agency

I had a discussion a while back with someone who had moved from San Francisco to New Orleans and was appalled by the open racism she encountered. I posited that I could not go back (see the header of this blog) and she countered that there’s just as much racism in the Bay. Which I concede without hesitation, certainly; history and circumstance bear that out. So what is the difference? People in Alabama will tell you how racist people are in Chicago while hanging out their Confederate flags, and I don’t know if the intent is to say “they’re more racist than us” or just “everyone else is just as bad so we should be allowed to do whatever.”

But there’s a material difference. There are plenty of Confederate flags in the Central Valley of California, and plenty enough racist-adjacents in the ranks of Silly Con Valley tech-bro-dom, especially among the Thiel and Musk contingent. But I don’t think you’re going to see an avalanche of bills in California demanding an end to early voting or restricting mail-in balloting, or banning “critical race theory” (a phrase that has become as meaningless as “woke” or “politically correct”), or protecting Confederate statues and symbols from removal. And that gets back to something else I have come to realize: I could never live in any place where the sticks have got the upper hand on the city.

Think about it. Austin perpetually (and inexplicably imho) gets a pass for being in Texas. Nashville is not being tarred with Tennessee (though maybe they should, given the extent to which paste-eating Twitter conservatives are moving there as their safe space). Atlanta – the capital of Black America, by some accounts – does not get lumped into Georgia, which is otherwise Mississippi with paved roads. New Orleans…well, that’s a unique case all the way around. But it’s not even a Southern thing. Consider some place like Kansas, or North Dakota, or Idaho or Wyoming, where there is no city to speak of and no “urban” presence and hell, precious few non-whites altogether and arguably nothing to “fear”. Nevertheless, there you go, same sort of nonsense, same catering to one-cow-one-vote wingnuts and their fever dream of reality.

By contrast, consider the Pacific coast. California does not want for red state nutballs; Red California is by rights an enormous state all on its own (as Tim Draper has repeatedly attempted to manifest). Oregon is famous for its anti-spotted-owl mania and has its very roots as a state in racism. Hell, the entire Pacific Northwest was ground zero for the militia and skinhead movements of the early 90s, in case you forgot about WAR and the Metzgers and Ruby Ridge and the like. The FBI had a branch office in Coeur D’Alene for years. But nobody thinks Washington or Oregon, let alone California, is about to tip into neo-Confederacy at the state government level, and that’s because Seattle and Portland and the Bay Area and Los Angeles have so many people that the sticks can’t get over. Without an electoral college and unequal state sizes to protect them, the QOP cannot carry its unfair federal advantage into states where it can’t work up a majority of voters.

I’m not asking to end racism. I wish we could, but I’m also realistic. What I want – and what should be entirely doable – is to eliminate the agency of racists. That’s what happens when you have a functional Civil Rights Act, a functional Voting Rights Act, a state with a Democratic lock on government and an unwillingness to bend the rules on behalf of white people outraged that their ferret-haired messiah lost fair and square for a second time. At least in a place like California, we were being driven toward the blades at a less acute angle for four years. Same deal with Biden – thanks to the intransigence of West Virginia and Arizona, we cannot have hope of improvement, but we can at least have a measure of relief; the millennium might not be upon us but at least the forces of the executive branch aren’t bent on making our country over into the United States of Alabama.

The Enemy will always be with us. As long as they are helplessly mewling, the dogs barking while the caravan proceeds, they are no more than a nuisance and can be dealt with. But when a dog won’t stop barking – or humping your leg – you have to cut his balls off. Our focus should be less on the bark and more on the balls – and we shouldn’t shirk from the snip.

darksaber

I hadn’t paid any attention to the Clone Wars animated series when The Mandalorian arrived on Disney+ toward the end of 2019. But when I saw the last scene, and immediately saw “Darksaber” trending on Twitter, it was time to hop on Wikipedia. And this thing has an interesting history. It was the original saber of the first (and only) Mandalorian ever to become a Jedi, and how it wound up with a shaped blade – especially a black one crackling with white energy along the edge – has not been explained to me in any way. The interesting thing about it is that it’s more a symbol than a weapon: the wielder is probably not a Force user and of necessity will not be able to use it to deflect blaster bolts or summon it to their hand, and to be honest there’s a non-zero chance they will chop off a limb trying to wield it. But it’s a mark of authority, of the person who has done what is necessary to take charge and be responsible for leadership.

