In America, we drive on the right side of the road. Also, people here generally walk on the right side of the sidewalk, busy hiking trails, even grocery store isles. When I walk along the trails around a nearby lake, I keep to the right side of the path. If I have the trail to myself, I walk right down the middle as if I owned the place.
What is your neighborhood like during the pandemic? Where I am I have noticed giving another pedestrian 6 feet is seen as a courtesy; in the grocery store, offices, parks, etc., keeping your distance is a sign of good manners. It is awkward or rude if a person stands too close to another. Feathers get ruffled.
Earlier this year, before the snowpack in the mountains could build and the rains of the Northwest La Nina winter began, Padden Gorge Trail was dry and quiet. The creek was all but dried up. The cold air chased away many birds and I experienced the eerie sensation of standing in a silent forest.
To The Right second draft
The woods are quiet today I do not hear the rustle of a bird no wind playing at the leaves no foraging of a rodent or the panting of a dog Padden Creek is down to its late summer trickle Everything is off
My ears reach for the sound of people at the lake trail on end with mine I hear no one I haven’t been sleeping lately For a moment I am dream walking zombified in this quiet wood with no direction, no purpose No others to use as a reference or provide a sense of direction No validation of movement or placement
I walk down the canyon trail in silence. surrounded by silence
Then–they find me The crunching roar of off-road bike tires approach me from behind I move to the right The joggers with focused steps and controlled pants I move to the right Two dogs and two owners come at me head-on I move to the right Facedown each time to make sure my breath does not mix with theirs Behind me I hear the steps of another walker I move to the right I’m a slow walker compared to others I know this walker will pass me I wait no walker Then turn to look No one
There are two places on these trails where the sound tricks the ear My own steps sound like another getting ready to pass but it is just me and my steps echoing off the walls of the thick forest
How nice of me to give the same courtesy I give others unknowingly yet, still as sweet
So, yesterday I caught myself flexing on the lady givin’ me a $25 haircut. Afterward, I walked out of the place and while driving home, examined a strange, yet familiar, feeling like something was wrong…(I’m a bit slow about these things) Then it hit me “OMG I was totally rude to the lady who cut my hair!”
“WHY?” I screamed to the mountains!
“WHY?” I yelled to the sea!
During this serious shitstorm of a time in history WHY would I flex during a standard life interaction with another human? Here is what happen… We started to share how the lockdown had effect us and compared notes. I basically bragged about how fortunate I was that BOTH my jobs were essential and how incredibly busy I’ve been. Then I handed the talking stick to her and she blew my mind. She is in her early 30s, newly married. Found out she was pregnant in March. Lost her job in March. She filed for unemployment. Received about two months’ worth when it stopped with no notice. She called in an inquiry, the state said she did not qualify for unemployment and would have to pay all of it back. She protested their decision. This resulted in her having to defend herself in court. She won. Now the judge has ordered that the unpaid 6 weeks of unemployment be sent to her asap, which hopefully will arrive by mid-July.
“I’m all stressed out with the baby, my job, stupid unemployment being all messed up, and this virus thing. It’s horrible.”
Now, hourly pay at Supercuts Hair Salon ranges from an average of $8.10 to $13.36 an hour. Let’s say she worked 28 hours a week because those cheap-ass companies don’t want to pay their workers health care so they keep them under 36 hours. …and let’s guess she is making about $11.00 an hour, that’s $1848 gross, with 10% taken out for taxes that’s a check for $1664. That is some hard-earned cash! (BTW, this is the third time a person has shared a similar story with me about their unemployment payments being denied. WTH Washington?) The only saving grace for the haircutter was that her husband’s job is considered essential and he has worked through the whole lockdown, keeping them barely housed and fed.
