Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! Plus, bonus commentary on the supreme court clusterfuck!

Just a short one today ya’ll- my brain is pretty worn out, and long reads are hard to produce right now.

If you want to better understand the history of Indigenous people and their relationship to the U.S. Government, this article is a great start. When it comes to issues that people of color face, I prefer the “amplify” approach. After all, this isn’t about white people and their feelings- it’s about making sense of the past so we can make better and more compassionate decisions in the present. All of us. Together.

And because we are currently in the middle of a supreme court clusterfuck (one that could potentially affect Indigenous rights for a long time) I would like to remind you, dear reader, that it is NOT unreasonable for Barrett to be facing some scrutiny. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Were she Muslim, or Hindu, or Pagan, or Atheist, the GOP wouldn’t not be so quick to overlook the fact that she lived in someones home as a “handmaid.” Do I care, personally, about what her religious beliefs are? Not particularly. But I care that the GOP is desperately trying to make this a fight about her faith (WHY ARE THE LEFTIES BEING TO MEAN TO THE NICE CATHOLIC LADY DEMOCRATS MUST HATE GOD) when we should really be scrutinizing three WAY more important things:

Might Barrett help the Trump administration cheat in the election?

Will she be open to overturning the ACA during a pandemic?

Will she try to overturn Roe V. Wade?

I could go on, but you get the picture. When powerful groups start to lose, they always try to change the conversation without being honest about what they’re doing. Don’t let the GOP off the hook.

Do it for her

If you’ve never called any Reps before, now is a good time to give it a try!

Because let’s be clear- when justice Scalia died, President Obama was denied his right to appoint a justice. McConnell refused to hold a vote, and claimed that the upcoming election was too close. Mind you, this all happened in March of that year, where as democrats/progressives/moderate Republicans/ anyone who doesn’t feel like kissing Trumps butthole are apparently supposed to just be chill as McConnell tries to ram a nomination through in SEPTEMBER. Because reasons.

I could make more jokes about how much of a hypocrite the treason turtle turtle is (remember the impeachment proceedings!) but there’s no point- he knows what he’s doing, and clearly doesn’t care.

I could try to untangle the finger pointing about which major party normalized the hyper polarization of the supreme court, but considering that one of the major parties seems to be weirdly chill with fascist principals at the moment, that doesn’t seem like a super good use of time.

So Rep calling. I know it seems hopeless, but consider: whether a politician has any real integrity or not, they usually like getting re-elected. At the very least, they’ll want enough of a reputation to continue as a lobbyist or write a book or something. So if enough people contact them with the same concern, they can sometimes be persuaded to change their mind. Or at least pretend to.

The Democrats in the Senate will almost certainly be voting against any nominee put forth by treason weasel, although it wouldn’t hurt to call them up and thank them for doing their jobs in the age of Qanon (if you get an office aid on the line, try politely asking them about calls they get- you’ll hear some stories).

But the Republicans currently have a majority, which means that Trump can pick Giuliani himself and there’s a good chance he’ll be allowed through (thankfully that specific scenario is now very unlikely, but you see my point).

So let’s make some noise.

The contact info for each senator is linked to their name. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND CALLING AND LEAVING A MESSAGE RATHER THAN SENDING AN EMAIL. I know those apps are fun and easy, but emails are much, MUCH easier for an office to ignore than a phone call or a letter. If you have severe anxiety, consider getting out some stationary and contacting the Senator the old fashioned way.

Senator Collins

Yes, I know. She’s been a bit slippery in the past. But we have to try. As of this writing, she has insisted that she wants to wait to nominate. If this hasn’t changed, call and thank her. If she has changed her mind, call her and remind her of her earlier statement.

Senator Murkowski

Similar situation to Collins. At present, she is claiming that she will not vote for a replacement before we know who the next President is. Call her and thank her, or remind her of her words.

Senator Romney

Romney broke with his fellow Republicans on some impeachment votes, so there’s a possibility he’ll be willing to break on this. As of this writing, he has not made an announcement yet. So call.

I hope the above names are enough to get you started, but there are other things you can do. If you live in a red state, call your senator and drop your address. If enough of their constituents raise a fuss, Senators have to face the possibility of not getting re-elected. For some of them, this is the only way to change their minds. It’s worth a try.

If you live in Kentucky, consider organizing a protest near the Senator McConnell’s home, or donating to his opponent, Amy McGrath. Or both!

Before I vanish to get to my usual routine of work, videogames, chocolate and tea, I wanted to say a quick work about the Fall Equinox.

In some Witchcraft traditions, this day is called “Mabon,” though there are other names. Typically, it is a time of reflection of light and dark. It’s supposed to be a time of balance.

Right now, there isn’t much balance to be found in the human world. But if you’re fortunate enough to live near trees, you may already be seeing the changes. Nothing is permanent.

And right now, I think that the impermanence of life is rather comforting. The USA might feel like a finely aged soiled diaper right now, but it won’t stay this way forever. We can all help to tip the scales and build a world we want to live in.

I’m going to leave you with a link to a YouTube video featuring a romantic composer that I’m fond of. Fanny Hensel (also known as Fanny Mendelssohn, sister to Felix Mendelssohn) wrote a cycle of piano pieces known as Das Jahr, or, The Year. (And of course the disclaimer, I do not own this video. I am not that talented of a composer OR a piano player)

This is a recording of “September.” Notice that even though it is turbulent, there is still beauty in the melody.

And the chaos comes to an end. It always does eventually.

Stay safe, ya’ll!

Please don’t tell your West Coast friends to just “drive somewhere else….”

Because if you look at a map, it’s pretty clear that there’s nowhere else to go.

