Words can't capture the absurdity of these times, so I'm giving you this picture of Napoleon Dynamite on a horse.
Prodigal's Chair has been in hibernation, but it's spring, and I'm not teaching (not really, though I'm trying) and COVID-19 is wrecking everything so I'm coming out of my digital cave. Not everyone will appreciate what I have to write. I may be accused of the pulling a Wonder Woman. "Why," people will ask, "do you think anyone should be interested in what you have to say right now?! People are dying!" And it's true. On the whole, I'm in great shape. I'm healthy, as are the people I care about. I am still receiving a paycheck. I have toilet paper.
Blogging right now sorta smacks of hubris. Imagine...
But I miss people. I miss my students. I miss the colleagues I work and laugh with every day. So this is an effort to reach out. To stretch my legs. In the interest of social-distancing, I'll not be writing a targeted arrow of an essay that reaches some sort of profoundly sharp and cutting point, and in deference to the times, I'll not be taking submissions for a "Virus Issue." This will be more like the ambling walks I've been taking lately, dictated by what's around, with a few tentative steps in the street to preserve an invisible moat the virus (hopefully) can't cross. This will be casual, yet pleasant, depending on the weather.
The etiquette of walks is changing. I read a post on social media by someone who was upset with a jogger who passed them from behind. He ran too close too suddenly. He should have worn a bell, the post said, or maybe carried a bike horn. In this viral age, walkers are birds, and joggers are dangerous cats. I get annoyed with couples who think it's okay to walk side by side, even when someone else is approaching from the opposite direction. Why should I have to push out an extra three feet into traffic because you bitches can't stroll front to back for a few heartbeats? It's not like I'm asking you to get divorced. Mostly, though, people are friendlier. They wave heartily and wear big smiles, whereas you'd only get a slight nod before. It's as if they're wanting to let you know that their move across the street when they see you coming isn't personal. I'll be a little deflated when things get back to normal.
There's fear on my walks, now. There's fear everywhere, though, punctuated by the absurd. In fact, for me this pandemic is mostly about absurdity. We get a daily dose of it every time the President opens his mouth, as this ad Mr. Trump is trying to silence points out:
That's absurdity on a national scale, but the absurd, like politics, is ultimately local. It's absurd that schools are closed until May 4th in Massachusetts, where I live and work. It's absurd that people are hoarding toilet paper, as if two-ply will protect you from the virus (I said I have toilet paper, I didn't say I hoarded it). It's absurd that my mayor is asking people to stagger shopping days based on which ward they live in (my day is Friday, if you're curious). It's absurd that chilly beaches north of Boston have to be closed while sun-soaked beaches in South Florida weren't.
Then again, maybe "absurd" isn't really the right word -- for Trump's response, yes -- but not for the other things I've described. These things would definitely be absurd under normal circumstances, but things are not normal. The absurd has become both reasonable and required, in many cases, in order to protect and preserve people's health and the common good. It's a duality Shakespeare would love because "fair is foul, and foul is fair."
In case I've confused you, here's another benchmark for absurdity: Little Darlings, a strip club in my home town of Las Vegas, is staying open. How does one social distance at a strip club? Does the giver or the receiver of the lap dance wear the hazmat suit? Only in Vegas could one get a drive-up peep show featuring hand-sanitizer wrestling.
So here's a quiz: Which of the following is not an example of the "absurd"?
Let's turn the corner. Does everyone else spend most of their time thinking about what other people are doing to fill theirs? It seems like it, based on social media. On Facebook people want to know how many places their friends have visited (I've been to more than some, less than others). They want to know if you've seen a band live for every letter of the alphabet (Nope! I'm short E, of all letters, and Q, X, and Z). They want to know if you're good at math (the answer is 30). These are exchanges that require give and take; and, like Zoom meetings, they have become more commonplace than speaking face-to-face. I'm also curious about which song was number one on your 12th birthday, but I think about other things, too.
I think about my former students who were freshmen when I started my current job and have seen their senior year disrupted and potentially cut short. I hope they know that, regardless of how the rest of their year goes, COVID-19 cannot diminish what they've accomplished.
I hope the restaurants and the other small businesses in my community that have been figuratively infected by the coronavirus can survive. I want them to know that I'll be there when they reopen.
I miss sports. Liverpool was just two wins away from lifting the Premier League trophy, and March was still mad, but for reasons most of us never saw coming. There will be no Olympics this summer, and maybe no baseball.
It sucks that bands I've been looking forward to seeing have had to reschedule their shows or have canceled them outright. I hope these small, indie artists like Caroline Rose, the Michigan Rattlers, and Hinds can survive until they can tour again.
I hope Nashville rises, knowing that the town was reeling from deadly tornadoes before the pandemic hit.
I think about my daughter.
I want everyone to stay safe and alive.
Those are my words; my thoughts. I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. But there they are.
What are you thinking about?
If you're interested in sharing, email me. Let's get through this together.