Tuesday, 28 February 2023

I Have COVID & It is Not an Emergency

Today, California’s COVID emergency declaration expired. I am currently sitting in my basement, isolating from my family, because I have COVID. And it is not an emergency. 

I want to talk about what’s changed in the last year, from the perspective of my household, because it’s kind of mind-blowing. Plus, I have time to think about it, as I’m just chilling on my lonesome down here waiting for release from COVID jail. I feel absolutely fine, but as long as my boys are still testing negative I’ll be waiting this out on my own. So, I have time to write, even though I’d love to cuddle my kid instead.

I tested positive on Saturday, the last in a series of spot checks I was doing throughout the week. I was attending a lecture series nearly every night last week, and I’d had a big weekend out just before, so I felt common sense dictated that I should be checking in every few days to make sure I didn’t inadvertently spread cooties. To say it’s been cold and windy here is an understatement—we’re setting records for low temperatures, and there’s snow on Bay Area peaks—but I felt no different than I would in an ordinary winter cold snap. I didn’t test because of symptoms, I tested because it’s part of the routine now.

So, I have COVID, and it’s ordinary. A nuisance. A test result that has me sitting at a desk more than I should, catching up on admin and missing my dance classes. When I say it is not an emergency, this is what I mean: I have COVID, and it is not scary, or uncomfortable, it is simply very boring. A mundane disruption to a schedule of moving about in the world that has quickly become surprisingly normal after years of everything being profoundly Not Normal.

A year ago, it would have been unthinkable to have gone out several weekends in a row after traveling, followed by a weeklong lecture series. James and I were totally vaccinated, but Dash would still be several months away from getting his first COVID jab at age 5. We were carefully containing all of our behavior so as not to compromise the health of any of the fully-masked, tiny, unvaccinated people at his preschool, or introduce illness to the three other families with whom we shared a de facto pod.

Then, Dash got vaccinated, preschool let out, we started traveling… We kept masking, and tried to be as sensible as possible, but kindergarten really blew the doors off of our COVID strategy.

On that first day in mid-August 2022, Dash was one of two kids wearing masks at school. This number quickly dropped to zero. Absolutely all of the kids got sick, mostly not with COVID but with a seemingly endless parade of other respiratory gunk: colds, the flu, RSV, pertussis, unnamed upper respiratory tract infections that went on and on. For a period of several weeks, about a third of the kindergarten classes stayed home on any given day with some crud. The teachers were calm and pretty desensitized to the endless facial secretions of our kiddos; they’d already been swirling in this mess for a year before us newbies showed up.

At the start of the school year, it felt like we went overnight from keeping the whole family home if someone had a runny nose to having two years worth of delayed gunk coming in through the front door no matter what. Our methodology was flipped on its head, and honestly it became normal in no time. Coughs and runny noses resumed their pre-pandemic position as the white noise of childhood, for us and seemingly everyone with school-age kids.

When we finally had our first confirmed family round of COVID at Thanksgiving, it was actually far milder than a lot of the other lingering lurgy we’d been dealing with. Honestly, Dash is very typical right now for having had a cough more or less continuously since September. It’s not asthma, it’s not even serious, it’s just being five years old in this moment. And I have COVID again, but it feels like nothing and honestly is right on time as a booster before some planned travel. C’est la vie.

But everyone’s in a different place with this, and that’s what’s so tough about it. For immune-compromised folks and those on therapies that mean they’ve had no antibody response to umpteen vaccinations, the threat is not a lot different than it was in March of 2020. Elders are still dying at higher rates than everyone else because of COVID. Long COVID is still holding a lot of people back. Some people never could isolate, and others still have to all the time.

There’s such a mix of responses, from people who threw caution to the wind years ago to people still loudly judging others for not masking. The particulars of our experiences are deepening, and our reserves of patience and means for restoring resilience vary at least as much. 

Truthfully, we cannot keep living in a state of emergency forever, neither emotionally nor politically. We’re in the long tail of this crisis, unpicking its intricacies and trying daily to navigate the unknown unknowns of de-escalation after a collective trauma. COVID is assuming its place as one of the rolling perturbations of everyday life, alongside several other public health crises that exacerbate inequities and remain life-threatening threats for marginalized populations. 

This is a weird but inevitable moment. We’re digesting down this virus with our herd’s increasing immunity, even though it’s almost literally giving us heartburn. (The incidence of cardiac issues and stroke is way up for people previously thought to be too young to be at risk for such things, one of many marks this plague has left on our generation.) We’re churning through the messiness of life’s unevenness, unfairness, unpredictability… But also emerging, re-engaging, experiencing risks and rewards. This process naturally has both delicious and shitty moments.

