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Tender Souls in Tough Places

The pandemic is worsening, as experts had predicted. Because many people are, predictably, behaving in counterproductive ways. Thanksgiving is this coming week. Everyone should be staying put in their own homes this year. But nope. Holiday air travel is surging right along with coronavirus cases. It’s pretty bleak. Many states, including ours, have been tightening restrictions. Minnesota’s went into effect Friday night. These restrictions make no difference in our lives but the fact that so many folks are bristling about them shows how we’ve gotten to this point. Once again, I will try to focus on factors within my control. We will continue to shelter in place. We haven’t eaten inside a restaurant since March. We don’t go into other households or allow others into our home. We have groceries and supplies delivered. And we will focus on ways to stay as healthy and happy as possible under these circumstances.

Time for Five Good Things:

File under random but satisfying news. For weeks I had been trying to figure out where I bought our favorite masks. We’ve tried so many. Some were nice enough but didn’t hold up after a few washings. Others were just plain uncomfortable. After some digging, I finally figured out where I’d purchased our best ones. By far, the best masks (with nose wire) came from Wayre. Posting that here and bookmarking it for future reference. I do believe we will be wearing masks in public, for the long haul. And this behavior needs to be normalized for the greater good.


The Will of the Public

Too many Americans are selfish and science-averse. Many with the means to stay home are refusing to do so and unnecessarily putting themselves and others at greater risk. Especially causing harm to those who have no choice but to work in public-facing positions. It’s so obvious we need strict closures combined with economic support.

This Coronavirus Surge Does Not Have to Be So Horrific:

If Americans want to get the current surge under control through this long, dark winter, they need to skip indoor gatherings, including for the holidays. They need to avoid nonessential travel. They must wear face masks in all public places. They all need to practice social distancing. They need to quarantine when they think they’ve been exposed to the virus and isolate if they get a positive test result, even if no symptoms emerge.

Vaccines are coming. We just need to hunker down a little while longer to save lives. But we could have prevented so much suffering if we’d had effective government leadership from the get-go.

But I can only continue taking care of what’s in my control. Our household is in better shape than many. I am still able to work from home while my adult son takes his college classes online. For months we have been resigned to celebrating the holidays at home with just the two of us. We’re doing a mix of homemade foods and vegan meal kit (from Purple Carrot) for Thanksgiving. My son is baking his usual vegan turkey cookies. We may drop some treats off on front porches and stoops for friends and family from a safe distance. I’ve noticed some advertisers are being more responsible than others. King Arthur put out a handy guide to downsizing pies for a scaled-back Thanksgiving. While other companies are promoting travel for the holidays. Just, no. It’s so irresponsible. I’m hoping we can bring this all under better control in the new year under the Biden-Harris administration.

Bonus: In unanticipated distractions, I found myself binge-watching all of Ted Lasso recently. And I loved it. I didn’t expect it to be so touching. And it promotes ideas of personal accountability and radical honesty. I hope subsequent seasons can live up to this one.

stranded Eagle kite
So bundled up
first icicles of the season

It’s the Hope That Kills You

Today is veteran’s day. I understand how young people from underserved populations, without support networks, choose to serve. And how overlooked they often are, even after serving. For example, Honoring the service of Native Americans:

This week, the National Native American Veterans Memorial opens on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, honoring a long tradition of service by Native American men and women. American Indians have served in every major U.S. military conflict since the Revolutionary War, often at one of the highest rates per capita of any ethnic group.

While I have remained staunchly anti-war throughout my lifetime, I understand having limited options. Relevant tweet:

On this #VeteransDay I want to give a shout out to @leftflankvets who raise awareness about the atrocities of war and how we need to divest from the military-industrial complex FOR our vets.

All vets and Americans should be guaranteed housing, food, and a living wage.

A secular amen to that. On to other news, Saturday was a big day, with Biden being declared President-Elect and Harris our Vice President-Elect. Historic. Also unprecedented? The unwillingness of the current administration to concede or participate in a transition process. During a pandemic. None of this is surprising but continues to be disappointing. The good news? Biden-Harris are already getting to work and have pulled together a COVID-19 advisory board. The bad news? One of those experts, Minnesotan Dr. Michael Osterholm, declared that COVID Hell is coming. And I believe him. Also alarming, this piece in the Atlantic about how America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent. I’m afraid they’re on to something.

Self, wearing a t-shirt with the words I'm Speaking printed on the front

Pins and Needles

This week the world has been watching our presidential election results trickle in. It looks like Biden will win but not in the landslide many had hoped for. But I had mentally prepared for this. Both for the long week of uncertainty and the closeness of the race. I knew it would be close because this country is still a very racist one, unfortunately.

Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair. —Mariame Kaba
The Fight for Justice Doesn’t Stop After the Presidential Election

In personal news, I’ve felt guilty for having an oddly good week. On election night, I started teaching an intro to javascript class for the first time. For months I had been so anxious about it but it’s actually going well. And I’ve made headway on projects at my day job as well, which has been a huge relief. The weather has been amazing so I’ve taken some wonderful walks while wearing sandals. In Minnesota, in November! Today I received my first paycheck from the college for Fall semester. I’ve made some great meals utilizing ingredients just before they would have gone off. And I’ve been sleeping fairly well. This morning is more chaotic, with a four-person crew doing end of season lawn cleanup outside our windows. It is freaking the cats right out. And soon a stranger will be entering our home to haul away our old dishwasher and install a new one. We will all be masked and I will bleach down any surfaces they touch. This unusually warm weather means it is comfortable to keep the windows wide open with fans going so I feel okay about the situation. This is really a gift to my son, who has been washing dishes by hand every single day since the start of the pandemic. My adult son has turned out to be a spectacular roommate. And tonight we will watch another new episode of The Mandalorian.

Large orange tabby cat sitting on a bed

Sunlight and Shadow

Well, that was Halloween. My son and I usually celebrate all week long then host a pumpkin carving party. This year we hosted…a Zoom party. It’s what we’ve got to work with, especially now that COVID-19 cases are spiking here again. Area ICU beds are filled to capacity. So Quaraween it is.

This week? I don’t really want to think or hear about the election. We voted a few weeks ago. Our ballots were accepted and will be counted. The results of this election are unlikely to be decided immediately so I’m trying to focus on other current events. Of which there are many.

Now to get through this week with my anxiety in check. Or at least focused on something other than the election’s worst-case scenarios. I do have a very real thing to worry about at home. Back in March, our dishwasher up and died. My son has been great about washing the dishes by hand daily since then. But I finally gave in and ordered a dishwasher. A month ago. It was back-ordered but is finally being installed this Friday. Which means a stranger will enter our safe bubble. Masked, sure, but this will still be a nerve-wracking experience for our high anxiety household.

The Minnehaha Falls are already frosty
DANGER signs on the fence in front of the frosty Minnehaha Falls

Frozen Explosion

Pre-pandemic, I worked with my therapist on mindfulness and being present. But 2020 has changed all that, as we all know. This year has been too chock full of awful moments. I am lucky to be over-employed, which keeps me out of trouble most of the time. When not working, I allow myself to be distracted. To avoid “the now.” Recently I binge-watched Lovecraft Country (and injured myself while watching it). But I couldn’t just leave it at that. I also listened to all the companion episodes of the official podcast with Shannon Houston, one of the show’s writers, and the incomparable Ashley C. Ford. Every year around Halloween I try to be a little braver and get into the spooky mood. But I’m ready for lighter, fluffier distractions now. Even if the weather isn’t. We had a strange morning of eerie, orange skies, and thundersnow. It was like being trapped in a Halloween snow globe. And yes, my son and I will be carving pumpkins and baking Halloween cookies. But soon I will be turning to comedy. Five good comedy-related things:

Earlier this week we had our first legit snowstorm of the season. Makes me want to hibernate. My people of MENA were not built for this climate. But I will call upon my heritage to create some comforting meals this weekend. Like a big batch of mujadara, some Lebanese flatbread, and za’atar-spiced beet dip.

October snowstorm covering the pedestrian lane in slush
Trees with pretty Fall colors with snow on the ground
One red maple leaf on a pile of snow with orange leaves in the background

Chaotic Ambiance

It is Friday. I made it through another weird week of life during a pandemic. So I want to highlight some of the good things I am thankful for.

  • Why yes, I would love to zipline into Godzilla’s mouth, thank you very much. What a dream.
  • Star Trek! The Lower Decks season finale was absolutely perfect (spoilers here), the season 3 premiere of Discovery was a thing of beauty, and I just binge-listened to the official Star Trek podcast, The Pod Directive. Hosted by Lower Decks star Tawny Newsome and the incomparable Paul F. Tompkins. A dynamic duo, indeed.
  • YallaDrum mini-documentary video: “New Arab American Theater Works’ program Yalla Drum! teaches local community to play traditional Arabic percussion instruments in an ensemble environment, and provides an opportunity for the larger Twin Cities to interact with our rich traditions.” That is just lovely. In the before times, I was able to enjoy some of Khaldoun Samman’s live performances.
  • In general, I’m not much of a horror fan. Yet every October, I try to dip into some of the spookier stuff. This week I started watching the brilliantly cast and beautifully shot Lovecraft Country. It is so intense I managed to injure myself. After a couple of episodes of tensing up, then jumping from jump scares, I actually pulled something in my shoulder. Still, I will soldier on. I need to get to this weekend’s finale. And I’m curious about Janelle Monae’s VR concert tie-in.
  • For 12 years, I lived in a house I owned. I bought it while pregnant with my son (and in serious nesting mode). The house was all wrong for many reasons and I stuck it out for too long. After that, we moved too many times between 2011 and 2019 so I made the switch to kindle books instead of lugging physical ones around. Now that we’re settled into our new home base, I feel more comfortable buying some physical books again while more mindful about supporting our local booksellers. Moon Palace is my favorite!

