Personal Update #5

I… am not very much right now. I am at a particularly low ebb. I find myself wracked by a melancholy and lassitude which is nestled in my pores like scratchy iron filings. Discomforting me, irking me. And each little pocket of it doesn’t seem like much excess weight by itself, but it sure adds up when there are dozens or even hundreds of them dotted all over my body, making my skin sit too heavy on my bones. It’s proving quite the hardy affliction. Showers definitely can’t wash it away. Rare blessings of an endorphin spike where things briefly don’t seem so bad can’t wash it away. The compassionate acts of others cannot wash it away either. It’s just there. And it’s not just present in the background, I’m actively thinking about it a lot. Resenting it. Wishing it gone. I dearly want to go back to how it was before this took hold of me. I just don’t feel like the full version of myself. I feel like an old laptop operating on low-power mode where only some of the features are still available and the charge light is insistently blinking to tell you it needs to be reconnected to the juice fairly fucking urgently. Only, when I go to plug myself in to the usual power sockets for at least a little trickle of salvation, I find them inexplicably dead. And so I just sit back down with a huff and try to use the little reserve I still have left sparingly. This is the state I’m trapped in. I am emotionally fragile. I am bleak and listless. And I am greatly, greatly struggling to find a way to climb out of this half-person funk, to bounce back. I just can’t seem to do it.

I don’t doubt that what I’m going through is partly the cumulative product of the last… let’s say… eighteen months or so, which has made an undeniably spirited attempt to be the hardest, worst period of my life so far. There are times where fate decides to be kind to you and times where fate decides to be emphatically unkind instead, and I have been dealing with quite a long largely-unbroken streak of the latter treatment. I think I’ve had some of the lowest moments of my life during this time, to be perfectly candid. I won’t go into the entire laundry list of stuff, because I can assure you it is various and I imagine it will be quite tedious and unavailing to try to catalogue it all. But I will say there was one point in particular where this gratuitous cruelty from the universe really peaked, and I found myself simply… well, dumbstruck, I suppose…. by the sheer sadism of the thing. My childhood dog had to be put down and then just a few days later my grandfather passed away, and I didn’t get the chance to see either of them before they died. That rather speaks for itself, I would think. As one-two punches go, it’s… quite the doozy. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt simultaneously so devastated and so shellshocked-numb as I did in the weeks following that. I didn’t really have much experience dealing with grief as an adult and, yeah, it’s quite the learning process. Grief is a bare and frigid cell, where one is imprisoned alone. Even if positioned in a row of cells just like it — occupied by other cellmates well known to you, to boot — one can barely feel the salve of shared circumstance or solidarity. And, let me tell you, living so far away from my family only exacerbates this effect further.

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Reflections on the Trump Era: Part I

[Just a heads-up: this trio of posts are approximately book-length when taken as a whole. It occurred to me that some people might therefore prefer to save it to something like the Pocket app and read it gradually over time — that’s how I prefer to read very long articles myself — so here’s all three posts stitched together in case it’s more convenient to have it in that form.]

The difficulty of writing this piece

To tell you the truth, over these last four years I probably could have sat down several times a month and written a post about President Trump/his administration or the events happening in his orbit. And, in a sense, I very much wanted to. There was such an enticing deluge of scandal to dissect and weight in on. I was keeping up with it all so closely that I was continually accruing a build-up of undisgorged strong opinions, which is about as comfortable a condition for a writer as, say, kidney stones. But two considerations ultimately stayed my hand nevertheless.

The first was that I worried it would become tiresome and monotonous to keep writing about essentially the same topic all the time. (For both me and the reader.) This type of thing is subject to diminishing returns: at some point, you become keenly aware that there’s only so many ways you can harrumph and say “my god, what a disgrace this is!” To be fair, if you’re going to write about politics to any extent, you need to make sure you have at least a few trusty equivalent phrases tucked into your back pocket, because much like pen, paper, cynicism, and hypertension pills, they are part of the essentials of the trade. But I suppose I did rather wonder whether I had it in me to draw upon the nearly endless supply of them I would need over the span of four very looooong and ignominy-ridden years.

