We are alive, but we aren’t living

Tonight I’m going to get up in your face over this horseshit we’ve all been living through for the last three months. No real end in sight either, since the Press continues to stir up the fear.

Yesterday was the first day I hung out with people who weren’t my immediate family since March 13. Just sitting around people in the back yard, enjoying conversations, eating together. Petting dogs. It was wonderful.

It wasn’t this bullshit ZOOM meeting that just makes me want to put my fist through the screen either. A few days I sat in a restaurant by myself while the waitress in her facemask attempted to do her job in “these unprecedented times.”

Fuck you.

These times are totally precedented. I lived through this bullshit for three years when I was married. I’ve spent the last six recovering from it. My ex wife went completely bonkers about germs, being afraid to leave the house, eat a meal that (I) didn’t cook at home. Microwaving the mail. Bleaching everything. Wearing protective gear and gloves. ETC. I’ve lived through this bullshit, and I want to let the rest of you know that we all have a thing called an immune system. For the last 100,000 years, people have relied on this. Yes, we have died of the Black Death and Spanish Flu and all sorts of other plagues. This isn’t the Black Death. Wake the hell up. It still hasn’t killed as many people as the normal flu season. Though I appreciate keeping people safe, at this point, it’s just like me when I would strip down as soon as I got home to be decontaminated.

I knew it then, but I still participated. It’s all about control. And Fear.

These precautions really don’t do much.

They are killing a lot of us though. One of the best relationships of my life ended in these unprecedented times. Had COVID not sent everyone into a tailspin, I would probably still be with her. I wouldn’t have been spending the last three months feeling like my mind was deteriorating from the isolation. You see, there are some of us who live alone. Other than my son coming over every other week, I don’t have many opportunities to spend time with other people.

I don’t have close family nearby. I don’t have a girlfriend. I don’t even have a job now where I see annoying co-workers everyday. I feel like a shut in. The most human interaction I get is visiting the kids at Dutch Bros. for a coffee every day. That’s $2.50 plus a tip that is keeping me somewhat sane every day.

Today, I went people watching in Fort Collins. I noticed something peculiar: The masks.

The primary function of the masks now is to look stylish. Many of them were wearing masks that matched their outfits. And I’m not talking about N95 masks either. These are just cloth masks that really don’t do shit. Other than match a nice off the shoulder dress or maybe a shirt or pair of shorts. The secondary function of the mask is to show people that you are supportive of keeping people safe from COVID-19. Even though even the CDC keeps changing their story on the use of masks. If you don’t wear a mask, you might as well shave your head into a mohawk and wear an Anarchy t-shirt and shout “FUCK THE QUEEN!” like punkers in the 1980s. You are THAT antisocial.

The third reason for wearing a mask is to you know, like, maybe flatten the curve and stuff. Because Black Lives Matter. Hashtag, I’m doing something to help. Hashtag. Masks are the new awareness ribbons of this generation. Disingeniune codswallop about a lot of people who usually don’t care getting to look like they do.

People were out on dates, basically breaking the rules for social distancing. Sure, they wear their masks. Until they meet at a table. And I guess a frosty glass of wine or a beer will give you immunity to the plague of the 21st Century as long as you are at your table, with a stranger, and your dress/pants match your mask. These are the people who just like anything else in their lives bend or break the rules and everything turns out just fine for them in the end. I couldn’t help but wonder if they hook up, do they keep the masks on or what?

“Flatten the curve.” You know, by completely ignoring millions of years of biological programming. Picking sides and politicizing a virus. it goes beyond that.

People are hard-wired for connection, and right now, the biggest virus I have seen sweeping the globe has been this fear storm that tells people that the lost, lonely, and isolated can be forgotten as long as everyone else gets to have a Brady Bunch moment on a Zoom meeting or we can continue to tell people that our immune systems can’t beat this thing. So, we can lose our jobs, lose connection with our support systems, start to slowly go crazy, drink a lot more, and feel unloved until we turn into dust and blow away.

Six weeks in, I had my first fist-bump with someone. Other than hugs from my son, it was the first human contact I had had. Three months later, I hugged my mom and dad. Two weeks after that, I ate dinner with some friends. Phone calls. ZOOM meetings. Shouting incoherently through cotton masks and plexiglass aren’t the same. Not even close.

