Monday, March 30, 2020

Virus Journal 3-30-2020 (Epicenter)

It's been five days since my last journal entry. I have held off because my mind has been in a state of constant anger and confusion. The president has at multiple occasions admitted he is not giving governors what they request, has downplayed the urgency to provide medical equipment, and has basically admitted that he expects fealty and public groveling from governors if they want to get supplies.

In these last few days the New York City area has become the epicenter of the virus. There are over forty cases in my town, and today someone died. The hospitals are filling up and they've had to turn refrigerated semi truck trailers into impromptu morgues. The Javits Center is now a field hospital.

Due to social distancing I feel strangely cut off from all of this. It only becomes real when I hear from real people. One of my neighbors has lost two people she knows. One of my friends in town has also lost two people in his life. One of the dead is 36.

I have noticed a shocking level of ignorance of this in other parts of the country. Many I talk to back home seem to not understand just how bad things are here. Unfortunately, they will find out soon enough. Some folks are in blossoming hot spots. A friend in Louisiana lost someone she knew. Others live in central Georgia and and eastern Pennsylvania, hot spots that have been missed in the national media. Lynchburg, where some other friends have, has entered the spotlight due to Liberty University's infamous behavior.

At home last week was my last week of break. Just as I finally seemed to be keeping my daughters' home schooling on task, I had to go back to work this week. Working online left me feeling frantic today. I feel like my students appreciate what I am doing, at least. However, I am not sure how long I can sustain the status quo. My wife is a technology coach for her district, and her frantic pace of work just does not seem to be slowing down.

Working hard today at least kept me busy. I spent a lot less time reading the news, which usually leaves me wanting to cry or break something. Today, with Orban becoming a dictator in Hungary and more deaths, the distraction was helpful.Those who just want to end the school year are offering a false promise of more serenity. Without something to do the quarantine can be literally maddening.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Opening Day

Opening Day

Nothing signals the end
Of winter’s dominion like Opening Day.
Bleachers decked with bunting,
Summer’s heroes back in their
Elysian Fields.
Sweet quiet symphony
Of ballpark noise:
Murmured excitement of gathering crowds
Balls slapping the mit
Bats cracking.
The air all salty popcorn
Savory hot dogs
On the grill
Tickling my nose
As I stroll the concourse
Pleasantly buzzing with beer.
The March air still carries a sharp little nip
But spring’s promise washes it away
Even if the sun is still more bright than hot.
On this one day
A fan can feel hope
Uncut by doubt
That this will be the year.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Virus Journal 3-25-2020 (A Lousy Week)

"A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall"'s prophecy is now fulfilled

This week has really been something. There's nothing like getting a non-covid shock in the middle of all of this. One of my daughters had been itching her head a lot, and we thought it was dry scalp, which is an issue she's had in the past. As you have probably guessed, it was lice.

We had an all-hands on deck emergency that disrupted the home schooling schedule and pushed me to the brink. I spent the entire day furiously cleaning and doing laundry along with going through my wife's hair and searching for lice. She did most of the tough work of doing the lice combing with our daughters, who spent a lot of time crying in pain. That was fun. In the end only one of my daughters had lice and as of today both are totally louse and nit free.

My wife and I have joked about learning the origins of certain cliches: "fine tooth comb," "nit-picking," "lousy" etc. Monday was tough but we came out of it with a feeling of accomplishment. This whole experience is awful but it least has brought home how much I love my family.

I am starting to notice things I didn't before. While my commute is grueling, I have transformed it into quiet reading time for myself. I rarely get a minute of solitude now, and it's really beginning to wear on me.

Today I learned someone I love has cancer and my wife was kind enough to let me get out of the house to be alone. I walked three miles in cold drizzle. I listened to Dylan's "It's A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" multiple times. His prophecy is being fulfilled. I prefer the amped up version from the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour, which sounds appropriately furious at a society bringing doom upon itself.

I have been feeling alternately depressed and full of rage. This week the president seems to have decided on letting the virus burn through society and kill all so his bottom line can be increased. Republicans and Fox News are lining up behind this, treating the nation's elderly like kamikaze pilots ready to sacrifice for the God Emperor. In trying to craft an economic response, Congress is stymied by Republicans who think the current bill is too good to workers.

It is obvious to me now more than ever that this country cannot survive. Unless the scourge of this virus kills me I am completely confident that I will outlive this republic. All of the stuff eating away at our society has been exposed: our horrible inequality, our lack of respect for human life, our inability to sacrifice, the undemocratic nature of our political process, and most of all, the attitude of right wing Bolsheviks who would rather destroy the country than give up control.  That chaotic, destructive faction runs riot by manipulating the democratic process and by having such a pathetic opposition. Even after all this the liberals are still weak and leftists are engaging in a circular firing squad.

