Natural Disasters aren’t Supposed to be Pleasant

I know this is a silly title, but I’m genuinely concerned that a large number of people out there might not fully understand the concept of a disaster. They just don’t seem to get that major historical events like novel plagues are inherently inconvenient, and that living through them (or not living through them, as the case may be) sucks ass. These folks seem bizarrely indignant at the idea that a worldwide pandemic should affect them in any way. They also seem deeply annoyed that it just… Keeps happening. It’s one thing, apparently, to interrupt their busy schedules for a few weeks, but they just can’t be bothered to keep dealing with an uncomfortable reality in the long run. They’re really losing patience with all these efforts to prevent further death and destruction, and they express it in the strangest of ways.

For example, I have heard with my own two ears, and seen with my own two eyes, grown-ass people saying shit like: “You can’t live in fear.”

I am here to inform you that you absolutely can live in fear, particularly when there is something very real to be afraid of. That’s exactly what fear is for. It is a useful and appropriate response to danger. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have it baked into the very cores of our highly sophisticated head-bacon. Fear is so effective at keeping organisms alive, in fact, that nature probably went a little overboard with it, because being a perpetually anxious rabbit with some bald patches from nervous over-grooming is way better, from an evolutionary standpoint, than being a confident rabbit with a sleek and fluffy coat who doesn’t think wolves look all that tough.

Being afraid and/or anxious is a healthy response to danger, and pandemics are dangerous. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Another reaction I’ve been seeing that deeply baffles me is: “Well, you can’t just let life grind to a halt.”

Once again: Yes, you absofuckinglutely can. Normal life cannot just go on in an area affected by a natural disaster. If life can continue unaffected, pretty much by definition, there is no disaster. In this case, the whole world is being affected by this disaster, and it is particularly bad in the United States.

Normal life cannot just go on, and the expectation that it should do so is causing a secondary plague of mental illness beyond anything I could have previously imagined. People are tearing themselves to shreds trying to keep up the appearance and productivity of normal life under extremely abnormal circumstances, and it is horrifying. It is breaking people. Good, kind, generous people are currently being crushed under the absolutely inhumane expectation that life should just go on right now.

Not only that, but this response in particular seems to show a total lack of awareness that delayed gratification does exactly what it says on the tin. It is delayed, not canceled. Very young children are expected to struggle with the concept of putting something fun off for a later date – because later truly does feel like forever when you’re five years old – but the average adult is generally expected to have had enough experience to understand.

For those who have apparently missed this fairly vital step toward maturity, here’s the deal: We have to wait. We don’t know exactly how long, because some things are beyond human control and because a lot of people have already behaved very badly and made it all worse. Probably, at this point, another six months to a year. If we wait, and we don’t go about our business as usual, then we all get to hug and kiss and play as much as we want. If we don’t wait, and quite a few of you already haven’t, some of those people we want to hug and kiss and play with will probably die.

That’s it. That’s reality. They’ll die.

Or, you might die.

You could also live, but survival doesn’t necessarily mean you go unscathed. You might live with permanent damage to your lungs that makes every breath a painful struggle. You might live and spend the rest of your life feeling exhausted and weak. You might live with permanent neurological damage. You might live and suddenly have a stroke a while later, because of a case of covid19 that you barely even noticed at the time. You might even live long enough to develop a conscience, which would honestly suck for you if you’re behaving like an ass right now, because there won’t be anything you can do about it by then.

This isn’t a plea for decency, because we’re kind of beyond that. It’s more of an observation. It’s an exploration. It’s a rant. If I weren’t so incredibly numb to the horror right now, I’d be screaming, because this is all so goddamned awful. The direct risk of covid19 is bad enough, but then there’s this highly unpleasant realization that I just keep coming back around to.

There are people around us all, people who we love and trust and spend our care on, who themselves care so little about the rest of us that they refuse to educate themselves about and follow the most basic of precautions during the most deadly and widespread pandemic in living memory.

A gloomy tree silhouetted against a gray sky.

My Heart Broke This Morning

But I put it back together, again.

