Pandemic Memories

This weekend’s weather is not favorable for outdoor photography, so I looked through images I captured last week to glean another one to offer here on Intensity Without Mastery. I gravitated toward a flag photo I took at a local park. The sight of it swirled my mind in moments of the pandemic.

Before I dig further into the recent past, I’d like to mention I understand the pandemic is far from over. Thousands of people all over the world are still dying from Covid-19 every single day. I speak in the present tense from a time of relative intermission in the American pandemic.

I am hesitant to offer my pandemic memories. I’d like to think that my position through the height of the U.S. pandemic is unusual in that I am both a blogger and an essential worker. I put my blogging aside to avoid writing much about my experiences. In all honesty, it wasn’t so much an avoidance but a sense of being utterly unequal to the task. This is a thing which happens to me when depression rolls in like a fog. I believe that I cannot write except in a basic, functional way, such as writing lists or relaying instructions.

The current tagline of this blog uses the phrase life after depression, but I do not mean to imply that I am free of the affliction. I still suffer from episodes of depression. I just know what to do about getting the condition treated before I slip into a major, abiding case of it.

Now I will walk back to the matter of believing that I cannot write while I am depressed. This sense of incapability is not a delusion, for it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. My diction becomes so halting and Yoda-tastic that I give up.

It did not help matters that my feelings about working away from home during the past crests of the pandemic were deeply ambivalent. I vacillated between resenting my predicament and feeling a sense of solidarity with my fellow workers. I very seldom felt sorry for myself. I’d notice that press accounts of essential workers were awash in varying degrees of pity, but I believe this sense of pity was a reflection of guilt some better-offs had toward the working class rather than the actual self-pity of the workers themselves. I know that’s a bold assertion for me, but that was my overall impression of mainstream press coverage of essential workers.

I haven’t begun to tell you the darkest parts of my pandemic life, about how I partook of and witnessed much myth-making of survival in hard times. I haven’t yet told you about how my mother went mad and raged like Lear against the storm of a Covid-tainted world, and how this madness exhausted her in a prelude to her death.

My sister and father would be far better equipped to tell Mom’s story, for she kept me away out of concern of contagion during the last three months of her life, until she was too worn out to protest my presence. The matter of who might infect whom changed day by day. Over the phone, she’d tell me she was worried she’d give me Covid, and the next day she’d say she wouldn’t go to the doctor because she might get Covid. Ultimately, the separation was futile. It is almost certain that she had been infected when my dad got it three months before she passed away. As for me, I tested positive for antibodies around the time she died, so I must have had an asymptomatic infection at some point.

In other words, we all got it anyway, which leads me to a frequent theme of the myth-making I mentioned above: We’re all going to get it anyway. Many times I’d counter that statement by saying or thinking it was deeply unreasonable, that at best it was false and at worst it was a mildly deluded way of risking infection. Then again, who am I to judge given that I too got it anyway?

The problem lies in how the myth of We’re all going to get it anyway reduces agency by treating the future as if it were the past.

The U.S. flag image I offer with this post reminds me of January 6, 2021, a day in which a crowd of people did the opposite by indulging in inappropriate agency by storming the Capitol. I tried to listen to the Electoral vote certification at work, but I turned it off after a few minutes because I couldn’t divide my attention between my tasks and listening to the broadcast. As I drove home, my first clue that something had went terribly wrong was spotting an upside-down U.S. flag flying at one of the houses I’d pass on the drive home. It had taken the place of a Gadsden flag that was usually aloft at the same address.

When I watched the news that evening, I mentioned to my husband how our city has a few of the same flags that the right-wing rioters proudly carried, and he replied, “They walk among us.”

When I think of my country’s complicated response to Covid, the first thing that comes to mind is that when some Americans say “Live Free or Die,” they mean it literally.

Empty Garden


Today was the day I finally remembered to buy a digital copy of “Empty Garden” by Elton John. He and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote it in tribute to John Lennon. I’ve seldom heard this song on the radio, and when I do, it tends to happen in scenarios plagued by poor radio reception, like waiting for a stop light to change between two semi trucks. I’m surprised that I haven’t had a dream that I’ve been airdropped in wilds of Alaska with a transistor radio tuned a station a thousand miles distant, and I can barely pick out that song through the fuzz. In the dream, I’d have the volume turned all the way up just to hear Elton John, but some moldly oldy like “Precious and Few” by Climax would break in from a closer station and temporarily deafen me with its sweetness.

I didn’t pick “Precious and Few” at random. Something like that did happen to me about 30 years ago when I was travelling across Wyoming. I was thrilled to hear “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill, another song that used to elude me on the radio, and I had the sudden, impossibly loud interruption of “Precious and Few”. Since my ears were too shocked to listen to much, I talked one of my travel companions into singing “Precious and Few” with me for the next 20 miles, an annoying feat which we repeated in the absence of radio reception several times over that cross-country trip. How we knew the lyrics and key change is a mystery to me. Perhaps we knit this knowledge from various K-Tel album commercials.

