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Isolation In Perpetuity

Last weekend was yet another pandemic holiday weekend. For us, that mostly meant staying home, as usual. Saturday morning I did make a ridiculous number of homemade vegan donuts but it was really just like any other weekend. Aside from seeing more articles like this one:

Labor Day is the end of summer. But COVID-19 meant we didn’t really have one this year.
This year, everyone’s summer vacations essentially got cancelled and we limped from disaster to disaster. It was exhausting.

And this one:

The American Death Cult
A significant percentage of conservative culture in America defines “freedom” as death. This is causing a lot more problems right now than even its usual horrible effects.

And all the information about the spread of the virus from the large gathering in Sturgis last month. Facepalm. I tried to turn away from the doom scrolling and focus instead on more uplifting things. Or topics that are more productive, at least. Like pricing out refrigerator replacements for the strangely narrow and shallow spot in our kitchen.

Things that do bring me joy:

  • In just two days I binge listened to all episodes of the Dolly Parton’s America podcast. I highly recommend it.
  • A friend has been growing a pilea cutting for me and let me know that it is ready for retrieval. Hopefully, I can keep it alive. My houseplant collection is limping along. Some are thriving while others are looking a little sad but I’m looking into ways to perk them up.
  • Today was the big day for the release of the Denis Villeneuve Dune trailer. I think I’m into it. The casting is top notch, for sure.
  • One of my all-time favorite authors is Ursula K. LeGuin. And her amazing home is on the market (though it is in the Bay Area, a place I would not want to be right now even if I could afford it). Scrolling through the photos I realized it was exactly my sort of dream house.
  • I don’t usually do celebrity news but I had no idea that Lily Allen and David Harbour were a couple and I find their Las Vegas wedding to be utterly charming.
  • Saturdays in September are for benefit concerts for Beirut. I’ve got a ticket for this coming Saturday, with special guest, fellow Lebanese-American, Tony Shalhoub.

How is it September already? Somehow my son turns 21 next week. And I start teaching Fall semester remotely, two nights a week, after my day job. Everyone’s pandemic experience is different but mine has been extremely socially distant while also extremely online.

A kitten named Crumpet

The Ones We Don’t Know We Don’t Know

Well, that happened more quickly than I expected. Someone from my Dad’s birth family wrote back just a day or two after I messaged them. Last weekend they sent me their phone number. My Dad called and had a nice chat with a cousin. At some point, I will drive my Dad to his birth family’s hometown to meet this cousin, outdoors, in a park or something. We are still in a pandemic, after all. Hopefully, the cousin can convince some of the closest family members to join us. I’m keeping my expectations low. My Dad and I have lived our lifetimes full of unanswered queries. Some of them mundane, related to medical history. But also bigger, “who are we” type questions. Those may never be answered. I do wish my brother had lived long enough to see this situation unfold along with us.

Other bittersweet topics:

Last weekend I explored a suburban park I’d never been to. I had the place mostly to myself as I walked around a lake with some neat wooden walkways. On the way home, I found a vegetable stand where I picked up six amazingly delicious ears of sweet corn and some berries. The sweet corn was gone in under 24 hours. The raspberries seemed like they would go bad quickly so I transformed them into a delicious simple syrup. Now that it’s September we have to squeeze out the last bits of summer joy before the winter ahead. And planning for our long pandemic winter has me looking up different workout videos and tracking down kicksleds for sale.

Newest mask to add to the rotation

Meaningful Adjacency

It’s been another surreal week in an already strange year. Tonight my city is under curfew, again (because the police value property more than people). Not that I leave the house at night anyhow, but still. Have I got a strange tale for you…

At the end of 2018, my Dad showed me an obituary and said “this was my mother.” He was so certain. He had been adopted at birth through the Catholic Charities and given very little info other than his birth name and date. This woman’s maiden name matched his birth surname. It’s not a terribly common or uncommon one. An anglicization of the modern Irish Gaelic Ó Ríordáin (which itself is derived from the original ‘Ó Ríoghbhardáin’, meaning royal bard). A few years back I had gotten him to do a National Geographic DNA test but it didn’t yield much. This Spring he opted to do too. His results came back today. And he was right. The woman in the obituary was his birth mother. Two of her surviving children popped up as my Dad’s half-siblings. My Dad doesn’t have a computer so I’m managing all of this. I’ve messaged the close matches and we’ll see what comes of it.