I had hoped to write some more uplifting things, but as a resident of Oregon I have an obligation to signal boost about just how bad the destruction is. After all, these fires would be getting waaaaaay more headlines were it not for the nasty killer virus and a President who makes most toddlers look mature and reasonable.

But onto the fires that make most disaster movies look tame:

If you have income and are living comfortably, the Portland Mercury has assembled a pretty good list of organizations taking donations. This list also includes suggestions for volunteer work, if you are able bodied and have a mask or respirator that will help you breathe in this air. I’m serious about that last bit- right now, our air is basically a damp campfire times a billion and you cannot safely breathe it without some assistance.

If you need a laugh, this story is an absurd reminder of why funding public education matters. You might prefer to home school your kids or ship them off to a private institution, but it really is within your best interest to make sure your neighbors aren’t susceptible to disinformation campaigns. Seriously.

That’s all for now, as I can finally see across the street from my apartment and this is a very exciting development.

You are not invincible.

Alright, it’s that time again. Time for the cancer survivor to give all you folks a friendly lecture about what it is actually like to be brought near death by an illness. Because some of you do not get it.

First, a quick content notice for some talk about cancer, bloodwork with needles, and overall medical trauma. Also swear words, because hoooooooooo boy these COVID19 skeptics are testing my patience. And by “testing my patience”, I mean they make me want to flee civilization and live out my days as a forest hag who cackles maniacally at anyone who comes by. It’d be a lonely life, but at least no one with a Guy Fawkes mask as their profile will lecture me about how vaccines are a plot to weaken us before the -insert racist dog whistle here- attack.

I don’t want to paint too dark of a picture. Most Americans are taking COVID19 seriously, or are at least trying to. Yes, a lot of the “skepticism” is manufactured and amplified by bots. Unfortunately, a handful of people really believe that this novel virus (which practically brought the world to a standstill) is simply a cold. You can’t stop cold viruses, right? So best not to try! Open up the schools and bring everyone back to work! The death rate is low, right?

But here’s the thing: Even just 1% of the population of America is still literally millions of people, and there are consequences for letting millions of people die in a short amount of time. Plus, the actual death rate for COVID19 is constantly in flux depending on who you ask. I’ve seen estimates ranging from .05%-5% or even higher, probably because we haven’t been keeping track of this data long enough to be very precise. In truth, the death rate will vary, usually due to differences in local conditions.

For example, we can safely predict that a large city with more hospital beds and ventilators will have fewer deaths than a large city that does not have these things, assuming both of them experience a similar outbreak. Some rural areas might be safer if they have few travelers coming through, but others may succumb to a bad combination of an outbreak and fewer hospital beds. Similarly, availability and methodology of testing can muddy the waters.

And although we don’t know what the exact death rate for COVID19 is at any given moment, we know that it’s significantly higher than than that of the flu. This means that letting the virus burn through the population all at once is, to put into very technical terms, a fucking terrible idea.

But suppose you don’t die. Suppose you’re one of the many more who get a mild or asymptomatic case. You’re in the clear as long as you stay home and don’t infect anybody, right?

Well, not quite.

See, it turns out that COVID19 has some weird side effects that may, or may not be long term or even permanent. These include (but are not limited to) heart damage, lung damage, and even problems with the brain.

We don’t yet know how common these effects are. But we do know that they can potentially incapacitate you for months. The exact rate of infections that carry long term consequences is not known (as of this writing) but according to what little data is available, it’s probably a lot higher than the death rate

To complicate things further, we now know for certain that reinfection is possible. Mercifully, what data there is so far suggests that such patients tend to do better a second time. But until we know more, we should not assume that recovering from an infection will protect us from a new case down the road. In other words, simply letting the virus “run its course” won’t necessarily get your favorite karaoke bar open and thriving again any time soon.

And by the way, dying from COVID19 is technically suffocating to death. You might or might not be conscious when it happens, but there’s a good chance that the last thing you’ll see is the nurse who helps you. Your family probably won’t be allowed in. I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect we’d see fewer anti-maskers proudly proclaiming that they’re ‘not afraid’ if they knew the full extent of what could happen to them. Dying on a ventilator is harder to romanticize than dying while battling the evil Marxists who want to cancel hamburgers and bibles, or whatever the current story is.

Now, I understand that because the statistical probability of death from COVID19 is usually listed as a single digit number, you think it’ll never happen to you. After all, we can’t worry about everything all at once, and life is already full of stressful things. Why fret over a virus when we already have to deal with other scary stuff, like taxes and parallel parking?

Well, because once a bad thing has happened (such as a dangerous COVID19 infection) the statistical improbability of said bad thing doesn’t help you or your family deal with it. At all.

Having two kinds of cancer at the same time while in grad school is not a statistically common occurrence, but knowing this fact did not bring me comfort while I was experiencing it. If anything, it kind of made it worse. Some people get their degree interrupted with a broken limb or something. But not me! Before cancer, I’d never spent more than 20 minutes in a doctors office. By the end of my treatments, I was so numb to needles for bloodwork that I could actually watch the tip go into my arm and feel nothing while it happened. Ah, the little things they don’t mention in the pamphlets…

By now, you may have pieced together that I am taking some of this COVID19 skepticism a bit personally. And you’re right! I am!

Because I know what it’s like to have faith in the strength of your body, only to have that faith shattered when reality hits the fan. I know that all those empty platitudes about personal responsibility ring hollow when you’ve done everything right and still have fallen sick. I know the pain. And although I’m already doing everything I can in my own life to slow the spread, I can’t help but use every platform I have to try and get the message out.

I should probably hit the brakes now and make something very clear: I do not want you to live in fear. Fear and panic can cause people to make questionable choices, like leasing a sports car or investing in Bitcoin.

Plus, fear and panic can be taxing on mental health. I personally prefer my fear and panic in small doses, specifically in a very few horror movies that I genuinely enjoy and nowhere else. Tremble at the sight of an Alien xenomorph? Sure! Stress myself out over grabbing the mail? Not so much.

