Thursday, March 11, 2021

One Year of Covid

It's been real. 

I’m the English professor whose class went on spring break in 2020 and never came back. When we left, none of us knew we were gone.

Only two students stand out now (I have the uncanny ability to remember names during a given semester and then instantly forget them when I turn in the grades). One, a very pretty and fit-looking girl who reminded me of Skipper, Barbie’s younger sister, and another, the Best Writer in the class, who was gay and in-the-closet when it came to his parents. 

Skipper’s dad was an epidemiologist and she was too rightwing for me—but I liked her confidence and sass. She didn’t take my leftwing bull crap, but I felt like we tangled constructively, as if we really were in college. Skipper began March 2020 with tremendous flippancy—telling us that she’d fly abroad for spring break and her dad wasn’t worried about Covid. He knew how these infectious diseases were, and she wasn’t going to get all worked up. 

The Best Writer told me that he was raised in a religious home, and he thought he’d always stay in-the-closet with his parents. This was way before Covid. I thought he must’ve had a great high school education, because he wrote so nicely. I liked him.

Then, we all left for the break. I don't know what I was thinking. No one really told us anything. 

We never returned to that classroom.

Skipper wasn’t blasé when I next heard from her online. She finished the course without much pizzazz. Nothing about her online presence stood out. None of us finished with pizzazz, really.  

The Best Writer disappeared altogether. He went home, and that was it. I got one email after I asked how he was, where he was. Privacy laws stood in the way of me pushing it. I was a professor, on institutional email. I couldn’t say, Are you okay? Do you need to talk? You know you’re smart? He went from an "A" to an "F." End of story.  

I only think about these two kids. None of the others. 

Did Skipper go home? Did she give up her European vacation plans? Was she one of those non-mask wearers? Did she think we were nuts when we later went to a George Floyd protest? Did she call for “Law and Order” when Portland did its thing? Did she watch Tiger King

Was the Best Writer suicidal by June? Did he have a good friend? Were his parents loving, sensitive people? Did he decide to talk to them? Why did he end up doing so poorly? What caused him to give up? Where is he now? What did quarantine—that Sartre-esque No Exit State—do to him? 

(All of this may be true, but it might also be fiction. I'm a fiction writer first.)

I didn’t know I’d be Zoom Savvy in a couple weeks. 

I didn’t know I’d spend that first weekend of “spring break 2020” (notice the quotes) rushing from Winco to Fry’s/Kroger, from Trader Joe’s to God-forsaken Walmart (I have a strong aversion to Walmart) with my husband and kids—to stockpile toilet paper, pet food, and frozen pizza. It was a blast, in a macabre way, the four of us, mask-less because masks weren’t yet in. I’ve always loved a good Zombie Apocalypse, and this was my adventure. My family life, imperfect of course, was pretty damn good—and I loved the Us-Against-The-World Vibe. As long as I could use toilet paper and feed my pets.

It was all fun and games. Until it just wasn’t. 

I don’t really remember exactly when it lost its glamour. 

My kids started getting unhappy about school on Zoom and not seeing their friends. 

George Floyd’s death was all-encompassing, and we broke our quarantine. 

The election got out of hand, and the tension was so bad that we all took sides in this extreme way, as if we had moats surrounding our own individual and well-fortified (stocked) castles. The polarization was so real. My relationship with family members went from close-knit to shallow. 

One of my best friend’s dad died from Covid. Like, his dad really died. The first casualty I knew. 

Tim’s uncle passed away in a nursing home, without his wife and child even allowed to see him. 

Another friend’s dad died. 

I know of at least one marriage that seemed to crumble. 

A few addictions made resurgences after times of recovery.

And Covid continued.

It continues. 

Listen, I had a good time, but I know I’m among the few—and I won’t ever dismiss the grief and pain of others. I have been privileged, and I’m aware that unexpected things happen still. Do I count my blessings? I try. 

I do try.

As of this writing, my husband and I are both vaccinated. We both have jobs. We had jobs throughout, and I can only imagine how devastating it might’ve been if that were not the case. We get along, and I can’t imagine how badly it would’ve been to be unhappily married or alone—just all alone. You and that Internet, telling you stuff, whispering in your ear, seducing you, providing the only company you get. What might the effect of that be on a soul? I’ve actually turned into this GIANT introvert in middle age, but how might that alone-ness have played out in quarantine? No one in my immediate family got sick. And I know that everything would be different if one of us had. I survived, so far.

And there were these amazing treasures to be had . . . 

