All the Books in the Universe

The librarian’s telling dad jokes.

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

Eleven pages shy of a dozen

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

We find an old friend

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

And also of forgiveness

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.

The PVP Diaries #60

Driven

Death seems oddly binary sometimes. You are or you aren’t. There are some or there are none. I don’t think anyone’s paying attention to the body count anymore.


We had guests! Four of my wife’s friends came over last night for a happy hour. It was the official christening of the patio, and they did it right. Lots of snacks and drinks and laughs and normalcy. It was the first time in 3 months that we had a few hours that didn’t feel restricted or confined. Or, as The Boy would say, “detaining.” My God, it was liberating. Except for the notable absence of hugs.

After they all left, we did some cleaning up and settling in, then the two of us headed out for our own bit of quiet time on the patio (we’re still working on a name for it). It’s a peaceful oasis, to be sure. The boy sniffed out the marshmallows that my wife brought out (no s’mores, just the marshmallows), so he floated out and took up his usual position:

We’re in the city, and our neighbors’ houses are stacked close by, but there are a lot of large cedars and maples, as well as some rather lush landscaping that allows us to feel distant and alone when we’re out there.

My iphone and my Surface laptop have stopped shaking hands on photos. I have the icloud app on the laptop, and until a few days ago there were no problems. All the pictures I took on the iphone were automatically sent to the photos app on the laptop. It’s a surprisingly significant inconvenience to have that relationship broken up. Now I have to email pics to myself from the phone, then save, upload, etc. I need to get this hammered out today.

Speaking of pics, here’s the boy’s finished owl pellet project. We pulled together as much of the vole skeleton as the pellet and our patience allowed, then emailed the picture to his science teacher. One more school box officially checked:

He is the only kid left on the block who is still in school. You can imagine this causes some consternation. But I’m taking these last few days pretty lightly, and as is normal, he’s complaining about his detention while actually enjoying an enormously greater amount of free time than he should be allowed right now. I love kids.


We are going on vacation! We’ll be spending 4 or 5 days around the 4th of July in Sandpoint, Idaho. My wife still has a great deal of concern over the Coronavirus, being a natural germophobe, and was reluctant to give this trip the go-ahead. But a couple of her friends that came for happy hour last night have already taken some similar trips with their families, and they did me a great service by reassuring her that it is all very possible to do in a clean and healthy way. I could see her, quite visibly, getting more comfortable with the idea, and last night over roasted marshmallows she started asking me my thoughts on rental houses vs resort lodgings. This morning it is a done deal. My God how we need this.

It’ll be a 5-6 hour drive, but I haven’t had a good road trip in years, so I’m excited. The kids have always done well in the car. We’re meeting friends there – they have twin boys around our son’s age. We really, really like these people. This is going to be fantastic.

Slinging a few episodes of the Plague Diaries from lakeside in Idaho will be a nice change.


Freedom is the fearkiller, Comrade Citizen!

The Domestic Terrorism Diaries

Sometimes the winners are real losers.

Come on, man:

Look, I say “I don’t know” an awful lot, and that’s because I don’t know. What I do know is that what’s happening is happening, and like it or not, it’s the process. I have always liked his willingness to do unpopular things, his refusal to be politically correct. He’s shown some backbone that has been sorely missing from the White House for, really, my whole life, and has been good medicine for the whiners and whingers of The United States for the last few years. And one of the things that I appreciated about him from the beginning was that he seemed to have the right idea about who and what he was as the President. With every other politician, you can sense the megalomania from a mile away. Trump always seemed kind of blasé and disinterested in the power, and more focused on breaking up the phlegmmy muck clogging up the political machine, while actually and genuinely putting America and Americans first. He’s been famous forever – becoming president wasn’t going to give him much of a bump in that category. But here he is, forgetting all of that, and saying, “Take back your city NOW” or he will do it for them. A bit of an egregious chest thump. (One of) The (many) problem(s) with that is that the city of Seattle does not belong to Mayor Durkan, nor to Governor Inslee. It is not in any way “their” city. It belongs to the people, and the people have it, for now. Perhaps for the first time ever, really. It may be bad people, it may be the wrong people, it may be people who aren’t going to vote for you, but it’s the people all the same.

Honestly, Mr. President, I’ve lived under these politicians for a long time now, and I am in no particular hurry to let them have it back.

Besides, perhaps if the police can be overthrown by a bunch of low-grade terrorists, they should be overthrown.

It’s interesting, too, and probably worth several pages of analysis, that a city which has been monopolized by a single political party for as long as anyone can remember, is being overthrown by its own party members. The other party is sitting back, watching the cannibalism and saying “have at it, just stay away from my home and family.”

Please, President Trump, stay away from Seattle. Stay away from Washington state. Protect your own House, even while mine burns down. The idea of the military coming in here and thrashing these punks back to their poetry slams and interpretive dance studios is rather satisfying on the surface, but it’s really nothing that a free society wants to see.


