When People Love Movie Stars Too Much

Ashton Kutcher

Some people love movie stars too much.  Take Kim Reynolds, the Republican governor of Iowa.  We were gobsmacked when she proudly announced during a daily coronavirus update that  her “friend Ashton Kutcher” had recommended a Utah company to manage Iowa coronavirus test results. She awarded TestUtah a no-bid $26 million contract to establish the TestIowa program–without consulting any Iowa experts. 

Naturally, many of us were shaken by the decision, even before we learned the Utah company was under investigation. Much as we like Ashton Kutcher, an actor from Cedar Rapids, he is not exactly Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institue of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Does Kutcher have a medical degree or a background in science? No, he has a friend at the company. Mind you, I do not blame Kutcher. You know whose responsibility it is? Kim Reynolds, who has made bad decision after decision during her governorship and today reopened Iowa for business, even though the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths rises every day.

Not surprisingly, TestIowa has proved incompetent.  There have been botched test results, and many people have reported to the Des Moines Register that they have been waiting up to two weeks. One nurse said  she was tested on April 25 and still hasn’t learned the results.  Reynolds’ spokesman (somebody had to take the fall!) admitted that some samples were  “potentially damaged.”   

Kim Reynolds has endangered the health of Iowans.  I have five words for her:  Keep it in your pants!  That is a metaphor:  I don’t mean to suggest she had relations with her crush.

And I have two words for Iowans: Impeach Kim!

Stay safe, stay home, and ignore the politicians.

The Plague Notebook: Derealization in SF Time

Earth Day, April 22, 1970

All too easily, this could be a science fiction novel.

“You don’t necessarily develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against every virus. Some viruses are very, very difficult when it comes to vaccine development – so for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to find ways to go about our lives with this virus as a constant threat,”  said David Nabarro, professor of global health at Imperial College, London, and an envoy for the World Health Organization on Covid-19 (The Guardian).

We don’t see the larger picture when we look at the pandemic.  We say cheerfully, “They WILL find a vaccine soon.” And some happy people look on the “bright side,” the decrease of pollution.  They believe our society will carry this ecological awareness into “the new normal.”  

I love the new clean air and the new quiet–I see the beauty of nature more than ever–but I suspect  Paradise will be lost-again. People will get back in their cars, trucks, SUVs, and hybrids (the compromise quasi-ecological vehicle affordable to the few) and drive doorstep-to-doorstep more than ever, running their engines constantly at drive-throughs.  

Accidents and politics are interwoven.  One gathers that Covid-19 was an accident transmitted by bats to live animals in a Wuhan market  (ugh!) and then to humans.  There is plenty to despair about with such a horrifying accident, and we have read about the deforestation and urban sprawl that led to greater proximity to wild animals and thence the virus.   

And then there is overpopulation, as we have known at least since the mid-20th century, one of the greatest causes of pollution and a deterrent to sustainability and life on earth.  And so the plague: accident, politics, conspiracy theories, and a kind of I Am Legend a wound up in a big SF novel (with a bad plot!).

There are three science fiction books I recommend to help cope with our pollution-created crises:  Frank Herbert’s ecological masterpiece, Dune (which I posted abut at my old blog Mirabile Dictu here and here), John Brunner’s The Sheep Look up (which I posted about here), and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest (not at all a good book, but an ecolological novel)!  

How Did We Go Through Seventeen Glasses in a Day?

Glasses and cups were all over the kitchen.  I counted them: seventeen. I mean, life is marvelous, isn’t it?  The number of dirty cups?  Mirabile dictu, and all that. 

In the middle of Covid-19 plague, my friend is temporarily crippled in an accident, and all I’m thinking about is keeping up with the dishes.   I calculate that I used seven of them. There was the tea, later the water, then the orange juice, then flavored water, then the coffee, etc…..  She used the rest.  And she insists on a new glass every time she drinks.  (“It’s sanitary.”)

She suggested, “Bring bottled drinks and I’ll drink out of the bottle.” 

“Maybe paper cups?”

Friends are splitting shifts to help out, and I admit I’m a lousy nurse.  I’m bewildered to find myself early in the morning sitting in the hospital atrium while she has a brain scan. Only patients can enter the neurology office.  I take off my mask in the atrium, because honestly nobody is around.   Did she take off her mask for the brain scan?  I forgot to ask.

Two hours later, she emerges from the elevator.  “I hope my brain is okay,” she says sadly.  “Do you have my book?”

