Sunday, April 26, 2020

Journal of the Plague Months: Vol. 2, No. 5 Thoughts on another day at home

I live in Colorado, a state that has taken a patchwork opening to its economy — all based, we’re told, on careful scrutiny of data. The governor wants one kind of opening. Counties in the metro-Denver area (wisely, I think) have pumped the breaks on Polis’s plan.

If I were the kind of Coloradan who found the distant view of the Rockies beckoning like a siren call, I’d be itching to visit Eagle County (open). Maybe I’d do it. But what if I were asymptomatic and my visit re-igniteed a virus hotspot that seems to have cooled?

Don’t worry, Eagleistas. I’m not going anywhere, which pretty much describes my approach to life prior to the beginning of these seeming endless Corona days.
It’s not that I love being home, it’s more that I have no particular desire to be anywhere else.

I keep thinking about a flight to Seattle and then a train trip to Vancouver. Someone once told me that in Vancouver, you can restaurants devoted entirely to congee, a rice porridge often sprinkled with various ingredients. Denver has some superior Chinese restaurants, but few people I know like congee as much as I do. It’s almost always served in large orders. Most often, I pass.

As tempting as I find Vancouver, thinking and doing remain cousins once removed in my world.

I’ve visited Italy nine times, mostly because my wife is an artist and has conducted workshops there. I happily would return, except ... well ... you know why a visit to Italy has become ill-advised, at least for a while.

Then there’s the trip east to see children and grandchildren. Yes, I miss being able to do that, but I don’t miss airports, airplane seating so tight I have trouble even looking at an iPad while flying. The proximity to other passengers on the average flight shatters all notions of personal space even when you’re not looking at others as possible sources of contagion.

When the virus began its relentless march across the globe, many well-meaning souls told us that we should be kind to one another — or perhaps especially kind. I think we’d have been better off with a different motto: Borrowing from physicians, we should remind ourselves to “do no harm.”

That means wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and not pretending that life continues as normal.

I watch kids race through my neighborhood on skateboards and wonder if their parents have explained to them what six-feet apart means and why it matters. I’ve seen mask-wearing bikers (good) and more non-mask wearing bikers (not good). The same goes for joggers.

The virus should remind us of something that we too often forget. Unless you're privy to Howard Hughes-like seclusion, we all breathe the same air.

I’m writing this on Sunday. I know it’s Sunday because the newspapers I read are larger than they are on weekdays. Reading them has become an occasion to experiencing alternating bouts of depression and outrage — with a very occasional flash of humor, some of it even intended.

I’ve gained a new appreciation for what it means to be politically engaged. I’ve sent more emails to politicians than I have in my entire pre-corona virus, where the number never broke two or three. I learned that my local representatives — city council members, county officials, state representatives, etc. — actually answer emails.

I mean they really answer them as opposed to automatically sending a boilerplate response that may or may not address the concerns I’ve raised.

The rest? Well, they’re all very busy I suppose.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned. If you want a voice in decisions that impact your life, you must be persistent. You can’t throw up your hands in resignation even when your pleading seems pointless. You have to stay the course.

Activists already know this but, by nature, I’m not an activist. I didn’t become a journalist because I value active participation over observation.

And while we’re on the subject of journalism. Of course, I worry about the future of journalism. The best journalism isn’t done on the phone or over Zoom calls or at press conferences and briefings. It’s done by men and women who value being there, there being wherever the story is breaking. Next time you read an article in a newspaper keep track of the number of telling details you find.

When I was a young reporter, I remember a story a friend wrote about a hotel fire in Syracuse, New York. He pointed out that the conflagration was so hot it melted the clock in the lobby. A Rocky Mountain News reporter once went to the home of then-Mayor Bill McNichols looking for a reaction to something or other. After looking through a window, the reporter noted that the mayor’s living room boasted a badly-tuned color TV. (Remember the days when adjusting the color on a television set was a thing?)

For me, those are the delights of journalism and they aren’t always easy to find — being present with eyes wide open, sensitive to the minute as a possible window into the heart of any matter.

I often wonder whether I didn’t make a mistake by shifting my journalistic life into movie reviewing and I’m sure many readers often wondered the same thing when they found one review or another to be particularly off base.

These days, the virus practically has eliminated our ability to experience the world, something already encouraged by the virtual virus that has consumed us all. A Zoom call from your home office isn’t the same as being in the same room with someone. On Zoom, we take in more a face, a voice, and a little bit of background, making judgments based on the narrowest of frames. It’s the difference, say, between squinting and seeing.

Yesterday, I read a story about R0 and what it means. R0 is the average number of people who will contract a disease after contact with a single person. Obviously, the lower the R0 number the better.

As I read the story, I realized how much talk we’ve lately heard about models, curves, possible rebounds, contact tracing, and more. All important — and none capturing lived reality, none explaining why I suddenly find myself overwhelmed by an unexpected wave of sadness, none of them capturing the feeling of the crucial gulf between inside and outside.

Based on all that I’ve read, I think the interests of the economy (no small matter) are best served by putting health considerations first, that that’s the best way to reclaim experience, move back into the larger world, and ensure that people can make a living.

And, yes, I also think those who suffering economically should be helped — immediately and generously. And the only vehicle for doing that is a well-run government that knows how to put money into people’s hands — and get it to those who need it most.

On a common-sense level, I look at it this way: When I’m sick, I don’t ask a politician for a cure. I do what every sensible person does, I see a doctor.

The ills of the economy are a whole other matter and are best addressed when we’re not all in a panic — low or high level — about who among us will be here when our beloved malls finally reopen and we can again do what we Americans seem to do best: consume.

No comments: