It’s been a week of endings. The Hallelujah Girls closed on Sunday after a glorious four performance run. As a character guy, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been asked to be charming on stage and I’ve gotten the girl at the end of the show. People seemed to like what I did with a redneck contractor trapped in rather absurd circumstances with a long ago flame so maybe more of those type of parts will come my way in the future. One good thing about the aging of the Boom (and their refusal to admit it) is more plays calling for older characters and scripts that allow older adults to have more fully realized lives and even a spot of romance or two. I don’t have anything specifically lined up for my next gig yet but something usually lands in my lap when the theatrical juices get flowing. At the moment, they’re at a low ebb and will be until I get back from my week off toward the end of the month.
The other major project ending is the very last gasp of edits on the second volume of these Accidental Plague Diaries. I now await a proof copy to double check for a major missed typographical disaster and as soon as that happens, the publication date will be set. I guess that puts me in week 39 with my second child. It will soon be here and launched upon an unsuspecting world to sink or swim. If you want me to come do a reading or a signing, slide into my DMs, as the kids say, and we’ll set something up. It’s very odd putting the book forms of these writings together at the same time as I continue to spew out these missives. Volume II covers most of 2021, which wasn’t all that long ago, less than a year, and as I have written and edited and retouched some of the entries, they feel so foreign and far away. It also makes me wonder about the putative Volume III. The story isn’t over yet so I feel compelled to keep telling it but when does it become too much? Is there an ending? Does it just trail off in the way that society would like the pandemic just to vanish into the mists of time.
Looking at various data points, the pandemic isn’t going to blithely depart at any time in the immediate future. If you look at trends in Europe, numbers are going back up again in terms of cases (but not necessarily in terms of morbidity and mortality). We tend to lag behind Europe by six to ten weeks in general. As a good deal of Europe is further north than most of the US, the fall weather is already well established there and, with that seasonal change, human behavior regarding indoor versus outdoor activity changes. There’s some thought that this is why they’re going up and, as fall continues to come to our more southern latitudes and we do the same thing, our numbers will echo what is being seen there and the slow decreasing trends we have seen over the last few months will start heading back up.
All of the variants spreading worldwide still seem to be subvariants of omicron. There hasn’t been a huge antigenic shift since that became dominant last December. But we’re only doing about 10% of the testing and gene sequencing worldwide that was being done in 2020 and 2021 so we’re not getting anywhere near the same type of accurate picture as to what’s going on as we used to. It’s possible that there are new strains with highly unpleasant tendencies brewing out there but that we just haven’t yet detected them as no one’s looking. We do have one decent weapon, the new bivalent vaccine booster which has been formulated specifically around the omicron BA.5 variant which had come to dominate over the summer. Unfortunately, few people are taking advantage of it’s availability. Last I checked, only about 15% of the people who could benefit had actually gotten a shot. I’m hoping those numbers start going up a bit more later in the fall as people start thinking about flu shots and spreading respiratory viruses of all stripes.
The social scientists are starting to study and measure the changes in American society wrought by the pandemic. I’m not well trained in these methodologies but, from what I can tell, there are a number of scales on which American personality traits can be measured from various large data sets. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, there was an improvement in general well being and a lessening of neurosis. The feeling of everyone being in this together and having to lay aside differences to help overcome a common adversity made a positive mark. This has apparently become completely undone over 2021 and the first half of 2022. The politicization of vaccines and public health measures, disagreements over best practices in education, and economic worries as the various pandemic linked shocks have hit different financial sectors have caused us to become more tribal, more suspicious, more distrusting, more willing to circle our wagons and not care about those outside of our camp.
I think the clearest place to see all of this is in the education system. The havoc wreaked by societal shutdowns and the failures of on line learning have left American parents somewhat frantic. At all socioeconomic strata, there is an understanding that a good education is the ticket to forward motion in society and anything that can impede that is anathema. The late high schoolers of the last few years are entering college without good study habits in place. The elementary and middle schoolers are behind where they should be. Energetic parents are helping their kids catch up and supplementing. Less energetic or more distrusting ones are looking for scapegoats. Masks! Critical Race Theory! Drag Queen Story Hours! I don’t know how the great pause is going to shake out in the arc of Generation Z’s life but there’s likely to be impacts felt for years to come. In another few years, the first of those who had truncated high school experiences will start turning up in medical school. It’ll be interesting to see what that will bring about. We can’t dumb down standards or coddle students when creating doctors. If we do, people will die.
I have seven more work days before I get a week off to recharge. I’m trying to decide if I’m going to completely unplug for the week or if I’ll keep up my usual social media presence. I’m heading to Miami to see an old friend for a few days. Leisurely drive down the Florida peninsula, more hell for leather return. I was going to go down the West coast as I have never been to the beaches or cities on that side but Hurricane Ian has put a stop to that plan. I’ll probably just go down the turnpike but I’ll keep an eye on the weather and flooding and adjust my route accordingly. I’m thinking about stopping in Orlando and spending a day at Disney or Universal. But I’m not sure I want to do that alone. It’s much more fun with a companion.