And then–yup, we’re back on the bus, wearing masks and gloves. It’s free!  But you  need to use a ton of sanitizer the minute you get off, and wash your hands thourghly at home–and possibly shower.  

She went off the pain pills today.  Whatever marvelous benefits other people acquire from pain pills seem to make her sick.  “Everything hurts!”

“I know, I know.  More Tylenol?” 

And so she’s bundled up in a blanket, hygge-style, listening to rock music.  We decide the Most Inappropriate 1960s Song for 2020 is “Touch Me” by the Doors.

Yeah! Come on, come on, come on, come on
Now touch me, babe
Can’t you see that I am not afraid?
What was that promise that you made?
Why won’t you tell me what she said?
What was that promise that you made?

The Doors, 1968

She applies ice packs to various parts of her body.  I wash the 17 glasses and cups.

The good thing is:  we don’t have coronavirus. 

And the other good thing:  I never wanted to be a professional nurse.

New Yorker cartoon, March 23, 2020

The Plague Notebook:  A Privileged Boredom & Lockdown Reading

Staying home is a small price to pay for safety. It is like having a bodyguard, only it’s not human:  a house, a rented room, an apartment, a geodesic dome, whatever shelter we have.  Here’s a typical day in the spring of Covid-19:  we read our books, check the news, watch TV, check the news, clean the house, check the news. It is a privileged boredom. Think of the homeless.  Think of the emptying food banks.

But everyone is in shape, finally! Whenever we’re claustrophobic, we go outside.  The parks, of course, are closed, so when a friend snuck into an empty park to play Frisbee,  the police sent him/her home. And here’s a  very strange story: a mall outside of Omaha claims it will open next week.  I joked, “We’ll be there.” 

Business Insider says, “More than 13,000 Americans died last week from COVID-19, surpassing past weekly averages for other common causes of death like heart disease and cancer.”  

Let us hope coronavirus goes away soon.

Fortunately there are still good books to read. 

ANTHONY BURGESS’S ENDERBY NOVELS.  This quartet of comical novels, Inside Mr. Enderby, Enderby Outside, The Clockwork Testament, and Enderby’s Dark Lady,  is delightfully quirky.  I urge you to read them if you need light relief.  Burgess tells the story of Enderby, a dyspeptic English poet who writes poetry in the lavatory, frequently using the toilet paper roll as a pencil holder and writing on toilet paper.   In the first novel, he is fatally seduced away from his lavatory writing by an ambitious woman, Vesta Bainbridge, whom he unhappily marries–it ends badly.  In  the second novel, Outside Enderby, which I just reread, he has supposedly been cured of poetry by a psychiatrist:  he has metamorphosed into a bartender named Hogg.  When a pop star, Yod Crewsley,  celebrates publishing a book of poetry at a party at the bar, Enderby is astonished to realize the poems are plagiarized:  he had composed them while living with Vesta, who is now married to the pop star.  And then a disgruntled former manager shoots Crewsley, leaving Enderby with the smoking gun.  His flight from the police to Tangier is hialrious, and at least his poetic muse speaks again in the muddle that follows.

The third book is equally funny, as I remember, but I am pretty sure I haven’t read the fourth. It is Burgess’s convoluted, poetic language that makes Enderby stand out from other satires about writers.  And, let’s face it, what is a funnier subject than a poet?  I do love Enderby.

Enderby’s poems are stunning, too.

LOUISE ERDRICH’S new novel, THE NIGHT WATCHMAN,  is partly political, partly a poignant tribute to the resilience of American Indian identity.  Inspired by the life of  Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, a chief of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, it tells the story of  a tribe in crisis and their political organization to prevent Congress from disbanding them and taking their land in the 1950s.   

There are two main threads: the hero, Thomas Wazhashk, a night watchman at a factory, organizes the fight against termination. Thomas is charming, funny, shrewd, and spiritual:  he has encounters with a snowy owl, a ghost, and spirtis in the sky.   The other thread follows Pixie (Patrice), Thomas’s niece, a very smart high school graduate who is a skilled worker at a factory and determined to rise through the ranks.   But life is a struggle:  she supports her mother and younger brother financially, and plays the masculine role in the family, chopping wood, hunting game, and contriving to clothe and fee them.  The whole family grieves over the disappearance of Patrice’s older sister Vera, who has disappeared in Minneapolis. The fight against Congress and the search for Vera are skillfully intertwined.

Gorgeous, lyrical writing, resilient characters, and a narrative interwoven with magic realism, ghosts, and unexpected events.

