Themes: Blogging, Fiction, & all too real Life

Salt & Pepper, extra salt

At least once a day there’s a thought that crosses my mind or a headline that catches my eye where I think: I should write a blog post about that. Usually followed by all the reasons I shouldn’t bother–no one cares, you have nothing new to add to the subject, good grief, Fringe, another lousy poem? what makes you think you should, you’ve already posted about that ad infinitum, blah blah blah–and I don’t. Well, it’s my blog and I’ll weep ruminate if I want to. We don’t all have One Thing we dedicate our lives to, but I do think most of us have a handful of subjects that draw us back. Themes. I’ve written many stories in somewhat varying genres, but most can be boiled down to the theme of not enough. Not good enough, not rich enough, not talented enough, not young enough, not worthy enough. Any of my long time readers know there are themes here on the blog I return to again and again, all loosely related to living live on the fringe. Today I’m back to womenofacertainage.

That’s me, above. My hair, anyway (post-ironing). It isn’t news to me that it’s a political statement (insert eyeroll here) I don’t dye my hair. I mean, sure, there’s an element of budget (getting your hair dyed is $$$$), laziness (it’s a good year if I get to the stylist twice for a haircut), and I like how it looks (I think the silver is pretty), but to others? Whoa. I am brave. Excuse me while I gag a bit. Maybe weep some more. If you dye your hair because you want to and like to, great! But I don’t think it’s so clearcut. When it comes to the signs of age and aging in our society, it’s complicated. I’ve had many women offer a compliment and follow it with, I would love to stop dying my hair, but my husband/partner/child/parent doesn’t want me to. Is that true? Maybe. Sometimes. But many of those same women wouldn’t hesitate to dye their hair a color their person objected to, or cut their hair, or not cut their hair, or dread it or straighten it or perm it or whatever.

I’ve been reading a lot these past weeks, but have put aside many more novels than I’ve finished. Last night I started another and realized part of why I keep putting so many to the side. Not because they’re terrible, and not because they’re too deep. I love great books that make me think, highlight the human condition, and make me cry because I’ll never write such a beautiful sentence, but that isn’t what I’m in the mood for these days. I want stories deep enough to engage that primarily offer escape. All the news is awful, thoughts of what’s to come, who and what has been lost in these past months of Covid-19 are worse, damned right I want to get lost in someone else’s fiction. But it can only be escape if it offers characters I can connect with. I guess my version of escape is different from…who? The majority of readers? Gatekeepers of the publishing industry? Where are the contemporary novels with mid-life (and older) protagonists? Ones where the storyline isn’t about second chances at love, or ticking biological clocks, or 55 year old men finding love with a 22 year old, or twenty-nine year olds who are panicking and botoxing because they’ve realized  their skin actually moves when they smile. Where are the novels–whether they’re lit fic or genre–with protagonists who have saggy boobs and enlarged prostates and that isn’t the whole storyline? And nope, I’m not looking for the sweet septuagenarian who solves bloodless murders in between knitting tea cozies and baking cookies, or the cranky old octogenarian who used to be so nice until his somebody died and left him alone and afraid until the toothless 6 year old facing a lung transplant melted his heart with a sticky hug. I’m not saying I never read or never want to read stories with young protagonists, but for me the thought of being 25 again is not a pleasant escape but ugh, no thanks. And 16? 18? is the stuff of nightmares.

Everyone in the US so busy pretending to be shocked by the GOP and republicans literally willing to sacrifice seniors, disabled people, POC, middle aged folks with pre-existing conditions. Are you really? Really shocked? Hell, middle-aged people are so undesirable, so distasteful in our society they’ve been willed into invisibility. Young or old, those are the only two options. 60 is young! Why, just look at that multimillionaire 60 year old actress over there with her personal trainers and surgically enhanced everything, must be something wrong with you, your priorities, if you don’t look like her–or want to. You don’t want to look 50, or 40, or hell, even 30 (remember, that’s about when you discovered your skin might move when you smile).  We’re such an all or nothing society. Young is good, old is bad (except as a vehicle for the occasional heart warming moment). Rich is good, poverty is bad. Men are bold and distinguished, women are hysterical and bitchy. White is rights and freedoms, black/brown is unlawful and suspicious. Anyone in between, who contemplates or lives in the gray of life isn’t worth discussing, insuring, or even saving, why would we want to read about them, eh?

This morning I asked on Twitter for recommendations of novels with middle aged or older protagonists. To my non-surprise, few suggestions have come through, fewer that I haven’t already read.

 

Kool-Aid with Arsenic, on the Rocks

 

As I’ve already blogged, my family’s shelter-in-place isn’t complete, because while we have been going to fewer appointments than usual, there are still some that can’t be avoided/postponed. Every appointment is a risk that is carefully, thoughtfully, analyzed and weighed by us and by the doctors involved. It isn’t like we generally go to any doctor or lab for the hell of it, but yes, when weighed against a high likelihood of death, there’s a whole lot that can be postponed. Because it isn’t just about our family and the risk to us, it’s the risk to every doctor, nurse, and hospital employee we come into contact with, and by extension, their family members, every other patient, ad infinitum.

Yesterday was the eye specialist with Art Child, and I have to say, these appointments get creepier and creepier. I didn’t think hospital (outpatient sections) hallways could be any emptier than they were a month ago. I was wrong.

It isn’t as if the office is normally filled with patients getting regular eye exams. Anyone who is a patient there has a significant disorder. Granted, this is a specialty hospital, and then up to a sub-sub-specialist’s office, but still. Right now they are only seeing those who are at imminent risk of total vision loss. The creep factor isn’t limited to the normal raised eyebrows of a young person being very noticeable in a hospital frequented by septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians. Not even limited to the 50 stops set up to ask if either of us have a cough, a fever, known exposure to someone with Covid-19, temperature check, please put on a new mask. No, it was the way I felt so noticed. Radioactive. I swear kiddo was the only patient, we were the only non-employees in the place.