I hadn’t planned on owning one. I already have two lightsabers – one built myself almost two years ago in the first week of Galaxy’ Edge at Disneyland, and one replica of Mace Windu’ saber that was a wedding gift from my lovely bride. But after escaping from a First Order star destroyer – twice – and successfully purloining four containers of coaxium fuel from under the nose of the Empire, I waved one around in Dok Ondar’ Den of Antiquities and reluctantly concluded that while intriguing, I couldn’t justify it. At which point, my wife slapped down a few hundred credits and bought it for me anyway.

I am not a Jedi, despite my best efforts since 1978. A saber that is specifically for a non-Jedi seems more my speed, not least because the blade looks vaguely cutlass-like – appropriate for Vanderbilt. A black blade is a good pair for my gold one. And I’ve spent the last three weeks at work making a bit of an ass of myself in the cause of trying to wrench myself and my team out of a fatal nosedive led by people incompetent to make the decisions they’re forcing on us. More than once I’ve wondered whether I am engaged in a resume-generating event, and decided that if they fire me I’ll thank them for making it easy on me.

We are at a nodal point. Our life has shifted under us in ways we did not expect. Our living arrangements are soon to change; we’ll probably be moving house and if we don’t, we’ll be taking on new residents. Family caretaking has come to a conclusion, painfully so, and various family dilemmas have been resolved one way or another. And as for Alabama – well, to coin a phrase, I have to give people the opportunity to be their better selves. Especially if I want to be true to the value system with which I’ve emerged from the last five years or so. My habits have changed too – while I smoked a cigar on the birth of a new relative, I didn’t have any urge to follow it up with another. Despite the consumption of a lot of Coke Zero from the 7-Eleven in 2020, I definitely prefer iced tea and warm coffee to keeping more soda in the house. I’m still drinking non-alcoholic craft beers weeks after Lent ended. And my hat choice is a cotton twill adjustable if it’s not fog weather, and it’s as likely as not representing Birmingham or San Jose rather than Vanderbilt.

Maybe this is what 50 means. You know who you are, you know what you want, and you have a simple bill of requirements for how you’re going to live your life. After all, when the doors start to close and life starts taking more than it gives you, it’s not the worst thing to know that the main thing you want out of life is wrapped up in an Adirondack chair by the backyard fire pit at sundown, with baseball on a screen or speaker somewhere and a full Yeti in one hand and your sweetie in the other chair.

This is the way. Or at least, it is now.

off the gram

I gave up Instagram for Lent. I haven’t put the app back on my phone. I haven’t posted at all since Mardi Gras, save for twice: a memorial for my mother-in-law and a birthday accolade for my wife. I’ve gone through the web client, in Firefox, in private mode, and mostly just liked and commented. I don’t take as many pictures, and the ones I do post go to the family Cocoon instance, or a Signal chat, or rarely to Flickr or Twitter. 

And the thing is…I could probably cut about half my Instagram and not miss it. There are brands. Food trucks, sports teams, things other than individuals (and frankly, a lot of people who are only in my life as Vanderbilt football-adjacent). I suppose that’s part of what has made it surprisingly easy to stay away: unlike five years ago, when Instagram was the only “safe” social network, my tightly curated personal Twitter actually feels like a less annoying space now, because it is with only a couple of exceptions composed entirely of people I have met in person (or would like to someday) and I’ve been able to stop retweets into my timeline from others. And I’m using TweetBot which means a chronological timeline and no ads.

All this does is drive home how the future of social networking is the group chat. The people talking about how Apple is on the verge of turning iMessage into a social network, well, look behind you. In effect, the group chat – whether in iMessage, Signal, WhatsApp, Slack or what have you – is the private social network we all wanted, and gives up only outside discoverability. Epic accuses Apple of leaving iMessage exclusive to Apple for lock-in? Well, duh. When your business model is selling ads, you want everybody on your product. When your business model involves selling goods and services for cash on the fucking barrelhead, you want to make those goods and services attractive enough to pay for with money.

