I came across a war diary from the 1940s. While not sure how it came to be mine, it likely came from a box of odds and ends at an estate auction or from the used book section of a thrift shop. The first entry, tells a story of an Iowan at the time of U.S. entry into World War II:
I’m not much of a writer and don’t suppose I even will be but this isn’t supposed to be a great work of literature but rather a common down to earth story of a common down to earth boy.
Undoubtedly you know him. He is any of those numerous boys who left the farms, villages or cities — the fresh smelling earth of the farms or the clamoring errands of the city — to take up for you and me, the battle of survival between right and wrong.
The boy joined the Army.
Discarded 1940s Iowa Journal, Author unknown
The views reflected in these paragraphs were commonly held.
A single life was the story of broad society. There was a need to record that story in writing. Individual will was suppressed in favor of a greater good. People had an innate ability to understand each other. Right and wrong were easily definable and commonly held views. The relativism that infected our society a couple of decades later is absent and makes the journal entry stand out.
When people speak with gauzy reverence of the generation of men and women who fought World War II, I get a bit nauseous. I knew men and women who participated in the war effort and if you asked them, they wouldn’t want special treatment. Most of them hardly talked about the sacrifices they made or about the war. None of them paraded around in uniforms afterward. If they kept their service uniforms, they were packed away and seldom, if ever, mentioned. Many women worked in domestic defense plants and wore no uniforms. They are often forgotten.
What struck me about this journal entry was its clarity. One notices where the author fit into society. There were shared beliefs and those beliefs were positive and affirming. 21st Century society has no such clarity. It may no longer be possible.
It took a lot to decipher the script yet I think I accurately captured it. I would never write the sentence, “Undoubtedly you know him,” about myself. We’ve become a society where no one seems to know anyone outside a small clique of friends, relatives and co-workers. The idea there are common goals? Just look at U.S. reaction to the coronavirus pandemic to see the absence of a common response. We no longer are common, down to earth people and that’s one source of today’s social problems.
There was life before the pandemic, then there is now. Everything got scrambled, some things literally during the Aug. 10 derecho. Yet the biggest event, the one that brought the most change, has been adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is a pandemic. A next door neighbor got the virus. So did one across the street. It’s hard to do a census of contagion because people don’t talk about the coronavirus. When people are sickened, they stay isolated at home or are taken away from the community to hospitals where they either recover or die, for the most part alone. It remains out of sight and mind.
While working outside I often forgot and approached a neighbor without a mask even though I had one in my pocket and knew better. We don’t know everyone who is infected and may never know in advance who will be affected next.
A former mayor who lived near us died from complications of COVID-19. The minister who officiated at our wedding did too. My cousin Don died of it Christmas eve. Other friends and relatives got the virus and recovered. It is everywhere. We have worked hard and smart to avoid getting infected and so far our efforts paid off. We never know, though.
Here’s a short list of what happened after the Iowa governor signed a proclamation of disaster emergency regarding COVID-19 on March 9:
Last restaurant meal on March 13.
Moved the sewer district and home owners association monthly meetings to conference call because of the pandemic.
Final shift at the home, farm and auto supply store on April 2 because of the pandemic.
Interviewed by Andrew Keshner of MarketWatch for an article about the impact of the pandemic on gardening, April 16.
Eliminated in-person political meetings beginning April 23 because of the pandemic.
Had three COVID-19 screenings, all negative.
Left the Johnson County Food Policy Council at the end of my term.
Began bicycling for exercise June 27.
Began donating garden extras to the local food rescue organization on July 23
Published a guest opinion in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Aug. 9
Derecho, Aug. 10.
Started a website for The Prairie Progressive.
Informed the chief apple officer I would not return to the orchard for the apple season because of the pandemic.
Got haircuts at home because of the pandemic.
Observed the Jupiter – Saturn conjunction.
I did a lot of the cooking, trying to integrate the kitchen with the garden. That’s a work in progress. It was a good year for gardening, with a variety of crops, plenty of rain, and a productive, abundant harvest.
I read 56 books. More of the books were poetry this year.
