Thursday, November 11, 2021

The good in a bad time

 

   I’m not sure if many of us realize how significant, how momentous these last 18 or so months have been.  Do many people see this pandemic as an unprecedented time, a period that will go down in history, perhaps more than the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919?  Or has it just been a time of inconvenience, when we couldn’t go out much and have to wear stupid masks? 

   Surely this attitude was perpetuated by Donald Trump in his disasterous leadership as president at the onset of this crisis, treating it as a bothersome inconvenience, which has ended up with it being much worse – lasting much longer, with many more deaths – than it could have been. 

   In any case, the pandemic presented us with challenges and hard lessons, some of which are leading to better things.  I explored this in my latest Claremont Courier column, which was published a couple Fridays ago. 

           AFTER A TIME OF QUIET, A TIME TO REACH OUT

   I have pandemic guilt. 

   Or do I?

   Over the last 20 months or so – yes, we’ve been at this life-turned-upside-down slog together, as we’ve kept hearing, for nearly two years – I’ve heard and read countless stories about what people have been doing, have accomplished, during the pandemic. 

   Apparently, folks, at least those who trusted science and followed the health officials’ advice, got busy while holed up at home.  They didn’t sit around playing tiddly-winks or doing nothing or just watching Netflix.  Although plenty did watch Netflix, at least on the side, while doing something else.

   Some did things, more often than not new things, to pass the time, while others used the time for things, projects, that they had been meaning to do, things that they had wanted to do but never found the time to do.  Now they had the time. 

   According to reports in the first two or three months that COVID-19 kept us at home, some tried out sourdough starters and also learned to perfect pies and delicate pastries.  Some embarked on long-dreamed-of home improvement projects and some taught themselves another language or how to quilt.  Some wrote the novel they always thought of writing, some painted cards and mailed them to friends with thoughtful notes, and some wrote songs, made music videos, recorded albums. 

   I kept seeing these stories about all the things people were getting done, were accomplishing, during the pandemic. It was a bit like reading that Mozart completed something like five symphonies and a couple operas while he was a teenager. 

   It was hard not to feel like a slouch, like I was downright lazy, like I was wasting all this extra time that we had on our hands.  It was hard not to feel guilty for not making good use of this time, for not being incredibly productive during this period away from our normal, too-busy lives, as forced and as unwanted as it was.

   That there has also been thousands and thousands of people getting sick and so many of them dying, dying awful deaths alone in crowded hospitals, hasn’t helped.  

   But, then again, while I didn’t take on a grand project, while I didn’t spend this down time writing the great American novel, I wasn’t doing nothing.  I was getting work done, important work on myself that I needed to get done. 

   The strange fact is that, in some sense, the pandemic didn’t interrupt what I saw as my normal, too-busy life.  That had happened three years earlier when I had spinal surgery, which saved my life but left me far more disabled than I had already been. What was interrupted for me by the COVID lock-down was getting back to my life or, rather, a new life. 

   Right as I was getting into the swing of things, into the life that I was now to have, to find, to develop, I found myself back stuck at home, back in a state of convalescence. 

   Except, this time, I wasn’t alone.  I wasn’t the only one stuck at home, in a state of limbo, if not convalescence.  We were all suddenly set back, having to stop and put our lives on hold and try to make new sense of it. 

   “Welcome back!” proclaim the signs on the restaurants in the Village now offering indoor dining again.  As if we have been away on a long journey. 

   Which we have.  It may not have been a vacation, a fun road trip, a nice, relaxing getaway, but it was definitely a time away, a time apart, an adventure of sorts in which we started anew or saw things anew or learned the hard way to do so. 

   Now we find ourselves finding our way in a strange, wonderful world where going to a concert at the colleges is an absolute joy but is a bit like going through security at an airport in order to attend, having to show photo I.D and proof of vaccination in addition to having to fill out a health attestation form saying that one doesn’t have COVID symptoms and haven’t been exposed to any. 

   We also find that things have been done during this fallow time, that new seeds have been found and are now being planted and nurtured.  We saw this in the new awareness of racial inequality and injustice and subsequent unprecedented protests after the horrific police killing of George Floyd – an awareness made more possible with so many of us at home with more time to see the news and to think.  There are efforts to keep these new senses and sensibilities alive, to nurture them and keep them going after the pandemic is over. 

   Things have been percolating at Claremont Change, the organization started by recent Claremont High School graduates Josue Barnes and Noah Winnock in the wake of the Floyd killing to promote diversity and justice in Claremont.  Barnes and Winnock are now leading a series of free workshops on how to detect and respond to rhetorical devices such as gaslighting and exceptionalism.  These workshops are taking place on Zoom, mostly on every other Monday evenings, and more information can be found on Claremontchange.org. 