Growing up I knew my Dad had been adopted. There wasn’t much contact with the family that adopted him. They moved to California before I was born. I have no memory of my adopted grandfather and only met my grandmother after she was widowed. I was nearly in middle school by that time and we did not hit it off. I am keeping my expectations very low for this birth family. We may not meet them at all, especially during a pandemic. Or we could meet them and find we are polar opposites. This is just another heap to add to the uncertainty pile that is 2020.

My Dad, with one of my framed photos

All Things Wondrous

Obviously there is still so much to be concerned about. 2020 keeps throwing those curveballs. Disaster upon disaster. The latest? California’s raging wildfires are presenting significant dangers for farmworkers, the incarcerated, and firefighters. Many of whom are prison laborers. And there’s a shortage of incarcerated firefighters because so many are sick from COVID-19. Not that “incarcerated firefighters” should even be a thing. What an utter hellscape. Closer to home, a lot of people seem to be hitting a wall. This idea of surge capacity that makes a lot of sense:

Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.

Helpful takeaways from that article:

  • Accept that life is different right now
  • Expect less from yourself
  • Recognize the different aspects of grief

This has been working for me. I’ve been going to bed earlier when I need it, which seems to be more often. Last weekend involved more napping than usual (and less laundry). We receive our CSA half-share box every other Thursday. We got another one last night so this weekend I will be doing a lot of cooking. There are SO MANY RADISHES. But I look forward to that particular challenge.

Other things that have been bringing me joy:

  • J. Zunz, of Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, has a new release out today called Hibiscus. I’ve listened to it a few times through already and love it. There’s a video out for one of the tracks with an intense story behind it:
    ‘Four Women And Darkness’ is a story from my grandmother’s childhood. She told me that once during wartime in México in the late 1920’s, she and her sisters were hidden by her grandmother in a little, cold secret room. She hid them there because the militia wanted to search the house. Soldiers used to look for women or girls to rape them or to kidnap them. My grandmother and her sisters stayed there in the dark room for hours until the soldiers left.

  • This week’s Radiolab episode was particularly powerful for me:

    This is a story of a road trip. After a particularly traumatic Valentine’s Day, Fadi Boukaram was surfing google maps and noticed that there was a town called Lebanon… in Oregon. Being Lebanese himself, he wondered, how many Lebanons exist in the US? The answer: 47. Thus began his journey to visit them all and find an America he’d never expected, and the homeland he’d been searching for all along.

  • That Radiolab episode was based on one originally aired by the Kerning Cultures podcast. Which, somehow, I’d never heard about despite being described as This American Life for the Middle East. Sold! I plan to check out some episodes over the weekend.
  • Also Radiolab related - I started watching Latif Nasser’s Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything on Netflix last night and it is delightful.
  • Random interesting tidbit: Your Old Radiator Is a Pandemic-Fighting Weapon: “Turn-of-the-century faith in ventilation to combat disease pushed engineers to design steam heating systems that still overheat apartments today.” Glad to hear it! This old condo I bought still has radiators.

Monday my son’s college classes resume. Remotely. I wouldn’t be comfortable sending him off to in-person classes anywhere right now. My Fall semester doesn’t begin for a few more weeks yet. I still need to revamp my slides. Then I will be juggling my day job while teaching, also remotely, two evenings per week. But it’s not like I have anywhere to be at night. And I’m grateful to be over-employed in a pandemic, unlike so many others.

Rainbow at Lake Harriet

Season of Surrender

This strange summer is coming to a close so quickly. Some of us are looking ahead, beyond back to school concerns. A friend has been using Facebook in a thoughtful way. Since we live in Minnesota, she’s been posting a series of questions to get people to consider contingencies for the coming winter. Topics like who to contact if your heat goes out and keeping enough food staples on hand in case grocery or restaurant delivery is unavailable. I’m highly anxious by nature and a planner, so I’ve got us covered. But I hope more people begin preparing in earnest.

As usual, I am keeping myself distracted.

