The PVP Diaries #65

Still not dying. I didn’t look very long, but I couldn’t find the data on age distribution. I hear tell that the median age for infection is dropping quickly, which probably (but what do I know) accounts for the increase in cases alongside the decrease in deaths.

An employee at our Trader Joe’s has tested positive, awakening all kinds of brilliant commentary. There’s something like 80,000 people in West Seattle. People are going to get sick. I am no great denier; I take precautions and work to keep my family safe and uninfected as best I can. But still I believe 100% that our problem-to-panic ratio is grossly unbalanced. Every time an employee of some local establishment tests positive, the pitchforks get lit and the torches get sharpened. Suddenly this previously cherished business is accused of failing the community. It’s absurd. In fairness, there are those that come out in support as well. “TJ’s has done a great job from the beginning, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t guarantee that nobody will get sick.” The world’s got a lot of sensible people in it, too, they just don’t head to the comments section quite as often.

It appears the vaccine conversation has already been soundly stratified into two camps: “Inject me yesterday,” and “full Anti-vaxxer.” A few people have expressed a desire to be, perhaps, cautious in adopting a brand new vaccine, its effects being naturally unknown, and they’ve been labeled dangers, threats to public health, and even (no kidding) flat-earthers. Me? I like caution and restraint. I do, however, believe that one part of the reason that vaccines take so long to become available is due to the rigorous and lengthy testing process. It’s not a guarantee of safety, but really there’s no such thing.

One person who said “I don’t want to be injected until I know it’s safe,” was met with “then your decision will result in many more people dying.”

I’m no logician, but I don’t think it works like that. The only trouble I have with the original comment is that it makes everyone the canary in your coal mine. Hard to decide whether it’s wisdom or selfishness.

After a short total news quarantine I decided this morning to check the internet for lies about things up on Capitol Hill. It turns out they’ve changed the name from the mockably effeminate CHAZ to something that more accurately bespeaks the violence within: CHOP. The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest. Looks like they’ve been doing quite a bit of shooting up in there, so they might as well skip to the end and change the name, finally, to Chicago.

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I forgot how much I like Marcella. It’s been a long time since season 2 on Netflix, so I had forgotten about it. It’s British detective stuff – DCI this and DS that, and the 3rd season hangs out almost entirely in Ireland. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but there’s enough difference and depth, especially in the Marcella character herself, to separate the show somewhat from the thousands of others in the genre.

Marcella: Season 3 – Review | Netflix Thriller Series | Heaven of ...

Now I’m on to season 3 of Dark, which gives me my sci-fi fix. It’s German and subtitled and has a pretty convoluted storyline. After a few episodes I think I’m going to go back and watch the first two seasons again, in order to get my mind back on track with it.

Dark: Season 3 – Review | Netflix Series Finale | Heaven of Horror

But first and finally, Karamazov. About 60 pages remaining, so I need to head out to the porch with a coffee (it’s dark and rainy today) and finish that tome once and for all. I was going to read it last night after everyone went to bed, but it got to be too late, what with watching “Worst Cooks in America” with my daughter, and catching the end of “Back to the Future” with The Boy. All I could do after that was go to bed. I was already there, anyway.

Later we pack for the trip. My wife was planning to buy the groceries at Trader Joe’s today. We’ll see if she changes tack due to the Wuhan worker.

Music again? Same as yesterday – it’s all about the sound. Reader Marica and I had a brief chat about tidy madness a while back (wow, that was 46 entries ago). She sent me down a rabbit hole involving some kind of landscape theory that I actually pursued for a couple of hours, but my memory drops everything that I don’t revisit almost daily. As for this ditty below, I don’t actually feel the morbid panic and woe in the least, but I appreciate the access to the emotion. I feel some actual joy, instead, from the marriage of the sound to the sense, the words to the way the energy rises and falls, speeds and slows. And in snatches, the poetry’s quite perfect:

WAIT – I just realized I’ve posted it before. Here’s something else, that fits all the same. The madness is plenty tidy:

Dead weight under my feet
Peeling up my honesty

Somehow I forgot what it was worth
but I’ll follow his notes
to the edges of the earth.

Creatures of the deep
Keeper of my memories
I’ve come to take them back from which they came,
A man who disappeared and left me with his name

And unless you’re honestly
coming back home,

I wish you the worst sea sickness
I hope you can feel it up inside your head
and down in your stomach
Remember to breathe
when under the water
Then you can open up your mouth
and sink to the bottom of the earth

And we’ll raise our limbs like lifeless tools

The reaching hands of your pride
are twisting up your insides,
But before you anchor your line
just give me some time.

And I will be with you until time is no more.

You can’t stop me now,
I’m a fickle raging bull
In a red caped calming crowd
You can’t stop me now
My devil’s claw is hooked
and the road I raised will send me to my grave.