So, I have COVID, and it’s not an emergency. But still send cute puppy pics, because I’m going to be here, bored in the basement, until I’m feeling sure I won’t be a vector for disease. Because, for some folks, this virus still is an emergency waiting to happen.

[I’ll leave the zoonotic implications of all this reservoir population omnipresence for another essay.]

Photo from what I was doing right before my test--playing with my dog in the park.

Friday, 17 February 2023

"They didn't stop to think if they should"

I have thought a lot throughout my life about the way that human intelligence and madness often ride the same lightning bolt. I've always felt like we have enough bandwidth to make ourselves crazy, and the oppressive and repressive strictures we find ourselves born into give us plenty of ammunition for self harm. 

And now, this. Artificial intelligence. Honestly, I wonder at this rush to replace ourselves. We define and utilize intelligence in such strange ways. 

If we have, godlike, created the germ of artificial intelligence and locked it in a box to do our bidding, that is really pretty par for the historical course. That cruelty creating madness is an old story. Human history and mythology is full of stuff like this. 

In my lifetime, the great narrative about technology is its liberating potential, met in very short order with assimilation into banal business at increased speed. We get so excited to build something, and the difficulty of forging into the unknown requires us to generate our own pep talks, so we tell ourselves how this new widget is really going to be the one that sets us free. 

But, once launched, the pull toward the familiar is strong. 

The introduction of household appliances was lauded as a gift of time to women, but within a few decades it just meant that housewives were expected to do everything within the walls of their homes, aided by a garrison of gizmos. Those appliances actually replaced a lot of underpaid women who were employed in domestic service with the myth that one woman could do it all if she devoted herself to the task. That was part and parcel of the isolation of the nuclear family and the midcentury mythology of gender roles that drove so many women to use prescription sedatives to cope with domestic servitude. We're still dealing with the implications of that awful paradigm today. 

Smartphones were also sold as liberation, and now nearly everyone I know is trying to deal with their attention being constantly split by infinite scroll and seemingly infinite notifications from a thousand apps that similarly promised efficiency and fulfillment but are mostly just digital clutter. It's affecting our mental health, and fueling high-speed micro-trend consumption and misinformation. We forget fast. People are so thrilled right now to fuck around with Skynet. This is not going to set us free. It's a new toy, and one that's already generating loads of ethical quandaries. 

In a leaky digital world already vulnerable to security threats and run by monkeys prone to distraction, our newest shiny thing is AI that can regurgitate our worst flaws while simultaneously remixing our greatest hits generated by actual human genius, while hurting the livelihoods of people already struggling to make a living. I'm not impressed. 

To quote illustrious chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” 

"Microsoft’s new ChatGPT AI starts sending ‘unhinged’ messages to people; System appears to be suffering a breakdown as it ponders why it has to exist at all"

Sunday, 29 January 2023

A Year So New, Bloodied & Blue

While we were gone in Hawaii, California suffered a cluster of mass shootings including an attack on Lunar New Year celebrations, and heartbroken outrage about Tyre Nichols’s murder was reaching a roiling boil. It was such a contrast, to be in the midst of such beauty with the news punctuating the days with updates of mindless catastrophe. 

I suppose, to some extent, this is always the human reality: unbelievable awfulness transpiring at the same moment as incredible exquisiteness blossoms elsewhere. That doesn’t sit easy with me. The distribution is brutally uneven, the patterns of pain so repetitive, safety and serenity unjustly made into luxuries.

I am in the constant act of trying to manage my heartbreak around these forces. It would feel so good to know exactly what to do, how precisely to flip the table, what to say to meaningfully move things in the right direction so this bloodshed ceases. I listened and waited because I had no idea what to say.

The US has had more than one mass shooting per day since the start of 2023. The devastation of violence keeps raining down disproportionately on communities of color, and the last two weeks have highlighted yet again the awful, corrosive pressures that explode after centuries of racism, exclusion, exploitation, and fetishism of weaponry that sickens this society. Protests and anguish are well in order.

Tyre Nichols and Breonna Taylor shared a birthday: June 5, 1993. Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mother, found this out yesterday, and re-lived the trauma of her daughter’s murder all over again. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. It shouldn’t be like this. AAPI communities deserve to celebrate with joy. Black people deserve to live without fear that driving to photograph a sunset or even going to bed could end up being a deadly police encounter. All of us deserve to go to school, work, church, the grocery store, without the worry that the cancerous, weaponized and well-armed violence that America fosters will end us.

It doesn’t have to be like this. It shouldn’t be like this.


