Not This Again

I find myself hearkening back to conversations I had with a man I only met once one weekend more than forty-five years ago.

Shelley White, one of my classmates at UC Irvine, invited me to her home in Mendocino in the summer of 1974 to meet her father, Robin, a writer. Her father had been one of the early attendees of the Stanford graduate writing program, and knowing I was hoping to transfer, she thought we should meet.

Although I was hoping to spend the weekend with Shelley, her plan really was for me to spend it with her father. I was doubly disappointed when I realized that Robin White was one of the most bitterly frustrated curmudgeons I’d ever met in my life. I didn’t find out his full story until just recently, but that’s not why our conversations have been haunting me.

He had had considerable early success with novels and short stories. His novel Elephant Hill had won the prestigious Harper Prize, which was awarded to “a writer who hitherto had not found a wide audience.” A couple of years before I met him, he had published a non-fiction book about the tribulations of dealing with a special needs son entitled Be Not Afraid. But he had been unable to sell any fiction for almost ten years, and he bewailed a publishing industry—in the wake of Watergate and The Happy Hooker—focusing exclusively on books written by disgraced politicians and prostitutes.

Recently I found out that White had clashed with Ken Kesey, when they were both in Stanford’s graduate writing program. As Tom Wolfe noted in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, “Being hip on Perry Lane [where most of the lit students lived] now had an element nobody had ever dreamed about before, wild-flying, mind-blowing drugs. Some of the old Perry Lane luminaries’ cool was tested and they were found wanting,” White among them. Seeing Kesey’s star ascending at that time with Sometimes A Great Notion and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (a highly successful play about to become an even more successful movie) must have been even more galling for White, though he never mentioned Kesey’s name in my presence.

Although I never published as much fiction as White did, I did have some triumphs. Winning a national essay contest in high school got me deluged with offers to attend liberal arts colleges across the country. I wangled another essay win in college into getting a screen play into Universal Studios. Nothing came of it.

As a result, I’m beginning to caress my own set of Stanford regrets. Should I have been more assiduous about insinuating myself into the English department’s fiction-focused milieu? I remember being spectacularly unimpressed by the professor assigned to be my adviser; I remember him dismissively saying that he never wanted to be bothered outside of office hours. I can’t even remember his name.

It was no surprise, then, that I ended up at the Stanford Daily, gaily reviewing movies.

Ten years ago, I wrote a blog entitled When Should Boomers Euthanize Their Dreams?, asking when it was time to stop grasping for the imaginings of fame. I’m still grasping.

I’ve written a couple of novels, one literary and one a mystery. I wrote the mystery because it’s supposedly easier to sell a genre novel. Once the mystery novel was successful—or, even better, a series of mysteries—I was hoping to sell the literary novel.

But I’m still having trouble getting an agent, even for the mystery. One rejected my query after a few hours not because she didn’t like the sample chapter I sent, but because she didn’t like my query letter. So much for the triumph of content over style. After some excellent coaching from a fellow writer about query letters, suggesting a more personal approach, I queried one of her colleagues at the same agency, who only needed twenty-four hours to send a rejection.

I’ve subscribed to the Twitter feed of this particular agency—which comes up in multiple articles about agencies that will accept unpublished authors—and discovered that the majority of their new authors are female. As are the agents themselves.

Certainly, if you go into a bookstore (or, in the pandemic, browse online), you can see that the recent trend is toward women and people of color. I have no problem with that. But as an old white guy, I’m feeling excluded, even discriminated against.

I don’t want to turn into a bitter man like Robin White. But I can’t help thinking that I’m only seeing history repeat itself. When I walked into a bookstore six months after my weekend with him in Mendocino, the shelves were full of books by disgraced politicians and prostitutes.

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Random Thoughts On An Election

U.S. to Trump: YOU’RE FIRED!

I’ve had about as much toxic masculinity as I need for the rest of my life, thanks.

