Friday, 14 January 2022

Enchanté

Dash just took me on a journey, following our second viewing of Encanto, that was sufficiently deep as to remind me of the psychedelic rendering of Coco that my cousin's daughter treated us to on the way to my Grandma's burial nearly four years ago now.

Dash was sitting in the bathtub, asking a great many questions about Bruno, and what certain things meant in the film. Since Encanto really amazingly explores an incredible range of family issues, connections and disconnections--really, I challenge anyone to not see their family in some aspect of the Madrigals--I had a lot of material on which to riff, and Dash kept saying, charmingly: "You can keep talking about Bruno, or anything you want about Encanto!" A few times, when I paused because he sounded like he was on the verge of having a question, he said, "You can keep going. I'll ask if I think of any questions." 


At one point he clarified that he was hearing everything I was saying, and he was thinking about it all, and he would tell me if a question popped up. I pointed out that this was a conversation, the kind of thing that his Daddy and I have been trying to encourage at the dinner table, where we think and have ideas together rather than interrupting, hooting or clowning around. 


He said something particularly amazing, and I went over to high-five him only to discover he was marinating in a completely tepid bath with clammy hands. I moved to get him out and into a warm towel, to which he protested that he was warm; he wanted to keep talking forever, and we'd made a good honest attempt over the time it took his bathwater to cool. 


While he was standing in his Astro Dash towel, he had an epiphany: "I have everyone in my heart, even people I haven't met, because I have people in my heart who have all of those people in their hearts." We have talked before about how the people we love can live on in our hearts, even if they are not right there with us or even alive anymore, and he extrapolated from there. "The very first person, I have them in my heart, because the people I have in my heart knew them." He expounded on this great connection, and I affirmed that we all indeed came from some early person somewhere, and there is a chain of relationship and love that precedes us and encompasses us. 


He's really an amazing child. Honestly, I think they all are, but this is the kiddo who I get to see developing his heart and mind before my very eyes, reaching out for the cosmic and sublime, and he's just wonderful.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

A Tale of Two COVIDS

"'The crisis from the Omicron peak is not generated by serious COVID illness in regions with highly vaxxed populations,' Noble wrote in an email to SFGATE. 'The crisis we are suffering in the Bay Area is largely driven by disruptive COVID policies that encourage asymptomatic testing and subsequent quarantines. … The vast majority of COVID-plus patients I take care of need no medical care and are quickly discharged home with reassurance.'" 

I read this story last night (linked below), and while it helped put some puzzle pieces together for me--for example, how does San Francisco's ICU bed availability look so good and yet hospitals are overwhelmed?--it also helped me understand the particulars of why I'm finding this wave of COVID freshly exhausting and confusing. 


Omicron is a turning point in the USA's experience of the pandemic because the gulf has widened between how communities are hit. In very vaccinated areas like San Francisco, our problem is not currently that vast numbers of people are very sick, it's that lots of people are testing positive and isolating, and that's grinding the gears of everything from hospitals to schools, public transit to food delivery. 


This is not the case in parts of the country with low vaccination rates, where hospitals are overwhelmed because lots of very ill COVID patients are once again in need of intensive care *as well as* medical staff shortages because of isolation protocols. Those areas are still facing 2020-style pandemic crisis, while high-vaccination communities are entering a new phase of negotiation with this coronavirus. 


Basically, right now, it sounds a lot like San Francisco and other areas that have vaccination rates roughly in the herd immunity range (70-90%) are starting to grapple with whether the policy prescriptions for this pandemic are causing more chaos than the virus itself. And that is basically a complete inversion from the public safety stance we've taken for the last two years to get us to this point. There's a huge amount of cognitive dissonance in that. 


And, yet, the practical approach in this very moment remains much the same: Stay out of hospital right now, because the system is under pressure. Try not to catch COVID, because the knock-on effects are still knocking on. 