But I am a fan of accepting the reality as it is, in order to make good choices. As long as Americans keep ignoring the data and pretending that COVID19 is no big deal, we can’t fix it. Literally. All the efforts of healthcare professionals and those who are willing and able to stay home are essentially being wasted, because the virus is still spreading.

Part of the problem is that many able-bodied people have a knee-jerk reaction to the possibility of a fatal illness. They’ve always been able to assume that their “good choices” (diet, exercise ect.) were enough to keep them alive. Once upon a time, maybe that was me. To accept that you can still die randomly even if you do everything “right” is actually very difficult.   

And if you have never had to fight to stay alive during a severe illness (or watched someone else go through the process up close) you have no concept of what COVID19 can actually do to you. You don’t know what it’s like to speak with doctors and nurses about your own death. You can’t fathom what it’s like to contemplate saying goodbye to your friends and family if things go poorly. You don’t understand how it feels to wrestle with pain that goes on for literal months. Plus, there’s paperwork. A lot of it. I hope you carry a detailed history of every doctors visit you’ve ever had, because you will have to produce that information dozens of times.

And don’t assume you’ll be reading novels or sketching out your dream comic book while you’re sick. Powerful drugs and deadly illnesses have side effects. It could be days or weeks before you can read, or even look at a screen without nausea. Maybe you’ll get aches all over your body that make it difficult to do anything at all. Eating and using the toilet may get very complicated. Most of your energy will be spent on surviving. There won’t be room for much else. 

You’ll enter a territory where physical strength is practically meaningless. There’s no “powering through” a bad case of COVID19, or chemo, or surgery recovery, or anything that brings you close enough to death. You heal when you heal, and that’s that.

And what if the hospital in your area is sketchy? Maybe you get a bad doctor, or the office double bills you and refuses to correct the error? Tough shit, that’s part of it too. Have fun dealing with needlessly complicated medical bills while your brain doesn’t work right, O lover of freedom and liberty!

What’s that, you’re a little pressed for cash because you haven’t been able to work for several weeks and maybe you’ve been fired? Well, too bad! This is the land of the free, which means we are free to use the least economically efficient system imaginable for healthcare! And can’t you just keep 100,000$ saved at all times for emergencies? 

Bottom line is, some of us already know how this goes. And we’re sick of this shit. We’re sick of watching the numbers go up. We’re sick of hearing about how “expendable” human beings are from rich assholes who never have to hear the word “no.” We’re sick of making sacrifices in our own lives so that ignorant fuckwads can make stupid decisions that get more people killed.

No, you are not invincible. But you know what? You’re body is still really cool. Your life is still precious and irreplaceable.

So cherish that body and protect it. Don’t throw yourself into the COVID19 mill just so your boss can get a bonus they don’t need or deserve.

You may not be invincible. But your life is still worthwhile. Don’t let someone with three yachts and no close friends try tell you otherwise.

Black Lives Matter

I haven’t died. I do have thoughts and insights on the latest murders by the hands of police who apparently are NOT accustomed to being held accountable for their actions. But here’s the thing: My complexion is that of a jar of mayonnaise with legs. And one reason why these issues are never really dealt with is because too many white people are REALLY bad at listening. We clutch our pearls about gang violence and drug crimes, but look the other way when law enforcement straight up murders someone and gets away with it. Over. And over. And over again.

So I’ve wrestled with this for the past few months, because I don’t know how much good one more white person on the internet can do. But I suppose I have to try. 

So for now, I’ve decided to simply amplify other voices whenever touching on this topic. After all, why spend hours/days writing something that’s already been written? And more importantly, why make this about my own feelings and ego when that mentality right there is part of the problem?

And one more thing:

If you’re nervous about possible violence and destruction at protests, and find yourself finger wagging about Dr. Martin Luther King….

….Then please remember that Dr. King was horribly murdered. Please remember that the FBI spied on him and he was often accused of being a communist (sound familiar?). Please remember that in addition to matters of race, he was concerned with the issue of poverty and helped to start the poor people’s campaign, which has re-emerged under William J. Barber II.

If you’re going to quote the man, you’d better learn the whole damn story.

Lastly, a friendly reminder that mental health is very, VERY important in a time like this. The United States is in a horrible (and preventable) pandemic, and our federal government has largely abandoned us. Those who are willing and able to stay home to protect others are shamed for being “cowards.” That’s not normal, or acceptable.

If you find yourself feeling numb and dead inside, I highly recommend reading poetry or well-crafted fiction. You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time doing it for it to have an effect, and you will feel much, much better if you do it regularly.

Stay safe everyone, more writing coming eventually.

When Government works well, it is invisible

Quick note: I know it’s been several weeks, but I do make an effort to fact check and I accidentally passed along some false info about the Dolphins in Venice. That is, they have come closer than usual, but haven’t been seen in the actual canals. Though honestly, at this point, maybe they have? I’m guessing those poor Venetians have plenty of worrisome things going on that might prevent them from filming water for hours. More info about it here

Ok, so maybe I was a little too ambitious.

Like so many, I THOUGHT this could be a productive time. Was I happy that our world has been plunged into chaos because a few incompetent and selfish “leaders” failed to set their egos aside and take the most basic of precautions? Of course not! Was I excited at the possibility of writing more than once in a blue moon? A little!

Then I learned. Oh, how I learned. 

For starters, most human beings are currently reworking their entire lives. I am not an exception. That takes extra mental focus, and the resulting drain doesn’t exactly leave me in the mood to meticulously research some house and senate bills from the 80s and connect the dots to many present problems in drug policy (although that is a fascinating and horrifying topic to study if you have the time and the inclination).