There's no point in comtemplating this stuff because I start to spiral. I should be focused right now on my family, and in a few days, teaching my kids. However, I can't help myself. I called Ben Sasse's office to tell him to knock off his bullshit. I've been writing stuff like this and a couple of other essays. To shrink from a fight right now, no matter how impossible it is, is something I just don't have in me. I know I will likely kick myself for that later.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Life Is Cheap In America

When Michael Brown and Eric Garland were murdered by the police and their killers walked free I realized that beyond what these killings said about race and policing, they pointed to a fundamental truth: life is cheap in America. 

This is a country with an infant mortality rate much higher than peer nations. Women also die in childbirth at higher rates here than elsewhere. Our lack of universal health care means thousands die prematurely every year. We fight our wars with drones and high altitude bombings that kill with ruthless efficiency and lots of collateral damage. We sent our own citizens to die for a lie in Iraq. Our worship of the automobile has led to a pedestrian carnage on our streets that no one even bothers to notice. The proliferation of guns leads to high rates of murder and suicide. Every now and again a student goes and commits a mass murder at their school, and it's become such a commonplace thing that we have come to expect it. Nevertheless, the easy flow of guns remains. 

Life in cheap in America.

So we should not be surprised when the president and other conservative politicians advocate for ending quarantine measures and risking the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people so that the stock market can go back up again. Not only are they doing this, hordes of their voters are enthusiastically given their assent. This is what America has become, a nation so psychotic that it devalues human life in favor of money and power. I am not sure how long a nation so oriented can survive.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Virus Journal 3-22-2020

Since my last entry my routine has been well established. During the week I mixed the required assignments from my daughters' teachers with activities of my own. This wasn't just so I could play teacher, my wife is doing necessary work as a tech specialist at her school and the kids need to stay out of her hair. By Friday my lessons got less regimented, and we could relax some more. That afternoon we took a long walk to drop a birthday gift off at a friend's house and had long conversations about what my daughters observed on the way. This allowed for tangents discussing the different levels of government (prompted by them noticing that electrical wires are above the ground here but not in New York City.) When we got home we put together a little robot model with a solar-powered electric motor.

Thursday I ventured out to get some groceries. The main supermarket had everything I needed, except for chicken. The only thing on the shelf was hearts and gizzards! I then went to the local Polish butcher, where I bought their last chicken thighs, which my wife made into an amazing chicken adobo yesterday. I also stopped at the liquor store to get a supplement to my current supplies. My strategy has been to go cheap on beer (which I buy in bulk) and pricey on whiskey. I got some Elijah Craig single barrel (a great value for the quality) and a four pack of a local microbrew just to give my beer supply some variety. The line was the biggest I've ever seen at the liquor store. A rumor raged that the stores would be shut down, but the order yesterday shutting down non-essential businesses did not cover liquor stores. There goes my new career in bootlegging.

I have mostly been making myself as busy as possible. In fact, I am not able to do all the things I want to do each day, which I take as a good sign. In normal times as well boredom is a luxury that I don't have. Yesterday I finished cleaning our screened-in porch, scrubbing away with a sponge and pail of water and Murphy's Oil Soap. I got special motivation from an anxiety attack, the first I've had since the virus hit, and work was my only way out.

This attack came after checking the news and realizing that the only way for the economy to start up again is for there to be massive testing, which is not forthcoming. I began to fear that the president, in all his infantile mania. thought that some "miracle drug" would save us all from the need to take public health measures. I was also freaking out over the lack of support for states suffering the worst, thinking that he didn't care if people in places that didn't vote for him lived or died. I also started freaking out about how the national media has not broken their tendency to bend over backwards to treat Trump as a "normal" president. That combined with his daily propaganda briefings I think has legitimated his authoritarian behavior. Even as Trump shits his pants in public each day and tells lies I can see that this actually makes him MORE powerful.

So I went out back and started scrubbing, then took a three mile walk.

On a happier note, I developed a Dungeons and Dragons adventure to play with my family this week. I am really looking forward to it.


I am still reading Middlemarch, about 200 pages in. I realized that I needed to keep that book at a slow pace due to the richness of the writing. Eliot is one of those authors who packs a lot of meaning on the page. I really love how she is giving such a thick description of a provincial Midlands town circa 1830. When I wrote my dissertatation I was obsessed with how the 19th century novel was grounded in historical thinking, and this one is now exception. Eliot is writing about the world 40 years in the past to get a sense of what in her time represents change. If I had the time and talent I'd love to write something like this about my rural Nebraska stomping grounds and how that out of the way place has gone through its own transformations in recent history.