I wrote more emails, made more phone calls, and stayed active on my socials. I craved human interaction that used to be taken for granted as a natural part of life. I began writing letters on paper and sending them via U.S. Postal Service. Some wrote back.
I had more interaction with people I’ve known for years, including my sister who joined me at home a long time ago. There was processing and grieving to do for Mother. I also grieved for friends and for people I’d come to know, but didn’t realize how much they would be missed when they died.
It was a good year for doing what was important. The coronavirus was a constant companion reminding us of what that is.
Like many, I didn’t expect 2020 but took it as it unfolded. It looks like I’ll make it another year. Regardless of the ongoing pandemic, may we all make 2021 a Happy New Year.
When the U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act there was an unspoken assumption the coronavirus pandemic would be of short duration and gone by now.
Based on this, the Republican president and Republican Iowa governor pushed to “reopen the economy.” As they did we discovered Iowa and the nation were still on the upward slope of a curve of COVID-19 cases. As of Sunday, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported the seven-day average number of COVID-19 cases in Linn County was the highest since the governor declared the emergency on March 9.
Epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci made the situation clear in an interview with the publication MarketWatch. “We are still in a pretty big first wave (of the pandemic),” he said.
Cedar Rapids-based manufacturer Gary Ficken got a CARES Act small business loan to keep his athletic apparel business afloat, according to the Washington Post. He used the money to hire staff back early in the pandemic only to lay them off again when there was no demand for his products.“It ended up being a bridge to nowhere,” Ficken said.
As some of the benefits of the CARES Act expire, the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate doesn’t know what they want to do. “Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any phase four package,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Sunday. “That’s just a fact.” Senate Democrats don’t have to negotiate with Republicans who are a firm no on any new relief bill, so we may as well stick to our guns.
Already the White House floated the idea of a short term extension of some parts of the original CARES Act. In the meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the main Republican negotiator, is discussing changing the $600 per week federal subsidy of unemployment benefits in the CARES Act to a new formula of 70 percent of earnings. Again, half the Republicans won’t vote for whatever bill he writes. Late Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the Republican proposal as “pathetic,” saying “it isn’t serious.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “totally inadequate.”
It is hard to say with certainty what the federal government should do in the form of relief for the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The U.S. House passed a stimulus bill in May with which the Senate has done nothing. What needs to happen, and fast, is to stop denying we are in a pandemic. Denial is the coronavirus’ best friend.
If you are already past denial, here’s an informative podcast of In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt. Special guest epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who helped eradicate smallpox and is hard at work on coronavirus, grades our performance on a scientific, sociological, and political basis. He doesn’t mince words about political leadership or the CDC. “There is a special place in hell for some of the people who are lying about how dangerous this disease is,” Brilliant said in the podcast.
This summer marks 50 years since about 260 of us graduated from Davenport Assumption High School. As a group, we were never close and that makes organizing a class reunion difficult. There won’t be one this year.
It was a Catholic high school and parish loyalties continued through the four years. To some degree, those parish-nurtured social groups continue. I still read about cliques of friends who get together from time to time. When we graduated, social media didn’t exist as it does today. Information about classmates’ current activities would be unavailable without Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
I helped organize our fifth reunion, hiring a band to play music during the event. I also helped organize the 40th reunion, a two-day event, working on building a database of contact information that put me in touch with many former classmates. The fifth seemed too soon, the 40th was enjoyable and productive given my role. I heard from people whether they attended or not.
I stay in touch with a few friends from high school. If there were a chance to get together it would be great. With the coronavirus pandemic even a small gathering seems unlikely. We are of an age where conditions of life are catching up with us and at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Maybe we’ll get together in some safer, future year should we be lucky enough to live so long.
For now I wish my living classmates well. For the increasing number who died, the Catholic faith holds hope of a life after this one. I remember them here. As for me, I continue to put one step in front of the last and go on living. Such living includes spending time every year considering those youthful days and learning what classmates are doing now. What else is a person to do?
(Re-blogged from my post on Blog for Iowa, July 4, 2010).
