Plague Diary: January 11, 2021

Uncategorized

I have a terrible resume.

It lists exactly three jobs, one of which I’ve had (in some for or fashion) for over twenty years, some meaningless corporate jargon, an award I won in college, and as little as possible about my unimpressive college career at a couple of unimpressive state universities. I tried to add some flair once by with a section where I said Iiked rhinestones, unintentionally homoerotic religious art, urban decay, socialism, pirates, and local politics. All of those things are true, but a person that didn’t hire me once confided that the list was doing me no favors. So I just left it at “books and music,” with the hope that it would make me sound demonstratively dull enough that I wouldn’t freak out Janice in accounting.  In the two and half decades that I’ve updated and tried to use it, it has worked exactly thrice for an interview and never for an actual job offer.

It’s not just the poor contents but the flavor and form of the thing. My resume is a head scratcher, a collection of vague and coded language insubstantial and unfulfilling as a water mirage on a hot summer highway.  It’s a bulleted outline of a middle-aged writer with serious credential anxiety who will write just about anything for a buck or two, the middling stats of twenty+ year copywriter who’s never quite been able to decide if she wants to be more than that, and a collection of what ifs, maybes, and almosts that constitute the full portfolio of an author who probably ought to amend the Would-Be to Probably Not. It’s the kind of thing that causes eyes to glaze over in HR departments. And, in fact, in the two and half decades that I’ve tried to use whatever version to achieve gainful employment, it has worked exactly thrice for an interview and never for an actual job offer.

On the plus, I haven’t been on the active job market for a while, which is a good thing. The last time I was in desperate need of work even the ice cream parlor turned me down (I live in a college town, they ended up hiring a kid with a law degree).  I like my job enough as is. I hope it lasts, because it allows me to feel pretend at stability in the critical areas that don’t rhyme with either “current apocalypse” or “mental health.” On the minus, my freelance life has included some number of “revisions” and ghostwritten  cover letters, resumes, application essays, portfolio submissions, and personal statements for other people.  I have a pretty good track record getting anyone but myself a job interview or a place at graduate school, which makes it a teense ironic (tragic?) that I can’t seem to do so for myself.  

Of course, plenty of jobs don’t come from resumes, which is thing I tell anyone who has ever asked me for help with a resume and the very first thing I tell everyone who wants to know how to pick up paid writing gigs.  I like to think I get writing jobs because of my sparkling wit, keen fashion sense, interesting digressions about history and pop music during important meetings, and a solidly B+ work ethic that means I can meet deadlines and (mostly )manage to hold my tongue if an authority figure tells me to do a thing. I also know people, not necessarily people that “know” people in either the secret agent or Hollywood lunch kind of  way, but people who would rather have someone else write a thing for them.

And many of those people also know me, which is to say they know something of  what I consider to be my real resume. This isn’t a document so much as a character sketch. It can be filled in with broad strokes: I like people. I feel more comfortable in a crowd. I own far too many cocktail dresses, books, and records. I spent more years working at a record store than reasonable for an adult woman (and loved it). It includes whimsical flourishes: I give all animals, even wild ones, first names.  I like to arrange flowers. If I were the sort of person who didn’t have to work, I’d hole up in some creaky old villa on the Mediterranean coast and write plays and stories in between hosting parties, and floating around on blue, blue water reading and trying to learn what cool new shit the nereids are getting up to these days. And if you really “know” me, or are perceptive, you’ll know some portion of the flaws and foibles section of real resume. Like that I have a pretty wild, if very short-lived temper. Or that the afore-mentioned authority problem is 1000 times worse if the authority figure is male. Or that I love spontaneity in part because I’d rather have to make a quick decision because otherwise I will mull over it forever. Or that my worry-to-daydream ratio is pretty well balanced, but usually doesn’t leave much time for practical stuff. Or that I spend a lot of time pretty sure I’m pretty bad at anything useful and not even halfway decent at all the trivial shit I choose to do instead.

2020 was a serious Real Resume-builder of a year. I got to add things like survived not seeing family for months and months, utilized the risk-averse side of myself like a rock star, worried like worrying was a full-time job and learned how I functioned and handled stress alone (not so well).

In the first week of new year  it feels like every conversation I have is about some point or another of real resume material, whether it’s friends half-joking (only half now) over Zoom beers  what they would do if an actual Civil War breaks out (I’m going with pacifist who edits the resistance paper because I don’t like hurting people and I’m not giving my temper any extra air), or planning on how to handle a Covid outbreak among family, or listening to a friend facing an almost unimaginable barrage of troubles and crediting her ability to endure on lessons learned by taking big swings and stupid risks when she was young.

That’s the something else about my real resume: I didn’t take the big swings or the stupid risks. I made friends with and wrote stories about people that did. I played it safe and gave myself all kinds of practical justifications for doing so.  I stayed close and did such a good job convincing people it was what I wanted, I managed to convince myself. So even when I did crash and burn, I didn’t have very far to fall, and I always made sure there was convenient fire extinguisher once I got there. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why I don’t handle hardship well, that I’m not handling hardship well.  That it’s not that I’m somehow congenitally ill-equipped for the difficult , but that I’m a coward and a softie and that maybe the worst of what I’ve experienced barely counts as hardship at all.

Or maybe (more likely) that which does not kill us does not make us stronger, it simply leaves us more battered, exhausted, furious, and sad. We’re lucky to come through at all. I’m fragile af these days. We’re only eleven days into 2021 and even if I could conjure up a solid “Rocky” montage, I’d be in no shape for a title fight.  

And here we are on the front lines of history. I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know how in hell I will handle it, or if I even can handle it. At least half the time, I’m quite sure I don’t want to. But we all have terrible jobs on our dockets and this one? This one sucks.   

Still I try to stay optimistic.  You never know. Maybe I finally figure out what I’m good at. Maybe I learn to do something useful. Maybe the New Yorker finally calls. Maybe the after the chaos and the heartbreak, after the smoke clears, there’s a space for me and a novel on a raft in the blue, blue sea, and maybe a passing Nereid who just wants to swim over and chat about important stuff like HBO shows and Elena Ferrante novel.

I think I have the skill set to handle that job.

Fingers crossed.  

Picture today is of the Mediterranean at peak float.

As of this writing, 65,208,512 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Post-Coup Diary: January 8, 2021

Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Edwin Booth, actor, famed tragedian, theater manager, and Union supporter was in Boston when he heard the news from Washington. He’d living been in Dorchester with his daughter after the recent death of his wife, setting up for a show at the Boston Theatre in between performances in New York. People in Boston liked Edwin—he was talented, a rising star. I haven’t read the right biographies to tell you that much about his personality, but I know he was an actor who came up in a wildly eccentric, often financially  insolvent, over-the-top family, whose patriarch was a adulterous, wife-abandoning, self-aggrandizing, immigrant spotlight hog. And given what I know of wildly eccentric, self-aggrandizing, spotlight hogging families, I suspect Edwin Booth would have probably been no stranger to a therapist’s sofa, if therapist’s sofas were a thing in 1864.

And that was before he found out his little brother shot the president.

I think a lot about that moment, by the by. Edwin Booth hearing about John Wilkes—the would-be, the not as good, the matinee idol, the confederate, the assassin. That’s a thing to process. An actor, famed for his ability to play Shakespearean tragedy, suddenly finding himself a supporting character in a national travesty. It’s one of history’s heartbreaking b-sides, a devastating real life performance, and, was, for many years one of the saddest, most furious things I could imagine.  100% the kind of scene you write a whole play to highlight, and indeed, there are a lot of plays about Edwin Booth.

