In Honor of the 200,000

By the time you read this, we’ll have blasted past 200,000 COVID-19 deaths in America, with no end in sight. That’s an inconceivable figure. Its so large that most of us can’t accept it.

That’s 200,000 grandparents, parents, siblings, children, friends, loved ones. Every single one lived and laughed and worked and loved and mattered. If each of those people only had 5 people on earth who loved them (a very conservative figure, in my estimation), then there are 1 million grieving people out there, right now, and it has only been 6 months.

We were all devastated by the victims of 9/11. Now imagine that 9/11 happened more than 67 times over, or basically every other day since this pandemic started. That’s what would have to happen to get to 200,000 deaths in that tragedy.

This is a grizzly thought, but given the average height in America is 5’6”, if you lined up the 200,000 dead head to toe along some rural highway, they would stretch for 208.33 miles. Driving at 52 mph, it would take you more than 4 hours to pass all those bodies. Seriously, that’s a lot of soul-crushing loss.

And lest we forget, dying of COVID-19 is a horrible way to go. Each one of those people suffered. Each one struggled to breathe. Each one felt as if he or she were drowning in their own bodies. And they weren’t even able to have a loved one there for comfort. They died all alone.

And the vast majority of these people died needlessly. Other countries have demonstrated that the death toll doesn’t need to be this high. Our COVID-19 death toll is 597 deaths per million Americans. That may not seem like much until you compare it to other countries. New Zealand has had 5 COVID-19 deaths per million. Japan has had less than 12 deaths per million. Venezuela has had 17 deaths per million. Greece has had 29 deaths per million. Australia, 32 deaths per million. Egypt, 57 deaths per million. What’s it going to take before we realize that something is seriously wrong with the way we’re handling this virus?

We need a leader who leads by example. One who doesn’t disparage those who wear a mask. One who does not encourage his base to congregate, maskless and shoulder to shoulder, to worship him. We need adequate testing. We need accurate reporting. We need financial support. We need supplies for frontline workers as well as the general population. We need a president who actually listens to his own staff, multiple members of whom have come forward to say that they’ve begged him to wear a mask, to set an example, to only share accurate information rather than insane speculation, and not politicize this virus.

In honor of the 200,000 people who can no longer do so, please be sure to vote in the upcoming election. Their silence was forced upon them. We have to speak for them. Please vote.

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On Being an Adult

When I was little, I longed to be an adult, because I figured that would mean I could do whatever I want. Boy oh boy, but I had no idea what I was talking about. Not a clue.

It’s true that grownups can do whatever they want. They can commit crimes. They can be selfish. They can be greedy and thoughtless and cruel. They can abuse the planet. They don’t have to pay taxes even though they take advantage of the infrastructure that’s provided by taxes. They can make idiotic decisions. They can disrespect their elders. They don’t have to think ahead or consider consequences or feelings or take any responsibility whatsoever.

Grownups can get away with that stuff. And since 2016 I’ve been seeing more and more grownups doing just that. It really makes me weep for the future of this planet.

But what I’m beginning to realize is that even though all adults are grownups, not all grownups are adults. It takes integrity and conviction to be an adult. It takes maturity. It requires that you realize that the world does not revolve around you. It is all about understanding that your actions effect other people.

One simple, straightforward example is the wearing of masks during a pandemic. Doing so may not be fun, but it says that you care about the people around you, whether you know them or not. And yet I’ve heard so many “grownup” excuses.

For some reason people think getting tested is some get out of jail free card. Testing negative only means you haven’t been positive for COVID-19 up to that moment in time. You can test negative and contract the virus 5 seconds later. You still need to wear a mask unless you’re selfish. And unless 100% of the people you are spending time with are getting tested every 5 seconds, the risk remains. “Some of us get tested” is just not good enough.

Another convenient excuse is, “Well, I tested negative after my risky behavior, so what’s the big deal?” To that I say congratulations and thank God. But do you want a cookie for that? Because you gambled with your life, and the lives of everyone you come in contact with. This time you won. But that doesn’t mean you always will.

