Category: current events

The Art of the Compromise

One of the things I dislike most about our current state of politics is how much it’s taken on the trappings of sports. I love me some sports, but we’re not playing a game with the country. This isn’t a situation where the Democrats face off against the Republicans to see who wins it all. It’s also not reality television. The ratings don’t matter, and arbitrary metrics are pretty much worthless.

We’re all in the same country. We all have to live with the choices we make as a nation. But these days, politics feels like it’s becoming more and more a situation where you need to not just defeat “the other side.” You can’t be happy until you’ve crushed your enemies, seen them driven before you, and heard the lamentations of their women.

Right now, there are two polemically opposed sides to the debate on the pandemic and economic catastrophe we’re going through. On the one side, there are people who are convinced we all need to stay inside and not come out again until 2025, and then only if we can be encased in a large plastic bubble at all times. On the other side, we’re not doing our patriotic duty until we go outside right this instant and start licking every object in sight (to show dominance over the virus), ideally while eating a Big Mac and spending money on a complete set of Make America Great Again his and hers pajamas and maybe shooting some guns into the air at the same time.

Obviously I’m taking those two sides to the extreme, but the point is clear. All of us fall somewhere between those two opinions. But the thing about living in a country with other people is that both sides matter. Even if you wished they didn’t. Even if you dreamed of a day when that other side just magically disappeared from the face of the earth, they’re still here, and their opinion still matters. They still vote. They’re still represented in Congress by people who agree with them.

So the only way we’re going to get anything useful done is through compromise. And it would help a lot if people stopped treating compromise like a dirty word. As if when you compromise on something, you’ve betrayed your base, or sold your soul. Of course, it doesn’t help that there are media outlets on both sides of the aisle ready to holler and shout about what a catastrophe the compromise is, and how it betrayed everything that was decent about this country. But if the compromise is any good, both sides of the news media will be upset about it these days.

I get that it’s easier to use a “they’re evil” brush to paint the people you don’t agree with. They’re either a bunch of corporate suits trying to drain the last drop of money from our working class, or a bunch of communist anarchists bent on robbing the good citizens of our nation. And yes, I believe there are people acting in bad faith on both sides of the aisle, but no, I don’t believe people walking around with Nazi flags are “generally good people.” The best I could say about such individuals is that they’re wildly misguided and dreadfully ill-informed.

I watch these Senate hearings, and I’m disappointed. Let down that even in this crisis, we’re still bickering over asinine things like “did we do a good job with testing?” No. I believe we can categorically state that we did a pretty awful job with testing, because if we’d done a half-decent job, we wouldn’t be where we are now. When you’ve already flunked the course for the year, why waste time debating whether or not you studied well for the midterm? Pick yourself up and move on.

I think we need to start opening up the country at a reasoned, measured pace. Faster than some would like, and slower than others would like. I think if people would just wear their masks and give each other some space, there’s a lot we could start doing. This insistence on no masks and no distancing and “this pandemic is fake” is frustrating to say the least, but it’s more frustrating because somehow wearing a mask has become a political statement. In our rush to prove how right one side is over the other, we’re throwing common sense out the window.

And I suppose that’s all I have to say about that.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Quarantine Worship

Not that I’m worshiping quarantine. Rather, today’s post is about how people are continuing to worship in this time of social distancing. When this all began (six weeks ago? More or less), shifting over to social distancing from a religious perspective really wasn’t that difficult. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had made a switch in January 2019 that emphasized a learning curriculum that was to be done in the home as families. Up until that point, our church services each Sunday had run three hours. With that change, an hour was lopped off from that to counterbalance the new home-learning.

So when suddenly the church stopped all weekly gatherings completely, world-wide, it really wasn’t that shocking of a step. All the members already had a year’s worth of practice worshiping at home. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not the same as meeting with a congregation, but I’m just saying it wasn’t like religion screeched to a halt. My family continued to meet each Sunday, and life went on.