That’s not to say that it’s never worth droning on about the same thing and risking being boring. If the subject matter is important enough, that’s a very small price to pay for shining needful light upon it. And I certainly respect the reporters who have no doubt profoundly wearied themselves — like, deep in the core of their being — by making the meticulous cataloguing of Trump and co’s misdeeds their particular beat. It really can’t have been a very pleasant way to make a living. You probably clock out just feeling so dirty from having had to fixate on this grimy sphere full of scoundrels all day long. It’s a bit like being a warden at an asylum for the criminally insane and, sitting in front of a big wall-mounted bank of CCTV monitors, having to maintain a log of exactly who is smearing their faeces on the wall at any given moment and exactly how they’ve opted to do so. Only, I suspect that such a position is far better paid than those in the struggling and contracting journalism business. But, anyhow, they perform a crucial public service and we should be glad that there are those willing to do it. (What’s more, one ought to remember the unbelievably hostile environment which they have had to conduct their work in. Watch those videos of wild-eyed MAGA-hat freaks screaming ‘FAKE NEWS!’ at camera crews at the top of their lungs and until they’re red in the face, and I don’t think I’ll even have to prompt you to recall my asylum analogy. These are people who could pass as escaped inmates any day of the week.)

My point being that it’s one thing if that’s your job, but quite another to take on that depressing chore voluntarily. And I can also tell you that, personally, I’d worry about descending into obsessiveness. I could see myself chasing a sort of vaguely completionist documenting of all my problems with Trump’s reign, no matter how minute or of-the-moment. The danger being that you’ll get so caught up in trying not to miss anything day to day that you’ll lose sight of the bigger picture. On top of which, I guess I just had this feeling that it would probably be better for my sanity if I simply got it all out in one go. A cathartic thought-dump to purge this stuff from my system.

The second consideration was that I knew the best vantage-point to analyse the Trump years from would be in hindsight. In order to view them — their effects and their lessons — as a whole, rather than merely indulging in a piecemeal examination of this moment or that moment, and whilst you’re still trapped in their particular sinkhole of myopic, ephemeral outrage to boot. I think there are some things which, even if they do indeed piss you off and shock you at the time, you just can’t appreciate the true craziness of because you’re still living through them.

Trump having been evicted from the White House for some months now should provide enough distance for my purposes. Of course, I’m not only going to be reflecting on the past, I’ll also be talking about what’s been happening recently and even venturing some speculation about the future. As aforementioned, I won’t be able to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. And I will no doubt read this one day and be like “shit, I can’t believe I forgot to talk about [BLANK]! I’m such an idiot! [BLANK] made my blood boil when it happened! How could it slip my mind later on?!” That’s kind of just par for the course. But I’ll try to hit as much of the major stuff as I can.

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Reflections on the Trump Era: Part II

How relieved I was that he lost, and what might have happened if he had won

During the run-up to the 2020 election, I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was a foregone conclusion. I was sure that Trump would win again. And nothing could sway that, nothing could assuage my fatalist melancholy. Even when polling swung in Biden’s favour, it just gave me — and anyone else with a memory surpassing a goldfish’s — flashbacks to 2016 and the widespread smug certainty that Hillary would win. I mean, she had a 98% probability of victory, remember? I certainly do. I also remember that we even had our pick of more sober, cautious, even downright skeptical projections, such as her having a 85% probability or a 71% probability. I learned a lot from the fact that those people whose polling data and forecasting models were so inconceivably, unbelievably wrong were able to so easily live it down and go on plying their trade. They just slapped themselves on the wrists, maybe threw a self-effacing tweet or two out there, and then carried on carrying on. Marvellous, isn’t it? A brief pretence of collective soul-searching was thought to suffice. As though that level of error is just bound to happen from time to time in any predictive field. As though meteorologists sometimes tell you there’s going to be a baking hot day and then it rolls around and a snowstorm occurs. Only in this case it was even worse, because it was a four-year blizzard we were treated to. Just think about how many Democrat voters saw all those headlines practically already celebrating Clinton’s inauguration and complacently sat home that November as a result. People expected — and I know this is shocking but bear with me — that the pronouncements of the pollster/analyst class would have some reasonably strong correlation to reality and I don’t blame them for their misplaced faith. They were sold a fraudulent bill of goods, and I don’t find it difficult to decide who should be paying the price for that.