Apple could do this. Easily. You’ve got chat already in Messages. You’ve got photo storage already. You’ve got location sharing already. You’ve got GameCenter, which is sort of a social network as it is. You’ve got Clips, which provides all the filters and backgrounds of Insta or TikTok without having your data pillaged by the Chinese. You’ve got an account system and a payment structure and the accumulated commercial potential of over a decade of apps and music and media sales. And you’ve got the only aspirational brand in all of tech that is equally associated with privacy. 

But there are two big problems. One is, well, social media. If you don’t want to be Facebook, you have to commit to a privacy-oriented solution without brands, without sponsored posts, without advertising and without platforming the kind of people that Zuckerberg relies on to drive engagement. Apple might not mind going into the Nazi-punching business, but the slapdash management of the App Store suggests they’re not prepared for content management at scale like this. The other is, well, not everybody has an iPhone. My cousins in Nashville are on Android – and part of that is because one of them came to the marriage from Not America. Apple may have 2/3 of the US market but it’s an Android world in personal mobility, and WhatsApp is the messaging solution of record for anyone whose country code isn’t +1. Any solution exclusive to Apple is going to have a hard cap in how big it can be – and maybe that’s for the best; not everyone needs to be big enough to foment insurrection in the United States and genocide in Myanmar. Still, there is a digital divide concern there.

And honestly, does everything need to be in the hands of one of the Big Tech monsters? Is it possible to have a broadly-acceptable social networking solution that isn’t Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft or Amazon-based? Foursquare was onto something, long ago, and sort of lost their way. Tumblr is still out there, having been spun off of the Verizon Oath clusterfuck and owned by WordPress with some capability for multi-media posting and an easily-mobile UI. But you have to convince everyone to use these other things. You have to make it easy to jump, and desirable to jump. And to be blunt, the only way you’re going to shake the foundations of Facebook in a speedy manner is to offer people a safe and secure alternative that comes with their phone and is built right into the OS.

Then again, if Apple launches a Facebook competitor at this moment in history, who knows what happens from a legal standpoint, Then again again, nobody likes Facebook, so it’s possible the Feds would look the other way. If Amazon could build their own tablet and App Store, if Google could build their own messaging solution parade (“Google messaging app” is the Silly Con Valley equivalent of “Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher”), if Facebook could buy Instagram and WhatsApp and then rip off every app they couldn’t buy, why shouldn’t Apple just lightly knit together the services they already offer and call it a day?

The one thing that gives me a flicker of hope for all this is that whenever Apple was showing off the new privacy controls for data sharing between apps, the sample app was something called “Pal About.” If that actually turned out to be a product…wouldn’t that be something.

God, part 2

Earlier today, one of the hipper Silly Con Valley companies decided to blow its own dick off. Basecamp decided that employees were no longer welcome to make a big deal about diversity or inclusion or “wokeness” and offered a severance to anyone who didn’t like it, and lo and behold, a third of their staff – including the head of design, the head of marketing, the head of customer support, the entire iOS team and the entire Rails dev team – took them up on it. Which must smart, especially since the remaining two-thirds are probably going to look around and think whether it’s worth passing up six months severance to stay at a mortally wounded company.

The founders had made much in recent months of fighting back against Apple and their 30% cut in the App Store (leading one wag to say of the departures “you know how much they hate to give up 30% of anything”), in order to sell their invitation-only $100/year filter service disguised as “we fixed email.” Yet another self-inflicted wound of hubris in this valley, of the same variety as the guy in Florida who thought he could pay for sex with a minor on Venmo without issues. Who is himself of a piece with the bitcoin bros, the Slate Star Codex circle jerks, the Spartan obsessives, the gun suckers, the Gamergaters with the anime pillows they don’t wank to, all manner of QAnon nutters and status quo warriors…

I wrote a while back that God is the name for the handles we bolt onto the idea that nobody is above an ass-whooping. If you go through the people above, the common thread that links everything is freedom from consequence, the notion that accountability is for lesser beings than your CEO-Navy SEAL-white man self. It’s the Randian ethos, laundered through a weaponized flavor of the Southern Baptist belief that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God – grace and forgiveness become self-granted, you are always justified, and you get a healthy dose of Confederate-grade toxic masculinity and performative redneckery into the bargain. 

