I turn 40 in a week, and I can’t form a coherent thought.
We can put some of that down to the usual summer doldrums — being a teacher, the summer months sort of naturally take on an empty quality, to be drifted through until, in the Fall, the students return, and with them purpose. But I think it’d be a foolish proposal to pretend that the bulk of my ennui isn’t due to all, well, this.
You know. *Gestures around non-specifically*
So instead of trying to put together a big comeback post exploring the vast depths of some weighty topic, I’m gonna dip my toes in lots of pools that have occupied my thoughts over the past month or so since I peeked out of my cave.
In no particular order, then:
We have a new cat. To be specific, we have a new kitten, which is different from having a cat. A cat lies around the house, looks for sunny patches, and generally ignores you. A kitten is a terror in the household: it attacks anything that moves, including but not limited to: the other animals, the kids, the edge of a blanket stirred by the lazy breeze from the oscillating fan, or the piece of fuzz caught in my scalp stubble. All of us have suffered scratches, some of us have lost blood. In particular, the cat loves to lurk under our bed and to pounce on my toes as I walk past, a habit I cannot endorse but which I seem unable to break the little bugger of.
My wife has had back surgery. This is not a sudden development; it’s something she’s (and we’ve) been thinking about for years. The surgery repaired a chronic issue she’s had, possibly for her entire life, but which in the last five years or so began to cause her immense pain and discomfort. So they replaced a spinal disc with a composite of stem cells and fused her vertebrae with screws, an operation both staggeringly high-tech and low-tech at the same time, and I reiterate my oft-invoked refrain that modern medicine is magic. During her stay in the hospital, thanks to COVID-19, I was unable to visit her. This was very strange and unsettling for us both; we are rarely out of each other’s company like that. But she’s home, and recovering, and hopefully she will bounce back better than she’s been in years.
Apparently my Harry Potter tattoo is problematic now. JK Rowling just keeps getting herself in hot water, apparently not familiar with the old adage that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Generally I’m of the opinion that art can and should be considered as independent from its creator, and thusly whatever reprehensible comments a creator makes or thoughts a creator has should not retroactively damage the warm feeling one may have derived from their works, especially when those works were consumed in childhood and well before said creator said or thought such things or even knew they thought them. But Rowling is sort of unique in that she is so hands-on, and keeps reinventing the canon after the works are long finished. I hate cancel culture as much as anybody, but at the same time, Rowling has had a hell of a time in the spotlight, and maybe it’s time we moved on from her and her too-loud, too-political, too-problematic presence. There are other authors writing similar — and in many cases better — stories after all, she just happened to catch the cultural wave at the right time to become something of a god-emperor to so many. And now I have to have mixed feelings about the fact that I have what I thought was a relatively benign symbol from her books permanently affixed to my skin.
I guess I should have waited until she was dead and thus incapable of opening her mouth and polluting the discourse. I feel decidedly less conflicted about my Hitchhiker’s Guide ink.
I donated blood a few weeks ago. This is something I enjoy doing, as — in the words of Christopher Hitchens — somebody else gets something, and I don’t lose anything; and goodness knows, the time may come when I need to drink from the pool, if you’ll pardon the gruesome metaphor. Giving blood is one of the most immediate and visceral ways to remind oneself that we’re all ultimately the same, and giving blood is in the communal interest.
Into the bargain, though, they tested me for COVID-19 antibodies. My wife and I are teachers, and our kids are both in elementary school, and both of our kids were very sick (cough, fever and general malaise lasting for several days) back in February, with my wife and I getting a whiff of what they had. Never diagnosed exactly what we had, but it wasn’t the flu, and it wasn’t strep, so we just assumed that, with all the time we spent in schools (aka simmering petri dishes on a good day), that was our brush with COVID, and we came through it more or less unscathed. But my antibody test was negative. Which means we either haven’t been exposed or the test was faulty, though I like to think that the Red Cross is using reliable testing. Point is, I had been navigating all of this with the back-of-my-mind consolation that we’d already had it and didn’t need to worry very much, and now, that’s taken away.
On that subject, I’m wearing a mask almost everywhere. Even when I pick up food — even going to a drive-thru (yes I know if I have concerns I shouldn’t be going to drive thrus, I get it, sometimes I just don’t want to cook) — I will put on a mask. No matter how short the interaction (unless some door-to-door salesman deposits himself on my doorstep — that’s his lookout) I put on the mask. Why? Because having all this time at home the past several months, and watching so much news (bad idea, I know, let’s not talk about it), I can’t help but take the global view, the communal view. And I try hard to be internally consistent. If wearing the mask is about protecting everybody else, then I feel I ought to protect everybody else all the time, and not fall victim to thinking “oh I’m only going to share space with this person for a few seconds, no need for a mask”. No, if you’re going to wear the mask when you go out, you should be wearing the mask every time you go out. I don’t think there’s a lot of wiggle room here.
Everything is political and I hate it. This is not a new phenomenon, but it does seem worse over the past, oh I dunno, three and a half years. You can barely express a view on something without being assumed to be a mindless soldier for some cause or another. Every day you wake up and read on social media about how some prominent person has said some questionable thing — now or even in the past — and we all have to hate them now. (See JK Rowling, above.) Even the fact that I wear the mask in public is seen by some, I have no doubt, that I’m a brainless libtard. And I admit I harbor equally unsavory thoughts about the people in grocery stores not wearing masks. And that’s just one issue. In a better society, wearing a mask or not would only be a sign of how informed you are on an issue and how you feel about that particular issue. Unfortunately, that’s not the society we’re living in. It’s exhausting and I hate it.
Work on the novel is spotty. When all this started, I was secretly happy for the extra time at home: extra time to work on the novel! That lasted for maybe a month. Since then I’ve been stalled, coming back to the project in fits and starts, working for a while then losing hope and conviction and abandoning it for great stretches of time, then feeling guilty about not making use of the time and forcing myself back to it. Part of the problem is the super-prevalent feeling of overwhelm. Part of it is that my little superhero story seems downright silly in the face of everything going on right now and to work on it seems somehow, I dunno, disrespectful to the real issues that are happening. I don’t know how to fix that feeling.
I’ll close today with this. I just listened to a podcast from Malcolm Gladwell (anything by Malcolm Gladwell is basically guaranteed to challenge your beliefs in one way or another), and it is worth your time. Especially if you are one of those who thinks, of all the people in the country, we have to choose one of THESE TWO for president? The central conceit is one I live by: nobody really knows anything.
I mean, what he talks about isn’t going to happen, but it sure is interesting to think about.
Anyway, it’s Friday, and that’s good for something, I guess.