November 17, 2021

I’m a bit on edge tonight as the last day or so has been seesawing between minor wins and little lows. I don’t know if it’s pandemic coping exhaustion or something else but the little things just tip me towards a state of lassitude. I’ve spent the last few hours feeling like I could fall asleep on my feet even though it’s not been a particularly arduous day. The way I put it together is as follows. We’ve all been stewing in a toxic environment of danger signals for some years now. Turn on the TV? Some pundit with excess jowls, too much foundation, and an inability to remain in the least bit calm begins to deliver a highly opinionated tale of doom and gloom. Browse social media? Dozens of click bait headlines announcing imminent disaster of various kinds. Phone a friend? You’ll eventually get around to some story of a mutual acquaintance who became seriously ill with Covid or with post infection long Covid symptoms. A constant mental diet of this is revving up our limbic systems and primitive brain functions into a high state of alertness. Our brains, evolved for a hunter-gatherer savannah life, don’t understand that the sabre-tooth tiger isn’t about to come over the hill and are forcing us into a certain level of paralysis in order to conserve energy to fight or flee the physical danger they assume will arrive at any moment. Must stay still. Must conserve energy resources. Must hold on to extra energy in case we have to walk great distances to greener pastures. (That’s why we’ve all gained weight and are having difficulty shedding the extra pounds. To our primitive brains, that fat is energy storage for when the ever promised danger arrives and we need extra strength and stamina to survive.)

Mental health is deteriorating everywhere due to all of this and I assume we’re going to have enormous amounts of depression, anxiety disorders, and post traumatic stress issues to deal with as a society for some years going forward. Add this to the physical toll of long Covid which is likely to render a significant number of people unable to function as independent adults due to physical issues without assistance. And where are the nurturers and the caregivers and the mental health professionals supposed to come from? These fields have always been poorly paid and low on the social totem pole in our society due to their identification with a traditionally female workforce and feminine characteristics. Job categories that require traditionally male attributes such as aggression, autonomy, and precision and which have been generally reserved for males prior to the social changes of fifty to sixty years ago have always been considered more important than those that require traditionally female attributes such as cooperation, and caring. You see this dichotomy immediately in health care where doctors were traditionally male and nurses traditionally female. Of course this has been changing rapidly over the last few decades and the number of women in medical school in this country now outnumber the number of men although women are still unconsciously directed toward the more nurturing specialties such as primary care and psychiatry and not towards the more technical surgical specialties.

The lack of social worth given to caregiving type jobs is now making itself fully felt in this period of The Great Resignation with large numbers of the previously employed not returning to jobs that did not value them. Every elder care facility and company I’m aware of is short staffed. Wages are beginning to come up as employers desperately try to find and retain good employees but it takes more than a decent paycheck to hold people in careers. It requires that their other social needs be met and that they feel that what they do is of value. When everything about their field of endeavor is demeaned, why should they remain. Someone once asked me what I thought the most important job category was in society that should be compensated on the highest salary scale. I thought about it a moment and decided it was first grade teachers. Those individuals, have the ability to instill a love of learning and inquiry that will ultimately lead to the absolute success of society in the long run. They determine literacy, the building blocks of math and science, and the basics of interpersonal relations with those who were previously strangers. We all know, however, that elementary teachers aren’t especially valued these days, when teach to the test is the mantra and they have the additional issues of political culture wars entering their classrooms. I’m glad Mr. Rogers is dead. If he were still alive, I’m sure some conservative pundit would be decrying him from a spittle flecked mouth for daring to embrace critical race theory as he shares a wading pool with a man of another race.

This is one of those days when I wonder if our society is rapidly becoming irretrievably broken, just like one of my dining room chairs which splintered when I sat down in it this evening. (One of the minor annoyances of the day). At least I have eleven others. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a sit down dinner party for twelve again and, if I do, I guess one of the chairs won’t match. Another annoyance was having left my phone on the bed when I went off to work this morning. All sorts of things now run through my phone. It functions as my beeper. It’s necessary for me to be able to sign prescriptions for controlled substances as the law dictates two separate authentications for the electronic health record. It’s how I stay in touch with the VA when I’m at UAB and vice versa. Funny how something that simply didn’t exist a couple of decades ago has become so integrated into every aspect of our lives. I can tell that it’s presence is rewiring my brain as I felt lost this morning without it.

On the positive side of the column, I sat at a table last night with fellow actors and had a table read of The Reindeer Monologues which I’m performing in a few weeks (presuming I can stuff a nine minute monologue into my rapidly aging brain). I hadn’t been able to do something so mundane and as necessary as that for nearly two years and it just felt good to be in that sort of space, making the sort of jokes theater people make when they’re getting together and feeling each other out. It’s an eclectic cast – a couple people I’ve worked with before, a couple people I’ve known for year but never had a chance to work with, and a couple people who are new to the game. It should be fun. It’s a small cast and crew and most of our rehearsing will be individual so I don’t feel at all concerned about Covid safety. It passes the car test. I feel the chances of being injured or hurt in a car accident are higher than getting sick from working on this project. Another positive is a reasonable raise at work. More money to donate to help keep theater in Birmingham afloat. I’ll take some of it for a trip next year but I haven’t figured out when and where that will be yet.

Most of the extra projects are out of the way so I can concentrate on learning my monologue and enjoy a few days off in Seattle. The one last thing on the to do list is to write a sermon for church which I am to deliver on Sunday the 5th. I have entitled it ‘Book Writing and other Happy Accidents’ and it’s going to cover some of the weird ways serendipity has impacted my life over the years. The last time I gave sermon (on issues surrounding gay marriage), it ended up getting published. Who knows what will happen with this one… must… write… first…. In the meantime, off to bed, then up in the morning for VA house calls – complete with mask, hand sanitizer, and appropriate distancing.

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