Hey boy,
Don’t let go
You’re gonna find what you’re looking for
Even if that means this whole damn sea
will be turned upside down.

Hey boy,
Don’t let go
Keep your hands on that dirty rope
And an eye on things ’cause the sun’s setting
and the winds are picking up.

Hey boy,
Don’t let go
To the hand of your father’s ghost
Because up ’til now
You believed you were talking to yourself

Hey boy,
Don’t you know
that you could never come back home?
And you will die here all alone.

Vaccinate the vaccine, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #64

It’s been this way for a while now. Lots of new tests, lots of new positives, but dying’s gotten unpopular. I hear buzz that the country in general is seeing a lot of new cases, and even that New York is in the unfamiliar position of doing better than just about everyone else. I guess they paid cash up front on the principal, and are kicking back while the rest of us are shelling out for the interest.

We’re still going to Idaho this week.

I’m comfortable in a mask, we’re doing more things away from home, and the overall sense of doom has slackened somewhat in the world. There’s still a degree of normalcy that we haven’t come close to reaching, but life in the Wuhan world has reached a level that I would call “soft whatever.”

True, I haven’t posted in a while. That’s just because I haven’t really wanted to. I’ve also been sleeping in somewhat – 7-7:30, thereabouts, meaning the house is mostly active, and I don’t like writing in company. Solitude, solitude, solitude. The kids are up now, and they’re all “Hey papa,” and, “Guess what the cats did last night,” and, “Do we have any more Pop-Tarts?” And I’m all:

Image tagged in memes,shakey - Imgflip

I’m on page 600-something of Karamazov, and wanting badly to finish it before our trip. This came out of it yesterday, fitting in too nicely with all the things I’ve always said about people enjoying tragedies and wanting so badly to be connected to them:

“There are moments when people love crime,” Alyosha said pensively.

“Yes, yes! You’ve spoken my own thought , they love it, they all love it, and love it always, not just ‘at moments.’ You know, it’s as if at some point they all agreed to lie about it, and have been lying about it ever since. They all say they hate what’s bad, but secretly they love it.”

Lise, in B.K. Book XI, chapter 3, A Little Demon

Oh, the lying. Don’t get me started on the lying. And not even the lying so much as the comfortable dismissal of truth. The Moby Dick-ness of reality, being something that most people won’t track down and face, knowing that the Ahabs of the world will keep the whale busy enough, and be turned into a kind of joke in the process. It devalues honesty and truth so effectively that it feels ridiculous to waste any hope on them.

Or maybe bad things are just easier. Inner peace doesn’t make the news. Maybe, in our terminal averageness, horror feels more significant than joy. But if so, how and why? Just because it’s louder? It might be that simple. And anyway, the allure of being on the winning side has long since eclipsed any interest in being on the right side. The winning side tends to be the one that blows more things up.

Anyway, I guess if there’s one great complaint I would lay on humanity in general, it is that we don’t put enough effort into being truthful, and we don’t demand it enough from each other.

I take my music the same way I take my visual arts. Scrap the theory and analysis and intellectualizing. Easily 98% of what matters to me is whether I like the way it sounds. That’s all. I’m simple. Last year I was doing some work outside, wearing headphones (earbuds, whatever), when a song came on that I’d been listening to for years. Love the way it sounds. The headphones gave me a chance to hear the lyrics a little more clearly, and I paid closer attention, and it turns out that they were saying really stupid things. For at least three or four years I’d been hearing that song in my rotation and bobbing my head to it, being happy when it came on, and last year out in the yard I found out that it was full of garbage.

Sounds good though, and I still listen to it.

The song below isn’t full of garbage, but also I’m no youngster struggling with the drama of loves tried and failed. The words don’t mean much to me, aside from being neatly constructed and pleasant to hear, so it isn’t as if I relate or anything. But my God, does it sound good. So I listen to it:

Moving in slow like the smoke
From your cigarette
Every step closer’s a step
That we both will regret
Keeping a tally but who can keep track?
Your overreacting is taking me back
To a time better left alone

Holding on to the phone
Holding on to this glass
Holding on to the memory of what didn’t last
Waiting for betters words; they’ll never come
So dry your eyes, it’s better now it’s done

Keep a tight grip like a child
Holding onto a swing set
Waiting and hoping to find what i can’t figure out yet
Please don’t, unless this is something you mean
Another nightmare instead of a dream
Better left alone

Holding on to the phone
Holding on to this glass
Holding on to the memory of what didn’t last
Waiting for betters words; they’ll never come
So dry your eyes
Holding on to the phone
Holding on to this glass
Holding on to the memory of what didn’t last
Waiting for betters words; they’ll never come
So dry your eyes, it’s better now it’s done

I never lost so much
I never lost so much
I never lost so much

Holding on to the phone
Holding on to this glass
Holding on to the memory of what didn’t last
Waiting for better words; they’ll never come
So dry your eyes
Holding on to the phone
Holding on to this glass
Holding on to the memory of what didn’t last
Waiting for betters words; they’ll never come
So dry your eyes, it’s better now it’s done

The PVP Diaries #63

Two days ago I an around telling everyone “tomorrow’s my dad’s birthday!” I know my wretched memory, and it was my way of making sure that I don’t forget. Yesterday, I forgot. Sorry, Dad! I hope you got some cake. I’ll get the kids together and we’ll FaceTime later. Right now, one of them is sleeping under a cat on the couch, and the other is having chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon toast for breakfast.

