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!—

The PVP Diaries #55

Double Nickel Diary

Update 6-3

I’m just a guy who needs to stop wasting his time with Wilkie Collins.

There are protests or demonstrations or whatever planned for this Saturday in West Seattle. Thus far I think it has been very much to our benefit that the bridge is out and there’s no easy access to our neighborhood. Other Seattle boroughs have seen some rough activity, with the majority showing up in Capitol Hill (if you’ve been getting a bit too much of the conservative view from your daily reads, hit up that link. You’ll be evened out right quick). That is – if you’ll bear my intolerable honesty for a moment – predictable. Capitol Hill is the progressive epicenter of the city, and the location of Seattle University. It claims Elliott Bay Books, the most famous bookstore in the city, as well as Hugo House, a literary school/gathering place named for (West Seattle/White Center!) poet Richard Hugo. Capitol Hill is, in short, a haven for the 20-30-something searchers for meaning and significance. If you’re looking to stay up to date on the latest trends in cross-dressing and body mutilation, it’s the place for you. So yes, I think I am not being terribly controversial in saying that it is unsurprising to see the chaos embraced therein.

I went to school there from 2015-18, and learned what I think is a fairly apt summary of the university student mindset: a passion for conflict, and self-worth conflated with self-righteousness. Especially through my English degree – reading all those essays and stories and poems from my fellow students – those are generally not joyful young people.

This happened yesterday:

Curfew Lift

Probably a good move. I don’t have any answers, so lower your expectations accordingly. I can’t imagine what the capital ‘R’ Right call is in these situations, for the people in charge. The mayors and governors and presidents. I mean, I could scrounge up a description of what I would like to see done, but that in no way means it would be the best thing or the right thing. It would only satisfy my whim and scratch my own personal itch. I know that I hate the looters and protesters (yes, children, it actually is ok to use the word hate, whenever you want to), but I also derive no satisfaction from seeing the police march on them. These clashes that happen sicken me, though they sicken me far  less than the rioting does, because the conflicts are at least a result of an inconsistent good (the police) making an effort to stop an unwavering bad (the rioters). It adds a small Right to what would otherwise be an unchecked Wrong. Still it kills me to see it.

So the mayor lifts the curfew. Ok. In times like this, curfews are, let’s face it, a challenge. A gauntlet thrown at the feet of the looters, daring them to stick around and see what happens. Then they stay past curfew, then the police come down on them lawfully, then the police, no matter how lawful, look pretty awful. Rinse, repeat.

But what’s the other option? Do nothing? Maybe. Now, whether you’re in the White House or your own house, you should defend it to the death. But out there in the streets, the overwhelming majority of the satisfaction derived from rioting and looting comes from the sense of defying the evil authorities. Maybe one of these times, try leaving the authorities at home. Heck, leave the cameras at home. As impossible as it would be to expect honorable behavior from the media, implore them to refuse to cover the rallies. Take away the sense of an enemy and the hope of fame, and people driven incessantly to war get bored more quickly.

If a riot breaks out in the city and there’s no one there to see it, does it loot an Old Navy?

They’ll still riot. They’ll still loot. They’re morons, after all. But they might quit early, and perhaps the whole scene would play out with less depressing redundancy from everyone involved.

Anyway, now that two West Seattle rallies have been announced in advance, there will be time to plan the mayhem and get here to carry it out, for those who wish to do so. Thus far there have been several small gatherings, all perfectly sensible and by the book, without traffic disruptions or anything untoward. This weekend will be interesting to see. The good news is that we live about as far as possible from one of the marches, and fairly far from the other. The two are planning to meet up in The Junction, our commercial epicenter. It, along with Alki Beach, is precisely where I would expect the ugly to happen, being the sort of area that is popular enough to bring people from outside of Seattle on the weekends, for the food and shopping and nightlife. We live a couple miles to the South of there, with no businesses anywhere near us. I will be upset but unsurprised if I find my self on Saturday night wishing I was armed.

I’ll keep you posted on the doings, but only secondhand. No way am I getting anywhere near it myself. And who knows, maybe it’ll all be fine.


