Tuesday, May 26, 2020

An Unenthusiastic "OK"

This week’s post, over at Medium, is An Unenthusiastic “OK.” Check it out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The First Time

I’ve moved to a new blogging platform to maybe reach more people. It won’t let me have the same material here and there, but I can put a link here to where it is over there.

So here it is: When Was Your First Time

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Life on the Other Side of the Bubble

All this social distancing, all this not touching and hugging each other, all this super-sanitizing everything and acting like Lady Macbeth after we’ve touched something that anyone else has touched...while it will help get most of us through the immediate COVID-19 crisis, it absolutely can’t go on forever, and there are a number of good reasons why.

First of all, because it makes us less human.

Let’s face it, we humans are social creatures. We need to be around others like us, we need to be near others like us, we need to hold and touch others like us; and while this whole six feet apart thing may be good for us medically, it’s absolutely horrible for us psychologically. It not only distances us from those we want, or need, to be with, but it trains us to think of others as things, as walking vectors of virus that could kill us, and should be avoided at all costs, rather than as fellow humans who are also suffering through this and need human companionship and touch too.

I think of the kids who can’t play with each other, and who after we slowly get back to whatever “normal” will look like, won’t be able to sit next to each other at school and interact with each other as kids do. I think of the simple act from my days in kindergarten, of having a “line partner” who you held hands with as you walked to the playground for recess. Will we have kids do that anymore? Will we let kids do that anymore?

And speaking of holding hands, what do we do about budding romances? Will holding hands be seen as something two people need to be as cautious about as they would having sex? And, oh my goodness...kissing! Are we really going to put our mouths on someone else’s mouth after all this? Are we really going to put our tongues in someone else’s mouth after all this? Heck...having sex with face masks on might just be considered safer than kissing!

No...at some point we’ll have to get past this and return to what makes us human again. Maybe...and I shudder to say this...but maybe we’ll sadly just have to let this thing burn through enough of us so that those of us who are left don’t have to worry about it, and can go back to being human...but will also have a greater appreciation for being human.

The second reason we can’t go on like this forever is because, ironically, there’s such a thing as being too clean. Yes, you saw that right...too clean.

If we’re too clean, we don’t get enough early exposure to the many germs out there that we need to build up our resistance to. I’ve seen articles that suggest that our obsession with cleanliness over the past 60 years could be one of the reasons we’ve seen so many food allergies. I’ve also read that polio didn’t become a big problem until better sanitation meant that children weren’t exposed to it earlier, and with less harmful effects.[1]

With that in mind, there’s something to the old saying that you have to eat a pound of dirt before you die...and maybe even something to the 5-Second Rule.

Yes, now we’re painfully aware of how many germs we spread every day, but most of them don’t do us any harm, because our exposure to them builds up our immunity to them. We just happened to have stumbled onto a really bad one.

But the simple fact of the matter is that we can’t go on eating alone forever. We can’t sterilize every basketball, library book, doorknob, or restaurant table. People have to be able to go back to sitting next to each other on buses and trains, having college roommates, and kissing and hugging each other.

Especially kissing and hugging each other.

And I want to be able to do that again soon!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Just Because Your Heart is in the Right Place...

...doesn’t mean you’re doing or saying the right thing; or that it will be taken the way you intended.

Now, before I go on, let me make it perfectly clear that this is not a “poor pitiful me” piece about how I’ve become another male victim of changing times and social expectations. Far from it. Rather, it’s about how I wish I’d known certain things as far back as over 40 years and as recently as within the past year…not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of those I thought I was being kind to and thoughtful of. So if I see any accusations of that in the responses, you will be ignored.

There’s an old Scandinavian saying that goes “We are too soon old and too late smart.” Ain’t that the truth! If I knew then half of what I knew now, I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes, and unintentionally hurt so many people. On the other hand, if I knew then what I know now, I might not have ended up where I am now with my wonderful wife and two very quirky daughters. So I won’t spend much time on regrets.

And yet…I do think about the many things I’ve done or said with the best of intentions that weren’t received the way I meant them to be, or that I discovered years later might have been hurtful rather than helpful.

One of the problems is that I’m a very sensitive person, and I often tend to project on to others how I might feel in a similar situation. As a result, I try to do or say what I’d want said or done to or for me. Ah…lesson number one, the Golden Rule doesn’t always apply. Sometimes people don’t want to be treated as you’d want to be treated.

In one case, I remember roughly 40 years ago, working with a woman, slightly older than me, who I thought was really wonderful…but who, as far as I knew, didn’t have anyone. My friends from grade school will tell you that I’ve been an incurable romantic since at least then, and the incurable romantic in me thought that this person deserved to have someone think she was special, which she was. So I did what I thought I’d want someone to do for me…I had flowers sent to her at work anonymously.