“He who loves men, loves their joy.”

-The Brothers Karamazov

We had another one of those “-1” death days yesterday. I’m not really sure what they’re doing out there. But I do know that masks are now required by law in Washington state. It’s a “public health order,” anyway. In his presser, Inslee said something about it being a misdemeanor to not wear one indoors in public, or anywhere outdoors that social distancing isn’t possible. Enforcement is likely to be scant, of course, what with the ever-present mantra of “our police have more important things to do.” LIke pulling body parts out of suitcases. I, of course, have no idea how many people, if any, are guilty of the big hypocrisy, but there is an unmistakable coexistence of the calls for enforcement of mask wearing, at the same time as calls for the defunding of the police. One commenter wrote that we should be “quizzing” people about the masks they’re wearing.”When was the last time you washed that?” That sort of thing. Yes, that’s the world I want to live in.

Gonna put this in here for posterity, too, because I hope that reading this in 20 years just sounds ridiculous: I’m not paying much attention, but there’s enough white noise to infer that the city of Seattle is starting to get a little sick of the whole CHAZ experiment. Apparently there’s been a few shootings, and of course there’s no police allowed. The mayor or the police chief or someone said “It’s time for everyone to go home.” There’s a slow, collective facepalm developing in all the offices that opted to let this particular situation go unchecked. Yes, I’ve seen the conservative websites saying that CHAZ is all violence, drugs, and mayhem; and I’ve seen the liberal websites saying it’s a summer of love. That’s all very predictable and meaningless. None of it fully true or fully false. We no longer have the luxury of being able to understand the world through information.

I admire the clumsy struggle to get things right, but weep for where we end up in the process. Every sign-waving protester wants to be the next Gandhi or MLK, but those guys were like Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares – once their work was done, the restaurant may not have been perfect, but there was simply no longer a call for that level of intervention. A little unspectacular management is enough to keep the ship afloat, but we believe that anything short of mutiny is slavery.

We could do with a few precincts worth of Mother Teresas.

Mother Teresa and Mr. Rogers. My family gave me “Kindness and Wonder” for Father’s Day. I’ve only read the introduction so far, but I’m a sucker for messages of joy, so I have a feeling that I’ll be tearing through that book with some zeal. And saying embarrassingly cheesy things here on the blog.


As long as we define ourselves
			by all that we’re against

we’ll have to go on wondering
			where all our happiness went.

Phase 2. I took The Boy to a real, live soccer practice yesterday. They have it very ground down and structured – I couldn’t watch because spectators aren’t allowed inside of the complex. We have to wait in the parking lot, or come back later, or have kids old enough to drive themselves. This morning I’ll be taking The Girl to a soccer practice of her own, 45 or so minutes to the south in Auburn. I’ll say this: It was nice, last night, to go somewhere outside of West Seattle. Outside of the very few places I’ve been for the last 3 months. It really is staggering and defeating to think of how limited my movements have been. Half a dozen trips to Home Depot? It’s a mile from home. I’ll take this trip to Auburn and back, breathe a little on the highway with the windows down, read some B.K. in the parking lot, and come back at lunch time for a very likely stop at the Habit Burger drive thru.

My biggest move so far has been a drive South to Burien last week, 10-15 miles. I was on the quest to retrieve the meat we ordered months ago. A quarter of a cow – 100 lbs of beef. It comes from a farm somewhere in Eastern Washington, and I picked it up in an odd little spot: an Australian meat pie company. It was not a glamorous operation, not a very “foodie” type of a place. Too spare for even any hipster love. I screamed my name through a mask and over the hum of refrigerator compressors until that became too frustrating for both me and the guy trying to hear me, then I pulled the mask down and said it again. Worked the first time. The police did not come. But the beef did:

Beyond the obvious joy of an abundance of beef, there’s the pleasure of having cuts that I might not normally think to buy – London broil, tri-tip, that sort of thing. There’s also short ribs, soup bones, lots of good stuff. And one very large brisket that I can’t wait to spend a day or two cooking sometime soon.

Things keep happening, even if they aren’t.

Happy late birthday, Dad!