The PVP Diaries #59

“A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it?”

– The Elder Zosima, The Brothers K.

Here’s a reprint for a day that’s simply one too many:

Soft Armor

Guard against the joylessness -
the shout
the sloganed cry.
Guard against the chanted curse
and truthful-seeming lie.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the sheepish fright.
Guard against the mirthless marches
that wilt without the light
(a truly righteous Army thrives
even out of sight).

Guard against the joylessness -
the hunt
the blue bird’s noose.
Guard against the flashing placards
that turn a lynching loose.

Guard against the joylessness -
against the textbook heart.
Guard against the low momentum
of the classroom’s faded arts
(the ivory’s crumbling fastest
at the over-polished parts).

Guard against the joylessness
my son,
my girl child,
by suiting up in Mother’s grace
and by wielding Father’s smile

The PVP Diaries #58

Which Horseman are we up to?

These quotes are getting long. Wait until you see tomorrow’s.

“Oh, how well he understood that for the humble soul of the simple Russian, worn out by toil and grief, and, above all, by everlasting injustice and everlasting sin, his own and the world’s, there is no stronger need and consolation than to find some holy thing or person, to fall down before him and venerate him.”

– Dostoevsky, The Brothers K

The problem, Fyodor, is that we don’t have time for holiness, so we find some criminal charlatan, and venerate him instead. (He said, in an election year, during race riots.)

The toil and grief:

Not much left to say here. It was interesting to go to the KING 5 news website yesterday to see poor Governor Inslee and the Coronavirus buried deep, deep, and barely visible beneath a pile of violence, fire, and retreating police.

More West Seattle businesses reopened yesterday.

The everlasting sin:

I don’t know what to say here, as far as the police and the rioters go. It’s too obvious to point out the idiocy of running around and burning things, then becoming indignant when the police show up. In the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the police just left. They’re still around, still mildly present, but they boarded up and abandoned the precinct building. That might have been the smart move. The mature move. I have two children who fight with each other all the time, both of them being irrationally intractable and far more wrong than right, making it obvious to any 3rd party observer that the best course of action is for the smarter, stronger one to shrug, walk off, and let the other have his tantrum.

And it’s all very childish, isn’t it? Every time. The rioters are mad at the cops, so they do things to deliberately draw out the cops. The cops come and do hard, mean things to the rioters because the actions of the rioters demanded it, the rioters point and say “see?” and somehow nobody feels as stupid as they should. Or they actually do, and like all children when they start to feel their own guilt, they double down on the crookedness.

This is a questionable choice, though:

The mayor said previously she hoped the crews would help to clean up the area daily. The city is also maintaining chemical toilets in Cal Anderson and will add a new bank of toilets outside Seattle Central on Broadway in a bid to avoid the health problems that dogged the neighborhood’s Occupy camp nearly a decade ago.

Capitol Hill Seattle

They made this bed. Don’t clean the sheets for them.

The article also said that the rioters had rearranged barricades to block traffic. Cars and trucks are having to turn around. That’s nice, because we all know that businesses create their own goods on Star Trek replicators in the back room, and never have to be supplied by deliveries from the outside.

Perfect opportunity for a siege, if you ask me. Starve ’em out. Their little urban p-patches, fertilized as they are by patchouli and vanity, won’t be near enough to feed them all.

It’s important to note, just once, that equality and justice are the rallying cry, but as with everything else that mobs do, the true driving force behind all of this is the simple fear of not being able to take credit when something significant happens. “I was there.” Doesn’t really matter what that something is. We are driven by fear and loneliness more than anything perhaps. Surfing a human tsunami anonymously as it wipes a city away is preferable to having to say, afterwards, that you only saw it on snapchat. Lots of little nobodies are paddling in a panic out there, because fortifying your house against the flotsam-riddled wave is too much work, and lonely.

Anyway, it’s all fear and momentum now. People feel the advantage building for the other team, so loyalties will be shifting, and an embarrassing sequence of bad political decisions and dangerous policy choices is sure to follow. Votes uber alles. Seattle may get its experiment with real socialism sooner than later. The corporations that pump blood into this city and keep it alive are no doubt already working on their bugout plans. Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, etc. They’re the most generous, philanthropic, socially conscious and justice-oriented entities this city has ever known, but socialism’s about criminalizing the success of others, so it’ll be “off with their heads.” If you don’t think Bezos and Bill are fully prepared to wag a middle finger in the rearview without skipping a corporate beat, you’re more naive than I am. And folks, you read these pages, I’m pretty bad.