Of course, that was six weeks ago now. That’s a whole lot of Sundays to go with just home services, which is why I’ve been grateful that our local congregations have mostly shifted over to Zoom services now. For the past month or so, we all turn on our computers (or phone in) and have a couple of talks and some hymns, starting at 9:30 each Sunday morning. Yesterday we had around 100 people in attendance, I’d guesstimate. (There were around 50 people logged in to the meeting, but many of those were households like mine of 5 or more.)

Interestingly (for a church that generally does things fairly uniformly), I’ve been surprised to hear this isn’t a practice that’s being done by all Latter-day Saint congregations. Or even most of them, from my anecdotal evidence. I’ve talked to people across the country, and for many of them, church has stopped for all intents and purposes, other than the home-studying component. I had thought Maine was already fairly behind the times, technologically speaking. (Usually that’s definitely the case. Our internet speeds are muuuuuch slower up here, and many people are still using technology that’s ten or more years behind the rest of the nation.) So to have Maine congregations doing things that places with a better technological infrastructure aren’t . . . is strange.

But I’ve only spoken to a few people, and I wanted to spread the net a bit wider. So how about you. Whether or not you’re a Latter-day Saint, if you typically go to church services each Sunday, what have you been doing now? How are you continuing to worship in times of social distancing? I see some places suing governments, demanding their right to worship in person again. I for one have been grateful for ways to both practice my religion but do it in a safe manner. Are other denominations doing the same?

Inquiring minds want to know . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

COVID-19: A Uniquely American Disaster

I’m a fan of America. Born and raised here, and there are a ton of things about my country that I love. However, having lived abroad for more than two years, and having non-Americans for in-laws, I’ve had the chance to see what America looks like from the outside. How we’re often thought of and portrayed. No real big surprises there: the way we’re thought of is often the way we’d like to think of ourselves, though many of the things Americans prize as virtues are looked on by non-Americans as vices. Problems instead of assets.

That said, the American approach to challenges has often been to fall back on the things that brought us together in the first place: the sense of rugged individualism that inspired people to turn their back on their native countries and go give their fortunes a shot in the new world. The same sense that spurred people to leave the colonies and keep exploring westward. When World Wars came up, we did the same thing. There’s a reason we idolized the cowboy for years, and why so many of us now idolize superheroes. (What, really, is the difference between the Avengers and the Magnificent Seven, other than the trappings? When a problem arises, a few hardy souls step up and take care of that problem right on. Is a classic western that much different than an Iron Man movie?)

But as much as I love those aspects of American life and recognize how well they served us throughout our history, they are making us struggle with our response to COVID-19 in a way that’s fairly unique across the globe. We literally have people killing security guards for telling them to wear a mask. At a time of crisis, when most countries seem to be coming together, we’re splintering further apart. I’ve seen people on both sides of the debate ridicule the other side. Dismissing their arguments entirely, and often with a nasty insult to go with it. Right now, we have a president who’s going around saying, “The country needs to open, because we need to get our economy back on track. Some people will die, but that’s what we have to do.” And a good chunk of Americans are cheering him on. (True, other countries have had struggles in a similar vein (I’m looking at you, Brazil), but we seem to be taking it to the next level.)

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve accepted mass casualties as “part of the price of freedom.” Not in war, but in schools and everyday life. The right to own guns trumps the right to live without fear of being shot, apparently, something well discussed in this op-ed in the New York Times that just came out.

There has been a rush to normalize death in this country. I’ve seen memes shared many times over the past month comparing COVID-19 deaths to other deaths. Sure, they argue, the pandemic has killed 265,929 people in the world this year (as of right now), but 169,807 people have died from the seasonal flu. 586,521 have died of HIV/AIDS. 2,865,485 have died of cancer. The world doesn’t shut down for those deaths. Why should we shut down for this disease?