Oh sure, I’ve had more time for reading, and that’s been nice. I’ve made bread. I’ve exercised more. I’ve had more time for meditation, gaming, and hanging out with my roommate and her adorable pet rats.

Unfortunately, a lot of this rings a little hollow when there’s a killer virus sweeping the nation and millions of my fellow citizens are being forced to risk their lives with inadequate pay in order to make rent. That kinda puts a damper on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer marathon if I think about it too much. 

It is a tough, tough time to have functional empathy. And an even tougher time for “essential” employees. 

No matter how hard I wish for it, I probably can’t single-handedly make Jeff Bezos take a pay cut so that the Amazon warehouse workers are taken care of. I can, however, stay home. So I am. Except for a biweekly trip to the store (which my wonderful room mate usually handles because she has the car) we are staying home. Anyone who can, should. The more consistently we do this, the more lives we save and the more hospital beds we keep free. After all, other diseases haven’t gone on vacation just because there’s a dangerous novel virus tearing through the land. 

Besides- when else will it literally be my civic duty to sit on my butt and play Minecraft? I might as well take what joy I can during a pandemic.

So with all this extra time at home, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to think. Most of these thoughts are quite personal, and won’t be shared here. Some of them could be shared here, but are completely frivolous and don’t need to be. For example, I’m still very frustrated at how the eight season long epic Game of Thrones ended. But of course, that’s completely unimportant to the topic at hand. 

I didn’t post today to rant about how powerful women in fiction are often wronged by mediocre male writers, though with all this quarantine restlessness, that post may well materialize. Rather, I want to talk about the role of government in society.

And no, I’m not going to lecture you about the second amendment, or try to sell you overpriced gold.

I want to talk about the government. Not as the ten-story high evil giant wizard that people sometimes picture when they think of “The Government” with a capital G. Rather, I want to talk about the government as it really is- a large collection of people and organizations.

People have a tendency to think of the government as a large, singular entity. Depending on their personal experience/which social media feeds they’ve decided to embrace as fact, that force may be good, evil, or neutral.

I’m one person. I have blind spots and confirmation bias, just as any other person. But I find this view to be entirely too simple. 

The government isn’t one entity. It’s literally thousands of them. 

Libraries. Police stations. Post offices. The courts. The military and all of its branches. Congress and the Senate, as well as state governments. These organizations employ millions of people. 

And that’s not even everyone.

Because sometimes the line between the public and the private sector can start to blur. How about public universities? Or public transit systems that rely on public grants? Food banks?

When we look at it from this angle, the question of whether the government is “good” or “bad” becomes absurd. Because it can be both, and often is.

And here’s the difficult part. Rarely do people write a letter to the editor about how friendly their bus driver was, or how that one case worker really came through for them when they were in a bad place. We don’t often hear about the librarian who helped someone find housing, or the aid who talked their boss into upping the grant money for a struggling district. When generic prescriptions are free because of a bill the Senate passed years ago, we don’t think about it. When we have to cough half of our monthly income to pay for a pill that takes pennies to make, we take notice.

When the government works well, it is invisible. When it fails spectacularly, everyone can see.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we should turn a blind eye when the government fails. It is critical that we don’t. Rather, I’m suggesting that to truly understand the pros and cons of our various forms of government, one needs to consider a lot of variables and research the topic carefully. 

And that’s just not a practical activity for most people.

Most working parents don’t have time to sift through old voting sessions, or read the full text of a policy proposal. Most cashiers and delivery workers won’t necessarily feel like researching their local representatives after nine hours of strangers treating them like garbage. 

But the known alternatives to democracy all are pretty terrible, so here we are. The good things that come out of government tend to fly under the radar, and the bad things spill out into the open like radioactive waste into a diaper landfill. Under these circumstances, it can be difficult for the public to make informed decisions about who they should elect.

When word of the $1200 stimulus checks splashed on the interwebs, a particularly irritating meme started making the rounds. There are multiple variations, but the basic premise was that anyone who had posted the words “not my president” in regards to Trump would be hypocrites for taking the money. 

This premise is multiple levels of stupid. 

Lord Dampnut did not personally give everyone $1200. Rather, he signed off on a bill (that he did not write) that did this, among many other things. That money belongs to all of us. It is taxpayer money, not his personal fortune to bestow upon whom he deems worthy.

However much he would like to pretend to be a king, and however much his supporters want to treat him like one, he is a president. Presidents are not all powerful. That’s kinda the whole point of electing a president as opposed to living under a king. We literally fought a war over this. 

More importantly, it was the incompetence of his administration that allowed this pandemic to even reach the levels that made stimulus payments necessary. No one can be expected to perfectly predict every bump in a pandemic, but maybe he could’ve taken it seriously from the start? Praising him for playing a tiny role in the stimulus payments is sort of like praising an arsonist because they took a break from burning down a children’s hospital long enough for firefighters to begin their work. At best, it’s simple ignorance. At worst, it is straight up gaslighting.

And as Whitney Phillips at Wired reminded us back in April, the anti-quarantine/ pro-grandparent sacrificing crowd are actually a minority. That is, most of America is totally fine with enduring some inconvenience to keep their fellow citizens alive. Those who approve of how Trump and his enablers are handling this pandemic actually represent a pretty small group- they’re just really loud, and a handful of them have deep pockets for ad space and astroturfing. 

In a way, containing a virus is a lot like writing good government policy. When containment measures are successful, there are few disruptions to everyday life. In 2014, there were some cases of Ebola in the United States. Yet few of us remember that as a “pandemic” because there were relatively few deaths on U.S. soil. Africa was hit quite hard, and I don’t want to downplay the suffering at that time. But my point is that because the containment measures in the U.S. were largely successful, most of us Americans were able to resume our daily lives.