I hadn’t really thought about Edwin Booth in a while. The last year, the last few years, have tended to push my historical interests to other places, other people, and into other weird little grimy courtyards in the backalleys of the past. It is my great fortune that I am not immediately related to any would-be traitors and assassins (at least not in this generation) and that my immediate biological family is blessedly free of the conspiracy theorists, bigots, religious zealots, and grandstanding, willfully ignorant blowhards that so many people I love have had to manage over the last four years (and sometimes their whole lives). About the most frustrating thing I’ve had to deal with is occasionally Snopes-ing some antiscientific garbage someone reposts (with the best of intentions but zero secondary sources) or explaining (again) that Antifa is an adjective and not some vast, organized radical leftist organization (and once again, and to be clear, there is no vast, organized radical leftist organization of any kind concomitant with the bloody-minded union of white supremacists, authoritarian theocrats, opportunists, bored, delusional suburbanites, actual fascists and freelance shit stirrers that comprises the Current Activated Far Right in the US.  You’re really going to have to trust me on this one, people).

But then came Wednesday. Wednesday. I sat at my computer in the middle of a workday watching hordes of weapons-grade Freedom-huffers subsume the US Capitol geared up like a collage of all the worst ideas in white people history, abetted by willfully oblivious law enforcement and the DC Proud Boys fan club chapter that evidently moonlights as Capitol Police. It was both unimaginable and completely unsurprising. Like, they’ve been saying they were going to do it. The President. The President—the actual President of the United States—has been telling them to do it. And they knew (they know?) they could get away with it.

I didn’t think about Edwin Booth when an internet acquaintance recognized one of his cousins posing for selfies in the Congressional rotunda, or when a friend admitted that she was afraid of talking to her parents about it—“They’ll either call it a Great Day in American History or an Antifa False Flag operation and I’m not sure what’s worse.” It wasn’t even when I saw that the newly elected, absurdly-named, actual Nazi congressman from my (criminally gerrymandered) hometown district helped to incite the riot at the preceding rally whilst wearing a jacket he evidently purchased from the Brooks Brothers Hermann Goering collection.

For me, it was my mother on the phone recounting a story from the local news in my hometown much later that night about a nice white middle-aged lady, with nice white middle-aged lady hair and a nice white lady MAGA hat, who’d taken a trip to the rally from one town down the road from my parents’ house. She recounted her day’s adventure with a giggle and grin as “so much fun and I met so many nice people!” as if she’s just returned from a book club as opposed to storming the capitol in an act of overt insurrection bent on tearing down the government and disenfranchising thousands of voters and . . . and then what exactly? Installing an authoritarian dictatorship? Bringing about the new fascist world order? Uncovering the cells full of children stolen by lizard people, Hilary Clinton and George Soros in some secret prison under the Senate chamber and then getting swept off her feet by a dashing Q as they save the world together and ride off into the sunset on a white horse under a confederate battle flag? All of the above?

What kind of person do you have to be to try and literally try and destroy the government, to end democracy, to create widespread havoc and chaos, to rattle the foundations of the nation to call up REVOLUTION because because a heavily indebted, second-rate real estate developer from Queens with delusions of near-godlike grandeur doesn’t like losing, and then describe it like a lark.

I mean, if you want to topple a government, if you want to destroy a nation, at least own it. At least know your history. At least, have the decency to treat it more seriously than a bus trip to Branson with the girls from your bridge club.

“I grieve for this country,” I said, because I’m not a flag waver. I complain about the US all the time. I insult it to its face. I serve up plenty of tea on the Founding Fathers. I talk about Civil Wars in other countries. I am no one’s idea of a patriot. But what I thought in that moment was I grieve for my country.

And, you know, I thought about Edwin Booth.


After the assassination, Boston police came to Edwin Booth’s house to investigate. He allowed them access to his rooms, his papers, whatever they needed. They found nothing incriminating, just a grieving man and his daughter.Booth wrote to the owner of the theater, asking to be released from his performance contract. How could anyone decent justify a Booth in the spotlight? A good performer knows when it’s time to leave the stage. A great performer actually does it.

“The news of the morning has made me wretched, indeed, not only because I have received the unhappy tidings of the suspicions of a brother’s crime, but because a good man and a most justly honored and patriotic ruler has fallen in an hour of national joy by the hand of an assassin.”

He worried for the future, that his brother’s reckless act might undermine all progress made through the anguish of civil war.

“But,” he wrote, “whatever calamity may befall me or mine, my country, one and indivisible, has been my warmest devotion.”

He left town with his daughter. He moved back to New York. He wrote an apology letter, a pale shadow of the one he wrote the day of to an audience of one. It was published in a bunch of newspapers. He planned to retire from acting. Some months later, at a train station in Jersey City, Edwin Booth quietly, and without fanfare, helped a young Robert Todd Lincoln mind the gap between platform train car crowded with soldiers, and, in the most low key way possible, saved his life.

Within the year, Booth started acting again. He played Hamlet, the great tragic Shakespearean hero, and played him so well that he played him to packed houses for much of his decades-long acting career He became a philanthropist. He lived a long and successful life.

Which is to say, Edwin Booth healed. He was a celebrity, a white man.

I am not a celebrity. I am, however, nice, middle-aged, middle class white lady. Odds are: I will do okay, too.

But that doesn’t feel like the right end to this story.

Because while Edwin Booth was dazzling audiences and endowing salons in Gramercy Park, Reconstruction went sideways. Jim Crow flourished for nearly another century ( and continues, in some form, to this day). The post Civil War world, with its promises of freedom and liberty, its hard won victories and attempts at justice and reparation, soon fell away, victim to the whims of government and the confidence of white men who knew they would get away with it. Because they were white men. Because it’s easier to claim beg forgiveness than demand change. Because we’d rather let the status quo off the hook for the most grievous of offenses than allow anyone else the opportunity to so much as speak their mind without interruption.

Edwin Booth has ended up the footnote, the anecdote, the answer to the trivia question. But on Wednesday, I saw Sic Semper Tyrannis in human form. I watched hours of pathetic, would-be John Wilkeses, so astonishingly brainwashed, so insulated by privilege, so high on Trump’s (and their own) supply that didn’t even realize that’s what they were. And it scared the holy living shit out of me.

They could be the future. They will be our future. Unless we hold them accountable. Unless we disown so broadly their false reality that they can no longer accept it as true.

And I know how hard that will be. And I hope you have some ideas because honestly? I don’t think anyone’s “Hamlet” is going to cut it.

Picture today is of Edwin Booth and his daughter, Edwina, in about 1864.

As of this writing, 64,009,190 people have recovered from Covid-19.

Plague Diary: January 1, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

For the better part of the last twenty years, I’ve slipped from one year to the next, often drunkenly, usually at the bar up the street from my old house, always sequined, sweating off my mascara, standing in the dance floor with a bottle of champagne under a wing of balloons. The year passes in a holler of a second in which I wonder, like the overgrown adolescent I am, whether it would be nice or invasive to be kissed at midnight (I suppose it matters who is doing the kissing) to the opening bars of Prince’s “1999.” And before I start dancing again, I always think, always think, “Can’t believe I survived this year. Next year has got to be—simply got to be—better.”

