Sunday, March 29, 2020

Down By the Green River Where Paradise Lay

I was holding it together pretty well but John Prine is in the hospital in critical condition with COVID-19 and now I am not ok at all.

My older siblings play guitar and sing.  My brother who was murdered when I was twelve was a musician.  "Paradise" and "Angel from Montgomery" are songs that I knew first from hearing them sung by people that I love.  "Paradise" is my favorite; it expresses so many things, love of the land, the unimaginable sorrow of loss, the pain and destruction created by greed.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that this song shaped the way I view the world.

Meanwhile we have politicians questioning whether funding for the arts helps people.  The truth is, art, music, literature and the rest, that's what defines being human.  It's the first thing our ancestors did when that spark of whatever it was that turned them into us lit upon their brow.  Art is what helps us hang on to being human in the face of every terrible thing that could ever happen, and has ever happened.  We need art in this moment more than we need anything that isn't food, water, shelter, or wearing a PPE getup.  It will hold us together against everything that tries to make us fly apart.

I'm not writing an elegy for Mr. Prine.  He is yet among the living, and I don't know him well enough for that.  I am saying his words and his songs are important to me in ways that are distinct from but bound up in my own life.  That's how art and music weave their magic. 

Make me an angel that flies from Montgom'ry

Make me a poster of an old rodeo

Just give me one thing that I can hold on to

To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

Friday, March 27, 2020

When being afraid and giving up are healthy

I am the kind of person who will read all of the horrifying news and statistics and political bullshit because I want to know what is happening.  It gives me a realistic picture of the world I'm operating in, so I can make decisions.  I'm suspicious of news (and any person) that only tells me what I want to hear.  I think that has served me well so far; I started taking the pandemic seriously a couple of weeks before most people around me did.  That could literally have saved my life.  It might do so still.

I don't think most of the people who insist on relentless positivity are doing so well, honestly.  I think that's only a good strategy for people whose lives are mostly good already, for whom privilege or other circumstances have already dealt them a winning hand.  I'm not talking about focusing on the positive and keeping your head up; that's actually a very good way to survive.  I'm talking about the people who won't acknowledge trouble when it's staring them in the face.

What I'm seeing around me is a lot of denial, on various levels from the local to the national, and a lot of fear.  I'm seeing a lot of the people in denial criticizing those who are fearful, because fear is bad, right?  Nobody wants to be a scaredy-cat.  Fear is weakness, and I'm not weak, I'm strong! 

You know why we, as creatures, evolved fear?  Because it tells you that you are in danger, and when to run, hide, or fight.  Animals that don't experience fear get eaten.

Fear in the face of a real threat is not weakness or cowardice.  It means your instincts are functioning the way they are supposed to.  I don't know how anyone can look at the unforgiving math of how COVID-19 is spreading, and the lack of resources (Atlanta hospitals are already out of ICU beds), and the disastrous failure of national leadership, and not be afraid. 

However, at a certain point, more information is not necessarily more of an advantage.  I'll still be paying attention to whatever the CDC and WHO have to say, but today, in terms of news coverage about what our president is doing, I officially hit the wall.

Apparently...after telling governors to get their own equipment, then outbidding them through FEMA...he's now saying they "don't need" as many ventilators as they are requesting.  I can see what he's doing.  He's looking at the map, and seeing that as of now California, Washington, and New York are the hardest hit, and they didn't vote for him.  So the people in those states can die.  He's going to save back the inadequate number of ventilators that are available, and when a red-leaning battleground state (like Georgia, maybe) asks for them, they will be available.

The problem here is that it's not just that people in those blue states will die, which is horrifying enough.  It's that this is certainly going to be predicated on governors following the party line, which is that everything is fine and we can go back to work.  Which is going to make cases, hospital needs and mortality rates in those states skyrocket.  People in my red-leaning potential battleground state are going to die, who didn't need to...unless our governor breaks ranks, in which case he can go whistle for ventilators like the rest of them. 

Trump is going to let people who didn't vote for him die.  He's going to let people in states that don't cooperate with him die, and let their governors take the blame.  He's going to let people in states that DO cooperate with him die...but he'll release equipment to them, and make himself look like a hero there.