There's a nationwide COVID spike happening, but the stories coming out of it vary widely. What's going on in San Francisco is not what's happening in rural Michigan. It's hard to take in how much is going on across the country, how it differs from place to place, how the national news relates to your county, and what that means about what you should do today. 


Risk assessment through COVID has always been exhausting--everyone has different personal health to consider, unequal socioeconomic starting points, wildly variable obligations in terms of caring versus ability to isolate... 


And, two years on, partisanship is a bigger predictor than other demographic data of vaccination status, with unvaccinated adults now more than three times as likely to lean Republican than Democratic, and likelihood of death from COVID far more likely in red counties due to the plague of rampant misinformation. 


For blue urban areas, we may spend the next few months fumbling through how the future looks with COVID largely minimized through vaccination and willingness to use appropriate PPE when called for. Another phase of adjusting our behavior is coming, and it's going to feel weird compared to the dystopian new normal we've practiced thus far. 


Please, get vaccinated, get your boosters, and be excellent to one another. There are signs of hope, though so much uncertainty still. We get through this by taking sensible precautions to protect each other. 


For reference: 


The story quoted and pictured here


San Francsico vaccination data


A rural Michigan doctor's perspective on this surge


Partisanship as predictive of COVID vaccination status


COVID deaths in red and blue counties






Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Suppression and Sedition

Before the noise starts tomorrow, I want to get something out. In the early days of last year, we watched Trump’s attempted coup penetrate Congress by force. Shots were fired in the Senate chamber. Police officers were assaulted and killed. Insurrectionists broke into offices of our elected officials and were talking murder. 

The acute episode occurred on January 6th, 2021, but the insurrection is still unfolding. The party responsible for it has doubled down on anti-democratic language and policy, and our country is dangling at a precipice. We still need to take action, however tempting it may be to pretend we are back to business as usual. We are not. 

For a few days, having had their lives threatened by the invasion of Congress, some Republicans spoke out. Shortly after, they mostly quieted their criticism of Trump and the violence they had witnessed. Within months, the armed riot was being reframed as tourism gone wild by almost all GOP congresspeople who were—and still are—more afraid of speaking the truth than the consequences of The Big Lie. 

We currently have one of the largest investigations in history transpiring with regard to the January 6th insurrection. Some 700 people have had charges brought against them. About 20% have plead guilty, and have cited Trump’s call to action as their impetus to invade our government and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. A lot of little fish have been snared, and today Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke about this being the routine way to start, to settle the shorter sentences first and gain cooperation to build bigger cases. This is nowhere close to done, and for something of this immense scale it's actually working quite quickly. 

But at the end of his speech today, Garland specifically called upon Congress to take action to protect voting rights. January 6th of 2021 was about Trump overturning an election result he didn't like, and the attempt to do so involved everything from Trump directly pressuring state election officials to treat democratic results unfavorable to him as fraudulent to the former president’s inner circle conspiring to delay congressional certification of results so that Trump’s preferred electors could be put in place to override our votes. 

Since the 2020 election, Republican states have introduced a slew of laws designed to make voting less accessible to Black people in particular, for communities of color more broadly, and for Democratic-leaning urban areas especially. The entire Republican apparatus has abandoned the American experiment, and is instead setting up the dominoes to fall in their favor despite demographic changes that make it otherwise unlikely that they would be able to win elections. This is happening from the bottom to the top; state and local Republican officials are carrying water for another attempt at authoritarian rule. 

It is very telling that, in the same breath as the Attorney General is reporting on the state of an enormous investigation into an attempted coup, he is imploring the legislative branch to secure our voting rights. But you have a role to play here, too. 

Firstly, tune into what is happening with the January 6th investigation if you have not already. Heather Cox Richardson is doing an incredible job of generating a nightly précis on the day’s news and how it fits into our nation's history. Donald Trump brought us into a state of Constitutional crisis, and his hold on the Republican party is keeping us there, because they are actively eroding our ability to meaningfully vote in this country. This is happening now. 