So now that I’ve spent a lot of time describing a problem (fair and effective government isn’t sexy and so it tends to be very fragile) what might some solutions be?

Well, in the short term, we as a people need to vote out the turd and his buddies. But what about the long term? How do we, as a society, help voters to make good decisions without indoctrination into one particular set of beliefs?

Personally, I think it has to do with making critical thinking a bigger priority in earlier education. Both in schools and at home/socially.

I certainly don’t want to bog down our poor teachers with more unfunded mandates, but I think that many existing curriculums could be tweaked to include a little bit about confirmation bias, or the Dunning-Kruger effect. Such things are important to touch on when discussing, for example, the scientific method. Or perhaps a writing class might include a quick presentation about vetting digital sources. 

And parents/siblings/friends can help as well. We already have “the sex talk,” but what about the “youtube algorithm talk?”

I’m actually being quite serious. Children and teenagers need to understand that video essays on youtube are not vetted for accuracy. Youtube videos can certainly be helpful or educational, but one needs a process for fact checking. Children are not born knowing this, and so we must teach them. 

This is not something that can be accomplished overnight. Rather, it is a cultural shift that is probably going to happen sooner or later because it literally has to. Society can’t function if a significant chunk of the population is prepared to believe dangerous fallacies at the drop of a hat. I know this, because the evidence is playing itself out right in front of us.

In the age of the internet, fact checking and source vetting are not simply tools that your aggressively atheist college professor rants about- they are critical topics that everyone must have some basic grasp of.

And speaking of the internet, now seems like a good time to remind the reader that there are good and wholesome things on this platform as well. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. The internet does not consist entirely of depressing news. There are also videos of animals being great. Patrick Stewart has been providing performances of Shakespeare sonnets on his twitter and facebook pages. These things exist, but you have to make the decision to engage with them.

Democracy will probably always be messy. But as I’ve said before, the whole point of getting fired up about politics and current events is to try and make things better. Otherwise you’re just needlessly raising your blood pressure.

Stay safe, everyone. Be kind to yourself. We’re not going back to “normal” anytime soon, and even as quarantines are lifted and policies shift, the world is going to look a little bit different. Grieve when you need to. But consider the possibility that something better may be ahead. Because as long as we don’t give up, there may well be a brighter future. One where teachers are paid fairly, and grocery store employees can go to the doctor when they’re sick.

Getting into a fight on social media probably won’t bring that future any closer. But hoping, dreaming, planning, and voting? Those things just might help. 

Quarantine tips from Donny

(Hey everyone! Quarantine tips are all the rage right now, and for a good reason! But here at “Sing into the Void,” we like to do things a little differently. So I’ve worked some blogger magic and secured a guest post from a TRUMP SUPPORTER! Yes, this is real. It’s definitely NOT a lighthearted joke with the intention of providing some comic relief in these trying times. So say hello to Donny, the guy who lives in a trailer near my house and sells guns online! Or at least he tries to, but he keeps getting shut down. Yes, I’ve talked to him, but Donny likes to do things his way…)

HELLO FELLOW PATRIOTS! This is Donny, and I’d just like to give a few tips for how to deal with this “coronavirus.” I know I know, I wanted to call it by the REAL name that the President uses, but VoidPrincess told me that was “racist” and threatened to blast classical music on her stereo! She’s done it in the past, and if I hear anymore foreign singing I’m worried my dick will fall off. Sometimes we have to compromise I guess. Anyway, here are my quarantine tips! I came up with them with my drinking buddies last night- it was our weekly booze and wrestling match combo, and it’s not gay because we all say horrible things about our wives while we do it. 

  1. Check your social media as OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. That’s the only way our wonderful president can cut through the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. Definitely don’t take breaks, or read a book, or talk to your family or anything stupid like that. And remember- if the facebook page you’re going to for news from doesn’t have a confederate flag on it, it’s run by George Soros! Hey there, CNN/MSNBC/NPR/PBS/FOX/My own children/that dumb lady at church who keeps telling me that she’s “concerned” that I might have been “mislead” about the “nature of this virus”, your lies will be EXPOSED! 

(Note: I was trying to put my favorite Qanon meme in here, but the LIBERAL BIAS at wordpress is causing me to not remember where I saved it- it was really cool though, it had a skull AND a Guy Fawkes Mask!)

  1. Don’t worry about all that “social distancing” crap that the coastal elites have been pushing. Sure, other developed countries with way better healthcare than us are struggling to keep up with this virus, but that means nothing! This is the best country in the world! If you haven’t sent some old lady to the ICU over a roll of toilet paper in the last week, are you even American?
  1. Don’t let all of this hysteria distract you from the REAL scandal- Democraps nationwide are trying to overturn the 2016 election! And HOW will they do it you ask? By encouraging OTHER democraps to register and vote, so that their candidates get more votes! You heard that right! Our great nation is under siege! From the VOTERS! They pulled the same little stunt in 2018, and now we have a former bartender in congress! DISGUSTING! Call me old fashioned, but I think people ought to get elected to congress the proper way- by being born into a wealthy, white, evangelical family with no genuine understanding of the present economic conditions or sense of civic duty. Otherwise, how can I be sure that my own religion is the RIGHT ONE? I can’t be expected to figure that shit out by myself! 
  1. ….Now where was I? Sorry, I got kind of a rage boner there. Then Hannity came on and, well, took me a little while to clean up the mess. Anyway, quarantine tips? Oh yeah! Don’t be washing your hands TOO much, or you might turn gay. I’m serious guys! If the dorito dust layer on your hands gets too thin, you might get the urge to actually deal with the moldy dishes, or even worse, deal with that six-month-old-pile of laundry near your bed. DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN! It is GOD’S WILL that your home smell like a pack of wet dogs in a rusted-out car, littered with cigarette butts! Do you want to insult GOD?
  1. Whatever you do, DON’T question your own ideas about the role of government in public health. I know it might seem like a lot of trouble could have been spared if our boy Trump had started prepping for this back in January instead of calling it a hoax and getting mad at reporters when they ask simple questions. But that’s just Trump’s genius! He’s always one step ahead of the curve! By doing the exact OPPOSITE of what most people would have done in his position, he’s owning the libs EVEN HARDER! 

