Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 16: I post these diary entries first thing in the morning. Anyone who knows me well knows how important routines are to me and writing this has become a part of my daily routine.
In normal times I do daily baseball recaps every morning. Now I chronicle what’s it like to live through a global pandemic. Either way, I need some sort of structure to organize my morning and, by extension, my mind, and now it’s this that provides that structure. Even when the entries are sad or harrowing I feel better for having written them. I physically and emotionally relax when they’re posted.
In normal times I then wade out into the Internet, read news, and look for other things to write about. The baseball news is pretty sparse now, so a few weeks ago I started writing a “This Day in Baseball History” post each morning. Yesterday it was that thing about mustaches. Today it was about how the Detroit Tigers got their name. These have turned out to be way more enjoyable than I ever thought they’d be. I probably have a better handle on baseball history than your average guy, but I still learn something new every day. Something funny or something weird. As is the case with routines, anyone who knows me well knows how much I love odd and trivial facts, so it’s all right up my alley.
They’re also satisfying to write because, again, they provide structure. And because there is some semblance of order to these historical stories. There are beginnings, middles and, with the exception of some very recent items I’ve covered, there are ends too. It’s neat. It’s comprehensible. It’s orderly. Along with my Pandemic Diary entry, it provides me two things — two things which take up hours of my time and consist of 4,000 or 5,000 total words — that exert a calming and organizing influence on my day.
When I’m done with those things, however, my day and my mental state start to unravel quite a bit.
It might be because, like today, I have to go out into the world and going out into the world is stressful and anxiety-inducing because it provides a constant reminder of how not normal things are right now.
Late this morning I had to make a trip to the grocery store. Today I noticed that they’ve finally made the aisles one-way, with arrow signs or “do not enter this way” signs on the floor. Which is nice, as it decreases the amount of times one needs to walk by someone in a space that really does not lend itself to six-foot distancing.
But then, while walking down, say, every other aisle, I encountered some middle aged-or-older person walking the wrong way. Some of them doing this looked oblivious. Others, though, looked defiant. You could almost picture them at those protests I talked about yesterday, yelling about how being forced to go one way down the baking aisle, with the spices on their left instead of their right — their left! — was “tyranny.”
The defiant ones make me worry more about the future than the oblivious ones. You can at least attempt to teach things to the ignorant. Either way, you’re reminded that things are not normal.
Back home, when I’m done with my Diary or my history post I have no choice but to engage with the online world to some degree because my job requires me to engage with the online world. In the absence of baseball news I read other news, and the other news is almost always bad.
I read that Germany is set to reopen some businesses next week and open schools on May 4. How? It has a comprehensive testing system that allows officials to identify and isolate infected people at an early stage. In fact, it has the capacity to run 650,000 tests a week.
I see that and I get angry that we have nothing approaching that. I get angry that the need for testing was well known by anyone with a modicum of expertise about all of this months and months ago and that our total lack of capacity for testing was completely ignored when they had advance warning of what was coming months and months ago. I get angry that that failure — a failure which continues to this very moment — has caused people to die and will cause more people to die. I get angry that that failure is why we have no end in sight to our current predicament. Why we cannot even contemplate sending our kids back to school or opening business yet. Or at least doing it responsibly (it seems we’re going to do it irresponsibly).
Not prioritizing testing capacity — and proceeding to reopen the country despite not having that testing capacity — is complete and utter malpractice on the part of our leaders. It’s an absolute abdication of their responsibility to their country and its people. It’s going to get people killed.
I know how to calm myself down from that particular outrage because it’s one I’ve been reminded of almost daily for a month. So I move on.
It doesn’t help, because the next thing I see is that, while they don’t seem to be engaging with the problem of testing, they do seem to be engaging in disconnected fantasy:
Steve Mnuchin thinks Americans can live on $1,200 for 10 weeks. pic.twitter.com/GrS0ON4gcm
— Brianna Westbrook (@BWestbrookAZ8) April 15, 2020
“The underlying concept that families can live on $17 a day is one thing,” I think to myself, “but don’t sleep on the idea that anyone other than soulless goons like this use the term ‘bridge liquidity’ when talking about family finances.” A click or two later and I read that another five million people filed new unemployment claims last week. That brings the total to nearly 22 million in the past month. That basically wipes out all job gains since the Great Recession in 2008-09. Here’s your $17. Good luck.
Stop looking at the news. Eat some lunch. Pet a cat. OK, that’s better.
For a few minutes anyway, because back online I see that a famous snake oil salesmen is saying that it’d be “appetizing” to just send kids back to school, open up everything else, and absorb a 2-3% mortality rate because it’ll get the economy up and running faster:
DR OZ: "Schools are a very appetizing opportunity. I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3%, in terms of total mortality. Any, you know, any life is a life lost, but … that might be a tradeoff some folks would consider." 😳 pic.twitter.com/aifMeKTsIv
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 16, 2020
A large chunk of the country is being fed that brand of psychopathy every night and I fear that “well, a certain number of people just need to die so businesses can make money again” is becoming mainstreamed.