And then home, back online to news reports filled with open-the-country protestors. Keep in mind, those photos are artfully cropped to look as if the number of participants are greater than they are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. And widespread. Oh, you poor, deluded fucking morons. Some of my friends (you know, those extremists who believe in things like science) are wondering why? how? I’m not wondering, and at this point no one else should be either. They are cultists. There is no logic to be applied to society or the world at large. Their only thoughts are in service to their leader. Don’t be fooled by taglines about Jesus or the greater good. This is about two things, and two things only, because there are actually two subgroups here. The first are the wealthy and greedy, who don’t give a shit how many die or are permanently disabled from this virus. Get those peasants back to work so we can keep growing our portfolios! The second group doesn’t know any better, because they’re busy listening to right wing propaganda that continues to tell them this is overblown, a hoax, the fault of the leftists and the other, and really, Great Uncle JimBob is a pain in the ass anyway what with his whining about empty insulin pens and the way you have to blend and thicken Grandma’s Sunday dinner so she doesn’t choke on it. Both groups though, part of the same cult. Cult 45, the orange monstrosity.

Besides the obvious warnings signs: a leader who’s considered infallible, placed above God, no accountability for said leader, mistrust of other, preying on the weak, demonization of anyone who leaves the group, calls for violence, harm and threats against their own members, no allowance for questioning leader or dictates–all of these have been true from the beginning of his reign, err, I mean, campaign–there’s another obvious and growing sign. Isolation. That’s an important aspect of cults, same as any abusive partner, isolating members from access to information and people outside of their approved community. I’m concerned that much the way the internet allowed the extreme right wing, white-power-and-mysogyny-prompted nutters to find each other and grow their numbers, our legally sanctioned and medically necessary nationwide isolation will only strengthen the cultists, both in conviction and numbers.

I understand, you understand, this is for the greater good. For physical health and well being of all, in addition to wanting a shot at seeing economic health again. Reopening the economy isn’t going to do squat to help the average JoeJane when JohnQPublic drops dead. Those going out and protesting, those crackpot governors reopening beaches and hairdressers and massage parlors aren’t putting themselves and their families at risk. They’re putting all of us at risk, because of the spectacular combination of communicability of Covid-19, asymptomatic transmission, lack of widespread testing, and the most corrupt, authoritarian administration backing the most narcissistic President this country has ever known.

These cult members? Some don’t understand the repercussions, but many do. And they don’t care.

 

.

 

Oh, New York

Like everyone else during this pandemic, I’ve been thinking. Too much thinking. The shot above is not from today. Today is one of those crazy stormy days; crazy rain, howling winds, you don’t want to go out even if you could.

I’m thinking about how unprepared we all were for this. Not just the tangible, obvious unprepared of a federal government that decided the best way to respond to warnings was to stick their fingers in their ears and sing lalalalastockmarketlalala, the lack of sufficient medical equipment and PPE for health care workers, disruptions in supply chains. The lack of emotional preparedness of…me.

I mean, it’s a bad storm today, but not The Day After Tomorrow.

We wake up and shuffle through our days, room to room in our apartments or for brief errands outside, but we haven’t turned into actual zombies, a la Zone One.

The streets are quiet, Broadway’s gone “dark,” but despite the photos circulating of empty tourist spots like Times Square, the city isn’t silent, as The Stand would have led me to believe. As I joked the other day with a friend, I was mentally prepared for the need to engage in a bit of looting to access food in the grocery stores, not waiting on line for over an hour to be granted entry. I took the photo above last week while on line for the store, a full two blocks away.

So here we are, just about mid-April, almost a month since NY has officially been under stay-at-home orders, over a month since many been social distancing. I’m still thinking too much, and April is still National Poetry Month, which of course puts me in mind of being an angsty teen and writing angsty poetry while sitting on the rocks on an empty, windy Brooklyn beach, expecting many things ahead–some good, some not, but not this. I’m still a lousy poet, but sometimes it still feels right. I’m not writing anything else, so why not?

 

 

Birds Sing in the Quiet Spaces

In the used to be normal days

The space of almost mornings

Gray and brown wings against black to blue to lavender sky

A moment with coffee, while neighbors snored to the rhythm of

Recycle trucks belching along

Subways rumbled below, metallic clash and squeal of elevated tracks reaching

 

Birds sing in the quiet spaces 

Today, yesterday, tomorrow, the new shifting normal, quiet all day days

Thought they’d be different days

Birdsong throughout days

 

But city quiet isn’t silent 

It’s the momentary standstill walking past a writhing garbage bag on the curb at 

2 am

The count between a split of lightning and ripple of thunder

The pause after a squeal and thud before traffic moves on

The halt of skittering roaches against cracked linoleum when the lights come on

The right before applause as the lights dim

The stun on the playground between a fall from the monkey bars and a wail

The space between a siren’s keen and speed followed by the lament of quiet lights 

that roll away

slowly

Ambulance full and void

 

Birds sing in the quiet spaces.

One Egg Family: aka, Hold On

Holding hands: Congo Gorilla Forest, Bronx Zoo

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this and I’m too lazy to read back, but I’ve been without gas (which = no stove or oven) for a couple of months now. Gas leak was discovered in the building, so it’s nothing personal, the entire building’s gas was shut down, no end in sight. Others I know or have heard of where this has happened, it’s taken anywhere from 8-13 months to get it repaired. With coronavirus in the mix, who knows? I figure I’ll be lucky if I can bake and roast in time for Christmas of ’22.