So here I was getting my haircut for the first time since November 2019, waltzing into Supercuts thinking I am a boss. Sons of the bitch! This was rude. I didn’t even think about how rude until my drive home. Perhaps an evil side of my sub-conscious drove that whole event. Perhaps I was forgetting when I was a new mom and we couldn’t freakin’ afford a gallon of milk! I couldn’t buy new clothes for my kids. We couldn’t even afford for me to go to work, in town–because we only had one car–and due to the cost of daycare! I’ve been there. Really I have. Also, I’ve stood in the company with affluent upper-middle-class people who assume everyone in the room is like them. Going on and on about vacations, new cars, private yoga sessions, and seeing their doctor, one flex after the other. Felt their words grind up against my reality.
Yes, I do feel like I’ll need a vacation after lockdown. I’ll be honest. But I must always use my words carefully. I can’t control what others do, but I can control what the heck comes out of my mouth! Each home is having a different experience during this difficult time. Please learn from my mess up.
Be kind to each other.
Shower Thoughts: It’s adorable we thought 2016 was a terrible year because about 40 famous people died.
People are comparing 2020 to other years. Is this the worst? Maybe. On a global scale, I would have to say “YES.” The economic damage worldwide is like nothing we’ve seen. The extreme pressures on a household to survive AND keep healthy is felt on every block.
Last week I took the COVID-19 test. It came back negative. I work with tenants, some of who are high risk for the virus. Whatcom County has opened up testing for workers like myself. After announcing the results, a co-worker mentions, “you are negative as of last Wednesday.” Gulp! What the heck? We’d need to be tested every day or week? Wait, is there a Fit-bit app for this? The antibody blood test is what I am really interested in. I’ve met many people, who, like myself, suspect that they had the virus between the months of January-March before the lockdown began.
Lockdown fatigue is noticeable. Irritability leading to miscommunication is not uncommon especially with email messages, even video meetings. I like the philosophy that it is a time of grace and space. To give it out quickly and in love, to the folks we interact with. Everyone’s situation is different. It is easy for me to imagine that a small percentage of my neighbors have 3 to 6 months worth of monthly income saved up in the bank. Desperate times. The weight is too much to bear.
I wrote this poem three years ago. Thinking about it today, looking at my “Apocalypse Shelf”
Apocalypse Pantry by Shannon P. Laws
I have found the warm caves in the woods
filled them with boxes of mac n’ cheese
tuna fish cans and cheap scented candles
A possessed witch is misunderstood
no matter how frugal
I am such a witch
waved my nude arms at the townspeople
walked the streets, survived the shrinking dollar
I have been her kind
Here is my current mood expressed by meme. Take care and be kind. -Shannon
The worldwide pause. Will we forget these months? As citizens of the planet- let us promise to never forget. The deaths, suffering, confusion from our leaders, the kindness from neighbors, the debt, the empty shelves at the grocery and in many homes, the masses unable to pay rent, buy food, after only ONE month with no pay, the healthcare system strained, buying face masks for your family, exposed drive-thru workers, crops rotting, the temporary peace in Syria. The pandemic, The Great Pause happened.
Today I am supplementing my journal with this post by Julio Vincent Gambuto writing for “Medium”. His words challenged me and I hope they help you as well today.
Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. That never happened. What are you talking about? Billions of dollars will be spent in advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms — a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy. In truth, you want the feeling of normalcy, and we all want it.
We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life, to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones, to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work.
The need for comfort will be real, and it will be strong. And every brand in America will come to your rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.
For the last hundred years, the multi-billion-dollar advertising business has operated based on this cardinal principle: find the consumer’s problem and fix it with your product. When the problem is practical and tactical, the solution is “as seen on TV” and available at Home Depot. Command strips will save me from having to re-paint. So will Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. Elfa shelving will get rid of the mess in my closet. The Ring doorbell will let me see who’s on the porch if I can’t take my eyes off Netflix. But when the problem is emotional, the fix becomes a new staple in your life, and you become a lifelong loyalist. Coca-Cola makes you: happy. A Mercedes makes you: successful. Taking your kids to Disneyland makes you: proud. Smart marketers know how to highlight what brands can do for you to make your life easier. But brilliant marketers know how to re-wire your heart. And, make no mistake, the heart is what has been most traumatized this last month. We are, as a society, now vulnerable in a whole new way.
