Rolling back the clock…

For the duration of the Great Plague thus far, I’ve been even more of a recluse than normal. Avoiding places where people congregate is a decided lifestyle choice and hasn’t felt like much of a burden. 

During this last week, I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up on some errands I’ve been putting off. I almost wish I wouldn’t have done that. What I observed out in the world does not fill me with confidence. While some are making concerted efforts, at least as many seem to have decided that masks, and distancing, and… basic hygiene rules of any kind don’t really need to be observed. 

Seeing the virus come roaring back across Europe as they’ve loosened their restrictions – and yes, watching the infection rate surge here in the US over the last couple of weeks, it’s become painfully obvious that no one anywhere really has a firm grip on how to be open and doing it safely.

So, with that, I’m rolling back the clock. From here at Fortress Jeff, we’ll be leaving the homestead for essential business only. All of you are more than welcome to go sit in your favorite bars or restaurants, wander around Walmart to your heart’s content, forgo your mask, or bunch up in any crowded place that strikes your interest. I don’t want any part of it.

I’ve always thought I had a reasonably well developed self-preservation instinct. Smart people are telling me there is a problem and have offered remarkably simple ways to avoid it. If you can’t be bothered to follow their bare minimum advice or recommendations, I truly don’t have any desire or interest in sharing space with you for the foreseeable future. I can’t control what anyone else does, of course, but I bloody well can control what I do as a result. 

If anyone needs me, stand at the end of the driveway and shout loudly, I guess. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Look, it’s increasingly easy to find three things a week in this tired old world that annoy me to no end. Turn on the news, pick the first three stories they cover, and I’m probably annoyed about each and every one of them.

This week, though, is an oddity. Being in the midst of burning off a tranche of vacation time, most of the noise has faded into the deep background. I’m getting up, drinking my coffee, spending quality time with the critters, reading a bit, cooking, and fiddling around with a few minor projects around the house. 

At least for the last few days, I’ve created a happy little bubble here and thoroughly enjoyed staying in it while whatever is going on “out there” stays out there. For these few moments, I’m not annoyed by a single damned thing in the world… except the certain knowledge that this particular idyll will soon enough come to a tragic finish.

And that’s far worse than the combination than any other three things I can imagine.

Maybe it’s more of a “you” problem…

There are a few things that make my eyes roll harder than the idea that women are held back in the world because they have to cook, do laundry, and tend to the basic chores of running the household while implying that men somehow don’t need to do those same things.

For most of the last twenty years, of my own volition, I’ve been breadwinner, cook, bottle washer, launderer, housekeeper, maintenance technician, armorer, groundskeeper, appointment maker, shopper-in-chief, and animal care officer. Somehow, I’ve managed to do those things while exerting the effort to reach a wide array of personal and professional goals.

Whatever perceived “male privilege” with respect to basic household management some seem to think accrues due to having a penis hasn’t shed its divine grace on how we do things here at Fortress Jeff. If it had, I clearly wouldn’t be typing this with one ear cocked to hear the buzz of the dryer or while casting the occasional thought towards what to make for dinner tonight.

So, when someone tells me I don’t understand that “Nobody cooks for her…,” honest to God, I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. As a fully formed human adult, I possess the ability to do all of those things for myself – and I do them, because I like to eat and wear clean clothes. Since setting up housekeeping on my own twenty years ago, I’ve never expected anyone to manage those things on my behalf.

If you’re not happy with whatever domestic arrangement you’ve created for yourself, I struggle to think of it as a structural issue rather than a “you” problem. To the best of my knowledge there’s no Constitutional amendment, executive order, or holy writ codifying that ovaries are required to operate the damned stove or to take something out of the washing machine.

We live and die with the choices we make and the things we decide are acceptable or not. If someone or something is standing between you and the life you think you should be living, the onus is on you to find a way over, under, or through them… or just post funny, funny memes on the internet.

That probably works too. 

What I’d rather be doing…

I’m not working this week. It’s the first time in this plague year I’ve taken a block of days off in sequence. I’ve spent the last couple of them knocking around the house, cleaning, and running errands. It’s nothing spectacular, but all things that needed doing. Here on Tuesday, we’ve arrived at the point in time where I have nothing particularly pressing to do.

What I’d like to spend this new-found free time doing, is digging around some of my favored used book shops and carrying home untold treasure. What I am doing, as you can see, is sitting here at the keyboard writing about what I’d rather be doing. 

There are, of course, reasons for this. Perhaps I should say there’s one main reason that’s not happening at the moment… but to tell that story, I have to first tell you a bit about my general philosophy of acquisition. 