I certainly thought so last NYE. 2019 had been a year of a few excellent highs and some truly blistering lows. I was living in Trump’s America, with all of its attendant horrors, and slouching through my forties. I’d spent the front half of the year in constant travel with one of those chest colds that didn’t go away for approximately six months (this felt less irresponsible then than it does now) and the back half hospitalized for what was maybe a misdiagnosis, fighting off a surgery that I didn’t need, before finally escaping with a bacterial infection (caught in the hospital) that was worse and more long-lasting than the thing that had put me into the hospital in the first place. Then I flew off to the UK with a bottle of insane antibiotics that made feel like I’d been racked and dream about murder. I got sick again in Scotland (another chest cold, probably not Covid, because we were still a couple months pre-covid at that point) and arrived home just in time to learn that my landlord was selling my home of fourteen years and I had a small window in which to figure out the rest of my life or something. By the time I hit the dance floor some ten weeks later, I was under contract on a new house, but only halfway packed up because the process of buying a house is kind of like being chased through a booby-trapped labyrinth by a legion of hectoring bureaucrats armed with an electric cattle prod and a file containing all of your sins There was no guarantee that I would make it to closing without being mauled by a minotaur or humiliated by a mortgage broker. So I was a wreck, a disaster, an anxious chatter of a middle aged woman in a glowstick bracelet and a novelty crown trying to grasp at some material threshold of adulthood, because I thought maybe it would make me feel more secure and less of an untethered and withering disappointment.

You know, typical New Years stuff.

I finished my dance, finished my drink, stood in the cold of the back patio to watch my friends smoke and secretly wish I hadn’t quit. I wandered home under the sparkling x-marks-Orion in the cold night sky over the leafless limbs of the tree tunnel down Maple Ave, and tried to type something clever on social media.

“2019 sucked, friends. 2019 is dead! Long live 2020” was what I two-finger typed in my chilly front yard, then went inside to run a bubble bath and wonder whether if it wasn’t embarrassing that I’d spent my 43rd New Years the same way I’d spent my 27th. and bar and dancing aside, not that differently than I’d spent my 15th, when I sat on a rusty piece of public art that resembled a petrified rubber band, in the center of my hometown, watched the fireworks and thought, 1991 was the worst. Next year. Next year, things will certainly be better.

In retrospect, 1992 ended up being a very normal teenage shitshow year ( the music was pretty good), though a shitshow nonetheless. But no underwhelming auld lang synes—even those of the last few mostly miserable years– could possibly equal the squealing vortex of hell that was 2020. So titanic was this year’s suckitude that it overwhelmed the scant triumphs (I closed on and moved into the house), but still managed to amplify all of the now petty-seeming bullshit that stalked me from the previous year. How can a person, you ask, in the wake of a global pandemic, systemic injustice, a government attempting a coup, mass unemployment, civil unrest and a planet literally on fire still be circling the drain in some misbegotten midlife crisis, obsessed with her lack of success? How can a woman, in the shadow of 350,000 dead from Covid-19, still spend enormous chunks of her waking hours having hypochondriacal attacks about a million and a half things that are NOT Covid-19 (but certainly her own fault)? Isn’t it enough to worry about plague and Trump and the unfolding environmental apocalypse? Is it really necessary that I still wake at 4am and stare at the ceiling trying to gauge how much pain I deserve to endure because I’m a lazy, self-obsessed underachiever with zero sex life, some medical PTSD and a credit score roughly as mediocre as my mediocre CV? Then my chest feels tight and I think, Definitely Covid, probably The End, and chide myself for my failure to put my affairs in order and elucidate any advance directives. Because, as I was told during a recent telehealth appointment, “You’re not so young anymore that you can afford to leave those things unspecified.”I

I’m not so young anymore. That’s the truth.

Last night at 11:15 on New Year’s Eve 2020, I stood in the closet and changed into sequins and so I could dance alone with my best friend. I could hear Beastie Boys on the party playlist through the floor which maybe dates me, and could see my reflection under the unflattering closet light, which definitely does. I thought my face looked both drawn and puffy, not terrible for my age, perhaps, but unavoidably my age—eight weeks shy of 7” turntable speed. I thought “2020 has done this to me,” and that’s true, but maybe would have been even without the 2020ness of it all.

I came back downstairs and we opened a bottle of champagne to watch a mostly-empty Times Square on mute. We stepped into the foggy drizzle and out of the old year with leftover 4th of July sparklers in the front yard, while the next door neighbors shot of rounds of waterfalling fireworks in their driveway.I hugged my raincoat round my shoulders as I listened pink and green sparks fizzle and crack in the rainy quiet.

New Years at home means you can avoid the midnight anticlimax. New Years with the world at home means even the most FOMO-afflicted can rest easy in the knowledge that they aren’t missing anything. I should have been relieved. Instead, I felt a kind of nothing, save cold feet and damp hair and the blank, calm certainty that comes when you recognize that no amount of wishing and hoping will keep things from getting worse. That maybe the best thing to do is to concentrate on right now–the smell of the rain, the ephemeral pleasure of dirt cheap glitter boots, your favorite old B-52s song playing muffled from the stereo inside your house, the friend beside you, the other friends at sensible 6-8 feet, across town, across the continent, across the oceans. You love the things you still have, material and memory, even if those things are just figments and flickers. You grieve for all that is missing, ellipses-like gaps where your life used to be, the empty seats around the holiday table. Then you turn your face to the gray black sky and float, suspended for a second or two, in the turning tides of history, where, for in the white space between the years, all is kind of calm, if not also bright.

I don’t know what the new year will bring. I hope it’s vaccines and recovery. I hope I will be able to dance in public, to sing, to gather, to hug, to touch, to be touched by someone who other than the single friend and single biological relation inside the bubble and/or a latex-gloved, masked and shielded medical professional that is probably giving me bad news. I hope I will be able look forward to something—not some amorphous if/then/maybe—but a real honest-to-god something with three dimensions, five senses and no Zoom invites. I’d like the Future back. I know the majority of the lives I imagined for myself are maybe not probable or possible at this point, but it would be cool if there were something on the road ahead that seemed promising or desirable. I would like to look forward without a shudder and a rising heart rate. I would like to not be so afraid of tomorrow that I miss today.

But I’m superstitious, and maybe a little bit cursed, so I won’t count my chickens and I won’t make any promises. I’ll eat my black-eyed peas and make my resolution list.

I’ll wish you a Happy New Year.

Picture today is of my full, expanded 2020 resolution list.

As of this writing, 59,641,536 people have recovered from Covid-19.

Plague Diary, November 22, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries

On average, I feel like I’m at least mildly losing my mind about once a day. The more acute freak-outs are maybe once a week these days, a real improvement from the early days when every morning felt like a siren. I don’t know if that means that things are any better—survey says they are, at least Covid-wise, they’re manifestly worse, but at least, I know that right now, for me, things are kind of as okay as they’re going to get for a while, and that okay is not so bad.  