Cat scare yesterday: Maggie wouldn’t stop sleeping. She wouldn’t eat, didn’t head to the litterbox all day (until I carried her and put her in there), and when Rae tried to play with her, she was PISSED OFF. She looked like she was limping and favoring her left front leg. When we picked her up she would often make some rough sounding meows that just weren’t right. I hate that feeling. Called the vet and got the usual – monitor her until tomorrow. By evening she was a tiny bit more lively, and my wife was able to feed her some smoked salmon. At 2:00 this morning she was wrestling with her sister on our bed, though still a little more passive than usual.

So far today she has gotten around quite a bit more, and she ate her regular food for breakfast. As a pet owner, you know that wretched feeling when your animal won’t eat anything. Nothing else is quite so sure a sign of trouble. To see her go voluntarily to her kibble is a real spirit lifter.

Ok, she just pulled a full savanna pounce from the high ground onto her sister. I think she’s doing fine.


Taking the day off from any projects today. I have to catch up on the housework. I did get a whole lot of overdue laundry done yesterday, and DEEP cleaned a bathroom. But cleanliness has suffered slightly over these months of patios and doors and dirt and plants.

My daughter is on an Outdoor Education day for school. Normally her class would be off on a hike or a camping trip right now. She has to go 24 hours without a screen, and selected several activities from a long list, to be accomplished over the course of the day. One of them was to prepare a meal for someone other than herself. I took a break from writing this post a few minutes ago, because she delivered me the pancakes that she whipped up with Bisquick. Along with bacon and coffee, she has very definitely checked that box. I love these kids.

We talked a lot over the pancakes, all impromptu, about justice and equality and George Floyd. The truth that birth is an accident for everyone, and nobody is born with guilt or responsibilities that are pinned to their skin tone. We talked about MLK and civil rights, and the fact that, unlike MLK, we are trying to pursue an equal society in the absence of any explicitly unjust laws. When the civil rights we want are already lawfully guaranteed (if still haltingly attainable), what’s the target? Racism is impulse and behavior, and you can’t riot your way to kindness.

The Girl is eager to talk and discuss, and shows a level-headedness that I hope she is able to maintain. For my part, I just try to keep my opinions to myself and not abuse my position to influence their thinking too much. I just try to guide them towards objectivity and reason, and gently lend credibility to the unpopular positions that their education will teach them to view with contempt and disdain. They don’t have to like or adopt or believe in anything they don’t want to. I’ll just consider it a mark of success if they grow up knowing that “the other side” isn’t the exclusive territory of idiots and Hitlers. There are friends, neighbors, and family on that other side. Goodness lives there, too.


I can’t find the lyrics to this song anywhere. But hey, there’s damage and fires and things, so I figured it was fitting:

 


 

Batten down the old hatches, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #54

Incapacitation

Update 6-2

Missed you guys yesterday, but I’m just a guy who’s been sleeping in a little bit. Well, laying in is more accurate. But the extra rest has been welcome.

Speaking of laying, this is what lying looks like:

The county is using 8 indicators, 8 targets, to determine the need for and level of restrictions as we move along. I’ve shown you these before, and now we’re down to 2 of the 8 targets that are not being met. As before, it involves testing, which is voluntary, though they’re using clever wording and some sleight of hand to avoid pointing that out. This, as they say is how they get you:

Testing Capacity

They’ve called it “Testing Capacity,” which is a lie because that gives the impression that the target depends upon the County’s ability to administer the tests. An ability that carries the benefit of being attainable through measurable, material channels like resource availability and procurement. It holds the promise of “we will, as soon as we can.” But in fact, these numbers have nothing whatsoever to do with capacity, availability, readiness, or resources. Instead they rely entirely on the choices of individual people going about their lives, and whether they choose independently to go to the doctor if they feel sick.

Besides, the county website also has this update:

Testing availability in King County has increased. Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms should get tested right away.

It’s a wildly layered misdirection. The metric itself is dishonestly named to appear as though our failure to meet it is a resource issue, but at the same time they announce the ability to test “anyone who has COVID_19 symptoms” “right away.”  Then, its fulfillment is based arbitrarily upon the way we wish people would behave. We’ll meet this target when more of you sick idiots go to the doctor. Soooo, if we stay locked down for a while, it’s our fault. What do the college kids call that? Gaslighting? I think that’s the word.

This isn’t moving the goal posts so much as it is turning them sideways. The opening is there, but you can’t get the proper angle on it.