Anyway, in 2020 it actually ran a bit deeper for me than merely being dead set upon not getting fooled by errant polling again. (Though that was indeed a part of it.) Trump getting re-elected just seemed like this horrible transcendental certainty. It had such an aura of inevitability to it that it was almost hard to even dread it; it became more a case of just pre-emptively steeling oneself to accept it coming to pass. I don’t know, it just seemed like all the prerequisites had snapped into place for it. I mean, conservative voters hadn’t exactly become less Trumpy during his first term, had they? Quite the opposite in fact. And Trump was going to have the GOP establishment wholly, full-throatedly on his side as he campaigned, rather than the somewhat ambivalent and/or halfhearted support he received from them back in ‘16 when they were tangibly still struggling to acclimatise to the embarrassment of having this dope as their standard-bearer. Plus, his campaign strategy seemed a bit more polished and his campaign staff seemed a bit more professional this time around. These various advantages added up to an obvious conclusion in my mind. So I just found myself thinking: here we are at this crucial turning point, this American penumbra, with one foot already firmly planted in midnight and the other foot not far behind. It really struck me as a done deal, I must admit. Trump seemed to have things all sewn up on his end.

I was also really flummoxed at the Democrats’ rather unpromising choice of champion. And more than a little mad too, given the paramount importance of the battle itself. Listen, I don’t necessarily have anything against Joe Biden. In a sense, I don’t really have any strong feelings towards him whatsoever. I know his policy platform and definitely have my issues with some of it — as I would with any Democrat candidate in the current climate, to be fair — but in all honesty I don’t know very much about him as a person. (I also haven’t yet boned up on all the particulars of his long history in politics, which is probably why I’m able to take refuge in relative apathy. Tell me if I’m wrong: it is sadly so often the case that the only way to preserve the non-loathsomeness of a given politician is to neglect to read their Wikipedia page in depth.) Just considering surface level stuff, he’s fairly likeable and, excluding a few unbecoming moments of ill-temper on the campaign trail, he at least projects the public persona of a decent man. It’s also hard to object to any of his very nice boilerplate about the need for a return to unity, civility, compassion, high-mindedness, reason, science, etc. For all the platitudes though, he really does talk like someone who authentically understands what’s wrong with the dire historical moment the country finds itself in, and feels deeply about how urgently it must be redressed. These are all box-ticking qualities which used to just be so par-for-the-course that they barely even registered, but the sad truth about having a wanton fucking hobgoblin in the White House for four years is that such things regain their importance and utility. It may make us uncomfortable to admit it, because it’s easier/cooler to insist that we only concern ourselves with substance not style, but there’s a real value to a president presenting themselves in a certain way, to a president not unashamedly being a dirtbag. Even if it really is just a pose of propriety or virtue, that still pays a sort of compliment to the electorate, because it acknowledges (and, in an odd meta way, reinforces — therein lies the value) that voters want someone with some moral fibre to represent them because it’s what they aspire to themselves.

My problem with Biden being selected as the Democratic nominee was primarily because I thought he was an unwise choice, practically speaking. I just didn’t think he had what it was going to take to win. First and foremost, there seemed to be little palpable passion for him as a person. There was just a lot of clamouring for anyone who could boot Trump out of the Executive Residence and a lot of talk about how a Biden-type could be a safe pair of hands and we could probably do a lot worse and so on. My point being that it just seemed like hardly anyone was excited for Joe Biden to become the president. Sure, he has a sort of charming good-natured grandpa-ish quality that some people enjoy and even on the other end of the spectrum it’s not exactly easy to find people who downright hate his guts (which, true enough, is a feat there’s definitely something to be said for.) And my impression is that in political circles he’s generally afforded a certain degree of respect as this old-school guy who somehow has good relationships with everyone of note in D.C. and knows how to get a tricky deal hammered out in a backroom if it comes to it. But, on the flipside, it just didn’t seem like all that many people felt a genuine emotional connection to him or his campaign, or that he really had much of a unique ‘message’ to sell the electorate on. It was just so hard to imagine him delivering some stump speech which gave you goosebumps, y’know? He could be saying all the right things but he just doesn’t quite have that rare oratorical gift where they actually penetrate and make you feel something, where for a brief thrilling moment they actually seem like so much more than just trite, focus-grouped rhetoric.