A friend saw me tweet about this when I figured out how to cook something (can’t remember what) in the slow cooker and sent me an electric skillet. How lovely, right? For all we’re drowning in right now, there have been some wonderful moments of friendship, community, and support.

I was happy to make eggs for breakfast the next day, we’d missed them. After everyone ate, I told them I hoped they enjoyed, because for the foreseeable future, we’re now a one egg family.

I’m not an epidemiologist, not an economist, not a historian. But I’ve lived through some shit, and this is unlike any other. For all the politics and discussion, it seems to me many aren’t understanding the extent of the toll this Covid-19 pandemic is having on our world–and will have, for a long time to come. This isn’t producing a short glitch in the economy that can be rectified by a stimulus package. Hell, half of our elected representatives are still arguing about whether or not all workers deserve to get enough money to eat. Or, yanno, children. The magnanimous bill passed, with $1200 to be given to each adult? A one shot deal, we’re being told some shouldn’t expect to even see that money until September. Sure, I’m sure everyone can wait to buy food, medications, pay rent, electric, gas, water, until September. And they only need to pay those things once, absolutely. And oops, that $1200 “gift?” Maybe not a gift. Maybe an advance on 2020’s tax credit/refund. (Don’t @ me here, as far as I can tell, this is yet to be made clear or official one way or the other.) Besides the obvious ramifications on everyone’s health and societal interactions, we’re looking at hard times ahead. Unemployment, rising at a shocking rate, is expected to reach levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. 

I’m still seeing a lot of people complaining about not being able to go out to eat at their favorite restaurants. Again, I’m no financial analyst, but unless you’re in the highest of economic brackets, that may soon be the least of your problems. This video, from two weeks ago, shows lines outside of a food pantry. Reminiscent of the old photos of bread lines circa 1929, no?  There’s a rising number of people who can’t afford to go grocery shopping, and then there are disruptions in the food supply chain, expected to increase. Do I think we all need to panic? No, and it won’t help if we do.

We don’t all have to choose deprivation and starvation diets. If nothing else that would cause lowered resistance if we get sick. but it is time to choose with an eye towards frugality and stretching. Two eggs per person, for breakfast, is a lot of eggs gone–and in the scheme of breakfast foods, expensive. Two eggs plus flour and small amounts of other stuff (I recommend buttermilk if you can get it, lasts longer than regular milk, tastes great in pancakes, adds some richness) and you’ve got a big batch of pancakes.

We don’t know all of the ramifications of Covid-19 yet, not how many will die, how many will have died because of the vanity and lack of compassion of a reality tv president, not how high the unemployment rates will rise, not how many will become homeless, not how many will become newly food insecure, not how our society will permanently change, not how long we’ll be under stay-at-home-regulations, not how much longer we’ll have to be under those regulations because of certain pseudo-news organizations’ disinformation and certain governors pretending the US doesn’t stand for the United States, and therefore are refusing to put real stay at home regulations in place (because viruses are partisan, checking to see if you’re a registered Dem or Republican before cozying up in your lungs. Mmmm hmmm). We won’t for a long time. But we know much is uncertain.

There’s an expression from when I was in kid in the old country of pre-hip South Brooklyn: Mr J is so cheap he’ll squeeze a nickel until the buffalo shits. (yes, young ones, there used to be buffalos on nickels). I hope I’m being an alarmist here, and we’ll get all of this under control well before it gets as bad as I’m imagining. Either way it’s time to hold on. And just in case, have a one egg sandwich while you squeeze that nickel.

Fear Gone Rabid


New York is that cab. I am that cab. Hell, we are all that cab. Balanced precariously, not on the tip of a friendly well-trained nose, but on the edge of the undomesticated and aggressive Covid-19, while the sun continues to rise in the background each day, unconcerned by the dramas and traumas of human beings.

I’ve ranted over the past couple of weeks, vented the anger and frustration of not enough people in the US taking this seriously enough, the hideous politics of a literal pandemic while we have a president and administration that cares nothing for its citizens. These last days, though, no matter how I try to hold tight to the protective coating of anger, anxiety has continued to ratchet up and fear has coated the surface of every thought. Writing, whether fiction or blogging, is my way of taking control and muddling through, always has been. So I’m writing now hoping it will help me get a handle on this. I’m not sure it’s possible, with no end in sight and no certainty as to the scope we’re facing. I may or may not actually post this one.

If you are a reader who follows Mrs Fringe, whether long term or more recent, you know I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in emergency rooms, ICUs, hospitals. More than most, not as much as too many. My fears today, the anxiety that’s taken a blowtorch to my gut over the past month, comes from those experiences, from knowing how these things are “supposed” to go, from being able to envision but not able to face what lies ahead for too many of us. The other day I went to the grocery store. A long line to get inside, but once I was all was neat and organized, people (for the most part) working to keep their distance from each other. Not necessarily six feet, but this is Manhattan, it just isn’t physically possible in most shared indoor spaces. As I walked up the frozen food aisle I had to stop because the cases on either side of me took on the gray fuzziness of oh shit, am I going to pass out? I wasn’t, and am not, ill. This wasn’t the first time I got dizzy while out and running a necessary errand in recent weeks, had a moment of oh my god, this is not right, not a personal trauma, the world is wrong and will never be the same. Not even the first time it’s happened outside of Covid-19. I have a strong stomach and high tolerance for medical stuff, but oh man did my knees go out weeks? after Husband’s second open heart surgery, when the physician’s assistant was removing the drainage tubes from his chest and abdomen and I heard the peculiar, specific, sucking, squishing thwok of that first seal being broken. Other times also, with no particular, obvious trigger, always after a crisis has passed, when the fear, emotion, excess caffeine, lack of sleep and often lack of decent nutrition hit me in a mundane moment of checking for a ripe avocado. This time my brain isn’t waiting until after. I’m panicked now.

