This is a mantra and a truism worth remembering as you navigate the world, because it explains a lot of human behavior. Well, it doesn’t *explain* it, necessarily, or in fact at all, but what it *does* do is it allows you to stop driving yourself crazy searching for a proper explanation for the crazy stuff people do.
I could do a weekly — or in fact, daily — or scratch that, *hourly* post with examples, but sometimes the proper subject just jumps right up and punches you in the teeth.
I’m sorry, this is the sort of thing for which there is no excuse that will convince any rational person to side with you. If you’ve been alive in the era after 9/11 (which, if you’re reading this, congratulations, you are), you know that violence on an airplane, of any sort and to any degree, for virtually any reason, is a one-way ticket to being grounded for life, AKA getting blackballed by an airline and possibly incurring federal charges for your trouble. Unless you’re literally fighting off a terrorist, if you go violent on an airplane, you will not be arriving at your destination today.
Yet according to this article, not only did this recent incident happen (a passenger assaulting a flight attendant to the point of knocking out teeth), but incidents like this are widespread. Per the article, in the last year over 2500 incidents of unruly passengers have been reported by airlines, including over 1900 of them over mask mandates.
Look, folks, this is entitlement, pure and simple.
Personal beliefs and conspiracy leanings aside, if the airline has a mask mandate, then the only way to get out of it is by having a doctor’s note or finding another airline. You don’t get a pass because you feel the mask is a limitation on your personal freedom, in the same way you don’t get a pass on a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” sign, or a pass on paying the toll for the express turnpike, or even a pass through your high school geometry class just for showing up. The mask is part of the price of admission in this exchange.
Being asked to wear a mask in this situation does not impinge on your freedom, is not a violation of your constitutional rights, is not the tyranny of the woke left. It’s a public health measure. And your willful refusal to comply bespeaks, among other things, an utter disregard for the wellbeing of all the humans in your vicinity, to say nothing of your willingness to embrace repeatedly-disproven conspiracy theories.
Listen, I hate wearing masks as much as anybody, for purely selfish reasons. They’re a bit uncomfortable, certainly in the summer months they make my face too hot, and they make communication a little more difficult — in that some people speak softly to begin with and they can muffle your voice, and they remove the vital element of facial expressions from our social interactions.
But none of that is worth throwing a fit over being asked to wear a mask. And none of that comes anywhere close to worth throwing fists and getting escorted (read: arrested) off a plane.
Then again, if you feel that strongly about the masks in the first place, maybe you’re just hoping somebody calls you on it so you can fire up some righteous indignation and maybe earn yourself 15 minutes of fame as the latest oppressed patriot on Fox News.
Never have I had such a love-hate relationship with a thing as with masks.
On the one hand, I actually really, really like wearing one. For one thing, having a practical way to gain some protection against illness — that nobody is asking questions about since everybody is doing it (or at least they should be!) — is fantastic. For another, it stays bloody cold in my office and, silly as it sounds, I sometimes keep the mask on even when I’m all alone because it literally keeps my face warmer.
Truly, though, I have a bit of RBF and the mask just helps to cover that up. (I’ve heard that I intimidate students — those who don’t know me, at least — because I just “look scary”. I don’t see it.)
So, masks are great!
But they’re, unfortunately, not all that comfortable. I end up smelling my own breath a lot more than I’d like, which is … strange. And they get in the way of reading faces, which kiiinda screws up communication with people.
But more than anything, I hate just how divisive they’ve become, in light of everything in our country. They’re symbolic, somehow, of the chasm that’s opened up between the right and the left in this country, and I heckin’ hate it. Because the mask itself is an item utterly without content. It’s there to protect you and others around you from the spread of disease, that’s it, full stop.
But because everything in America is political now, wearing one or not wearing one can be a signal to everybody else about how you think about issues as wide-ranging as abortion, gun control, free speech, religion … the mask has become entrenched in all this other crap and it’s keeping us in this hellish liminal state, this limbo between “getting back to normal” and totally locked down.
And because masks turned all controversial, we’ve been stuck living these half-lives for months while much of the rest of the world is moving on. It’s like watching a rescue boat sail away as you’re going down with the Titanic.
I heard somewhere recently (it may have been Joe Rogan’s podcast, but who knows really) how strange people’s beliefs really are … and how little it matters.
Like, for example, you could be at the grocery store, and on the other side of the conveyor belt from you could be a person who believes that Mohammed flew to the moon on a winged horse. Or that God literally created the earth in seven days about six thousand years ago. Or that 9/11 was an inside job, or that we never walked on the moon. Or that evolution is a hoax.
People believe all kinds of crazy stuff.
Thing is, there was a time — and that time feels like it was not even so very long ago — where that kind of thing just didn’t matter. Sure, you’ve got people believing all sorts of madness, but when it came to the day-to-day reality they walked around in, we could all pretty much agree on what reality was and what mattered in the here-and-now.
Sure, we may have different beliefs on how life came to be on this planet, but right now, these groceries are here. They need bagging, and I’d like to pay for them. And the world shuffles on.
That feels, somehow, less true, now.
Because more and more out beliefs seem to glom onto one another and fall into us over here and them over there thinking. Wearing a mask, for example, seems to send the message that you just might be an ultra-liberal, Biden-voting socialist, and not wearing one seems to say you just might be a Trump supporter in a death cult. And that seems to contaminate even the simple act of checking out at the grocery store. (How can we carry on a relationship, no matter how brief, when one party seems concerned for the well-being of the other — as evidenced by mask-wearing — when the other thinks the first is foolish for even thinking about it?)
Less and less it feels like we even inhabit the same reality. It’s almost as if you can choose the reality that you live in, and the differences between those realities are vast and significant. And the differences in our realities seem to matter more and more.
Social media, and even media generally is no help. All we see are the extremes.
Masks are like, so hot right now (or I guess, depending on your circles, anti-hot).
I’m one of those ultra-cautious types wearing one almost everywhere, which is to say I wear it at work, and I wear it to the store, and that’s just about it because I’m not going anywhere else (seriously, you should still be staying at home if you can). So I’m wearing it a lot. And because I teach theatre, I’m sort of professionally interested in the things we do with our faces.
And I have caught myself smiling behind my mask more often than I would think I might. Which strikes me as odd, because in normal times, I smile all the time: that tight-lipped, not-quite-full smile (as JoCo would say, “the kind that doesn’t come with teeth”).
The fake smile, in other words. Which is, of course, my mask in non-mask wearing times: the chipper, friendly-but-not-too-friendly grin.
But when I smile behind my mask — and again, I’m doing this more and more often — it’s not the fake smile. Why would I need to fake it? Nobody can see it.
Strange how wearing the mask makes me — comfortable, I guess? — enough to show emotions, even though it covers those emotions up.
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 TWOfor 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.