What Next? Lockdown on a Rainy Day

I long to be outdoors, though it is cold and rainy.  I made it as far as the stoop.

And now  I empathize with the friend who told me, “I’m an indoors person, so lockdown makes no difference.” 

Indoors?  We’re all indoors now.  But she confessed for the first time to being an indoors person the day I knocked at her door at  6 a.m.  We’d planned to take a bike ride in the country.  With great difficulty, I coaxed her out of her apartment.  On the way to the lake, we stopped at a tiny country church.  No idea what denomination, but I was enthralled by the service.  

  Less enthralled, she refused to ride on until she’d smoked a cigarette in the graveyard. “Because I’m an indoors person and I’m outdoors.”

Oddly, standing on the stoop under the awning today, I wanted to smoke a cigarette.   Perhaps I saw too many photos of Karl Ove Knausgaard smoking when I was reading My Struggle last week. 

Everything is boring on a rainy day when there’s nowhere to go except the convenience store.  So here are some things I’ve tried.  And I’m sure you’ve tried them, too.  What next?

A London policeman confronting a woman about sitting on a bench outside rather than exercising.

Want to watch a cabin fever video?   This strange video was filmed by a woman who was confronted by the London police for sitting on a park bench. They said she had to exercise if she were outdoors, and she said she was mentally exercising.  Now that’s cabin fever. 

Want to go to the movies? Sure, sit down in your living room and watch one.  Why is it not the same?  We have  treats (one chocolate egg each), and we enjoyed the comic film we picked,  Local Hero.  But the whole event, such as it was, seemed drab.  It’s rainy!  We want to go someplace besides Target! 

How about TV?  I’ve watched everything, including the excellent new season of Ozark, the bookstore comedy,  Black Books,  and the Modern Family finale… and now there’s nothing left.

Sew a mask?  I broke down and ordered one on Etsy. But if it becomes the fashion, I’ll host a sewing bee. And not virtual… it will have to be a circle of two, maybe three.  And somebody has to know how to sew.

Knit blankets for the Animal Shelter?  My own knitting is erratic, so I love the animal blankets you get when you adopt a pet.  I use an especially pretty one as a doily. Surely a little pet blanket would be easier to knit than the tea cozy I once made.

Write a dystopian coronavirus novel?   Dystopian novels are  banned at my house, because they seem too real nowadays.  But it will keep you busy if you’re imagining the worst.  Just open a notebook and write.  

Bake bread?   I used to picture myself as an Earth mother.  Alas, I don’t bake bread or read the Whole Earth Catalogue.   But last week I made chocolate chip cookies, which anyone can make.  And then you dole them out over the week–just don’t weigh yourself ever again..

Paint?  We painted two walls of the bedroom and then took a break.    Ladders, tarps, paint, rollers…  fun, fun, fun. It’s time to finish walls 3 and 4.

Board games? I wish we could go to Barnes and Noble and buy a new game.  Scrabble, Monopoly, Clue:  they’re exhausting.  We could memorize our dictionary, I guess, and improve our Scrabble.  

Transcendental meditation?  Kurt Vonnegut thought it a harmless sop for the middle class, though his wife and daughter loved it, and he admitted they were serene. What’s the harm?   Maybe it’s time for me to sit cross-legged and say a mantra.  I can make up my own mantra, as can any blogger or writer.

Hope you’re feeling well.  AND HOW ARE YOU PASSING THE TIME?  

The Plague Notebook:  How to Be Happy

How to be happy isn’t really my field.  How not to be anxious is my  area of expertise.

Anxiety stings all of us in this time of the virus, but there are healing  balms. For instance, it is National Poetry Month, and it is delightful to read a poem a day, even though it might not cure all our dark thoughts.   My favorite American poet is Edna St. Vincent Millay, and in my hardcover copy of her Collected Poems,  there is still a  flower pressed on the page of my favorite poem, “Recuerdo..”

Here is the first of the three stanzas of “Recurerdo.”

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon

 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, ’17

 I cannot tell you how remarkable and romantic I found this poem.  Emotionally I knew just how she felt, though I had never had the opportunitiy to ride back and forth all night on a ferry.  I concluded that I lived in the wrong part of the country for that romantic gesture, and would have to move to New York (which turned out to be very expensive, unless I wanted to live in a meatlocker). In the midwest I have happily ridden in a canoe, a rowboat (“Put your backs into it, lassses!”),  and a paddleboat.  None of these experiences belonged in poetry. 