I, Mrs Fringe, am fucking terrified. Our closest hospital is one we’ve been to many times, both their adult ER and the Peds ER sections. Many fine doctors there, some inpatient units are excellent, never had any problems in the ped ER. The adult ER? Another story entirely, and over the years it’s gotten worse and worse, to the point where I’ve said I will not go there for anything anymore. Why? Because they’re chronically understaffed, and an understaffed and overcrowded ER is dangerous, no matter how good and well trained the nurses are. Less than a year ago we were there, Husband, it was a guy from housekeeping who turned on the oxygen and gave him a nasal canula when I couldn’t get a doctor or nurse to come over when his o2 was dropping. One story of many, and that’s with me there, staying out of the way when I can/need to and making noise when I need to do that too. Again, not the fault of uncaring or lackadaisical nurses, but the limits of how many high needs patients any one person can reasonably care for, with new patients streaming in and needing assessments every few minutes. Stretchers stacked like a damned game of Tetris, many times I watched workers from transport needing to move 4-10 patients just to reach the patient they were there for and be able to get them to their next stop in the hospital.

I stay when Husband is in. I stay when Art Child is in. For all our hospital time, we don’t go unless it’s absolutely necessary. And part of when an ER visit or hospital stay is absolutely necessary, by definition, means the person being seen/assessed/admitted isn’t feeling strong, maybe can’t speak, certainly can’t make a fuss if they need something and staff are busy elsewhere. Other hospitals. It was me who yelled for the nurses in the step-down CICU after Husband’s first open heart surgery, when he turned blue and all tubes and bags filled with blood, his aorta ruptured along the suture line of his new valve. Would they have come running thirty seconds later? Would thirty seconds have mattered? It might have, considering they needed to reopen his chest there in the room and manually pump his heart on the way back to the OR. Or when Husband was on a vent and the ICU dr decided this was the perfect time to preen for the nurses and show off how the temporary pacemaker leads were/weren’t working, giving unnecessary shocks until I spoke up because he didn’t know about damage to a nerve he was expecting to see a response from because of a prior surgery (Husband, obviously, unable to tell him). Or, less crucial but important, when we had the (thankfully rare) experience of an unkind EEG tech who was too rough placing leads on my girl’s head, and she was too terrified to do anything other than cry quietly. Or the times food service sent non-diabetic meals to Husband. Or the many other times when calories in take precedent over what type of calories, so I go out for foods to tempt while the hospital trays sit uneaten. Or with MIL, when some slick talker from billing came into the room to offer threats about insurance claims and what would be owed. Yes, I kindly invited him to get the fuck out and take it up with Medicare, not a vulnerable elderly woman who’d had her chest cracked open two days before who’d only been off the vent a matter of hours.

These are just a few bad moments of lapsed or potential lapsed treatment in otherwise great care, with many, mostly reassuring moments. Every ICU nurse I’ve ever interacted with (Peds, cardiac, or general) has been great to oh my god this person should be nominated for sainthood). ICU nurses are extraordinary, with training that goes well beyond the nurse drawing blood at your local GP’s office. But when hospitals have literally overflowed into tents, it isn’t just equipment that will be in short supply, it will be staff, doctors, nurses, nurses aides, physician’s assistants, because both there are too many patients and because they themselves who are getting sick.

Yes, there are the very real extra fears that go with knowing people in my immediate world are particularly vulnerable to more severe manifestations of this virus because of pre-existing conditions. And it’s more than that.  If one of those I love needs to be admitted because of Covid-19, or what about the non-Covid-19 related reasons I have the experiences I do that haven’t magically disappeared, how will I be able to just leave them there? Maybe in a hospital, maybe in a fucking tent? Nerd Child isn’t even here. He’s safe and healthy, for now, but if things go sideways and he was to get sick? I couldn’t go to him. If Husband or Art Child or Man Child was to need hospitalization he couldn’t come to be with them either. The thought of walking away, not being there if Husband is on a vent? Literally makes me sick. One of my children? I can’t imagine it, because the pain of that very real possibility overwhelms my ability to paint that mental picture. But I can’t stop thinking about it, at least the edges of the possibility, because I have been there in “normal” times. Our normal abnormal. In fully staffed hospitals with all the needed equipment. It’s knowing that if medical equipment needs to be rationed, there’s the very real possibility those preexisting conditions will render them ineligible for a needed ventilator. It’s the incredibly stupid comments I continue to see and hear online, in the news, in the community, from stupid people still blaming the ACA, or Obama, or saying those same rationing conditions existed under “Obamacare.” Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you’ve never experienced a loved one on a ventilator I’m glad for you. I hope you never do. It’s awful, and illness, injuries and novel viruses don’t give a shit who you vote for. But for those of us who have, repeatedly, who deal with chronic illness and disorders that make things like staffing patterns, hospital admissions, ICUs (hell, the fact that we “joke” about July being the worst time to have a crisis requiring admission because that’s when the new residents come on board), know the best cart to get coffee from part of our basic facts of life, there’s an entirely different level to this hell we call the Covid-19 pandemic.

This isn’t a potential crisis, it is a crisis. It’s real and it’s here. That was a few days ago. As of last night, there were 26,697 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in this city, 5,250 hospitalized, 1,175 in ICUs, and 450 deaths. Those numbers are just in NYC, just the confirmed cases. It may or may not be futile, but I’m doing all I can to keep me and mine safe, keep others safe from us should one of us get it. Please, please, all of you do the same.

Say. The. Words.

Come now. You–and I’m talking to you, 45, GOP, Fox News, et al–and I both know what it is you aren’t saying out loud. I have no special mind reading powers, we ALL know what you mean. So say it.