We watched in horror as the disease ravaged northern Italy, worried it would come here. It’s now killed more than 2.5 times as many people in our country as it has in Italy, but we’re apparently ready to get back to work. It’s the American way of life.

Right now, I believe the most likely scenario for the way forward in America is that we go back to “normal.” There’s a token effort to keep social distancing in place, but when faced with the decision between allowing more people to die from this and staying in an economic slump, we will choose the deaths.

I’m not trying to say I don’t understand the desire to choose death. A ravaged economy is going to be disastrous. (Though I will say that there’s a good chance it’s a false dichotomy, and we’re actually choosing between A: “a ravaged economy and death” and B: “a ravaged economy.” Believing a mysterious, often invisible disease will just be ignored, and that we’ll all go out and start buying things again and going to the movies and sports at the same rate we did pre-COVID-19 is, perhaps, a bit idealistic. We don’t know how deadly COVID-19 really is, but we seem hell-bent on finding out. Here’s hoping our “Bet it all on red” approach turns out to be lucky.)

I *will* say that the predicament we find ourselves in is one largely of our own making. Sure, you can finger point to China or Europe as much as you’d like, but we had months go by as we watched China deal with this disease. Plenty of time as we watched Italy go through it as well. We didn’t do a whole lot to prepare for it, other than buy a metric ton of toilet paper. And now we’ve got some leaders trying to tell us these deaths were inevitable. That we did our best, and that’s it’s only through their ineptitude that things weren’t worse. (Seriously. Trump makes Inspector Clouseau look like a genius sometimes.)

When you look at the response to this in Asia, you see a model of what might have been. Lockdowns were strictly enforced. Contact tracing kicked into gear. People went along with what they were ordered to do, and now they’re reopening and look like they’re going to avoid the economic meltdown that’s facing us. There’s a normal for them to go back to that doesn’t involve “Everybody gets COVID-19 and let’s just hope it’s really not that bad.”

There’s a way forward for us that doesn’t resort to that. It involves everyone in the country wearing masks and not shooting each other over the order. It means we actually take the time necessary to get on top of the disease and stay there. To be patient and understand some prevention now will pay off in the future. But I honestly don’t think we’re capable of doing that. I think we’re reopening, and we’re going to see a resurgence of the disease. But instead of locking down again, I think we’re going to see people shrug and revert back to the hopes-and-prayers-and-price-of-being-free mentality many have fallen back on for other tragedies. I don’t think other countries will follow this same path. Most of them will come up with a compromise their populace is willing to follow, but for Americans raised for decades upon decades with a “we’re the best and we’ll go it alone” mentality, I just don’t think it’s in our character as a nation to shift out of that lane.

I suppose the good news is we’ll see first hand how bad this disease can really get. If we’re lucky, and it’s not that bad, then only a few hundred thousand people will die. If we’re not lucky, then the deaths will be up past a million. But by the time it’s getting that bad, the brakes will be off the train, and we’ll all just get to watch as we careen down the mountain and hope for the best.

So the question we have to ask ourselves is, “Do we feel lucky?”

Quoting a Clint Eastwood line in the face of possible disaster? It doesn’t get much more American than that.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Far from “Fine”

I keep running into people virtually, typically in Zoom, and the social niceties are still playing out the way they’ve always played out. “How are you doing” people will ask, and I always say, “Fine.” Sometimes I say it with a bit more sarcasm. Sometimes I switch it up by saying, “I’m holding in there.” But the general gist doesn’t change: I say I’m doing okay, and we move on with whatever we’re meeting about.

But here’s the thing, people. I am far from “fine” these days. I’m not melting down or anything like that. I’m coping, for sure, but this whole mess is traumatic, and I want to make sure to acknowledge that, since I assume many many other people are in the same boat.

In the past month, I haven’t been in my car once. I’ve gone on walks on my road most days, seeing four or five cars during those walks. I’ve done plenty of things with my family, and I’ve done a slew of things online, but my entire life has blended together into one very long day.