The Fall colors continued to pop this week. This morning we had our first snow flurries of the season. Some long-time Minnesotans are losing it, but c’mon, this happens every October. It has already melted and just looks a little damp outside. Though it was 45° warmer here just one week ago. That’s Minnesota for ya.

Support your local booksellers
Dreamy Fall watercolors
Tree with very orange leaves

Tiny Daggers in Your Heart

A surreal milestone. My brother Tom was born 50 years ago today. He only lived to be 18. I miss him terribly. But I was by his side throughout his illness and decline. I stayed overnight in his hospital room before he died. I may have been in denial, but I was there with him. As of today, there have now been 216,000 recorded deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States. The actual number is likely even higher. I think of all the people who have lost loved ones this year. And how many weren’t even able to say goodbye in person because of the pandemic. Which we could have gotten under control with stricter lockdown measures. So much misery, trauma, and grief could have been prevented.

I’m not sure what my 1989 self would have made of life in 2020. Most recently, we lost guitar god Eddie Van Halen. Connections to my shared past with my brother are severed here and there as time marches on. I’m still estranged from our mother but I have been helping our father track down his birth family. And relations pop up left and right on services like Ancestry and 23 and Me. It’s fascinating and weird. DNA testing for consumers — humans and their dogs — was still science fiction in my brother’s lifetime. He died eight years before the movie Gattaca came out. But he loved science fiction as much as I do. I remember when he underwent painful oral surgery in the summer of 1986, graft some skin from the roof of his mouth onto his gums (how miserable). Directly after the procedure, our Dad took us straight to the theater to see Aliens. I can clearly remember so many details from the 80s yet have no idea what I did just last week. This is something my brother never got to experience. The strangeness of aging. I will have to forge ahead on his behalf, while I continue to keep his memory alive as long as I can.

Birds Coast When They Can

An essay posted to Medium over the weekend is being widely shared. I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There. How life goes on, surrounded by death by Indi Samarajiva. It describes living through the Sri Lankan civil war.

I lived through the end of a civil war. Do you know what it was like for me? Quite normal. I went to work, I went out, I dated. This is what Americans don’t understand. They’re waiting to get personally punched in the face while ash falls from the sky. That’s not how it happens.

And that’s what life feels like now. We’ve now reached over 200,000 Americans dead from this uncontrolled pandemic. But last Wednesday, I took my son to see some silent films, outdoors, with live music and caught up with a few friends at the event. We’re barreling toward an election with results that will surely be contested and may end up in civil war. But Friday night I joined other friends for live music, outdoors. The climate crisis is unfolding with alarming speed. Experts are talking about water wars and making models for climate migration in the near future. But my son and I enjoyed the new tofu sandwiches from Zen Box. The Republicans are trying to rush to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court with an unqualified right winger who believes women are subservient to men. Her appointment would be disastrous and roll back decades of progress made for women and minority groups in this country. She is not qualified to safeguard our constitutional rights and liberties as a member of our nation’s highest court. But I went for some pleasant walks in the lovely Fall weather. And relaxed by cooking and baking. And ordered a new spice rack for the kitchen. And talked with my neighbors about the neighborhood’s wild turkeys. All while this country is collapsing. It’s all so surreal but feels comparable to the tales I’ve heard from others from Sri Lanka. Or my own people who lived through the Lebanese Civil War and the country’s corruption after. Or from a former co-worker from Bosnia. Though those conflicts all unfolded over time. The United States has lost so many and unraveled so much in such a compressed period. I’m trying not to give into cynicism and despair, but I’m feeling almost manic. Wild swings from living in the moment / enjoying every day life stuff to obsessively doom scrolling and worrying about the US and the world at large. At least I am not alone in this.

My son, in early Fall

More of a Mood Than a Story

I intend to come here more regularly to capture some thoughts. But I don’t have anything cohesive to say, hence the post title. A friend who lives in hurricane country referred to “The Relentless Layering of Challenges” recently, and that was even before Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. It is all so overwhelming. I face fewer challenges than many but still feel like I’m trying to doggie paddle my way along to keep from drowning. We’re nearing 200,000 dead in the US from COVID-19, the West Coast has been ablaze, we’re all anxious about the election and what might happen afterward. And I have some weird family stuff going on to boot. Last week I used PTO for a much-needed break. But I used the time off from my day job to get ready for my PT job, catch up on household tasks, bills and tax junk, and to take on my first photography client of 2020. Prepping for Fall semester was helpful, though. Classes started up last week. I’ll be teaching every Tuesday and Thursday night through December, after my day job. I am grateful to be (over)employed but it is a lot.

Five good moody things:

It’s going to be full-on Fall soon. Technically, the autumn equinox starts tomorrow. But sweater weather kicked in a bit ago and the Fall colors are popping. It’s the best time of the year! Tied with those perfect June days when the humidity is low. But now? Now it is time to bust out the Halloween decorations. Even if our annual pumpkin carving party may be happening via Zoom this year.

Fall colors are starting to pop