I’m on Day 12 of Covid, contracted I think on the New York City Subway System, being the only masked person around coughers and sneezers; or else in the brief unmasked walk from Port Authority to the subway entrance on 7th Avenue. However one gets it (only 5 days into my bivalent vaccine, I wasn’t yet efficacious) it’s been a helluva bedridden ride of waves of all the various Covid symptoms I’ve read about. As a result of the positive test (taken a few days prior to heading to Virginia for my 40th high school reunion, with a sore throat and runny nose, oh shit), I’ve found myself living in bed and relying on the kindness of my friend Cathy and her husband and son, who check in daily, pick up takeout for me and a few groceries. I’ve been subsisting on V8, apples, brown rice, beans, some Chinese soups, and tea. And The Graham Norton Show via YouTube. I tested positive again after five days, and again after ten (though a lighter line), so I’ll try again on Wednesday, which will be a full two weeks plus one day. I’m running out of tests. But at least I’m dressing for the day again.
Recently I (in my return to social media after a three-month hiatus) saw that above quote on Harvey Fierstein’s Facebook wall in the context of gaining sobriety, but I truly appreciate this in the context of Covid recovery. I have not been living my life properly in the past few years. I am a recluse agonizing over rising fascism, without intelligence or talent enough to do anything useful to stop it. As of November 8, when the Republicans take over and impeach Biden and Harris, install the Speaker of the House as president, hang Pelosi, and deploy the military to overrun the liberal cities and imprison all of us…because I think that is more likely than not to happen should Republicans take the House and Senate…it will be too late to do more. Ain’t that a kick in the head?
Amidst the coming end of democracy as a concept, I’ve also been thinking about age, how we change, or don’t. It’s all part of the mix of my brain fog.
Reflections on the High School Reunion I Missed
My friends Mark and Carl urged me to go, so I signed up, and then I got Covid, as I somehow knew I would, so I kept myself awake that night to find out who they got to see.
The boys sweetly texted me pictures of the kids (who are all 58), many of whom I’ve known since childhood—the Arrington twins; Juanita the piano prodigy and probably the smartest kid I knew. Then there was Janet, who was voted most talented from a high school senior class of 1,000—still a tall drink of water, same long blonde hair, a toned and tan former gymnast who could still fit into her show choir ensemble and her high-kick team dress and wow them all with a smile, the one who gives you hope. Lots of people for whom high school may or may not have been a blast, as they say, were there, too.
Prior to the reunion, I posted on our page the following memory, wondering if everyone was hoping we’d “sing”:
I sent along to them a sickbed selfie, and it caused me to reflect on aging; when I attended a group 50thbirthday party years ago, my brother Jeff took a photo. When I posted it on Facebook, my friend Jen said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you were born to be 50.” I think I was. However, it was the last photo in which I looked like myself, a Lisa O’ anyone would recognize. A couple of years ago I became old—see sickbed selfie. It was time.
I loved all the pictures Mark was sending, but I didn’t understand his constant texts: “EVERYONE is asking about you!” I responded first with a “Ha!” comment thingy. But he persisted. And I couldn’t understand this sentiment because I was such a dull kid, not a standout at anything; just kinda skated through school, tried to be helpful, did my work, did a few plays, stayed out of trouble, head down, big laugher at the jokes of funnier people.
And you realize that all of us, whatever we thought ourselves, were part of one another’s stories, and that we are somehow still dear to one another, part of one another’s memories. We all can’t be beautiful or stay young, whatever that is, and what is even the point of the concern? In the end the Republicans will gun it down.
I recently read this definition of Beauty: “the adherence to the balance and structure of the Universe.” Seen that way, most of us can feel just fine.
Vanity: Reflections of a Royal Philosopher, from Ecclesiastes, 2-11
It’s Sunday, so here’s a little of the Bible that most American Christians (given their actions in favor of dead mothers and gunned down children and their worship of a narcissistic, unapologetic adulterer, conman, and cheat) clearly haven’t read, but a surprising number of my Jewish, agnostic, and atheist friends have.
The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome;
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
‘See, this is new’?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.
The friend who posted this on her wall asked: “So, like, what EVEN is the point.”
The existential questions are the worst. What I’ve never understood, when I look at all the guns and people threatening people over their race or gender, for example, is that if this is all we know—this time on earth, this life—why would anyone choose to spend it glorifying themselves, playing the lottery, and spreading misery? And that leaves the rest of us in a power struggle with those people, scratching for our bits of joy where we find them. There’s a great play called Every Brilliant Thing I saw a few years back at Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, about a little boy who goes on a quest to try to help his depressed mother—and he finds the joy in himself. Love people, find the joy, eat the chocolate. Do your best.