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Reflections on the Trump Era: Part III

Trump voters

It’s impossible to talk about the Trump phenomenon without talking about ‘Trump voters’ themselves. I’m not going to go into too much depth here because it would basically require a lengthy piece unto itself to do it full justice, but there are definitely a few points I want to touch on. And just to preface: although it would be the obvious — and, arguably, most important — thing to dwell on the entire time, I’m actually going to be mostly putting to one side all the abhorrent -isms that Trump played on in order to garner support from the more unsavoury quarters of the electorate. That’s something I’ve already explored earlier on in this piece, and not exactly in a glancing way either.

It’s now just conventional wisdom that one of the main factors which motivated many people to pull the lever for Trump in ’16 was a desire to really stick it to the political establishment. In fact, I once heard this quite memorably described as Trump being employed like a ‘murder weapon’. I suppose the naive hope was that Trump could be fired at the beltway status quo like some precise laser-guided weapon that would only destroy what it was intended to destroy, cleanly and efficiently. Kinda like a human version of that nightmarish variant of the famed Hellfire missile which doesn’t even explode, it just shoots out long blades on all sides upon impact to impale and eviscerate the assassination target. (Haven’t been able to forget about that bad boy since first reading about it. It’s jarring how something designed to reduce unintended casualties can seem so disturbingly barbaric in its own right.) Once Trump actually got into office though, it became clear that the things he was damaging most were the fabric of American society and the proper governance of the country, and I think the motivated reasoning of his supporters had to shift a fair bit to keep up. It seemed to morph into viewing Trump as being more akin to chemotherapy: alright, yes it’s a messy process and it’s unfortunately going to harm the whole body too, but it’s worth it because it’ll eliminate what’s really ailing you. To crib from classic five-stages language, this combines both ‘denial’ and ‘bargaining’ into a neat little package deal. And oh man did a lot of the MAGA faithful snap up that deal and lean on it like a crutch for four long years. They told themselves that the country had already been so abominably ruined by the Democrats and was in such desperate, urgent need of rescue that it was acceptable if, to echo that infamous battlefield quote from the Vietnam war, “Trump has to destroy America in order to save it.”

What I’m getting at is that I can at least comprehend both these rationalizations. I’m not saying I agree with them. (I would hope that after having spilled so many thousands of words about how severely I loathe Trump and Trumpism that would be abundantly, even painfully, clear.) I’m also not saying they actually made sense or passed any kind of moral checksum whatsoever. They didn’t. Not even a little bit. They were based on wildly faulty reasoning and fundamental misjudgements about Trump’s motivations, Trump’s goals, and really just the way that the American political system functions. That being said, it is possible to see how people let themselves be gulled by a steady stream of chimerical promises. That’s what I’m trying to get across here. The conclusions they arrived at were illogical, but there’s still a sort of comprehensible logic to both how these people were deceived and why they then also self-deceived to fill in the gaps where necessary. It isn’t because Trump’s so spectacularly gifted in the charlatan arts. As I expounded upon earlier, he is actually drastically and shockingly untalented as a con artist. Which in turn makes it so remarkable that he’s surely also quantifiably one of the most successful con artists of all time. (He makes that guy who managed to ‘sell’ the Brooklyn Bridge multiple times look like a piker with no vision. But then again, in the hierarchy of grifting, nothing really compares to making a play for the presidency of the richest, most powerful nation on earth, does it?)

His meteoric success, I would say, testifies merely to the fact that his millions of marks were in such a prime state to be duped. Conservatives were so incredibly desperate for anything which could revitalize their movement. They knew it was fast becoming enervated and drab from its reliance on conventional, buttoned-up Mitt Romney types who possessed only a sort of limp, hopelessly overstretched charisma at best and who were still stuck playing the political game like it was played thirty or forty years ago. They needed someone who could reinject some colour into the GOP and — gasp — maybe even make it seem interesting or exciting again. Whatever it took to turn the tide back in their favour. Whatever it took to recapture the White House. I mean, there’s no denying that the Obama years had really done a number on them. They were as exasperated by his massive, transformational cultural effect as they were infuriated by his various policy initiatives. And it’s not hard to imagine how that kind of thing can really eat at you over eight long years. Seeing someone whose political program you hate being feted by so much of the world as a beloved figure. Their nerves were frayed. They were worn out and very much dispirited by how the electoral and culture-war losses kept piling up. And once they had gotten to this place, they were willing to buy into any amount of lies and back any old creep if it meant that their side would get back on top and they wouldn’t have to grind their teeth every time they turned on the news. Enter Donald J. Trump, lying mega-creep extraordinaire. It wasn’t just some weird coincidental timing, okay? Whether consciously or unconsciously, he was drawn to that situation by the stupendous gravitational pull of such a glaring opportunity. Or to put it another way, his political career was willed into existence by all the people who prayed for some magic fix for their sickly, no-new-ideas, no-new-blood party, instead of doing the hard work of remedying its real problems. Because there is almost nothing in life which you can get simply by wanting it, but this is one of the notable exceptions: if you wish to be taken advantage of, your wish will be granted.