Much like in the UK, where Remain/Leave on Brexit broke the traditional political alignment, or in Northern Ireland where religion and nationalism are starting to falter as signifiers and no longer reflect the Good Friday Agreement era’s guidelines, we are entering a world where ostensible enemies like “big tech” and “Real America” are actually driven by the same thing: the absence of accountability and the belief that the things you have done will never come back to hold you responsible.

You wonder if the two founders of Basecamp believe in this vision of God. Probably not. But rest assured, this God believes in them, and His hand was visible today. Mostly the middle finger.

Hanging out Sunday’s wash

* Through a series of events, I found myself at the outside beer garden of a Livermore brewery this weekend. Taps on the outside wall of the factory, strings up for the hops to grow on, live music, food trucks, bocce courts, little kids playing bags, and plenty of space to maintain distance – plus four or five non-IPA options. Nature is healing.

* I supposed I should say something about Apple’s event. AirTags are finally real, and they’re fine. The new iMacs are something to see (esp. given they’re the same thickness as the original iPhone) but I have concerns about storage; it’s crazy that you can buy a 2TB iPad but the iMac starts at only 256 GB. But the real kicker is the iPad Pro coming with the same M1 as that iMac. It makes me think that given the rumors and leaks around the forthcoming MacBook Pro at 14″ and 16″, we may not be getting a laptop smaller than 14″ anytime soon if ever. So if you want the old bloggers’ delight 12″ device, you’re going to be buying an iPad Air. All this does is reinforce my suspicion that barring calamity, I will not be in the market for a personal computer in 2021.

* That calamity may be further off than I expected this time last week. After a year and a half, certain people have remembered that other certain people work for them, and said other certain people are being taken seriously in a way that might make continuing as-is more feasible. There’s a lot I’m willing to tolerate if I don’t have to come into the office ever…but it’s not infinite, and at a minimum I need to feel like the floor couldn’t open under me at any second.

* A huge part of change with grace comes from stopping trying to live the life you had and embracing the life you are growing into. This time I’m hoping that will be a little easier for knowing that. And for the prospect of a quiet yard and a quiet pint.

* Go listen to “Prize Fighter” by the Killers. And then watch the video for “Crossfire” by Brandon Flowers. And then contemplate how lucky I am to be married to the subject of both. Happy birthday, Super Roo. 🙂

an experiment

Five or so years ago, we got hold of one of the first 12” MacBooks through work. I referred to it as “the Scottish laptop” in keeping with theater tradition, and sure enough, it was poorly suited for a work computer not least because it had one (1) USB-C port and nothing else. Power, video, accessories, everything through that one lousy port which wasn’t even Thunderbolt-capable.

But.

The 12” laptop has been a particular desiderata of my computing experience for longer than I can recall. On my first day at Apple, when offered the entire 2004 spectrum of Apple technology to choose from, I asked for and received the 12” PowerBook G4 as my chosen workstation. I later got a 12’ iBook, which I tricked out with the larger hard drive from a 14” iBook and the Superdrive of a 15” PowerBook. That thing ran hotter than a two dollar pistol but it ran. And this 12” MacBook, for all its limitations, struck me as the closest thing to an iPad Pro. And there was a time, when the iPad first emerged a decade ago, that I famously thought a similar-size laptop would be a better option (although as it turns out, the Atom line of processors didn’t have shit on what we now know as Apple Silicon).

As it happens, in 2021, we do have an iPad Pro. But this laptop still strikes me as a more desirable package. Two pounds, with a full keyboard built in, and if re-envisioned in Apple Silicon, probably similar battery life and performance. And what do I need a laptop for that I can’t do on my phone? Blogging, lean-back video chats and watching movies or TV or YouTube, typing notes, learning Swift, indulging in Kentucky Route Zero, maybe even reading books…

And in almost every respect, an Apple Silicon MacBook would run rings around an iPad for the utility of any of those things. So we’re going to put it to the test. This five year old laptop with an Intel Core M processor is going to be my personal computer, the scaled-up adjunct to my iPhone 12 mini, for all things other than work hours, and we’re going to see what’s what and if this size and form factor is really best suited to my needs in the modern world. After all, depending on our personal circumstances in the future, a 12” laptop might be all the computer I have room for, and it’s still small enough not to pull out of the carry-on bag at the airport.