He pulled a table and chair around the house, so that he could do schoolwork on the new patio. Makes me proud, that boy:

Homework on the patio

That’s all well and good, but there’s still a huge pile of dirt in the driveway that I need to dump somewhere around the yard. We vastly overestimated our needs. It’s ok because there’s more than enough places to put it, but getting it actually done is the miserable part. More wagonloads. More shovels.

The door is done, finally. There was a debacle involving a horrible stain/poly combo product that I knew was a bad idea as soon as I bought it, but the selection was poor. The first coat didn’t go on well, and it looked lousy, but I put on a second coat to see if that would improve things. It didn’t. I had to strip two coats and do a little more sanding, then finally go get a good stain and separate poly, and everything came out beautifully:

 

Olld door
It was not looking good

Done door

It’s a super-deep brown that they’re calling “tobacco.”


My wife had her first guitar lesson the other day. She’s rockin’ a mean Smoke on the Water. The Boy never took to piano, so he has one more lesson, then I’m sliding into his spot. We’re gonna be a weak little Partridge Family before you know it.


There’s actually a lot to talk about. The whole phased re-opening thing has many more facets to its development than I’ve touched on; the West Seattle Bridge debacle has been put out to bid (or will be soon), with numbers like 10 years being thrown around. Everyone is assuming, of course, that  this means a minimum of 10 years until we have a way out of town again, but further reading makes that a slightly less frightening number. As always, there’s more to it.

And of course there’s riots and curfews and all that, but I’ve said my little piece, and I’m done. As ever, we have a situation where the right side and the wrong side should be pretty easy to see, but we’ve used our tragic wits to turn virtue into sin, and sin into righteousness, and now the only thing that makes sense to me is to shut up and take care of my family.


Read between the lies, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #53

A stain isn’t always a stain

Update 6-1

I’m just a guy eating cake for breakfast at 5:30 AM.

The first time I wrote anything about the Coronavirus was on March 13. Technically, I didn’t write it. CS Lewis did. It’s June 1st now, two and a half months or so later. Washington’s stay home order has been lifted, only not really, because phases are still phases and we’re coming slowly out of this thing, county by county. Even then it’s all 25% capacities and face coverings and 5-person limits. Unless you’re rioting or protesting. I love how many people watched The United States burning over the last week, whose first thoughts were “OMG there’s gonna be so many new cases of COVID now.”


 

Wuhan veranda 2

Obviously, furnishing it is an important next step.

I’m also refinishing our front door. Well, technically it’s more of a side door, but it’s the main entrance. The front-front is not very accessible with the way our house is situated. All the comings and goings happen on the side, next to the garage.

Door Job

I’ll pull the door back down today and remove the hardware to finish the sanding. It’s kind of important to time it all so that I can get it done and rehung before bedtime tonight. We also have to do some clever sheet-hanging to keep the cats from getting out. Oh, the challenges of this life. After doing the schoolwork swap for The Boy this morning, I’ll head out to pick up all the stain and such.

I took The Boy to meet up with a friend yesterday for some bike riding. We drove through our very familiar town, but in places that we haven’t seen in over two months. I drove by Target, recalling the time in March when I went there with my daughter and we bought the only remaining toilet paper – an 8-pack of some ridiculous recycled virtue brand that the hoarders wouldn’t touch. Everything was still such a joke then. Yesterday the parking lot was utterly packed. Some life is more normal than others.

The Boy was able to hang out with a friend he hadn’t seen since school closed, and I was able to hang with the dad, who is also a friend of mine. We did walks around the large park while he helped his daughter learn to ride her bike, and the boys pedaled around on their own. It was so refreshing.

After coming home, our family went over to another friend’s house where we sat outside on their patio for a couple of hours and had a few drinks and snacks and conversation that has been sorely missed. On the way home The Boy said, in a burst of odd epiphany, “can we go to the Habit Burger drive thru?” Oh my God, yes. What genius. We had cheeseburgers, French fries, and onion rings. And fry sauce. These three months we’ve been suc good little homebodies – only occasionally ordering pizza when I’ve worked too much to feel like cooking. Fast food hasn’t even occurred to us.

It was a divine end to a heavenly day.

 

Don’t hold the onions, Comrade Citizen!


Take what you want from this. It’s just a feeling. Tidy madness:

If I can’t save you,
Then I will take away your pain and
Drown it in the ocean alone.
If love won’t swallow,
Then I will tie it down to bed or
Keep it in my pocket with you.

