Day 19: The Great Pause

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.

The complete article can be found here:  https://medium.com/@juliovincent/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0


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.

Los Angeles, pollution-free. Photo credit: Gabriel Duarte

Squawk!

Happy Valley- a poet walks among you!  She walks down the middle of your streets in search of a coffee house that opens at 7—preferably one that has blueberry scones…

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Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, 1966

Last few weeks my inner dialogue seems to have a Wheeling Virginian cigar hanging out the corner of its mouth, almost as if I am internalizing a Clint Eastwood character from a 1960’s spaghetti western.  This dialogue surfaces as a distaste for sidewalks apparently.

My urban bird watching continues to provide rewards.  This morning I took a right on 17th and saw a collection of Steller’s  Jays sitting on the corner of a low rooftop chatting away.  It was about 6:45 in the morning and I imagined they were having a bird meeting about bugs, feeders and crows.  Two of the birds looked smaller than the other three.  Are they young-lings getting trained?  What surprised me the most about this conversation was the low volume.  Steller’s are known for their loud “SQUAWK!” The kind of squawk that can wake you out of a nap, bring your shoulders up in a cringe, and your finger to involuntarily enter your ear in an attempt to protect the lobe.  It’s an annoying sound.  The bird’s feather mohawk fits the personality perfectly.  They thrash about the stage of any backyard bird feeder violently tossing seeds all over and chasing the other birds away—a real punk of the bird community.  Yet here they are, five of them, quietly chatting away making little gargle sounds and tapping their beaks together in salutations.

Around the corner three crows sit on a wire quietly eavesdropping.  Bird espionage.

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“SQUAWK!”

Later today I am attending my cousin’s funeral.  Family on my dad’s side is flying in.  There is an old joke about us Irish-types: we suffer from Irish Alzheimer’s, we only remember the grudges.

This morning after four days of anxiety, I’m different, peaceful, after my walk.  In the past I felt like a boxer getting into the ring prior to a family get-together …not today.  My mind makes a connection between these birds and the family.  The childhood stereotypes of each family member squawks at me.  However childhood memories are distorted by time.  Even our mind’s eye remembers event at the low angel of a 12 year old.  Adults are bigger than life!  Old memories, we all have of some variety, knit themselves deep into our hearts.  Every so once-in-a-while a box of yarn, cut up, knotted up and tangled, is dropped off at our doorstep demanding to be segregated and deciphered.  Who did what to who, and who’s to blame?

Fuck that.  Don’t take the bait.

Today as I travel into Anacortes with my brother, in our funeral attire, I leave my tangled box of yarn at the door.  I will approach my family, especially the ones I haven’t seen in decades, with fresh eyes and “quiet” conversation.  We have all changed in one degree or another.  The fabric of our hearts are knitted by natures stitch.  The natural bond of family is greater than the artificial polyester strings of misunderstandings and hate.

I love my family.

Squawks and all.

HEART-SHAMROCK