We are alive, but we aren’t living. What kind of life is this anyway if we can’t get connection with others? Privilege is those people who break the rules and go about life out of force of habit because they can still be social with a few minor differences. A cute mask (that does nothing). A protest. Beer pong with friends. Walks out in crowded outdoors spaces and parks where people hardly visited before. But they wore a mask! Over their chin. Or put it on the table when they ate.

Time’s up.

Some of us are not doing so great because we don’t have the luxury others do of playing along with this horseshit. The elderly. The poor. Introverts. Isolated people. Marginalized people. People with mental illness such as anxiety or depression. People who have spent a lot of years trying to overcome OCD or germaphobia, hypochondria, etc. The curve will keep rising as people are tested more and more. That is basic math.

Some of us are dying inside, and not from a virus. From solitude.

I’m at the point where I have even stopped caring what happens next. I’ve always been on the outside looking in. I’m sure I’ll be several weeks behind everyone else who gets the memo that we can return to the “new normal.” And it will be just another way that I get to feel like I don’t belong at this party. Maybe those who survive that don’t require touch are just the next logical step in evolution? Human connection will become obsolete. After all, this just finishes what social media, dating apps, and wide-spread narcissism started already.

Remember when Meals on Wheels used to show those old people and shut-ins who were weeping because some college kid brought them a brown bagged sack lunch? That’s 90% of us now. If this all turns out to be a cruel hoax, I hope the people responsible are dismembered publicly for their crimes against humanity.

The Storm has passed

There are days where the storms roll up on you, the wind howls, and the branches snap from high limbs of trees. The rains come and threaten to wash you away. The noise, the lightning, the chaos. It is maddening. You feel like you might die at any moment. Alone against the storm.

Then the wind subsides. The land is quenched. The distant rumble that you hear is almost comforting.

You look at the devastation left in the wake of the storm and understand that things were bad, but could have been worse. I’m tired of these storms. But what this last one left in its wake was a story of hope. It’s a story that continues to be told.

A story of picking up what is left and moving forward.

I get to pick what was good from every moment of my life. All the lessons. All the happy moments. Nobody can take those away from me. I had forgotten that for a little bit. They exist independently now, in a room in my heart, in an archive of my memories. They are safe and yet always with me. Along with perfect moments, kissing in moonlight, sweet moments with my children, good friends I have met along the way, and houses with solariums and libraries that are yet to be built.

I’m going to get some rest now.

My New Normal

These days my sleep cycle is more or less shot. I’m not sure what to make of that. I don’t know if this is a new thing, or an emergence of something I used to deal with twenty years ago or longer. When I was in my 20s, living alone, I worked a mid-shift doing tech support for Apple computers. I worked the 10-7pm shift, and the little apartment where I was living had no air conditioning. I used to stay up until 2 or 3am writing, reading, and generally just sweltering until sleep finally took me in the early hours of the night. I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of green lacewings which had found their way into my apartment. I didn’t have a lot of friends and back then, rather than welcome the silence, it terrified me.

These days feel a little like those days of the past. Tonight, I went to bed at around 11pm and woke up at 12:30am. I’m not even sure if “woke up” is the right words to use, since I don’t remember actually sleeping. Time passed, I suppose, and for a while my thoughts were still. In deciding to tackle the idea of writing as a full-time job, there are a few adjustments that I am making in my life. One of them is the reality that I have no real set schedule these days unless my son is with me. As much as I would like to be the kind of writer who gets up at 7am and exercises, eats, sits down in the chair at 9am and sets their fingers on the keys and gets to work, that has been difficult. Fruitless even.

I don’t know why I have been applying the old ways to my new life in this way. I don’t see much of a reason to do it anyway. My natural state of operation has hardly held onto the mores and rhythms of a traditional worklife. I’ve always wondered why people get up, spend all day working and then clock out at 5pm, especially in the summertime, where the heat of the day is oppressive and a nap feels like the best thing imaginable at around 2 in the afternoon. Or how there are times I would love nothing more than a quiet house in which to work, but have to plop myself down in a hot room with the TV blaring in the next room and the sounds of one of my sons video games filtering back through the walls, complete with him making a running commentary.