What the trauma has shown us, though, cannot be unseen. A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped. In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge. These are the postcard images of what the world might be like if we could find a way to have a less deadly daily effect on the planet.
What’s not fit for a postcard are the other scenes we have witnessed: a healthcare system that cannot provide basic protective equipment for its front line; small businesses — and very large ones — that do not have enough cash to pay their rent or workers, sending over 16 million people to seek unemployment benefits; a government that has so severely damaged the credibility of our media that 300 million people don’t know who to listen to for basic facts that can save their own lives.
The cat is out of the bag. We, as a nation, have deeply disturbing problems. You’re right. That’s not news. They are problems we ignore every day, not because we’re terrible people or because we don’t care about fixing them, but because we don’t have time. Sorry, we have other shit to do. The plain truth is that no matter our ethnicity, religion, gender, political party (the list goes on), nor even our socio-economic status, as Americans we share this: we are busy. We’re out and about hustling to make our own lives work. We have goals to meet and meetings to attend and mortgages to pay — all while the phone is ringing and the laptop is pinging. And when we get home, Crate and Barrel and 3M and Andy Cohen make us feel just good enough to get up the next day and do it all over again. It is very easy to close your eyes to a problem when you barely have enough time to close them to sleep. The greatest misconception among us, which causes deep and painful social and political tension every day in this country, is that we somehow don’t care about each other. White people don’t care about the problems of black America. Men don’t care about women’s rights. Cops don’t care about the communities they serve. Humans don’t care about the environment. These couldn’t be further from the truth. We do care. We just don’t have the time to do anything about it. Maybe that’s just me. But maybe it’s you, too.
Well, the treadmill you’ve been on for decades just stopped. Bam! And that feeling you have right now is the same as if you’d been thrown off your Peloton bike and onto the ground: what in the holy fuck just happened? I hope you might consider this: what happened is inexplicably incredible. It’s the greatest gift ever unwrapped. Not the deaths, not the virus, but The Great Pause. It is, in a word, profound. Please don’t recoil from the bright light beaming through the window. I know it hurts your eyes. It hurts mine, too. But the curtain is wide open.
What the crisis has given us is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see ourselves and our country in the plainest of views. At no other time, ever in our lives, have we gotten the opportunity to see what would happen if the world simply stopped.
Here it is. We’re in it. Stores are closed. Restaurants are empty. Streets and six-lane highways are barren. Even the planet itself is rattling less (true story). And because it is rarer than rare, it has brought to light all of the beautiful and painful truths of how we live. And that feels weird. Really weird. Because it has…never…happened…before. If we want to create a better country and a better world for our kids, and if we want to make sure we are even sustainable as a nation and as a democracy, we have to pay attention to how we feel right now. I cannot speak for you, but I imagine you feel like I do: devastated, depressed, and heartbroken.
Entering the last week of the year I can’t help but get a little reflective. This year was tough for me personally, and the unrest throughout our nation added more frustrations.
I really wanted to start this letter with the sentence, “What a suck-ass year 2016 was, right?”, but I suppose some people had a good year, we know Beyoncé and “Hamilton” aren’t complaining.
So many stories, headlines, deaths moved me in 2016. Please allow me to vent a bit and share a few moments that stirred me. Major news stories from 2016 read like a murder mystery. There were more unprovoked shootings of Black Americans by police prompting nationwide protest and adding strength to the “Black Lives Matter” campaign. Meanwhile, a large group of conservative, white ranchers in Oregon had an armed standoff at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. The confrontation lasted over a month. Only one man was killed and the whole group was acquitted. If the protestors in Oregon were Black, there is no question in my mind that a much different, more violent, situation would have unfolded.
