Jennie Orvino’s Blog: Piece of Mind
Yesterday afternoon about 6 p.m. the light was otherworldly orange; this morning, at 9 a.m. the sky is otherworldly orange but also oddly dark, like a storm coming, definitely not as it should be. I admit, I feel extremely uneasy. Writing helps.
What came to mind was the phrase I learned in the 80s: “nuclear winter,” which was hypothesized as the result of widespread firestorms following a nuclear war. The soot injected into the stratosphere would block sunlight, resulting in darkness and cooling that would cause, among other things, crop failure and famine. That’s what the air/sky looks like. Our California Governor Newsom is saying he has no patience with people who deny global climate change now…Well, yes, for decades we have been warned. Unfortunately, the Gov is still awarding a tremendous number of oil and gas leases, keeping the fossil fuel industry thriving in our state.
It’s official; the William Barr Justice Department has become Donald J. Trump’s personal law firm. In addition to misrepresenting the Mueller Report, reversing Roger Stone’s jail sentence, and firing prosecutors unfriendly to “the orange man” (I took note that in a speech, following his son’s being shot in the back by police seven times at point blank range, Jacob Blake’s father referred to Trump as “orange man” casually, as if that were his name), now the Justice Department wants to make us, American citizens, pay if a lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll succeeds.
Yes, the woman who accused Trump of raping her in the dressing room of a swank department store 20 years ago has a defamation suit in process. This maneuver by the Justice Department wants to move the case to federal court, which would make the U.S. government, rather than Trump himself, the defendant in the case. (See article in the Washington Post). As if we are not already paying in lives and treasure for the crimes of this – I’m running out of adjectives for the mendacious, vile, cruel, misogynistic—man, here’s yet another example.
Well, enough on that. On the side of comic relief, but also insight, let me recommend once again Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert, who are using their platforms of late night comedy to educate citizens about democracy…and history. On a recent show, Noah did a terrific comparison of the current pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic. And still they make us laugh through our tears.
Finally, let me recommend Roy Zimmerman
If you have never heard this wonderful singer/songwriter/political satirist, you are in for a treat, and again, a much-needed chuckle. I heard him perform in Occidental a couple of years ago and last night scrolling through Facebook at bedtime, I came upon his “Live from the Left Coast.” I urge you to check him out and contribute for the music. He said he’s doing a new Facebook Live mini concert every Tuesday. Right on his home page you can click and hear “Vote Him Away (the Liar Tweets Tonight).” I’ll admit he had me singing along, right there from my pillow.By the way, the address for his Metaphor Records is in Lakeport, CA.
In the middle of a holiday weekend with weather setting records in triple digit high temperatures, I took advantage of the caesura between writing assignments published and new articles assigned, to lounge about and re-read Jonah Raskin’s noir mystery: Dark Past, Dark Future. In this, I resemble the author (full disclosure—he is also my friend) who took advantage of the isolation offered by the coronavirus pandemic to finish this third book in his Tioga Vignetta murder mystery trilogy.
Inspired by actual events and real people, Dark Past, Dark Future continues the adventures—and misadventures—of a female private investigator who manages to strap a shoulder holster under the slinkiest of outfits. The first book, Dark Land, Dark Mirror, which deals with crimes against the environment, and the second, Dark Day, Dark Night, which unfolds in the world of marijuana, are set in fictional locales that will be familiar to residents north of the Golden Gate. The names are changed but the geography and the personalities draw the reader in like juicy bits of family gossip.
This novel begins with a helpful list of 28 characters, identified in a few words like the cast in a playbill. From the start, we see that politics, wine, and porn will be included in the plot. The intro pages also include a Note to the Reader, containing information on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. I’ll admit that a warning to expect some kind of domestic battery or assault in the pages to follow had me a little on edge while reading.
The climactic scene’s sexual violence, while brutal, appeared 20 pages before the end of the tale, and had been somewhat balanced out, at least emotionally for me, by Tioga’s mastery of other aspects of her life. We are all complex beings, full of flaws and misjudgments as well as confidence and triumphs. Many a first husband (I say from experience) has been an attractive outlaw. Although when the bad boy crosses over into criminality, the attraction turns to disgust or dread.
