We’ve gotten lazy

I tend to share a lot of personal things on this site and there’s a good chance if you are in my life, your stories might find their way here. I always try to do my best to obscure the originator, since I’m just relating their story based on my own lens. That’s what people have done for centuries. They share each other’s stories, they tack on their own bits and push this collection of things to the next person. Entire civilizations have been built this way.

I contacted my friend last night because I was working on a chapter of the book that sampled heavily from a conversation we had at a New Years Eve party a few years back. We hadn’t visited in person for probably sixteen or seventeen years at that point, only keeping in touch via social media or Messenger. When I arrived at the party, it felt strange because everyone aged so rapidly from my memories of us all being in our early twenties to all of us being middle aged. I was like hanging out with everyone’s parents, pretending to be those kids I knew from so long ago.

As the night progressed, I was in the middle of a FOMO attack. That’s Fear of Missing Out. The woman I was dating at the time was off with “Friends” for New Years. Always so vague. It’s hard to be with someone like that, especially if you have trust issues. Especially when you find out later that these friends wanted to be a lot more. As I was moaning over not being included in this woman’s life, yet again, my friend–always the cool one of the group who did her own thing, made her mistakes, and somehow turned it around to seem like she had everything under control–gave me some perspective.

She said, “You used to be so cool and confident. Now you are sweating some basic bitch. What happened to you?”

It was a psychic ass-kicking, which I probably deserved from an evening of whining about my disasterous romantic interests. Back then, I was irritated by it. I had been through a lot. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was really worthy of anyone’s affection. It was always a constant struggle with my kids, who were caught in the middle of a high-conflict divorce. My oldest was peeled away from me the year before. The “relationship” I was in was toxic, since it mostly depended on whether or not she thought she wanted to spend time with me. I won’t even get into how my marriage served to break me down over the years to where I doubted everything about myself, and was still healing from that.

I had a lot of stuff going on, I guess. No, I wasn’t that cocky, confident guy at 20. I too had aged. I had my battle damage and I also wanted to know what the hell happened to me. In the years between getting married and finally filing for divorce, I lost everything. My friends. My family. I was isolated from all of my support systems, and made to think it was my decision. When you come back to people you lost a long time ago, your confidence is shot. It’s almost like you are apologizing. Asking for permission to be around them again. Not worthy of the love and respect they probably have waiting for you right where you left off.

She is living in a beautiful country right now, and I sometimes see the gorgeous photos of her travels in South Korea, with its colors and life that look like they are straight out of National Geographic. You see something like that and it’s hard to think they aren’t just having a blast. Last night as we were chatting, I caught up on a lot of her life via her blog. I’m a multitasker. I hadn’t even known she wrote one. Since this pandemic bullshit started, she has been physically cut off from friends and family, so she keeps up online. Like the rest of us, she has been segregated from her personal connections there too, with the hopes that social media and texts can still overcome that solitude. It works about as well as you’d expect. I mean we’ve all had our share of Zoom meetings.

Texts and emails are great, but they are no great substitute for a hug or sitting down and having a conversation. She really didn’t sound okay. In some ways, it was difficult to get her to engage in the conversation. I felt for her. Yet in some ways, I knew that it was like that New Years party. We were all catching up after a long hiatus. I remember that night and thinking “How come nobody checked to see if I was okay during those fifteen years?”

They didn’t know. When people are silent, sometimes the rest of us figure that they are just out there living their best life. We are hoping for that anyway.

We’ve gotten lazy. We rely on algorithms to deliver the news of our friends and family to our newsfeeds every day. Sure, we see a little bit, once we scroll through the ads for mattresses, soap, puzzle games, political punditry, and so much other static that permeates these little places we think are ours. Once in a while a crumb falls through the cracks, and we think of an old friend, and we click on their name and get to see this distorted reality of what their life is like. Usually the extremes of morose, desperately hopeful memes of encouragement, or sacharine pictures of their perfect lives. The truth is someplace in the middle.

I know that through my blog, I’ve seen the level of apathy we all have for each other these days. Back when I wrote on a LiveJournal account, we had networks of people dropping in to read each others’ posts. We would comment, have conversations. Some of my best friends are people I met that way and we have followed each others lives for over a decade now. There were no algorithms then. Just everyone’s stories laid out to share. What a time that was.