Tonight reminds me of one of those nights when I lived alone, before I had kids. So quiet and still. My son is finally asleep and quiet in his bed, and I have just pulled myself out of my own, unable to sleep. The sounds of my own thoughts crashing against the inside of my skull like waves on a rocky shore. I know it will be just another sleepless night of lying there in bed. The hot and cold of a restless summer night, the sleep schedule determined by a world that has abandoned me. The clock that had to get punched. The schedule that was like everyone else’s.

Ever since I was a little kid, I was a night owl. I remember when my dad worked the late shift or graveyards at the mine, I would be up at all hours of the night, playing Old Maid and UNO with my mom until he walked through the door. As a little kid, I remember watching John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live and even shows that came on afterwards. Of course in those years, I was up with the sun, watching cartoons while my parents slept. Tonight I decided rather than waste a quiet night with worrying and random thoughts, I might as well put my words to the page.

It feels so right to do this. I think one of the things I resented about my job was the loss of my nights. I missed staying up late and just working things out on the page, falling asleep when I was too exhausted to continue, my fingers working still even after my eyes had closed. There were some days when I would look at what I had written the next day and not be able to make sense of some of it. I had been dreaming and writing.

The path I have been taking lately has been jarring, like trying to feel your way through the gears without using a clutch. I had almost forgotten what it meant to work at the times I wanted to work. When the house was quiet, when my thoughts had settled, and there was almost nothing to distract me. When I could pour a cup of tea and write as it steeped, listening to crickets outside. Knowing that sleep will take me when it is time and I don’t need the soporific effects of alcohol to still my mind just because I’m supposed to go to sleep at a certain time.

Today, I wrote. It took a while to get the words down because they were dry and somehow I had to come up with 2,000 words for what a contingency fee was for a law firm. That’s it. That’s the only guidance I had other than “be vague, dodge the question.” I wrote it. I dodged. And I watched the hours slip past. Had I been punching the clock, I would have put in a late day. It’s hard to shake that kind of thinking. I have to think more now about “Is the writing done?” rather than, “Did I take up enough time between the hours of eight and five to justify my worth?”

At 12:35am tonight, I decided the writing wasn’t done. I had an idea for a podcast I want to do soon. A friend informed me of another podcast idea too, this one about white privilege and other concepts that are important to the collective conversation as well. My friends at Dutch Bros. this morning wanted to know if I had written anything about the state of the world yet. They valued my thoughts. Unfortunately, I’ve been wrapped up in my own drama so much lately, I haven’t had much to say about it. The revelation that struck tonight told me that I have plenty of time in the day now to do all of these things. I’m not held to the hours of a timeclock anymore. These ideas will find a place on the page. The world is beautiful and vibrant at 1:30am, and the ideas flow freely if you let them.

My dreams lately have been for shit. I keep having the same dreams over and over. I don’t remember much about them when I wake up, other than it was the same dream. More of a thought process than an actual dream anyway. The concept is the same. A train that goes around a forested mountain. Or sometimes a road. And all that matters is the shortest distance from point A to point B to meet the path if I leave the forest. That’s it. There’s nothing else in the forest. Just the mechanics of “how do I get to the path from here?”

That’s not the kind of rest you look forward to every evening. It’s an exercise in efficiency. It baffles me, much like people who play Sudoku to relax.

I know what isn’t working. Taking a shot of whiskey to trick the brain into a chemical reflex to shut down. Counting sheep. Exercising to the point of exhaustion. Thinking about happier times, holding hands on moonlight walks, singing along with the radio on road trips, seeing that smile that still haunts my memories. That just makes me toss and turn some more. Beating myself up for another moment gone and lost forever. Its shadow burned into my writer’s brain like the ghostly image of a shitty arcade video game into the screen of a CRT screen after 20 years of running in the back room of a pizza parlor.

All I really want is that decent shot of dopamine to the brain for having accomplished something during my day. Give me that, and I’ll sleep like a baby, even after three shots of espresso.

I’m up. Time to get to work. Sunrises are overrated. Especially on hot summer nights such as this. To hell with the way things were before. They never really suited me all that well anyway.

Is it lonely at night? Yes. Blissfully so.