Well, I have to go now- There’s a lady reporter on the TV saying mean things about Trump, and if I don’t send death threats to her on the internet, WHO WILL? But anyway, DON’T READ THIS BLOG EITHER. I only agreed to guest post because VoidPrincess gave me a jar of weed. I know that all of this will go WAY OVER her head, but that broken arm of mine has really been smarting lately and I don’t have health insurance. I was using beer to help with the pain, but according to my kids I have a “problem” and “crashing your truck into the church luncheon” makes it “awkward” for the family. Anyway, stay strong patriots! MAGA!

Well, now there’s REALLY no excuse….

….For Bloggers like me. Wheeeeeeee quarantine!

I’m currently in the fun-but-stressful process of shifting my musical teaching and performance services to online formats. It might be a bit before I can churn out any decent long reads, but I do have some useful tidbits to share:

First and foremost, make sure you’re getting your news from a good source (No, headlines on Facebook that you haven’t fact checked don’t count) If you’re short on cash, the Washington Post has a free COVID19 newsletter that is available to non-subscribers. Don’t panic, but DO take this seriously. 

Second, STAY THE FUCK HOME IF YOU ARE ABLE TO DO SO. Labor protections are CRAP in the US, and a lot of important services are currently propped up by low-wage employees with no health insurance or hazard pay. The best thing you can do for those folks right now is not make things worse. This is bigger than any one of us, so don’t be an asshole.

Third, don’t lose sight of the politics going on behind the curtain. Between Trump’s incompetence, and the cruelty of senate Republicans for the last decade (remember how the ACA was supposed to have a public option and WOULDN’T THAT BE HELPFUL RIGHT NOW??) this crisis has been made MUCH worse than it had to be.

While I will be very thankful for any cash stimulus I receive (assuming it doesn’t just go to airlines and hotels, which it might) I’m certain that the GOP will try to spin this in their favor come November. Don’t let them. No mercy for those fuckers.

Finally, a few words of comfort. Or an attempt at them, anyway.

Today in the spring equinox. For Witches and Pagans, it is usually called “Ostara,” and we LOVE to argue about whether or not that name is related to the word “Easter” of the Christian holiday. But that’s not important now.

The important thing is that we can draw comfort and inspiration from what the natural world around us is doing, regardless of our personal faith (or lack thereof). Right now, at least in the northern hemisphere, life is awakening and there is great change. Winter is falling away, and the buds are opening.

The US is learning a hard lesson. One that the youth and the working class have been screaming from the rooftops for years: that the “I got mine and fuck you” approach to wealth distribution has its limits. To get through this, we’re going to have to change. COVID19 is extremely contagious, and it doesn’t care whether or not you have a stocks portfolio.

I don’t want to make light of the suffering and loss of life that has happened. I don’t want to lie to you and tell you that everything will be fine. It won’t. 

But there are bright spots. The drop in pollution, which might buy us a little bit of time with climate change. The Dolphins in Venice, which have become a symbol for what could be possible if we all adjust our behavior.  

And of course, as working from home becomes more acceptable out of necessity, perhaps companies will begin to understand that the sky won’t fall if they hire more disabled people who may need to work from home regularly. 

Oh, and pointless meetings that could have just been an email? Those are all emails now. Finally.

In a similar vein- if you’ve enjoyed this blog, and you have five bucks you can spare (ONLY IF YOU HAVE A GOOD JOB THAT ISN’T GOING AWAY DURING THIS CRISIS PLEASE NO ONE GIVE ME THEIR FOOD/RENT MONEY) that would be very helpful. I have a good safety net saved up and I’m ok for now (and will be for the near future) but I’ve lost a couple of students who didn’t want to make the switch to online lessons and things are uncertain with my church gig (for now they’re continuing to pay us, but if their own resources get too strained they may need to stop). So yeah. Help would be nice if you can offer it, but please PLEASE take care of yourself first.

Stay safe all ❤

Surprise! Here are some hard truths about cancer that the pamphlets don’t tell you =D

Hello dear readers! I have been on hiatus, due to some much needed surgery that required general anesthesia.

As you may know, the after effects of general anesthesia are often more brutal than the surgery itself. Additionally, because the surgery was in my neck, the nerve blocker that they gave me (while effective at helping with the pain) messed with the coordination in my right arm quite a lot.

This became obvious when I tried to take my first post-surgery bite of food, and my hand holding the fork kept drifting away from my mouth the further I craned my (still very sore) neck towards the tantalizing clump of curry. It felt like a toned down version of the Prometheus myth- instead of an eagle eating my liver, I was unable to shovel delicious food into my face at my preferred speed. Not the worst, but suffice to say, I was in no condition to write about the nuclear waste/soiled plastic diaper combo dumpster fire that is American politics at this point in time.

And I won’t be writing about it today either. Today I’m writing about something a little more personal.

(That having been said, if you need your informative longread fix, here is an excellent article about the disinformation campaign that elected Trump- I know I’m a broken record about this, but the better one understands how online propaganda works, the less vulnerable one is to succumbing to it)

In Fall of 2017, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while working on a master’s degree. In the middle of the chemo regimen to deal with said Lymphoma, my oncologist noticed a weirdly stubborn speck on the scan that later turned out to be thyroid cancer. Because you know, why not? Two totally unrelated pathologies at the same time? In a patient with good diet and exercise habits, with no other serious health problems to speak of? I’m just lucky I guess!