   The local Bahais have also been busy, germinating a hope and working to make it real.  In the wake of their Zoom series of Claremont Speaks Black conversations, spurred on by the activism following the Floyd murder, featuring Black residents of Claremont sharing their experiences of being Black in Claremont, the Bahais are expanding on these dialogues in an effort to further promote diversity and justice in Claremont.  They recently lead an in-person dialogue at Blaisdell Park on how to get more people involved in the pursuit of racial equality and justice.  About two dozen people participated, and it seemed like the beginning of something good taking root.  For further information on how to get involved, contact ClaremontLSA@gmail.com. 

   Then there is the Newcomer Access Center and its effort with the Claremont Quaker meeting and others to offer housing, at least temporarily, to Afghan refugees. The NAC is a group started by Pilgrim Place residents some time ago wanting to assist those seeking asylum in this country.  With people now fleeing Afghanistan, there is now a need for this. 

   The Claremont Quakers, in conjunction with the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program, had been hosting homeless people overnight at the meetinghouse, but that had to end when the pandemic struck.  With the space now available, the Quakers offered, when needed, to have Afghan families stay there for a few weeks at a time while they get on their feet and find more permanent housing.  The Claremont School of Theology is also helping out, with office space for the NAC as well as possible housing.  All is at the ready when an Afghan family needs shelter here.

   Indeed, after this time of quiet and isolation, there are efforts to reach out and make Claremont a more welcoming, more just place.  That’s nothing for any of us to feel guilty about.

 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Why I listen to Trump

 

   “Guns don’t kill people. Alec Baldwin kills people.”

   This is what it says on a t-shirt that Donald Trump, Jr, was selling on his website not long after Baldwin accidentally killed the cinematographer and wounded the director when he shot a gun that he was told was “cold,” not loaded with live ammunition, on the set of a film he was producing and starring in.  Never mind that it was an accident, a tragic accident. Never mind that the actor is mortified, devastated. 

   It should be no surprise that the junior Trump exploited this horrific event in a shocking, crass, cruel way to score points with his father’s rabid, red-meat-loving backers.  He may also have been sticking it to the actor who so savagely parodied Dad on Saturday Night Live while he was president. 

   Later, on Twitter, he went on to dig even further: “Spare me your fake sanctimony. The media is in full on panic mode to protect Baldwin from ANY criticism because they agree with his politics.”

   J.D Vance, the venture capitalist and memoirist (“Hillbilly Elegy”) running for the U.S senate nomination in Ohio, is one of many has added to the crass Trumpist drumbeat. “Dear @jack,” he tweeted, referring to Twitter head Jack Dorsey, “let Trump back on.  We need more Alec Baldwin tweets.”   

  The question is should we care? Should we care that this is being said, that this is going on?  I have friends who tell me I should ignore all this, that I should tune out what Trump and his followers say. 

   Yes, Trump has been banned from Twitter and Facebook, but his message is still getting out.  He is speaking at rallies and conferences, and, clearly, plenty are speaking for him online. 

   And, yes, as my friends tell me, it would be good for my mental health not to hear all this toxic, hateful, fear-driven stuff. 

   But sticking our heads in the sand isn’t the answer.  It would be nice to ignore this and go on like it’s not out there, but it’s very much out there, and ignoring it definitely won’t help. 

   For one thing, ignoring it will lead to complacency, which will end up with people not voting.  This is how Trumpists and perhaps even Trump will win elections.  We need to hear all these awful things, to pay attention to what’s happening and being said out there so that folks get mad and vote against all this. 

   Even more importantly, we need to pay attention to what’s being said, to that it’s being said, so that we can try to figure out why there is such hate and fear, why so many people are so unhappy that they latch onto this fear and hate and follow and vote for those who would actually harm them (doing away with Obamacare, making it harder to get government assistance, etc.)  and how we can work, hopefully together, so that this wasn’t the case. 

   It would be much easier to ignore this toxicity, to not do this hard work, but, as is evident in how we’ve gotten more and more polarized, more and more apart, to the point where we can’t agree on basic facts, on the truth, we do so at our peril. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Boo! The holidays are coming!

 

   Recently, one of my attendants mentioned that Halloween is their favorite holiday (so to speak, although it’s not a day off work). I guess my attendant was thinking about the upcoming holiday season. 

   Yes, ready or not, the holidays are coming up.  Now that it’s late September and Fall is here – already! – the holidays will be here before we know it. 

   When my attendant asked if I like Halloween, I said that I don’t.  Even though Autumn is my favorite season, with the cooling weather, the sharpening light, the leaves turning colors, Halloween is one of my least favorite holidays. 