Very rarely though do people share like that anymore. We Tweet. We post one pretty picture on Instagram. We vomit our politics onto Facebook. We don’t call. We rarely text. And especially during this pandemic, we aren’t going to coffee or hugging or laughing together like we once did.

I was glad I reached out to say hi, to catch up a little bit.

Check on your friends. They probably aren’t okay.

This whole thing is…weird

On a good day, I can happily say that I have brushed my teeth more than once, if at all. It’s not just me either. Just about anyone I talk to lately hits a point in the conversation where they just break out of character, pause, shake their head and say, “This whole fuckin’ thing is weird, man.”

Weird doesn’t begin to cut it. The whole planet is fighting depression whether you care to admit it or not.

This last week, I was not as productive as I should have been. I had assignments to write, which got stacked up to the end of the week. Three days, I blew off completely. I can’t even remember what I did. The rest of the week, I was writing. I got quite a bit of writing done too on the books. It felt good. One night I had a run where I wrote a thousand words before dinner and then almost two thousand more before I headed to bed at 2am. My brain was still writing, however, and I didn’t fall asleep until 4am. The sun was already beginning to come up.

My life is so weird these days with no set writing schedule. When my son is around, I tend to write better late at night after he has gone to bed. During the rest of the week, I kind of stick to those patterns too, but it drives me a little crazy to be filling up my day with chores. The heat is a little much already this summer. I have never slept well in the Summer in the Front Range. Sleep when the house is 80 degrees is an exercise in futility.

One of these days, when my son has grown up and left the nest, I’m going to go live in a cabin someplace in the mountains. As long as I have wifi, it is doable. Maybe I’ll get a dog or two. Spend days hiking in the shade of the forest, and evenings writing. It is a dream I have. About ten years off, but that will be here sooner than I probably would like.

Friday, I got all of my mandatory writing done. I had cancelled with friends to hang out so I could do it and at around 8:30pm I found myself suddenly free from my desk chair. I hopped in the car and drove to Old Town Ft. Collins. In the summer, this has been my favorite pastime since I was in my 20s. To hang out in Old Town and just watch people. A few weeks ago, I attempted this and was left feeling lost. There were only two places open. The rest were pretty much boarded up. Friday…well, that would be the part of the conversation where I pause and mention how weird everything is.

People were EVERYWHERE except inside bars and restaurants. It was just as crowded as any other night in Old Town only it was weird. About half the people were wearing masks, and of those who were wearing them, most of them just had them pulled down like cowboy neckerchiefs or sporting some kind of chin bra with the surgical masks. I watched people pull their masks down to smoke weed. Out in the streets, clusters of people were sitting close, hugging hellos, shaking hands. You could tell they were making a point of physical contact. Hive fives, fiddling with facemasks, taking a drag off a cigarette.

These are the cool kids who just do what they want anyway, and the idiots like me who stayed at home get to emerge long after to find that the table for the geeks like me isn’t anywhere near the lunchroom anymore. We are eating behind the gym in a mud puddle. In isolation, I was just doing what I was supposed to, I can say, but really, I never really fit in anyway. Writers are always on the outside looking in. It’s a chicken vs. egg thing at this point.

Inside the bars, only a few tables had people. The setup was almost solemn. The young women who normally got decked out all had the same oily skin from hours of wearing facemasks. Mostly everyone had put on some weight. The guys giving out the bro grabs looked like they had just been splattered by a mud puddle for the next ten minutes, as though they were purposefully ignoring the billions of viruses now crawling all over them.

It was almost refreshing to be amid this many people, even though only one person even spoke to me, and that was the guy asking if he could light his pipe at least ten feet away. Sure, pal, it’s your lungs. It’s not like there is a respiratory-based pandemic going on.

I could see what was happening though. People are hard-wired for connection, and for the last couple months we’ve been told this will kill us. Folks, it’s been killing us since the first people were around for various reasons. But it was like watching the early stages of herd immunity. In spite of Dr. Fauci and all the media induced panic, people were just doing what they do when they get over any wave of bullshit that infects communities. They were exposing themselves in small doses.

