Gimme Shelter

About six months ago, I stopped blogging.

Didn’t see the point.  My posts were nothing but anguished cries of horror in the guise of heavy-handed sermons to a converted choir.  With gobs of articulate and widely-read pundits making my same arguments with better data and more cachet, applying my particular brand of pessimism to a fairly standard array of depressing topics certainly wasn’t helping.  In fact, focusing on the points-of-interest along the highway to hell in order to comment on them coherently was starting to feel like self-harm.

As time wore on, I felt increasingly justified in my decision to retreat from the keyboard.  There was the downhill slide from impeachment to acquittal.  Brexit’s inexorable march to ruinous economic isolation.  The media’s and DNC’s (Democratic National Committee’s) fat fingers on the scale of an obscenely crowded primary race.  Daily travesties from a mega-MAGA-moron.  Sleaze-ball gamesmanship from the astoundingly unethical McConnell and corrupt GOP.  The rise of authoritarian arseholes all over the damn place.  Brutal blows to social justice.  Devastating environmental regulation rollbacks.

And then came . . .

Back in the early ‘90s, my friend Bill Noble (studied biology, zoology, physics at UC Berkeley and Harvard, naturalist, environmentalist, damn fine writer) told me all the WHO medicos and high-falutin’ infectious disease experts of his acquaintance were certain a killer ‘flu was in the offing.  He said the annual ‘flu shot was just their best guess about which strain would make the jump from chickens to pigs to humans in a part of the world where these species often live in close proximity (China, Southeast Asia).  And they knew, Bill said, that someday they’d either guess wrong or a novel virus would come out of left field and surprise them.

No surprise, though, that when it came to getting governments to heed their warnings and take the difficult, not-for-profit steps to prevent or at least prepare for the inevitable, they were having no luck. 

Aside from it being a corona virus (starts with bats), rather than a HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza), COVID-19 fulfills Bill’s plague prophecy to perfection.

I didn’t jump straight to “plague” as soon as the news from Wuhan hit the stands, or even when pictures from Italy went viral.  Wasn’t till the second week of March, when “epidemic” graduated to “pandemic” and things started getting real around here that I went all medieval on the sitch.

In these parts, the 2020 Plague began as a quest for fons omnium scientiam — the source of all knowledge — that could tell us wtf was going on, how scared we should be, and which safety protocols were bogus/best practices.  A difficult mission, when our fearful leader was, and still is, aggressively spearheading the worst national response on the planet.

To be fair, we can’t call it a failure.  The blithering braggart isn’t trying to respond appropriately.  He and his morally-destitute cronies see this crisis as a golden opportunity to push through all the nefarious schemes they’ve been laboring to accomplish since fer-ever, to augment and cement the tangerine twat-waffle’s autocratic power, and to ensure a “win” for him in November by suppressing the vote as it has never been suppressed before.

Despite the narcissistic nincompoop’s utter incompetence and worst intentions, most of ‘Murica eventually got locked down.

Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

Songwriters: Keith Richards & Mick Jagger
Gimme Shelter lyrics (c) Abkco Music, Inc.

Except for a fortunate few, lockdown ain’t easy.  Those that have it not-bad are stuck in cramped quarters with people they love (but could use a break from), trying to score toilet paper while waiting for it all to be over.  Those who have it worse are watching their businesses die, they’re suddenly out of work, they’re all alone, or they have essential jobs that drag them from their homes and into COVID’s direct line of fire on a daily basis.

Those who have it worst are stuck in cramped quarters with abusers they can’t escape.

Corona-stress doesn’t just operate on the grand-scheme-of-things level.  It hits us on personal levels, too.  Hits some harder than others.

I def got the long end of the stick on this one.  So far, anyway.  True, I’m high-risk, but what does that even mean?  Critically ill centenarians pull through, healthy 30-somethings succumb to virus-triggered strokes. It’s a bit of a crapshoot.

But, yes, over 65 with a wonky heart and a history of bronchial issues, I do have my moments, like that mini-meltdown the other day over an (incredibly minor) incident I feared had compromised the inviolability of my home.  I feel a twinge of anxiety with every sneeze, cough, or suspicion of an ailment that could force me out of the house to seek medical attention should it, gawd forbid, fail to respond to herbal remedies and qigong.  Mostly I worry about those I love, some of whom have to seek the aforementioned medical assistance, some of whom have the aforementioned essential jobs.

Underlying our collective and discrete stress is the unpleasant reality of COVID-19’s worst-case scenario.  Of all the ways to be freed from one’s mortal coil, this one is desperately lonely and cruel.

Hmmm.  Global pandemic, evil-doers running amok, stress out the wazoo . . . same-old same-old anguished sermon, yeah?  So why am I blogging?