The humble soul:

It was my daughter’s last day of 6th grade yesterday. Felt like nothing happened. They had a Zoom class or two, then it was just over. Nothing changes much for me, either. She’s independent – gets herself up and fed in plenty of time for classes, so that was never part of my routine. The school tried to signify things by sending out a few high-energy emails full of great ideas for the summer and commiserations over the “weirdness of these times,” but in the end it’s just a few months without classes. No big to-do. I imagine we’ll all be out and about in a fairly normal, pre-Wuhan way sooner than later, because as hard as sudden homeschooling may have been for people, it at least had structure and requirements and a schedule, to some degree. Summer’s just chaos, and families are going to be clamoring for the progression of recovery phases to continue with as much haste as possible. We need to go from 1.5 to 4, like today.

I cut The Boy’s hair yesterday. I haven’t done that in years. His mom gave him a little trim a few weeks ago, but no kind of a lasting scourge like the one I laid on him in the bathroom, under the humming clippers after school. He’s got wild hair, he does, and I may not be particularly proud of my tonsorial handiwork, but he was perfectly pleased:

“Thanks for giving me a good haircut. I look a lot more like you. I like looking like you.”


Wax your plywood surfboard, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #57

Impotence and arrogance

“There will be people near me, and to be a human being among human beings, and remain one forever, no matter what misfortunes befall, not to become depressed, and not to falter — this is what life is, herein lies its task.”

Dostoevsky, writing to his brother about his 11th hour stay of execution. Obviously nobody told him about the Wuhan Flu or George Floyd.

Businesses are starting to reopen, albeit with all that reduced capacity. This is when I realize how much I rely upon ritual. Not routine – I can take or leave routine. But ritual. Especially with food. I do not run out and grab a quick coffee, and I try very hard not to just throw some food down my gullet on the way to somewhere. There’s a deep breath and centering sensation that I work into everything that I can. I don’t drink coffee while I’m cooking breakfast, for instance, because I can’t pay any attention to it that way. It makes the coffee pass through my morning like some banal accessory – a function of need or a simple rote transaction. An item on a list. I prefer to pay attention to it. I eat when I can notice what I’m eating, where I’m eating, with whom I’m eating. Not that I give it an exhausting, oppressive degree of significance; it’s just that I tend to try to relax into it.

The ritual is scattered and abused by six-foot intervals and masks. Especially by the stress and tension of wondering whether I’m doing it right. I’ve always been a little paralyzed by the wondering, even in the normal times. If I’m joyfully planting plants outside, spreading fresh dirt and mulch, feeling good, a person walking down the street past me will send me into internal fits of worry and doubt. I assume they’re a horticulturist who can see with a second’s glance that I’m using the wrong kind of soil, putting the wrong kind of plant in the wrong place, not digging a big enough hole, etc. In short, I’ve always believed that I’m the only person in the world who isn’t an expert at the thing I’m doing, so I’m doing it wrong, and that everyone else can see it right away. Choosing produce is a brutal exercise in anxiety suppression. Everyone’s watching me grab the worst possible cantaloupe on the pile and thinking “what a noob.” It’s the sense of observation and evaluation.

I found it out in high school, after I first learned that it was possible to skip a class. What nobody told me was what it would feel like, for me, to return to class the next day. The shame and embarrassment, the unshakable belief that it mattered to everyone what I did. The knowledge that it didn’t – that nobody cared in the least what I did – but the inability to marry that knowledge to the opposite belief. So I skipped class, but then was unable to face my classmates and teacher, and wound up, predictably, almost never going back. I failed all my classes one quarter. Every single one. Seven F’s.

I’ve been that way since the start of the quarantine. Believing that if I go out I’ll be wrongly estimating six feet, standing in the wrong place, wearing the wrong kind of mask in the wrong way, etc. And literally everyone else in the world will be able to see my errors right away, and wonder what in the hell is wrong with me.

So I don’t want to go for coffee where I have to adapt to a prescribed ritual that’s fraught at every step with ways to do it wrong. Distances observed and instructions taped to the floor, nowhere to sit, wear your mask, get your things and move along. That’s no way to live, and I don’t have that little off switch that keeps me from worrying about it all. Not the virus, mind you. I doubt very much we have anything left to worry about there. Worried instead about the way a simple, insignificant misstep can make me feel like a villain, while starkly highlighting the embarrassing condition of our public insecurities. Like I’m in high school again, walking back into the classroom after skipping a day.

There’s no room for my ritual in a place like that. No rest. No deep breath or centering.


I have a lot of dreams about still being in the Army. Usually it’s a lot of confusion about why the heck I’m still in the Army, mixed with dread and disappointment about the fact that I’m still in the Army, combined thirdly with some tremendous panic because I’m supposed to be on a plane to my next deployment, but I don’t have any of my stuff. They’re generally weird and exhausting. Sometimes the whole dream is an escalating frustration – I’ll order a soldier to do something simple, he’ll refuse, and the rest of the dream will be me increasing the rage, volume, and invective of my order until I’m screaming fitfully at him to just fucking do the thing, all while he’s just standing there, perfectly, obviously, blissfully disinterested in anything I have to say. Total impotence.