I know that's what he's doing.  I fear that people, in the aggregate, are not smart enough to see it.  I know for sure that his supporters will not see it, and worse, many of them will think it's fine.  They hate liberals anyway.  They want us to die; they say so often enough. 

They are going to die too.  In fact, none of this is going to work and people in red states (like the one I live in) are going to die in droves.  Blue states on lockdown are going to get out relatively unscathed, for some value of that, for all that they seem to be hardest hit now. 

So, we're fucked either way.  If I get sick, the fact that Georgia might get more ventilators than New York because my governor isn't willing to contradict the president too hard will not matter, because we'll have so many more cases that my chances of access to care will remain very low.  I'm likely to get triaged right out of an ICU anyway, because I'm diabetic and was in the ICU less than six months ago.  They'll put a healthier person in there who they think is more likely to live.   The fact that I have an established track record of not dying when people expect me to won't matter.  I have nine lives like a cat and I'm only on life three or four.  But even a cat needs a little help.

I'm scared enough to stay home.  And I'm giving up on listening to anything coming from the direction of the White House, because I don't need to hear about Trump's latest fuckery to know the gist of it.  I'm giving up arguing with people about this, because if they were going to listen, they already have, and if they're not going to listen, I'm wasting my breath and I might need it.

I'm focusing mainly on what I can do to make things better...for me, for the people around me.  I'm writing a lot in my Patreon blog about spiritual matters, because people need that kind of support.  I'm writing more in general, because it's good for me and for the people who read it.  I'm parceling out my resources (mainly time and energy) where I can.  I'm trying to be canny about what I can do something about and what I can't, and adapt accordingly. 

Be well.  Be smart, be fast (stay still), and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

At least somebody is happy

I'm trying to focus on the positive here.  Even if it's just a positive for me.  I know lots of people who are going slowly (or quickly) stir-crazy, but if I've learned anything about myself in the past few weeks, it's that I'm much more of an introvert than anyone I know.  I literally am feeling a little over-peopled because of all the online stuff going on all the time.  My virtual dance card is full.

The only change in my daily routine is that my husband is constantly underfoot. He's been cooking a lot so that balances out. I'm not quite as ecstatic as the dog about him being home all the time, but it's nice.

I don't HAVE to drive an
ywhere to cover stories, in fact no one expects me to go anywhere at all, and the new social rules of no hugging, no handshakes, no touching, and keep your distance, buster, are what I would prefer all of the time. My half-assed approach to producing content for my Patreon is not noticeable because the whole internet is Facebook Live amateur hour. In fact, I feel like I'm accomplishing something when I get online and ramble for ten minutes about Tarot or trees or something. 

Other than not being able to go out to eat, and the clear impracticality of going camping, this is pretty much my ideal life.  I hope for everyone else's sake that this mess will soon be over.  But when the world does go back to some version of normal, I'm going to try to accommodate my own extreme introversion more and not feel pressured to be social any more than I want to be.  And I'm going to make more half-assed videos and other small projects, because good enough is good enough, darn it.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Ten Days Late and a Trillion Dollars Short

We thought for sure that the governor of Georgia was going to issue a shelter-in-place order today.  So sure that, rather than wait to have our groceries delivered, my husband ventured out to the grocery store to buy...all of the food they had, apparently.  We are well stocked, in case of nationwide lockdown, zombies, or bears.

Actually lighthearted zombie apocalypse references are not as funny as they used to be.  One of my lifelong fears...earned when my mother nearly died when I was eleven because a nurse fucked up her IV after gall bladder that I will die due to someone else's stupidity.  It's a combination of  that experience plus the fact that as a "gifted" child I often really was the smartest person in the room, including the adults, and that shook my confidence that anyone in charge actually knew what they were doing most of the time.  Plus people often don't listen to me even after I have been proven right over and over again, because sexism probably but whatever the reason it's maddening.  (I'm also a frequent victim of the "That idea sounds to much better now that a man has re-stated what Sara just said" phenomenon).  In other words, the world gaslights me a lot and I identify with Cassandra of Troy to an uncomfortable degree.

I've also been sick a lot in my life, with fairly serious respiratory infections as a regular feature of my childhood.  I've almost died a couple times in my life, and had potentially life-threatening diseases a couple more.  They suck, btw.

I'm having a hard time right now.  I'm literally watching my worst nightmares play out in real time on a large scale.  I am not ok.