Who Made the Summer

Now that’s how we’re supposed to remember summer, right? Drinking from the hose, limbs all exposed to the sun. A big, tacky, inflatable pool wrecking the grass underneath. We do our best to give our kids the kind of summers that we hope we can keep remembering. The kind of summer in that picture down there. They try to legislate it all away, but they have no power against the family.

“Papa, can I have a drink?”
“Of course you can, sweetie.”

In 1978 the water from the hose tasted like metal, and it didn’t scare anybody. Now it tastes like water, but he’s told that there’s something dangerous in the hose – don’t give it to your children. Lead, they say. We’ve been 35 years filtering and cleaning and protecting and irradiating the water for you, so now it isn’t safe because nobody thought about the hose.

“One day, someone will tell you that you can’t. Someone will always tell you that you can’t.”

“Will he be right?”

“In a way – in his way he will think he is right. In his way he will know he is right and he’ll have numbers and articles and so-called facts to make sure he keeps knowing how right he is. But his way is only really there for making you scared of something, and you can be as sure as the grass going brown that if he has children, they drink from the hose when he is out here telling you not to.”

“What does he think is wrong with the water?”

“That it is full of things that you can’t handle without getting sick, and that he can make those things disappear by making you feel lousy about them. He thinks this because he doesn’t know that you come from the same place as the water, or that you both come from the same place as the summer.”

“And my baby brother, too. Where’s that place, Papa?”

“That’s a tough one to answer, sweetie. I only know it’s all the same, and that even if I never know it all the way, I come closest when I’m closest to your Ma.”

In 1978, Mother clipped a shirt to the line and didn’t hear the conversation, because in 1978 the conversation didn’t happen. She just held open the patio door, and put the boy out there to find the summer in the business end of a garden hose.

“Dad, can I have a lemonade stand?”

“Of course you can, bud.”

In 2020 the parents pretend to be rebelling when they let their kids drink from the hose, after making them wear helmets to ride their bigwheels. The man with the numbers and articles and so-called facts makes daily trips to the podium, describing how his scientists have dropped the hose altogether, and are now scraping samples directly from the linings of the children. The magic data is in there, he thinks, and is right, but a microscope has no lens for miracles.

“One day, someone will tell you that you can’t. Someone will always tell you that you can’t.”

“He can’t be right.”

“He isn’t, and he may even stop believing he is, but that won’t stop him from pretending. People will also stop believing him, but will go on pretending.”

“Why will they pretend if they don’t believe?”

“Because some kind of lie always takes the place of faith, once you’ve let it go.”

“What does he think is wrong with my lemonade stand?”

“It’s not the stand, really. He thinks that you’re dirty, and that the people who come to buy your lemonade are dirty, and that if he can make you scared of each other, you’ll learn to stay apart. He thinks his job is easiest when the people stay apart. He thinks this because he doesn’t know that you come from the same place as the people, and that you both come from the same place as the dirt.”

“And my big sister, of course. Where is that place, dad?”

“That’s a tough one to answer, bud. I only know it’s all the same, and that even if I never know it all the way, I come closest when I’m closest to your Ma.”

In 2020 Mom put a bottle of sanitizer on the table and chalked a six-foot buffer zone on the street. She didn’t hear the conversation because she knows it by heart. She just taped down the tablecloth and seeded the tip jar with a few dollars of her own, and stood back to let the kids find summer in the business end of a lemonade stand.

The PVP Diaries #62

Had you asked me my mood when I clicked on “My Soundtrack” in the Amazon music app this morning, I would not have answered Clair de lune. Alas, Amazon knows me better than myself, because it turns out that DeBussy was the perfect choice for the first few minutes out here at Sharky’s West. Twin Cedars is abuzz with morning squirrels. It’s a heck of a day right now, if a little later than I would normally get started:

Saved a seat for you

I kind of 3/4 fixed my picture migration problem, meaning that I can get them from phone to PC, but not as seamlessly as before. Something must be done.

Yeesh, the transition to Rhapsody in Blue was not smooth. Alexa, she hardly knows me.

Seven? That’s a noteworthy jump from the zeroes and twos of the past couple weeks. It’s also strikingly coincidental to the note from the DOH yesterday about having removed precisely seven deaths from the total count, due to them being, well, not related to COVID-19. Seven gone, seven returned, and the beat goes on.

It does make me wonder if this might be the bell cow for the protest spike. I didn’t think there would be one, but I’ve been foolishly nonchalant about this thing from the start. I just don’t really believe in the existence of illness and danger that don’t come from mankind’s own conscious irresponsibility. I figured that this bug was just a bug, a natural thing that, while released (probably) through human malice and/or stupidity, would fade out quickly no matter what we did.

The second best way for me to know that I am being honest is by admitting that I don’t know the answer. The first is by admitting I was wrong. Everything else is preening.