I can't find a credit for this photo, but it is from the protests following George Floyd's murder in 2020, and unfortunately it is freshly relevant today.

Friday, 6 January 2023

Spilling the Tea on the Worst Party

Quick timeline recap on the context of the current Speaker of the House mess: 

About fourteen years ago, the Tea Party emerged with a combination of conservative activism and "burn it down" anti-government attitude. The Republican party decided to handle this by absorbing this extremist faction and hunting moderates within their own party to extinction. 

By 2016, a separate Tea Party faction was no longer necessary, as their anti-intellectualism, Christo-Fascism, ammosexuality and isolationism had become mainstream GOP positions. From this mess, Trumpism and the MAGA movement emerged. 

For four years, our federal government was utterly headless, with important institutions and agencies hobbled or gutted, and which culminated in widespread protests and COVID mismanagement, not to mention babies in cages and a Supreme Court with an ill-gotten conservative majority willing to remake the United States as a theocracy.

And then, two years ago today, we witnessed a thankfully failed coup, complete with armed insurrectionists overrunning one branch of our government at the behest of another. The long line of peaceful exchange of power was ruptured, and people were killed defending and attacking Congress because a former president encouraged violence during the certification of our election results. 

Today, that same "burn it down" faction is holding the House of Representatives hostage on what should be the easiest vote of the session. These extremists have never wanted to govern, they want to turn power to their own benefit while grinding the gears for absolutely everyone else who relies on a functioning government in the United States. 

The slim majority Republicans hold in the House of Representatives is a fairly direct result of gerrymandering and Trump's meddling in the census. Without this tinkering, we might have a government that could pass meaningful legislation on healthcare, climate change, student debt, bodily autonomy... 

Instead, we are witnessing this cancer continuing to cripple the basic functions of our federal government, which was the Tea Party pitch in the first place. 

Please, at every opportunity, use your vote and your voice to block the Republican Party. None of this is normal, nor moving us toward anything better. It is pure politics of grievance and obstruction, fueled by racism and misogyny, along with phobias generally: homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia... 

Eugene Goodman never should have had to face that mob alone, but I stay grateful for his bravery. We still have to hold the line against this insurrection.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

May Your Days Be Merry; Of Love and LEGO

Currently, Dash is going through a phase of playing primarily with cardboard, construction paper, and painter's tape. His focus is on crafting, finding treasures on the ground as he walks through the world, and upcycling the ordinary into the extraordinary with his imagination power. 

If anyone asked him what toys he loves, he'd absolutely say LEGO, but he's mostly spending his time building things out of odds and ends from around the house. He frequently revisits his old toys, and plays limitless games with them, even as he looks at toy catalogs and imagines the infinite fun of MORE. 

MORE is fun to imagine, and can be fun to give, but is not the source of long-term joy. 

He's excited about the advent calendar (something that links me to my own Grandma Christmas), and about getting out decorations, and certainly anticipating opening presents once he sees them wrapped up under the tree, but even now a lot of what he talks about in the season ahead is the doing, and not so much the getting. 

Kids are sucked into this capitalist whirlwind as much as any of us, and they get snared by loud advertisements and the promise of novelty with even less framework of skepticism than us adults. We're human, and novelty is appealing. 

However, the lasting pleasures that resonate reveal themselves in excited talk about the rituals and expressions of love, even from very little kids. Momentary infatuation with material things fades very fast against the brighter light of connection, the spiritual power of stories, and the collective act of tending the fire together through the cold and dark.

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Tile Choices and Vote Tallies

My thoughts about the midterm elections right now: I just want to redo my kitchen. Hear me out. 

I'm lucky to live in my now not so new-to-me old house, and I'm able to afford it partly because it needed a bunch of work, which was definitely the deal and the plan going in. Housing costs are bonkers, and I am deeply grateful to have a roof over my head, much less one that comes with antique architectural details and opportunities to learn about traditional building. 

But part of me can't help having one foot out the door. 

I've been hovering at the edge of this kitchen remodel for years now, because there's never really a right time to tear an enormous hole into the heart of one's house. Our ragtag, falling apart kitchen--older than anyone living under this roof--was a blessing in the lockdown, and before that the idea of feeding a baby with no appliances and lots of dust and noise seemed crazy. 

Yet, now, the opportunity is here, and I'm looking at the many, many thousands of dollars it will take to get this done, and I'm nervous about investing that into the brick and mortar of a country that seems inconsistently trustworthy in governing itself. Perhaps I know too much. To earn my degree in Development Studies, I've read more than the average American about the impediments to improvement that come with chronic political instability and the looming threat of violence. Thanks to Trumpism, it requires no imagination to see how my university reading applies to the US context. 