I was on pretty stable ground before all of this happened, financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I’m still doing well on most points, but areas of particular concern all add up:

  • Financially, Denisa and I still are both as fully employed as we were before all of this started. Denisa is teaching all of her classes through to completion. I’m managing the library from home. However, there’s some uncertainty for the future. The university is under a ton of financial strain at the moment, and it’s hard not to think about all the “What ifs.” What if Denisa’s classes don’t carry in the fall? What if there are layoffs? What if classes are still remote in September?
  • Socially, I’ve discovered I rely much more on personal face-to-face interactions than I realized.
  • I used to be a person with a pretty long fuse. Yes, I’d lose my temper now and then, but it was a very rare thing. It’s not like I’ve turned into a monster now, but my fuse is much, much shorter. Small things irritate me far more than they have any right to. I’ll go from feeling fine to being really angry over some random thing someone asks me to do or some additional requirement I come across.
  • I’m definitely finding it harder to toe the line from a health perspective. I’m still exercising, but avoiding sugar kind of went out the window. (Easter didn’t help . . .) I’ve still managed to keep my weight from going up too much, but it’s something I need to focus on.
  • Even writing has been difficult, as I struggle to stay motivated and on track. I’ve worried about MURDER CASTLE getting pushed back or canceled (Hey! Remember I have a book coming out next year?), and sitting down to try and get the words to flow is much harder on some days than other. I’ve stuck to my 1,000 words/day schedule, but it takes more effort.
  • I worry for my kids and the experiences they are or are not happening. Social lives. Education. Future planning.

Overall, I just feel like my life has been paused for the past month, and I have no idea when it will resume, or what it will look like when it does. I’ve heard dates thrown around from May through 2021 or even 2022. That amount of uncertainty doesn’t help at all. I understand the desire to go back to “normal,” but until there’s a vaccine, I’m thinking more and more that there isn’t a “normal” to go back to.

I read an article this morning about how Singapore, the very model of everything America wants to do when it comes to going back to normal, just put the country on lockdown. Despite all its efforts to contain and control the virus, they weren’t able to do it. What efforts? Screening and quarantining all travelers from outside the country. Extensive contact tracing. Criminal charges for anyone who violates quarantine. Much more than I imagine Americans going along with willingly. (Some in Michigan are protesting loudly because people who aren’t part of a single household can’t gather, they can’t travel to second homes, stores are limiting the number of shoppers, prohibiting buying non-essential things like carpet and paint, and they can’t use motor boats or jet skis. Maybe it was the jet skis that pushed them over.)

Consider for a moment the fact that here we are looking at more than 2,000 deaths in our country per day, more than a month after Trump declared a national emergency. Most states of social distancing measures of one extent or another. It takes up to two weeks to show symptoms from the disease, and then it can take 3-6 weeks for the disease to run its course in severe cases. So if everyone who got it took two weeks to get it and then 6 weeks to get over it, then all of this should really subside in 8 weeks, yes? Though of course, some people come down with symptoms more quickly and have an outcome faster as well. Either way, we’re about 5 weeks into the time when it seemed like America was finally taking this seriously. I would have thought that by now we’d be seeing the number of deaths subside somewhat, but we’ve had record numbers the past two days. Here’s hoping the next two or three weeks really bring those numbers down.

But if they do, what do we do then? Your guess is as good as mine. I suppose it will turn into a long game of “how many people are we okay dying for us to go back to normal?” That’s not a game I’m in any hurry to play, though it appears many Republicans are looking for dice already.

I get that it’s complicated. I get that people are also dealing with terrible realities of unemployment, depression, abuse, malnutrition, exhaustion, and more. (Remember all the complaints I made to start this article off?) But as long as we keep sniping at each other and looking for people to blame, none of this is going to get any better. When the Titanic was sinking, what did it matter where the iceberg came from? And honestly, what did it matter what terrible decisions had been made about the life boats and the design of the ship? There will (hopefully) be plenty of time once the crisis is over for us to figure it all out. (And it ain’t gonna be that hard pointing to who made blunders . . .) For now, let’s just deal with what’s in front of us and figure out how to get through that as best we can.

