Escapism

I keep telling people that I can’t handle anything right now except completely escapist reading and miniseries — the sci-fi I teethed on, the fantasies and Sherlock Holmes pastiches and Marvel action movies.

Except. I’m not at all sure it’s escapism. Sometimes it seems like reframing.

There’s a monologue written by J. Michael Straczynski, spoken at the end of the third season of the shoestring-budget, turned-showrunner’s-hair-white cable series Babylon 5. Prosthetic aliens, space station, plywood star-fighter ships, all of that.

Straczynski grew up in a horror show like you read about. Superhero comics were his only escape; if you want a hair-raising read, pick up his memoir Becoming Superman. There was not a sound mind or a moral compass anywhere in his birth family (I could relate). Superman became his role model instead — someone who always used his power to help, did the right things, saved the desperate, thwarted the cruel and destructive. Full circle, JMS went on to write for the comic in the 80s and 90s, after writing for more TV shows than I can count, and eventually came up with Babylon 5, which at heart is a parable about how much individual choices matter. Some other guy isn’t always going to fix it. Apt in any time, critical in times like these. It’s been pointed out a good many times that J. K\. Rowling was doing something similar with her Potter books.

Here’s the Narn ambassador G’Kar, a complex character (brought to life by the amazing character actor Andreas Katsulas, of blessed memory) who evolves from hedonistic buffoon to prophet, speaking over the end credits of the pivotal third season:

“G’Quon wrote, There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way.

The war we fight is not against powers and principalities – it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.

The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.

No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”

Here we are, I think. This is going to hurt for a long while. for the rest of our lives really, and I only hope that the world learns something about the important of choices.

I recommend the whole series. The writers of space opera and comics and invented-world fantasies and children’s books have gifts for us.

 

 

 

Coronastan

It sucks that this is going on, and that there are no adults minding the store at the national level (thank Goddess for the governors, mayors, local boards of supervisors and whoever is mandating closures and health policy). But as many have noted, there is a silver lining for some of us, however awful the situation that got us there.

If I don’t go into public spaces and don’t talk to anyone, I’m performing a public service. America has suddenly, for the first time in history, become a country for people like me.

I can handle a conversation with ONE person without getting twitchy. I need breaks in between people. Every workplace in my life, except my own home, has been torture. On the 1 – 10 scale of introversion I am a 17. Even the Engineer, a citation nerd who can spend wordless hours staring at a complex sim game like Civilization, can be too chummy for me sometimes. Just give me space inside my own head.

Now when I go out for walks — and I still do, because the streets of suburbia are virtually deserted — no one approaches or tries to talk to me (it’s allergy season with a vengeance, and I sneeze a lot). If a rare person does, I smile broadly and yell “Social distancing!” before they get within ten feet.

God, I love it. If only it didn’t come at the price of all the suffering and stupidity.

We’re about out of beer, but the wine cellar is full and both refrigerators (for reasons too weird to explain, I have two refrigerators) are jammed. We could keep this up for a while.

Better Than A Fork In Your Eye (III)

Don’t think it’s gonna happen.

I clearly remember the reasoning behind picking the date for eye surgery 1/4. I saw the surgeon in November. December, January, February in the DC area? Prime time for the notorious “wintry mix,” an isothermic phenomenon in which zones of rain, snow, freezing rain and frank sleet waver back and forth over a region, turning the roads into an unpredictable rink full of out-of-state idiots who think nothing of going out in only a little rain don’t be a sissy I’m not staying home just for this. You see them wiped out on bridges and shoulders in their hundreds. Wait till mid March, you won’t be hiking to a surgery centre across town through the middle of DC Ice Capades.

No fear. Now we have Coronavirus. And I am not here for it.

Oh, not yet. No lock down, no surge in reported cases. Yet. But since our nation is governed by a tangerine wankmaggot who only cares about his golf properties, and policy is managed by a dead-eyed kapo who thinks all foreigners and brown people have cooties, there are hardly any tests, supplies like masks and hand sanitizer have been bought up by crisis profiteers, and the airports are jammed with people returning from overseas to get ahead of he travel ban, perfect incubators for explosive spread of the fucking thing in another week or two. Right when it would be time for my follow up appointments. Has anyone been reading the fucking social media out of fucking Italy?

Under normal conditions I would suck up the way my surgeon’s (and I’m starting to say my very tentatively) group practice is managed. There are four other doctors. I don’t know who decided to run it this way. But you come in the door, you’re in a packed waiting room full of the cheapest armless chairs, jammed in hip to hip with 1001 geezers, and they want you to sign in on a touchscreen situated right in the glare of the full-glass front wall that I can’t even see and I don’t remember seeing any hand sanitizer.