   When I was a little child, it seemed I was sick a lot on Halloween, not able to wear my costume to school and go out that night and get lots of candy in my bag.  When I was able to go out trick-or-treating, my mom and dad would always fight over who would take me out, and my mom always lost and had to take me out.  The last year I went out, I really liked the costume I came up with – a black blob, a sheet my mom dyed black and put over me – but, when my mom took me out in my wheelchair, the sheet kept snagging in my wheels and ripping. 

   Years later – about twenty years ago, perhaps – I set out candy on a nice, sturdy, wooden chair (answering the door and handing out candy is awkward at the very least and another reason why Halloween isn’t my favorite day). I woke up the next morning to find pieces of the chair strewn up and down the street.  Someone went to considerable effort to do a Halloween prank, but it wasn’t fun or funny to me and really put the quash on the holiday for me. 

   I like Thanksgiving much better, although I now tend to be alone with my attendants.  It is all about relaxing, with good cooking and eating.  Very simple – the way I like it. 

   I love the idea of Christmas – peace and love – and the lights and music, but I don’t like all the rushing around and the pressure to buy, buy, buy.  When I was growing up, Christmas never seemed to be enough, and I’m still trying to not think this way. 

   And, finally, I just don’t like New Year’s.  For one thing, I don’t drink and am not a partier.  Also, I don’t like thinking of a whole new 12 months ahead of me, with resolutions and all that. I’m much more comfortable with one day at a time. 

   Perhaps I can say that I love the season but not the holidays.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Pandemic? What pandemic?

 

   It’s called cognitive dissonance.

   That’s “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change,” according to Oxford Languages, or “the perception of contradictory information,” according to Wikipedia. It’s holding two or more very different or contradictory ideas, beliefs or worldviews in your head at the same time. 

   Sounds really hard. 

   It is. 

   I’m having a hard time when I read that Patti Smith, along with a bunch of other artists, are back on tour, including as part of large music festivals, “out of traction, back in action” (as the Los Angeles Times story on Smith was headlined with a well-known quote from her after being sidelined with a broken leg years ago). It’s hard to see that concerts are going on here in town – even as, yes, I’m attending them, albeit on the sidelines and masked up – and that students are back in school. It’s seems odd that people are going out to restaurants, movies and football games and that lots of people are flying again. 

   It’s hard to see all this when COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising (although not so much here in Los Angeles County, where there are mask mandates in place), when more and more young people, like those who attend music festivals and schools and colleges, are getting COVID, when health officials warn against raveling and being in crowds. 

   It’s like we’re being told – no, we’re being told – to do one thing – stay home, be safe – and being offered, tempted with, another thing – eat out, go back to school and concerts (finally!), travel. What’s crazy or is making me crazy is that we don’t have to pick one or the other.  It seems we can have both, we can do both. 

   Never mind that these two things – stay home, go out – are opposites, that they contradict each other.  That’s the message that’s out there now, that’s we’re left to go with, hold in our heads. 

   I may not have a headache, but I’m definitely feeling crazy. And no wonder!  It’s worse than being stir-crazy.  At least stir-crazy is one simple idea in your head.          

   I wonder why this is going on.  Maybe it has something to do with this quote that was in an article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times about crowds returning to college football games.  It’s from Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., who says about letting crowds back into stadiums,   “That’s not good for public health, but it’s good for Texas and Alabama’s bottom line.”    

   You think? 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

A pandemic of stupidity

 

 I’m mad. 

   I’m mad that there are governors, like Republican Ron DeSantis of Florida who I wrote about in my last post, who are mandating that students can’t be required to wear masks, while I read in today’s Los Angeles Times that more kids are dying from COVID, especially where states with governors making these mandates.  I’m mad that people have to be begged, bribed and all but forced to get a vaccine that will give some protection from getting and transmitting COVID which has so far, in America alone, killed more than 600,000 people.  I’m mad that, in the name of freedom, people are arguing against masks and vaccines and making the rest of us suffer, prolonging this horrible pandemic. 

   I was mad when I wrote the following column, which appeared in yesterday’s Claremont Courier. 

           SICK OF THE PANDEMIC? NOT IF WE ALL MASK UP

   People really wanted to be there, to get out.  They were just dying to. 

   Literally. 

   Look, I get it.  After nearly a year and a half of lock-down and

isolation, because of COVID, I am more than ready to get out and do stuff.  After months and months and months – has it really been 16 months? – of nothing going on, I was thrilled to see events around town that I could go to. 

   Last year in April or May or so, not too long after the pandemic began and we all had to isolate ourselves and keep apart from each other and everything was shut down, I read about a woman saying she was “tired of Netflix.” I laughed.  How could anyone get tired of Netflix, I thought. 