Because as one of the fortunate few, my life in these plague times has been (touch wood) kinda wonderful.

I’m in California, for one thing.  While the Feds’ response to the pandemic has been an epic fail, California’s has been brilliant.  Our county public health director is top-notch.  Locally, we take “shelter-in-place” seriously, and we’ve got the flattened curve and low death rate per capita to prove it.

For another, I’m not stuck in cramped quarters.  I’m cozily sheltering with the love of my life in our exquisitely-designed, superbly-built dream house.  We do jigsaw puzzles, read, stream entertainment, and remote couch co-op game with the kids.  He goes out for groceries about once a week, I’m cooking up a storm. Fingers crossed, I’ll soon have a tiny herb garden going on the upstairs porch.

Yet another, I’m retired.  Don’t have a job to go to or to lose.

And I’m an introvert.  Big time.  Most folks chafe at being locked down.  I am tots fine with it.

Sure there are people I miss.  A few.  But on the whole, I don’t miss people.  Caring about others and wanting to BE with them are two entirely different things.  As I’ve said before, social events — even those I volunteer for, or host, or wouldn’t miss for the world — are taxing.  To be freed from all outside commitments and social obligations feels like a reprieve.

Besides, with virtual social contact skyrocketing (Zoom classes, SKYPE parties, weekly phone calls from folks we used to hear from twice a year, a huge uptick in social emails, FACETIME, remote gaming, tele-health visits), I was seriously over-booked for the first weeks of lockdown.  While others complain about boredom, I’ve been as busy as ever, minus the commutes.

In my youth, I longed to leave the bustle behind, live close to nature, shut out the world, and follow my bliss in sweet solitude.

I’ve got the green trees and wildlife.  And for a hot minute, the bustle is locked behind closed doors.  From the start of the lockdown, I knew this was my chance.  Took me nearly a month to cop to how badly I was blowing it.

So I dropped my Spanish class.  Vowed to be more discriminate with my virtual social life.  Started thinking about finally getting that second Éirinn novel wrapped, fer feck’s sake.

I’m in the mood to get it done.  I’m in a good mood.  Because of my lucky circumstances, yes.  Because shelter-in-place suits me, yes.  But also because Mother Earth is mighty chipper these days.  And when Mom’s happy, well so am I.

Swallows, meadowlarks, juncos, turkey buzzards, jays, hoot owls and screech owls . . . I can’t tell if there are more birds because there are less people and vehicles on the streets or if the quiet streets are simply allowing me to hear the birds that were there all along. Coyotes are prowling the streets of San Francisco.  After thirteen years of disinterested co-habitation, a little privacy was all it took to get pandas Ying Ying and Le Le into amorous congress.

Seismologists have recently confirmed my perception that we are living lighter on the earth; now that we’re not incessantly pounding on her surface, our planet is literally resting quieter.  Before the plague, 80% of Americans could no longer see the Milky Way.  Cities are still light-pollution factories, but in the sticks and small towns where human nightlife has vanished, true nightlife is flourishing, and the stars are back.

As we hold our collective industrial breath, Gaia heaves a great sigh of relief.

I never imagined we would get to see what the world would be like if we slowed the f*ck down and massively reduced our use of fossil fuels.  The resurgence of the wild, the planetary lightness of being, the quiet, the stillness, the taste of clean air . . .

It won’t last, I know.  It can’t.  This plague is a horror, physically, communally, and economically, especially for those most vulnerable — the poor, people of color, and women.

It’s also smog-less skies and sweet breezes, day after day after day.

I took the pic above when I was out on the deck for a late-morning body-weight/resistance-band/soup-can workout and a set of tai chi.  That was the morning I realized the autocrats and opportunists are right.  This is a golden opportunity.  Mother Nature is taking full advantage.  Why shouldn’t I?

Gimme, gimme shelter.  I’ll take all I can get.

12 thoughts on “Gimme Shelter”

  1. Aieee!!! You used the phrase “less people” instead of “fewer people.” And here I had been planning to hire you as a copyeditor!

    • Ah, but I’ve carefully trained myself NOT to line-edit my blogs. Every time I go down that rabbit hole, I end up correcting, re-writing, over-editing for days. Better to get the dang thing up, I figure.
      Were I copyediting your material, however (note my appropriate use of the rare English-language subjunctive there), I would be absolutely ruthless in my adherence to the grammarian’s playbook.

  2. All fooling aside I am starting to get enthusiastic about “Social Distancing”. We cooking home made dishes weI haven’t had for years. i.e. Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Fresh Asparagus, Lamb chops topped off with freshly made Date & Nut bread.