I still freak out, though. I freaked out today because I had hypochondriacal attack. Not about Covid, at least not really (I got negative test results back today), but that I thought my ankles werre tingling and my feet are periodically achy and numb and my right arm is a little weak, and WebMD tells me it’s probably liver failure or kidney disease of diabetes or a stroke. OH MY GOD AM I HAVING A STROKE RIGHT NOW?!  I’m embarrassed to call my doctor and afraid of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t want to go in for a test because Covid. I call my mother. She laughs at me, especially after I report that I’m wearing newish running shoes that are, actually, kind of tight and I have, actually turned my ankle a couple of times on the trail and I do, yes, have recurrent plantar fasciitis and hey, now that you mention it, I have been trying to do pushups (the lady kind– I can do, like, two) in the morning, which might explain the arm. Also there are fibroids and the sciatica and I am in my mid-forties and things don’t always feel the way they used to and maybe you pinched a nerve, honey. And all these things. I nod and smile and try not to cry because on some level, even though all of these things are totally rational, I am convinced that I have a grave and possibly terminal illness, and it will invariably be one of those things that I brought on myself because I am an irresponsible hedonist who doesn’t take care of herself and every jackass in my life who ever tried to talk me into trying some new diet or lifestyle hack will be 100% vindicated once I turn up chronically ill because I am a shitty human and a terrible grown-up.  “There goes Alison,” they’ll say. “Don’t let yourself turn out like her. She lived by the fork; died by the fork. Could have told you that would have happened to her.”

And my mother will look (via Facetime) at her forty-odd  year old daughter, lip trembling like a child, scared shitless of a thing that is maybe, probably, not even real, after her long,  comforting, utterly rational monologue of Things More Likely Wrong with You than End-Stage Liver Failure and say, “But I can tell by looking at you that, you don’t really believe a single thing I’m telling you, right?”

And in those moments? I want to. I really, really want to. I’m sorry I can’t. I’m disappointed I can’t. But on some small but essential level, I don’t.

My mother sighs, reminds me that I maybe need to find a therapist (she’s not wrong), and changes the subject. Because what do you do, really when you are stuck trying to pry out something stupid and awkward from a sticky, irrational groove and it just won’t give? At some point, you just can’t pull any harder. You have to accept that there is probably nothing more you can say.

I don’t live in a world where I regularly have to talk to either Trump supporters or Covid deniers. Most of my friends and family are cautious when it comes to getting a beer outside on a patio at six feet distance, and at, best, nervous if that patio is public and there are other people around. We’re barely traveling and hardly shopping. We don’t leave home without masks.

But we’re all one or degree of separation from someone who doesn’t. You know, the relative who is absolutely having Thanksgiving with twenty-five people, or flying down to vacation at a resort in Florida with her three college buddies, or going to the mall to shop Black Friday, or dining out three times a week inside. Maybe those people believe in Covid, but believe it won’t affect them. Maybe those people don’t believe it exists at all, that it is conspiracy pitched by leftists in order to distract the general public from seeing that Hilary Clinton and Hunter Biden and are stealing children and selling them to George Soros and furniture websites in order to advance Gay Space Communism (I think I have that right).  

Talking to those people is exhausting. Especially now, if you’re still trying. Even the ones that you love, especially the ones that you love, especially the ones you think are not too angry, not too stubborn, not too far gone. You can give them all the facts. You can give them all the rational arguments. They will nod along. Maybe, just maybe they will try to believe you. And it will be painful because you’ll probably see in their eyes the same thing my mother sees in mine—“You don’t really believe a word I’m saying, do you?”

Because they won’t.

I don’t know how to work them out of their own collective delusion, the irrational fears and lies they tell themselves any more than I know how not to worry that maybe I’ll have to have my foot amputated between now and Thursday because my ankle still feels tingly. I wish I did, for all of our sakes. We all have to live in this world together, and the world will continue to be objectively more difficult, painful and virus-filled so long as they continue to operate as if it isn’t already.

I came home tonight after a much needed head-clearing drive past by the parking lot of a restaurant a couple towns over. The parking lot was packed. The patio was full. People were crowding outside waiting to go in. They were few visible masks and no evidence that it was anything but a normal Sunday, in a normal November, on the weekend before Thanksgiving. I thought, I want to be on that patio, and, right now, I can’t be. And I’m bitter about it. I don’t begrudge the restaurant for being open for opening—they need the money. I don’t even begrudge the patrons—we all make our own choices. But l I want to be able to make that choice. I want to sit in a crowded restaurant.  I want to have a dinner party. I want to have holidays where we can be together. I want to go to plays and concerts. I want to be able to hug my Dad or my little sister (haven’t done that since February).  I want a life back that isn’t so goddamn lonely and stressful and swirled with anxiety that I spend whole weekends at home because of plague, arguing with myself about whether I am dying of some other kind of plague and driving everyone I love crazy because I can’t just go do something else and snap myself out of it.

But those people in the parking lot, on the patio, crowding the foyer maskless . . . those people are stuck in their groove. I can’t push them out. I used to think the virus would, but, I mean, look at the White House.

So here we are stalemate at the holiday. Eventually, people tell me, things we’ll get back to normal. They’ll loosen, we’ll compromise. There will be a vaccine. There will be a new president. And it sounds exceedingly rational, so comforting. I want to believe it. I really, really do.

But if you look at my face, you’ll see a  forty-odd year old woman, trying to look hopeful, trying not to freak out, trying.

As of this writing, 40,765,702 people have recovered from Covid-19.

Plague Diary: November 20, 2020

COVID / Personal History / Plague Diaries

Recently I’ve been thinking about Richard the III, the play, not the historical character. Not so much for the political allegory (among other things our current, still-hopefully outgoing, overtly criminal tyrant-in-chief not only lacks the wit but the demented charm of the only great historical egomaniac/Shakespearean villain to have  turned up buried under a Social Services parking lot, though I still holding out for more). Also I can’t imagine Donald Trump offering his kingdom for a horse, because I can’t imagine Donald Trump  trying to get on a horse (okay, fine, I can, and it’s hilarious).

Specifically I’ve been thinking about the winter of our discontent, because I’m pretty sure that’s right now, or, if you’re a nerd about seasons, coming for you on December 22. That’s three days before what is almost certainly going to be a perfect Christmas in Hell, with a bewildering range of torments, running from loneliness, isolation and the kind of trivial dread that comes with privilege, loneliness, isolation and streaming services to the actual nightmare of people you love dying in overwhelmed hospital wards and people going hungry and homeless because they’re still unemployed and the stimulus money has run out to, I dunno, has the combination of Biden victory and epically high Covid numbers among Trump supports put the kibosh on Violent Coup and Civil War double-header US Tour in 2020?  Because I’m a feeling way more confident about things not going that way then I did three weeks but I still feel like I need someone to loosen the laces and fetch the smelling salts whenever the NYT alert comes through on my phone.

I memorized Richard’s opening monologue when I was a teenager, because I was the kind of teenager that was into Shakespeare in a way that made anyone with the slightest tinge of cool about them distinctly uncomfortable. My notion was to learn as many soliloquies as possible to show off my range as an actor, an idea handily abetted by my high school’s requirement that each year, every student, stand up in front of class and recite a soliloquy in a school wide competition. I never won, because I was neither as good of an actor as I thought nor as beset by conveniently timed real life drama[1] as the actual winners typically were. But winning a school competition wasn’t my goal. No, nothing so small. My goal was to pull a Sarah Bernhardt, play all the big parts, no matter the written gender, honestly because so many of the good ones were written for dudes –I mean, why limit yourself, right?