Fortunately, the principal character, our beret-wearing, latte-drinking, heat-packing P.I., has allies created in previous books who serve her well in her time of vulnerability. She also has a love/lust interest which gives Raskin the opportunity to show his skill in managing sex scenes that seem equitable between the partners; some are fully in the woman’s control.
I give the author credit for indicating the developing intimacy between Tioga and Alejandro while maintaining descriptive language in the noir style. In other words, the love-making scenes are frank and down-to-earth with none of the “camera cut to the wind blowing the curtains” type of evasion. But while not poetic, the several sex scenes were not smutty either. They showed growing trust and closeness between the partners, right down to the Manhattan cocktails delivered to Tioga in hospital as she recovered from her injuries. I say bravo to that.
I expect the reason for trilogies is that there is so much to cover and so many complicated interactions that you can’t fit everything into the attention span of a beach blanket reader or late night insomniac. However, Dark Past, Dark Future, manages to fit in a good deal of content, both overt and implied, just through the portrayal of the more “minor” of those individuals listed in the cast of characters. I especially enjoyed the winemaker and Jack London buff, Louis Marchetti, the observant artist, Rhonda Hope, and the newspaper editor, Jeremiah Langley, each of whom were sharply drawn in a single, plot-advancing scene.
I give Dark Past, Dark Future 4 stars.
(c) 2020 by Jonah Raskin McCaa Books, Santa Rosa, CA
Two of my subscribers wrote, “Well if you didn’t like 365 Days as an erotic flick, what do you like?” I promised I would make a list of films that had both cinematic quality and at least one memorable erotic scene. I’m still working on that list because I had to go pretty far back into my files. That will be a future post.
But, let me share why I found two films I watched in the past week compelling and romantic (by definition, “dealing with a love affair, being heroic or mysterious, idealistic or adventurous”). Both films are French, bien sûre! And helmed by female writer/directors.
The first, released in 2019, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) is a sensual drama set in the 18th century directed by Céline Sciamma, starring Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. It won the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay at Cannes, but I didn’t know that before I watched it.
I was taken by this feature from an initial scene where an artist, Marianne, is riding in a small boat on very rough waves off the coast of Brittany. (The camera work put me in a seasick state.) Her bulky box of paints and canvas flips overboard and she dives in—shoes, long dress and all—to retrieve it. You know from the outset that this is a strong and determined woman. She arrives, saltwater soaked, at the remote estate where she has been commissioned to paint the portrait of Héloise, daughter of the house, who is to be married off to a Milanese nobleman.
Males appear in this film only as the dim sailors who deposit Marianne on the rocky shore. The servant, the mother, and the two young women carry the evolving story, riding on a stunning script. Steadily-evolving relationships among all the women surprise and move the viewer. A particularly stunning scene elevates the aftermath of an abortion into a visual akin to a religious fresco on a cathedral wall. I’ll say no more about Portrait of a Lady on Fire so you can fully enjoy it. If you can get a DVD, the extras provided are insightful.
After a few filmic duds, I chose to watch Queen to Play, (Joueuse), for the second time since I knew I would be satisfied. Directed by Caroline Bottaro, it turned out to be a good pairing with Portrait because of its focus on the character played by the extraordinary actress Sandrine Bonnaire.
Hélène, is a maid at a boutique hotel perched on an ocean-view cliff on the isle of Corsica. While making up a guest couple’s bed, she witnesses them playing chess on the balcony. Their interaction, seen through gauzy curtains, looks all the world like sexual foreplay.
A brief conversation with the female guest (who leaves behind a satin nightgown that Hélène appropriates for herself in a failed attempt to attract her husband’s nighttime attention) incites Hélène’s curiosity about chess. She becomes obsessed with learning, and “mastering” the game. “The queen is the most powerful piece.”
The 2009 film (streaming and on disc in 2011) had originally come up in my Netflix queue because I watched another story about chess and because was I was engaged in a string of Kevin Kline movie nights. Kline, speaking French throughout, plays a reclusive widower for whom Hélène cleans house. He becomes a mentor for the aspiring Joueuse d’echec and their growing relationship comprised most of the thrill for me in Queen to Play.
A late scene I have played play over and over is packed with erotic charge but involves not a touch. It is all about intercourse involving the greatest of our sex organs, the brain.