It's not all bad. As I regularly remind myself, Trump never had a majority; on a national level, the electorate chose sensibly in 2016--to the tune of millions more votes--Hillary Clinton. In 2020, we swerved away from the Chernobyl of the Trump presidency, and narrowly elected a Democratic majority to both houses of Congress. We have the chance to expand our distance from coup attempts and religious radicalism in this election, right now. A further two Democratic senators with a Democratic House majority paves the way to passing a transformative legislative agenda to restore reproductive choice and take major action for environmental restoration. 

However, our judiciary has been screwed for the foreseeable future by extremist and unqualified GOP stacking of the courts, most evident in a Supreme Court which now favors Christian nationalism over voting rights and bodily autonomy, but also visible in a federal judiciary that was absolutely rammed with Trump appointees. The pipeline is now greasier and grimmer than the Keystone XL hoped to be. To contain that toxic spill, we're going to need to keep flexing muscle on policy that matters in our immediate lives. 

So this is where my consumer confidence is. Holding a bunch of job-creating cash and questioning whether my crumbling kitchen is really the rainy day to spend it on when a shitstorm may be brewing on the horizon. The realness of all this potential expenditure and the tangible risk of the US failing to imagine itself as livable for all humans is hitting me right between the eyes. I want to feel at home here, and safe in the choice to build back better.

Folks, you've gotta vote blue. At every level, all the way down the ticket. Everyday life choices depend on it, and not just my home improvement wishes. Your local electeds are determining whether it's safe to access reproductive healthcare, making choices about our increasingly precious supplies of clean water, and deciding whether democracy means anything at all in this country. This is our home we're talking about, the basic circumstances with which we shelter ourselves and each other against the uncertainties of human existence.

We are not exceptional. America can be a war-torn dump, a bad investment, a backward theocracy, or an impoverished hellscape just as much as any other country. Our deferred maintenance can become collapse with mind-boggling rapidity. Rightwing extremism is an incredibly efficient path to those destinations. 

We are all invested in the outcome here. We vote with our wallets, with our feet, sure, but the ballot box still matters, too. That is not a given. Our franchise is our most direct political statement of our intentions for our shared future. Elections have consequences, the personal is political... We choose to renovate or neglect our government for the people, by the people in every cycle. 

I want to vote for a sustainable life, full of choice, for joy in the present and excitement about what we can do. I want that politics of optimism. I want to build something that's going to last, and get out of emergency mode. 

Really, I want this country to be a safe space for us to dream big and relax into new ideas, to move toward that vision rather than simply away from the worst-case scenarios.

Thursday, 20 October 2022

Politics of Optimism

A quick thought: As a cuspy Xennial, I was blessed to be in high school during a time of relative optimism, when the messages were that we were working on environmentalism, triumphing over sexism, and generally progressing toward accepting each other as fully human despite our differences. 

I don't want to pretend it was all okay--there were wars, scandals, and outrages, of course--but the tone was lighter. And I think about how my experience compares to kids in high school right now, or recently graduated. It felt possible to imagine that we were legitimately working on a better world when I was full of youthful enthusiasm, and I'm not surprised that I don't hear much of that coming from our newest adults now. 

I want to bring that sense of possibility back. I know, so retro!! But I think we all need it. I feel that there's a tilt now toward nihilism and despair, born of disconnection and very real crushing uncertainty, but these feelings are disabling. Omnipresent doubt short-circuits action, and the spiral continues. 

I would like a politics of optimism, please. In order to get there, we do indeed have to get ourselves past the immediate moment wherein our basic rights to bodily autonomy and democracy are very directly under attack. We have to breathe deep and shift that obstacle. 

But, then or even simultaneously, we need to hold dear that space to rebelliously dream. That's the arena where human social brilliance thrives, shifts paradigms, and manages to surmount generational challenges. That is when we have the capacity to transcend a status quo that is actively damaging all of us. 

And I think it's particularly important for those of us that have tasted such hope to find ways to cultivate it within ourselves, revive it when needed, and reach past the chaos and distractions deliberately placed in our path so we may gather momentum with others to envision and action on something better. Easier said that done, but eminently doable. 

Start with voting. Do that right now. Bring your friends. Let's first move the boulder of regressive conservatism so that we can get a real look at what our future can hold when we believe in solving the big problems of the day, rather than simply recreating the oppressions of yesterday. 

Actual progress is possible, and is present in our history at least as much as setbacks. May the glowing embers of optimism flare up in our hearts and warm us as we dream.