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Some Thoughts on MMA Refereeing

Go watch this clip of the ending of the Jai Herbert vs. Francisco Trinaldo fight from one of the much-ballyhooed ‘Fight Island’ cards that the UFC put on over the summer.

This is an example of a referee, in this case Herb Dean, making the kind of baffling mistake where it seems like they must be watching a different fight play out than everyone else.

I really cannot fathom why some people have tried arguing that this was either a not-so-bad or even (incredibly!) a fairly good stoppage. I just don’t get how anyone could say that with a straight face. Herb’s blunder in this moment is pretty much as open-and-shut as it gets. It’s not the most egregious stoppage in the world — far from it, really — and it’s not an unforgivable error. But it’s a notably bad stoppage, no question about it.

There is, I’ve noticed, a tendency for newer or more casual MMA fans to believe — I suppose understandably — that a fighter has to actually be laid out stiff as a board, with his eyes closed and his body still, for him to be genuinely ‘knocked out’. The more fights you watch, the more obviously untrue this becomes. There are times when someone is so completely out of it that they might as well be unconscious, given that they have absolutely no idea what’s going on around them and absolutely no ability to react to it appropriately. They might technically still be on the right side of unconscious, but in a fight that’s a meaningless distinction, because the practical effect of it is the same: the fighter can no longer ‘intelligently defend themselves’. And this particular bout illustrates that point.

Here’s how I would describe the finishing sequence, in dissected slow-motion detail. When Herbert gets clipped with that picture-perfect overhand left, the first thing that happens is there’s that weird, slightly disquieting liminal half-second where he’s clearly stunned but it’s like a delayed reaction, where the full impact of the blow is only just now belatedly walloping him. Right before he had gotten hit, he had thrown out a probing jab and his brain evidently had enough residual processing power left firing to remind him to double-up on it, so he goes to throw another one. But it’s just then that the circuit-breaker finally gets flipped and he’s going out, and resultingly that jab is abandoned half-way through and becomes him just limply pawing at the air above Trinaldo’s head.

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Personal Update & Various Reviews #4

Book stuff

A significant portion of the first half of this year has been spent on both my novel and my girlfriend Samantha’s novel.

All the stuff to do with my own novel I’m going to save for a separate piece, which I intend to set about writing in the near future, because I’ll need to get… reasonably long and in-depth. (Which is also what I’m wont to say in the boudoir. I find it’s always good to preface coital promises with ‘reasonably’, to manage expectations. I’m twenty-seven now, for christ’s sake; these bones are old and brittle, these muscles are tired and atrophied: my days of Olympic-level fucking are most definitely in the rear-view. But I’ll always look at that bronze medal framed on the wall with great fondness. Though in all honesty I technically had to share it with that year’s Lithuanian competitor, whose virility let’s just say even the editors of Fornicator Monthly strongly suspected to be synthetically enhanced, due to a tie for third place…)

I edited Samantha’s really very excellent and remarkable novel, an experience I’ll just say a little bit about. Obviously I would have been more than happy to do it in any case, but there was a certain pleasing element of reciprocity here, in that she was kind enough to suggest edits to mine a while back. Indeed, we laugh about the fact that we each restrained the… shall we say… less sound writerly instincts of the other, in very specific ways. I had to endure what will forever be known as the ‘Infamous Italics Massacre’, which she — no doubt in all sagacity — inflicted upon my novel. I tried to accept this corrective with grace. By which I mean just a bare minimum of petulant, melodramatic protests. For example, standing on a cliff-edge in the pouring rain, clutching the pried-loose ‘CTRL’ and ‘I’ keys and screaming that she’ll have to rip the italics from my cold dead hands. Like I said, I did no more of that kind of thing than ABSOLUTELY necessary. (I’m still a little bitter though. I really like italicising words and phrases for effect, okay?! I mean, give me a break, let’s not get absurd: I’m hardly a monster!)