Suffice to say, this did not pan out. It took about a semester of college to realize that I wasn’t really cut to be an actor. For one thing I didn’t have leading lady looks (I spent my entire, brief theatrical career playing eccentric old ladies with wacky accents, eccentric  servants with wacky accents, eccentric  civil servants with wacky accents, eccentric animals with wacky accents,  eccentric old men with wacky accents, and, once, a Shakespearean eccentric, fat shepherdess, no accent but pink gingham ruffled bloomers) or the will/income/lifestyle to change them. More importantly,  I lacked the talent and massive amounts of determination and chutzpah in the face of relentless and devastating rejection to continue on that track. I mean, there were millions more talented actors than I even vying for the eccentric old lady with a wacky accent role. Also, I wanted to go to shows instead of rehearsals and shave off half my hair and dye it pink without having to ask a director’s permission and honestly, how on earth was I supposed to be able to memorize lines when there were so many band names and record labels I needed to know about? I’d missed out on a lot of quality 7”s when I was declaiming from the back deck of my mother’s house at age fifteen as a gender-swapped Henry V.  In any case, I suppose NOT becoming a Shakespearean actor was, by any standard, a much more practical career track (and I say that as someone who writes for a living and spent nearly fourteen years working in a record store), especially right now, eight months after the plague closed the theatres and (at best) probably 12-18 before they safely open again.

And thus here we are at November 2020. Time doesn’t work anymore. So you know several eras of geologic time have passed since March, but I can’t believe it’s been almost nine months since I, like, went to Target. Sometimes I wonder how much more I can isolate, how much less I can do, so as not to add another chore for a contract tracer or a gasping, desperate body for a hospital bed. Things will get better, but almost certainly not before they get much, much worse, and that makes even thinking about the positives fraught with worry.  

Grief flickers on the edge of all  days. I find one of my grandmother’s lighters in a box of objects that came from her house. I think about Thanksgiving, and how not Thanksgiving it will be. I watch a video of a jazz trio in Central Park and miss New York with almost breathless intensity (it’s been at least a decade since there was such a gap between visits). I miss travel, generally, even more. And holy fuck, I’ve said it before, but the spontanaeity. The ability to just pick up and go and explore, for friends to just drop by. It is the surprises that make life worth living and the happy ones are in short supply the days.

On the plus, I don’t wonder so much anymore about whether I can survive the boredom and isolation of this dark and brutal season. I’m pretty sure I can. Or at least I can so long as I have heat and power and books and pens and paper and internet( and probably more cheese, gin and records than are strictly advisable). I can so long as I can still walk out into the sunlight even on days when it’s chilly. As long as I see the faces of the people I love, even though I can’t touch them.  As long as I can smile at people when I pass them on the trail or on the sidewalk, even though I’m wearing a mask, even if they almost certainly can’t tell or don’t care.  As long as I can stand in the shower, doing Shakespeare for a tile audience Sometimes the falling water sounds like the murmur as a crowd in the last nervous moments as the house goes dark before you step out and find your light.

I.i

(Enter Richard, Duke of Gloucester, solus)

Now is the winter of our discontent

As of this writing, 39,978,863 people have recovered from Covid 19.

Picture is of yours truly as aforementioned eccentric fat shepherdess, Phebe (As You Like It, III.v), circa 1993.


[1]  To wit: senior year, a popular, overachieving jock and  presumed Olympic hopeful  had an unexpected injury and was denied trials, so he shaved his head, turned pale, sad, slightly morbid, and inclined toward black clothes for a season or so, and won the competition (and the lusty appreciation of the black fingernail cohort) doing what my best friend still disparagingly (if accurately) refers to as “That Whole Grunge Hamlet Thing.”

Plague Diary: November 2, 2020

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So how’s everybody doing?

I’m a bit rattled.

I’ve been doing a lot of things that I shouldn’t—stress eating, stress drinking, stress shopping. I probably won’t surprise you to know that I’ve been handling our historic crisis (pandemic + election that may very well plunge my world into a level of sustained chaos that ranges from –depending on who you ask–a few burned out cars to, like, sustained battles in the streets) via over-consumption (although I have been taking long walks to listen to political podcasts, which is itself over-consumption). And all the things I should be doing—sleeping, writing, creative projects, meaningful work, meaningful exercise, blah, blah mindfulness bullshit,—have pretty much been cast aside in favor of another turn round NYT and 538 via SHOULD I BUY THESE LEOPARD PRINT CHELSEA BOOTS BEFORE THE WORLD ENDS AND IF SO DO I ALSO NEED A CHEAP CASHMERE TURTLENECK while my iPhone screen gums up with fake cheese powdered fingers and is it 5 yet? Maybe I should I pour a gin and tonic with extra limes for “health.”

I joke that I’ll need rehab to recover from 2020, but rehab honestly feels like a thing for more civilized times, when white supremacists aren’t stalking polling places dressed like Hawaiian-shirted commandos and even some of my otherwise sensible, moderately liberal, seemingly mild-mannered civilian friends are earnestly discussing the pros of building an armory for the incipient hot civil war like it’s a foregone conclusion.  It’s real precipice of doom stuff in a year that has pretty much been a hell’s catalog of precipice of doom stuff. I just left my desk in the middle of the day today for a therapeutic walk  and got so panicked in the middle of a “This American Life” episode (repeat, a “This American Life” episode) that I felt like I was having a heart attack. A bunch of deer wandered past, so close I could have touched them, and looked at me like, Yeah? What’s your deal. Then the sun spotted through the changing leaves, all red and gold. Beautiful. I took a deep breath and put on Leonard Cohen, and remembered that four years,  fifteen pounds, a dozen worry wrinkles,  and several eons of sleepless nights, waking nightmares, and lost innocence ago, the morning of the election, I also went out for a run, thinking, How could anything terrible happen on such a beautiful day.

How indeed.

I want to be hopeful about the tomorrow, but I’m superstitious, inexorably damaged by 2016. Also, there are actual nazis, wild-eyed Q Anon-ers, the fleets of Trump flagged pick-ups shutting down bridges and menacing the opposition on the highway, police officers that pepper spray children on a peaceful march to the polls scarcely twenty miles northwest west of my house. A president egging them all on. I read today that overnight someone turned up at a local Baptist church and burned the VOTE and  Black Lives Matter banners hanging outside. Reading that hit me hard. I’m not a Baptist. I’m a not a religious person at all, but I am a southerner. The words “church” and “burning” that close in a sentence trigger a nauseating historical vertigo. I figure the guys who did it know it. That’s the point. Because as their signs say, “Fuck your feelings.”  

For them, there’s no compromise, no middle path, no reasoned discourse. I’m hesitant to even bring up the old points of order because lamenting civility at this point feels like wishing the invaders had wiped their feet before burning down the house or offering an olive branch to someone who will only use it for kindling when they burn you alive.  

A friend tonight told me he’s scared either way it goes tomorrow.  “If Trump wins, it feels like everything is just definitively rigged and everything will feel truly hopeless and desolate. If he loses, I feel like his supporters will not go gently and that everything will just fall into chaos.” He said he was thinking about buying a gun. “I just worry there’s no way to rationalize, to break through to them and they will just keep relighting the dynamite until it finally explodes.”

His parents are Trump supporters. “They’re sweet people. I always thought they were sweet people, but. . .” He sighed. He loves them. The last diehard Trump supporter I unconditionally loved passed away eight weeks ago.  I feel relieved that I don’t have to discuss the election with her. I feel guilty at feeling relieved. I feel lucky that I don’t have to deal with a brother or a parent or a spouse informing me that they’ve already planned to take up arms against me in the coming conflagration, as I’ve heard from other friends recently.  But I still suffer the general heartbreak of that comes from feeling the seams of your world pulled out until they start to fray. I don’t want my world torn apart.