We hear a lot about the founding fathers today, and the truth is who they were, as people, is clouded in the river of time. One admires the portrait of John Adams written by David McCullough, and particularly the personal risk to which Adams put himself on his trip to France in the winter of 1777. In Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia one can find a guide to living that serves in the 21st Century, with the notable exception that labor to maintain a lifestyle, once provided by slaves, must now be sought elsewhere through mechanization or wage laborers. The more we study the opening of the Old Northwest Territory we realize that Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and other founders could easily have fit in with the gang on Wall Street that nearly brought down our economic structure in 2008. But as was said, seeing who they were as people is a murky endeavor at best, so on Independence Day we can refrain from making judgments and be thankful for what we have as a nation.
What can be said is we often neglect to recall the dispossession of the natives in Iowa and further east, which amid today’s flag waving is equally important. Would Black Hawk and Poweshiek have ceded the land of the Black Hawk Purchase if they had fully understood what their signatures meant? We don’t know that either.
So what we are left with is history and documents from the times, all of which have their ideological outlook or viewpoint. Of interest is the following account of an Independence Day celebration in Jones County, Iowa shortly after settlement. Members of our family settled in Jones County shortly after the Black Hawk War, so this is a personal history as well. Happy Independence Day from Blog for Iowa.
An Excerpt from The History of Jones County, Iowa, published Chicago, Western Historical Company in 1879.
A grand county celebration of the Fourth of July, took place in pursuance of the resolutions and suggestions of the Board of Supervisors, made at their June meeting in 1861. The celebration was on Thursday, the 4th of July. 1861.
The perilous condition of the country brought men of all parties together to observe the anniversary of our national birth, and to repeat anew their vows to freedom. Early in the morning, teams, singly and in companies, began to throng from all parts of the county toward the point which had been designated by the Board of Supervisors, near the center of the county. At 10 o’clock, A. M., the scene was the strangest of the kind ever encountered in the West. The road ran along a high ridge, and on both sides of it and on each of the wide and gently sloping spurs, shooting out every few rods, were horses, wagons, buggies, carriages, men, women, children and babies by the thousands; and, in every direction, the American flag floated in the light and refreshing breeze, which, with the shade of the sufficiently abundant oaks, tempered the heat of a warm summer day. Such an assembly in a city is common enough, but this was an assembly in the wilderness. Not a house, not a sign that man had touched nature here was visible, save in the few brief days’ labor of the Committee of Preparation. It was a fitting place wherein to assemble on such a day and for such a purpose, when the nation was in its life and death struggle for existence.
The Committee of Arrangements had done as well as could be hoped for in the short time allowed them, and better than could have been expected. On the rather steep slope of a spur, north of the road, a staging had been erected facing up the slope, and, in front of this, seats sufficient to accommodate, perhaps, one thousand persons. Back of the stage, and at the bottom of the ravine, a well had been dug some ten or more feet deep, and, at the bottom, a barrel fixed. It was a comical sort of a well, but it served the purpose, in a measure, for some hours.
On another ridge and back of the wall, stood the six-pounder, manned by the Wyoming Artillery Company, in gray shirts, under Capt. Walker. The other military companies were the Canton Company, Capt. Hanna; they wore red military coats, were armed with rifles and were fine looking; the Rough and Ready?, of Rome, Capt. L. A. Roberts, with blue military coats, white pants and glazed caps, sixty-five men, also fine looking; Carpenter’s Company, Rome. Capt. Carpenter, eighty men, with gray coats, likewise made a fine appearance; the Greenfield Company, mounting eighty men, John Sccrist, Commander: these were in frock coats and wore white plumes; they, too, showed well, and still more in drill and fitness for the most desperate fighting; the Scotch Grove Guards, from Scotch Grove. Capt. Magee, formed a large company; these wore no uniforms, but their appearance indicated they were the right men for fighting. There were six companies of young men, all formed and drilled, in the space of three months. It appears that all these entered the army in due time and did good service.
The proceedings at the stand were patriotic and entertaining. During the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the general attention was close, and the responsibilities of the hour seemed to impress all minds. The singing with the Marshal waving the star-spangled banner to the words, was very effective. The address was by a Mr. Utley—a good Union speech, and was very generally approved. Music by the various military bands was abundant and lively. The picnic that followed was much enjoyed by all who partook of the dainties provided for the occasion. The military went through with some of their exercises and then the proceedings of the afternoon began, which consisted of speeches from different persons, when, owing to a want of an abundant supply of water, the vast assembly was dispersed at a much earlier hour than it otherwise would have been. It was evident that the loyalty of Jones County could be relied upon, and that her citizens were ready to do their full duty in crushing out treason.