So will you wait for me?
Love, will you wait for me?
So will you wait for me?
Love, will you wait for me?

And I can see this.
You are the apple of my eye,
The star up in my sky shooting,
And I’m aware that
You must look beyond the obvious
To find yourself a purpose or
A place to hide.

I’m terrified of who I am inside.
I’m a broken matchstick man.
Be my conduit.
This lullaby won’t lull the boy inside.
I’m a traitor to myself.
Be my old disguise.

I’m terrified of who I am inside.
I’m a broken matchstick man. (What have we all become?)
Be my conduit. (What’s lost is found.)
This lullaby won’t lull the boy inside.
I’m a traitor to myself. (What have we all become?)
(What’s lost is found.)

So will you wait for me?
Love, will you wait for me?
So will you wait for me?
Love, will you wait for me?

 

The PVP Diaries #52

YAAAAWNNNN…

Update 5-29

I’m just a guy who forgot to prep the coffee. Again.

But hey, it’s been that kind of week. Inslee spoke again yesterday, ramping up his appearances leading up to our June 1st lockdown deadline. He didn’t say anything about that, though. It was mostly about testing and agriculture. I was just reading snippets of his proclamation “Concerning the Health of Agricultural Workers.” Here:

WHEREAS, under Proclamation 20-25, Stay Home – Stay Healthy, I deemed workers in the agricultural industry, including those working in fruit, vegetable, nut, flower, grain, dairy, and livestock production, to be essential; and…

(emphasis utterly mine, implicitly his)

It’s that language. “I deemed…to be essential.” I’ll give an exceedingly gracious benefit of the doubt and say that the regal assumption of omnipotence implied by the words isn’t exactly conscious and intentional, but power always feels natural to people who don’t appreciate its source. We could stop this all today if we wanted to, and there isn’t a governor in the country who could do a thing about it. But hey, keep on keepin’ on.

He’ll “lift” the stay home order at some point. Maybe June 1st, maybe in another month, I don’t know. I just guess that when he does he’ll announce it like a celebration, smiling and munificent, as if he’s bestowed upon us something glorious, and will just wait humbly over here for the praise we owe him. Then we’ll triumphantly crab-walk, sideways and self-conscious, into our towns and cities, eating in restaurants at half-capacity, feeling watched and scrutinized at the tiniest level. Yay freedom.

He finished by saying that wearing a mask is a sign of your love for your community. I hate that crap. I was once asked by one of the city’s many clipboard crusaders on the sidewalk if I “have a minute to save the children.” So I either stand there and listen to her miserable spiel for a while, or I’m killing children. The moral binaries are so sophomorically embarrassing. I went to a few different places yesterday. I was wearing a mask. Not out of love for my community, but out of fear of them. I don’t want the loving members of my loving community to turn on me. The mask is protection from them. I saw a number of people not wearing masks, and I somehow was able to imagine that they do not hate me, or anyone else.

Coherence to community norms is one way to show you care, yes. But so is recognition of, and respect for, individual independence.


The Boy is not great with the kitties. He loves them and is very kind, and is no danger of going the full Lennie but he simply does not understand the pacing and spacing necessary for cats. He likes to pick them up and move them. His hand movements are a bit too herky-jerky around them. Etc. He does nothing whatsoever to hurt them, but you can almost see their eye-rolls when he comes in the room. The Boy is just a vessel of unsettled speed, and cats are a little too measured to appreciate it.

They’ll probably end up liking him the most.

They had their first visit to the vet yesterday. I parked, called the office to check them in, then left them on the doorstep of the building in the Ikea laundry hamper we’ve been using as a carrier. The real carrier that we ordered arrived yesterday, while I was at the vet. The technician came and brought them inside, and I sat in my car and waited around for the appointment to be over. Ran an errand in there, too.

The cats are healthy. Rae is showing no ill-effects from her 10-foot fall. Vaccinations are moving along on schedule. There will be no de-clawing. I remember doing that to our cats when I was a kid. It was normal – everyone did it. Then one day several years ago I heard that it was frowned upon. Everything has a shelf-life. And now that I have cats, I have a life as a shelf:

Catbed


The dirt’s in around the patio. I sealed it (the patio, not the dirt) yesterday with a few coats of “wet look” sealant. It’s pretty great looking stuff. The lights are here, so I figure that’s what I’ll be doing today.

