As I write, it is 4 am in Idaho, and the air remains hazy. Yesterday, I could not see the mountains that are right at the edge of town, and the edge of town is not far in a rural town of 2600. I wanted to go back to sleep a couple of minutes ago, but the urge to write took over. Last weekend, my usual writing time, I was up to my neck in studying for Continuing Education to renew my licenses that pay the bills. With great reluctance, I gave over the time to write to CEUs. More accurately, kicking and screaming, I completed the work.
Earlier tonight, I talked with a friend. She told me that the police in her sizeable midwestern city have told the public not to carry a purse. Robberies have had a steep increase. She now carries her wallet in her bra. “I guess with all the unemployment, this was predictable.” She sighs. Over the phone and a thousand miles of cell towers, she sounds tired and very depressed. “It is what it is,” she says.
Another friend texts to tell me a six-year-old died in Florida of Covid-19. The child had just returned to offline school. With a rocketing death toll, Florida is sending the children back to school, and this child died. My friend is horrified. “What are they thinking?” If one of the many news stories is correct, the state is worried more about having part of the Federal monies dedicated to school funding yanked. Betsy DeVoss, the head of the Department of Education, and a multi-millionaire, along with the Trump administration, has threatened to subtract Federal money if schools do not open face-to-face. Now there is incentive to expose that six-year-old.
I get a call mid-week from another friend who starts the conversation with, “I am not sure how long I can do this. My anxiety is over the top.” She repeats to herself at the end of our conversation, “I will do this. I am tough.” She has been sleeping with the help of benzodiazepines. She is not a fan of benzos, knowing full well what they do to the body long term, but sleeping is vital. She also knows this. She reminds me that I ought to see the movie “Koyaanisqatsi.” I don’t remember when I first saw the movie. It was released in 1983, and I probably saw it around that time. That was thirty-seven years ago. We knew then that this was coming. We did not know the exact shape of the consequences then, and some people still do not see what is in front of them. As many have said to me, “They don’t want to see.” I suppose this is true, how else would I explain this willful blindness?
There were two attempted suicides in my tiny community recently. Both did not result in death but will result in further pain, restlessness, and confusion. “Why did this happen?” some will ask. They are not ill-meaning. They don’t know. The people who attempted were young, and according to the Center for Disease Control, suicidal thinking among the young is rising steeply during the pandemic. What was once the province of the 45 to 65-year-old’s is now increasing in the very young. They know. What their elders may deny, they know. The world is out of balance, and it is just too much to cope.
When I reviewed my memory of the word Koyaanisqatsi online, I stumbled on to pages of Navajo prevention and resilience information. The Native American populations so often are ahead of the white folks. They know the suicide rates in Native communities are high and have been for years. They see the world is out of balance and for some people, it is just too much. They are paddling as fast as they can to avoid losing more people to sorrow and hopelessness. In this pandemic, many of the white folks are just now catching up, understanding that there are horrible things happening, things that defy simple solutions, and that will eventually be unable to deny.
After a great deal of thought, I decided to put out a Biden/Harris sign on my front yard. I first thought of cleaning up the yard. Currently, it is a jungle. Last year I took out the grass to plant a xeriscape. I made the mistake of not using thick plastic to prevent regrowth. The grass is attempting a comeback, and it is winning. On surveying the yard, I realized that the election was more important than the grass and that I would not have time to clean out the grass for weeks. I put up the sign. The following day I stood on my porch looking across at the neighbor’s house flying the Confederate Flag. I had not noticed it before and suspect it was put out around the time I put out my Biden/Harris yard sign. The house that flies the flag is the most run-down on the block. So deteriorated that at one point, I wondered if I could help the folks who live there put on siding. There is money for this, and I know something about grants. I suspect they would not now welcome my help. The compelling question, though, is would I want to give it to them. The answer, I believe, is yes.
My urban friend states that people don’t know much about history because they are lazy. She is emphatic in this opinion. I don’t know that I believe this. It may be partly true, but I think life is complicated, and I don’t know that anyone ever told these folks about the whites who were slaves in the deep south. Many of my country people, the Irish, were just those slaves, known as ‘indentured servants.’ Most died within the seven-year period of their indenture. Many of these servants worked alongside the Africans brought over in ship holds for the same purpose. As my friend stated, “The folks flying that flag don’t know that they would not have been the plantation owners.” She is correct. I suspect they feel threatened by the Harris in my front yard. The black woman running for president is scary to many. That this accomplished and beautiful woman, child of two very bright parents, and a success before running for vice president is also just too much. With little information, education, and money, the fact that someone different who is wildly competent may be too much of an affront to their struggle for self-respect, dignity, and safety. The fact that America will be a minority-majority country by 2050 is terrifying to some. I am not sure what they imagine will happen, but my perspective may be a bit different.
Many times in my life, I was the only white person in the room. Nobody ate me, at least not yet. I did have a new friend ask me once, incredulously, “You really like brown people, don’t you?” I was both earnest and amused when I answered, “Yes, some brown people, not everyone.” I don’t like all white people. Some are damned annoying. My life experience is likely quite different than both my friend’s and the folks flying the Confederate Flag.
I have wondered whether anyone will shoot out my windows in my small town. This area is Trumpland, and my display of difference may cause me problems. I hope no one shoots out the windows, the beautiful leaded glass would be hard to replace. It is not that I am frightened or not, I am. It is whether I can live in this time and place and be who I am. Hopefully, I can.