People also think that if their job puts them in a high risk situation, then there’s no reason not to engage in high risk experiences while off the clock as well. That’s like saying, “I’m exposed to radiation all day at work, so I may as well get irradiated when I’m home, too.” In contrast, an adult is even more cautious at home, to reduce their odds of shortening their lifespan as much as humanly possible.

We are all under an enormous amount of stress right now, so some people believe that a little self-care by socializing with friends every once in a while is worth the risk, because it improves their mental health. Poppycock. One person dies of suicide every 12 minutes in America. That’s horrific. But one person dies of COVID-19 in America every eighty seconds. So you’re 9 times as likely to die of COVID than you are of suicide. I’d rather be alive and mentally disturbed than sane and run the risk of killing off another human being.

And what’s wrong with socializing with a mask on and 6 feet apart? Why do people have to be all up in each other’s faces, taking selfies cheek to cheek? I know it feels like you’ll live forever, but no. Death comes for us all. No need to flirt with it.

Yes, self-care is vital. But your right to self-care stops right at the line where your actions can potentially harm others, especially the more vulnerable amongst us. Adults know that. They understand that the golden rule isn’t a suggestion. They have a moral compass.

Adults also realize that other people love them and worry about them and they make decisions accordingly. Adults realize they have responsibilities and obligations. And adults know that they have to set an example for others who look up to them.

I don’t know how so many of us were never taught the importance of being an adult, and the importance of taking care of others. It’s a serious failure of society at large. I think, perhaps, that was why societies were invented, though. Societies are meant to protect us from the grownups who refuse to be adults.

We all live within a societal contract. There are rules we are meant to follow in order to experience society’s perks. It’s not supposed to be a tug of war. The contract isn’t supposed to be null and void every time you get a wild hair to cut loose. It’s supposed to be common sense.

In my county, we’re not supposed to gather in groups of more than 5. We’re supposed to wear our masks. We’re supposed to remain 6 feet apart. It’s not fun and it’s not fair and some people view this as judgmental or political or controlling rather than a matter of life and death. Those people are not adults.

Humanity is becoming more of a disappointment with each passing day. And we’re all going to pay the price. It’s all so senseless. I’m becoming so scared that I’m practically blind.

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Mid-Month Marvels: Face Masks That Give Back

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

This month I’m not going to focus on a specific organization. Rather, I’ll focus on an idea whose time has come. There’s a way to give a silver lining to these pesky face masks we all have to wear.

When this pandemic first hit and everyone was in a pure panic, I bought my first two facemasks for $75. They came from China. They took 4 weeks to arrive. They were so small they would barely fit on a child, and they broke upon first use. Live and learn.

Now you can get masks all over the place, and they come in all shapes and sizes and colors and designs. Masks can make fashion statements or political statements or just be simple, safe, and effective with no fanfare. The choices are endless.

Even those of us who realize how important masks are, who care about others enough to wear them, and have the sense of civic duty to take the issue seriously and not turn it into a silly political statement are (news flash!) not thrilled to have to wear a mask. But we wear them because it’s the right and decent and intelligent thing to do.

Having said that, I still wish the experience were more fun. So I started casting about to see what I could do to make that happen. I came across this article entitled, “18 face masks that support a good cause”.

Oh, yeah. Count me in! It would be nice to not only have the satisfaction of doing the right thing, but also feel as if I’m giving back to non-profits at the same time. And after reading the article, I also discovered that a lot of these masks look great, too. So win/win.

You can order masks in a pretty floral design, or masks designed by independent artists, or masks with a sports logo, kitten or dog images, or rainbows. There are more than 1000 designs to choose from in this article alone. And the organizations they support range from places that provide PPE to frontline workers, to food organizations, to homeless shelters, to boys and girls clubs, to the ACLU and Black Lives Matter.