The film, 365 Days, directed by Barbara Białowąs, has been moving in and out of the number one spot on Netflix since it debuted on June 10. I first heard about it from a male friend who said, “It’s supposed to be sexy.”
Buzzfeed senior cultural reporter Scaachi Koul wrote a brilliantly hilarious and right-on review (which I recommend) of this Polish film (which I do not recommend). And neither did she, exactly. One of the article’s pull quotes: “It’s effectively a rape fantasy that clearly hates its woman protagonist, but good god, it fucks.”
On a sun-drenched yacht, the couple engages in sexual intercourse in a variety of positions in a variety of places—on deck, below deck, fore and aft, medium shots, shots from a drone’s eye view. These scenes, when the camera zooms in, are nicely photographed; and the music is appropriately rhythmic and intense.
But to get to that fucking, you have to wait for an hour into the movie. Before that, you must endure Sicilian crime family business, human trafficking, kidnapping, and the rather silly premise that a person who is holding you captive (albeit providing a whatever-you-want high-fashion shopping spree) declares that he is giving you a year to fall in love with him…
The guy, Massimo, is swarthy, tattooed and fashionably unshaven with full lips that curl easily into cruelty, or at least the disdain of the privileged. This is most disturbing at the beginning of the film where he, I would say, forces, a cabin attendant on his private plane to give him oral sex; he holds her by the hair and takes his pleasure. The look on his face, though, is not even pleasure, it is, as I said, violent, like he’s mad about something that has nothing to do with this woman kneeling in front of him. She is a receptacle. If I didn’t know the boat scene was coming up, I probably would have turned the thing off right then. But, I was researching, after all.
The awaited sequence on the yacht is basically soft core porn, a little more explicit than the sex in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy (Yes, I’ve seen all those movies and read the books they were based on). You see the mafia scion’s butt and pecs, but never a glimpse of his “manhood.” For Ana (I think that is the character’s name; it was rarely spoken), it’s just T & A, with not a pubic hair revealed. In some foreign films, you may see a penis now and again, but not in an excited state. THAT, to me, is, forgive the pun, hard core, and it would not be OK on Netflix.
There is also another scene, (actually I had just viewed something similar in episode 10, season five of Outlander) where the man forces a captive heroine to watch him have sex with another woman brought in to be used (in this case, the female prop is wearing kink chains and leather). Our leading man says to his captive woman, who is handcuffed to the bed here, “I want you to see what you’re missing.”
(Both Massimo and the Bonnet character in Outlander recited the same line.)
And what is it she is missing??? In the case of 365, what she is missing is not a man making love to her in the way she desires, driving her wild with pleasure. Pleasure does not seem to be in the equation at all, at least the prop woman does not seem to be enjoying the exhibition. Massimo is saying, in effect, to his kidnapped obsession, “You’re missing the opportunity for me to come in your mouth.”
Yeah, right, I can’t wait.
OK, I’m not judging that particular act, but jeez, context is everything.
A scene I did appreciate—after the energetic and apparently consensual frolicking at sea had relaxed me a bit—took place at a masked ball the same night. Massimo invites Ana to dance. “Oh, you’re asking for a change?” she says. Then they perform a passionate tango. OK, OK, that eight-minute stretch from boat to ball was very entertaining.
I would say if you want to spend time with 365 Days and put up with its characters without motivation and plot without sense, that’s up to you. Unlike with good old DVDs, streaming does not allow you to pick the “chapter” you want and go straight to the hot stuff. You have to fast forward to 1:07.
On this week’s agenda, a film I found well worth my time, even though I’d seen it before (but not for many years), was Body Heat. This 1981 noir thriller, Lawrence Kasdan’s first effort as a director, stars Kathleen Turner and William Hurt, who were then young, “fresh faces” in Hollywood.
Memorable erotic scenes in Body Heat include sweat-slicked nudity, sure, but Turner in a clinging white silk dress swinging her magnificent legs out of a car to crush out her cigarette with her high heeled pump, is a standout. Hurt, teased to his maximum and unable to retreat from her gaze through the leaded glass of her locked front door, uses a porch chair to smash through a side panel’s glass and meet her waiting embrace. There’s something about how he pulls up her red fitted red skirt to reveal sweet white panties—the symbol of the character Matty’s seeming innocence. It belies what the character Ned would later describe this way, “She was relentless. That was her special gift.”