I had this unexpected gift of time with my kids. It’s personal. Cancer in 2015. I guess they say I’m okay (but I’ll never believe them). If you must know, I live permanently in that shadow. I do not count on my survival or my longevity. I’m not sure I’d recommend this mindset, but it’s mine.

And if I could have one thing—one thing only—I’d want concentrated quality time with my kids. With Tim too. 

I had it. I’d like more and I’d like better

But I’ll never ever forget or take for granted that Quarantine Bonanza, in which my children were forced to be with me 24/7. 

Was it “Quality Time”? More or less, more more than less

And I’ll never take for granted those unlikely vacations we did in which we drove in the Honda and spent all of our time as a foursome, eating takeout or walking in the woods, counting deer (really!) or watching Netflix. It was—dare I say it—idyllic. I finally made it to Bisbee, Arizona! I stayed in a haunted hotel in Jerome! We hiked in Pine! I saw so many amazing things.

I also felt grateful for my friends! I feel, maybe, a tad guilty about how it all played out. I didn’t mind the seclusion or the working-from-home or the slicing up of my social calendar (um, more like its elimination). I had this actual, TANGIBLE relief in having no plans! Man, Tim and I were so married

Yes, I think I’m saying that I’m an anti-social stick in the mud. 

But I kept in touch with people. And I think what happened is that I actually valued them in a real way. Also, you know what? Social media sucks, but—damn it—I had connections with friends and I’m thankful for it. 

Gradually, though, this thing happened. Did it happen to you? This stripping? This revamping? I began to see a select group of people in person--and it hit me hard that I had inadvertently hit “Refresh” and I sat more than six feet apart, outside, over coffee from very particular people. I want to be clear; I have others that I have not "seen" who I love dearly--but, wow, pandemic-be damned, I'm still sitting across from these few people I've been sitting with for decades. Wild. How are friends made? Why do some last? Why do some fade? Why did some persist throughout a global pandemic, and why did others halt? 

This is not to even mention the amount of TV I watched. 

(I think I love TV too much.)

It was an historic year; I tell my kids this all the time. I mean, we remember things. We remember the Challenger exploding. We remember 9/11. We remember Elvis’s death and John Lennon’s death and O.J. Simpson’s trial.

We will remember this hotbed of a year—the year that Covid spread in the mist of our breath and the year that a Black man died on the ground in Minneapolis and the year that a presidential election impacted our very beings. 

This was the year of the Pandemic, and none of us will be the same.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Cancel Suess?

Self-appointed cultural critic? Didn't I just "win" some other battle? Is this my new warfront? 

I'm very upset about Dr. Seuss.

My collection with the clean laundry. I have three of the six "bad" Seuss books.

I have a ton to say. I know my evangelical friends want to blame Biden and the Left. I know it.

First, this is a cultural shift and politics are really secondary, so Biden is seriously only symptomatic.

Second, the compromise was made initially by the Right FOR SURE when y'all embraced porn with Trump (and Melania--I could post the photo below, but . . . ).

Third, the compromise was ALSO made on the Right when y'all got high and mighty about, of all things, Harry Potter (and its "witchcraft") and the Left picked it up by blasting JK Rowling for her comments on trans-folks--so he who casts the first stone, Right- and Left-wingers. . . .

In summary, the problem is not political. Please don't be daft. It's cultural, and the Church needs to take responsibility for failure to develop a philosophy on and a value of Art.
Plus, Twitter is so much better without Trump. It's not freedom of speech. It's decency and morality.
Here are some random "cancel culture" notes:

  1. I'll always sing of my love for The Office--even that scene in which Michael stands over Stanley and tells him Barack is president.
  2. I just read some Sherman Alexie in my creative writing class and, man, he's good.
  3. I'm pretty much through with Woody Allen, mostly because I think his art has devolved into nihilist meaninglessness for the sexually-obsessed.
  4. I once got in trouble for teaching a James Baldwin book.
  5. I once got in trouble for teaching The Book Thief.
  6. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom Cabin might've been the book that most turned me left-of-center on race issues.
  7. I'll really go to battle over Mark Twain.
  8. My kids read all of the Harry Potter books. I only made it through the first one.
  9. My kids loved The Hunger Games. I did too.
  10. I actually did prevent my kids from reading Judy Blume.
  11. I wish my kids wanted to watch All in the Family, like we watch other shows--but I can't get them to do so.
  12. Same with The Jeffersons.
  13. I did lose my desire to ever see Bill Cosby again, so there's that.
  14. I kinda have a problem with Tom Cruise, so there's that too.
  15. I don't seem to have a problem with Elisabeth Moss, though.
  16. Didn't you think that Ibram X. Kendi was a little over-the-top on Chris Rock in How To Be An Antiracist?
  17. I watched Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? with my kids this summer, and it's racially dated, you know. Not racist, but not right. What will you do?
  18. Disney's Peter Pan was super racist.
  19. When I think about Michael Jackson, I only get sad.
  20. I'm totally okay with re-naming streets and schools, and removing statues--though I'd do it peacefully and I'd stick them in a DC museum.
  21. Oh, and I still love Hamilton.
Please feel free to add your thoughts!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Trump, the Anomaly

The last time I went publicly crazy about politics was on November 5, 2020.