Then you sit there for two hours, punctuated by three or four ten-minute “encounters” with the staff and, finally, the surgeon, who’s always in a rush.

I hear Dulles, the nearest international hub to me — the office is half way between my house and the airport — is dirty and chaotic, and has no provisions in place to mitigate contagion.

Not on.

I’ll have to eat a fee. Maybe a hefty one, but I’m already rehearsing my speech to the office staff:

I want to live. I don’t want to have complications right when the local hospitals might be overwhelmed, and maybe lose the sight in that eye permanently. I don’t want to have to stop half way through four surgeries because the surgeon or her assistants are sick or quarantined, and walk around cockeyed for God knows how many weeks.

That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, I ordered a battlerope (I’m not going back in the gym either, which is how you know I’m serious) and I’m enjoying the one upside of this: introvert paradise. The door is shut and locked and no one on my hill route wants to stop me to chat and I’m keeping the week I took off. Large stack of books by my chair, topped off by the Kindle, even if I have to read it with a jeweler’s magnifier. Updates at 11.

 

I May Regret This

…but I felt like it. Rifling through my manuscript drawer has moved me to start typing some of my old stuff onto digital media, and more heinously, to share it here under the new tab “Short Fiction.”

First up, Confusion To The Enemy dates from 1978 when we were all going around with our hair quietly on end over the constant gamesmanship of the Cold War. Some of my earliest memories are of being taught how to duck and cover under my gradeschool desk and kiss my ass goodbye, so when we got perestroika and the Soviet Union fell and there was a peace dividend, I, like a lot of people, probably got too complacent. Anyway, here we are again, with everyone rattling their sabers.

If any coven members can manage this kind of thing in our advanced age of instant worldwide communications, tell me how to pitch in.

A Fan

I have been feeling a little dispirited, what with everything, and I decided to cheer myself up by making a new sign. It is a little like buying a hat except you need a yardstick and Sharpies. The snappy professional-looking IMPEACHMENT IS PATRIOTIC placard that someone left at my door, under cover of night, lacked a reverse side so I gave it one.

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I am in a Not A Morning Person phase lately, and the traffic is livelier in the late afternoon than at any time during the morning commute, so I took up my post wearing a vivid yellow ITMFA shirt and holding my NO RUSSIAN POTUS sign in the other hand, with a small plastic flag attached by a clamp. It immediately snapped out into the stiff breeze, which threatened to turn me into Mary Poppins and deposit me somewhere in the median or possibly the nearby State Department campus, so I was concentrating on remaining earthbound when I realized the pickup that had just passed was parked at the opposite curb and the driver was busily photographing me.

I was only a little apprehensive as he crossed toward me. Even less so when I saw his apparent tan was a very light African American complexion.

“Thank you for what you’re doing,” he said. I thanked him for supporting it. A pickup swung by as if on cue, an arm snapping out from the driver’s side window to a shout of “Trump 2020!” I swear there is only the one person doing this; that’s been shouted at me four times in exactly the same timbre and cadence — of course, it’s a young white guy — and I gave my standard response: “Have a blessed day, sir!” Incidentally, this phrase means “Fuck You.” But with class.

“We’ve never seen an America like this,” said my new fan. I considered that he had already probably seen a much different America from the one I’ve lived in for sixty-five years — it’s a daily wrench to realize how racist this goddam country still is — but he’s right, of course. And it’s still worth putting up a fight. Which, he said, he was doing too.

He took a step back but paused before turning into the crosswalk. “The strength of you standing out here cannot be denied,” he said in the resonant tones of an AME preacher, a phrase that doesn’t quite scan for meaning but chuffed me anyway considering as the signs were reaching liftoff again. So far as strength, this gives me a bigger pump than three sets of Z-bar curls. “Someone has to!” I answered, and he dashed between the glurts of traffic and got into his truck.

My wrist feels like I’ve been arm wrestling Godzilla, but that was a good day.

Graphic Upgrade

Apparently I have a secret Santa. Possibly someone is going to own up eventually but right now I got nothing.