I should mention at this point that my awesome family was both willing and able to travel back and forth from Oregon to Georgia to help take care of me. That’s a relevant detail for later. 

After 6 months of chemo, a thyroidectomy (the tumor was too big for a partial) a blast of radiation, a lot of playing Stardew Valley while high on painkillers, and struggling to complete music theory homework while enduring the chemo funk (NOT. FUN.) I was able to ring the bell, finish my master’s, and move on with my life.

Sort of.

You see, shortly after my cancer-ridden thyroid gland was removed from my body, my surgeon alerted my attention to a “spotty” lymph node in my neck area. The speck was too small to easily biopsy, and all of my bloodwork was free of cancer biomarkers. More surgery right away seemed unwise, as it would take years for the speck to do any real harm, assuming it was even malignant at all. Cancer treatments often leave scar tissue which might resemble tumors on scans and xrays, and because many cancer treatments actually increase one’s risk for more malignancies ever so slightly, over treatment must be avoided where possible. 

In other words, in order to kill the cancer, you also have to make yourself more vulnerable to cancer. Whee!!!

Fast Forward to the end of 2019. I’m back on the west coast, getting my shit together, and loving life.

So of course, my new oncologist noticed something odd in my bloodwork. 

There were special proteins present that could have come only from my thyroid gland, or thyroid cancer. As I no longer had a thyroid gland, we decided to scan and biopsy that “spotty” lymph node. Technically, the biopsy came back negative, but more of the tell-tale protein was present. 

So we operated. And sure enough, the pathology report found cancer in the nodes that had been removed. Not much, but enough to really fuck me up if it had gone untreated for long enough. 

But here’s the best part. And by best part, I mean the shitty part.

To prepare for the surgery, my doctors ordered some extra imaging shortly before the procedure to make sure that nothing was moving or growing faster than it should. And in addition to the lovely speck in my neck, they found a spot in my lung.

Yep, in my fucking lung. Because why not?

Is it malignant? No way to be sure yet. I’ll be seeing a lung specialist shortly to discuss possible diagnostics to investigate (it’s location makes a biopsy less-than-ideal). I also have another CT scan scheduled in April, to help watch for any changes. April feels like a long way away, but if we scan too soon, we won’t be able to tell if there are any real changes.  

So if you made it all this way (bless you!) you might be wondering:

Why the actual fuck am I telling you any of this?

This blog is anonymous. Some of you know me, and some of you may never once meet me in person. Why would I share so many weirdly personal details in a space that doesn’t even list my name?

The answer is in the title of this post.

The common narrative surrounding cancer, that it is some sort of horrible disease that must be “cured,” is simple enough to help the general public understand. And it is somewhat true- the endlessly multiplying cells that make up tumors are a kind of disease, in that eventually they will harm you and possibly kill you. 

Where this oversimplified narrative starts to deviate from reality is in the “after.” In truth, you are never really cured. You can potentially heal from most of the damage done by the cancer and treatment, but not all of it. And unless you want to risk an awful death, you’d best get your butt to the doctor ever so often for diagnostics.

But just as life continues on even after senate Republicans inexplicably crown an incompetent bigoted rapist as their god emperor, so does life continue on during treatment. And there were some good times too.

As I mentioned before, my family went into overdrive when I was first diagnosed. My father initially wanted to pull me from school and bring me home, but as that would destroy much of my degree progress AND cut me off from my student health insurance, I wasn’t too excited for that plan.

My parents took turns living with me, so that I’d have help whenever I was too drugged up to function. This was actually kind of awesome, as it presented an opportunity to spend time with my folks that I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. My mother and I munched chocolates while watching various murder mysteries on netflix, and my dad and I went down the Ridley Scott rabbithole with some of my favorite movies (The Alien prequels, while flawed, are still far superior to 3 or Resurrection and this is the hill that I will die on). 

My brother came too, when he could, and we would go for walks when I was strong enough. I would wear my mask to help compensate for my weakened immune system, and enjoy watching shoppers part like the red sea when I walked through the grocery store. Amazingly, creepy older dudes don’t try to get your number when you look like you’re about to head into a quarantine zone.

When I informed my closest friends and family about Thyroid cancer 2: Ha ha fuck you you don’t even have a thyroid gland anymore and you STILL gotta get surgery, I experienced a similar outpouring of support. Good times were had. There were jalapeno cheese bagels involved. 

I could go on and on about everyone who helped me, and the fun that I had in spite of the cancer. In future posts, maybe I will. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I learned from that experience.

But my main focus is this: Cancer isn’t neat and tidy. Rhetoric that invokes the word “cure” can actually be very misleading.

It’s not my intent to alarm anyone who knows me personally. I’m going to be fine. If the speck in my lung is malignant, I will get it out any way I can. If not, I’ll commit to more diagnostic work and get on with my life. If it’s too soon to draw a conclusion about what it is, I will pester my docs until they come up with a plan.

This is the part of the blog post where I usually tie it all together and make a joke, but this post isn’t going to follow that formula. Because it can’t.

The truth is that with cancer, the line between ‘survivor’ and ‘patient’ is always thin. The cost of survival is living with that uncertainty. It’s scary at first, but you get used to it. You find coping mechanisms. You keep living your life. 

So in the spirit of uncertainty, I’m just gonna end this bit here. Peace. I’ll get back to analyzing the the cancer in Washington DC soon enough. Yes. I went there. Sorry not sorry. 

Civic duty, apathy, and the American war machine.

Hi! I’m not dead!

Having finally crawled out from under the delightful pile of parties, alcohol, chocolate, the deep swirling vortex of Holiday cheer that blocks out all sensation of time, and thank-you notes, I think I’m ready to do some more writing. 