It’s just, well, we need to get over this already. It’s time. Get a grip.

I’m writing to my GOP friends, especially the Christian ones. I’m talking to the Church-folk. 

Dare I say this: I believe, frankly, there’s a serious need for corporate repentance. 

Please don’t think I’m doing a holier-than-thou routine or some kind of cocky high-falutin pseudo-intellectual talk from my liberally-educated pedestal. I’m just a writer with a foul mouth and strong religious convictions.

I’m trying to be thoughtful about this, and here’s what I’m thinking:

1. The current situation, In a nutshell: Trump was an anomaly that the GOP bought into. Had they recognized him as an anomaly, they could’ve gotten past this—but because people on the Right cling to Trump, they lost. Had Georgia not been contested, Biden would’ve been forced into a moderate position. Now, because Georgia flipped, anything goes in the Biden administration. Loyalty to Trump screwed the Right over. It’s very easy—too easy—to take no responsibility for this, to blame the culture for leftist or socialist or whatever tendencies without recognizing the role Christians played by upholding falsity. 

2. And here's my undoubtedly TRUE political theory to get us past this unruly era of egotism and radicalism . . . 

The very first important tenet of my theory is this: we are never objective or free of our own biases.

The second important tenet of my theory is this: Trump is an anomaly, and the current (not most basic) downfall of the existing GOP and Democratic parties is to NOT SEE him as such. It’s a problem for both parties. The country may or may not be going blue. Wait till the anomaly is cleaned up. Recognize the anomaly for what it is. GOP, pick better candidates. 

I'm 100% convinced that my GOP friends don't understand how Trump has departed from GOP tradition; I'm 100% convinced that my Dem friends see Trump as representative of GOP beliefs. He is neither. 

He's an anomaly--closer to a Nero or a Hitler or a Stalin or . . . a JFK!!!! See, I'm NOT going to suggest it's the monster-dictator thing he has in common with these guys!!!! It's the CULT OF PERSONALITY thing. It's the personal politics thing. It's . . . a personality disorder, most likely narcissism. THE SOONER ALL OF US RECOGNIZE TRUMP AS AN ANOMALY AND NOT AS SOME KIND OF STANDARD-BEARER, THE BETTER OFF WE ALL ARE . . . 

The third important tenet of my theory is this: making the media the scapegoat and that constant "mainstream media" bashing is anti-intellectual and smacks of ignorance. The media is a mirror; journalism is an Art. Of course, it's biased. If you want to freak out, freak out about the rise of and polarization fostered by social media, on which division is promoted and group-think to the exclusion and demonization of others is fostered. THE TRUEST FILM THIS YEAR WAS NOT ACTUALLY MY FAVE BUT IT WAS The Social Dilemma (Netflix). Going after the media is so secondary. Get over it.

The fourth important tenet of my theory is this: It's social media/the extreme polarization of the day/the chaos of elections and 2020 and the rise of Covid coupled with the death of George Floyd that drowns out the moderates, which is what we mostly are. We are not Bernie Sanders. We are not AOC. We are not Mike Pence. We are moderates. And it's the moderates on both sides who pick up the pieces of the wildcards and make America not-great-again-but-working-towards-justice-and-mercy. SO, MODERATES, STOP THE TRUMP-NONSENSE AND GET TO WORK. 

We need the wildcards . . . The Abraham Lincolns, the MLKs, the George Wahingtons, etc. But it's the moderates who build on that work, "restoration" periods, "recovery" periods. It's us. Sadly, this time, we're not picking up the pieces of a beneficent wildcard, like Bobby Kennedy; rather, we're picking up the pieces of an anomaly. BUT IT'S OUR WORK. Joe Biden is a moderate. Kamala? Not so much. Nonetheless, it's us . . . 

And that's my theory . . .

First Order of Business: Corporate Repentance.

For further reading . . . 

This piece on Christian nationalism by Matt Maler.