Not that mainstreaming evil isn’t in vogue these days:
With 22 million Americans filing for unemployment, it’s clear we must start working to revive our economy and get the American people back to work safely.
— Senator Kelly Loeffler (@SenatorLoeffler) April 16, 2020
This is the U.S. Senator who, after being privately briefed on the coming COVID-19 pandemic, sold her retail stocks and invested in companies that make (a) teleworking software; and (b) medical personal protective equipment. Then she told Americans that COVID-19 was an anti-Trump hoax.
She has made millions, basically, profiteering on a pandemic. She should be under criminal indictment for insider trading. Instead, she will now be in a position to help decide what parts of the economy benefit first and most and how many deaths and hospitalizations we’re willing to tolerate to make that happen. Indeed, she’ll know about that before most anyone else does. I wonder if she’ll use that information to her advantage.
My anger on this point transcends just this awful moment in time. It relates to what we’ve been seeing for years. Four years, in fact, in which Trump and his allies have shown us, time and again, that the best way to get away with anything is to lean, hard, into the bad behavior, even to the point of utter farce. They have shown us that if you show no hint shame and, in fact, if you double and triple down on your malfeasance and malevolence, it overwhelms the system, people become fatigued and you are thus rewarded for your bad behavior. Even if it’s criminal.
It’s a reminder that integrity doesn’t matter. It’s a lesson that is anathema to everything I’ve been taught to believe my entire life but it’s apparent as the nose on my face. What do you do when you reach middle age and realize that everything you believed in was wrong? I’ve realized it anew, almost every day, since 2016 and it’s not getting any easier to take.
This whole process of going through the day’s news is not instantaneous. I don’t find myself binging the bad news or subjecting myself to it without any breaks. In between these outrages I find little baseball bits to write about. I put in a load of laundry. I get things ready for dinner for later. I talk to my wife. I proceed, as normally as possible, through my day.
But it’s cumulative, and by the time I read that last bit about the insider trading senator at about 3:30, my brain was about to break. It breaks a lot these days, in direct proportion to how much news I read. I knocked off work at four, which meant that I could knock off the Internet. I was going to clear my head with a walk on the treadmill but Allison convinced me it’d be better for me to go outside. I didn’t feel like I had more than a walk around the block in me, but once the fresh air hit I found some new energy.
For the first half mile or so I listened to some pretty loud and cathartic music and thought about how, in a lot of ways, it feels like the world is ending right now and that there’s no good future for any of us.
As I passed the one mile mark, though, the fresh air and exercise began to help. I switched to a Bob Dylan album with songs about 18th century ship captains and outlaws on horses and murdered gamblers at some non-specific time in Old Weird America, and it made me feel like I feel after I write my baseball history post each day. I know this. I know what this is about and where’s it going. It makes me feel good to have some certainty about something.
I walked on through miles, two, three, four and five, moving, increasingly, out of my head and connecting more and more to the fields and creeks I was passing. Feeling the fresh air I was breathing, and the still-cold-for-April wind that, today at least, was mentally bracing. I felt my legs working. I felt my blood flowing. I felt a sense of release that I desperately needed.
By the time I got back home Allison had left for the barn. I poured myself some wine and began to cook.
As I was cooking, I got a message from a friend who, like so many people, is working from home with young kids who are home from school. He told me that, for as frustrating and dislocating as all of this is on so many levels, he feels closer to his kids right now than he ever has. He works very long hours usually, leaving early and coming home late, but in the past month he’s gotten to play with them so much more. He’s gotten more in touch with their school work and the subtleties of their personalities so much more. He didn’t whitewash the reasons for all of this and he’s well aware that now is not a positive time or even a blessing-in-disguise time for most people, but he is allowing himself to wonder if, at some point down the road, this won’t be remembered by his kids as some sort of positive time, not unlike how some people called growing up during the Depression “the good old days.” Days made good because of human moments amidst what was otherwise horrible.
I finished cooking. Chicken breasts with rosemary and thyme. Roasted carrots. Roasted sweet potatoes and some broccoli. Enough for a big bowl of fresh dinner for me, enough for dinner for Allison when she got home, and enough for extras for her lunches for the next couple of days.
It was a good early morning followed by a bad late morning and afternoon. But then a good walk, some clarifying thoughts, some healthy food, and some good vibes from a good friend helped cleanse me of the day’s toxicity and put me at peace this evening.
I wish I didn’t have to climb up and down mental mountains like this each day. I wish I didn’t have to battle like this just to get back to calm. But as long as I keep doing it, I feel like I’ll be OK.