2016 saw the end of “Bradgelina”, Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, #Oscarssowhite, El Chapo, the world’s most sought-after drug lord and commander of a vast narcotics empire that stretches across continents is captured, the lead in Flint Michigan’s water and the fight for clean water in North Dakota and Canada. The massive surge of refugees, primarily from Syria and Afghanistan, into Europe continued, estimated over 300,000 people, dodging war conflict. Was it this surge that prompted the “Brexit” vote?
AND if 2016 wasn’t freaking bad enough, we lost David Bowie, Prince and Alan Rickman, and the nation lost it’s ‘effin mind during the presidential election. Election years are always exhausting but this one proved to be even more so. My viewpoint of it, in metaphor, of course, is well illustrated in our animated Christmas card (link at the top of the post) acted out by the SPL Staff, Brad, Vince, Chris, Benedict and myself;
In January I got the fever to start a new radio show. After leaving KMRE a few months prior, I looked to a new station starting up just a few blocks over, broadcasting out of the Make.Shift Art Space on Flora in downtown Bellingham. Bellingham Art Beat was born! Featuring a half hour format, two interviews and music, the goal of the program is to inspire and inform the listener. The first season I interviewed 36 people for 18 shows. The second season started December 19th.
February featured at Kings Book Store in Tacoma, Washington. Felt good. Made a goal to read outside of Whatcom County in ’16, so goal accomplished. The folks at the reading were very kind, buying my dinner. My mom and her friend were able to attend.
In May I coordinated and hosted the Mother’s Day Big Rock Garden poetry reading. The sun was out and the podium brilliant.
July and August World Peace Poets collaborated with the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center sponsoring writing workshops by local teachers.
September included two events. The 4th annual “World Peace Poets Read-In for Peace” was held on September 24th. A great event, always fresh new poetry shared, good food, good company.
Then on the September 30th, I performed fifteen minutes worth of Sea inspired poetry for the first annual Bellingham SeaFeast. Two stages were active with “Fisherpoets” throughout the day at Boundary Bay Brewery off Railroad Avenue in Bellingham.
By October I had the makings for my third poetry book “Fallen”. It’s set to release spring 2017. I am very excited to work with “Clover: a Literary Rag” coordinator/editor Mary Gillilan. The theme for my new book is loss. This year,2016, marks the 25th birthday of my daughter Meaghan. Meaghan passed away at the age of three. It was a tragic and sudden death. Although the entire collection is not about death and loss, it is a thought-provoking assortment. I hope the words may comfort others and create the space necessary for healing.
November was Poem Booth Kickstarter month! Back in September Christen Mattix contacted Summer Star and me to help transform a derelict phone booth into a POEM BOOTH. Probably the most ambitious project, next to the new radio show, for me this year. Thanks to 20 backers we met the $300 goal, above and beyond! You can learn more about this project at the TAB “Poem Booth”
This year was not too productive for poetry or projects, but the ones I was involved with were stimulating. One item that hampered much artist work was a temporary job in aerospace for nine months. Working 40-50 hour weeks on the night shift puts a big dent in the social life. I expect to work many long hours again in 2017 to stabilize my finances and rebuild what was lost over the last year and a half. I had to stop working on my transfer degree, sell my car, and borrow from Peter to pay Paul. Where’s my Trump Money? –don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath.
2016 was such a burnout. I still have hope, hope and a sense of humor, toss in a good red from Spain and NOW we got something. However, I am determined to be more flamboyant than ever with my projects, radio show, book release and poetry readings going forward. I’m marching and making signs for the Woman March on Bellingham in January 2017, joining millions of others across the nation, marching for equal rights and justice for ALL. What the hell can I do besides that? I’m so frustrated. We need art and voice now more than ever!
Thank you for supporting the arts, being artistic, standing up for what you believe in, encouraging others, inspiring who you can, those people in your circle of influence, your home, your neighborhood, your city.
Best wishes to you and yours this holiday and a Happy New Year.