What have Democrats done to make them so offensive? They put up the blandest, most inoffensive politician possible and still 70 million people chose the corrupt and incompetent liar.

This is what happens when people have to learn civics on their own, rather than in high school.

I haven’t thought of this in years, but I remember that my sister had a poster on the wall of her room quoting Alexander Hamilton showing a British visitor the House of Representatives: “Here, sir, the people rule.”

The founders created the Electoral College so that the big states wouldn’t trample the little states. So instead we now have elections decided six states instead of fifty.

I want to see the look of surprise on people’s faces when they realize socialism means health care, jobs thanks to infrastructure investment, and improved schools.

The blessing of Donald Trump is that he finally got voters off their butts and out of their complacency.

Trees in a forest communicate through their roots, and when they sense that one of the trees needs extra nourishment, they’ll share it through a fungi called mycelium. I’m hoping people adopt this concept.

Some people finally figured out that there is a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans.

I was hoping for a landslide, and instead I got gridlock. Nothing’s going to get done, and both Democrats and Republicans are going to be frustrated for the next four years.

I was hoping the Trump supporters were going to crawl back under their rock, but it looks like there aren’t enough rocks.

Here’s to Trump’s next orange shade coming from his prison jump suit. I’m pretty sure he can’t run again in 2024 if he’s locked up.

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Five Things I Learned From the Pandemic

The last thing I remember doing that was somewhat normal was ordering a canvas cover for my hammock. It was the first time I remember not shaking hands after a transaction, the first time I remember wondering who’d touched the door handle before me, the first time I remember feeling grateful to see a dispenser of hand sanitizer on the counter.

All those moments were odd, but nothing like what was to come. Nietzsche said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The pandemic didn’t kill me, didn’t kill anyone close to me, and it didn’t give me strength. But it did give me insights that I appreciate.

Insight #1: No Senior Citizen Community For Me

In thinking between aging in place or moving to a senior citizen community, I had an impressive list of pros and cons for each. I like the idea of someday not having to do my own cooking. I like the idea of having people around to socialize with. I like the idea of having professional staff seeing me every day to gauge whether was still there or not, because I don’t trust myself to notice.

But I didn’t like the idea of shrinking my life down to a one-bedroom apartment, even if every book and movie in the world is now available digitally. I didn’t like the idea of being around old people. And now, even more so. Why in the world would I willingly move into a group of medically vulnerable people, only to face the possibility of being quarantined for my own safety? At least my own home offers a change of scenery between the patio and the library.

Insight #2: How Much I Have

I wrote recently about the bubble in which we’ve found ourselves. But as time has gone on, I’ve come to realize what else is in the bubble: my beloved wife, close friends, coffee shops, patio dinners, supermarkets, forest hikes. If I’m forced to lead a proscribed life, one in which I will never see Crete or the Cotswolds again, there were worse places to do it, and far worse people with which to share it.

Insight #3: … And How Little I Really Need

On boomers’ minds these days is the fear of outlasting their money. It’s amazing how little you spend when you can’t travel, even to the coast for an overnight jaunt. I am astonished to discover how discretionary most of our spending is, so that if the day comes when I have to be thrifty, I know it’s possible. That’s a comforting thought in an uncertain world.

Insight #4: The Joy of Animals

We live with three cats. They know nothing of COVID-19, nothing of the economic turmoil so many people are facing, nothing of uncertainty. They know only about breakfast and dinner, about snacks, about skritches, about tummy rubs, about nuzzling and head butts. When the stupidity of all this gets to be too much, it is soothing to be able to step back and look at the world through their innocent, untroubled eyes, knowing only that they are warm and safe and well-fed. Their well-being is the one thing I have control over, and being able to ensure that is highly satisfying.

Insight #5: I Will Never Take Anything For Granted Again

How cavalier of me to think the world would never change when, indeed, that’s all it ever does. All the things in my life that seemed so magical and yet so prosaic at the same time—parties, Disneyland, flying, dining, cruises, trains, football games, art festivals, hugging friends—I will never take them for granted again.