Some collectors focus on a particular author, a genre, a time period, or topic. They might want signed copies or first editions. Me, well, I want nice copies, firsts if I can get them, but ultimately, my focus is on bringing in books I actually want to read. That goal has been achieved in spades. There’s literally nothing on my “to be read” shelves that I don’t want to read. 

With 500+ volumes now lingering on those to be read shelves, though, I’m beginning to feel like a victim of my own success. Based on my average yearly reading rate, I’ve built up a slightly less than eight-year backlog… and because I keep the to be read anti-library separate from the ones I have read, space is becoming something of an issue… again. I’ve lost track of how many times this has been the case already. This time, though, I’m running up against a physical limit on available wall space for more shelving in that particular room.

With all that being the case, it seems that I have a couple of possible courses of action: 1) Dramatically reduce the number of books being brought in until I’ve freed up space; 2) Viciously cull the to be read list with a goal of jettisoning somewhere between 25-50% of titles that are “below the line”; 3) Let the to be read pile bleed out into new space; 4) Box up titles I’m not likely to get to any time soon and allocate them to deep storage in an under-utilized closet; or 5) Accept that this is just life now and buy a warehouse.

So, I’ve got some decisions to make. I like the idea of bringing some discipline to the collection – of focusing in my reading on whatever I decide are the highest priority books. I absolutely hate the idea of conducting a great cull. It’s an admission of defeat – that no matter how interesting, I’m accepting that I’ll never, ever get to it. It’s even worse knowing that a year or two from now I’m likely to be in the same position… although it guarantees that after a few cycles of binge and purge, I’d have a heavily curated reading list with every title intensely focused on what appeals to me in a book. There’s an appeal there, to be sure.

Right now, at this minute as I’m writing, I fully intend to drastically slow down the number of books arriving until I’ve made some decisions. That’s not saying tomorrow I won’t be schlepping through a used book shop fondling a new box of books I just couldn’t live without. Still, I feel like I deserve some credit for even considering the issue in depth.

Why I plan ahead…

Back in March, people we shocked when a global pandemic hit and grocery store shelves were stripped bare of bread, milk, eggs, meat, toilet paper, canned goods, and a host of other products we deem essential. 

I was watching reports of this new virus in January – and made my last “stocking up” trip to market sometime in the last half of February. I’m not claiming any particularly deep insight, but a lifetime of pondering what ifs and worst cases and a bit of professional training in emergency management gave me a bit of a head start on seeing what was coming along and the short term results we were likely to see.

This week the virus is seeing a resurgence in Europe, while we here in America have never fully been able to get our arms around the problem. It’s obvious from seeing how people are acting that we’ve already collectively grown tired of even the minimal restrictions we managed to put in place. Smart people are telling us that the results of this behavior will be, in a word, bad. We here in America, of course, have a long and storied history of not believing what smart people tell us.

Why am I bothering to mention any of this?

I think there’s a significantly larger than zero percent chance that prevailing conditions could adversely impact long-standing and traditional holiday travel plans over the next two months. With that in mind, I’ve started laying in the essentials to make myself a proper Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, should staying put at Fortress Jeff be a more rational option than traveling out into the plague lands.

I hope it’s not necessary, but just like in February, I’d rather have everything I might need on hand and discover I didn’t need it after all. I’d don’t want to have to fight it out for the last can of sweet potatoes or friend onions when the masses realize they won’t be travelling over the river and through the woods because granny caught the damned ‘rona and is in isolation.

Panic buying for “safer at home” was unpleasant. Panic buying for Thanksgiving would be its very own mini apocalypse.

Working for it (just a little)…

I’m not a stranger to staking out unpopular opinions. It’s why I’ve never fit comfortably in such descriptive categories as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. I take a bit from each, apply my own logic and analysis, and come up with a position that makes purists in all categories somewhat uncomfortable. I’m fine with their discomfort.

It shouldn’t be surprising that I also have what I’m sure will be an internet-unpopular take on voting.

I simply believe that requiring a bit of effort to exercise the vote isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Republic. 

There. I said it. I don’t think voting should be turned into a sacred quest, but participating in an election should require at least a minimal amount of work. Showing up on the appointed day and time or needing to request a ballot isn’t a high bar to cross, but it does demonstrate personal commitment to the process. It’s a small, perhaps only symbolic gesture that someone is taking their role of citizen seriously… and we put a much higher burden on exercising other essential liberties.

Needing to work for it, if even just a little bit, implies a level of commitment to the idea that your vote is the matters not just to the process, but also to you as an individual… and that doesn’t sound like the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Homecoming.” Last weekend some of the parents in my old stomping grounds appear to have held an unofficial homecoming dance for their kids. Social media treated me to pictures with a dozen of their little darlings posted up elbow to asshole – no masks, no distancing, just crowded in like the pictures we would have taken back in the 90s.  Look, I get it. I have incredibly fond memories of homecomings and proms and the fully array of school events, you want to make sure your kid has the same memories, or you get to relive your glory days through them, or whatever. But doing it as we sit here watching COVID-19 bleeding through the ranks of the White House senior staff for engaging in similar fuckery, I have to wonder what would possess anyone to think this was a good idea. Raise ‘em however you want, I guess… but stay the hell away from me.