“We all have regrets and most of us know that those regrets, as excruciating as they can be, are the things that help us lead improved lives. Or, rather, there are certain regrets that, as they emerge, can accompany us on the incremental bettering of our lives. Regrets are forever floating to the surface… They require our attention. You have to do something with them. One way is to seek forgiveness by making what might be called living amends, by using whatever gifts you may have in order to help rehabilitate the world.” – Nick Cave
This quote can be found on the website The Marginalian, curated by Maria Popova. She shares ideas from artists, their quotes, and then her own reflections. What Cave got me longing for, or reminding me of, is the idea of being an artist. I really wonder what that must be like. (Whatever light I have in potential, I learned years ago, must be kept hidden or it upsets too many people; you have to trust me on this.) At least my one real joy as I age is that I can still enjoy art.
“Art does have the ability to save us, in so many different ways. It can act as a point of salvation, because it has the potential to put beauty back into the world. And that in itself is a way of making amends, of reconciling us with the world. Art has the power to redress the balance of things, of our wrongs, of our sins… By “sins,” I mean those acts that are an offence to God or, if you would prefer, the “good in us” — that live within us, and that if we pay them no heed, harden and become part of our character. They are forms of suffering that can weigh us down terribly and separate us from the world. I have found that the goodness of the work can go some way towards mitigating them.” – Nick Cave
In my search for more about suffering and surviving it, I happened on a couple of TED Talks that only pissed me off. On Being with Krista Tippett, now defunct in terms of its old format but still out there, is a good bet. Still, when I go hunting to try to understand all the shit, I find things that exhaust as well as inspire.
Ultimately, Bruno Latour (1947-2022), the scholar who passed last week, took nothing for granted: not science, not society, not even “reality” or “existence.”
– The Nation header on Facebook
And I realized, reading that banner, how TIRED I am of reality and the lunacy of existence—the realization that we’re all stuck in an overwhelming cycle of …
In the meantime, life goes on, somehow.
Preoccupations on Reflection
In my last blog post I paid tribute to the remarkable theater artist and teacher Maureen Shea, who died unexpectedly in September of this year. Shortly after posting, my old Virginia Tech friend Todd located and “liked” this Facebook post from 2020, I guess because of the attached photograph he must have recalled. Todd was very close to Maureen, too. Here is the post, in full:
Miss O’, ca. 1987. I’m posting it because I have always hated this picture, but kept it because mentor Maureen Shea is in the background, on the left on the hill, in a cast, and it does capture a moment in time. Oddly, this is often other people’s favorite photo of me whenever, back in the old days, we’d flip through one another’s photo albums.
Similarly—and stay with me here—while I was the favorite and most beloved teacher of some students, I was just as often the most reviled and dreaded teacher of other students; and still others didn’t even remember being in my class when I’d say hello to them as seniors. Think of them as pro / no / undecided voters.
Here’s my point: Yesterday I saw the “well, I’m not voting for Biden if it’s Harris” posts begin. Here we go, I thought, 2016 redux, “but her emails,” any excuse to not vote a woman into office. Because I believe, truly, however evolved people think they are, that that is what it comes down to. These folks can rationalize it all they want, but it comes down to misogyny. They’d rather end democracy, keep Bill Barr and Trump and Miller, and destroy the Supreme Court and even the planet, for the rest of their children’s natural lives, than vote for a woman—for whatever her “sin” is, it’s always one hundred times worse than the sins of the men who are caging children and denying a pandemic and allowing Russians to own our elections and put bounties on the heads of our soldiers in the field.
America, don’t do that; don’t be that voter all over again.
Because let’s face it: I’ve always hated this photo of myself, and yet I now have to admit I am adorable in it. All those years of self-loathing, and for what?
It’s 2022, and here we are AGAIN. Voters, Americans, for fuck’s sake: Do the work, love the people, be good to the earth, find a purpose, appreciate art. Get over yourself. And vote Democrat.
One thought on “Under Covid of Darkness”
So many thought provoking things to think about in this post. I love the spark of life in the photos of you in your early days, a spark still present in your current self. The cartoon, A Brief History of Humans points to the eternal question underlying human existence, and the quote from Marcus Aurelius’s quote points out a direction for living–create light. Whatever happens on the political front, this aspiration for living can remain: create light, support and uplift what is beautiful. As you quoted from Nick Cave, “Art has the power to redress the balance of things, of our wrongs.” Art doesn’t ignore the imbalances and sufferings but it can transform them. As Wendell Berry wrote in his poem, “Our Real Work,”
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.