We here in America are blessed with many things, not the least of which is technology that helps bring us closer, but also a resilience that will allow us to weather this monstrosity. I don’t know how long the pandemic will go on; I don’t know how many lives it will devastate; I don’t even know that attacking it with sanity rather than stupidity will make any damn difference at all. But I do know that it’s taught me some important things than I ever expected I would have to learn.

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Joe’s To-Do List

Here’s what I think is going to happen: a huge wave of common sense is going to inundate the country on November 3 and even people who don’t normally think about politics are going to realize that having an incompetent, illiterate liar in the White House is probably a bad thing in the long run. Even if that doesn’t happen, historically any candidate that can’t unite their own party can’t win or be re-elected (see McGovern ’72, Carter ’80, Bush ’92).

I’m also hoping that some same voters will realize that there are a bunch of do-nothing Senators who need to sit on their hands somewhere other than Washington. Big blue tsunami.

However, there’s another historical trend that Joe Biden needs to watch out for. As journalist Tom Murse recently noted on ThoughtCo, a site devoted to learning, “In the 21 midterm elections held since 1934, only twice has the president’s party gained seats in both the Senate and the House: Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s first midterm election and George W. Bush‘s first midterm election.”

That means—if he has majorities in both the House and the Senate to work with—Joe has just two years to get some work done. That means not only reversing Bozo’s idiotic executive orders but also setting in place some real systemic change in order to avoid any kind of anti-democratic resurgence on the part of the Trumpkins in the future.

This is important. I’ve always said that George W. Bush entered office without a mandate in 2000 and acted as if he did have one; Barack Obama entered office in 2008 with a mandate and acted as if he didn’t. This is no time for pussyfooting around.

So as a public service, I’ve put together a to-do list for Joe, in approximate order of importance. Get to work, man.

  1. End gerrymandering

This is a great way to look bipartisan, since the Democrats enjoy safe seats as much as Republicans. Legislate that district boundaries must be drawn by independent commissions, not politicians. With the 2020 census results in hand, the timing is perfect.

  1. Dismantle the Electoral College

I’ve always had faith in our founders, until I read this New York Times article about the origins of the Electoral College—essentially, that it was a compromise to appease slave-holding states. I think we’re done with that now.

  1. Ban assault weapons

Why the Senate would legislate something as important as a ban on assault weapons, as it did in 1994, and put an expiration date on the law is beyond me. What other important laws have expiration dates? Gun rights advocates argue that citizens should have the same firepower as the military and the police. Really? That sounds like a recipe for disaster on the face of it. Besides, we’re already facing tyranny with the current administration, and the Second Amendment advocates don’t seem upset at all.

  1. Enact mail-in voting

There’s a ballot dropbox next to the local City Hall, just ten blocks from my house. They’re all over Oregon, which eliminated polling places years ago. Works great, and eliminates the whole concept of having elections on holidays or weekends—and the post office isn’t involved in the process.

  1. Public funding of elections

It’s said that the first thing a congressional representative has to do upon taking office is start fund-raising for their re-election. They don’t like it, and it’s a ridiculous use of their short time in office. This would not be an expensive proposition. If there’s anything Bozo has proven, it’s that politicians can communicate with constituents electronically at little or no cost. Suddenly, there’s no reason for politicians to be beholden to lobbyists or billionaires.

  1. Enact universal health care

If European economies can do it, so can we. The idea of unemployment ravaging the economy in the midst of a pandemic should convince anyone that health care shouldn’t be connected to one’s job. How will we pay for it? See #7.

  1. Pare the military budget

The United States spends more on the military than the next ten countries combined. We’re not at war. And the Defense Department has so much surplus equipment that a lot of their materiel is ending up in the hands of over-militarized urban police departments. So we’re wasting money and endangering our own citizens at the same time.