Secondly, stop voting for Republicans. If you ever have, now is not the time. The entire party is in thrall to Trumpism, they are engaged only in obstructionism and solidifying their power in the minority forever. Currently, Senate Democrats represent some 40 million more Americans than Senate Republicans, and the Democrats are trying to put through policy to protect children from living in poverty, ensure universal access to preschool and childcare, help make care of our elderly more affordable and comfortable, prevent cities from drowning and burning up due to runaway climate change, and invest in housing and healthcare so we can live healthier, more stable lives. Despite the widespread popularity of these ideas, not a single Republican Senator will back them. (They were all happy enough to offer tax cuts to the very rich, however.) 

The midterms will be coming up, and when they do it is very important that you get out and vote all the way down the ticket for Democratic candidates. Please, do not give an ounce of power to the insurrectionist Republican party. The stakes are very high. Vote with the fervor you showed in rejecting the mania of Donald Trump, because his madness is still pulling the strings. Call your Senators and press them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act; the pressure is on to eliminate or carve out the filibuster to get this done, with Chuck Schumer having set a deadline of January 17th to take action. Call them today; the Congressional Switchboard number is (202) 224-3121, they can connect you to your state’s senators. 

I’m stating all of this not because I love the Democratic party, but because they are the only thing we have right now in terms of a normal political party at the national level. For the folks out there that long to vote for a third party, that can only occur with widespread changes in how voting in this country works, and we are currently on the ropes about having our votes matter at all. Literally every vote cast for a Republican candidate at this moment contributes to the erosion of our democracy. We have to be a bulwark against this anti-democratic slide. 

In 1981, the Republican National Committee used their “Ballot Security Task Force” to harass and intimidate voters of color from participating in elections. Back then, we had the Voting Rights Act, and a federal lawsuit tied the RNC’s hands until 2018. The Republican party is continuing to employ voter suppression strategies that have their heritage in massacres of Black voters in the 19th Century and poll taxes in the 20th Century.

What happened on January 6th is part and parcel of the violent history of voter suppression in this country, and the GOP is so afraid of Trump and the armed, angry terrorists they have cultivated that we can expect them to continue to walk in lockstep after their mad king. With precious few exceptions, Republican politicians will not protect this country from falling into a future of meaningless elections, and rightwing talking heads have indeed convinced a shocking number of Americans that this has already occurred--all the better to disguise the threat in front of us and disempower us from pushing back. Experts are now watching the United States much as they would any country that appeared poised to fall to dictatorship. 

Fix up, look sharp, and stand ready to block rightwing extremism. History has its eyes on us. 


For reference: 

Intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance on the current state of Trumpism, and how it relates to the likes of Timothy McVeigh

A detailed look at the scope and speed of the Justice Department's January 6th investigation and prosecutions

AG Merrick Garland's remarks today

A recent history of Republican dirty deeds to suppress votes

A brief summary of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with links to contact your congresspeople

Link to full text of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

What is Build Back Better all about? 




Thursday, 30 December 2021

Threads

The year is closing out, and a stillness has settled in me. It’s been rainy, in a way that a San Francisco native friend says was typical of the winters of her childhood: several days in a row of rain, then a brief sunny spell, then back to more water from the sky. We’ve been in a drought, so it seems especially wet now, and Tahoe’s recent snowfall broke a 50-year-old record, but this is the way it’s supposed to be, actually. 

There’s also been a vertical-wall spike in COVID, both in San Francisco and the United States more broadly, and that has settled something in me, too. Through all of this year, and the last of course, risk assessment has ping-ponged around. Through unknown unknowns, unreliable sources, experts urging caution and still learning themselves, the displacement of personal trust in the face of an insidious virus that knows no moral judgments, and the changing terrain of case numbers, vaccination rates, behavioral change and interventions of mixed success, every movement has been tinged with uncertainty. And it’s been that way for a long time now. 