And the film is wrapped John Barry’s sensual jazz score, a torrid yet plaintive alto sax constantly reminding us of sex and danger.
If you can still get Body Heat on DVD, you’ll be rewarded with excellent interviews with the director and actors, and a very fine “making of” documentary. And look up Larry Kasdan, who by that time in his career had written the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, and would subsequently write, produce and direct winning and popular films like The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, Grand Canyon and more in the Star Wars series, among others.
Last light I watched Kasdan’s 1985 western Silverado, a classic take on the genre which made an adorable 30-year-old Kevin Costner a star, and included Kevin Kline, Danny Glover and Scott Glenn as the kind of gunslingers you’d like to have on your side.
At the height of the HIV epidemic, singles learned how to have a “safer sex talk” with a potential partner. If precautions were taken, we were basically in the clear for sexually-transmitted infections. What to do, though, if a deadly, super contagious virus lives not only in our coughs and sneezes but in our very conversations, our intimate whisperings?
Sexting has always been a thing, pandemic or no. Ditto Zoom flirtations or Skype sex. What I have been considering during the time of COVID-19 are things consenting adults can do, at the recommended six-foot separation, when they’ve gone past the initial dating stage. As restrictions ease and space opens for sensual interactions in person, what are some creative solutions for lovers who don’t live together but were already at some level of intimacy before shelter-in-place?
One of my female friends calls the suggested “Creative Things You Can Do from Six Feet Apart” a “Cosmo-like list.” (I praise all women’s magazine for their grains of truth and usefulness). My sources are my own experience, personal growth workshops I have attended over the course of twenty years, conversations with a sex educator, advice from my physician, and input from peers and poets.
But first, some caveats.
My suggestions are meant to be progressive and have no time frame; there are more than an evening’s worth. Pick and choose. Use these prompts to stimulate your own imagination.
My intention here is to be gender neutral, but I am a female, and currently my sexual interests are men. Some activities I offer might be construed by a guy as c**k-teasing. If he’s in the same room with a person he likes who is doing such provocative things, it might be quite a challenge to keep his distance. Not that he will do anything criminally aggressive, but he might cajole or pressure his lover to relax their boundaries. Another possibility is that he will get sad or mopey or even angry from only looking and not touching. And then you have a lovers’ spat!
For me, as a vital, mature women, there is tension as well. I care for my partner (or potential partner) and want them to be happy. I also need relationship intimacy and desire satisfaction—in fact my health depends on it. So I rationalize, weigh risks and benefits. It’s a dilemma that has very few answers and precious little guidance.
If couples who do not live together decide to have contact sex, whether oral or intercourse, they should take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus. How to do that is a “Cosmo List” for another time.
What I am attempting here is to initiate a compendium of sexual-pleasure-from-a-distance that stretches the imagination and pushes the envelope. I welcome and encourage your additions!
Fetch your carpenter’s tape and mark off your room in six-foot intervals—from easy chair to couch, doorway to doorway, prop box to video screen. If you can find a private space outdoors, so much the safer, but still maintain your distance.
I’ve read reports of asymptomatic people who’ve attended choir practice and expelled virus droplets from enthusiastic singing that infected those nearby. Might the same be said for the heavy breathing or vocalizing that occurs during sex play? Distance is probably not enough protection if the partners become so deeply engaged. Then masks are a necessity rather than just a costume accessory.
I’ve newly discovered, through a referral from poet Bill Noble, a respectful source of real sexual experiences, with world-wide reach but originating in Australia. Beautiful Agony is a paid-subscription erotic website featuring head shots of user-submitted videos showing the participants having orgasms, without providing any visual description of what technique is being used or revealing anything below the neck and upper chest.
Men, women and non-binary people are featured on the site. Many of the video clips are lovely and compelling, almost meditative. And utterly appropriate to social distancing. You can watch Beautiful Agony’s Show Reel to get a sense of what it would be like to subscribe and contribute content.