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Tomorrow will begin the fourth week I have been out at the main road with my signs. No one I know has joined me yet, or so far as I know tried it around their own ‘hood, but someone decided to do something. I stepped out into the battering heat a few hours ago, headed for the (not sufficiently) air conditioned gym, and this spiffy, professionally printed sign was leaning against the Rudbekia. The same motto is on one of my hand lettered signs, which gets a lot of honks from passing drivers (I’m running easily five to one in favor of this exercise in daily witnessing). It must have grabbed the imagination of someone who saw it. I’m guessing a client or friend. I try not to be obvious about going between my door and the pop stand.

The polish is a little jarring. I feel challenged to uphold the graphic standards.

Updates as I get them.

All Some Kind Of Dream

We weren’t, of course, always as good as we wanted to believe — just not so screamingly bad as we are now.

In the first year after I certified I worked for a salon owner, an Iranian woman of Russian extraction, who had fled after the Shah fell and blond “foreigners” were no longer so safe. In a weird, surreal convolution of circumstances, the society gynecologist who had been the choice of her wealthy friends in Tehran, since transplanted to Los Angeles, was the second opinion on my first surgery. Long story.

When she came through Immigration, she told me — during a mild bitch session anent “men! can’t live with em can’t live without em” — about the INS drone who interviewed her in his office. He was looming, in charge, radiating his ability to decide her fate. At a certain point, she said, he simply unzipped his trousers and got his pud out.

She fell quiet at that point. I didn’t press her.

Families were separated at Ellis Island — a husband would be found healthy and acceptable, his wife would be judged ill and contagious. The border has always been difficult and marijuana laws got on the books mainly as a way of criminalizing  immigrants from Mexico. Lynching was a way of life in post-Civil-War southern America, and don’t let me start on my maternal South Georgia relatives and their uneducated, racist, sexist, MAGA-before-MAGA-was-a-thing snickers and snorts. It was the vengeance of the Lord, let me tell you, when my first cousin, the first college graduate in that family, who played the organ at church and at family gatherings riffed on “Moon River” — substituting the words “Black N—-r” — threw up on top of the Washington Monument. Um, but I digress.

It was about the song. About how we had a history that arced toward justice, and an ideal we at least pretended to live up to.

If some chilluns are not old enough to remember the protest songs of the Sixties, I am. For my sins, in high school I dated a colossal asshole who happened to have inherited his father’s collection of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Peter/Paul/Mary LPs. Who else remembers Guthrie’s guitar, engrossed with the motto “This Machine Kills Fascists”?

I think we need a bit more of this kind of thing:

Traffic Flow

Omar pulled up before I had been out at the corner five minutes. He seemed tentative, a little shy about speaking after he exited his car, with a shaven head and in light-colored clothes that made me think for all the world of Mr. Clean. Then he asked if he could video me.

See, I have had it. I have been living with a sick horror in the pit of my stomach since what was almost certainly a jiggered election gave us a President who has been serially obstructing justice in plain sight, enabling Nazis, chumming up to every brutal regime on the planet, and whose administration is now filling out its resume of crimes against humanity. You can only tweet at your congresscritters or sign petitions for so long and then something gives.

I live in a ‘hood within minutes of DC. A four lane commuter road, frequented by several bus routes, passes the main entrance to the neighborhood, an intersection so busy it takes five or ten minutes to turn left at rush hour. There’s a curve in the hill right at the corner; people slow down.

I stepped out a little after eight.

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I wanted to have some leaflets for passersby (cyclists, people walking to the nearby bus stop) but that will come in time. References to AP and major newspaper stories about cozying with Russia, supplying nuke tech to the Saudis, kids going sleepless and bathless in border jails, that kind of thing. Still, I didn’t expect anyone to immediately engage me. I definitely didn’t expect Omar, who asked to take a video, said he had an online outlet where he wants to put up a three minute piece, and interviewed me before I was even awake. I am sure I was incoherent.

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The time went by pretty fast. I kept reversing the sign in my left hand, a slow count of ten for each side; the back of the IMPEACH sign says “No Families In Gulags,” visible to the traffic coming up on that side. It’s already hot and sticky out there; sweat was trickling down the small of my back before Omar finished his vid, but there was a nice breeze. Holding the Impeach sign high and turning the other one brings on a decent bicep pump, a dividend. I was going for half an hour, but some big glurts of traffic started showing up, enough to keep me turning the sign for a extra ten minutes. I got half a dozen machine-gunning honks, only one derisive laugh, and no thrown beer cans, perhaps because of the hour. I’m going to try evening rush when I’m not loaded with work. Everyone thinks I’m the local nutter anyway.

The Engineer took the pictures on his way to the bus.

I can keep this up.