But, with the rain and the virus surging, some questions are settled. No, we will not be hosting a Christmas party. No, we will not be going out for New Year’s Eve. We’re not going to be going out much at all. We will return to the cozy comforts of last Christmas, festive at home and loving each other through the cold and inclement conditions. The distracting, conflicting priorities have been cut away, and we are decided in the root sense of the term, with noise excised from the program. It’s Christmas on the Island of Corona, for however long it needs to be. 

I find myself reawakening to the things that saw me through last winter’s tumult: My fingers are itching for sewing and stitchwork again, my urge to cook is surging once more, and my gratitude for every investment in our home is at the forefront. The sun is breaking through today, and I can imagine going out to the garden to do some midwinter tidying, the rains having called up many weeds I could thin now before the work is harder later on. 

This autumn, I returned to a task of the beforetimes, and I completed two classes that I had to drop in autumn of 2019. (One I attempted again at the beginning of 2020, and we all know what happened next.) Those classes first fell by the wayside in the wake of my Uncle Mac’s death, a death I willingly witnessed in hopes of helping him pass peacefully as an organ donor. In 2016 and 2017, I spent time at the bedsides of loved ones in the ICU or hospice, first pregnant and then with a newborn babe in arms; one family member survived, the other did not. In 2018, just after my child’s first birthday, my Aunt Suzanne passed, and of her last moments we have stories of her daughter being by her side. In 2020, my father nearly died in front of me twice, and I was able to save him with quick action and relentless advocacy. My husband’s grandmother was lost to COVID shortly before vaccines would have been available to her at the end of 2020. There has been so much bereavement, and much of it began before COVID loomed like the specter of death itself over the entire world. 

I feel like I could write a book about how each of those passings rewrote my family. But a theme that sticks out in particular is how different death feels when one can be present, sit vigil with the others left behind, and begin to heal and rebuild together before the aftermath has even begun. There is no control, but there is presence, and we are social animals that are forever re-glueing our bonds together again in novel ways. And what the last two years have done, in addition to the waves of death and uncertainty, is denied us presence with one another as we endure collective trauma. Togetherness has come in fits and starts, and sometimes with awful consequences. Understanding the dangers of the outside world has become a paradigm-shifting endeavor knit into the course of daily life. 

But, daily life continues. And there are solid reasons to feel hope. On the back of the Winter Solstice, in these mystery days between Christmas and the New Year, I genuinely feel the light coming. This latest wave of the coronavirus, omicron, is washing up on a population that has more immunity before, both because of vaccinations and prior infections. We have more and better treatments to deploy, and this mutation shows some signs of causing less severe illness despite its incredible transmissibility. This two-year cycle of viruses is something we’ve seen before, in prior pandemics, and this evolution toward less-deadly endemic status is part of the playbook in many cases. At some point, this coronavirus will likely take up space among our seasonal illnesses, with particularly nasty strains popping up every so often, but we already have vaccines to mitigate its impact, and we increasingly carry (and pass on to our new infants) the tools to fight back within our own bodies. And it’s not just me saying this, with my decidedly non-expert opinion: Medical experts are saying this, too. This particular uncertainty will not carry on at this intensity forever, and indeed the intensity may be diminishing soon. 

Personally, I have also found some footing in this chaos that is reconnecting me to life before and beyond the immediate concerns of surviving a pandemic. Those classes I mentioned before were dropped in a time of turmoil; in the brief beginnings of 2020, I was getting back on the proverbial horse, and then my child and I both got sick with what was likely COVID, the world shut down and things got very scary. But I finally got that horse over hurdles I was unable to clear two years ago. In that small regard, I am further along than I was before all of this started. My life from before is not gone, though parts of it have been deferred or changed forever. I wouldn’t want to extrapolate too much from this one very personal achievement, but there’s something of a metaphor in it that resonates more broadly to me. Life finds a way, and there are through-lines permeating this instability that can help us navigate to what comes next. (The fact that one of these classes was a history course is a subject for another essay.) 