Yesterday my wife went to her appointment at the nursery (mis-typing that word introduced me to “bursary,” by way of auto-correct. A bursary is a sort of grant or monetary award for students who need it to attend college. Also something about monasteries). Yes, an appointment at the nursery. But that’s a busy place when we’re not living under restrictions. Now that everyone’s home and the weather’s getting nice, shopping by appointment was really their only option. She came home with lots of nice stuff to plant around the patio and elsewhere. If the weather holds, we’ll have a solid weekend of planting, digging, mulching. It’ll be good for us.

We need good. We’ve been running thin on patience and generosity around here. Things have sat still for too long. We are too close to each other. We are, I imagine, doing far better than many other people, so I have much to be thankful for. Still, this is all leagues below the ideal. We need new things to look at.

My favorite bakery is open down the street. I didn’t realize how unmoved I would be by this. The bakery experience is full-spectrum for me: the chit-chat with the folks working there, the pretending to not know what donut I want, the settling into a seat and listening to some ambient conversation, the nodding and saying hello to familiar regulars, and then the putting on the headphones and receding into the atmosphere of books and writing for a couple of hours. Standing on the sidewalk while being deceptively casual about my obsession with my distance from other people in order to get a donut and maybe eat it on the way home, is not the experience that’s going to bring me back to my favorite place.

I want to stroll in there, unmasked, and give out handshakes and hugs to the people I’ve come to view as friends over the last two years.

A bird just collided with the window next to me.


 

— How about a hug, Comrade Citizen? —

The PVP Diaries #51

So friggin’ over this crap.

Update 5-28

MOAR DAYSHBOORDZ! We’re up to six now:

Six dashboards

This new one shows some interesting data for a change. Click through to the link – it’s a little expansive for a useful screenshot. Here’s a carefully chosen selection that I am somewhat dishonestly using to present the picture I want you to see. I wonder if anyone else does that:

Activity tracker

There’s some more red triangles at the page (two more), but they both involve testing capacity, not the actual sickness. There’s plenty of hospital bed capacity, and only 5% of occupied beds contain patients with COVID-19. Keep in mind that being in the hospital while having COVID is very different from being in the hospital because of COVID. But that’s a number you just don’t see parsed out anywhere.

I mentioned recently that graduating to Phase 2 of normalization comes on a case-by-case, county-by-county basis. The county that contains the state capital just received approval. This is my surprised face:

Waterkitty

The religious service guidance is out. This, too, is Phase-dependent (somehow I remember something like that from my electronics days in the Army):

Phase 1:

Phase 2:

Some people think the timing indicates that Trump is to blame for this. Some people think that the timing indicates that Trump is to credit for this. Some people are just getting back from their visits to essential businesses like pot shops and liquor stores, and will share their valuable opinions freely once they log in.

Fewer

*It’s FEWER, you friggin’ halfwits.


I’m just a guy measuring life by the cubic yard:

Dirtpiles

Sometimes you flow, sometimes you ebb. Yesterday ebbed hard.

I’m just about over it. I did make it about halfway through that pile on the left yesterday, but I’m not enjoying the work like I was 2 weeks ago. At leas it’s keeping me busy. Today I’ll seal the pavers, which means putting out the word to the not-so-dead-end street that the kids all need to stay off of it until tomorrow. They’ve had the run of the place for the duration of the lockdown, and because our house is on one of the ends of the course that they travel, the patio sits right in the natural turn for any loops they make during their games. The problem I’ve noted with kids – all of them – is that they are kind and respectful, and they listen and they understand, and then they turn from you and just forget everything you’ve said. I’ve made several areas off-limits to their feet- places where plants are growing or the shrubs are a bit too delicate to be run through, and every single day I catch them running through there anyway.

There is a childless couple on the street who was long ago singled out by one of the moms on the block as being not nice enough to her children. She’s one of those sorts who cannot bear the thought of someone else telling her children off, no matter how much they may need to be silenced or put in their places. She bristled and still speaks disparagingly of the time when the childless ones placed a large garden/shrubbery area off limits to the kids on the street. I hear her exaggerating the terms of the story every time she tells it, so that by now it sounds like the neighbor came out waving a butcher’s knife and chasing the kids away from her hydrangeas behind a flood of curses and threats. Ok, ok, so not quite like that. But certainly it has changed from the reality of “can you kids please not play in this area,” to the perception of, “GET OUT OF THERE RIGHT NOW YOU DIRTY VERMIN.” Increasingly, we behave in person the way we do on the internet.