Human beings do vile and terrible things. We make stupid mistakes. We fall for conspiracies and scams.  We act of ignorance and fear and self-interest and unexamined privilege. We take the easy path, the one that makes us feel good, or, in the moment, less bad. I try to rationalize because I want to understand. Maybe we do the destructive awful things because it makes us feel something— like, power or closure or catharsis. Or maybe we just manage our sadness and fear by going into debt drunkenly ordering leopard print Chelsea boots and a cashmere turtleneck  instead of say, volunteering all day every day at the polls in a rural county like a decent person, insuring that we will spent most of the next two days hungover, awash in regret, shame, self-recrimination and a soupcon of lingering nausea, because did I really eat that whole bag of Doritos tonight? (yes, yes I did)

The ideological positions heading into Election 2020 are well-nigh immovable. No minds will be changed. I’d be more useful and probably healthier if I’d just accept that there’s an chasm between us and the other side and  stop pinning my hope that a few chastened ex-fuck-ups might remember that we’re all human beings and stop it with the fascism for, like, five minutes.  I’m told they probably wouldn’t extend me the same courtesy. After all, these are people who evidently look at a nearly quarter of a million people dead since March from a virus—including their friends, their families, their coworkers, their community members and think, “Not a real thing. Who cares?”

But it’s hard for me to give up on anyone entirely (fact). Not just because that’s me, but because somebody has to be willing to blow out the match and step away from the precipice. Because a nearly a quarter of a million people have died since March in US of Covid alone, and that’s way, way too many. I’m not the slightest bit interested in seeing how we can increase that total if a bunch of vicious, scared, heavily armed assholes take aim at their own private Fort Sumters, and the rest of us have to decide, individually and collectively, how and when and whether we shoot back.

I can tell you right now that I probably won’t. Among other things, I have terrible aim.

So I hope this goes hitchless. I hope we get through this election and all my horrified rambling looks like a terrible, awful, absurd overreaction. I’ll invite you to laugh at me then. I’ll hopefully be laughing myself. Then maybe we can get back to the business of trying to survive pandemic winter without losing our minds and arguing about politics in the traditional “you know, I think I should pay less taxes”  vs “I don’t think Biden is progressive enough on health care” way that doesn’t feel like playing with firecrackers on a narrow wooden bridge over an active volcano.  

I, despite any evidence to the contrary, hope.

Suffice to say, if you haven’t, vote. Please. Vote like your life depends on it. Tell your friends to vote. Then, go home and settle in, find some snacks, self-medicate, because tomorrow is going to be a historic doozy, and it’s entirely likely tomorrow won’t even end tomorrow.

I want to have dance parties and feasts again. I want to hug people again. It’s really the only thing keeping me going,

I hope, above all, we make it through to do so.

As of this writing 34, 012,944 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary: September 28, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries

A week ago Friday , about fifteen minutes after news broke of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, I was walking up and over the hill connecting my suburban neighborhood with the next one over where a friend lived. As a forty-something, flabby, puffy-eyed white woman with a four-pack of Guinness (medicinal, obvs) under an arm trying to navigate my way between streetlamps without using up the last 4% of battery life on my phone, I realized I did not cut a particularly dashing figure. I always imagined myself, at moments of great import, at least appearing more together.

“But history,” I said, to the bats and deer skulking up at the corner of Pathway and Spring Valley, and whatever neighbors lurked silently in the shadows. “History will not wait for you to look cool.”

I felt stupid for thinking it, even worse for saying it aloud, because these are serious, heart-breaking, panicky times. But because these are such serious, heart breaking, panicky times, anything else sounded cheap or obvious. I’ve been riffing on “the situation sucks I hate that we’re here and oh shit, what if we don’t get out” more or less constantly since March, and with regularity since at least 2016. I am tired of saying it. As a woman, like all women (even Conservative Christian women, who have spent their lifetimes trying to convince themselves that they’ll be able to upgrade to Business Class in the afterlife by denying themselves and their sisters our civil rights, our avenues for justice, our bodily autonomy, and our health, wellbeing, and economic security while actually being alive), I am also tired of living it. And I say that aware that as a nominally heterosexual, middle class white woman, who, say, stands at significantly less risk of being shot to death in her sleep by police officers high on bad information and white supremacy, I am way less tired of it all than so many others.

I’m tired of writing the same sentences over and over and over again for the same crowd circling the same old drain of rage and fear and neurosis that I am, like any of this is tantamount to doing anything.   Nero, justifiably, gets a lot of shit for fiddling while Rome burns, but what about the people that complained about the fiddling. Were they really any better? Wouldn’t  the world have been a better place if they’d just shut up about it and maybe filled a g-d bucket of water?  Maybe you can’t always control your psychotic emperor, but you might be able to keep your neighbors from burning alive. Isn’t that better than raging about it on social media, which is maybe more effective than raising a fist to the heavens and giving Jupiter what’s-what, but probably not?

So I’ll vote. I’ll give money to the people I vote for. I’ll tell you to vote. I’ll even tell you who I think you should vote for, if you’re looking for ideas. I’ll spend election night ( week? Month?) gnawing my fingernails to the quick, trying to remember all the perfectly sane reasons I quit smoking eleven years ago, working out the ethical math of whether it’s better flee or stay and fight if things go truly tits up, and if flee, whether there is any place on earth that would have me, where I could still safely seek refuge, given Covid, and let’s be 100% honest, do I have enough room on the emergency credit card to get there? Plenty of time to regret the glitter sneakers you bought back in April when you’re fleeing penniless to (checks list of counties that will still welcome Americans during Covid times) Albania? under cover of darkness.

But I’m tired talking of coups and civil wars with people that seem to secretly yearn for coups and civil wars LIKE ANYBODY HAS TIME FOR THAT, UNCLE MARTIN. I’m tired of conspiracists and cultists. I’m tired of global elites and the apocalypse. I’m tired of having my politics informed by what a bunch of nerds are doing for lolz on internet messageboards. I’m tired of having to even know that Twitter exists. I’m tired of the lack of empathy. I’m tired of the cruelty, the indifference, the scoffing, the snarling, the callow playground power games. I’m tired of the impatience. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of “I deserve to be selfish.”  I’m tired of bullies shouting in the microphones. I’m tired of millions of people losing their voices by pleading and being willfully ignored time and time and time and time again.

I’m tired. And I’ve asked the cat what to do about it. He thinks I should considering feeding him a second breakfast and maybe going back to bed, which is probably as valid as any other idea. I was thinking maybe kicking off from work early, eating Nachos for dinner and rewatching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” (which is maybe problematic now? I don’t remember). Whatever the case, What To Do About It probably doesn’t need another furious, overwritten jeremiad aimed squarely at the choir that is my Friend List.

I don’t know where this boat’s going—probably past the sirens, through Scylla and Charybdis, then second star to the right, straight on til Iceberg or There Be Dragons (or both)—but I’m pretty sure my version of the ship’s log has gotten pretty self-indulgent. I think I’m probably way too hung up on recounting crew morale to check the horizon line. Or to put another way, I need some perspective, at least the kind of perspective you can get on Day 202 of quarantine. I’m thinking, here at the end of all things, I might go use my words for some fiction or even non-fiction not immediately informed by the NYT front page five minutes ago for a while like a useless, commie, Antifa, coastal, elitist, baby-killing, child-trafficking, suburb-destroying, blasphemous lib or a useless, bourgeois, capitalist, counterrevolutionary, equivocal, trivializing, collaborator Karen (Your Choice).