When the Imperial College report on COVID came out in spring of 2020, projecting that we would endure rolling waves of lockdowns based on hospitalization rates, which would be determined by waning immunity and mutations in the virus, I remember thinking we couldn’t run a society that way. The report anticipated an ongoing cycle of doing this, which seemed impossible just a few weeks into the chaos. Yet, here we are. Those of us who have made it have found a way, physically and spiritually, to endure a cataclysmic impact to life as we knew it. I imagine that we all bear some emotional scars from all that’s transpired, and we are changed. I don’t want to minimize any of that. 

But, somehow, this enforced winter quiet has the feel of a chrysalis to me. I no longer feel that I am cloistered against the unknown. It feels more like incubating strength for the next incarnation, which I sense is coming soon. 

So, for now, I sit, and I try to stitch together a future for myself and those I love, weaving in all I’ve learned about the long arc of history and the lessons of creativity in navigating uncertainty. We’ve been doing this since we lived in caves, you know: Using our hands and our minds to take in the mysteries of the world and fabricate lives for ourselves from the raw materials around us. One more time, I shall cuddle into these constraints, letting some desires hibernate as winter eventually gives way to spring.

For reference: 

Dr. Bob Wachter on hopefully getting to his "happy place" in COVID terms in just over a month's time: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1476314067660722176.html

The early Imperial College report on cycles of transmission and suppression of COVID: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/mrc-global-infectious-disease-analysis/covid-19/report-12-global-impact-covid-19/



Sunday, 7 November 2021

Cosmic Love

I just had the most cosmically surreal bedtime with Dash, in which we had conversations I really would not have thought possibel with a four-year-old. I deployed a new book for tonight, Serafina Nance’s “Astronomy” in the Little Leonardo series, and afterward Dash had many insightful questions that took me to the limit of my knowledge about the Big Bang, how rocks were formed, what it would sound like if a gas giant collided with a rocky planet… 

Literally, I would not have believed someone telling me that a kid his age could understand so much. But, sure as anything, he is using that remarkable ability that powers human children—gaining understanding of the entire world around them—to build a model of the universe in his mind right now. He wants to understand the physicality of it, and commented in the end that “Space controls itself.” 

I responded, “Yep, space is something that we can’t control. We are just tiny creatures out there.” 

He asked what Earth sounds like, and I played him some audio. He fell asleep to the hum of our planet spinning through the solar system, which blended in perfectly with the white noise machine as he drifted off.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

My Gifts

What if I gave my best to me?
What if I got free?
What if I stopped holding doors
and started
demanding
more?

What if I inquired
and found
myself
inspired
instead of pre-tired,
perpetually required
to place others before me?

See…
No one’s coming for you, girl.
In all this world
you alone will know your worth.
Since birth
you have had you,
and it shall be the same at the end, too.

So, steadfast friend,
shall we always bend down
together?
Or could we hold each other up
forever,
growing
in the light
of our own radiance?

Tenderly,
I hold you in this dance.
This brevity of chance
where I can honor you,
hold you close,
and whisper, “Here”
as I gift to you the space
and richness
of my soul.



Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Scars

I do not want to heal
Only to be broken repeatedly in the same ways,
Over and over again.

Let me become embittered and thorny;
I can never be naive again.
The pit of my stomach turns on pain
I'm still digesting.

Don't rush me.

Maybe I will, improbably, mature once more into tenderness.
Time may soften my strictures, hardened tissues inflexible now after sustained assaults.

Who knows? Even stones erode.

Jagged edges can become smooth.
Let me take on my metamorphic gleam,
Polished after so much pressure,
Veins showing across my pale, cold being.

The weight I have borne has changed me.
My architecture is petrifying.
My materials are growing more noble,
Resolute and inert in the harsh elements.

My heart has not yet ossified.
In its cage of bone, it flutters on.
In this grand palace of fractures knit together
Joints creak,
Nails dig in,
And knots mark the stories of gnarled growth,
Branching and finding a way.