   But now I get it.  I hear her.  Although it’s amazing what can be watched online, even just on Netflix, it has now, a year and some later, gotten boring to be stuck at home watching television or some other screen.  I have been itching to get out and see some presentations – even a movie – with others. 

   I have been itching to get back to doing things with others, in community. 

   So I was thrilled when I saw that Friday Nights Live in the Village and the Monday Night Concerts in Memorial Park had started up or were starting up again.  Finally!  Live music in Claremont for the first time in a year and a half!  This was going to be great. 

   I felt giddy, like I was going on an adventure, when, on a Friday night a few weeks ago, I went to the Village with my mask on to hear some live music. It was almost like when I went up to Friday Nights Live on my own in my wheelchair for the first time after my spinal surgery, which left me considerably more disabled, four years ago. 

   But I didn’t expect it to be a shocking if not downright scary adventure.  I had seen plenty of people out in recent months not wearing masks as if there wasn’t a pandemic going on, but I was shocked, to say the least, to see this at Friday Nights Live.  I did see a few fellow mask-wearers wander by now and then, but most people weren’t masked up. 

   It was even more of a shock when I went to Memorial Park on the next Monday evening for the first concert in two summers.  I was very eager, hungering for this cherished event, but the crowd was much bigger, bigger than I expected (at least the crowd wasn’t big at Friday Night Live), and, from where I sat, there wasn’t plenty of room to spread out, contrary to one report, and most in the crowd weren’t wearing masks. 

   In Claremont?

   In this town of trees and Ph.D’s, where education and the sciences are so highly valued?     

   Really? 

   Now, maybe I’m paranoid.  These events were outside, and it has been reported that the coronavirus is less likely to be spread outside.  And I understand that many Claremonters have been vaccinated, and it is proven that the vacations prevent serious illness and death. 

   Nevertheless, I sat on the side, away from the crowd, wearing a mask.  Wearing a mask was now, for me, no longer just a matter of signaling that I believe in science, that I care for others.  It was now about the far more contagious Delta variant and the fact that even though the vast majority of the many who have been getting ill and seriously ill have not been vaccinated, a significant number who have been vaccinated are catching and transmitting the virus, which has killed more than 600,000 Americans. True, most of these people aren’t getting seriously ill, but it still freaked me out when a close friend got COVID even though he was vaccinated and super careful about masking, keeping socially distanced and all that. 

   I can understand how it’s easy to hear this and say, “Why bother?  Why bother masking, why bother getting a vaccine, if I’ll get COVID anyway?”

   I just know that I don’t want to get COVID.  I’m not sure if my disability is a underlying condition, as they say, but I don’t want to end up in a hospital crowded with COVID patients where, with my severe disability, I might not be a high or equal priority. I know that such a scenario is now unlikely with all the vaccinations that have been given – although many more have to be given if we want to be out of this nightmare – but, then again, we did think that everything was getting much better in June before the super-contagious and more dangerous Delta variant came along.       

   I know – it’s tough.  Believe me.  I want to go out and enjoy live music.  (I also went to the Ophelia’s Jump production of Twelfth Night at the outdoor Greek Theater on the Pomona College campus last month – it was thrilling to go out to a play – but I felt much safer there with the protocols in place there.) I want to go out and not keep being stuck at home.  But I want to be safe.  I have to be safe.  What is to be done?    

   Wear a damn mask!  What’s so hard about that?  Yes, I know masks are a pain.  I don’t like wearing them.  They get hot, obstruct my vision, make it even harder to understand my impaired speech, keep riding up or down my face, etc.  Yes, masks are an inconvenience, but they are a small inconvenience that has been shown can, besides from vaccinations, have a big part in helping us all put this God-awful pandemic behind us. 

   With students finally going back to in-person school full-time, I’ll note that, when it comes to wearing masks, the kids are alright. When I see children out wearing masks, they appear to be just fine, not whining or pulling at them, contrary to what many adults predicted and to what some Republican governors are still insisting.  They just do what kids always do – wearing masks, unlike many adults who, to say the least, gripe ceaselessly about having to wear them. Perhaps we can learn from our children about being patient and caring for one another. 

   It is jarring that there are now two worlds – one in which people are careful, concerned about COVID and getting and spreading it, and one in which people act like nothing’s wrong, like there wasn’t a pandemic, like it was just a big nuisance or it is over.  

   Something else is jarring.  Although I have enjoyed going back to the movies at the Laemmle Cinema, I’m finding myself angry when movies are coming out “only in theaters.” I now resent it when I can’t watch a new movie at home instead of having to wait for months to do so. 

   This pandemic has screwed things up, some for the good but much, too much for the worse.  Get vaccinated, and wear a damn mask!