So while I wasn't crazy about my husband leaving the house to venture out into a world full of people with no common sense but WITH germs, I thought hurray, at least the governor is seeing reason.  He is about to do something useful.  I'll have to take back half of the disparaging things I have said about him.

Except (spoiler alert) not so much. 

Both Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia, and Donald Trump, the president of the United States, were scheduled to make remarks at the same time.  I listened to Kemp, because I gave up listening to Trump for my health a while ago.

My thoughts while listening to Governor Shotgun: "He sounds like one of my students reading his paper in front of the class. Not one of my better students. When is he going to get to the point? Why does he call it Cooo-VID? I too am from Georgia, sir, and I don't talk that way. Surely he is about to announce a lockdown. Ah, shit."

My thoughts while listening to Trump: "Why won't he stop talking. Why. Won't. He. Stop. Talking. This is Hell. I got stuck in the worst timeline, I want to get off. SHUT UP. The lack of lightning in this scenario is starting to erode my faith in divinity and the very concept of goodness. I am succumbing to existential despair. Hell is empty and all the devils voted for this sonofabitch. SHUT UP."

Kemp closed bars and nightclubs, and banned all gatherings of more than ten people, but he stopped short of issuing a shelter-in-place order for the general public.  This while our hospitals are already swamped and Grady physicians are weeping on YouTube.

It's not enough.  It's not enough.  It's not enough.

I hear Trump is already making noises about lifting the paltry restrictions that are currently in place, rather than imposing a nation-wide lockdown, because something something the economy (translation:  rich people can get tests when you can't, and they can get treatment when you can't, and they don't care if you die, they only care about their stock portfolios).  Except the joke's on them because millions of dead people are also bad for the economy.

Friday, March 20, 2020

"I don't know how to make you see reason"

An old friend...actually he was my sixth grade boyfriend...commented on one of my Facebook posts.  He's worried that we're "overreacting" and giving up civil liberties to defend against a threat he just can't see is that bad.  He said that lockdowns would collapse the economy and cost "thousands" of lives.

This was my response: 

Do you remember a few days ago when you were trying to claim that nobody was showing up to hospitals with Covid-19 symptoms, when in fact hospitals in Atlanta and south Georgia were already swamped? And when I predicted that we would soon match Italy's numbers and you shrugged it off?

I was right. You were wrong. You're wrong now, too. I know you're not a stupid person, and I don't understand your emotional resistance to the facts of the situation. I really don't understand your lack of intellectual curiosity about it; the information I've been talking about is easy to find. It's practically everywhere. I even gave you the information necessary to understand that COVID-19, unchecked, will spread exponentially. Seventy-five percent of Americans will be infected.

Seventy-five percent of 330 million is 250 million. One percent of 250 million is 2.5 million...but that's the best case scenario, with no crowding or external complications and optimal care. 3.5 percent of 250 million is 8.6 million. That's a much more likely number, if this thing is allowed to run out of control.

If we do not act strongly and decisively now, "thousands" won't die. MILLIONS will die. Over four times as many Americans will die than in all of our wars combined. And then our economy will collapse anyway. The difference is that it will be a lot easier to recover if a significant chunk of the work force are holed up in their houses or whatever we can pull together to help people survive, than if they're dead. The difference is between relatively short-term pain and...something else entirely.

You don't have to take my word for it; look up the Imperial College epidemiological model or any of the articles that are out explaining it. The part about the economy collapsing and recovery is the opinion of my husband, who has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He saw this stuff coming and pulled his 401k out of the stock market before it crashed. Argue with him, if you please.

Right now, we are choosing life or death for millions of Americans. We are choosing whether they will get a fighting chance or die gasping in a hallway waiting for a respirator that will never come, and a doctor too overwhelmed to care for them. By the time we get to that future, it will already be far too late.

Haven't you watched the news? Better yet, don't you know anybody who works in a hospital? They are already overrun. They are already running out of supplies. Already, now. And this is still just the very beginning.

If that is news to you, then your sources of information are flawed.

I don't know how to make you see reason, and I find this conversation distressing. Especially considering I am in a high risk category and may very well not live through this. I don't know how to tell you not to step out in front of a bus that has everyone's grandmother and diabetic friend on board. I don't know how to make you see life or death in a mathematical curve, or trust the world's best epidemiologist when he says we should be taking it much more seriously than we are.

