Thursday, December 31, 2020

Hell in a Handbasket


I feel as though I should write something. I am tempted to say, “I don’t know what,” but the genre of New Year’s Eve writing is pretty standard, in general terms at least. It is a reflective effort. It places what has transpired into some greater context. It sets the stage for what is coming in the next year; it looks both back and ahead. Although no year is, in isolation, “normal,” this past year falls so far outside normal that reflecting upon it, as well as looking ahead from it, is not so routine. The task this year is far more daunting, the dynamics involved are broader and have many more facets. This is not nearly so personal.


But that’s probably as good a place to start as any. The personal. Personally, it has been a trying year, but not devastating. However, devastating is one of those words that, when applied in individual cases, one’s circumstances could be described as such whereas another’s similar circumstances might not be. One of my best friends contracted and, after a long battle, succumbed to COVID-19. That was devastating
to his family, certainly, and to me personally, in many ways. But in the big picture, my life, overall, for 2020, was not “devastated.” I know I am splitting definitional hairs here, but it is important to illustrate the finer points of what the fallout 2020 meant to me at a very local level. Art’s passing was (and still is) a major blow, it hurts, still, I miss him a lot, but my life in the big picture goes on mostly the same. And, in his memory, he would want that. But – and this is kind of where I am going – currently there are more than 340 thousand others who have suffered the same fate this year, and their families are permanently and significantly altered because of it. In that respect, my life has not been “devastated.”


And in many others it has not, either. I am in solid financial shape, my immediate family is safe and most of those I am close to and care about are well, too. Of course there is the psychological toll, everyone has been thrown into a discomfort zone; dealing with the unfamiliar, for many, has not been easy. And we like easy, don’t we? Our entire society is built on convenience, on ease, on comfort. But it’s also built to a large extent on community and the social nature of our species. Ironically, the technology that fosters both the ease and the community has made much of the trudge forward in the past year possible. Social media, virtual meeting software, delivery of goods and services and the like has made the isolation that so many despise workable. The very technology that makes us even more social has maintained our sociability and our functionality through this pandemic.


Of course technology cannot replace real human contact. Even though we were heading that way in very real terms – voluntarily and unwittingly – when forced to rely on technology exclusively, we have found it has significant limitations. Good. But one of the overtones I cannot help but notice, one that existed before and was already starting to bubble to the surface, went into a full boil. Incessant, wholesale and, frankly, embarrassing whining. When confronted with hardship, in the past, the people of this nation buckled down and did what was necessary. They did not whine, they did not complain, they did not bitch and moan about how hard it was or how inconvenienced they were. They did the work and they did it together. Not this time. Now we are a nation of whiners. And if nothing else, I hope 2020 shows us that and that we never succumb to it again.


So much for looking back. Looking forward, much about 2021 will be different. The pandemic will, in all likelihood, come to an end sometime mid-year. The political landscape will change; hopefully some level of decorum will return. Lessons to be learned are everywhere, lessons in courage, lessons in perseverance, lessons in empathy, in patience, in humanity and compassion, lessons in understanding one another. All of that and more are available if we, enough of us, are open to them. Our children and grandchildren will be taking the reigns and running this nation soon – many already are – and I am hopeful. More than 200 of them have been in my “virtual classrooms” this past year. They are bright and inquisitive, they are, more than ever, engaged. They care about their future and they care about their predecessors, too. They care about us. To those who have been bagging on the “millennials” and otherwise looking for a scapegoat in the younger generations, I have two words for you: Fuck off. They know who they are and, more importantly, they know who you are.


Like many of you, I am tired. Not so much of the isolation or the other hardships we must endure to get past this medical emergency – I can deal with that. I am tired of the attitudes. But I am hopeful that not just the end of this blip in history is near, but also that a paradigm shift is upon us. These “kids” have had quite enough and soon enough, they will be calling the shots. Those of you who feel that they are going to destroy the country, that because of them we are “going to Hell in a handbasket,” take heart. You needn’t worry so much. You and I will be dead before we get there.



Sunday, December 06, 2020

Forty Years of Adulthood


Forty years ago, at this moment, I was looking forward to being magically transformed into a legal adult. That happened, of course, and certain things changed - my attitude did, certainly, for a while anyway - but besides that intangible change in legal status, I remember nothing “special” about that birthday. On my 16th birthday I got my driver's license, but beyond that, again, nothing special. The same goes for all prior birthdays except my 5th - on that day my parents gave me my first bicycle. I'm sure there was cake, too, but as far as celebrations go, I don't remember. My 10th, 13th, any others, I have no recollection. Moving forward, with just one exception, I cannot recall anything noteworthy in terms of celebrations for the yearly anniversary of my coming into this world. I remember quite a few for other decidedly non-celebratory reasons, but except for one strange, but nice “surprise party” 10 years ago, I remember the celebrations for others, many of them, but not my own.


There are a lot of possible reasons for that. I know that my 21st birthday fell during finals week while I was attending San Diego State University. Even Playboy Magazine's “#1 Party School” wasn't partying that week. It's not as though I ever passed up a chance to party, but my 21st birthday did not present such a chance; a pitcher of beer and a couple of enchiladas with a friend at the local Mexican food place was my big shin-dig. Although my birthday has never been a big deal, there have been a few that I sort of wanted to be, that I felt like they should be, but they never were. Turning "The Big 5-O," for instance, is supposed to be kind of a big deal, but as it turned out, it kind of wasn't. However, I am mostly content letting them pass quietly by - especially considering those that were not so quiet. This one - 58, or 40 years since my 18th - is only noteworthy because it has been 40 years since the privileges (most of them) and the responsibilities of adulthood have been thrust, or bestowed, upon me.


What am I going to do? Nothing special. Nothing different than most any other Sunday at the end of most any other fall semester. I'll answer a few phone calls and texts from friends and family wishing me well and I'll "like" a shitload more from Facebook friends (not judging - I do it, too), when I get to them - maybe I'll take my Harley for a little ride to get some wind therapy (and I have a nice cigar I've been saving, too), but the reality is that it's just another day. It's been coming for a while and until a couple of days ago I haven't really given it much thought. I don't need or want a “birthday month,” and, to be perfectly honest, I feel a little disingenuous even writing this - drawing attention to what I say I don't really care about. Some will say, “You must care a little or...” And they are right, to an extent - there is some truth in that. But I also process shit this way - I write about it - and those who really know me know that.


I have a lot of friends who have passed this mark and I have a lot who are still years away, but none of that helps me understand what 58 is supposed to feel like. I know how I feel physically and, considering what I've put my body through, I cannot (and do not) complain. But the very idea that I turned 18 years-old 40 fucking years ago is hard to wrap my head around. There is a lot to be said for experience - far more than my 18 year-old self would ever grant. I use that experience And when I can, I try to share it. I remember stuff first-hand that my students learned about in K-12 history classes. And although my earliest memories, sketchy as they are, predate that 5th birthday, I distinctly remember that day 53 years ago when I got a brand new red Sears bicycle for my birthday. That birthday is still the best one.