And that’s all the time I have to discuss this today.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Choosing Hope

There are many reasons to be depressed right now. Many causes to be upset over. And I’ll admit that for the past few weeks, I’ve been pretty down. I’m still not upbeat about a lot of things, to be honest. But I came to the conclusion over the weekend that none of those lines of thought were productive at all. I could sit around feeling like the world was falling down around me, or I could make the conscious choice to be hopeful instead. And after living in the doldrums for the last while, the choice was a fairly easy one to make.

There are many reasons to be hopeful. For one, things have looked grim in life many times before in the past, and the world got through them. World Wars, global pandemics, famines, and more. It’s important to remember that every night has it’s dawn.

One of the things that brought this into focus for me most clearly was a talk I listened to over the weekend. The past two days was General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 10 hours of speeches focused on religious topics. Let me be clear: 10 hours of talks in two days is . . . a lot of talks. Have I been known to nod off now and then? Yes. Yes, I have. But in a typical year, I look forward to conference weekend as a way to recharge my batteries. Some nice quiet time to think about what’s really important, reevaluate my priorities, and get ready to face the crazy again once it’s over.

This time, there wasn’t much crazy I needed to gear up for, schedule-wise. In many ways, I wasn’t too jazzed about the idea of spending 10 more hours in front of a screen, when that’s what my life has turned into lately. But the talks were on point, and I still had an uplifting time.

One stood out to me especially, however. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk on Hope could and should apply to just about any religious person, or at least any Christian. It’s 17 minutes long, so not a quick watch, but if you’re looking for something spiritually nourishing today, as I was yesterday, I can think of nothing better than watching it, especially the last half. (Sadly, embeds aren’t working yet.)

One quote stood out in particular to me:

When we have conquered it — and we will — may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty. May we hope for schools where students are taught — not terrified they will be shot — and for the gift of personal dignity for every child of God, unmarred by any form of racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice.

For the past few weeks, it’s felt like all of my attention (or at least the bulk of it) has been focused on this pandemic and what I might do to prepare for it and the chaos it seems to be leaving in its wake. This talk was the first real time I’ve collected myself and reminded myself that there will be an “after.” I don’t mean to say I’ve been frantic, waiting for the world to end. Rather, I’ve been wholly distracted, focused on what people are (or aren’t) doing to get through this.

When I was in Utah, I lived in Lindon for a while. Denisa and I moved into the apartment under tentative circumstances. We were in my aunt and uncle’s basement, but we understood we might need to leave it at some point in the future, since it might be needed for other uses. We were grateful to have the place to stay at such a great rate, but we never really put down roots. In some ways, it felt like the Great Pirate Roberts.

We ended up living there for years, and I really feel like one of the bigger mistakes I made during that time was treating that place like a layover as opposed to a home. When you decide to commit to a place and make it yours, you’re able to really dig in and make lasting friendships. You plan for the future, and those plans cement you in the present in a way that you can’t really get through another path.

The past few weeks, I’ve felt tentative again. Living day to day. It felt like so much could change at any moment, so why should I bother trying to make any plans?

I had lost hope.

I’m going to try to correct that now. Yes, the future is still uncertain. We can’t know what track the disease will take, or what it will do to our economy. Things may change at any moment, but that doesn’t mean I need to stop making plans. There will be other things to focus on in the days, months, and years ahead. The problems of yesterday will be back, and I for one would much rather be dealing with simple political conundrums, as opposed to political conundrums AND COVID-19.

Anyway, that’s the shift in mindset I’m trying to make right now. It’s helping me, and I hope it might help some of you. Plan for the future, because there’s definitely going to be one, people. Even if sometimes it feels like we’re fully occupied with our present worries.

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