Click here to read the entire history of Jones County.
In a couple of hours I’m heading to the farm for the last shift of soil blocking this year. After that the rest of the year is a blank slate.
I’ll be writing something on it, to be sure.
Yesterday was a quiet day in Big Grove Township. After working the garden, processing the harvest, exercising, and cooking dinner, I figured out how much of my pension would be left when the next check comes and donated to Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Theresa Greenfield and Rita Hart. A person’s gotta do something.
Some of the local grocery stores are recalling bagged lettuce because of contamination by the parasite Cyclospora. I’m picking up lettuce at the farm today, enough to hold us over until the next wave is ready in the garden. The crew takes appropriate precautions to ensure our food is safe, so I have little worry about what we eat when it comes from the farm.
2020 has been a hella way to transition. The coronavirus pandemic pushed me into retirement. With a pension that pays basic bills, I can test pilot a financial structure in which I no longer trade labor for dollars. It’s like universal basic income, only just for us in the disorganized mess U.S. society currently seems to be. For the longest time I directed my life to this place. I did not expect to make it here.
I think I forgot to take my prescription medicine before sleeping last night but feel okay this morning. Feeling good is an existential threat. It causes us to take risks we may otherwise not have taken. There is a four-day spike of COVID-19 cases in our county. Initial analysis by elected officials is most of the cases are young adults. In other words, people who live as if there is no tomorrow and they are invincible. They feel good now and cast aside recommendations by our public health staff (if they are even aware of them). I prefer to have a list of conditions which moderate my risk taking. I need to do something to remember to take my pill before going to bed.
Humans have no choice but to move forward. We cherish nostalgia yet it’s not enough to sustain us. We enjoy stories yet there is a difference between a narrative and what really happens. I believe it is possible to understand reality. When I suggested on social media I might view The Matrix, a friend posted a reply, “Jeezus, take the red pill already.” That’s fine, I think I did, but can’t remember. Instead of taking it again I’ll initiate the next step forward.
There have been 7.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide according to this morning’s Washington Post. The virus has killed more than 410,000 of which 112,978 deaths occurred in the U.S. since Feb. 29.
Mitigation of the coronavirus is not going well here. Poorer countries have done much better handling the crisis. Absent leadership, incompetence, and a deliberate decision to treat COVID-19 like influenza for weeks in February and March, combined with a just ‘let it go’ attitude have taken their toll according to one public health official.
On Thursday the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1,861 points when witless traders found out there wouldn’t be a quick recovery from the pandemic. How did they get the notion the recovery would be quick? Praise the Lord I got out of the market when I did.
In any case, the administration has thrown in the towel on their so-called fight against the pandemic and is moving on to the campaign trail. They are having rally attendees sign a liability waiver in the event there is COVID-19 spread at them. Their work has been about re-election since the day after the inaugural address and little else. In the Republican political playbook what’s another 100,000 COVID-19 deaths? F*ck it! Four more years.
Where does that leave bloggers, writers, gardeners and humans like me? We have to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the adaptation was forced upon us.
Retiring from retail work on April 28 was an easy calculation. At age 68, with some health conditions and a reasonable pension structure which included Social Security and Medicare, I decided to do without the additional income and potential exposure to the virus. I won’t be going back to the orchard to work in the retail barn this fall either.
For the first time ever my medical practitioner prescribed a medication which I now have to take daily to reduce cholesterol. I asked him what circumstances may result in ending the medication. He said maybe toward the end of life. While it’s not unusual for Americans to be on medication, and I’ve been lucky to avoid it this long, my health and welfare needs more consideration.
Finally, a lot of people remain unemployed and some jobs closed by the pandemic have not re-opened. Many won’t reopen at all or will emerge vastly changed. In any case, other people need the work more than I do. If I generate income it won’t be working as a wage worker for someone else.
What are the possibilities?