While I have been moving through Eliot slow, I read another, breezier book more quickly: William B. Irvine's A Guide To The Good Life: the ancient art of stoic joy. It was a Christmas gift from an old dear friend (and reader of the blog) who sensed my growing despair towards the end of last year. I figured the middle of a pandemic was the perfrect time to read a book about Stoic philosophy. I was a philosophy co-major in college, but haven't read any philosophy in quite a long time. The book reminded me of a kind of deep thinking I have missed. The main point of the book is about incorporating Stoic practice in everyday life, rather than the logic chopping of contemporary academic philosophy.

I took a lot of this book to heart. It is important for us to contemplate our eventual death, and the impermanence is everything in our lives. It is important to evaluate our attachments, and to not keep our negative emotions from overwhelming us. I have recently had to deal with some passive aggressiveness from people in my life and the book made me think about how I can deal with that while not bringing me down. Of course, the book has many of the flaws of philosophy as a discipline, namely the excision of social context from its thought process. Saying, for example, that disadvantaged people should merely banish the negative emotions caused by discrimination and oppression is some real bullshit.  But I do not want to be too negative, this book has helped center me this week and remind me that my wife and kids are what matter to me most and that I am lucky to get all this time with them.

Friday, March 20, 2020

My Heart Is Far Away

My Heart Is Far Away

Sitting on the front stoop
Of my suburban New Jersey home.
Middlemarch propped on my knee,
The provincial world of old England
Calling my heart back
To a place far less elegant.

My heart traverses over a thousand miles
To see that impossibly big sky
Expansive over the wide flat plains
Where I can see horizon to horizon,
Its rough beauty unknown to most but precious to me.

There’s a pungent whiff of cow manure
Carried on the south wind,
Unpleasant but not to my nose.
The south wind whipping hard
Knifing between the buttons of my coat
Transformed into a balm
In my memory.

Most precious is
The little ranch house
Opposite the open field
Humble and sturdy as its inhabitants
Who my heart longs for most.

[All this horror has this me back writing poetry again. Maybe shielding the nation from my awful verse will get the government to act.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Virus Journal 3-18-2020 (Tectonic Plates)

The last two days have meant settling into a groove. Today was probably the smoothest day of home schooling. My daughters now have assignments from their teachers, so I no longer have to figure out everything for themselves. My daughters have also been attentive, especially when an old friend taught them some Japanese over the internet.

I have been talking to people as much as possible. I called a friend last night, talked to my aforementioned friend/teacher today, called a family member, and spent a lot of time writing back and forth with another family member. It felt good to have those conversations, even if they went into dark territory.

Yesterday my wife and daughters went to the dentist. This was the first trip we had made out of the house in days. It's a place we have been going to for years and I have a lot of affection for the people who work there. I found out they were going to have to shut down about as soon as we left for awhile. One of the hygienists, who is always so sweet and tender with my daughters, broke down in tears talking to my wife about having to file for unemployment. The economic effects are showing up well beyond the stock market, which crashed again today.

Leaving the home and getting in my car felt surreal. There was fear in most people's eyes and an overwhelming sense of insecurity. Today I went for a long walk, my first in days. I noticed other kids, like mine, were playing in their driveways. I was a little surprised at the number of cars on the road, which seemed more than yesterday when I drove to the dentist. I wonder how much distancing is really going on.

There was an odd moment today when I sat on the front stoop watching my daughters play. My mail carrier came by, and we had an awkward moment. I assumed she did not want to hand me my mail, and she assumed I didn't want to take it directly from her. I asked her if it was okay if I took it, and she smiled and said she wasn't as concerned as other people.

Today I felt the tectonic plates of history moving. The last time I felt like this was in 2016, with the double hit of Brexit and Trump. I felt the old post-Cold War order falling away. I get the feeling that this crisis will only further catalyze this change. For years we have been in a world of nationalism, of narrowed minds and closed borders. The virus only gives those forces more firepower.

Right now the future looks more uncertain than it has in almost any time of my life. 9/11 certainly doused me with uncertainty, but the military response set the tone of the new order pretty quickly It's so hard to tell where we are headed, or what's going to happen. How in the heck can we have a national election in this environment? Seeing the president embrace the "China virus" narrative while Asians and Asian-Americans in this country face violence has me fearing a pogrom. If cannot deflect blame for his failure through some razzle dazzle, he will lean on racism and xenophobia. Meanwhile, his opposition is fractured between timid liberals too weak to rise to the occasion and sclerotic leftists who only seem interested in tearing down the aforementioned liberals. I am not confident in the future.