It’s a computer for the kind of life I wish I led. If Apple will be so good as to make a laptop that fits in these dimensions with an M2 chip or similar, I will buy it right off the assembly line.

down the stretch

(NB: most of this post was already in the can on March 27. I just tacked today’s thoughts on the end. As always, life is what happens while you had other plans.)

Giving up alcohol for Lent was pretty straightforward, thanks to Athletic Brewing’s selection of non-alcoholic stouts, browns and porters. That’s always the trick anywhere: finding craft beer that isn’t IPA, hoppy lager or 15% imperial death stout. Besides, it’s not like I really have any occasion to have a drink other than on Sunday pub nights any more.

And that’s another thing: how long until pubs are a thing again? Or bars? We’re just now getting to the point where bars can open for outdoor service again, but when was the last time I was in a bar? Quick drink from the hotel lobby last March? Or in a hotel near Epcot in January 2020? I think there’s a non-zero chance that I haven’t had a quiet pint in a non-hotel establishment outside the house since December 2019. In that time I’ve gotten so acclimated to going up to the office, plugging in the string lights, and putting some pub ambiance video full-screen on the iMac that an imperfect interpretation of the real thing down on Murphy or Castro – with the added inconvenience of other people – might not appeal that much.

This spring feels like a nodal point, when things are going to change in a lot of ways, and that’s not always a good thing. Once you’re pushing 50, change generally means that your options narrow and that things are more likely to be taken from you than given to you. You lower your sights to a small and realistic aspiration and then even those things go missing. I sure as Hell don’t want to go back into the office at this job, but even that might go away despite the fact that we’ve been every bit as productive as we could have been if forced to sit in a windowless basement forty hours a week.

Maybe things will pick up. Maybe we’ll have minor league baseball this year, despite MLB’s determination to kill it. Maybe we’ll get to visit Disneyland before it’s overrun with everyone again. Maybe the vaccines will actually get into enough arms that we can get back to something resembling ordinary life. Maybe we can go to London other than through YouTube.

I did like Sheryl Crow said. I tried to stop getting what I wanted and start wanting what I got. And then they started taking that away a piece at a time. There’s got to be more to come than reconciling yourself to circling the drain gracefully. My father-in-law was still ordering components and looking up Arduino specs on his iPad until the last two weeks of his life. My mother-in-law went to the Rose Parade and the Metropolitan Opera, and enjoyed lunch overlooking the beach two weeks ago, and watched Rachel Maddow assiduously even as she planned for a kidney operation she knew might turn out badly.

The Grim Reaper is undefeated. But instead of climbing on the cart and going quietly, you can make the son of a bitch come and get you. If there’s one lesson for me to take away from this fourteenth month of the pandemic, it’s that.

the end of march

But you speak of Master Gandalf, as if he was in a story that had come to an end.’ ‘Yes, we do,’ said Pippin sadly. ‘The story seems to be going on, but I am afraid Gandalf has fallen out of it.

-JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers

There are electronic components that will never be fitted together. There are video clips that will never be combined into a funny movie. There are phones and iPads patiently sat on chargers, waiting to be picked up. There are email accounts diligently receiving messages from one list or another, some vendor or campaign or notification that has no one to read it now.

Death, even prepared for, leaves a shadow. The clock ticks on, the rest of the world proceeds, but there is a hole shaped like your loved one that you know will be there forever. How big a hole, and how you maneuver around it, and how far you fall into it, is largely a matter of chance and timing. By the time you’re 83, there are (or ought to be) wills and durable powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives and DNR orders and the like, and if you are recently pre-deceased there may even be a spreadsheet and a Google Doc that can be duplicated to start the checklist anew.

Sometimes you have a couple of years to work up to it, and the pre-grieving renders the moment itself almost a relief, that your loved one is at peace. Sometimes you know it can’t be far, that it’s a known risk, and that the loved one is prepared for the moment and not unwilling to go, but it turns out you were unwilling to let them in ways you didn’t realize. And you didn’t leave anything unsaid that needed saying, but you wish you’d maybe had a couple more years of saying it. And you tell yourself it isn’t fair and they deserved better, and both are true, but fair is where you go to see the pigs. The days are slow, the years are swift, and life has a way of chivvying you along when you try to linger too long at any given moment.

