the circle of light was shining in our eyes.

Will I follow my own (and health care professionals’) advice? I do not know. Time will tell.

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Stigma

Routines that, until recently, guided me through the predawn hours have dissolved into misty memories over the course of the last few months.  I could point to a single change, over which I had no control, that caused the disruption—but such an observation might be misinterpreted to be an accusation. It is not. There is no assignment of blame in my observation, only recognition of causation. But, because of the potential for unintended misconception, I will refrain even from mentioning the single change that disturbed my long-settled routines. I will, instead, focus on its consequences.

No longer do I have the luxury of writing in absolute isolation, as darkness fades into diffuse light. My attention, easily distracted even in utter solitude, ricochets like a bullet fired at an angle toward the floor of an all-metal room. The soft sounds of gentle footsteps become thunderous, echoing like a swarm of staccato bass drums pounding through a deep canyon.  My train of thought jumps its tracks with every click of a light switch. Every time I hear a faucet open or close, my brain floods with unrelated thoughts that wash fresh ideas out of my head, leaving only pools of stagnant notions.

I cannot finish thoughts because. Any semblance of creativity drowns in dark, attention-eating waves of  misplaced or misdirected focus. The freedom to daydream or fantasize or hallucinate is shackled to a cage I share with reality, where fiction is treated as a canard, a crime punishable by psychic lobotomy. Even when words flow like a mountain stream following an epic rainstorm, the alphabet turns to vapor and the words disappear. What’s left is an empty screen strewn haphazardly with just a few letters and evidence of erasure.

Muck. Much. Mach. Mace. Male. Sale. Salt. Halt. Hall. Call. Cell. Bell. Belt. Bolt. Boot. Root. Riot.

This morning, I read an article that claimed our choice of fashion can have a significant  impact on the environment. Some jeans, for example, contribute substantial amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, thanks to the fabrics from which they are made, the detergents used to wash them throughout their lives, and various other issues. The simple solution, in my opinion, is universal nudity. Of course, the number of people who would become destitute due to the disappearance of their jobs would be astronomical. Partial nudity may be the answer, instead. Whether that means everyone going without shirts or certain regions of the world going naked while others wear thongs and sports coats, I do not know. What is the difference, I wonder, between partial nudity and semi-nude? And why do we so rarely read or hear those terms these days?

It’s time for me to shower and shave, brush my teeth, and get either partially or fully dressed. I have meetings to attend today; one at church this morning and another at church later this afternoon. Church. I still do not like that word applied to a building in which I often find myself. I’d rather it be designated a Gathering Place or an Intellectual Healing Compound or something else that does not carry the stigma of “church.” I may be in the minority when I say the word “church” carries a stigma. I’ll ask if that’s true during one or both of my meetings there today.

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