So now while you wear your face mask to protect the lives of everyone around you, you can make an impact in other ways as well. I love this concept!

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This Feels Like the End of the World

The west coast is on fire. Fortunately, none of those fires are very close to Seattle. Yet. But all that west coast smoke got blown into the Pacific Ocean, hit an induction current, and headed right to Puget Sound like a freight train from hell. We now have some of the worst air quality on the planet. Poor Oregon has it even worse. I’m struggling to breathe.

The day before yesterday, when I got home from work, I was coughing, my heart was pounding, and I had a headache. Air matters. I kept having to fight down a panic attack when I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough.

My inner child was freaking out. “You’re gonna DIE!!!” “Help me!” I was on the verge of tears for most of the day. This feels like the end of the world.

Yesterday I brought a respirator to work. A respirator. And we thought masks were bad. I would never have predicted that I’d be relying on a respirator. This is not the world I had planned to live in. The smoke has blocked out the sun. It’s a perpetual twilight.

But with time to think, I was able to compare my situation to others. Not being able to breathe is terrifying. I thought of my late boyfriend, Chuck, who had to fight for every breath he took. When he was having a really bad asthma attack, he’d want me to put my hand on his heart and talk calmly to him, so he wouldn’t freak out. “You’re breathing. You’re breathing…” I can still hear myself saying it. I learned to say it even before I was fully awake. Now I get it. I get it, and I’m heartbroken at the thought of it.

I also feel even worse about George Floyd. Lying there in the street, being choked to death by a cop. He was looking at the crowd, who were desperately trying to talk the cop out of this, but the crowd, for good reason, was too afraid to physically intervene. How frightened and alone he must have felt as he died.

I feel for those in industrialized China who have lived with this air quality every single day for years. It’s a travesty.

I’m outraged for those prisoners in Guantanamo. Many are still there, and some have been waterboarded more than 80 times. What animals are we to do that? It has long been proven that torturing doesn’t yield valuable information.

I weep for all the people who have died of COVID-19, each one struggling for breath as they went. And they had no loved ones by their side to put their hands on their hearts and talk calmly to them. So much of this has been unnecessary.

Winter is coming and the fires will die down, but we’ll still have to deal with this pandemic. In the best of times, I struggle with depression during these Pacific Northwest winters. The isolation. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end. The raw, wet, unrelenting rain. Now add a heaping helping of COVID-19 on top of that, and I fail to see how any of us will make it to spring with our sanity intact.

Please, God, do not visit an earthquake upon us right now. I can’t take another thing. Stop 2020. I want to get off.

Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Vote.

Me, just trying to breathe. 9/12/20

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Man Plans and God Laughs

Are any of us doing what we thought we’d be doing this year? I’m thinking probably not. It’s like a nuclear bomb was dropped on 2020 and we’re dealing with the fallout.

I thought about that as I took this picture. My husband and I have accumulated a variety of mask designs, from the pretty to the comfortable to the fun to the professional. Before this year I never owned a reusable mask in my life, and I would have never guessed that these would become essentials that I’d need to function in society. The first mask I got in March (Or February? Time seems to have blended together this year.) was hard to come by, a horrible price gouge, and broke upon first use.

Now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mask manufacturer. But be careful: some masks are more effective than others. A good way to test your mask’s effectiveness is the candle test. If you can blow out a candle while wearing your mask, it’s not effective. Learn more about that here.

Washing my mask has become a daily ritual. There’s always at least one mask hanging on my back porch. It has become the image that sums up this entire year for me. If you had asked me what I expected to be the iconic 2020 picture for me back in January, I would have probably said a selfie from our much anticipated (and ultimately cancelled) trip to Italy in May.

Man plans and God laughs.

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An Annoying Opinion about Little Free Libraries

In the interest of full disclosure, I operate a little free library, and it has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Based on community feedback, it has also become an important part of the neighborhood. I am proud to take part in any endeavor to increase literacy.