And then I repaid the favour. I benevolently subjected her novel to what literary historians have, I believe, already begun to term the ‘Merciless Culling of the Commas’. Seriously, it was a bloodbath. You’d have thought that some wayward comma, perhaps a decidedly unrehabilitated scoundrel just released from maximum-security grammar-prison, kicked my dog when I was a kid or something.

Having never done anything like this before, I foolishly underestimated (by orders of magnitude, really) the amount of time that the editing was going to require. This is my fault and my fault alone. I suppose I had too high an opinion of my own powers of speediness. But, yes, I was very surprised by how long it ended up taking. I should specify that in terms of the level of thoroughness being applied, I was really exhaustively line-editing the prose. Samantha freely admits that she struggles with some of the more elusive minutiae of grammar and whatnot, and I was glad to help her out with that boring nuts-and-bolts stuff. And it goes without saying that when you’re going through a book with a fine-tooth comb and a magnifying glass, you’re in for a pretty time-consuming project, to put it mildly. Still, not at all without its compensations, obviously: although it’s not quite the ideal way to do so, it’s always a damn fine pleasure to read her writing. I trust you’ll believe me when I say that I would aver the exact same thing even if she wasn’t the woman I love. She is dizzyingly fearless in her honesty and she crafts gorgeous, sumptuous prose. Truly, she does things with language that I can only gape at.

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So, about that ‘Karen’ and Birdwatcher kerfuffle…

Let me preface this post with a word or two about timing and ‘lateness’. I guess I just feel like I should lay this out explicitly, as a potentially useful standing point going forward. I’m well aware that “The Central Park Birdwatching Incident” — which is how it’s grandiosely referred to on Wikipedia, like it was some diplomatic snafu that soured relations between two countries — happened like three months ago. Do I think it’s weird that I’m just getting around to writing about it now? Negative. Not at all. Listen, I don’t consider myself shackled to recency in that way. I’m fine writing at any time about anything that happened at any time. (What a see-saw of a sentence.) If I had strong feelings about Edward the Black Prince conducting the massacre, sacking, and razing of Caen, Normandy in 1346, I’d pen that impassioned op-ed like it had just happened yesterday and the motherfucker was liable to turn on his wooden laptop tomorrow and read what I had to say aghast.

I don’t write about current affairs for some clicks-over-substance news website, so I don’t feel the need to rush out some sloppy, slapdash, ill-considered 800-word spicy-hot-take four hours after something happens. That just isn’t me. I get to things when I get to them. And I like to dwell on the subject matter for at least a little while before I put pen to paper fingers to keys. Then I end up getting even more time to stew on whatever it is as I’m articulating whatever my opinion about it is, because I’m a slow writer and, even worse, a distinctly glacial/OCD-debilitated editor of my own work.

(I tried to check out a little vial of cocaine from The Hunter S. Thompson ‘Write Faster, Dummy’ Creative-Stimulant Lending Library established as a private foundation in his will, whose services are free to sluggish writers the world over. I was hoping that it could give me a kick up the backside and improve my productivity. But the nice bespectacled lady at the front desk with the chest tattoo and the undercut and the vanished septum told me that my membership card had expired and also that she suspected I was a quote-unquote “fuckboy narc.” And when someone treats you to two different reasons why they can’t help you, you tend to get the message loud and clear. Hey, that’s fine with me. But they ain’t never getting that tupperware container full of peyote buttons back. I don’t care if the late-fees accumulate forever. Fuck ’em.)