When you state the cure (social distancing, purposeful slow down of the economy) is worse than the disease, you’re saying your stocks and bank accounts are worth more than people’s lives. Hell, Tmp doesn’t even care about the economy of the country (outside of wanting to see big numbers, YUGE), he cares about his personal bank accounts and businesses.

Let’s put to the side that this makes no sense in terms of basic, surface logic. I mean, if 40-70% of the population is sick, dying, overwhelming the health care system, how great is the economy going to be? Who will be buying shit? working? The wealthy, but contrary to popular GOP opinion, the wealthy aren’t enough to keep the economy going.

When you say grandparents are willing to die for the economic health of their grandchildren, you aren’t only talking about grandparents who are 90+. You’re talking about everyone over the age of 60. You’re talking about the…what? one million? two million? grandparents in the US who are currently raising their grandchildren. You’re talking about all of the vulnerable population regardless of age, due to cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, homeless, incarcerated, hospitalized for other illnesses or injuries. For all the nonsense war analogies, this isn’t war, no one is pointing a gun at people in a particular uniform. It’s a virus, not checking to see which flag you’re waving, or the date of your birth certificate, before penetrating cells. You know it. I know it. We all know it. I guess you’re assuming your wealth will protect you from dying, despite your advanced age. Statistically your odds are better than the average Joe retiree, the fact that you can access a Covid-19 test, and access it before you’re at death’s door–will automatically tip the scales your way, so not a delusional thought, though of course, no guarantee.

It is no surprise this administration has created such a dangerous scenario with its mishandling of this pandemic. It is no surprise you were unprepared and unwilling to do or say anything to upset Dear Leader, point out his lack of clothing or unwashed, groping hands. It is no surprise the cult following still standing behind this administration will throw themselves on the proverbial funeral pyre in order to stay in line and protect him, sacrifice millions–including themselves, because many of them are not only among the most vulnerable because of age, health, and economic status, but those sparsely populated red states–very limited access to health care even without a pandemic. No surprise at all. We knew it the day the GOP fell in behind Tmp as their nominee in 2016, when millions voted for him knowing what he did/didn’t stand for, what he did/didn’t understand, or care about.

I understand that doctors in some countries have had to make these types of decisions that place a value on each life because of limited supplies and equipment. I understand it may come to that in certain regions of the US. My heart goes out to the patients and their loved ones and the doctors. People go into medicine for a variety of reasons, some altruistic, some not, but I don’t know of any who go into it in order to be placed in these types of positions. A doctor, a panel of doctors, making these impossible decisions based on the best science and information available to them in the moment is a very different thing than a government making these types of decisions not because of last resort, but because money is worth more than lives–as evidenced by discussion of decisions that will increase the number of human beings who will become seriously ill, with a percentage of those dying.

Frankly, I am very willing to sacrifice myself for my family. If there is one ventilator available, and I and another member of my family need it to live, don’t hesitate. Save my children, my husband, my mother in law. But that is a personal choice. I will not decide your life has less value than mine. I do not believe the lives of my family, my friends, even myself, are worth less than the lives of the uberwealthy nervous only because of the worth of their stocks. So go ahead, you cowards, blustering behind your stock market charts from under the shadow of your red ball caps. Use your words. Tell me it’s worth it to you to take the life of my 18 year old immunocompromised kiddo. My late 50s husband who has worked his entire life, paid taxes, cared about others, raised three very fine children, isn’t done with life yet, and is more upset by the term unemployed than he was facing a rare and risky open heart surgery.

Reopening everything, ordering people back to work, will not save the economy. It will kill people unnecessarily. Seniors, yes. Also health care workers, middle aged people, young people, maybe even pregnant people–and we all know how much you care about life pre-birth. I understand this, and you do, too. Fucking say it.

Top of the Heap

There’s a bit from the manuscript I’m querying that keeps going round in my head. Is it in poor taste to quote from my own work? Do rules about poor taste apply when we’re in the midst of a pandemic and facing the apocalypse? *shrug* I’ll quote it anyway.

He should have missed me. Pined for me when we weren’t speaking, begun to waste without my dumplings. But in fact he looked fine when I snuck upstairs and watched him hauling cases of clean glasses to the bar. Healthy. Maybe he’d gained a pound or two. How could that be? I was good for him, damn it. I would be there, even later, when he got sicker and most people got afraid. Maybe. If he wanted. If I wanted. I turned my mind sideways, so’s not to think how people could be good and bad for each other at the same time. Simulcast, like a presidential speech, or a Grateful Dead concert, when the sound was supposed to line up from the TV and the radio exactly right, but there was always that lag, so you didn’t know where to put your ears.

That last bit, not knowing where to put your ears. That’s how I feel these days, but I don’t know where to put my mind, can’t quite think about anything straight on without needing to let my thoughts slide to the next, and yet now matter how much slip sliding between the neurons, those thoughts always slide to another aspect of Covid-19. The danger to my family, personally, health-wise? Slip. The economic ramifications? Slide. The thought that if one of my loved ones ends up hospitalized I don’t think I’d be allowed to actually, physically be with them? Slither. The entire country changing forever? Well, that one is something we’ve been looking at for close to four years now, isn’t it? Sigh. And what I’m talking about today. New York. The city. My New York.

The rate of confirmed cases in New York City is, so far, following the terrifying curve that’s been expected, with confirmed cases rising exponentially. For the most part the parameters for testing are still strict because of limited tests available, so when I say there were close to 4000 confirmed cases by late yesterday afternoon, it isn’t my imagination run wild to say there are likely tens of thousands of actual cases through the city already, confirmed or not, severe or not, symptomatic or not. The only thing moving faster than the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in NY right now is the number of jobs lost, which dwarfs the number sick &/or testing positive. People in the music industry, hospitality, restaurants, retail, on and on.