So when I read an article entitled, “Are Little Free Libraries helping locals survive COVID? L.A. weighs in” I struggled to avoid taking many of the criticisms therein personally. I get that it’s an opinion piece. The majority of my blog posts (including this one) are opinion pieces. But this article hit me where I live.

The very first paragraph set my teeth on edge. It discussed a LFL curator’s irritation at finding a Star Trek novel in his box, and one that is in the middle of the series, no less. He said, “Why do people give away unreadable books?”

This curator is missing the point. If you’re trying to promote literacy, you have to appeal to a wide variety of readers. Not every tome is the great American novel, and, for that matter, not every reader is looking for the great American novel. There are plenty of people out there who love to read Star Trek, in or out of sequence.

Yes, you should curate your library. I’m not going to leave porn or three volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica or books that peddle false information in my box. But are a lot of the books in my box books that I would never read myself? Yes. This is not “Barb’s Bookshelf”. It’s a humble little library to encourage people to read.

Another person interviewed for the article complained that she took a book from a LFL and it turned out to be awful, and that seems to have put her off ever using this resource again. Oh, come on. Who hasn’t read a book that turned out to be awful in one’s lifetime? You can get awful books from the library, from a bookstore, and from Amazon. Awful books exist. It’s the chance you take when you’re a reader.

Another person said that these libraries are eyesores and “supposedly-cute trash receptacles full of books that should have never been published.”

Where did this author find so many snobs? It astounds me. I’m so sorry that we don’t all meet your highbrow standards. We, the great unwashed, have as much right to read whatever we want as you do. If you don’t like little free libraries, don’t use them. It’s that simple. But most LFLs that I come across are places of community pride. Yes, you’re going to see neglected, run down ones here and there, but most are well kept.

Another person said that these libraries are “a place where books go to die.”

First of all, if I notice a book has not moved in quite some time, I remove it from my library and replace it with something else. That’s what responsible stewards do. I also recycle books that have been donated to me that are water stained or are crumbling to dust. My library is no trash receptacle. But I can’t afford to constantly buy pristine, shiny, brand new books to make sure my inventory meets with your approval. Sorry.

Another interviewee said, “We would never take a nice book of ours and put it in that trash-depository bookshelf…We can’t support that situation, you know?”

To that I say, “Why is that, exactly? Afraid your nice book might get pawed over by some dirty blue collar worker who needs something to read on his sweaty lunch break? Worried that someone who’s used to lower quality books might develop a taste for something better? Worried you might start a trend toward ‘better’ books in your neighborhood? Gasp! Scandalous!”

Yes the author posits that these “curbside bookhouses” are no educational substitute for a robust library system, but newsflash: We aren’t trying to be. We’re just providing access to books for those who can’t or won’t access them any other way. Most public libraries seem to appreciate that, and aren’t threatened by our modest efforts.

The article purports to be an opinion about LFLs and COVID, and yes, it does mention the current fear of touching anything, let alone books. Yes, I tend to use the hand sanitizer I provide, or wash my hands, before and after rummaging through my library, but let’s not overlook the fact that more and more cases of COVID are being found to be caught via airborne droplets, not physical touch. Wash your hands, yes. Wear a mask, definitely. Quarantine books before reading them if it makes you feel more comfortable.

But the main purpose of this article seems to be to portray little free libraries as the inferior, pedestrian pursuit of people who don’t understand what good literature is. And therein lies the crux of the problem with this article. It’s that sort of elitist attitude that makes these libraries so vital.

768px-Street_book_exchange_Little_Free_Library_Bennett_Park_Hudson_Heights_Manhattan

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Are We A Cancer?

Driving home from work at 11 pm the other night, I was listening to Alternative Radio during my lonely 45 minute commute, and I heard a speaker whose theory is now stuck in my head. The only remedy for that is to stick it in yours. Sorry.