We lost Tom on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We lost Marge today. We miss them terribly.

hanging out tuesday’s wash

 

* Silly Con Valley has become a vast engine for the laundering of unearned wealth. If you don’t believe it, look at the meteoric rise of the Non-Fungible Token. You don’t actually own anything, don’t actually have the exclusivity of anything, but you can say you do, for a fee – and in the meantime you have all the same eco-nightmare of Bitcoin mining. Meanwhile, the entire world of cryptocurrency remains in the field of “speculative investment bordering on gambling” rather than “stable medium of exchange” – and it’s hard not to get the sense that we’re in last call for the get rich quick schemes before the Biden administration brings in a tax regime that basically says that if you have enough money to spend on NFTs, you have enough to pay Uncle Sam the cost of covering the COVID-19 recovery plan.

* It turns out that for all the talk by Phony Stark and his amen corner of anime-wanking Snyder Cut supplicants, the mass exodus from San Francisco is actually to…the rest of the Bay Area. And the exodus from the Bay Area is to…the rest of California. Which makes sense, if you think about it, because places like Austin and Miami and Nashville are located in red states with climate-change issues and anything-goes governments. A lot of techies might not want to pay taxes, but they might also have qualms about bringing their kids to places with open carry of unlicensed firearms and textbooks vetted by Baptist Tabernacle. I’m pretty sure that the only way you’ll see me establishing residence outside the West Coast for the rest of my life would be if I were tragically widowed and had to have a permanent address somewhere else for tax purposes while aimlessly wandering the country in my A-Team van and slowly bleeding my retirement savings dry. Other than that? California, California, the hills send back the cry, we’re out to do or die…

* Places aren’t real anymore. After a year on lockdown, mostly, things like Disneyland or London seem to be figments of imagination, something I see on the Watched Walker feed on YouTube. Then again, when you’ve spent most of your life as a person without a place, it’s kind of a wash. I am happier than I ever thought I could be living in a small bubble where I can walk out to the deli, the taqueria, the 7-Eleven, the coffee shop, and color-code permitting, the barber. There are trips to dinner at my mother-in-law’s, occasional runs out to collect medicine or get a shot or go through a drive-thru – but after a full year, I am genuinely starting to wonder if I’ll ever feel the need to fight a crowd again when I can go up to the office, plug in the string lights, put some background media on the iMac and read while sipping my pint.

* Speaking of which, this is the Lent in which I finally gave up alcohol. I have been subsisting on the products of Athletic Brewing, a maker of non-alcoholic craft beer whose products have turned out to be mostly acceptable substitutes on pub night. I bought their extra-dark stout, which despite a slightly-too-strong licorice note is very passable, and then ramped up to a case of their dark sampler, which includes a cherry-chocolate stout (good), a maple brown (also good) and a coffee porter (absolutely delightful). And then added a six-pack of their Irish red ale so I would be okay for St Patrick’s Day. It turns out you can get through a lot of this stuff if you don’t have to pace yourself.

* WandaVision was very good, I thought, even if the ending was a little weak. I do hope they run with the “buy the ticket take the ride” approach and let the consequences of actions spin out to their conclusion, especially given the post-Blip world and what a mess things would obviously be at this point. The avalanche of new Marvel content this year should go a long way to answering what happens after you mostly roll back the end of the world, although I doubt they’ll go as far in depth as they should. After all, given how crazy things got with a pandemic, you can’t realistically think that disappearing half the world – and then bringing it back five years on – wouldn’t make a Hell of a dent in what we think of as civilization.

* They’ll be catching back up to real time pretty soon, though, given that most of Endgame and WandaVision and Far From Home all seem to take place in 2023. Which makes me think that we’ll need some hard and fast answers about how Shang-Chi or the Eternals fit into the timeline.