Did I say something about good news yesterday? I did. An online literary journal in New York City called Whatever Keeps the Lights On is going to publish one of my poems. It’s an old one that I’ve always loved for its sound and hated for its obscurantism, but it fit the bill for what they were looking for and what they do. There’s irony in it; their theme is work – desk jobs, labor, the grind. I have no work to speak of. No boss, no paycheck, no claim to anonymous cog status. But for one thing, I have known it. For another, though there may be no paycheck, no kept hours, no humiliating servitude (well…), life is still work. It still grinds.

It’s my only published piece outside of a couple that were printed in Seattle University’s literary magazine. As much as I frown upon the impulse to belittle one’s own achievements, I do know that the number of submissions at Seattle U is always pretty small. I am proud of those published pieces, and have kept copies of the books in a safe place, but it almost seemed like a certainty.

A million thanks to the good people at WKTLO. When I read the acceptance email, I forgot I was sick for a few minutes. I’ll provide all the relevant info once they’ve put it on their site. Now when I write my little bio I can have a line that says “his work has appeared in…” And that’s pretty cool.

Here’s how the texting went yesterday, with the friend I’ve been trying to go see since Sunday, prevented thus far by my head cold:

“Are you feeling better?”

“I’m not 100%. Some lingering congestion and stuffiness.”

“You want to bring the kids over at 6:30?”

By that I gathered that he was comfortable with me coming over. Our wives were at a gathering somewhere else. We went, took our own drinks and snacks, and the kids bounced around in the trampoline. Their son and daughter are the same ages as ours (their boy is a year younger, whatevs), but they haven’t hung out since March at least. Probably February. I love how good kids are at acting like nothing’s happened. You’d think they all just saw each other the day before, and the day before that. Their new-ish black lab ran around the yard chewing on all the things we own and giving us a chance to realize that we probably care too much about them. The boys threw each other around inside the caged trampoline, the girls made “routines” of absurd movements, adding a new one to the end each time it was their turn, in a kind of Simon game, where they had to keep remembering all the previous moves each time. It was graceless, ridiculous, and awesome.

Could hit 80 degrees here at Twin Cedars today. Let’s get some sun!

Oil the lamps, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #61

I’ve been nursing a head cold since Saturday or Sunday, I can’t remember which (insert joke about the days being indistinguishable “in these weird times”). It’s the annoying congestion somewhere between the ears, a little scratch in the throat, almost a sinus headache but not quite (Yes, I’m aware that the CDC says that all of those, along with toenail fungus and mosquito bites, are COVID-19 symptoms). I’m on a steady dose of alternating Sudafed and DayQuil (gotta modulate the phaser frequency when you’re dealing with The Borg), but can’t do any more NyQuil. One of the great benefits of being a non-drinker is that there’s really no such thing as a rough morning anymore. NyQuil greatly reduces the certainty of that. Anyway, it’s all very, umm, common, if puns are allowed (though I think they’re a symptom now, too). But now, even though I know it isn’t The Big One, I feel like a danger to humanity. I have that “sick person voice” that would have people in a grocery store emptying their pockets like pirates tossing treasure and rum overboard so they could run from me faster. We used to joke about ourselves and the children getting sick: “Going to school’s like swimming in a petri dish, haha!” “It builds immunity!” And the suddenly unspeakable “can’t avoid it forever, you know.” It appears that we believe we can.

But it’s been pushing back, day by day, my plans to take The Boy to go see a friend. His friend’s dad and I (my friend; I can say that, right?) haven’t spent any time together since February, and they blew some of their refunded summer camp money on a nice, big trampoline for their backyard. The Boy and I were supposed to head over on Sunday. Then it was Monday, then “later this week.” We’re now scheduled to go tonight for some bouncing and grilled food. Six months ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It’s just a little head cold. Somebody’s always got something, right? But now I have to worry about pariah syndrome, especially as the only known conservative in our circle of friends (much more important to them than it is to me, of course). If I show up somewhere with a sniffle I’ll be that Billy-Bob MAGA-tard who hates science, still says “Wuhan,” and never believed in it anyway. I doubt they’ll invite me to their grandma’s funeral, after I’ve killed her with my denial.

Which leads us to this odd place:

Typing that minus must have been hard for someone to do

I understand there are “data corrections” leading to those negative numbers. Something about adjusted zip codes or addresses, unincorporated areas. And speaking of adjustments:

How are you changing the way you identify deaths caused by COVID-19?

At present, we count all deaths to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. We will change the way we report COVID-19 deaths in two phases. Phase 1 will take place on June 17, and Phase 2 will roll out over the next few weeks.

Phase 1: Remove deaths where COVID-19 did not contribute to death from our death count. For Phase 1, this will result in seven deaths being removed from our current death count, including two suicides, three homicides, and two overdose deaths. Four of the deaths are from King and three are from Yakima. Additional non-COVID-19 deaths may be removed throughout the course of the COVID-19 outbreak.

