July 16, 2021

The news from Covidland is bleak. The numbers are trending up at rates not seen since the major surge last fall. The Ozarks are the canary in the coal mine, likely due to Memorial Day revelry in Branson, Missouri and environs and now, six or seven weeks later, the hospitals there are full, the death rates are spiking and they are as overwhelmed as they were six or eight months ago. There’s a difference this time around. Last year, there was a feeling of camaraderie and cooperation in health care and every one was running on adrenaline and a sense of mission and purpose. Then, this spring, through the miracle of vaccination, numbers came down, the pressure came off and exhausted health care workers took stock. Some retired, some transferred to less stressful jobs but the feeling was that the war, if not won, had at least moved into mop up operations. Then, antivaccine frenzy took hold and now, here we are.

We’re now no longer dealing with a race against time with a swiftly moving pandemic that’s gobsmacked us all upside the head. We’re now dealing with a totally preventable disease process that would be well on its way to control, at least on the domestic front had not a deliberate campaign of disinformation interrupted the flow of vaccine to the population, causing a lot of states to end up with less than half of their healthy adults protected. Add to this, a faster spreading Delta variant and we’re all off to the races again. Only this time, those falling ill are younger, have made a deliberate choice to set themselves up for infection and an exhausted health care system is running out of empathy.

I am not, at heart a conspiracy theorist. I know far too much about group dynamics to believe that evil cabals can secretly manipulate the world undetected. However, there must be some sort of political reason to explain why one of the two major political parties seems to be willing to tolerate the willful flaunting of the most basic public health precepts. All I can come up with is that a good deal of the current administration’s credibility rests on its proven ability to move rapidly to bring the pandemic under control. Therefore, if the pandemic surges again, with a little help from political rhetoric flouting the rather miraculous reduction of infection through vaccination, that serves to undercut the administration in power. I hate to think that one party is willing to sacrifice lives as so much collateral damage to one up the other party as I view that as ethically reprehensible, but our politics have become so screwy, I wouldn’t put it past the back room deal makers.

Locally, numbers are up about 50% over last week. Positivity rates of testing are surging. A number of acquaintances of my generation have fallen seriously ill despite being vaccinated (no one has died in that group yet but I know it’s coming eventually). Life goes on relatively normally. I’m not worried about myself but I am wondering what we’re going to have to do to keep us from going back to last winter. Full lockdowns are politically unpalatable. Do we go back to full mask mandate/social distancing rules? If the vaccines become fully approved (likely to happen within a month or two), do we start mandating them? Do we require vaccine passports for entry into public space? There are no easy answers. I’m being judicious with mask use, keeping my hands washed and staying somewhat distanced from populations of mixed vaccine status. What else can I do?

I went out on a limb last night. I was invited to be a storyteller at an event to benefit a local library system. It was a spoken word night with half a dozen storytellers and a few poets. I arrived, looked at the line up and my heart sank. I recognized more than a few names as folk with significant spoken word cred; the kind that I’ve heard on NPR and at poetry readings around town. What in the heck was I doing in that group? I’ve never been asked to do something like this before. I had rehearsed a couple of possible stories in my head but really had no idea what I was going to do. Fortunately, my slot was somewhat late on the bill and I had a chance to listen to some masters go first and got a sense of what was playing well to the audience. When it was my turn, I headed up front, grabbed the mic, thought to myself ‘well here goes nothing’ and entered the zone I go into when I do a public speech or am interviewed on television or the like. It’s hard to explain, but my usual brain gets tucked away in a little corner of my head and a whole different piece of my brain comes out and takes over and I just go along for the ride. I don’t know where it comes from or how it operates, but that piece of me is assured, rarely nervous, well spoken, and pretty nimble. Ten minutes later, I was done and then I fell apart inside and allowed myself to question every choice I had made and word I had spoken. I’ve never really been able to do stand up and I admire those who can because of the difficulty of balancing the humor, the audience expectation and the need to be honest to your material. I don’t get stage fright easily but I think I would in a comedy club. Tommy used to accuse me of always seeking a spotlight. I don’t think that’s true. I think when I let that piece of me come out (and I have to name him something. I just don’t know what…) he just knows how to communicate and the spotlight finds him.

A couple of people have suggested that I need to take some of my stories from work and my life and put them together in a Spalding Gray type monologue. I could probably write it but I’d have to find a director who could help make it into something besides my sitting there on a stool and talking into a mic for an hour and who would want to see that. Maybe someday. After the book is out. For various reasons, there has to be one more proof run on that and then we can get the advance copies run off and sent out. Hopefully before the end of the month. The general sale should begin in mid to late August. I’ll keep everyone apprised through my usual social media channels.

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