If I had more time and patience, I would list the precise reasons as to why the killing of Soleimani (in the manner it was performed) was the foreign policy equivalent of lighting an overflowing  porta-potty on fire with a blow-torch with intent of eliminating the odor. As it happens, the Washington Post has a helpful piece about it. Another important bit of writing is this piece by Shadi Hamid at the Atlantic, which reminds us to check our American narcissism at the door when considering foreign policy. 

Instead of rehashing what better writers than I have done, I want to offer a perspective that is a little more unique and personal.

I participated in my first real protest when I was in the 7th grade. A number of students had decided to walk out of their classes to protest the impending Iraq war. One of my favorite teachers expressed admiration, but also called us out (in the kindest way possible) on skipping classes and not our lunch or break. While she definitely had a point, her words now seem somewhat harsh in the light of how the Iraq war “turned out,” for lack of a better phrase.

After all, should a bunch of children really have to skip a meal  just to persuade people (who should know better) that starting a war based on questionable information is a bad idea? Would it really have been appropriate for us to just continue attending our classes as if nothing was wrong? I don’t have the answers now anymore than I did back then, but I think about that day a lot.

In high school, watching the war drag on and fade into the background of the American media landscape was both vindicating and horrifying, to say nothing of the war in Afghanistan. Additionally, high school offered the most detailed history classes I had ever had, and it was at this time that I finally learned of the dark history surrounding Saddam Hussein and the United States. As my teacher put it one day: “Sure he was a dictator, but he was OUR dictator.”

And that’s a difficult thing for an American high school student to contemplate. To watch your country enter a war on bad intel with no exit plan is awful enough, but to realize that your own country is a large part of the reason for troubles in that country in the first place? It’s not just depressing, it’s flat out paralyzing.  

There are other atrocities in America’s past. The Vietnam War, the internment of Japanese Citizens during WW2, and the Banana Republic all come to mind. But the uncomfortable history of the U.S. and Saddam was a sort of turning point for me; That is, it was the moment I truly understood just how little American citizens can trust their government when it comes to war. 

So when some edgelord on social media laments about the pointlessness of it all, or how the American empire can never get anything right, or how all of us are sheep for participating in elections, I actually kind of agree just a little bit. However, I do not often engage in this rhetoric in my own writing, or promote it. 

Here’s why:

When we use the overwhelming injustices of American foreign policy as an excuse to disengage from civics issues, we ultimately just wind up enabling it further. When progressive stay home, alt-right/nazi lunatics don’t and the subsequent election goes differently than it might have. While it is certainly rational to feel shame at some of the actions of our country, abstaining from civic engagement does absolutely nothing to help those who have been harmed by our actions overseas. In fact, it does very little at all, except to stroke one’s own ego. 

I feel this way, in part, because I am old enough to remember the 2000 presidential election. I remember the rhetoric that told us, “Bush and Gore are the same.” I remember being told that Gore was too warlike and status quo. I remember Nader being marketed as the “cool” third party candidate. 

And where that fucking get us?

It’s impossible to say exactly what would have happened, had Gore obtained the oval office and not Bush. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe, JUST MAYBE the dude who tried to draw attention to climate change even as he received ridicule from all sides might have been better prepared to perform the duties of the President than the dude we got. Just sayin. 

The military industrial complex (to borrow from Eisenhower’s famous farewell speech) doesn’t just kill people. It kills hope of change and betterment. It strips any enthusiasm that one might have for civic action and drowns hearts and minds in a toxic slurry cynicism and apathy. And obnoxious edgy memes with Guy Fawkes masks in them. Seriously, no one fucking reads those things. Cite sources and present potential solutions like a grown up.  

To make matters worse, this narrative can now be weaponized by social media. If I was a stupidly rich idiot who wanted Trump and his enablers to win again, I wouldn’t engage in unseemly violence- I would just use my resources to bombard voters with memes that make them feel stupid for believing in the possibility of change in foreign policy. They’d stay home, and probably think of themselves as “enlightened” while they did it! problem solved.

No one particular action will dismantle the American war machine. Voting in a more sensible senate would help, but it won’t fix everything. Getting rid of Citizens United would help, but it won’t fix everything. Calling one’s reps and reminding them that we really don’t appreciate our money lining the pockets of sketchy weapons contractors would help, but it won’t fix everything. Protests can help, but they won’t fix everything.

That having been said, some or all of these actions combined? Maybe that’ll do something. I think it already has.

Because the public reaction to the prospect of another war hasn’t really been the same this time around. Maybe it’s because the initiation of the Iraq war is still relatively fresh. Maybe it’s because Trump isn’t nearly as good at speaking as Bush was, and that’s not saying much.

Or maybe it’s because America is finally starting to notice that no one ever asks how we will pay for war.

Healthcare? Too expensive. Infrastructure? Also too expensive. Real actions to help fight climate change? Lol nope. But a war with no real strategy and no exit plan? Make it rain, baby!

As life becomes more and more difficult for our working class, this hypocrisy becomes harder to ignore.

On that day, in seventh grade, I remember a man who heckled us. This man drove by, middle finger raised, and shouted “fuck peace!” He then laughed and drove away, obviously proud of having owned a bunch of middle schoolers who had committed the horrible crime of displaying empathy and basic awareness of world events. The nerve of us!

In the moment, I didn’t much notice or care. Looking back, I realize how sad and pathetic that man really was. 

There will always be those who think this is all pointless. There will always be grown ass men who feel threatened by a bunch of kids taking an interest in their world. 

But we go on.

We keep protesting and voting. We keep educating ourselves and others of the true cost of America’s wars, and what else could have been done with that money. We keep taking care of our communities. We keep living our lives and finding joy where we can. 

And we do it because, as a wise teacher once told me, there is no alternative.