I’ve lingered too long on the foregoing tangent, so I will return to the Elton John’s song that I remembered to buy today. Hearing the song more clearly has lessened a bit of its mystique for me. It kind of reminds me of when I was a student at Duke and first saw Christian Laettner in person. Since writing and mailing letters was still common in those days, I wrote a letter to a friend letting her know that Laettner wasn’t as attractive in person as he appeared on television. Her reply to my claim was memorable: “Don’t f*ck with the fantasy.”

Thus in buying the song I’ve accidentally diminished the production quality of a daydream I harbored in the early 80s. In that waking dream of my eight-year-old self, I wondered how the world might be different had the fates of two famous victims of gun violence been reversed. What if Lennon survived and Reagan perished? Their shootings happened very close in time, less than four months apart, and these stories loomed large in my grade-school world.

Now that I listened to “Empty Garden” several times today, I realize that question still intrigues me. How would the world be different if the fates of Lennon and Reagan had been reversed? Would George Bush the Elder have continued Reagan’s agenda so early in the regime? Would Lennon have gracefully landed in the realm of Has-Beens? Would labor unions be in such decline in the U.S. had Reagan not been around to quash the air traffic controller’s strike that happened later in 1981?

I suppose there’s not much point to exploring such veins of alternate history. The best scenario of all would be if neither shooting had happened. It’s possible John Lennon could have created his best work in protest of the Reagan era.

The In Between


Our national political landscape grows more polarized at a blistering pace. I had hoped that the bizarre results of the presidential election could be an opportunity for a bipartisan restoration of sanity, but it looks as if the opposite is happening.

In my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to travel through 40 states. I have witnessed so many regional differences that I believe it is a daily miracle that our national union persists. This nation could not have survived 200+ years if we did not value compromise.

I find it hard to imagine that one political party is so natural a fit for anyone that it could become worth tearing this nation apart. I have some view points that make me politically homeless, forever in the in between. I have no choice but to consider the merits of the right and left on some issues.

I am a pro-life Democrat. I abhor abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty equally. I am a lapsed Catholic, but my liberal Catholic education branded me with valuing life from conception to natural death. I grew up hearing that Dorothy Day should be canonized for sainthood, and I read the National Catholic Reporter weekly as a teenager.

On these three vital issues, I believe it is impossible to move forward without compromise between the right and the left. On the matter of abortion, I think it is far more important to reduce the demand for this procedure than to prohibit it. It is a legal reality that our right to privacy allows abortion. No matter how much I value life from conception, it is not my business if my neighbor gets pregnant, or what choice she makes. If she would decide to stay pregnant, I wish for social and governmental supports to help her and her family raise that child if necessary. I don’t want any woman who’d rather have a baby get an abortion because of fear she can’t afford to raise a child, find child care, or keep her family safe.

There are stories from the trenches of polarizing issues that we do not hear, tales of success despite ambivalence and ideological diversity. My life contains one of those stories. Almost sixteen years ago to this day, I began an unplanned, high risk pregnancy 2,000 miles away from home in Washington state. Who helped me find the services I needed to make motherhood a reality for me despite being broke and needing to free myself of a semi-hostile domestic situation? An informal coalition of pro-choice and pro-life women reached out to help me. ¬†These women all maintained that I had the right to choose between abortion, adoption, or keeping my baby. The pro-choice women were open to assisting me with the all three options while the pro-life ones didn’t wish to help with the first option but knew it was my right nonetheless. I wanted to maintain my pregnancy and keep my baby, against all odds. These women all helped me succeed with my choice.

There is value in the in between. When we as a nation are so polarized, we salt this fertile ground.

I Think Entirely Too Much About Health Care Reform


I suppose that the topic of American health care reform occupies too much of my mental energy, considering I am a fairly healthy person whose day job has nothing to do with the subject. Since I’m getting a MRI tomorrow, the subject feels even more urgent than it usually does. It’s not that I worry about paying for this procedure nowadays. Had I needed this procedure a few years ago, it would have presented an outright threat to my finances. My path to self-sufficiency was very dependent on my family having minimal medical expenses along the way.

How did we get in this mess of spiraling costs and how can we stop this madness? I think we can find inspiration in the world of transportation. To fix our health care system, we could try combining the best aspects of car insurance with a supporting public transportation-style structure. Imagine what transportation problems we’d have if car insurance had taken the same trajectory as health insurance. The price of almost everything related to car ownership would spiral out of control because car owners would be insulated from out-of-pocket price increases. Very few people would know the actual price of a gallon of gas. You’d just go fill up at the “in-network” gas station for your car insurance company, just for the cost of a co-pay or nothing at all if your deductible was satisfied.