* And speaking of timeline, I know the posting here has decelerated substantially. I don’t know when or whether it will ramp up again. The pleasantly boring nature of having Biden in the White House and quiet competence from most of the government means there’s a lot less to worry about, and I’m trying to luxuriate in that rather than fretting about how it’ll all be shot to Hell in the 2022 elections (and that date still sounds like the far future rather than next year, just because every month has had 300 days for a while now). 

* Spring weather makes me think of when we had meat and peppers on the grill, longneck beers on the table, and My Buddy Vince working his magic with the Weber outside a building at work. It pains me to think those days were now officially a third of my life ago. I don’t know where the time has gone, but all I can say is that in retrospect, my 40s were not well spent.

a journal of the plague year, part the second

“…as long as I’m willing to live my own values, focus on the moment and shut the world out, it’s a life I can live with. The question, obviously, is how long that life is sustainable under the circumstances.”

-25 feb 2020

 

My pandemic began in earnest on March 5, 2020, when the doctor advised me that if I had any kind of infection, I would have to cancel the epidural spinal injection for my shoulder pain scheduled for the 13th. Without any hesitation, I collected my laptop and told my boss I would be working from home for the duration.

I’m still here.

Good thing I stuck with the plan, too, because elective procedures were cancelled on the following Monday the 16th when the Bay Area went full shelter-in-place. I haven’t had a pint in a pub, or an indoor restaurant meal, or a ride on public transit since. We did have a cheeky getaway to Santa Barbara to sit on a hotel room balcony for a couple days and dine alfresco during the September lull, in a drive fraught with care for bathroom stops and drink replenishment, but that’s been the extent of our travel. No Disneyland. No Nashville. No international trip on the books for the foreseeable future. Tahoe, cancelled. Two sets of Yosemite reservations, cancelled. March Madness and the Olympics and the entire minor league and college baseball seasons, cancelled.

My life has become a weird sort of cosplay of the kind of retirement I envisioned being able to have: a remote job, done from home at maybe 60% effort, rising later than I used to and wearing the same comfy AG flannel or work shirt over a slubby T every day and never wearing socks except to leave the house. My 48th year has been measured out in peanut butter & honey sandwiches, pitchers of iced tea and an ever changing assortment of background YouTube video, from mallwave collages to old U-Verse Showcase clips to walking through London to lo-fi big band music under rain effects. I went through a phase of buying every hat I’d ever wanted. I purchased three phones – two of them iPhones – in ten months. I eventually gave in and bought a Woodrow dulcimer and have played it more than I have all other instruments combined for a quarter-century.

It hasn’t been all bad. In fact, in most ways it hasn’t been bad at all. I’ve been spared the hassle of commuting, the indignity of having to schlep into a job that doesn’t seem to know it employs me, doing work that garners precious little attention and zero respect – but when you can walk out at will for a haircut or a Double Gulp or a bagel sandwich and not miss anything, who cares? I have used maybe three days of actual non-holiday PTO since this whole thing began, and as a result I have accumulated enough leave to actually go on vacation when the After is finally here, whatever that looks like.

And to be honest, it looks like Disneyland and London. Places we’ve been plenty, but places we love, and places with something new to explore – whether it’s Avengers Campus California at DCA or Ted Lasso territory in Richmond and the walk from Borough to Shoreditch. As much as it would be exciting to explore something new, there is a certain appeal to reconnecting with the missed known, to the things we’ve most mourned being parted from. I want to walk with my sweetie hand in hand up Main Street USA. I want to sit around a firepit with friends with a bucket of longnecks on ice and a bottle of bourbon. I want to sit upstairs on a train and watch the world passing by out the window. I want to step out of Paddington Station at the end of the Heathrow Express and into a black cab, with the breeze blowing through my linen blazer and my Rancourts comfy on the cobblestones. 

I get why people want this to be over. I want it to be over. But it’s not over, and until people are willing to do what is necessary, it won’t be over. And that’s what America feels like in 2021: a huge group project where only a handful of people are actually doing their part of the assignment. And as long as that’s the case, it feels safer and saner to hang string lights on the office shelves, put Watched Walker or Nemo’s Dreamscapes full-screen on the iMac, pour a pint of local stout or even just plain warm decaf black coffee with a little stevia in it, and focus on the moment and shut out the world.

I guess it turns out that life is sustainable for at least a year, maybe longer, if that’s what it takes.