  1. Simplify the tax code

It absolutely amazes me that rich people wail about taxes when they have so many ways to shelter income. The top tax rate may have been above 90 percent in the Eisenhower years, but the effective tax rate was still only 42%, according to the Tax Foundation, because of deductions. But where we really need to make some changes is in the corporate tax structure. If I have to pay a minimum tax to keep America rolling, why shouldn’t Amazon? Nor should it be so financially advantageous for corporations to move operations overseas.

  1. Invest in infrastructure

This should also be a partisan no-brainer, and it was even something that Bozo promised to do when he was elected (kind of like getting Mexico to pay for the wall). Let’s put American workers to work in America, rebuilding roads, bridges, and especially mass transit systems. We’re never going to solve the climate crisis until we make it easier for people to get out of their cars.

  1. Restore environmental regulations

And speaking of climate change, just reverse all of Bozo’s orders regarding environmental protection.

That should keep everybody in Washington busy for a couple of years.

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Five Things I Learned From My Father

Most of my friends know that I do not hold my father or his memory in high regard. I always say he was a good man, but a wretched father. Someone so in the throes of alcohol and rage should never have had children. He agreed—but only about the part that he should never have had children. He never owned up to the alcohol and the rage. Such a sweet thing to say to a child.

As I cycle through the memories of an intermittently hideous childhood, and stop on the times I was bullied, I realize that I was so cowed by his demeaning treatment of me that I couldn’t distinguish it from others’ demeaning treatment, even when they were my own age (though I’m sure he never saw the connection).

But as I get older and continue that memory-cycling, I realize there are other things he modeled that have also stayed with me. I use the word modeled intentionally because he never explicitly explained anything. He wasn’t very good at it. It’s a wonder I ever became a writer, having been raised by someone with such lousy communications skills.

Nevertheless, here are five important things I learned from my father:

Never mortgage the house the kids live in. Real estate was booming in Palo Alto when my sisters and I were growing up, and it would have been tempting to use whatever equity he had to buy even more property. Whether my mother forbade him to or not, this was one of his tenets. It made me a rather prudent investor, which over the years has proved to be a successful strategy.

Take the dime. When my father was a Boy Scout, back during the Depression, he helped a woman across the street. She wanted to give him a dime for his efforts. He refused it, saying it was his good deed for the day. He never forgot the sad look on that woman’s face, and eighty years later, he still regretted not taking her dime. That taught me that when someone wants to do something nice, you accept the largesse.

Support the family first. The most vivid memory I have of my father as a child is him walking out the door after dinner to meet a client. That’s just one reason why I never went into real estate—you work on your clients’ time, not your own. He never bothered to explain why he was doing what he was doing (see “communications skills, nil,” above), and the six-year-old in me still derives pain from it. But when I had to become self-employed myself in 2002, after the Web imploded, I knew that shirking was not an option. For the rest of my career, I never turned down a project.

Marry well. My mother used to say, “Marry a smart woman and she’ll always be able to help you.” My father did exactly that and benefited mightily; sometimes I think she made better property purchases that he did. I followed in his footsteps, with the same fortuitous results.

Tackle injustice. When I was nine, my father walked picket lines protesting California’s redlining laws that limited where minorities could purchase homes. When I was eleven, my father nominated a Japanese restaurateur for membership in the local Elks Club. It was whites-only at the time. He even showed me the application form, which included the question, “Is the applicant a member of the Caucasian race?” The application was denied, and my father resigned. I suspect—given how conservative I was for many years—that he’d be surprised to see me standing at Black Lives Matter vigils.

So when I stopped cycling through memories and think about moving forward, I have to remember that for as much distaste as I have for my upbringing, some of him still lives on in me.





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Welcome To The Bubble

The house we moved to a couple of years ago sits on one of the highest points in the neighborhood, at the end of a gentle slope. It is an area of few street lights and fewer sidewalks, so that when I look out the window from our bedroom at night, all I see the distinct dots of light from the occasional front door or garage. It does not take too much imagination to think that I am peering across some Disneyesque fairy village.