Our household spending plummeted since leaving work. The retained value of our balance sheet increased by 3.25 percent since the pandemic began in Iowa. Our personal debt decreased by 50 percent in the same period. We have a possibility of paying off our debt by the end of the year, opening up spending on large projects in 2021. There is a long list of backlogged projects.
I’m already reading more books, 23 since the pandemic began. I don’t know if it’s possible to “catch up on reading,” but many books wait in my queue and I might actually get to a lot of them. This is a positive alternative to spending more time on social media.
The schedule of work outside home is minimal and that enables a focus on home life. Part of that is taking care of health, and part is going through and getting rid of unneeded possessions in preparation for refurbishing our living space. More attention can be paid to the kitchen garden so our diet can improve, providing better nutrition. All this is welcome and showing marked improvement since the pandemic began in Iowa.
How I might re-enter society, being among people I know, doing things together, is missing from adaptation. With continued spread of COVID-19 I won’t join others at events unless I know their social distancing practices. That seems like a lot to ask friends and neighbors just to spend time with them. Zoom meetings aren’t really a replacement for someone who has been very social for as long like I have been. Likewise, with more people at home on the internet our connection isn’t adequate for an uninterrupted Zoom event. How all this gets resolved remains an open question.
Until there is a vaccine with widespread distribution, or some acknowledgement by public health officials the pandemic is over, I don’t see how adaptation can resemble the past. There will be gatherings but for now I ask myself why risk it? That’s going to continue for some time.
Being at retirement age has made adaptation easier. Maybe the best adaptation, the most socially responsible one, is to just fade away into my family, my bloggery, my writing, and my kitchen garden. There are worse fates than that. Eventually an opportunity to re-enter society will present itself but not yet.
We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and consider whether we are racist. It’s not easy to do in the best of circumstances.
Dictionaries consistently define a racist as someone who has a notion that one’s own ethnic stock or genetic makeup is superior.
Which is it, ethnicity or genetics that defines race?
The authority of dictionaries has diminished in society. There are few rules in the living language except we be understood. Haters gonna hate, as Taylor Swift noted, regardless what’s in the dictionary.
I was confronted with the idea there were different races as a child. It was and remains for me an idea. I knew I was different, but superior? I don’t think so. Diversity in the neighborhood in which I grew up meant defining whether one’s family was of German or Irish descent. Racism as we know it today, as in the Black Lives Matter Movement, wasn’t an obvious issue. We were shielded from racism and those blacks we encountered were in a context of their relationship with our father: plantation workers in Florida, co-workers at the meat packing plant, and fellow union members.
What are the genetic characteristics that define race? What cultural behaviors are specific to race? Should we care about race? These are the questions I’m asking while witnessing the resurgence of protests over race after the viral video of George Floyd’s murder.
Our family visited the Gettysburg battlefield when I was a grader. Which side of the Civil War was I on? I felt I had to be on a side. My maternal ancestors immigrated after the war and my paternal ones from Virginia fought on both sides. After a moving childhood visit to the battlefields I adopted the Confederacy as my own history and bought a Confederate flag in the museum gift shop.
We cannot disown our history even if we want or if our current values discredit the peculiar institution of 19th Century chattel slavery in the U.S. southern states. Thanks to the combined work of my fourth grade teacher and my mother I came to realize the racism inherent in embrace of the Confederacy, and that it was wrong. Before long, with their encouragement, I sought and found my own history.
I first encountered systemic racism while serving in the military. I paid little heed to the naming of military bases after notable racists Andrew Jackson and Henry Lewis Benning, where I trained in the U.S. Army. I was stationed at Robert E. Lee Barracks in Mainz, Germany. It was named after the World War II veteran with the same name as the commander of the Northern Army of Virginia. Racism in the military was about more than names.
Daily work was integrated, which is to say as an Army officer I paid little attention to race when giving orders or following them. All but one officer in the battalion was white and the lone black lieutenant and his family lived in a twelfth century castle off base. I visited them a couple times while we served together. In conversations, I came to understand he was held to a different standard because he was black.