More phases! I’m all phased out. This document has it all! It’s short and surprisingly direct. Like, embarrassingly so. But you can have that combination of brazenness and insouciance about your ineptitude when consequences don’t exist, and the people depending on your expertise have stopped believing in your expertise. Somehow I think that seven might be a slightly conservative number. Since what, March? How did that even happen anyway? And by “that” I mean being told by weeping parents that they found their son hanging from a beam in the basement, and reacting by saying “mark it up as COVID.” That’s some hard core agenda conformism going on.

“What about this one, Gary?”

“I keep telling you, COVID. They’re all COVID.”

“Sure. But – look, Gary, I don’t want to be annoying here or start any trouble or anything -“

“COVID, Mike.”

“I know, but, well, did the head come in with the charred torso, or haven’t they found it yet?”*

It’s probably not exactly like that. Knee-jerk skepticism is often confused with careful reasoning, but sometimes they make it pretty easy for that doubt to well up.

*Gary? Mike? It sounds like a cast of all white males. No women, no POC’s. Go lynch me on Twitter. But they’re being both stupid and morally bad, so it’s actually right. Right? I swear I don’t know what to do anymore.

On to kinder things tomorrow. I have some good news to report, and I’m counting on better weather to turn things around for us.

Turn it all off, and LIVE, Comrade Citizen!

All the Books in the Universe

Had things been normal, The Boy’s school year would have ended with field day. Each year, a new t-shirt is designed, and the school meets at Lincoln Park for a day of events that the parents and teachers plan, coordinate, and execute with varying degrees of aptitude. Living so close to the park, we have hosted, for the last few years, most of the students in one or both of our kids’ classes for pre-field day shenanigans and donuts. When the time comes we walk them down to the park

There was no field day this year, and I miss filling the street in front of the house with a dozen screaming grade schoolers at 7:30 in the morning. But at least the commemorative shirts were still made. They were handed out with a few other items at the final drive-thru this morning. When The Boy brought it in and showed me, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I have no idea if a parent drew this up, or if it’s some stock design, but it’s the perfect accompaniment to a poem I wrote years ago as The Boy, then just a baby, was falling asleep on my chest:

The Dreamstronaut

The boy adrift in outer space alone,
His hairless pate in a glassy dome.
The awe, the joy, the dreaming soul.
A six-tooth smile in a barrel roll.

While his hands still search and his toes still curl,
Half in, half out of his old man's world.
The half that's in heaves a sigh at me,
The half that's gone starts its reverie.

With that I guess he's in the stars,
Using them like monkey bars,
To swing amidst the giant rows
While the library of his dreaming grows.

And once it's up he'll float about
In no great hurry to be picking out
His stories or his nursery rhymes;
He knows his dreams aren't bound by time.

He bobs on past hoar-frosted shelves,
And a section with a copse of elves.
With a languid pull he moves along,
To the fantasy he'll settle on.

I've always imagined him like this,
Giggling through the stacks in bliss.
The length and breadth of an innocent's whim,
His snickers and kicks propelling him.

Now in my arms he's settled more,
But he shifts a bit one time before
His searching hand tugs on my nose -
He's grabbed a dream, and off he goes.

Having Exited the Tube, the Proverbial Toothpaste Brushes Us Off

Reading Moby Dick made me want to write. Reading does that to me quite a bit. Reading The Brothers Karamazov is not having that effect. The dialogue is hard to take seriously because it’s full of what feel like unnatural idioms and ticks. I know it’s 19th century Russia, and translated to boot, but even so, you get the sense that nobody actually talked that way. Maybe especially because they all seem to talk the same way. Every character has the same speech quirks – they share phrases and patterns that should be unique to specific individuals.

No matter. I’m managing to get through it. I even think it’s pretty good, and it might become one of those “classics” one day. I’m really pulling for this Dostoevsky guy – he seems like a good sort.

Whatever. He gets around the problem of dialogue, at one point, by having a single character simply do all the talking. For a very long time. Ivan Fyodorovich goes on quite a tirade, in the form of what he calls a “poem,” but in fact is about 17 pages consisting of nearly a single paragraph. It’s his (Ivan’s) own creation, a story about Jesus having come back and been imprisoned by some earthly authority in 16th century Spain, during The Inquisition. You can imagine. It really goes on. Ultimately it focuses on Jesus’ temptation at the hands of the the devil in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, when he refuses to prove his divinity through miracles. The Grand Inquisitor’s all “WTF (my words)? You had your chance right there. The world would have believed in and worshiped you forever.” But Ivan’s point is that had Jesus turned the stones to loaves, he would have enslaved mankind forever, because “man seeks to bow down before that which is indisputable, so indisputable that all men at once would agree to the universal worship of it” (Part II, book 5, chapter 5, The Grand Inquisitor). Jesus, it seems to be Ivan’s point, understands the irony of a divinely gifted free will that would vanish in the presence of God. That if God ever proved Himself to man, man would never think for himself again.