After a non-poetic mini- breakdown  today,  I  went out to look at the gibbous moon.  It must be the first time I’ve looked at the moon since last fall.  There it was, glorious, pocked and shining.  “If only we could go to the moon,” I said, but Mr. Nemo reminded me, “We already have.” “No,  don’t mean that, I mean us. ”  But he was right:  this was our trip, gazing at a gibbous moon in a clear blue sky.

Actually, I feel claustrophobic just thinking about space travel, though Mr. Nemo assures me it would take only about four days. That doesn’t sound so bad, but wearing a space suit might be.  

Earth has plenty of compensations, after all.  “Who but God could make that rainbow?”  a woman once dreamily asked while we sheltered inside HyVee waiting for the rain to stop.  The rain drizzled to a stop, and an  incredible rainbow suddenly arched above the hill.  For a moment I understood what she meant about God.

That’s how I feel about the moon, actually. Who made that gorgeous thing?  But I’m not sure which god, if it was a god.  It was doubltless born out of chaos, like the Earth and the sky in Ovid’s creation myth , but I’d have to check to see where the moon comes in.  Anyway, the goddess Artemis/Diana is associated with the moon.  I’ll have to settle for her role, since I’m too tired to check my Metamorphoses.

I wonder, however, what god would bring a plague.  Actually, gods do behave badly in myths, and quite often they are unreasonable and violent in the Bible.  

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S. during our more-or-less month of lockdown.  You do your daily routine, and then you panic. It’s as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. The day turns sour when you listen to the governor’s daily  Coronavirus update.  You are horrified by the escalation of  cases of infection  and the death toll.  We cry and feel angry and indignant.

But there is one endless source of joy.   Exercise! It makes all the difference. Going outside, whether to pace or take a walk or run is therapeutic, because, believe me, being  trapped indoors worsens the sense of helplessness.  And if you prefer to stay home, do stretching exercises for at leas 10 minutes.  It helps.  My shoulders have been very sore:   I wouldn’t miss my workout for anything.  It gets all the kinks out of my tense muscles.

This is a challenging time,  different from anything I’d anticipated.   I thought people would face more virulent illnesses and violent storms by 2030, the arbitrary date for the end of possibility for  climate change reversal.  Surely these topics will be addressed on Earth Day, April 22, though obviously it will be idone ndoors.  And let us hope we are much closer to finding  a cure to Covid-19. then  

Cheers!  This will pass.

Stay well!

Slowing Down, Staying Home, & Taking Responsibility

Slowing down isn’t the worst thing in the world, but you need to block the reality of COVID-19 to calm down.  And you should keep a diary, however brief the entries.  Before you know it we’ll be reading best-selling Cornoavirus memoirs and diaries!   Might as well write your own. 

What I’ve noticed is that you can really hear the birds.  Various brown species (sparrows, I suppose) chirp and twitter and fly about.  Cats all over the country sit in windows enthralled. (Birds are the equivalent of alluring witches to them.)  Elsewhere, eagles are nesting, and the Sandhill Cranes make their annual migratory stop over the Great Plains. Although I know about the sandhill cranes only from Richard Powers’s novel, The Echo Maker, I’ve always meant to make the trip to Nebraska.

This is the year we have time to travel–but can’t.  There’s nowhere to go, unless you believe you’re immortal.  Drive past the malls and you will see no cars in the parking lots.  McDonald’s drive-thru is open–look at the lines.  

People are getting cranky and curmudgeonly. Women who dared to breed in this dangerous century are boldly writing essays about their exasperation at their offspring, and lashing out at people who expect them to become homeschooling moms.  I don’t know why they couldn’t homeschool:  anyone can do it. Assign an hour of reading a classic ever day, or, even easier, an hour of whatever they want to read. Give them math, if that’s your thing.  Set some ground rules. Play to your strengths.   Take responsibility, damn it!

While women fume about their families, men are writing comic pieces about how they’re driving their wives crazy at home. Men charmingly aver that they’re messy, needy, and demanding.   Yes, it’s funny, and probably true, but isn’t it time they took some responsibility?   These essays are not that cute.  Deal with it or fix it! If you’re messy, embrace it!

You can now “binge” on anything at home:  Netflix, books, food, gourmet coffee.  Once we were “cocooners,” now we are “bingers.” What a culture!  Bizarrely, I am watching less TV.  What is there to watch?  Nothing.  They’re live-streaming Emma–uh huh, if you want to pay $19. 

But we’re all a little distracted now.  Time to join the Slow Living movement!