Boy, did that cause a commotion in the office when they arrived; and everyone was wondering who they came from. I managed to keep a poker face throughout this whole thing, and I thought, “There, she must feel good now, knowing that she has a secret admirer out there somewhere.”

Oh, how incredibly na├»ve of me at 20-something. 30 or so years later the little light went on over my head, and I realized that far from making her feel good, it might have made her feel bad, and it might have given her attention that she didn’t want. Sigh. I did my well-intentioned best with what I understood, and how I processed the world, at the time.

Another issue is my 19 years teaching…my 19 years teaching teenagers…my 19 years teaching teenaged girls, who often need to be reassured that they’re fine just the way they are. I’d like to think that I did a good job at that; of letting them know that they didn’t need to be one clothing size smaller, two bra sizes bigger, and spend hours on makeup that hid their natural beauty. However, what works when you’re the trusted and admired teacher of teenagers doesn’t always work, and isn’t always wanted, when you’re the colleague or friend of adults. I’ve learned that the hard way a number of times. Oh, my heart was definitely in the right place, but a lot of awkwardness ensued as a result of my not understanding that.

If only I knew that before opening my mouth!

I could go on…and maybe I will…some other time. I figure this is long enough for now!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Shit Happens

A few days ago I saw a post in response to a YouTube video, from a woman who swore that while COVID was real, it was a weaponized virus created in a lab in China to take out the western world.

I'm not sure which is worse, people like her or people who deny that it exists in the first place, and is just a huge worldwide hoax to make Donald Trump look bad.

Let me explain a few things.

I think that one of the big differences between now and 1918...the flu pandemic that killed 50 million people...was that people then had a "shit happens" attitude about life. They were used to death and pestilence. There were no antibiotics, and people regularly died from a simple infected cut.

Shit happened, and they didn't need to blame anyone for it. Shit happened, and they saw it every day. Shit happened, and they knew it. Shit happened, they saw it, and tried to deal with it as a community.

I was going to say that we moderns have lost that ability to understand that shit happens, but then I remembered the Salem Witch Trials. That shit happened when those people couldn’t understand that shit happened, or that there might be perfectly logical reasons that they didn’t understand behind the shit that was happening...and decided that there was a conspiracy of witches to blame for it. Ah...one of our first big conspiracy theories.

In any event, we moderns can’t seem to handle that shit happens. We need someone to blame. We need something to blame. We need there to be a conspiracy we can point to. We can’t accept that while the truth may be out there, it may be mundane and boring. We can’t accept that the “somebody” whose “fault” this was may just have been someone who carelessly handled an exotic animal, and then didn’t wash their hands properly. That’s a lot less exciting than someone creating a biological weapon in a lab that accidentally got lose. It doesn’t make as good a story.

And I know a thing or two about stories. As a librarian, I see a lot of books checked out that are thriller novels about some sort of conspiracy. A lot. And I believe that you’re shaped by what you read. Just ask me about the old girlfriend who read a steady diet of Harlequin romance novels.

If you read a lot of conspiracy thriller novels, you’re going to think that everything’s a conspiracy. But you’d also be wrong. The real world is much more complex and random than the fictional world is. In the real world a virus we’ve never seen before can be spread by something as random as one bad interaction with an animal. We’ve seen this before with AIDS. And no one’s “to blame” except for maybe the person who got messy with that animal.

But the world of fiction...in the world of conspiracy thriller fiction...is very tightly controlled...by the author. There’s not a thing in that book that they didn’t put there for a reason. Not a random item in there at all...except maybe to intentionally throw a curve ball at you. Everything in those novels was written that way because the author wanted it to be that way. It was written that way to give you an exciting story.

In a special episode of Mythbusters, James Cameron was shown all the ways that Jack could’ve been saved in Titanic, and at the end of the episode, he simply said that Jack had to die because it was his story, and he could do anything he wanted with it.

And don’t even get me started on all those crap conspiracy theory books about actual historical events.

We need to remember that shit happens, and spend more time trying to deal effectively with the shit we’re going through right now than trying to find someone to blame it on.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Reconnecting in the Time of COVID

Buzzfeed recently posted an article about how this pandemic is causing many people to try to repair broken relationships...or even confess to secret crushes.