If car insurance were like health insurance, most people without employer-sponsored insurance would be priced out of driving. The cost of providing this insurance would be so high for employers that it would dampen hiring and stagnate wages. Millions of people would have little to no access to transportation, except for vulnerable populations whose survival depended on the government letting them borrow a used car.

Next the government tries to partially rein in the system by opening a marketplace where uninsured people can buy car insurance. This reform reveals how expensive car insurance has really become. The press reports that the price of gas has swelled to $25 a gallon. Oil changes cost $500. Of course the public is outraged.

Thank goodness car insurance did not go the way of health insurance. Why not try making health insurance more like car insurance? Reduce the cost of health insurance by reverting it to what it originally was: protection against catastrophe. Then bolster this plan by creating a public transportation sort of public health infrastructure to deliver preventative care to all and comprehensive care to vulnerable populations. This could create a market where consumers respond to price, yet there is necessary care for all.

Health care is just as vital to our nation’s economy as transportation is. We have a vibrant, innovative market for cars, yet we also see the value in funding public transportation initiatives. Such a transportation-inspired plan would require that those who have insurance pay for office visits and prescription drugs out of pocket, but I think consumer awareness of these costs would help drive down the price. As for those with chronic conditions, they could have those specific conditions treated more cost effectively through a public health infrastructure.

As for the MRI I am getting on my leg tomorrow, I have no idea of what price will be billed. My out-of-pocket expense will be the same no matter which insurance-approved clinic my doctor chooses. The price still matters. If the clinic bills too much, they will declare that loss to pay less tax. If the price is good, I have no way of comparing price to recommend it to others looking for a deal. No one is looking for a deal, so the price for those without coverage is hopeless.

P.S. The vulnerable populations would be anyone who qualifies for Medicare and Medicaid coverage, and we would also cover the treatment of chronic conditions through expanded public health services.

On Why I’m Willing to Give Donald Trump a Chance

Update 5/16/17: My hope has grown dim. I look back at this post and wonder how much of it was fueled by delusion or hedging my bets in the event of a future purge of all who opposed him online. My hope was about as wishful as thinking ice cream is a slimming food. It reminds me of the time my sister grasped at straws and tried using a vacuum to inflate a sagging blow up pool. The resulting implosion made my nephew inconsolable, kind of like a protest of one. Conclusion of the foregoing.

Original post:

I’ve been quiet lately online, wondering if I should even acknowledge an outcome which managed the rare feat of being both surprising and inevitable at the same time. The tail end of this campaign echoed the very early days of my unplanned pregnancy, that span when you know you are pregnant but it cannot yet be medically confirmed. Against all polls to the contrary, I felt in my heart that Trump was going to win the election. I literally dreamt of its reality while I slept. I share this YouTube clip because it captures the exact reason I’m not in a panic about a Donald Trump presidency (and my apologies in advance to the faint of heart):

I first saw this Mel Brooks film at a critical age, and this scene forever after influenced how I see politics. I cannot stomach an agenda that capitalizes on hatred of the poor. The poor will always be with us. I can handle a Trump presidency because he was not a “f**k the poor” candidate. He acknowledged that large segments of Americans are poor or live with the threat of poverty. He offered to work on poverty through measures like job creation rather than hating the poor on principal. He recognized that poverty is rampant here in the Rust Belt because of crappy job opportunities for people lacking a college education. He didn’t take the right wing stance of making necessity the mother of invention or the left wing stance of dangling a college education that saddles the previously poor with such mind-boggling debt that they think they may have been better off just staying with that one pot to piss in.

I wish him the best of luck and hope that his economic policies help uplift the poor. I’m willing to give him the chance to help revitalize communities like the one in which I live. My city is so poor that it met the criteria for all city public school students to receive a free lunch, even during the summer months. We have crumbling homes stuffed with mulitple generations of family living together. If they are lucky, two generations at once will find temp, restaurant, or retail work. Or there could be three generations in one home panicked at the possibility of the main aging breadwinner dying, the one person who has held onto a good job. Or there are adults who still live at home and have found skilled work, but they have so much medical or student loan debt they can’t afford to move out.

This desperation is not confined to the Rust Belt. I think of the heartbreaking story of my late sister-in-law Genie, who worked two full time service jobs for 18 years in Kentucky until she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Her first stage of medical “leave” was quitting one of her jobs. She continued to work full time for 20 months while being treated for advanced cancer. She kept working to keep her health insurance and have some hope of leaving something behind for her family besides medical bills. She didn’t leave her job until she was certain that she had just 12 weeks or less to live. A month before she died, she confided in me that she was afraid she might live long enough to lose both her health and life insurance. Such worries should not exist in a country as prosperous as the U.S.!

We desperately need more good jobs in towns like Lima and all over this country. I hope that Donald Trump can help us. This may seem impossible, but so did his election.

I will close with something I heard that captured the Bill Clinton years with great wit, “The economy is booming. I can find all three jobs I need to make ends meet.”

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