But I did see something else this reminded me of. In a weird way, it was like they were an old couple who had just been through some shit. Maybe someone had cheated, maybe they had lost a child, maybe they were just tired. Either way, everyone had gone out, and they had that same stunned look in their eyes. The one that says “If we do things the way we used to do them, things can go back to how they once were, right?”

No. They probably won’t.

It won’t ever be the same. Not like you once knew it anyway. The only way this changes is to start over, preferably with someone else. We’ve seen it before in our history a number of times. A year ago today, I went to the 1940s Ball and one of the things I always hear people say is “Wouldn’t it be great if people still got dressed up like this?” or “Man, I love this music! People actually had to learn how to dance too!”

But there’s a reason why we no longer get together and do the Lindy, why the Roaring Twenties are relugated to movies and books, and why no matter how hard we try to make bell-bottoms a thing, the era in which they were born is finished. All of those things came together and were unique to those times. They ended because something shook the world up. The 40s ended because millions of young men and women came home from war and understood now that you could vaporize a city with one bomb.

The 19-teens ended with the War to End All Wars and the Spanish Flu. Gone were the Gibson Girls, bowler hats, horsedrawn wagons, and along came radio and phonographs. And Nazis.

The Roaring 20s ended because everyone lost their jobs and wind storms destroyed much of the food. People starved to death on the California border because the locals there didn’t want anymore “goddamned Oakies” coming in. Read your Steinbeck if you don’t believe me.

History has not been kind to us. In the 1960s a man in his forties became President. He had a great head of hair, and more or less buried a tradition stretching back a few hundred years of men wearing hats. So when you see someone wearing a fedora and say, “That’s classy, how come men don’t wear fedoras anymore?” You can thank Jack Kennedy, who was likely assassinated by the mafia in Dallas in 1963.

Dresses diappeared when they were considered a part of the systematic oppression of women. Then pants as physically tight as you could get them became a symbol of liberation and equality somehow.

Each generation has its stop gap. The 90s (and the latter half of the 20th Century) died when hijackers crashed two 747s into the World Trade Center, and of course two other targets where people died, but nobody ever seems to mention.

We’ve been living in fear for the last 20 years. Fear of more than 2oz of liquids per container in our carry on luggage, pocket knives, nail clippers, “Sekrit Mooslim”Presidents, our Declining Moral Values (research the Roaring 20s to see what your great grandparents considered “morality”). Up until recently, the concerns were that gender lines were diappearing, draconian laws about smoking a flower, fixation on global temperature fluxuations, and that unvisited elephant in the room of “I really like my smartphone, so I’ll just ignore the fact that it is mass-produced by state-organized slave labor on the other side of the planet. Like OMG! SELFIEEEEEE!!!!”

With more information at their disposal, people are now dumber than ever. Maybe the reason we all stop and say, “This shit is just weird” is because it doesn’t make any sense for a large number of reasons.

But rather than address the whys of that, I will just say this. We just watched the end of an era. You can tell your grandkids you remember the summer that X stopped being a thing. In the next several months to a year, we will all know what didn’t make the cut. My guess is it will be large crowds of people. Especially since things like concerts, movies, and other venues are where people get together and start sharing ideas, whether it’s through music, standup comedy (Looking at you, Dave Chappell–thank you for 8:46), or even the formation of things like Republics.

It’s safe to say it isn’t fedora hats and watch chains. Cigarette girls and wars for noble causes. Those are not coming back. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be mumble rappers. Infectious narcissism. Or teeth whitening. I would suggest Defund the Media, but if you have been paying attention for the last twenty years, there is no such thing as the Media. It’s a bunch of private companies making stories that fit between ads for toothpaste, erectile dysfunction medicine, and car manufacturers. Gil Scott-Heron was right when he said, “The Revolution will not be televised.” The companies bought up all the air-time. What you are seeing now is a lot of shit the lowest scabs of journalism who are still around are producing to get your attention. We lost Journalism in around 2008. This is the best they can come up with now.

Maybe what we could start over with is a better appreciation for our other humans, and not relying on media induced fear to sway our opinions anymore. Use that phone, that social media account, or your voice to ask hard questions, to tell your stories and be heard. Because, this whole thing is fuckin’ weird.

This is what social distancing looks like. June, 2020.