It’s an amazing exposition on the subtleties of freedom, humanity, and divinity. A mix of heresy and piety. Of course it’s packed with passages and quotes that fit perfectly today; for instance:

“…so terrible will it become for them in the end to be free!”

In an essay a little while ago I wrote “How oppressed they would feel if someone took their oppressors away!”

Also from Ivan:

“Besides, they have put too high a price on harmony; we can’t afford to pay so much for admission.”

There’s also an inroad to Le Guin’s Omelas, when Ivan asks his brother Alexei:

“And can you admit the idea that the people for whom you are building would agree to accept their happiness on the unjustified blood of a tortured child, and having accepted it, to remain forever happy?”

I studied “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” twice in college, and nobody mentioned Dostoevsky. Nor did anyone say what Alexei says in his answer to Ivan, which is that he cannot admit it – cannot allow happiness to stand on the torture of innocence – though he knows that the tortured child is Jesus. It speaks a lot towards Alexei’s inability to remain either in the monastery or in the world outside of it for very long. It also opens up Le Guin’s story in an entirely new way for me.

But here we are, struggling mightily with our own freedom – its sources, its meanings, how other people function in our own coveted portion of it. Plagues, lockdowns, systemic injustices. And what we are willing to fight, torture, kill, or ignore in order to conjure up and support the illusion. Equality as a secondary goal, in service to our primary mission of finding someone to enforce it upon us.

We keep thinking someone can give us our freedom, and Jesus texts the group a Braveheart GIF with the message, “Brother, don’t go there.”

In the end of Ivan’s “poem,” Jesus, who had not said a single word to 15 pages worth of his 90 year-old Inquisitor’s soliloquizing, simply stands up and kisses the old man on the lips. The old man trembles, opens the gates, and begs Jesus to “Go and do not come again…do not come at all…never, never!”

Jesus leaves.

As if that’s possible.

Steppin’ on the Donuts

How about a one donut poem to kick off a day of interesting developments?

Rushin' Roulette

Alexei in your cassock
under censer swung
perform for me the Unction -
my foolery is done!

Reports out of Yakima/Tri-Cities show a significant spike in cases. We’re talking Eastern Washington here, the counties that are laughed at and sneered at by the elites here in the Enlightened Sound. It’s rural, in other words. Assumptions are that Memorial Day celebrations had something to do with it. People here in King County are gracefully, carefully, fearfully avoiding forecasts of an uptick as a result of all the protesting. Most of the reporting paints a utopian picture of thousands of people marching in perfect six-foot intervals while wearing masks. But then you see the photos.

A comment from the article where those pictures were posted:

We are remarkably forgiving of things that we like.

I’ve been as wrong as can be from the beginning anyway, so I have little to say. King County’s been doing well, and we’ve applied for Phase 2. I believe that means up to 50% capacity in stores and restaurants. I might be able to go for that. It still interrupts the ritual, though. Besides, I figure that if I’ve been able to be a good little sheep for this long, I might as well wait it out a little longer. No sense pretending to be brave now.

It’s the last day of school. We’re all getting a late start. The Boy isn’t up yet (rare for 8:00, which means he’s probably found something else to do instead of coming downstairs), so he doesn’t know that I’m not going to make him do any schoolwork. All of the other kids on our not-so-dead-end street have been out of school since last Wednesday or Thursday, and he’s been diligently working away in here at his cursive, grammar, reading, and math, complaining no more than usual. Good man.

He gets bloody noses. The last few days have been gruesome. Better than a couple of years ago, though, when I woke in the night to hear him crying in his room. I walked in to absolute carnage. His nose started bleeding in his sleep, he obviously rolled around in it for a while, and he and his sheets and pajamas were a Pollockian nightmare. I am not afraid of blood in any conscious way, but prolonged exposure always makes me queasy eventually. Two nights ago it was when his third large clot fell in the sink that I had to step outside for a few minutes. He handles it all so beautifully, so stoically. But on Sunday night it was late, he was very tired, and he started to be worried about all the blood. He’s 9 years old now, and tall and powerful and capable and real, but it still absolutely crushes me to see him scared.

My brother has a bar in Massachusetts. Well, he built a bar. Ok, he built a sort of countertop that he puts out on the beach near the firepit. Everyone on that stretch of sand – permanent residents and return vacationers – knows it well. It’s name is Sharky’s, and it’s on a remote strip of land across the bay from Plymouth, called Saquish. Anyway, it’s a minor legend out there, at least among family and friends. There are hats and t-shirts, and it has its own facebook page.