Anyway, last night I dreamed that we were invaded. By the French (I know, right?). I was up in the booth at some big stadium, the place was full of American soldiers. I had no weapon, but everyone else did. It’s just that nobody seemed to care. I kept grabbing a weapon from someone, popping out into the hallway to kill a few French soldiers (who were dressed, by the way, in some kind of 18th century (19th, 17th, I have NO IDEA) uniform with long red coats that looked waaaaay to heavy for the warm weather), then popping back into the booth to try to rally some support. Again, nobody cared much about what I had to say. I just kept shooting the French, and they were always slumping back sadly against the wall, with very young faces, boys and girls alike. The whole thing wasn’t completely emotionless, but it certainly lacked urgency or passion. There wasn’t any blood. Nobody bled.

There’s an easy parallel, of course, between all that impotence in my dreams and the paralysis of doubt from which my rituals free me, but I’m going to make sure I keep them six feet apart.


It’s freakin’ Juneuary here in Seattle. Low 60’s and rainy. Nice for the plants, bad for heart, hard on the kids. The Boy, as I’ve mentioned, is really feeling it. The weather and the lockdown. He has more bad times, hard days, breakdowns, etc. Here he comes now, down the stairs – let’s take the temperature:

“I was awake at 5:22. I remember because Rae was climbing all over me.”

“I thought your door was closed.”

“It was open. Just a crack.”

“Oh, sorry about that.”

“It’s OK, I like her.”

He’s starting strong, but he almost always does. Things often begin their downward turn at bout 10:15, which is when math starts for the day. But that couldn’t have anything to do with it, right?


Don’t just stand there shouting, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #56

Home of the Six-Foot Salve

Update 6-8

They’ve revamped the dashboard again. King County is in the cleverly hedged Phase 1.5 of recovery/return. Honestly, it’s difficult keeping up with what it all means. Restaurants can function at 25% capacity, though I doubt that many of them can make any money that way. I know there’s been a robust demand for takeout over the last few months. Assuming that keeps up, maybe combining it with the quarter-full seating will actually be worth it. We’re told, also, that we can hang out with up to 5 people from outside of our immediate families. But of course we have to (it is strongly suggested) wear masks and maintain social distancing. In other words, unless I’ve been sleeping for 3 or 4 months here, there’s no change at all. Other people have always been permissible, if generally discouraged, as long as the six-foot-salve was in place.

I’m looking for the handshakes and hugs phase.


Seemed like kind of a peak weekend for protests. We’ll see if there’s a tapering off on the way. West Seattle did its part:

Junction Rally
Image taken from the West Seattle Blog

That’s the primary 4-way intersection of Alaska Street and California Avenue, from whence The Junction gets its name. Someone estimated upwards of 2000 people by the time it was all said and done. It went peacefully and without incident, as far as I know. Nice job, neighbors.

One of the presenters played the National Anthem on his guitar, apparently so everyone could kneel.

At 3:40, black Seattleite Jimi Hendrix tells Dick Cavett why he did it:

“All I did was play it. I’m American, so I played it.”

The interesting point is that Dick asked about the hate mail that would be generated not because Hendrix played the National Anthem, but because he played it “unconventionally.” Not faithful enough to the original intent. Presumably not respectful enough. Times have changed.

Jimi just said “I thought it was beautiful.”

It’s 50 years gone, so it isn’t very responsible to draw parallels, but it’s right there, anyway. No telling what Jimi would say today.


Our daughter adopted the Japanese maple tree that we just planted. It was part of her “outdoor education” day at school last week:

Adopted Tree

Adopted Tree 2

 

It’s the last day of homework kit exchanges for The Boy’s school. One more week of this stultifying attempt at education. I applaud his school for managing it as well as they have. Realistic expectations are important. There’s a long-running owl pellet dissection project that we haven’t completed, and frankly I have no way of knowing whether we’re behind on or missing anything else. My assumption is that we’re doing fine – that we did fine – and he’ll move on smoothly to 4th grade. It will be highly disappointing if, after 3 months of zero feedback, we’re blindsided by some report that he’s behind. But I really don’t expect that to happen. His school is small, and laid back, and even kind of old-fashioned. And they are fully independent. Yes, on some level they are accountable to (presumably) the state, but they are not a member of any groups or associations of private/independent schools. Just a small, K-5 collection of fewer than 100 students in the back hall of a Baptist Church. I’ll miss that place when he’s done there.


There’s no more dirt in the driveway, and I’m staying project-free for a while. What does that mean? Probably that I’ll start reading The Brothers Karamazov for something to do. I’m always a little happier when I’m reading.


—Set phasers to run, Comrade Citizen!—