  • LeVar Burton Is Still Reading To Us During The Pandemic and a recent highlight was listening to him read Amal El-Mohtar’s brilliant short story Pockets.
  • Growing up as a member of the Lebanese diaspora, it has always been tough to see stories about Lebanon. The news and the spin are usually not good. It’s now been over a week since the devastation of Beirut. But there is so much to highlight about the country. Like this episode from The Kitchen Sisters:

    A road trip through the hidden kitchens of Lebanon, with kitchen activist, Kamal Mouzawak, a man with a vision of re-building and uniting this war-ravaged nation through its traditions, its culture and its food. We visit farmer’s markets, restaurants, and guest houses known as Souk el Tayeb that he and his kitchen community have created.

    This story is part of Hidden Kitchens: War and Peace and Food, a series of stories about food and conflict, about the role food plays in helping resolve conflict between nations and communities, or in creating it.

  • On the new music front. Orville Peck – ‘Show Pony’ EP review: the lone ranger’s second great release on the trot
    This six-track record dips into razzle-dazzle pop with Shania Twain, and further perfects the masked country don’s knack for evocative gloom
  • I’m so excited about 99% Invisible’s upcoming book, The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, that I pre-ordered a signed copy.
  • I watched the season 4 trailer of Fargo and it looks like a good time. Speaking neo-noir, I hadn’t even heard of Briarbatch from Sam Esmail, creator of Mr. Robot. I guess it premiered back in February. No wonder it could have gotten lost in the noise in that time. Rosario Dawson is compelling so I decided to give it ago.

Recently I started compiling a list of parks and green spaces I haven’t visited yet. Since I hardly drive anywhere these days, I figured I may as well explore some more options in the metro. And, if I’m feeling up to it, some spots a little farther outstate but still in the day trip range. I miss traveling like nobody’s business but we’re still in the thick of a pandemic (possibly just the beginning, really, since our government’s response has been so badly botched). Last week I found a spot along the Minnehaha Parkway with some adorable rainbow bridges. Today I took to some trails at a park in Roseville. There weren’t many people but there were some incredible great blue herons hanging out. They were making hilarious gronking noises at each other and one walked alongside me for a good long while. It was nearly my height, but that’s not saying much.

Grey hair and a grey mask with a rainbow bridge

Long-Term Psychological Wreckage

Well, I was already tired and sad before Beirut blew up last week. And now. Numb. Lebanon can’t catch a break.

Deadly explosion at Beirut’s port comes amid coronavirus pandemic and economic meltdown

These photos are heartbreaking. This was all preventable. A colossal disaster caused by corruption and incompetence (a running theme for 2020). Lebanon’s cabinet - like, the entire government - resigned today.

Meanwhile, in the US…

Stop Trying To Live Like We Aren’t In A Pandemic

As COVID-19 cases surge, many Americans are ignoring health guidelines with beach days and vacations. Pretending the coronavirus crisis doesn’t exist will just stretch it out longer.

Bleak. 2020 has been a steady diet of non-stop misery. And it seems like we’re going to be in this for the long haul because performative masculinity is making American men sick. I’m making longer-term plans to help manage our physical and mental health. I am very grateful to be employed and housed and to have the means to take care of our household, though I need to work on saving more. I am incredibly anxious about all of those who will become unhoused if our government doesn’t course correct, and quickly. I’m fed up with money and power being misused by those who are supposed to be acting on behalf of the people. The people have been hoodwinked for decades.

From “Reimagining Capitalism in the Shadow of the Pandemic

Six months ago, it was “normal” for the richest 1% to own more than 40% of U.S. wealth — and for the richest 5% to take home nearly a third of all the income, while 40% of Americans would need to borrow, sell something, or not be able pay a $400 expense. Six months ago it was “normal” for nearly a quarter of the U.S. civilian workforce to be unable to take a day of paid sick leave and for us to feel comfortable tolerating the systemic oppression and exclusion of Black Americans.

Something’s gotta give. And soon. Everything is now politics. Americans are so polarized now. We have nearly three months to go until the election. I may be grinding my teeth and/or holding my breath until then.


For Storm and Fury

I am not superstitious by nature but in my last post I mentioned migraines and bam, I got hit with my first one in ages. It struck on Friday along with a major shift in the weather, as often happens, and is still lingering today. Yesterday I was so incapacitated I had to take a sick day and am now even more behind on work. The queasiness is beginning to abate and I am mostly upright but looking longingly at my bed, less than three feet away from my desk. Summer heat plus poor health means I’ve been succumbing to distractions even more than usual. Though we didn’t follow too much of the virtual comic con, other than watching a few new trailers.