Yesterday the childless ones, along with the widowed mother of two teenagers, asked us all to please make sure our kids stopped climbing the trees in their yards. There’s a special discomfort in asking a kid to stop doing something so quintessentially tied to childhood as tree climbing. The neighbors are not ignorant of this. You never want to be that person. But I’ve seen the harm that climbing can do to a healthy tree, and I get it. Several months ago I banned them all (5 total kids who are old enough to do it) from climbing a cedar in the yard, because the branches just couldn’t handle them. The lowest ones – even large, healthy ones – were drooping desperately so that I had to do some undesirable pruning to save them. It took a solid two weeks of telling all of the kids, sometimes individually, sometimes gathering them up and telling them collectively, before they actually stopped climbing it. They’re good kids, but playtime erases their brains.

Anyway, the “please keep the kids out of our trees” message came to the neighborhood via text yesterday, as well as in person. I thought it was handled well. Not everyone else felt the same way. But as a species in general, there is perhaps nothing at which we do so dependably poorly as receiving criticism. Most parents, when told, “please ask your kids not to climb my trees,” hear “you are a terrible parent of terrible children.” Criticism and correction are taken as personal insults instead of opportunities for reflection and improvement. You don’t have to agree with every criticism you receive, I always tell the kids, but you don’t have to fight about it, either. Don’t be petty.

I fear, ultimately, that the beginnings of some unease on our not-so-dead-end street have been sown. We need to be let out of our cages, soon, all of us, so that we can finally have the freedom to choose how we want to get the hell away from each other.


Respect your neighbors, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #50

Fifty!

Update 5-27

I’m just a guy, doing this again.

Misty

I’m tired. Broadly and acutely, after this long hibernation and a short night’s sleep. Let’s let Emily Dickinson write #50 for us:

My nosegays are for Captives –
Dim – long expectant eyes,
Fingers denied the plucking,
Patient till Paradise.

To such, if they should whisper
Of morning and the moor,
They bear no other errand,
And I, no other prayer.

 


Sometimes tomorrow, Comrade Citizen—

The PVP Diaries #49

Update 5-25

I’m just a guy who’d rather not be awake just yet, but cats.

2-5 daily deaths in a county with 2.2 million people is not the sort of stat that has me checking the toilet paper supplies, just to be sure. I would almost guarantee that, in any population of that size, including a major urban area, some other thing kills at least that many people every day. Cancer, gang violence, seagulls. Something.

June 1st fast approaches. That’s the last target date we received from Olympia for ending the stay-at-home order, mandate, strong suggestion, we-can’t-force-you-but-just-you-test-us, whatever thing. There isn’t a much better way to lose support than to set dates and continue to move them back, and I have to believe that any further extension of this condition beyond June 1st is going to be the beginning of noteworthy unrest. And no, I don’t mean revolution and armed conflict. But beaches and parks will be swarmed, closures will be ignored, businesses will open in defiance. And of course there will be more of the marches and protests that have already occurred, and which the Governor has been very condescending and dismissive towards. I don’t like any marches or protests. Something about them, no matter the cause, makes me rankle with disappointment and unease. It’s a sort of legitimized mob-rule. A designed, large scale antagonism that pretends to be all abashed, suddenly, when it receives pushback from authority. Any large group is at least 90% mindless momentum, and that’s all kinds of dangerous.

In any case, this week should bring something noteworthy from Governor Inslee. I think I’ve done alright at noticing his successes as well as his failures here, all while never forgetting that no matter what he’s doing, it only comes after a careful consideration of where his votes are coming from, and whether a run for President is in his future plans. I’m generous where it’s warranted, but politicians want absolutely nothing except re-election. Morality gets a condescending head pat and is sent outside to play in the rain. Sometimes politics and good choices do align, absolutely. But it’s always the politics, and never the good, that drives the choice.


Memorial Day weather was lousy. It cleared up enough in the evening to grill some steaks. I managed the charcoal poorly, being a bit rushed, so the overall quality was down a smidge from what we’re used to from me. Here in affordable Seattle, a steak at one of the big steakhouses can easily cost $80 for 10 ounces. The price screams upwards from there for all the Wagyu flying around these days. We rejoice here at The Haven when we can buy a couple of fat cuts for under $20 and make them taste even better here at home. And without all the stifling formality.