The idea seems to be that, all things considered, a lot of people are looking at what destroyed their relationships as being small potatoes, and want to try to fix things before one of them dies. Not that they necessarily want that person back in their lives again, but that they wanted to get rid of any bad blood that may have existed between them. In many of the cases this has gone well. In others, the person who received the olive branch said, “Nice, but I really don’t need to deal with this person anymore. I don’t really care. There’s no bad blood, there’s just no blood.”

I can understand both sides of this. On the one hand, there are people out there who’ve hurt me who I’d love to contact and say that all is forgiven. In fact, there’s one person out there who I’d like to tell that not only is all forgiven, but I wouldn’t trade the two weeks we had together for anything...regardless of how it ended. There are people who I’ve inadvertently hurt, that I’d like to apologize to; but they’ve been out of my life for so many years...decades even...that to try to contact them for this might open up a wound that had been long since healed and forgotten about.

On the other hand, there are people I’m perfectly fine with not having in my life anymore. Or as I said before, not so much bad blood as no blood. Sometimes I’ve even forgotten that they existed until some little thing jogs my memory. Years have gone by with me having no reason to contact them, and I figure they have no reason to contact me. I figure we’re both fine with blessed nothingness.

But those “secret crushes.” Oh...they can be ever so tricky. Sometimes what you feel you need to say “before one of you gets hit by a bus” comes out the wrong way, is taken the wrong way, and makes things very awkward between the two of you for quite a while. I know this because I’ve been on the giving end of the awkwardness. But do you tell someone how much they’ve meant to you while they’re still around, and risk the awkwardness that may come from that, or do you hold it in, with that person never knowing that they were special to you...something they may have wanted to know...before one of you goes to your grave?

This reminds me of that one special friend from many years ago, who I loved dearly, but didn’t tell for many reasons, including not wanting to risk ruining the friendship by making things awkward if she didn’t feel the same way. To this day, even though I know we weren’t right for each other, I still regret not having told her how I felt.

Will I be writing her during these unusual times, to finally let her know how I felt all those years ago...before one of us gets hit by a bus? No, I don’t think so. But if she wrote me, I’d be thrilled. 

Just not to death, I hope.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Being People in the Time of COVID-19

One of my coworkers has a saying that I’m fond of. She says, “Being people is hard.” She’s right. Being people is hard.

And being good people is even harder. Especially in times of crisis. There’s such a conflict between what we know we ought to do and what we want to do, between what we feel and the way we know we should think, that being good people is incredibly hard. None of us is perfect at it, despite our best efforts. And the sooner we face up to that fact, and admit that we all have ugly little thoughts that we do the best we can to mitigate, the better.

Why am I saying this? Well, with this COVID thing upon us, and people scrambling, panicking, making bad decisions, and acting downright horribly, I thought about the fact that Passover is also coming, and thinking of the ten plagues of Egypt, I posted on Facebook:

Suppose the coronavirus could be guaranteed to pass over your house if you painted your doorposts with the milk of human kindness…

Some of which you had partaken of first.

As of this writing, I had four likes, and not a single dislike.

Of course, the dark, implied back side of this was that if you weren’t able to demonstrate that the milk of human kindness existed in your house, then you were screwed. But still...no one took me to task for that sentiment.

Contrast that to the response I got to my comment on a friend’s post about people who were making this whole thing worse. I said:

I know this is an evil thought, but wouldn’t it be nice if the only people taken out by this were the idiots, assholes, and deniers?

I got immediately slammed for wishing a horrible thing upon people. But really, it was no different from what I said about painting your doorposts. I attempted to clarify the situation by saying that I wasn’t wishing this on anyone, but if we know that, barring a miracle, some people have to get it, I’m pretty sure that there are some people we’d rather see get it than others.

Slammed again.

But let’s be real folks. I may try to be my most logically Spock-like at all times, but I’m still human, and I have emotions. And emotionally, I don’t want good people to suffer from this. And knowing logically that a certain number of people are gonna get this thing, I would much rather have it be the person who’s gonna try to shoot up a school or house of worship than some little old lady who never harmed anyone in her life.

Of course, the Grim Reaper is gonna pass right by Margaret, the lady who gives out full-sized Snickers bars at Halloween.

You may not want to admit this, but we all do this kind of moral calculus. We do it every time we ask “Why do the evil flourish while the good are cut down like the grass?” We all implicitly say that if there’s any suffering to happen, it should be to those people.

Not that we want that anyone should suffer. Ideally, no one should. But if there is suffering to be doled out, let’s be honest, and admit that we’d all prefer it to be visited upon the evil, the selfish, and the mean-spirited.

Because we’re human. We’re people. And being people is hard.

And being good people is especially hard.

Now as for me and my family, we’re gonna start painting our doorposts.

And we’ll help you paint yours too.