I’m also often busy with other shit. Other pieces of writing, other creative projects, personal life stuff, et cetera. So yeah, I get to things as soon as I can, but that usually isn’t exactly soon-soon. It’s more like how that weird film ‘The New Mutants’ has repeatedly been scheduled to come out soon, we promise for the last three years straight. (I don’t know if there’s a way to bet against a film being successful, kinda like shorting a stock, but in this case that seems like it’d be a pretty sure bet. If you can find me one person who was genuinely thinking to themselves “gee, I’d love it if they made a self-contained horror-movie spin-off of the now-finished X-men franchise,” I’ll let an empty-stomach build over a few days, then grab a knife and fork and a bib and head to my nearest hat store to chow down on some millinery cuisine. I thought the last few mainline X-men films weren’t even worth watching, so I’m definitely not enticed by the prospect of a posthumous add-on now they’re done…)

I’ve just had to make my peace with my slow pace as best I can. I will say that there are two frustrating things about constantly nursing a lengthy backlog of things I want to comment about though.

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Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part I

Y’know, it’s… tough. On the one hand, and to state the obvious, for the last few months it’s been hard to think or converse about anything but Coronavirus. Yet, now that I sit down at the keyboard, I also can’t help but feel like it’s difficult to know what to actually say about it.

Sure, it would be easy to just vent the swirling anxiety word-vomit we’re all feeling, but trying to figure out some intelligent comment to offer is a very different matter. Don’t let this elbow-patched lab-coat fool you; I’m not an epidemiologist, nor do I possess expertise in any other relevant field; I just found this rather confused garment in a thrift store. Even though I try my best to look at the data and listen to what the experts are saying, there’s a complexity to the whole thing which is just mind-boggling in the truest sense. I mean, I wonder if I’m alone in struggling to overcome the instinct to just mutely point at this insane situation we, as a species, find ourselves in. To jab a finger at it with mouth agape and eyes wide, just mouthing the words “holy fuck, not good, holy fuck, not good” over and over.

And yet, well, I’m not sure just uploading a JPEG of me doing that (or maybe even a GIF — by the way, hard-gee pronunciation, heathens — so that you can lip-read my silent exclamations) is a blog post unto itself. So I’d better come up with something vaguely coherent to say. And fast. Because this cruise-ship internet café I find myself toiling away in has electrified seats which activate once your time is up. I even had to sign a waiver confirming that I don’t have a pacemaker, which an errant jolt might disrupt. Joke’s on them though. I do have a pacemaker. Suckers.

Besides, you maybe already know my dumb shtick by now: I do a little bit of hand-wringing because I surely haven’t got much to say, then I give you 8000 words. I doubt this piece will be that long but you get my point. (Hmm, am I jinxing myself there?…)

[*record scratch* NARRATOR: “He was.”
RYAN FROM THE FUTURE: “The piece ended up being more than double that. And was groaning beneath its own weight so much that it had to be cleaved into two parts. I make no apologies. I really just never know how many things are gonna pop into my head to comment on until I actually sit down and pull open that word-hole incision on my forehead with both hands.”]

Anyhow, with my accustomed throat-clearing out of the way, let’s get into it.

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Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part II

COVID-19 has killed countless thousands. It will undoubtedly go on to kill many more. It is a horrifying scourge, impassively ripping family members and friends away and roughly depositing them in the quiet of the grave.

But it has also granted us a range of crucial insights. It is not insensitive to those who have perished to heed these. In fact, it would be downright disrespectful (not to mention foolish) to ignore them, given the suffering and loss which were viciously inflicted as their cost.

Yes, COVID-19 is not just a vile fiend, it is also a brutal teacher. It has lifted the veil on so many things. It has disabused us of cherished illusions.

Some Revelations

One such illusion is that our governments know what they are doing, that they are competent and well-prepared for anything, that they will put the welfare of their people above all else. I mean, if you still believe this now, I can’t imagine what would disprove it for you. It must be some kind of treasured, unfalsifiable ‘axiom’, placed deep in the foundation of your mind when the concrete was first being poured, which helps you sleep at night. (Personally, I think you should brave being a little insomnious if it means seeing what’s actually happening around you. Just a thought.)

There is a temptation to think of the pandemic as an unmalleable ‘act of god’. To take refuge in the excuse that “well, gee, I don’t know, it was always going to be bad no matter what.” (Which, admittedly, there is perhaps a grain of truth to. But just a grain.) Do not be duped by this line of thinking. It is an evasion of responsibility. It is a shirking of the proper, crucial allocation of blame. Make no mistake, what was coming one way or another was intensified manyfold by the bumbling governmental response to it.

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