A short walk to downtown—consisting of one main street and another parallel street of shops—reveals what you’d expect from a town that sits neatly between urban Portland and rural agricultural land: two ice cream parlors, a couple of bakeries, lots of restaurants, barber shops and beauty salons, some bars, several office buildings, a supermarket. There’s been lots of expensive development over the last few years, and those spaces haven’t completely filled. The recession is threatening other establishments, but for now at least, it still seems like our little enclave remains safe and unaffected.

We are in a bubble.

The town doesn’t have a lot of industry. It has legislated against big-box stores. Every so often a homeless person shows up, but before long, they gone somehow, erased as if they were never there at all. I worry about the future, the near future, the time when the mortgage extensions and the rent forbearance come due with a bang and the people we’ve pushed down from the manufacturing economy into the service economy are going to suddenly find themselves in straits they’ve never imagined.

I can see homelessness, anxiety, pain spilling into the streets, almost everywhere in the country. Will it cross the county line? Will it show up within the city limits? Will the people who bring it be erased if that happens?

We are in a bubble.

I fear what will happen here will happen lots of other places: that people will sit in their little bubbles and they’ll be protected from what’s happening. They won’t see it if they don’t have to see it. They won’t venture beyond their gated communities or their little fairy villages, and they will pretend that it’s not happening to the other people they don’t know and have never met.

I stand at the window of the house at the top of the hill and look out and wonder what the hell I’m supposed to do now.

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Pandemic Positives

It’s hard to draw upbeat results from something that’s killed 100,000 Americans (and counting), but they’re there nonetheless, both personal and political.

Staying Put. As I age, I’ve wrestled with the idea of whether I want to age-in-place or move to a retirement community. The pro-and-con lists went on-and-on. Pro for a retirement community: no more cooking, lots of people to socialize with, no more driving, on-site health care. Pro for staying put: independence, no need to figure out how to dispense with everything I own, not living with a bunch of old people.

But as I hear of my poor father-in-law reduced to life in a ten-by-ten room, restricted to walking the hallway for exercise, because literally everyone he lives with is at risk, I realize that if we do indeed have to face more of these potential viruses in the future, I’d prefer to be sequestered among my books, my movies, and my kitchen.

The Emperor’s Clothes. It turns out it wasn’t just one person shot on Fifth Avenue—it was far more people than that that the Trump Administration’s denigration of experts and intellectual rigor have doomed. People elected Trump because they wanted a different kind of leader—but they wanted a leader, not someone who says, “I don’t take responsibility.” I hate that it took a recession to get him out of office, but the polls indicate that citizens have finally had enough. The fact that he’s handing the Senate back to the Democrats at the same time is just icing on the cake.

The Role of Government. Beyond the president, the pandemic has changed the way we look at government (I hope). When layoffs occur because of a health crisis, it makes no sense that we should tie health insurance to employment. If we have trillions for a medical emergency, why don’t we have trillions for health care, or for the homeless, or for the poor folks who have to work, but who put themselves and us at risk if they come to work symptomatic?

And as for “starving those bungling bureaucrats sucking at the public teat,” as the conservatives love to say, right now it seems like a damn good idea to have a CDC and an NIH and an intelligence service watching for trends around the world. And by the way, if you think public sector bungling is bad, I’ve witnessed some corporate financial bungling that’s just as bad. The difference is that corporations don’t have to reveal their fiscal blunders; governments do. Sure, they could run more efficiently, but all of us could.

Compatibility. Being sequestered is easier when you’ve got a big house to roll around it, without question. But as we pass our 28th wedding anniversary this week, I’m actually in awe of how well my spouse and I have gotten along in confinement. It makes me realize that 28 years ago, when I was younger and stupider, I was still smart enough to make the right decision about who to spend my life with.

Overall, I find myself much more appreciative of everything. Having been denied access so much, I have a heightened sense of gratitude for the world around me. I don’t think I’ll ever take anything—a seat at a restaurant or on an airplane or in the barber chair—for granted again.