When we lived in Indiana I managed an operation that recruited thousands of truck drivers. I became familiar with parts of Chicago and the suburbs because of this work. I hired the first black recruiter the company had and remember the surprised faces when we returned to the corporate office for a meeting. Race made no difference in this hire. I just wanted someone who could do the job.
We rejected an applicant from our new driver orientation and he threatened to call Bobby Rush because he felt we were discriminating against him because he was black. The claim bordered the ridiculous because more than half the group in orientation was black or Hispanic. I don’t recall why we rejected him but I said I’d like to have that conversation and provided my number. Several weeks later we received a letter from Rush’s office and I replied. That was the end of it.
That protesters in our county seat chose to shut down Interstate 80 in response to the murder of George Floyd was predictable, expected, and ineffective. It’s something, yet I’m not sure exactly what. In 1971 I was part of a group of protesters that shut down Interstate 80 near the Dubuque Street exit in response to the Vietnam War. We built a bonfire in the Eastbound lane feeling we had to do something to disrupt business as usual. What more usual thing is there than traveling on an interstate highway? Law enforcement attempts to keep the interstate open, although there was a report one of the Coralville exits was closed by them in anticipation of protests. Protesters have to do something to gain attention enough to create a fulcrum point for change. I support their actions and also believe there has to be a better way.
What does the Black Lives Matter Movement mean to me? In our rural subdivision the only time race comes to the surface is when it is scratched. If there is talk of a black family moving in neighbors assert property values will decline.What does one do with that? I point out to them the assertion is patently false and reject it. Most people here don’t scratch the surface of race to avoid such conversations.
If George Floyd’s murder was a turning point in how racism is viewed in the United States then some good will come of it once he is mourned dead and survivors heal. We must look ourselves in the mirror on racism. If we can’t then we probably are racist and don’t want to admit it. If so, Floyd becomes just another black man who died at the hands of police as white hegemony continues a while longer.
My religious education taught we are all equal in God’s eyes. That’s how it’s supposed to be in the United States. Yet slave owners sought to justify the peculiar institution using the same Bible I read today. In the end, we have to ask ourselves if we are racist, not because we seek an answer, but because in asking we open the possibility of a remedy to today’s long-standing problem. We seem so far from that now.
The absence of definitive guidance on what society should be doing during the coronavirus pandemic led us to a path of individual choices.
When Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds proclaimed the disaster emergency on March 9 few of us knew what to expect. Sadly, three months later that continues to be true.
Our social behavior is developing around risk avoidance, some of it informed, some less so.
Jacque made us facial masks on the sewing machine. I carry three of them in a plastic bag on the car seat to use when in public. Most frequently I wear them while shopping for groceries, and at the drug store, convenience store and at medical appointments. When I return home I wash my hands, change clothing, and if I’ll be inside the rest of the day, take a shower. I wash the masks after each wearing.
At the farm I don’t wear a mask because the crew has been self-isolated together since the pandemic began. The risk of me being exposed there is minimal. Since I’ve been tested, limit my activity, and maintain social distancing, I seem unlikely to bring it in. They developed a social distancing method of share delivery and are doing everything they can to avoid getting sick. An outbreak would be disastrous for them, their customers, and the business.
I don’t wear a mask to the state park trail and very few people I’ve encountered there do. Because it is outside and there is room enough to maintain social distancing the risk of contracting COVID-19 there seems minimal. I avoided going to the park for the first two months of the pandemic yet the need for exercise outweighed the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
With more people home during the day the number of contacts with neighbors has increased. I don’t wear a mask while I’m with them because these encounters are pop-up activities of short duration. I have yet to see anyone in the neighborhood wearing a mask. The letter carrier and parcel delivery drivers are a source of potential contamination although a necessary service as our number of trips off the property has decreased. We sanitize packages and let them sit on the landing before opening.
Our main approach to risk management is reducing activity away from home and social distancing when we are out and about. It serves us well in that neither of us has been sick since the pandemic began. I don’t believe our experience and behavior is much different from any Iowan who takes the coronavirus seriously.
Clearly the pandemic will be of longer duration, so how should risk of COVID-19 spread be managed? There is little guidance from our government and public health guidance seems so universal it’s hard to figure how it impacts us in our actual lives. As a former career transportation and logistics professional I’m familiar with risk management. The pandemic is just one more layer added to risks already managed.