It’s been a bit since I was posting Plague Diaries regularly, but I might bow out for a little while—a few weeks, a few months, until the Constitutional Crisis that ends Democracy  or the  coming fall wave of Covid means the whole global epidemic thing is not relegated the six or seventh scariest story of the day—maybe until I have something new  to say on the subject that doesn’t just sound like a shitty remix.

Thanks for listening to me freak out for the last few months. Now let’s gather our wits so we can all go out there and do something about it.

Picture today is a straight-up selfie of me in my cool new t-shirt (courtesy of the great Ron Liberti) that I think reflects accurately my feelings about this time, this place, and the current unfolding disaster we call home.

As of this writing, 24,701,5064 people have recovered from Covid-19.

Voting

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My first election was November 1980. Carter/Reagan. My understanding, from a historical standpoint, was that it was an election in which a surprising lot of Baby Boomers, who all reputedly had grown their hair out just in time for 1968 and then spent most of the intervening twelve years experimenting with drugs, communes, cults, macramé, multi-level marketing and revolutionary violence (not necessarily in that order), suddenly discovered polo shirts and jumped ship because, I dunno, Reagan made them feel nostalgic for the Westerns of their youth or something?

I was a Carter girl. An avid campaigner, I led the most vocal faction of Democrats in Miss Nina’s four year old preschool class. It seemed like a lot of newly polo-ed ex-hippie grown-ups were pooh-poohing Jimmy Carter, both amongst each other and in the press. And that, to me, seemed like a solid enough reason to throw my support behind him. Really the only reason, because I was  four and a half and wasn’t 100% on policy.   

“Jimmy Carter has personality,” I told the local news reporter who came to cover our mock election for their Kid’s Say The Darnedest section. He smirked and patted me on the head, and shushed me before I got add, And Reagan has no soul. I felt condescended to, which is the fastest way to push me into a rage blackout.  I sulked all the way through the accompanying photo shoot.

The reporter had me pose with Reid,  a fellow preschooler who’d refused my offer of marriage the year before (another humiliating defeat captured for posterity by the local paper, fyi) and had annoyed me ever since. Recently Reid had been cast as Captain Miles Standish in the preschool Thanksgiving pageant and I had been cast as his wife. “What’s his wife’s name?” I’d asked Miss Nina and she’d smiled and patiently explained that none of the women on the Mayflower had names (or lines in the pageant)but we were welcome to make one up. When she shot down “Empress Cynthia Galactica Violet” on the grounds that it didn’t sound American enough for the Mayflower, I told her that was fine, though technically hadn’t she just told us the Mayflower was from England. I’d be Diana Ross . . . Standish, I guess. She didn’t like that either, I might add, but there was a critical Crayon eating situation happening at the time so she yielded the floor.

I told everyone on Election Day that I’d voted for Carter. Mom. Dad. My sister, in utero. The bank teller. The cashier at the supermarket. The German lady at the bakery. Skip, the man from the dry cleaners who dropped off dad’s shirts on crinkly paper hangers. Carter didn’t win, of course. There will be differences of opinion about that here and now. I’m not going to weigh in on that, except to tell you that I was, again, four years old and disappointed because a thing I wanted did not come pass. It was my first (but not only, and far from greatest) electoral disappointment, and it obviously made enough of an impression on me that, forty years later, I remember it.  

I have friends/family that don’t always vote. I have friends/family that have philosophical issues with voting. I have friends/family that vote differently than I do. That’s their right, (even as I struggle with the latter in recent years). We still operate on the idea we live in a democracy (of a sort) and no matter how broken the system looks. I hold by that idea, because I was a four year old girl who was motivated in a mock election. Because I was genuinely thrilled to turn 18 so I could vote. That was a big deal to me. And, look, gang, I turned 18 in the midtermiest of midterms– 1994. No one I voted for (absentee, ps, because college) won. I continued to vote, though and voted in every single election, no matter whether it was a school board bond or a Presidential, no matter whether the poll worker was like “You’re number 17” and I was like, “Today?” and she was like, “Total,” no matter how many of my cooler, more interesting friends and mentors told me it didn’t matter, or I was supporting some capitalist death machine, or I was just stroking my own ego, trying to make myself feel better.

I’m perhaps too stupidly optimistic, too naïve, too enthusiastic, or even too American to believe it. And after enduring the paralyzing horrors of 2016 (with 2000 as a little shitty appertif) snd waiting for recounts in local elections when the winning and losing could be decided by one vote, I’m pretty sure my vote is not just a self-congratulatory gesture. I know it matters.

I can’t talk all of you into it—a few people I love would bristle if I tried–but there is something to it. Even if your candidate doesn’t win (I live in the South, my candidate almost never wins). Even if you wake up the morning after demoralized. Even if things are worse. Even if the guy you voted for isn’t the guy he turned out to be. Even if.

It’s perhaps not an exaggeration to say that our civil rights, our nation, our humanity, our very lives are at stake. Even if you don’t currently think they are. Maybe even especially if you don’t thinj they are. I feel the “Why Didn’t You Stop It?” stare from History raising my hackles all the time, and I think it’s high time to come up with solid answers.

Start in voting booth. It won’t solve every problem. It’s a start, though, and maybe the first and easiest step you can take to stop the whole cavalcade of awful coming down the pike until we can figure out a plan that doesn’t solely involve, say, barricades and bloodshed.

But I’m trying really hard, for my mental health and yours, not to harp on the negative. I’m just in under the wire on Voter Registration Day. I’m a hours late and you’re headed to bed. Tomorrow, though, register, if you haven’t. Encourage the people you care about to register if they haven’t. Hell, tell the people you don’t give a cuss about to register. You don’t have to make them feel bad about it. Just tell them to do it. Tell them it’s kinda great. Tell them it makes a difference. Tell them I’ll be there, as I have been, for every election in memory, even before my vote counted.

And if they actually make it to the polls, tell them we can trade some good stories (masked) while we stand in line, waiting for our chance to change our world.  

Dangerous Lineage

Family History / Women

I come from a long line of dangerous, complicated women.

For generations back, they’ve defied expectation, edict, convention and commandment to go out into the world and be the women that they were, as opposed to the women they were supposed to be. They built businesses and communities. They took care. They took risks. They never lost sight of a world bigger than the one they were told to accept, and in so doing, they stitched at their own edges of history, weaving their own triumphs, small and large, personal and political, l into the greater fabric of their age.  They weren’t perfect, because catalysts rarely are. And they weren’t always easy, because the it takes a lot of loud talking, stubbornness, smarts and all the other things that can’t easy be captured in the soft focus, rosy lens of Women of the Past to get the job done.

Maybe it’s not manifestly better (despite my personal feelings), but it’s a certainly a harder path to be a dangerous, complicated woman. Even if you butter your arguments and honey your demeanor, even if you wrap your tiny revolutions in Perfect Lady, you’re probably going to frustrate a lot of people a lot of time. Complexity has not been expected–to say nothing of wanted– from the fairer sex at basically any point in history. It’s easier to swallow, maybe, if you’re conventionally pretty, if you are conventionally attired, if you, at least, play act at conventional gender roles, but no guarantees they’ll want to listen when the time comes for you to make demands and make your voice heard.