The episode was entitled The Human Cancer in the Covid-19 Era. It’s been several nights since I heard it, and since I was driving, I couldn’t take notes, so my apologies to Dr. Stephen Bezruchka if I get anything wrong. Having said that, the gist of the talk was that cancer, in essence, is unrestrained growth that damages the tissue it comes into contact with. And that pretty much sums up humanity.

Think about it. Our cities and villages used to be perfectly encapsulated inside walls, but now we’ve burst forth and taken over the countryside. We build right over the top of fertile land. We pollute our waterways and the very air we breathe. We send out tendrils in the form of highways so that we can continue to survive. We are responsible for the total annihilation of other species. We’re destroying our host, the planet.

We are also responsible for this pandemic, and the pandemics that will surely follow this one. By destroying animal habitat, we are forcing animals to live closer to us. We live cheek by jowl with the bats and the birds and the swine. And the closer we get to them, the more we will pass diseases back and forth. We’re doing this to ourselves.

Now, everywhere I look, I’m seeing cancer. It’s really depressing. It’s such a helpless feeling.

There is some good news, though. As sentient beings, we can cure ourselves if we want to. We can find gentler ways to live upon this earth. We can choose not to reproduce at this horrifying rate. We can protect undeveloped land. We can eat less meat. We can focus on green energy. There are so many things we can do.

I genuinely believe that change is coming. We really don’t have a choice if we want to survive. The scary part is that I have no idea what the world is going to look like after this pandemic. I only know that we are long past the point where we can take anything for granted.

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The Silver Lining of This Pandemic

I heard a scary statistic regarding this pandemic recently. One American is dying from it every 80 seconds. That’s no joke. And my heart breaks for every loved one who has had to experience that type of grief. If we had managed this crisis a little better, if our leaders took science seriously and we all wore our masks as we should, there would be a lot less to mourn in this country right now. What’s happening is nothing short of criminal negligence.

Having said all that, I have thought of a few silver linings to this scary, scary clown… er… cloud. I have done so not because I’m trying to diminish the seriousness of all this death and economic destruction, but simply because if I don’t find something to appreciate in all of this, I may just lose my mind.

So here’s my short list of COVID positives:

  • My commute has been a lot less congested. At least at it was at first. And I love what that has done for the planet.

  • If I do have the urge to eat at my favorite restaurant, odds are that I won’t have to make reservations. In fact, I’ll most likely have the place to myself. And I kind of feel that it’s my duty to patronize these businesses in these trying times.

  • I haven’t really seen as much political advertising, and definitely haven’t been subjected to the number of rallies that would be normal while building up to this presidential election. And I don’t miss them. Not even a little bit.

  • I’m no longer being made to feel guilty for my introversion. People expect me to keep myself to myself right now. It’s a shame that I need an excuse to do so, but since I’ve got one, I’m definitely taking advantage of it.

  • It’s easier to weed out the fools around me than it once was. They’re the ones refusing to wear a mask, or the ones who wear their masks with their noses sticking out. I don’t even have to speak to them to know. Less energy expelled by me that way.

  • And for those of us who do wear a mask, we have a whole new way to express our individuality.

  • Oddly enough, I’m getting to attend church a lot more. I work on Sunday, so physically attending church has been a rare treat for me. But now my church does services on zoom, so I can attend from work. I hope they continue to have a zoom aspect to their services when this pandemic finally runs its course, because it’s a real benefit to shut ins, and to people like me who just can’t be there.

  • Despite the politicizing of masks, I genuinely believe this pandemic unites us more than it divides us. Because the only way we’re going to get through this is together, and through our mutual losses and all the related stressors, I think we’re beginning to realize that we have more in common than we thought.

All these things count for something, I suppose. At this point, I’ll take what I can get. Stay safe, everyone.

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A Much-Needed Change of Scenery

I don’t know about you, but I’m experiencing a serious case of cabin fever. I have good days and bad days, but today I’m restless and irritable. While I love where I live and where I work, and I realize I’m pretty stinkin’ lucky to have a job and a home to go to these days, I am heartily sick of these being the only windows I get to look out of.