The Unbearable Darkness of Being Trump (ish)

I go back to work next week. One has mixed feelings about this, because it’s been over two months since I did a session (I’m not counting the experimental skinny lady I asked to critique me last week), but at least the first month of that was spent in approximately the same state you’d be in if someone, the Incredible Hulk say, threw you hard against a wall and let you slide down it. I am going to start slow, to allow for walking, now that I can.

I’m up to a bit over two miles, just at the point where the D.C. area experiences its annual apotheosis of mild breezes and drifting blossom, daffodils bursting up together like the rows of angels in early Renaissance paintings flourishing their little trumpets, hyacinths, every variety of cherry, and my favorite, the understated little blue flower called veronica grass.

How to Remove Your Grass Lawn | my woodland garden

As far back as I can remember I’ve been looking at little growing things, the unexpectedly graceful weeds that pop up by the roadside, the lichens on old stone walls. When I was nine or so I used to dig in an eroded gully near my house to expose layers of differently tinted clay, some of it infiltrated with silica or mica so that when the sun came around to just the right angle, the earth sparkled. I was dumbfounded enough to laugh the day that a schoolmate said she “felt sorry for me playing out there all by myself.”

And what in the Dear’s name does that have to do with the title of this post?

Well, only that I missed this last year entirely because I was in too much pain, and going out every day to see what bloomed overnight, seeing all this beauty for free every ten or  twenty feet, has literally made me cry a few times, and it occurred to me: our angry, grudge-ridden president*, and all his rich kleptocratic sycophants, and all the furious, aggrieved people who see him as a savior. must never see this. I may be naive, but it just seems to me that if you could take in the fleeting, precious exuberance of the earth reviving, this profligate avalanche of color and delicacy, you could not expend all your resources scheming to get more money, or competing with other people to prove who has more money, or power, or toys. You wouldn’t live in tacky gilded houses or draw energy from making people want to burn things down. You wouldn’t sell your soul for a political appointment that you could skim for fancy furniture and private jet flights, nor would you drive long distances to wave torches and shout hate-chants. You might, instead, be thinking about how much it means for people to just breathe and see the spring, to have time for it instead of working until they drop or worrying about what they’ll do if they get sick.

It must be unbearably dark and lonely, there in the minds of people who derive all their meaning from having more things than they need and clutching at power they don’t know how to use except for destruction. I mean, for fuck’s sake, I’m a grouch who’s allergic to babies and children and I probably dislike more people than I like, but I can’t imagine using up my life to make things difficult for them.

There is a lot of hand-wringing these days about what brought us to this point, how acrimony, suspicion and ambition saturated our national spirit. I don’t know how we fix what’s already happened. But maybe, for the sake of the generation that comes next assuming we survive, the people who keep having those kids that I’m allergic to should skip the pressure for achievement or busy-ness and leave them the hell alone to look at a flower.

Night Songs

I think it is being out of pain that gives me interesting dreams. Nice ones, actually. I have experienced on more than one recent morning a desire to go live in the dream I just woke up from.

This one was especially vivid. About a week ago I was one of the first donors to a political candidate for a nearby Senate district in my state lege. I have been following this Qasim Rashid fella on Twitter for a while, because he’s articulate and handles assholes with more grace than I could ever muster. In the dream, he and one of his fellow social media activists had arranged a piano concert at a nearby conservatory showcasing two young Muslim music students, and along with some standard repertory, which the boys were running through when I arrived at the dress rehearsal, they were going to take turns playing accompaniment while I premiered a set of my own vocal compositions. We were really at the eleventh hour and hadn’t practiced together whatsoever, and I was on edge, but when I arrived it was hard to feel anxious because the very beautiful, rather intimate venue was soothing merely to exist in. The two pianos were on an only slightly raised parquet dais, and there was a glass wall around about a quarter of the high-ceilinged polygonal hall, admitting late-afternoon light from a wooded area innocent of buildings and providing a direct underwater view into the first two or three feet of a large pond, into which the building extended. Fish and other critters were swimming around, frogs were sunning on boulders outside the glass, watching us curiously, and large butterflies were living dangerously by flying in close to them.

I don’t remember which of my songs we were going to do. I composed a handful in my twenties, including settings of Donne’s “Lecture Upon The Shadow,” a pair of cantrips from Peter S. Beagle’s “Last Unicorn,” and the entirety of T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” for literally vindictive reasons which are too silly to go into. I still have the pipes but I’m glad the dream provided the pianists. I couldn’t stumble through the keyboard part now if you had a beanshooter to my head.