May 9, 2023

I was sidelined this weekend by a medical issue (relax – it was just a routine colonoscopy and I’m fine) and a couple of days of enforced inactivity for prep and anesthesia recovery did not sit at all well. It made me wonder if retirement will be good for me. I get very antsy after just a few hours of doing nothing. There’s a part of my brain that feels its necessary to be productive during all waking hours and that leisure, vegging, and wasting time are not to be borne. Culturally, I received the protestant work ethic but I think it’s been magnified in me by life experiences which have had me call into question the ability to ever have enough time to accomplish everything in life that one should. Tommy, years ago, was a member of the IATSE crew that worked the touring shows that come through town and when The Lion King came in the early 2000s for a five week sit down, he was the wardrobe laundry person eight shows a week – forty loads per show plus all of the hand washing of the beaded and specialty pieces. His souvenir T-shirt read ‘The Lion King Crew – More To Do Than Can Ever Be Done’ which is a lyric from the opening number, The Circle of Life and was certainly one of his mottos and he passed that style of living on to me during our years together.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, working in a primary care discipline during the slow, but inexorable collapse of the American health care system has certainly left me with a continued scramble to keep all of the work tasks up to date and the clinical systems for which I have responsibility, in a vaguely working order. But if I were to remove all of that from my life, just walk away (which I am occasionally tempted to do…) what then? I say I would put that time and energy into the performing arts here in the greater Birmingham area (and I have a few ideas as to what that might look like) but would I really? I have a feeling I had better take a more measured approach to retirement and a more gradual slow down over several years rather than something abrupt – health permitting of course. I’ve worked in medicine long enough to know there are absolutely no guarantees in that department. Body betrayal can happen at any time, usually when you’re busy planning something else.

I’m in the process of editing the last part of the manuscript for Volume III of The Accidental Plague Diaries. If all goes well, it will be out in late July or early August. I am, again, looking at material that I wrote less than a year ago and it feels like I was writing about a completely alien time and place. The end of the pandemic has had ‘normalcy’ spring into place like a bear trap, and its making me feel like I’m being detached from my recent past in peculiar but very real ways. The three years from March 2020 to early 2023 is starting to feel like a bad dream and it’s certainly messing with my perception of time. It’s almost like that period has become nonexistent in my calculations so 2018, which was five years ago, feels like it should only have been two years ago.

I’m trying to write a fitting epilogue to Volume III that will sum up the whole experience of the pandemic, not just for me, but for our society. I haven’t been able to find the right words yet. The attempts so far? Maudlin and trite are the words that come to mind and they’re really not what I’m going for. And how to acknowledge that even though the acute phase of the pandemic is over that Covid remains a significant and continuing cause of morbidity and mortality that is likely to remain throughout our lifetimes? And how to honor the over one million dead in the US and the millions more whose physiology has been irreparably harmed?

Two local journalists of my acquaintance, John Archibald and Kyle Whitmire were awarded Pulitzer Prizes this week, John for reporting and Kyle for commentary. Once I get the third volume done, I’ll submit the whole thing for Pulitzer consideration next year. And I won’t even make the short list. I have to keep reminding myself that those two have been writing for decades (I’ve been reading their stuff for 25 years, since I first moved to Birmingham) and I’ve only been published for two. I’m thrilled at their success. I love it when good things happen to deserving people. And it’s nice to know that even though Birmingham no longer has a daily newspaper (thanks to the greed of the Newhouse family), we still have a tradition of top notch journalism that finds a way to shine a light on the more corrupt elements of our society.

Thirty-six hours from now, I’ll be on a plane heading for Seattle for a little family time. I may write while there, I may not. I will most certainly try to get some more editing done as, once again, enforced down time is not my forte. It’s going to be a bit of a working weekend as I have some private geriatric assessment to do and I’m giving a talk on aging issues at my father’s senior living community as I usually do. At least I’ve gotten smart enough in recent years to make those off the cuff Q and A so I don’t have to spend a lot of time preparing in advance. Thank god for Jeanmarie Collins and the improv training over the years. It may not be what Viola Spolin envisioned when she was putting her technique together but I’ve been able to use it to impress a lot of senior adults.

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