Thoughts about Shawshank

Today’s thoughts have taken me to a random place: The 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption. When this movie came out, I was 18 years old. I had just graduated high school. I was dating my first girlfriend, and just about to embark on my adult life. I didn’t see this movie for another year. At the time, I was reluctant to begin anything. I was very naive for one. The College experience was like shifting gears without using a clutch, just grinding into another place and hoping you got there. It was probably the next year that I saw it. At the time, I considered it brutal. Violent. Gratuitous.

Only later would I recognize it as the truly beautiful story it was.

Today, mulling over thoughts about work, which has been on everyone’s minds lately, and recent work emails discussing the coronavirus and possible shutdowns here at work due to quarantines, a quote from the movie just leapt into my head.

“Terrible thing to live in fear.”

This thought has been in my head so much throughout my adult life. Quite possibly, this is the thought that has been the continual thread throughout my experience for the last 20 years. Lately, I see a lot of fear. Whether it is Trump, Coronovirus, layoffs, CPS, courtroom drama, loneliness, solitude, war, illness, poverty, Alexa, or anything else that keeps adults up at night, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen what it does to adults.

I think about one catastrophe after the next. The newest big thing to be afraid of. Climate change, pandemics, mass extinctions, socialism, capitalism, carcinogens in plastic bottles, an entire Texas-sized island of carcinogenic plastic floating around the Pacific. Turn on the news and if it bleeds, it reads. Words hurt and microaggressions, hashtag metoo, hashtag meat-too, the whole things sounds like a Billy Joel song after a while.

Yes, a Billy Joel song nobody really likes any more than an REM song with the same doom and gloom lyrics.

But here’s the thing. What in the actually fresh hell does anyone think any of this fear is going to accomplish other than putting a leash and a collar around your neck for someone else to drag you around by? If we just keep our heads down and don’t draw attention to ourselves, we can get by. We will get to lead our lives of quiet desperation. But really, nobody sneaks past Death.

Sorry, folks, but if it’s your time to go…no need to even pack a bag.

Pandemics have been around for as long as there have been people and germs. Here’s what happens. Germs are passed from people to people. A lot of factors determine whether or not you will die. Your general health, blood type, immune system, etc. We are constantly riding on the crest of infection and death. Those of us who don’t ride the wave wipe out. Yes, that is being glib, but what good does wearing the masks and bleaching everything really do? At some point, you will be exposed to an airborn pathogen. Much like smallpox and how it wiped out most of the populations of the Americas in the 16th Century, there were a lot of people who did survive.

That’s all any of us is really doing.

Should we put our lives on hold? Should we be hyper-vigilant to the point that our lives stop? No. As someone who was married to a self-proclaimed germaphobe, I can attest that this is the worst thing you can do.

Go, play in the dirt. Yes, wash your hands and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. If you are sick, stay home and try not to spread it around. Or you know, give yourself time to recover so you don’t die. Your immune system is actually pretty great. Take your vitamins to help it along. Get help if you are really sick.

This crap will run its course. More people in the 1920s died during the Spanish flu because of a miracle drug called Aspirin, which was used to relieve pain and lower fevers. Aspirin also gives women and children Reye’s Syndrome. They didn’t know much about this until sixty years later, so a lot of those deaths from the Spanish Flu were probably due to Reye’s Syndrome.

Lots of people died during that pandemic. More than World War One killed actually. But a hundred years later, the population of the world is at an all-time high. Ever.

With my job, politics, so many other things, I have learned that these things have a way of sorting themselves out. Losing my job won’t mean bread lines or a life of crime. It might just mean that I am seeing the end of an unhealthy relationship. Opportunities cannot present themselves if you are sitting around in a hole all day.

Sometimes I think that our governments want us to live in a constant state of fear because is keeps us in line. Lets be afraid of other cultures because they are our enemy. Let’s be afraid of the air and the germs floating around in it, let’s be afraid of melting ice caps.

How dare you! You have stolen my childhood!

How dare you? Propagating more fear, you little twit. You’ve encouraged more learned helplessness.

Let’s be afraid of everything instead of opening our eyes to that which we should just be getting angry at. Changes that need to be made. Institutions which have outlived their purpose. Such as racism, sexism, classism, or obsession with celebrity. Allowing academics to be experts because they have been gatekeepers of information for far too long, and now that we have all the information at the tip of our fingertips, they really don’t want to let go. Politicians, who used to represent thousands from afar used to rule because they represented the ideals of the people. Well, now the people are right here. But in spite of all the information we have, we are dumber than ever.

We need our fears to control us I guess.

Some people I know take comfort in their fear. That’s not really how I want to live, myself, if I’m gonna be honest. I would rather have hope. And if I can’t have hope, then I would rather walk away while I still can.

Damn it, Brain!

This morning, I am dragging ass something fierce. I could have used another two hours of sleep. This morning has been brought to me by book brain. Yesterday I made a lot of progress on the book. By the time I went to bed, I had the first 1000 words written as well as a crap-ton of notes, themes, and other things I wanted to include. I probably shouldn’t have talked about it with my extremely supportive girlfriend on the phone last night, because that sorta stoked the fires more. The old writer brain was up until 1:30am, working through things. Taking notes on my phone.

It was glorious.

There is a lot that is going to be involved in this project. I have two ways to go. One of which is going to get me sued, so I can’t be all Sebastian Junger on this and go into journalist mode. Instead, I’ll have to write it as a fiction. Which is fine because nobody would believe half the stuff anyway.

The few people I have spoken with directly about this project are stoked so far. It seems like people want to know how the sausage is made. Higher Ed has left a sour taste in many people’s mouths.

I’m thinking of books like The Jungle, the Sun Also Rises, Drinking with Strangers, and even Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Books which are heavy on narration, yet cut deep and to the bone when it comes to disillusionment, pulling no punches, and exposing the subject. I like the voice of Krakauer’s books on ill-fated adventure which usually ends in tragedy. He is good at dotting his I’s and crossing his T’s. I find a lot of similarities in absurdity and redundancy at this place as I would with Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 too. I don’t know. Well, I do know. I don’t read a lot these days, which works against me sometimes, but it also helps in that I have a story that is mine to tell and won’t use what I’ve read as a crutch as much as my own experiences.

Anyway, there is a lot of ground to cover. 18 years before the mast. Four years before that as a student. A lot of it is details. Mostly my process is just going to be to spew everything onto the page in some kind of wordgasm and then try to construct a story from there. I guess that’s how a lot of things take form.

In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of freelance work to do. More to follow!

Telling it like it is

Recently, in facing the impending layoffs, I have noticed the sheer amount of stress that many of my coworkers have been experiencing. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this resulted in heart attacks or other stress-related injuries in some of these folks. They have spent a long time basing their lives around the culture of the Ivory Tower. I’m not even talking about faculty or upper administration. These are the regular people. The Help, if you have to use an Edwardian parlance of what we do here. A life In Service to the Manor as it were.

Just like the servants who witnessed debauchery and privilege run amok in Edwardian society and earlier, you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I have heard about or seen for myself in this place. Since I might have some time on my hands coming up pretty quick, I am kicking around the idea of writing a book.

Please let me know in the comments or on my FB page if this is something you might be interested in reading about? Mostly I would be writing it for other people who have slogged through the Halls of Academia. But it might be one of those Confidential type works that just air out the dirty laundry. It could be a lot of fun, and quite possibly a very therapeudic experience.

18 years before the mast. Who knows. It wouldn’t be very nice, and it might not make me look like the best either. But it is experience, and that is the best teacher and the cheapest source of good writing material out there.