When I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store I got sick a couple of times a year. I caught something at work that caused runny nose, coughing, congestion or some combination of those ailments. The need for income outweighed potential health risks. When we entered the pandemic I reassessed and reversed my approach. I haven’t been sick since I walked out the door for the last time on April 2.
My point is we take risks in everything we do. During the coronavirus pandemic we must get better at doing so because the lives of our family and everyone with whom we come in contact depend upon it. The question never was “should we open up the economy?” The better question is what are the conditions upon which we can re-engage in society? How do we know it is safe enough to send our children to school, return to paid work outside the home, and participate in mass recreational events like concerts, sporting games, fairs and local festivals? If anything, we assumed those activities were safe before the pandemic, even though we knew, subconsciously at least, that safety has a broad spectrum of risk and no human activity is completely safe.
What are reasonable risks? Lacking appropriate guidance from experts each of us is making up our own rules, our own trade-offs between risk avoidance and participating in life. There is no going back to life before the pandemic. How do we restore enjoyable aspects of our lives with less risk of contracting COVID-19?
I don’t have definitive answers except that we are on our own. We are doing our best and for the time being, until we figure this out, that may be the best we can do.
If daily life took its course without our engagement we would be reading more words and fewer books.
With the rise of social media a lot more words are being published and many readers get “glued to their phones” as they take in all the words and video they can within a circle of friends and followers.
Long form reading in books is an essential part of staying informed. It took a conscious effort to stop my entropic slide to reading no books each year to include long-form reading in daily life. Ironically this began by using the social media tool Goodreads. By setting a low annual goal of 16 books per year in 2018 I surpassed it and have increased my book reading every year since. In the first five months of 2020 I read 26 books.
Reading short pieces, newspaper and magazine articles, and social media posts is an important part of securing new information about our lives in society. At the same time erosion of book reading leaves us the less.
The current book on my night stand is Save the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl who spent ten years as editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. An intellectual masterwork? No. I found Reichl’s reference to William Carlos Williams annoying, yet the pace is quick, the chapters short, and the language a straightforward narrative. It’s how a person with a specific experience wrote autobiography. The more experiences of writing styles we have, the better writers we can be. If you forced me to put this book in a category, it is summer reading and a part of a broader universe of reading material.
We seek in reading, in any format, an understanding of the person behind the writing. When I review my social media feeds, some people I know personally and have done things with. Others I know by their writing. There’s a reason it’s called “social media.” There are people behind the posts or at least that’s what we hope.
That is less true of book reading where the author may be present in every page yet strive to minimize their personality or presence in the words. Can a book stand separately from it’s creator as a work of art? I don’t see how it’s possible to separate the work from the author’s social context. In that regard, historians are the worst. There is an ideology of history writing and to attempt to hide or diminish it is a disservice to the reader (Oscar Handlin). There is a politics and poetry of writing history. There are books on those subjects. It is possible, and I’d argue necessary, to both adore historians (Robert Caro) and despise them (Doris Kearns Goodwin) that has nothing to do with the information presented on a book’s pages.
I look at reading the way I view being a food consumer: I seek to know the face of the farmer and in the case of reading, the face of the author. That’s true of any reading I do. I am more likely to trust, read and comment on something an acquaintance posts because we physically met and I’ve followed them in social media long enough to understand something about their social context. The same is true for writers in mass media. I want to know who they are and what their history is rather than read a single sensational story. As a reader and human, I’m in it for the broader picture.
The rise of artificial intelligence is producing computer generated writing. I think we need to inoculate ourselves against this fake writing by spending time learning about authors and reading their published work. As the noted philosopher Taylor Swift wrote, “the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake.” We need to be able to shake them off. That requires us to be informed readers.
If we are going to read more at least some part of our lives should be engaging the authors of those words. Obviously it’s less possible for dead writers. Yet we are living now and should be spending part of our time reading full-length books both as a supplement to short form reading and as escape from it. Entropic decline in long form reading is something we must address in our lives. That is, unless we accept the mutation of humans will eventually include genes for mobile phone adaption.