    My work shop is starting to shape up. I sold a couple of pieces of unused equipment for enough to buy some choice pieces of walnut, cherry and butternut.
    Spending evenings talking to my neighbors on our porches about 50 yards away. (It is so quiet we can hear each other clearly)

    I received a box of books from a book store in Las Cruces. The owner is running his huge book shop almost single handed… email orders only and It feels good to help him by spreading the word and buying.

    The bandwidth in our area is sorely taxed but the local phone company is doing a tremendous job. It would be ok with me if they rationed out time because we need to stop being so spoiled.

    I used to say I would like it if we could go back 50 years. I was in my 30’s then and remember it well. it would give us a chance to stretch our atrophied moral tendons.

    Hate me if you will but it only hurts when I am deprived of truly vital things. 500 miles of highway, TV, overseas vacations and restaurant meals are no longer at the top of my must lists.

    I wish no hardship on anyone. I would bequeath the sense of well being I am experiencing on all who are irritable, restless and discontent. I know something is right when I find myself feeling fond of those who used to irk me.

    Very Best Wishes to All.
    As-salāmu ʿalaykum!
    Rath Dé ort!
    Dios te bendiga

    • I hear you loud and clear. For those of us comfortably ensconced, being part of the vulnerable population is far more of a blessing than a hardship. It’s the already-at-a-disadvantage populations and Millennials — job-threatened or out of work, pressed into service as unpaid homeschool teachers, cooped up with rambunctious kids 24/7, unable to care for aging parents, often forced to chose between health/safety and economic survival — who are suffering. The good news AND bad news: this won’t be over any time soon. Stay blissed out, my friend. I’m right there with you.

  3. Dear risa, so good to read your artikel. Its like i can hear your voice. Lots of love form a very quite Amsterdam. Sereen, like its everyday sundaymorning. I am wel .

    • Margreet! Lovely to hear from you, and thanks for reading.
      I have been thinking about Amsterdam, imagining the deserted streets, the bright spring sun shining down on beautiful, quiet canals that are empty of tourist barges . . . it must be grand.
      You and Roy are on exactly the same page! You say, “it’s every day Sunday morning”. Roy insists every day is Saturday. ;)

  4. Once again, I am moved by your eloquence, perceptiveness, and sensitivity to the world in which we inhabit. I thank Gaia that there are those who keep her best interests at heart. The birds are bolder and more bountiful in my neighborhood, as well, and I take that as a reminder that this respite from “normal” has its blessings. I’m hoping it will teach us lessons we should learn, such as respect for others and respect for nature.

    • Thanks so much :) I just saw two meadowlarks flit by, circle back and land in an oak, and hang out a bit before zipping off again. Drab female and bright yellow-and-black male. Another gorgeous day in the neighborhood.
      In my typically up-beat way, I think that despite the majority of all people everywhere wanting to keep the lid on the fossil fuel industry and begging their govs to use The Great Pause as a springboard into more sensible environmental policies, only Finland and New Zealand will do it. And maybe Germany. The eejits in charge of nations like ours are gonna say, “Well, that was tough — but it was toughest on the noble industries that make our country great. There’s only one way out of this recession. Cut all social programs, rescind all regulations, and let industries suck this planet dry.” First day out of lockdown, the skies will be smoggy again.
      That’s my prediction. Hope I’m wrong. From your lips to the deaf ears of the amoral autocrats who run the world, m’dear.

  5. Risa,
    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.
    I just knew you were too stuck on rational to quit.
    Agree, Agree, Agree, Clean air, Less Traffic, More home cooking, Zoom coffee klatch with friends. Once the reality set in I realized this was the chance to clean up my work shop. Now I can get back to somethings important. Woodcarving, Walks in our Wonderful Hills, Reading, Reading, Reading. Loved the bit about finishing your novel (Hint, Hint)
    I can truly say that the only hard part has been when PJ returned from Texas visiting our new GRAND daughter. We spent 2 weeks living in separate parts of the house… just to be sure. We are sooo unfortunate. Extra bed & bath sob, boohoo!
    Thank You for getting back on the horse and smiling about it.
    I may have 8+ decades of the best and worse of Mother Gaia’s whims with no regrets or feelings of entitlement, but I still want more.
    Very Best Regards

    • No, no. Thank YOU for so kindly sticking with me during my periodic droughts.
      OMG, your new grand-daughter so close — and yet so far. That would have destroyed me. I’m in an especially good position to enjoy the environmental upside of the plague. I’m in no position to visit my kids (we were supposed to be in NY right now, seeing my son we haven’t seen in 3 years) or even my sister who is all on her own on the other side of town.
      You do woodcarving?!? You and Dec may have something to chat about . . .


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