Thankfully, we have superior distractions to look forward to soon, with season 2 of The Umbrella Academy. And hopefully no more migraines.

our nameless neighborhood turkey

High Precision Ghosts

The last week was tougher than usual. Physically I felt unwell, which led to me feeling miserable, emotionally. Then I received some lousy news. Separately, about two friends / former co-workers. That got me feeling even lower. It seems like I’ve been coasting along through this pandemic. Trying to meet our household’s basic needs while meeting deadlines for work. Treading water during the week and rushing on weekends, attempting to complete all the tasks I haven’t had time or energy for during the week. But enduring one week of pain was a reminder of how much worse things used to be. I experienced chronic pain, with intermittent migraines, for 25+ years. I hope this flare-up was a fluke. It sure did illustrate how much of a change there has been.

It hasn’t been all bad. Good things:

  • My iphone kept freezing and forcing me to do a hard restart, multiple times a day. I finally found the culprit. The apple podcasts app. Despite all my data (subscriptions) and play history, I deleted it. And my phone has been just fine since. I’ve been switching between Pocket Casts and Spotify instead. So far, so good. A fresh start feels good.
  • One of the podcasts I resubscribed to? Mike Birbiglia’s Working it Out podcast. I enjoy him and all of his guests have been wonderful so far. I look forward to more episodes.
  • Relevant to my interests: We Ranked the Top 11 Brands of Bubble Water, Just Because. I’ve been drinking less LaCroix lately and a lot more Gerolsteiner. That is the good good stuff (but only from glass bottles).
  • Walt Disney World’s Reopening Video Didn’t Go Over So Well. And the parodies are downright amazing! That brought me a little joy in an otherwise bleak week.
  • I’m reading supernatural Sherlock fan fiction and I’m not even sorry. “Sherlock, but Make Him Likable and Also an Angel: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
  • My son used to regularly go to his Dad’s house to have his hair bleached and dyed a bright color. That hasn’t happened since last November. It only took a pandemic, but he allowed me to do this for him yesterday. And it turned out quite well.

A friend and I were talking about live music shows, and how it’s likely to be a long while before they happen again. I have a ticket for a Bikini Kill show in Milwaukee. It was rescheduled from May 2020 to November to 2020 and again, now, for October 2021. But even that seems unlikely.

Live music won’t return until 2022, Lollapalooza co-founder says.

That is rough to hear but seems more realistic. Until then, I will continue to find things my son and I can do on our own. Tonight we may finally get to go comet spotting for Neowise. The last two nights have been overcast and stormy but tonight should be clear. Planning to drive outside of the city a bit for less light pollution. I’ve loaded a tripod into the trunk and I’ve got my binoculars handy.

Fresh hair color
sunflowers against blue sky
into the woods

Please Scream Inside Your Heart

Way ahead of you, guys. I’ve been screaming inside my heart for YEARS.

TOKYO—At the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park recently, the chief executive and his corporate boss took a ride on the park’s No. 1 attraction, the Fujiyama roller coaster, and plunged 230 feet without so much as a peep.

A video showed the two executives, both clad in masks, sternly riding the coaster in complete silence. It ended with a message: “Please scream inside your heart.

I started drafting this post last week but have been feeling especially foggy. For years, I’ve been beating myself up over my productivity. Which is lousy, and ingrained capitalism at play. But it’s also counterproductive. Productivity is a wave (twitter thread). And the topic of ultradian rhythms is fascinating.