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In Search Of Bliss

What the heck is bliss?

Talk of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and the concept of following your bliss has been around for decades (one blogger says he first heard it in the 70s). I first remember hearing it when football legend Bill Walsh returned to coach Stanford football for the second time in 1992, after a stunning NFL career. He was looking to bring some fun back into his football life.

Beyond Bill Walsh and football, I never thought much about bliss. I was too busy trying to make a living. Granted, I had a pretty blissful career, by most standards. Not too many people actually get to be what they wanted to be when they were kids, and even fewer get to be successful at it. So maybe I had it and didn’t know it.

The thing about bliss is, it’s kind of like Curly’s advice in City Slickers: the secret of life is finding one thing to stick to and ignoring the triviality of everything else. Figuring out that one thing, the one that brings you the bliss, is the hard part.

I think I’ve found it now.

I’ve always loved language, especially the etymology of words. When I was in high school, I took Spanish, Latin, and for six weeks, Greek. (Blessings upon Miss McNamara, the Latin teacher who volunteered to come in early on Fridays to teach Greek.) It was great training for a writer, because Latin fed words in both English and Spanish. If you didn’t know a word in one language, you could triangulate its meaning from the other two.

When I got to college, as a literature major, my studies required me to basically trace the English language through writers, starting with Chaucer and wandering through Dante, Shakespeare, Twain, and Hemingway. I even seem to remember some Erica Jong in there. But there was also side trips into Latin, which I loved, and linguistics, which seemed useless at the time but not so much now.

These days, in retirement, I’ve started both taking classes in both Spanish and Greek. Spanish isn’t as much a necessity here in Oregon as it was in California, but I’m still enjoying it. The idea for taking Greek was planted when we were in Crete last year, and I started hearing what sounded like Spanish coming out of our guide’s mouth when she was talking to locals: dinero, Sabado, telefono. The alphabet is different, of course, but given that both Spanish and Greek are Mediterranean languages, I shouldn’t have been surprised how closely they were related. By taking one, it seemed easy to add another.

Just as in high school, I’m using triangulation to get better at both. My spouse Monica is joining me for the Greek lessons, which we take through a local Greek church (and now over Zoom). She’s had German (her first language) and French, so we can triangulate across five languages (pentangulate?). I downloaded the Greek keyboard to my computer so I can type in both. Γιασού! (Hello!)

Where’s the bliss? Twice a week, for almost two hours, I sit in a group of people who are also interested in language and talk about words and etymology, how we name things, and the consistencies across language and the inconsistencies across language. For instance, in Greek, the word for church is εκκλησία (eh-klee-see-ah), from which we get the word ecclesiastical. At the same time, embarazada in Spanish is not embarrassed; it’s pregnant.

Added bonus: such classes at my age are much more fun than they were in high school, because everyone wants to be there. Sometimes the teacher can’t even get a word in edgewise.

For someone who spent his career as a writer and a communicator, for someone who loves books and language, that’s unadulterated bliss. I’m so lucky to have found my little slice of felicidad and ευδαιμονία.

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Apocalypse Soon

For more than twenty years, Monica and I periodically visited a resort on the Big Island of Hawaii on vacation. After a handful of visits, we’d seen most of the island’s tourist attractions and so we tended to hang around at the resort, which, truth be told, was kind of like Disneyland. It had a monorail. It had boats. It had restaurants. It had a workout room. It had a lagoon. It had young girls who brought food and outrageously expensive alcoholic beverages whenever you wanted. It was kind of like heaven, except with a resort fee.

As we sit in quarantine, I kind of feel like I’m back in Hawaii, with the exception of the monorail and the young girls bearing booze. We’re marooned in a nice house, with lots of books, great food, and a workout room. And we have our cats, which we never had in Hawaii. We go on long walks and enjoy the fresh air. We no longer see our friends and family. They’re all far, far away, either literally or figuratively.