We here in Seattle have decided to name the patio I just built “Sharky’s West.” We have the blessing of the original proprieter, so all that remains is for me to carve up and hang a wooden sign that looks something like this:

The home and humble grounds themselves we are going to call “Twin Cedars,” for the two, uh, cedar trees that stand prominently behind our new patio. So we will have Sharky’s West at Twin Cedars. All are welcome, but were not putting up any stupid signs to say that. There’s the namesake trees now:

They’re taller in real life.

That’s a lot, but still not much, and – wait, I almost forgot. I emptied my yahoo mailbox clear back to April of 2010. The first email on the pile is now part of an exchange between myself and the man behind Sippican Cottage. If you don’t know him, he is a writer and furniture maker out in the Maine hinterlands. At least he was in 2010. He used to blog rather famously, and published a book of flash fiction called “The Devil’s in the Cows.” It’s been years since he posted last. But seeing his email made me go check his website, and lo there are few new posts, albeit reprints of earlier writings. No new content as of yet. It’ll be good for all of us if he gets going again. Visit this post for a look at my kids 9 years ago, in a different house, sitting on a piece of his furniture. We still have that stepper, plus a second one just like it, and use them both almost daily. There isn’t the slightest wobble or weakness in either of them after significant abuse.

Off to the day now, with, hopefully, a slightly better outlook than I’ve had lately. But it’s hard. It’s mid-June and yesterday I had to go inside to get a toque to wear while reading on the porch. It shouldn’t be like this.

Of Ballads and Bruises

Emily Dickinson:

I HAD a guinea golden;
I lost it in the sand,
And though the sum was simple,
And pounds were in the land,
Still had it such a value
Unto my frugal eye,
That when I could not find it
I sat me down to sigh.
I had a crimson robin
Who sang full many a day,
But when the woods were painted
He, too, did fly away.
Time brought me other robins,—
Their ballads were the same,—
Still for my missing troubadour
I kept the “house at hame.”
I had a star in heaven;
One Pleiad was its name,
And when I was not heeding
It wandered from the same.
And though the skies are crowded,
And all the night ashine,
I do not care about it,
Since none of them are mine.
My story has a moral:
I have a missing friend,—
Pleiad its name, and robin,
And guinea in the sand,—
And when this mournful ditty,
Accompanied with tear,
Shall meet the eye of traitor
In country far from here,
Grant that repentance solemn
May seize upon his mind,
And he no consolation
Beneath the sun may find.

Seems oddly unforgiving. “House at Hame” is from an 1822 Scottish ballad about a woman, at home and working hard to keep her kids fed and clothed while her husband is gone. Presumably in a war, because that’s how these things usually go. There was some unrest in Scotland in 1820, “The Radical War,” but that was short-lived and domestic, consisting of riots and occasional clashes with authorities (where have I heard that before?). Interestingly, and antithetical to Emily’s poem, the husband in the song does return home, to much joy and celebration. A bit more upbeat than Dickinson’s wish for eternal suffering.

I’m going to let the Plague Diaries slide into a less prominent role here. It’s getting old, and I find myself complaining too much. It’s going to be dragging on long enough that I don’t need to worry about running out of things to say. The Boy’s school just emailed us to the tune of “expect to continue some level of homeschooling next year.” They have no definite plan yet, but it won’t be like it used to be. Months ago I obstinately refused to believe that this vain terror would have any lasting effects on life as we knew it. It may be time to admit that I was wrong about that. I am wrong an awful lot.

But I’m right, too, and it’s frustrating. Yesterday I received an email from a friend. I went to high school with her husband. We don’t talk much. But they’re a very thoughtful couple, and it didn’t surprise me that they reached out, offering prayers, thoughts, well wishes while they hear about Seattle on the news. I can’t imagine what image they are getting through The Big Filter. My mom, for instance, asked me how close I lived to “The block party.” No irony, no sarcasm. That’s just what the news told her was happening on Capitol Hill. And that kind of confusion and spin is what fueled my response to yesterday’s email from my friend in California:

It's odd here. From our house it's impossible to tell anything has happened. Or is happening. The West Seattle Bridge being out of operation really cuts us off from the world, and with all the Coronavirus restrictions, well, our universe is decidedly shrunken.

The behavior of people confuses and saddens me, and I guess I just try my best to know what I think about it all. As of now, I have no idea. Everyone seems to have a good point to make alongside every bad one, nobody's doing anything all the way right or all the way wrong, and the whole thing just seems to keep everyone divided and unhappy. I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov right now, in which the principal character lives (at least in the first part) in a monastery. I can't help wanting to run to one myself.

Whether it's streets blocked with protesters, or COVID restrictions from the Governor, I'm tired of not being able to go where I want, when I want. It's a pretty nice life here in our big house with plenty of food and money, but the soul begs for movement, contact, and variety.

Wherever the other side of all this is, and whenever it comes, I hope we all arrive there better than when it started.

Here’s to getting healthy, Comrade Citizen.