Five items of note:

  • Edward Colston statue replaced by sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid
  • The Freedom House Ambulance Service episode from 99% Invisible moved me to tears, had me muttering under my breath, and swearing out loud. Another instance of American systemic racism in full effect, erasing a huge societal contribution by African-Americans who were this nation’s first paramedics. I had, unsurprisingly, never heard this history before. But it made me think of my Dad. He was a rookie cop in St. Paul in 1962 and was often the first responder to many grisly accidents and crime scenes before there were emergency medical services. Listen to this episode.
  • In the same vein, Hidden Herstory: The Leesburg Stockade Girls

    You may ask, “Who were the Leesburg Stockade Girls?” In July of 1963 in Americus, Georgia, fifteen girls were jailed for challenging segregation laws. Ages 12 to 15, these girls had marched from Friendship Baptist Church to the Martin Theater on Forsyth Street. Instead of forming a line to enter from the back alley as was customary, the marchers attempted to purchase tickets at the front entrance. Law enforcement soon arrived and viciously attacked and arrested the girls. Never formally charged, they were jailed in squalid conditions for forty-five days in the Leesburg Stockade, a Civil War era structure situated in the back woods of Leesburg, Georgia. Only twenty miles away, parents had no knowledge of where authorities were holding their children. Nor were parents aware of their inhumane treatment.

  • A reprieve for international students:
    The U.S. backed down from a high-profile confrontation with Harvard and MIT over visas for foreign students who take online-only classes, ending a tense standoff that could have sent thousands of students back to their home countries and left colleges scrambling to plan for the fall.

  • Last weekend my son and I listened to the Imaginary Worlds podcast episode all about Comic Con, Once and Future Comic Con. It feels strange that San Diego Comic Con will be virtual this year but that might be the new normal.

Today I’m screaming inside my heart over my tax bill. This may be the first time I owe the IRS. Usually, I get money back after filing my taxes. But I knew this was coming. I made some probably ill-advised financial decisions in order to buy our condo last year. But hey, we have a permanent home base in the perfect location. Though it will be years before we’ll be able to enjoy nearby restaurants and movie theaters, because of Americans unwillingness to wear a damned mask. Even though we could get the virus under control in a month or two if everyone would just wear a mask.

unnecessary selfie with flowers

Ride on Time

Yesterday a friend posted something in her IG story that made me nostalgic. For something I hadn’t thought about in years. “Don’t talk to me until I’ve listened to Black Box’s 1989/1990 hit Ride on Time on repeat 10x.” I had that album on cassette. It was not easy to rewind the tape to get to exactly the song you wanted but I tried anyhow. And MTV played the video constantly for a time. That got me thinking a lot about my earlier analog life and how being GenX has been a bridge between those worlds. But I was also an early adopter and have been extremely online for years. It’s just that now more events I would have attended in person are happening online, post-pandemic. There are some great ones coming up next week, though I’m often tired of looking at screens all day while working.

Five things I am looking forward to in the near future:

  • Tuesday, July 14th from Generation Women: Black joy is quite literally revolutionary and allows for a more complete and needed narrative about being a Black woman. This July, let’s celebrate Black joy!
  • Wednesday, July 15th: Quarantine Book Club with Claire L. Evans, author of Broad Band

    If you loved Hidden Figures or The Rise of the Rocket Girls, you’ll love Claire Evans’ breakthrough book on the women who brought you the internet–written out of history, until now.

  • Thursday, July 16th: Ramy, From Pen to Screen is a part of the Pillars Pop-Up Conversations, an ongoing series designed to highlight the ways American Muslims are using imaginative storytelling and cultural production to advance social change. Seasons 1 & 2 of Ramy are available on Hulu.
  • Not happening until the end of the month, but Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy will be available July 31st. It is a show my son and I both adore and look forward to seeing more of. Netflix released a season 2 trailer today and it features cults, time travel, and another apocalypse.
  • Also happening throughout this month, the pizzeria inside of Moon Palace Books, Geek Love Cafe, says: “All profits through the end of July will go to local organizing for police and prison abolition.” And they have vegan options available.

Somehow my son is not music obsessed like his parents. That was an unexpected twist. Thankfully, we have plenty of other common interests. But his fixation with The Beatles has been equally surprising. I can’t quite figure out why he finds them so compelling but I just go with it. And yesterday I agreed to watch Ringo Starr’s Big 80th Birthday Party happening with him on youtube. And felt a twinge of regret. Apparently, Ringo has been having these in-person birthday parties with fans for years, where they meet up at noon for a Peace & Love gathering. I would have taken my son to last year’s event in Los Angeles but I couldn’t have predicted the pandemic. Ringo appears to be in pretty good shape, though. Hopefully we can join him for another birthday in a couple of years.

orange and purple flowers in bloom with little green caterpillars on them
pink lillies in bloom
Photo of an orange butterfly among orange flowers