Much of the city looks like a movie set right now. The flats and backdrops are there, subway cars empty and waiting, lighting is right, but still far from filming, only a few people moving about here and there. I know that is good news, our best and–except for testing (out of individual control) and hand washing–only defense. Still creepy as fuck.

Being a born and bred New Yorker is its own cultural identity. You can be anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and if you say you’re a New Yorker, people have images that come to mind. Images of the tourist traps you avoid, the cultural institutions you grew up frequenting, the shops and restaurants they’ve maybe dreamed of visiting but for you are–were?–daily life. If, like me, you’re of a certain age and/or from certain boroughs, you don’t actually have to identify yourself as a New Yorker, not for nothing but your accent does it for you, recognized no matter where you are.

Broadway is dark. I love live theater, and yes, I love Broadway shows. I haven’t been able to go regularly in years, out of budget, but man oh man, nothing like it. Those shows are mind-bogglingly expensive to produce and run. With weeks, maybe months, of no sales, how is it going to get up and running again? And those are the big boys, what about the off-off Broadway shows?

The Metropolitan Opera laid off its union employees yesterday. Union employees. Think about that.

Though still technically allowed to run delivery/pick up service, many of the restaurants have closed. Restaurants in New York, even the top ones with the Big Name Chefs, run on a very, very narrow margin. The restaurants everyone has seen on tv shows/movies, read about in Page 6, and or the local corner joints that have been serving locals for decades. Katz’s Deli (1903), Lombardi’s Pizza (1905), Peter Luger (1887), Tavern on the Green (1934), The Rainbow Room (1934), Totonno’s (1924), The Russian Tea Room (1927), Delmonico’s (1837), Sylvia’s (1962), Nathan’s (1916), Jing Fong (1978), Russ & Daughters (1914), Barney Greengrass (1908) and I’m guessing literally, easily, a hundred others people world wide would recognize the name or interior shots of.  Weeks/months of no income?

And the shops. Not just the big names that are more of a tourist attraction than shopping expedition for most (Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman), but the ones that are known through the city and often across the world. Shops that represent New York, make this city this city. Mood Fabric, Matt Umanov Guitar’s, Rudy’s Music, Canal Street Market, Moscot’s Eyewear, Kiehl’s, and on and on and on. I can’t think anymore.

I’m no stranger to long running businesses closing their doors, no New Yorker is. With the rise of commercial rents having gone from ludicrous to impossible over the past couple of decades, the sight of a beloved local shop gated with a big long sign saying goodbye, thank you, and after X generations we’ve had to close because we lost our lease (only to sit empty for months, years, before being replaced by yet another half empty high rise, a CVS, a Starbucks, a bank whose name is going to change by the time you blink because it’s been absorbed by another bank) is a familiar one. Always a moment for sadness and reflection on how very clean and cold and corporate so many old favorite areas have become. But not everywhere, and not all the businesses.

So I’m thinking, when we get to the other side of this–and we will, whether it’s weeks, months, or over a year–what will be left of New York? My New York, our New York. Who and what businesses will be able to ride it out in this city of those that represent the city and the people in it, not the chain outposts that are already all too common a sight. Yes, we are a constantly evolving city, it’s what allowed it to become an icon and identity unto itself, self-absorbed though it may be. But those often small, multi-generational, not necessarily big name or big dollar places? They’re the heart that keeps beating.

 

Are You Okay?

Normally bustling hallway of hospital

The question on everyone’s lips. Well, not everyone, some are still licking toilet seats because they think it’s funny or just moaning about the inconvenience of bar closings, having to cancel vacations, having to self-quarantine if ill/possibly exposed to Covid-19. But pandemic or not, stupid’s gonna stupid and selfish is gonna selfish. The good news is there are also incredibly generous people working to feed the hungry/about to be hungry, some (too few) companies who are continuing to pay employees they’ve been forced to lay off or furlough while their doors are shuttered.

But back to the question. I am not ok. I know this, knew it, thought if I acknowledged the fact it would help keep my anxiety under control. Until Husband’s appointment yesterday with his young, upbeat doctor who just a couple of months ago said I was feisty, whose face was somber and I found myself having to work not to cry in response. The above photo of the hallway in the hospital? Yeah, that hallway is usually a hub of activity with an outpatient lab, cash machine, tea/snack kiosk just behind, and elevators leading to many of the individual doctor’s offices and departments. more than once we’ve had to wait for one of the elevators to arrive and open a second or third time because they were just too crowded. Not yesterday.

For everyone who is practicing social distancing, there are many of us who can’t stay home for two or three weeks, or six months, or a year, or however long this breath holding season is going to be. There are people performing essential services who have to go to work–and don’t kid yourself, it isn’t only doctors, nurses, police, firefighters and EMTs who are performing essential services–it’s also your pharmacist, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, truck drivers, bus and train operators, etc. And people who have to get to the doctor for appointments that can’t be put off if we’re going to try to avoid needing an array of doctors, nurses, and hospital beds for non-Covid-19 related reasons.

There would never be a good year for a pandemic, but this timing feels particularly devastating. This is a life altering event. Fuck, this is a world altering event. On a personal level, Husband and Art Child, who would both always be vulnerable, are both at points where they have no reserves for their bodies to call on. Mother in Law, who’s at a stage where every year seems to take an exponential toll. Nerd Child is in his senior year of college, campus now closed, though he was able to successfully petition to stay because of extenuating circumstances. Great! Except eek! he’s still my heart, and I really, really hate having him far from me during this. Man Child, who is currently strong, healthy, and miraculously still employed for the moment, but don’t think for a second I’m not thinking about him having contracted viral meningitis less than two years ago.