I will just remind you of our conversation a few days ago, and how everything I said has come to pass.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

I thought it would take two weeks to get here. I was wrong.

"It's no big deal" "People are overreacting" "Hysteria" blah blah meme making fun of people "panicking" hey let's go on vacation...

The number of confirmed cases in the US jumped 40% overnight to 13,726. Now, some of that is surely because of increased testing, but...we still don't have enough tests. These aren't all the cases, they're just the confirmed cases in an environment where lots of people are not being tested. The actual number of cases is probably ten times that. Also, the curve is not going to level off due to the measures we've already taken until sometime NEXT week, if it does.

I admit, I was wrong about the numbers. They are considerably higher, faster than what I was saying. But I still got people telling me in condescending tones that I was hysterically overreacting, something something liberal agenda.

I don't know, man. Maybe next time all the scientists tell you to be worried about something, you should listen to them. I have a couple things in mind.

And stay the fuck home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Writers Gone Wild

I won the grocery store argument.  They couldn't get all of the things we wanted but we will be ok. I expect that after the grocery stores get a chance to re-stock we can try again.

All of my friends decided to do Facebook Live at once, and one of them was talking about how she still dresses up for staff meetings which she attends from her living room.  I guess we've found the extroverts in the group (some of whom would not cop to that label at all.)

Meanwhile, I'm still in my pajamas at 5:22 pm and my husband, who normally wears slacks, a dress shirt, and a suit jacket, is wearing old gym shorts and t-shirts all day, every day.  Nobody cares what writers look like under ordinary circumstances, and we've pretty much gone feral over here.
We are exercising extreme caution because I have underlying health issues and the Atlanta hospitals are already slammed.  Much more so than people realize, I think.  We know what we do because we know people who work in health care.  A lot of people are still in full-on denial, while others are increasingly frustrated with the first group.  Some of my more conservative acquaintances are starting to take it seriously while giving Trump credit for all of the measures he (and they) were scoffing at days ago.  Whatever will make you sit your ass at home, dude.

Anyone who is not too concerned should consider the speed with which Congress is pushing through various legislation, including straight up cash payments to individuals, with Trump all ready to sign it all.   It's not because they care about us, exactly; if they did, they'd have been doing that all along.  It's because they've seen a financial apocalypse bearing down on them.  They're spooked. 

I'm actually about to get dressed and go for a walk around the lake while the sun is still shining.  It's nice out there.  There are a few people about...not many.  The birds are chirping and the geese are honking.  It's a beautiful day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Milk and Otters

We're out of milk and my husband wants to get out of the house.  We're having one of those low-level married people bickers about it:  he thinks we shouldn't order groceries because delivery systems are strained and it's extra money, and I think he should stay the fuck out of public places for the next little while.  We won't know until NEXT week if the measures THIS week are working...and people aren't paying attention to them anyway. 

I signed us up for a weekly box of vegetables, updated my Kroger and Costco accounts so I can order online easily, and am awaiting a prescription. I'm feeling grateful that I can do those things, as I spent some years living hand to mouth. Though honestly if I'd been able to order groceries back when I didn't own a car, that would have been pretty cool.

I've some big news happening today, but I'm going to save that for another post :D  Meanwhile, the Georgia Aquarium has a sea otter cam.  You're welcome.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Brunch of the Red Death

The divisions I mentioned yesterday don't seem to be changing any.  People are going out to bars on Saturday night, going to church on Sunday and then out to Sunday brunch like normal.  Nobody I know personally, I don't think, but friends of friends.  I hear about it because those friends are worried and angry about people they know ignoring the writing on the wall.

Meanwhile there are 127 cases under investigation for COVID-19 at Emory, seven confirmed.  One death.

Meanwhile my Pagan ass is parked at home, checking on coven mates via text message and canceling plans.  A friend is using her Zoom account to do daily devotionals.  We normally gather in very small groups, but most of the people I know are skipping even those in favor of online interactions.  I think I hear the 90s calling, they want their technopagans back.

I never would have thought I'd say this, but it seems like Pagans have a streak of common sense after all.