At this resort of my imagination, I’m shocked and horrified by what I see. On one side of me, there’s another resort where people are still partying on the beach until all hours, convinced that the pandemic will be kept at bay by security guards and good luck charms. Not all of them are engaging in spring break debauchery. Some of them are actually and enthusiastically going to church. Any similarity to actual states, led by Republican governors, is purely coincidental.

On the other side of me, there’s another resort, except parts of it are in flames and parts of it are being battered by a tsunami and still another section is overwhelmed by the homeless, the unemployed, and an increasing number of body bags. To use an 70s analogy, it’s Poseidon Adventure meets Towering Inferno, except nobody, not even the cute snaggletoothed kids, survive.

It’s hard to fathom that these three places exist in such close proximity to each other. It’s like we’re living in some bizarre version of Rashomon. It’s not just that everyone sees the same events with varying cognition of details; it’s that different groups of people see the same events and derive wildly divergent conclusions. Even more confusing, one of the groups seems compelled to lie about what it saw, which is strange because it’s historically the group that’s screamed the loudest about the importance of law and order and religious adherence.

It makes me wonder if, before long, the tables will turn on the bacchanalian resort. Will it be flooded, burned, wracked by earthquakes, and then descended upon by locusts, in some sort of biblical retribution brought on by the wanton ignorance not only of its teachings, but the teachings of modern science? The full quote from the Bible: Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7). That would be a disaster movie to see.


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Conflicting Emotions

Boredom. Gratitude. Fear. Nothing like a pandemic to get the emotions swirling.

I certainly have no right to be bored.

We have a house full of books. It’s not like Hemingway’s house outside of Havana, where even the kitchen and bathroom had bookshelves (that man was brilliant), but it’s close. We are the embodiment of the joke where the wife says she doesn’t have too many books because she can still fit them into one box, and the husband tells her to stop calling their house a box. The problem is, my mind wanders when I read. When I was younger, I wished for days when I could just lay on the couch and read. I should have wished for a longer attention span.

The world of technology—the Internet, Netflix, Amazon—has made that old Qwest commercial come true: “All rooms have every movie ever made in any language anytime, day or night.” Still, it’s a little embarrassing to delve into old reruns of My Living Doll and The Mothers-in-Law and realize that I used to like that stuff. Now it puts me to sleep and I worry I’m napping too much.

I cradle the second emotion, gratitude. None of the family or our friends have been touched by coronavirus. Most everyone is working or, if not working, smart and entrepreneurial enough to pivot. My niece’s husband was laid off from his job as a chef at a country club, and immediately started offering home-cooked meals for delivery.

We live in the suburbs, with streets wide enough to walk and still keep social distance. Even the nearest city is not a big international crossroads, so I hope that’s protecting us somewhat. My church is using YouTube for sermons and Zoom for coffee klatches (technology again!) and there’s FaceTime for chatting with the people I miss seeing and talking to.

The local stores are maintaining their supply chains, and the freezer and pantry are full of food. I’m grateful I know how to cook because if it comes down to it, I can always make pancakes. There’s also plenty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, for reasons I won’t go into.

As for being afraid, I think I have every right. My parents lived through the Depression. My in-laws lived through World War II. Those cataclysms informed much of their daily lives and caused them to imprint certain attitudes on their children, attitudes relating to deprivation and want. Case in point: we print out word puzzles from the newspaper each morning, and we have started using those sheets of paper not twice (each side) but four times (top and bottom as well). The stock market crashed ninety years ago, and the noise is still reverberating. How long will the cacophony of lost jobs, bankruptcies, death, and sorrow reverberate through society this time around?

I’ve come to realize that I am not a fan of change, chaos, and uncertainty. I’ve been lucky enough to keep them at bay for most of my adult life, and particularly lucky that most moments of horrendous change in my life have resulted in some of the finest batches of lemonade I’ve ever had the privilege to sip.

I hope that day comes, sooner rather than later, that we all get to taste some of that sweetness.

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