I long to check into a hotel and gaze out a window upon heretofore unseen vistas. I want to peek into foreign apartments across cobblestone alleys. I want to be a voyeur. I want to see street life and identify new daily routines. I want to observe the comings and goings of people I do not know.

Travel always has been my reason for being, but COVID-19 has put paid to that. There are days when I feel like I’m in prison. Anybody who thinks that this new reality isn’t going to be with us for at least a few more years is deluded. So if I’m on the verge of pulling my hair out now, I can’t even imagine the creature who will be gazing back at me from the mirror 6, 8, or 10 months from now.

But there’s really no point in struggling against these shackles. They’re here to stay for the foreseeable future. But for now, at least, I refuse to completely give up and get fetal. No. I’ve still got an inner life, and it is still free to roam.

So imagine my utter joy when I heard about a website called window-swap.com. It’s a brilliant concept. People all over the world submit 10 minute videos of the view from their windows. It gives you a virtual change of scenery at the very least.

While writing this post, I have gazed at a courtyard in Milan, with a mesmerizing whirligig in the foreground. From there I went to Bangalore and watched two beautiful dogs wandering around on a lushly planted balcony while listening to cars tooting their horns and birds chirping their chirps. Then I went to Sauerland, Germany and watched the rain fall on a flowery back yard with a beautiful, elaborate outdoor fireplace. In Brooklyn, I had a stunning view of the Brooklyn Bridge, but that view was rivaled by another stunning water/bridge view in South Queensferry, Scotland.

I suspect that I’ll be visiting this site often. And although I am not very tech-savvy, I vow to figure out how to submit views of my own. Perhaps one from work of my gorgeous waterway when it’s busy with boat traffic, or one of my drawbridge opening, and maybe my back yard with my dogs running around. We’ll see.

This website can feel a little bittersweet. So many of us are relegated to one view right now, which can become monotonous even if that view is spectacular. Now, more than ever, the grass seems to be greener in other people’s yards, and window-swap is making it possible to see this for yourself.

It’s also a great source of comfort. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s a relief, seeing that there are still other places out there. On days like today, it’s helping me hang onto my sanity.

A view from Menorca Spain
A view from Menorca, Spain

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“I’ll Hold My Breath ‘Til I Turn BLUE!”

That is a threat that many a bratty child has made when things aren’t going the way they want. A savvy parent will let them do it. If the child actually has follow-through, at least the moments of unconsciousness will give the parent a bit of peace.

If only this type of self-destructive behavior were limited to children. It’s so incredibly counterproductive that one would think this instinct would be outgrown. But it’s becoming increasingly evident that that is not the case. There are a lot of stupid people in the world.

I am still completely stunned that mask-wearing in the time of a pandemic has become so politicized. There are those who feel that wearing a mask impinges on their freedoms. Which freedoms are those? The freedom to put your loved ones at risk right along with the rest of your community? Personally, that’s the last freedom on earth that I want. But then, I was taught to care about other people.

There are those who believe that COVID-19 is either a hoax or that it’s really not that big of a deal. I’m assuming that’s simply because they have yet to experience the death of someone close to them. But it will happen. It will happen to all of us sooner or later. As of this writing, 620,000 people in the world have died in this pandemic, and 5,000 people a day are afflicted with the virus. That we know of. Sooner or later, it’s going to be impossible to ignore.

It defies logic not to wear a mask. Even if you only think this virus is a remote possibility, don’t you care about others enough to want to protect them from even the most remote of possibilities of death? Don’t you want this pandemic to get under control so that others won’t have to wear a mask, too? How can you be so selfish?

If your behavior only affected you, I’d say, “Yeah, go ahead. Don’t wear a mask. Hold your breath until you turn blue.”

But the problem is that you’re making everyone around you turn blue, too. That’s not only childish, it’s psychopathic. Shame on you.

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