A few months and several decades ago, I drove for an hour and picked up three adorable but surly hens, right before the stay at home orders came down in my state. I’ve really enjoyed tending them and trying to win their affections, but last week I sat in a vet’s office, wearing my prettiest flowered mask, and cried my heart out as they took the sweetest of them away to be put to sleep.

Pros of wearing a mask while grieving: Catches the snot.
Cons of wearing a mask while grieving: Catches the snot and stores it directly against your face.

She was very sick. It was either very bad luck or very good luck, depending on how you look at it. All the rest of our chickens, including her four little chicks that she hatched out herself and adored so much, were fine. No one else caught the common, contagious, but not usually deadly disease. Just Erik the hen, who was still tenderly feeding her chicks even after she began to struggle with swallowing her own food. But there’s no treatment, and she couldn’t breathe anymore, in spite of one rather desperate surgical attempt to save her, so we had to do the kindest thing.

My dad and my sister are fighting over our aging family cats. My dad got angry and said some of the crueler things he’s ever said to me because I tried to reason with him on my sister’s behalf. He’s the only parent I have left, since my mother drifted away from reality years ago and never particularly liked me in it anyway. I was willing to forgive my dad a lot because he still kinda loved me, in his absent-minded way, but the reality is that I’ve always been expendable to both of them when it comes right down to it. I’ve always known that, so it doesn’t hurt as much as it probably should to be reminded of it again. It doesn’t help, either.

My single remaining grandparent is losing her memory and her hearing. I called to check in on her, but she couldn’t hear anything I said unless I just shouted a yes or no answer into the phone. She asked me five or six times when I was coming to visit next. She still doesn’t know when I’m coming to see her next, and neither do I.

My siblings are all beautiful, amazing people who are living their lives in different places, and I miss them terribly, but I don’t know when I’ll see them again either.

I haven’t seen my boyfriend in months, and the vague sense that he still doesn’t really understand why has been slowly making me doubt the seriousness and reality of what’s going on in the world even though I can see it clearly every day. I don’t know how to bridge gaps like that in judgment and perception. Maybe that difference in assessment wouldn’t bother a more confident person than myself, but I am not that person.

This year, this pandemic, and this political climate have felt like a sandblaster aimed straight at all the softer parts of me. The parts of me that want to build and make and love and tend are all aching and damaged and scared.

All my energy has been going into staying stable. I thought that was for the best, and that it was probably all I could really offer to my partners and family and friends. Just hang on with a grim grip, but keep a real smile on my face when I can, because I’m still genuinely so lucky to have everything and everyone that I do. Prep for the next waves of disaster as they loom on the horizon, but don’t have more panic attacks than are really reasonable for the current immediate circumstances. Try to keep up daily walks with my cohabitating partner and dogs, and to keep watering the garden even as the sudden and intense heat of our brief summer here tries to burn away all the green and tender things I’ve planted. Try to keep looking and moving forward, but not too far, or I’ll surely run into something hard or sharp in all this murk.

I woke up early this morning from such a sweet and comfortable dream, after months of non-stop stress dreams and nightmares. Before I was even fully conscious, my mind started reminding me of all the reasons why that dream wasn’t real and wasn’t even possible. It wasn’t anything fantastical, just a very pleasant dream about a person I admire, but my waking mind wasn’t having it. You don’t deserve that, it said. You’re not wanted, it said. Don’t be ridiculous, it said.

It was just a really nice dream, and it broke my heart to wake up and realize how hard I’m always working, even when I’m half asleep, to avoid ever reaching for something people might say I don’t deserve or going where I might not be wanted. I’ve been trying so hard not to ever make anyone’s day even fractionally worse that my art and my writing and my ability to take risks have all shriveled up, and absolutely no one is the better for it.

What a fucking waste.

My heart is pretty prone to this kind of breakage. It’s soft. I’m putting it back together and trying to make it stronger but not harder. Maybe a little more structurally sound, and more resistant to the idea that the only thing I have to offer the world is all the smallness I can muster.

Ruby and Peridot, two of Erik’s chicks, hiding under my purple sweater. They have all kindly allowed me to take over mothering duties in her absence.