2. Candidates. Having now watched “debates” between both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates representing our major political parties, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not actually the structural government that’s failed us, but rather the bi-polar choice we’re presented with every four years and our collective willingness to go along with it just because it’s what we’ve always done. Our “two party system” has coughed up once candidate who is demonstrably a bad human being and another who, if elected, will pursue a number of policies I’ve opposed my entire adult life. Constrained by a self-regulating system that claims there are only two options, either option is a betrayal… of course that pre-supposes you accept the proposition that there are only two option.

3. Grass. I’ve been trying to get grass to fill in one small section of the back yard for two years now. It’s the first bit of the yard you see when walking out the back door and I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many bags of grass and clover seeds I’ve thrown down in the process. At best, it’s currently half green and half mud… and then there’s the nearly perfect radius of totally bare dirt where the dogs make their turn to head out towards the far reaches of the yard in high speed pursuit of the resident squirrels. It would be easy to blame this state of affairs on at least one dog who enjoys the rough and tumble of outside a bit too much, but I think we all know that’s not the kind of person I am… so it’s clearly the fault of the grass and some bad seed.

When interests overrun time…

I’d like to get back to writing. Not just blogging, which I love, of course, but proper writing – telling stories and building worlds. I won’t claim to be particularly good at it. Perhaps that’s a failure of imagination on my part, but it’s honest labor that I enjoyed.

Time, as always, is my eternal enemy. Even in the midst of a plague year there isn’t enough of it. What time there is, I spend with my nose in a book someone else wrote… Because there’s always one more thing I want to read. In fact, there’s somewhere north of 500 somethings I want to read already here, shelved, and waiting for me to get to them.

The secret to really getting things done, I’ve always suspected, is not sleeping. Although I have grown increasingly fond of those six hours a night. I wonder how well I could get by on a little less. given my already surly mood, the answer is probably “not well.”

At some point the only reasonable thing to do is accept that X number of interests don’t fit into Y amount of time and descope where I’m trying to spend my hours. It makes perfect sense, but I’m not quite ready to make that decision. Maybe I’ll never be… and maybe that’s the point.  

Feelings…

Memories on Facebook are something of a two-edged sword. As often as they dredge up something I’d forgotten about from the recent past, they also throw up moments that seem like they should have taken place much longer ago. 

Two years ago, the internet was raging about the seating of then judge and now Justice Kavanaugh on the United States Supreme Court. It feels like it was both yesterday afternoon and about 600 years ago. 

We seem to be in a long stretch now where someone or another is constantly screeching, rending their garments, or taking to the streets for whatever cause of the day is ginning up popular attention. It’s hard to tell the days of the week in some ways because it has all blended together into one large, continuous mass of demonstrating how we feel.

I’ve long been fond of a phrase I first saw many years ago that says something to the effect of “The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings.” 

The universe is on to something there. I’ve been working hard to tune out most of the extraneous noise in favor of focusing in on those things I can in some way control or influence. I can’t quite shake the feeling that if we all would just spend a little more time tending our own garden, life would be less shouty and obnoxious. 

Then again, the universe doesn’t care about my feelings either, so do whatever.

Not the first, nor the last…

Politics is one of those wonderful lands where how it looks is far, far more important than what it really is. As much as we like to think of our presidents as paragons of health and virtue, our history is filled with examples of dire medical conditions that were kept from the public because admitting the seriousness of their various conditions would have been an admission of weakness. 

President Trump’s forging ahead to return to the White House despite ongoing treatment for COVID-19 is hardly an exception to the age-old rules of American politics. Wilson’s debilitating stroke was hidden from the public through the last year of his presidency. While campaigning for a 3rd term, Theodore Roosevelt was literally shot in the chest, but refused to surrender the podium. Jack Kennedy was regularly jammed full of painkillers to relieve a chronic backache. Franklin Roosevelt was dying of heart disease when he was elected to his 4th term. 

There’s nothing new going on here, with the obvious exception of 24-hour professional and social media coverage that the American president receives day in and day out. Donald Trump might like to sell himself as the businessman president, but in the end he’s as much just another professional politician as the rest of them now… and in the last 30 days of an election, in a tight race, you’d be hard pressed to find a professional politician who wouldn’t rather die on the trail than stay in the hospital.

This isn’t the first time a president has pushed their health way past the breaking point in pursuit of their brass ring and I dare say it won’t be the last.