We took a 3 mile walk around Lincoln Park, amid the forests of pines and signs: “Park closes at 8:00,” “this is what 6 feet looks like,” “keep it moving,” “play area closed,” etc. The bad weather kept the crowds down, and it was by far the lowest number of people we’ve seen there in the past couple of months. It is still somewhat exhausting, though, wondering and worrying about what’s in the minds of everyone you walk past. Do they think you got too close? Do they think this is all nonsense? Am I being respectful enough of my fellow citizens while maintaining my right to approach this thing in the way I think is best? I’m so sick of it all.

My wife went to the grocery store for the first time in what, almost 3 months now? I’ve been to Home Depot several times, but otherwise we’ve gone nowhere. And even then I’ve only done the curbside pickup, where they bring my order out and put in my car so that I don’t even have to get out. Yesterday I went inside Home Depot for the first time, to visit the customer service desk and arrange a propane exchange. The amount of plexiglass and floor tape was staggering. The X’s on the floor that said “stand here” were not aligned with the cash registers (is that what they’re called now?), so you couldn’t obey the mandate of the adhesive without a very awkward exchange between yourself and the associate. But if you just positioned yourself where you naturally would for that sort of interaction, you weren’t on the X. Such dilemma. And it turns out that no matter how many people you see every day walking around with some kind of mask on their faces, it’s unsettling, odd and unnerving to put one on yourself in public for the first time. I felt so self-conscious, though I know there was no reason to be. Have I mentioned that I’m sick of all this?

Anyway, the grocery store. This is a city, so grocery delivery is so readily available and convenient that we got kind of comfortable in the routine. But we’ve been getting crazy here, going nowhere, and so my wife chose one of the 9 (at least) grocery stores within 4 miles of us, and headed out. Her report? Meh. It was pretty quiet out there. Some people without masks, which is a criminal offense in some minds, and a non-issue in others. She came home, unloaded the groceries, and found a pear that she probably wouldn’t have gotten in pre-plague times, when it was ok to pick up a piece of fruit, look at it, then put it back. But overall the produce was the purpose – fruits and veggies are often very disappointing when the groceries are delivered.


 

Last week I returned to a good sized short story that I was writing, sporadically, before our little gift came from overseas. It has racism and the gripping dilemma that a college educated city girl on a hog farm in Indiana has to face, between defending her female friend (#metoo! #believewomen!), and defending a well-liked illegal immigrant, a long time member of the community. The uncomfortable convergence of disparate social justice priorities, when one must be chosen over the other. There’s even cats. It’s got 17 pages to it, which makes it the longest single piece of fiction I’ve put together. I wrote several research papers and essays that touched the 25 page mark in college (just a couple of years ago!), but that’s not the same. For a guy who writes a lot, it seems odd to be impressed by writing a lot, especially when it isn’t even a lot. I need to aim higher. That’s what the novel’s for. At the beginning of the lockdown I was working steadily on it, with a well-established routine. Some chapters laid out, several scenes and dialogues written, lots of notes. I worked at the same time every day, in the same place. I said to myself “when this whole Wuhan virus thing is over, I’ll get back to it.” Seemed reasonable. Homeschooling The Boy was happening in my usual writing time. Well, that particular hospital ship has clearly sailed back to its home station, all unused and unloved, so it’s time to rearrange the priorities and the mind a bit and get back after The Work.

So, Tuesday. One of the final weeks of homeschooling. It’ll be rough when school’s out for the Summer and the kids are home all the — Christ. I had a wild dream last night that I was still teaching The Boy, but we were doing it at his school, which was actually my old Jr. High School in St. Charles, Illinois (hello, Haines Jr. High!). He was resisting his work, so I said “Fine. You’re just not doing school anymore, I guess. You’ll just have to do nothing and see where that gets you. Let’s go home so we can be there when the police arrive to talk to you. The school has to call them and let them know that you’ve quit.” He started freaking out, his teacher walked in the room, and I realized (as we always do in these situations) that I was in my underwear. I’ve had the naked at school dreams before, but only as the student.