I lost a great, dangerous, complicated woman in my grandmother about two weeks ago. We mourned her loss in a manner specifically arrayed to highlight the pieces of her that were neither complicated nor dangerous, that did not address her angles and edges, or the contradictory bits of her legacy that did not fit neatly into a poetic epitaph. Because many of us, raised on the myriad possibilities and likely accompanying challenges of being dangerous and complicated women, struggled with the way we even talked about ourselves, as her daughters, granddaughters, as women navigating a world that would much prefer we leave it at surface level.

But look: you can buff the edges and apply the pancake however you like, it doesn’t change the actual past. I’m can no more claim to have been raised by women who knew their place and accepted defeat that I can having ever wanted it. I was a kid who imagined herself not a princess, but a woman leading an outlaw army set on changing the world. And the reason that was my story was because of the dangerous and complicated women that I loved and t admired, not just in spite  but because of their complexity. And those women who have made me the woman that I am.  Maybe not the girl you want, conventionally, but an  acolyte at the altar of Dangerous and Complicated, steadfast in the belief that all women deserve the chance to be just as dangerous and complicated as they need to be to live their best life, be their true self, and make the world a more just and equitable place for the likes of us, no matter what.

I claim no relation to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was, in her own way, the best kind of dangerous, complicated woman. She was six years younger and several light years to left of my Nana on the political divide, but they died two weeks apart. Like many women of my generation and political persuasion, I found Justice Ginsburg to be an icon. She was a solid beam of light, a fierce protector of rights, and an enabler of a better world for all of us, no matter how dangerous and complicated we were or not. It’s hard to talk about my grief at her passing without delving too deeply into 2020. The  future is fraught, each decision made feel weighted with by history. But it’s safe to say that I would have been deeply saddened at her passing, even if it hadn’t been accompanied by the panic at one more light going out in the dangerous and complicated of our currently reality.

I’m not sure what to do, or where to go. As an armchair catastrophist, I’ve mapped out the paths to a million different hells. I’m not psychic, though, and I’m not so resigned that I’m ready to surrender my birthright. I don’t plan to shut up. I don’t plan to learn my place. I don’t plan to accept a reality in which I cannot  exist in the world I live in  as the person I am with the rights given to me by the hard work and struggle of all the dangerous and complicated women and men that came before me and or I certainly don’t plan for you to either, no matter who you are or who you love or what you want or where you came from.  And I know we can do so much better. We can dream so much bigger. And to that next generation of dangerous and complicated women—of all human beings afforded their basic human and civil rights—know that I will do what I can to fight beside you and lift you up and raise my voice and see that you are heard as you continue to make this world a better place. I’m not perfect (see above), but at the very least I’m not a small person and I can be loud as fuck.  

And I’m pretty sure I’d be disappointing all the dangerous and complicated women I adore, if I weren’t, at the very least, trying.

Plague Diary: September 18, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries

I don’t remember when it started. All I know I woke up one Thursday morning in July? August? and found a bunch of workmen in crossing guard vests pulling up the peonies in my front yard. I dashed out in a disproportionate, apocalyptic-level panic, , because the peonies (a surprise when I bought the house) were this next level swoon of pink and white botanical tutus plopped down into  the absolute dregs of spring 2020. I had vases of them all over the house which made me feel a little like a princess in Imperial Japan or maybe a Henry James heroine. It was maybe one of count-on-one-hand only good things to have come out of a season of Devastating Suckiness.

I tearfully gathered the uprooted plants and briefly potted them into plastic strawberry buckets and plastic containers and watered until I replanted in the yard the next morning. None survived the transplant, I’m terribly sorry to say. A few days later I got a notice from the HOA that Google Fiber had been responsible for the peony massacre and that I could potentially file a claim for replacement of my plants. Friends encouraged me to do so. “Google has plenty of money,” the said. “Tell them they’re rare.”

But while I’ll yell at pretty much anyone if you ask me to, I’m a shit advocate for myself—I have two modes with customer support reps, polite self-abnegation and blinding white hot “I hope you get warts and your dog stops liking you” rage, and yes, I know it’s a problem– and perhaps terminally afflicted with the kind of malaise that sets in when you’re like, “I have ____ energy and everything sucks. Should I save the tatters of my atrophied and crisis-bruised will for, like, smuggling my friends out of the country if Trump wins in November or like just motivating to get through next Wednesday without falling into despair.”

Suffice it to say, I didn’t act. I accepted the fact that replanting new plants in the same spot was maybe a bad idea (the peonies were in the easement, because it’s the only part of the front yard that gets consistent sun, and it’s also not the right moment to plant). And then a second crew of safety-vested men pulled up in beeping trucks and overcrowded golf carts to dig up the yard again.

This time it was AT&T because evidently Google Fiber had messed up their pre-laid fiber, or maybe that was a good cover story for AT&T to upgrade their own Fiber to better compete with Google. I don’t know and I don’t care. When I moved into the new house I made a deal with devil (Spectrum) at the crossroads under the full moon for a least a year of wireless because they threw in an Apple TV and swore I could back out of the contract in a year (this was inevitably a lie, which means at some point in the near future I’ll end up on some purgatorial customer support call which will end with me telling some hapless call center underling that I hope he gets scabies and his dog stops liking them and they will hear from my—nonexistant, fyi—lawyer, and then I will cry and break something and scare the cat, but fail to finagle myself out of the situation so they will overcharge me for the rest of my natural born life because I am a lazy doormat and bad at adulting and  the cycle just goes on and on and on until civilization collapses and I end up living in a mudhut in the fire and flood blighted, plague wracked post-apocalyptic wasteland, which could be twenty years out or could be, like, six months from now, seeing as how things are going).  So I watched the holes appear in the front yard with a sense of resignation and relief that I had nothing pretty left on the sunny margins for them to murder.

That was weeks (months?) ago. I can’t keep track. And I can’t keep track of how many different rounds of men in golf carts and beeping trucks have circled the yard since then and dug holes. As we speak, I came up from a walk in the woods about fifteen minutes ago to find, four trucks, six men and three new holes in the front yard. Maybe they’re Google fixing something that AT&T’s men broken when fixing the thing that Google broke when fixing the thing that AT&T broke when fixing the thing that Google broke when fixing something that never seemed to be broken. I don’t know. It feels like one of those depressing existentialist plays that I used to think were bracingly clever when I was nineteen, but now I feel like, “WE GET IT, JEAN-PAUL. JUST LET IT GO AND MAYBE GIVE SIMONE A BREAK WHILE YOU’RE AT IT GEEZ.” It feels like it will never end and I will spend some indefinite period of time listening to the beeping and watching grown men dig holes in my yard and contemplate them and then fill them and dig them again. It feels like I might be about to do some analogy thing where I compare the very localized version of some corporate wireless internet war playing out among in the formerly-peony filled, now scrubby patch of weeds by the gutter in front of my house to what is happening in the US or the world or WTFever. But don’t worry, I won’t. I simply do not have the energy.

But seriously, Google/AT&T, how many holes do you flipping need?  

Picture today is of my peonies in spring (R.I.P)

As of this writing, 22,245, 156 people have recovered from Covid-19, which goes to show how long it’s been since I last wrote one of these.