I was still reeling, just beginning to process the medical mayhem of the last several months for our family when this virus hit the US. On a national level, when we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the definition of civil service, or science, or compassion. At a time when it couldn’t be more clear the US needs nationalized health care, the citizens are showing with every Democratic primary they don’t want it. Not enough, not yet. On an international level, with not only our country deciding they miss the good old days of nationalism and sanctified subjugation, and global climate change threatening everyone and everything.

I haven’t been able to focus to escape into reading. Or writing. Or querying. Can’t stress bake because my building has a gas leak, we will have no gas (means no stove/oven) for who knows how many months. I’m still doing my yoga every morning, checking in with friends through text, email, and social media, here at home we’re counting toilet paper squares but we have enough food. I’m hand washing and disinfecting and elbow sneezing, no-face-touching (iffy on that one, it’s freaking hard!), and you better believe there is no toilet licking. At this point no one in my immediate circle has or seems to have Covid-19, but way too much of this is out of my control.

So here we are, in the year of 1918 and 1929 decided to have a baby and call it 2020.

I am hanging in and hanging on, doing what needs to be done, but I’m not ok, how about you?

Is the Ceiling Caving In or Is the Sky Falling?

 

My natural state is a sluggish ball of anxiety, but I’m not someone prone to panic. Definitely not for medical related issues. But at this moment? Yeah, I’m…not panicking, but I am worried. And pissed off.

Yup, I’m talking about coronavirus, covid-19.

It isn’t ebola, but it is a big deal. A very big deal, for all of us. For some of us, the big deal will be in the form of disruption to daily life, economic repercussions, which are important. Not just vague ideas of stock market losses (I’d be the least qualified to even offer an opinion on the stock market). Lots and lots of us live on the financial edge. And if, like me and mine, you’ve already taken a financial hit this year because of medical mayhem or anything else, you can’t afford another. And for some of us, it’s a very big deal for health reasons, either for us individually or for loved ones who are vulnerable.

I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, watching the spread of this virus over the last weeks, but still, the ground under me felt pretty stable. Be careful, do what’s within your control (have whatever supplies you can that you’d absolutely need in the house, wash your hands until they’re cracked and bleeding, etc). Yesterday, though, well. I am appalled at the number of comments I saw blowing this off, saying it’s no big deal, and who some of those comments were/are coming from. I mean sure, the red hat wearing folks who swallow whatever snake oil being sold by nutty televangelists and our vile, inept administration. Why would they believe in a highly communicable virus? A percentage of them believe the earth is flat. But I definitely wasn’t only seeing lol, look at the libs panic posts from that quadrant. I saw comments of this nature from people I generally respect as practical, thinking, caring human beings.

For most who contract this virus, it won’t be a big deal. No symptoms, mild symptoms, sick and miserable for a week or two and then all better. For anyone who is vulnerable, ie: seniors and or people with underlying health issues, it’s a very, very big deal. The truth is regular flu is a big deal for people who are immunocompromised. But the regular flu has a vaccine that many take, our systems are prepared for it, and it’s less communicable. I have three immunocompromised people in my immediate world. As in, living with me and/or I feed them, people who can’t just put off their annual checkup until this all gets under control, because they have to get to (and I take them to) multiple  ologist offices (usually in hospitals) and labs every week. And when you live in a city– like oh, say, New York–you can’t avoid crowds as long as life is still happening. Social distance of 6 feet? Hahahahahaha! Any of my readers ever been on the subway here? The bus? A doctor’s office? A grocery store? A freaking elevator?

Nerd Child is in his senior year of college. Last night I received notice the school will basically be shutting down until who knows when. They explained their reasoning, and it’s frustrating and in some ways infuriating, but above all it’s fucking terrifying. His school is one of many finding themselves in this position. Does anyone think these fancy shmancy private colleges and universities would be shutting doors, switching to remote classes if there wasn’t such a good, science based reason it overrode both their mission and financial interests?

Italy is closed, for all intents and purposes. Closed. An entire, democratic, modern, western country. Closed. No travel in, out, around. My understanding from people there who live in northern Italy (people I know irl, not tweets from who knows who) are telling us they’re running out of hospital beds, ICUs are over capacity, the system has been overwhelmed. This isn’t some super secret insider info I’m getting. Read the papers, watch the news, listen to the damned scientists. Forget Ireland, Boston canceled its Saint Patricks Day parade (if you aren’t familiar with the demographics, this action would have been unimaginable up until two days ago).

But here? Once again, American exceptionalism overrides logic for too many. Ever been to an ER here during regular flu season? Overflowing, literally. More than once, twice, three times, I’ve been in various city ERs with a loved one for days, waiting for a bed. The extra fun part of this is that you’ve technically been admitted, so the ER staff is no longer responsible for the patient (keep in mind the ER staff is already overloaded with patients who are their responsibility), but you’re physically in the ER, so the staff that is? Not physically there on a regular basis. So sick enough to be admitted, yet treatment and attention is less than minimal.

Ever have someone you care about on a ventilator? It’s frightening. Scary to see, scary to think about the need for it, scary to think about what that machine is actually doing to keep your loved one alive, and then more frightening still every day they’re on it, because the longer someone is on a vent, the more difficult it is to get them off of it. You know what’s downright terrifying? The possibility of someone you care about needing to be on a vent and there are none available. Now multiply that one person by many.