A client told me he has a thousand rounds of ammunition. He is a democrat, and while he does not love the ticket, he will vote for Biden/Harris. He believes if he doesn’t, we will be in even worse shape as a country. He thinks we are tilting toward fascism. He is a smart man. The other day he said, “I am not even sure we will be here next year, (referring to him and his wife).” He is openly afraid of civil war and dying of Covid. While he has an anxiety disorder, he is not too far off. I say hopeful things that are also accurate, but that are inadequate to calm his fears. His fears are not out of the realm of possibility. Anything I can say to him, we both realize, is my attempt to assist him to continue to remain able to function. He is another one who is not sleeping.
Several of my friends, and my clients, and a random barista, have told me they are not sleeping much. The barista was a healthy 22-year-old. I figure that as a geriatric case, not sleeping is relatively normal, kind of a way of attempting to fight time, but for a 22-year-old to not be sleeping says a lot. The ocean we are swimming in is fear. We are all afraid of what is around the block. Is it a civil war? Is it more quarantine? Is it such severe economic hardship that many will die of hunger or be sleeping in the streets? There are only limited answers. If I were a bookie, I might make a lot of money collecting bets on the end of the world.
A couple of weeks ago, I sat under a starry sky waiting to see the comet. I was with some friends who are ranchers. We were talking about the return to school. We all agreed that school would likely last about three weeks before we had a massive outbreak of Covid-19 in the community. They are not sending their kids back to school even though this is not what the children want. They want to return. They are bored at home and miss their friends. As I work with children, this is a conversation that started that night and has continued since. I say to the parents, “You realize that most likely, this return to school is temporary?” Almost all sigh, nod, and say, “Yes, I give it about three weeks.” As a bookie in this town, I would clean up.
There are the Trump folks who believe it will all disappear, and then there are the rest of us, wondering just how bad it will be this winter. Place your bets now.
Another friend stated to me, “I just feel alone, it is not exactly loneliness, but I just feel alone.” Now would be an excellent time to live with a family that you like. Being single in 2020 is a sentence to aloneness and for many profound loneliness. My friend anticipates a return to quarantine as the infection rates go up, like my rancher friends, she gives this a short window of time. She is expecting more alone time and not in a good way.
The good news I think for my friends and me is that we are talking, we are anticipating what I think is an accurate scenario. We are not lulled into believing the pandemic is a hoax, and we get it. This is real. I have found that being a realist allows some advantage. If you see the truck coming at you, you have some time, perhaps seconds, to avoid the head-on collision. Awareness is a good thing. It is a survival device, but I wonder what will happen for the people who don’t see the truck coming. I worry about how they will handle the coming months. It will be dark and cold here. There will be ordinary flu as well as Covid. We may or may not be in quarantine. Some of us certainly will be. How will our small hospital cope if we have a severe spike in this community? What will happen with the mental health of those who do not see this coming? I do worry. I am not sure I am convinced we will have a civil war, which seems a popular thought with many, but I don’t know what will happen if Biden/Harris wins. I do know what will happen if they do not win.
I left the book “How Fascism Works” at the beach last week. I would love to know if someone picked it up and read any of it. Since the election of Trump, I have been reading a lot on fascism. In my opinion, he is a version of narcissistic greed that will use the basic proven manipulations of fascism to remain in power to further bankroll himself and his family. I don’t believe he believes half the garbage he says to his base, but he does understand that they are essential to his remaining in power, and I do believe that he is a racist. We know through history what racism tends to generate. Hitler was a racist. He was probably a narcissist too. I don’t think he cared as much about money as Trump, but many of the ingredients of his rise to power are present now. Jason Stanley states that liberal democracies are a good breeding ground for fascism. The argument he makes is compelling. After all, the ACLU has defended some very unsavory people, in the name of free speech. Only Germany, who has been down this road, has laws against ‘free speech’ for Nazi sympathizers. After Charlottesville’s White Nationalist rally, we have Trump’s words, “There are very good people on both sides.” That this was accepted in America may be proof that Stanley is correct. This threat, of fascism, winning for the next ten years of so, hovers over the country, along with the smoke from the wildfires fueled by hotter and hotter temperatures.
We have a global pandemic, a president in bro-love with dictators, a breach of trust with our country’s allies, wildfires driven by warming global temperatures, six-year-olds dying of returning to school, and a massive economic crisis. It is far worse than interesting, but of course, that is implied by the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
It is not a surprise that both my friends and clients are anxious, sad, feeling alone. That can only be normal at this point in history. I cycle in and out of these feelings. I wake at four am to write because all of this needs to be on the page, not for my readers but for my sanity. I write, I work, I study Spanish, I kayak, and it all allows me a measure of well-being. I always imagined that I was not particularly disciplined. I evidently am. I understand that my being awake, or “woke,” is vital to my survival, but so are all the conversations I have with friends, the daily Spanish lessons, the four in the morning writing, and the Sundays kayaking on still water in the sun. I want to survive this relatively intact. I hope no one decides to shoot out my leaded windows, and I wish all of us, both awake and not, the possibility of growth during this frightening time.
The world is out of balance. It has been for a long time. Systemic racism, fear of ‘the other,’ the rulers with their obscene wealth, a narcissist in the White House, climate change, and now a pandemic are all active facts. All of these causes and consequences of being out of balance have come home to roost. What we do not deal with skillfully causes problems. This is an unavoidable fact, but the optimist in me believes we can weather this. Many in the human population are smart and are working to change the tremendous problems that are upon us. These smart folks are working quietly and are not always visible, but I trust they are there. They are there in the middle of the night waking up to write down a formula that may be the cure for Covid or the solution to a thorny climate problem. They are there.
Meanwhile, I put the Biden/Harris sign in my front yard and hope for the best.