The mayor of Pine Lake sent out an e-mail with a link to a form they are asking people to fill out.  It asks how many adults live in your household, contact information, and whether or not you want a welfare check in an emergency.  We said no because we believe that the time and energy for that should be spent on other people.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Plague Diary #1

We are in the middle of a global pandemic.  It's going to get worse before it gets better, certainly in the United States where we are at the very beginning of the curve.

There's a literary tradition of "plague diaries;"  they've been the main source of historical information about the bubonic plague, for example.  But we have the internet now, and I was a blogger long before I was a journalist.  I know from experience how writing and shared experience can benefit both writer and reader.  In any crisis of my life, I turn to words.

I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

Some people are a bit...wound up. I had someone who has known me for decades chew me out about the headline of an article I posted and then unfriend me.

But for the most part, I not only don't want to get away from social media, I love the way people try to share information and opinions and ideas and ask for help and keep each other entertained and generally shore each other up in the face of trouble. I would never have seen videos of Italians singing to each other from balconies if I wasn't paying attention to social media.

I don't think the barrage of information is "fear-mongering" or bad. If anything, I'm worried people aren't afraid *enough.* The disease is circulating in our communities and people are going about their business like whole countries aren't shut down...whole countries who are about two weeks ahead of us on the timeline. Those people might be fine, but I and others might not, and we can't avoid humans entirely. Their unconcern could kill people.

I've been reading and sharing news, graphs about "flattening the curve" and gallows humor.  I'm currently feeling reasonably good about seeing this coming; I stocked up my kitchen two weeks ago (though I never did make to Costco...I'm going to wait a little while on that), and convinced my husband to start working from home a week or so ago.  As of Wednesday, I stopped all non-essential appointments or outings, and while I went out Friday to interview people for a story I'm canceling all expeditions that don't lead directly to money or groceries.  (I'm going to get my meds delivered). I'm doing a job interview tomorrow that was originally scheduled for in-person.  I'm visiting with friends via Zoom.

Some of that is because I'm diabetic (therefore in a risk category) and I just went through fun times in the hospital with a kidney stone and sepsis last September.  I don't like my chances, though I have a lifetime history of being hard to kill.  Some of it is because I have seasonal allergies (a curse upon Bartlett pears!) and I've been low-key congested, tired, and slightly achey for weeks.  I'm both more susceptible to secondary infections, and more likely to not know that I'm sick until I spike a fever.  So...home it is.

People in Pine Lake where I live and most of my social sphere seem to be taking it seriously.  The weather has been nice but there are fewer people out and about, and the ones who are seem to be keeping a reasonable distance from one another.  I overheard a couple of neighbors talking about carrying a six foot pole to maintain "social distance," and I walked past an exercise class that was being conducted on the beach (presumably because outside was deemed safer, though with Pine Lakers you never know).  City Hall is closed for now, some of the older residents are self-isolating, people are organizing to pick up groceries and run other errands for people who don't want to leave their homes, and one of our neighbors is making elderberry syrup.  Which she is selling for the exact same amount she normally does.   Local governments are also taking it seriously:  schools are shut down, public offices are closing, meetings are being livestreamed.  COVID-19 cases who can't isolate at home for whatever reason are being sent to Hard Labor Creek State Park, which is about an hour from Atlanta, has commercial kitchens in the group camps and lots of room. 

Outside of Pine Lake and on the ground as it were, not so much.  We drove around a bit yesterday to see what was happening.  Wal-Mart was crowded, which is understandable I suppose.  Downtown Stone Mountain was full of people and cars, which is less so. 

It's less an ideological divide than one of temperament and how people get information. As I say my social sphere is mostly taking it seriously, but some on the fringes...aren't.  The difference between left and right politics is mainly in which conspiracy theory/dumbass interpretation they believe, though there's a measurable difference in how many people believe them on each side.  Trump supporters and watchers of Fox News think that either 1) the whole thing is made up to crash the stock market, make Trump look bad, and keep him from getting re-elected, or 2) it's just a "bad flu" that Democrats are politicizing and blowing out of proportion to make Trump look bad.  Folks on the other side of the ideological line favor the theory that it's being exaggerated to scare people and seize power, or is a bioweapon.  Or they think we can make it go away with lavender oil and positive vibes.  What disturbs me is that while the latter views are mostly being presented by wingnuts who get shouted down pretty quickly by my peers, the former are being taken seriously by people I....would have assumed were smarter than that.