Covid-19 is worldwide now. Even our lying American government admitted yesterday we are past the point of being able to contain this, it’s become about mitigation efforts, trying not to overwhelm our healthcare system with too many getting sick at once. America has 330 million people. Not everyone will get sick, and of those that do, again, for most it won’t be a big scary deal. That still leaves thousands, tens of thousands, maybe more, getting very, very sick, some fatally. Diabetes is a risk factor. Last I saw, there were something like 30 million people with diabetes in the US. Heart disease is a risk factor. 120 million people in this country with some form of heart disease. Being a senior citizen is a risk. 47 million seniors. Asthma. 25 million. Autoimmune Disease. 20 million. Cancer. About 600,000 people receive chemo each year. The umbrella of rare diseases and disorders. 25 million. Again, not every senior and/or person with underlying conditions will get Covid-19, and of those that do, not all will become need-a-hospital sick. And you can’t just add these numbers, many who have one risk factor are in several groups. But that still leaves us looking at a very large number, with finite, limited resources.

Because guess what? While this coronavirus is spreading, people will still get sick with cancer, pneumonia not caused by this particular virus, the flu, have heart attacks, strokes, need pacemakers, need new heart valves, develop pancreatitis, need amputations because of diabetes, have serious accidents, have babies, all the million and one things that land people in the hospital, requiring emergency treatment and admission on any given day.

There are fewer than 1 million hospital beds in the US. There are 62,000 ventilators. I’m no math wizard but…

Our government, here in the US, has not done us any favors by fudging the numbers by not testing, being slow to develop tests, and focusing solely on the economics (and here, mostly for the corporations and wealthy, this administration couldn’t be more clear they don’t give a shit about the dish washer in back of your local diner who doesn’t have sick days, health insurance, and will be afraid to go to the hospital and find themselves in the custody of ICE) and not the health and human factors. Hell, we have elected officials who were making jokes and blowing this off who are now self-quarantined.

You can tell me not to panic, and you’d be right. Panic helps no one and nothing, and much of this is out of our control. Scientists are doing their thing, working on developing a vaccine, and it will take time. Time and a toll on many.

But don’t you dare fucking tell me it’s no big deal.

 

 

The 3 Rs: Reading, Writing, and Rejections

Asses up: is burying my head in the reservoir the same as burying my head in the sand?

Recently I’ve seen a bunch of tweets/comments in the writing world about writing that strike me as…odd. That it isn’t the writing that matters, it’s the story. Umm, what? Yeah, yeah, I know, there are books/stories that are plot driven and those that are character driven, and there are different readers who read for different reasons. But. If I begin a novel and it doesn’t have a strong voice and or strong writing, I don’t care about the story and will stop reading. The opposite is also true, if the voice/writing is strong and the story sucks, I’ll continue to read and still love the book. Obviously, a great book will have it all, most writers strive to create it all, but many don’t. Including, yes, many published and sometimes lauded and/or bestselling stories.

But I’m also seeing the flip side– don’t-worry-about-publication, just write for the love of it, doesn’t matter if you’re ever/never published. Strangely enough, this statement is usually made by people who are published and don’t seem to be renouncing future contracts. Hmm. Yes, I understand where the statement is coming from: rep/publication will bring new pressures, doesn’t solve everything. Nothing does.

I do love to write, oh, the feeling you’ve nailed the phrase, the scene, the word. The other side is the lousy, practically adolescent (at 50,000 years old) angst of rejections. You have to have thick skin, they say. Heh. I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul, fed my family more than once with a mostly empty fridge and cash scrounged from behind the cushions, seen both my husband and my daughter stop breathing, dealt with more ologists, advocating for my loved ones as a lay person most would love to ignore, actually seen Husband’s heart taken from behind all those nice protective layers of skin, muscle, and bone. The literal start to my day involves measuring the necrotic tissue on Husband’s foot, adding to the photo record of it to track the spread. Yup, my skin is plenty thick, thanks. None of this means I don’t care about my words. As I’ve said many times, for me, half of writing is being read. And nothing, nothing is equivalent to when someone reads my words and comes back to tell me they felt them.

I’m a reader who also plays with words and worlds of my own. I tend to enjoy reading books that are more in line with what I write (not exclusively, a good thriller or sff can be great fun to read, but my imagination doesn’t lean that way for wording). I’m a ferocious reader, a voracious reader, a fucking excellent reader who takes more pleasure in a great book than anything outside of those lovely but boring to others mama-moments. Seriously, half the time I trip over the kids’ names when more than one of them is standing in front of me, but a great opening line –hell, a great line in the middle of a novel– will stay with me forever.

Characters, oh I want characters who are fresh and raw and real. Who feel things deeply, who make me feel things deeply. It isn’t a fast pace, not even an imminent world war that’s going to make me feel, not a beautiful protagonist that will catch my reading eye, it’s the beautifully drawn world, even if, maybe especially if, it’s rich and dark and ugly; it’s the interesting narrative, sharp dialogue, it’s the words. Not is it realistic but does it feel/do these characters feel real?  Making me ache is cool, but making me laugh is better, both is best. Does it make me want to move to Alaska in the middle of winter like when I reread The Snow Child? Yes, I want those sentences so lyrical, so clear and ringing I do stop reading and say goddamn, how did the author do that? Is this really the same language I use every day? A great book will somehow take me out of my everyday with characters who are everyman/woman. Characters I see myself and my people in: those who are struggling and striving and failing and pissed off. Characters whose stories shouldn’t be remotely interesting yet are.

In a surprise to no one I, Mrs Fringe, write fringe characters, the people in the background brought to the fore. They don’t save the world, most of the time they don’t even save themselves. If I was smart, as someone who loves playing with words, has no MFA, and wants to be published, I would work on stories and characters that are more commercial. More exciting, more elegant, more sexy, more triumphant. I guess I’m more stubborn than smart. And every time I get feedback from a reader who says yes, I felt her, I know him, every time I get one of those dreaded close but no cigar rejections–you know the ones, they’re personalized, offer specific and positive details but say nope, can’t place it, or not this time, try me/us again, every time I read a novel that rings so fucking true, it frustrates me to no end but also gooses me not to stop.

I’m not everyone, but I’m not the only one, either.