When I go in for these weekly schoolwork exchanges, it’s just like Home Depot. I pull up and pop the trunk, one of the 3 teachers on duty pulls last week’s work out and replaces it with this week’s new material, and I’m on my way. But we always chat some through the open window of the car from whatever distance they keep. It’s definitely 6 feet. I don’t wear a mask. Again, I have to wonder whether they think I’m a grandma killer (that’s the metric, you know), or if they think nothing of it. I’ve mentioned, perhaps, that I’m sick of this? Of the ever-present suspicion and paranoia? If I haven’t mentioned it before (though I strongly suspect that I have), consider it mentioned now.


June 1st approaches! Ready your torches, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #48

Now Lanser stood up. “I told you I’m very tired, sir. I must have some sleep. Please co-operate with us for the good of all.” When Mayor Orden made no reply, “For the good of all,” Lanser repeated. “Will you?”

Orden said, “This is a little town. I don’t know. The people are confused and so am I.”

“But will you try to co-operate?”

Orden Shook his head. “I don’t know. When the town makes up its mind what it wants to do, I’ll probably do that.”

– Steinbeck, The Moon is Down

I’m just a guy eating chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.

I know there’s a list of counties in Washington who are now (graciously) permitted (with suprememe benevolence) to apply for the privilege of embarking on phase 2 of reopening their businesses. I am no revolutionary, but I am no idiot, and while neither am I a Constitutional scholar, I don’t think that’s the way it works. I’m pretty sure these people – The People – can hang their shingles and throw open the doors whenever they damn well please, without begging for permission from those elected officials who serve because we allow them to do so. Not the other way around. 

I’m saying nothing new here, of course. Nothing novel (haha). I don’t spend enough time thinking about it to be particularly long-winded or effective in the defense of liberty. I just know what my gut and my eyes and my ears tell me, which is that this whole thing is a parade of garbage that continues without flagging, not because of the extant danger of pervasive disease, but because of the extant disease of pervasive vanity. If a leader somewhere were finally willing to appear small and pedestrian, then that is where you would find a place well-governed. 

But the people are broken, too. And I don’t know which is the chicken and which is the egg. I know many people who are talking about the future and saying that it could be a decade before we’re traveling and taking vacations again. There’s simply nothing in me that can accomodate that level of pining for the worst-case scenario. When I listen to people talking about the state of the Wuhan Flu, there’s an unmistakable note of pleasure, of excitement, in every number they can cite that makes it seem like nothing’s improving. People want to be afraid. Since the beginning of The Great Woe, I’ve flogged this notion so much that it’s going to need a safe word, but the fact is that people choose to target, for some reason, misery as the way to experience an elevated sense of personal importance. 

I think that, for a lot of people, if they hear about a plane crash or an earthquake that happened on the other side of the world, they feel left out. They feel that the victims have gained a notoriety that will never reach them. That’s why we have the trope of “where were you when…” that pops up with every major malady the world has ever known. Assasinations, terrorist attacks, space shuttle explosions. We’re jealous of anyone who gets to enjoy a horror to which we were not invited. Primarily, probably because a tragedy bestows notoriety in the most desirable way possible – the unearned way. When an earthquake hits your city, well, you were just sitting around doing nothing extra, nothing above, nothing that required effort or ingenuity, and suddenly something happened that made you important. Tragedy is the treasure of the terminally unexceptional, sought out and dug up by someone else, and left on the doorstep. 

But here we have the best possible hell – a global one! Nobody is left out. It is literally everyone’s 15 minutes. Except that as the coronavirus sputtered along, the perpetually mediocre and eternally aggrieved masses started to realize, with a rising sense of panic, that they weren’t going to get sick. And neither was anyone in their families. Obviously, some did, but the numbers turned out to be disappointingly low and so full of asterisks and predictable concentrations in nursing homes that this global nightmare was starting to look like a date with fame that was going to leave us sitting alone at a fancy table and repeating to the waiter through stifled sobs that “she’ll be here any minute.”

The only thing we could do with that kind of embarrassment is to close the restaurant. And pretty quickly we closed them all, because that saved us from the shame of having gotten all dressed up only to have gone to the wrong place and sitting there feeling pathetic, while our thrilling disease was off dancing with someone else in the space we left on the floor by reading the invitation wrong.

And it’ll go on (already has), far longer than it should. It’s the only way to manufacture enough unwarranted fear to make us feel important. Worrying over the hell that might yet come is the best possible alternative to acknowledging the one that never did. 

Seek your happiness in joy, Comrade Citizen!