My book, Poetry, Politics and Passion, contains the essay “A Face of Ecstasy” in which I describe my experience participating in the documentary film “Orgasm: The Faces of Ecstasy,” a 2004 project by now-defunct Libido Films and produced by the late Joani Blank, author, sex educator and founder, in 1977, of Good Vibrations—the second feminist sex toy business in the United States.
Posted on my website is a video of me reading that essay intercut with sections from the Libido/Blank film. Probably not many of my clients or employers have delved that far into the audio-visual section of Piece of Mind Creative. It is an obscure portion of my obscure website, but it is there for the clicking if you are curious. In my view, Joani Blank is the mother, or grandmother, of the Beautiful Agony cohort.
A few years ago, my friend who works as a mail carrier clued me in to the fact that the postal service was not supported by taxpayers, but by stamps and mailing services. Yet it is the most trusted of federal agencies, especially by rural residents. If you read Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, you know that she sent supplies for her journey to small post offices all along the route of her now-famous trek.
I grew up living above a store in the business district of our town. The mail came through a slot in the door, so when I spent the humid Illinois summers at my grandmother’s house on the Fox River, “getting the mail” was a new and anticipated ritual. I was an avid letter writer, so putting up the flag on the gray metal box with our address numbers on it was something I did often from June to Labor Day. Today, in the time of coronavirus stay-at-home orders, my trip to my mail box—a black metal box with red signal flag mounted on a post across the street—is something pleasant that breaks up the day.
Even before the flood of “Save the Postal Service” petitions started to arrive in my email, the importance of this service had been on my mind. It began with an article published in The Bohemian back in 2013 by commentator, author and former Texas commissioner of agriculture Jim Hightower, and another by actor Danny Glover, “My parents proudly worked for the US Postal Service. Don’t destroy it.”
Glover’s point is that his family, and many families of color, had a path to the middle class through this institution. He wrote “African Americans have the most to lose from Postal Service cuts and the most to gain from innovative reforms that help the poor, like postal banking.”
The Trump administration’s intent is to sell off the postal service to for-profit corporations (to say nothing of Trump wanting to undermine Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s relationship with the USPS, totally out of political revenge for Bezos-owned Washington Post’s criticism of the orange-faced man himself). A presidential task force plan to move in that direction calls for privatizing parts of the service, reducing delivery days, closing post offices, and jacking up prices on most package and mail deliveries.
You can read about the reasons the postal service is in trouble in two segments on Democracy Now in an interview with American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein. Also hear or read why there is such an outcry to prevent the post office’s demise, which, without an infusion of money, is predicted to be bankrupt by this summer. Prominent congress people are demanding support for the Postal Service in the next piece of rescue legislation. (Email cannot deliver our prescriptions!)
Aside from the benefit to our nation’s “haves” to privatize everything from health care to education to water, they have another reason to wish for post office closures: disruption of democracy. During this pandemic, it is bad enough that meat processing employees (who cannot telecommute) now have to choose between money for their families and risking COVID-19. Should people be forced to choose between voting in person and risking the disease, as they did in the recent Wisconsin primary (thanks to the Supreme Court)?
There is no reason not to be making extensive preparations to vote by mail in November. Voting machines are more easily hacked than paper ballots, and there is no end to the lies tRump is spewing about the dangers of mail voting. Here’s an opinion piece on that from The Hill, “Let’s put the vote by mail “fraud” myth to rest.”
Read up, sign petitions, call your representatives, and use the post office when you can. I like to quote the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who said that this is a time of “we” not “me.” Maybe you haven’t bought a stamp in years and get all your bills online and paychecks via direct deposit. But this is not the case for many of the “have nots” in America.
History will measure our greatness by the word WE not ME.
I started a story for a local publication, but the editor decided—not enough “there” there. I enjoyed interviewing the women associated with Safari West and the Oakland Zoo and wanted to give them a bit of a shout-out, with the hope that folks will support these institutions that really do care about research, conservation, and the well-being of the enormous diversity of our non-human neighbors on this finite planet. The question was “Are creatures in captivity benefiting from the lack of animal tourism?”
All they needed was a little privacy. Giant pandas Ying Ying and Le Le recently made world headlines by mating successfully after 10 years of cohabitation at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, raising hopes for an offspring for the vulnerable species. Perhaps Le Le’s libido was sparked by several months free of observation by throngs of tourists (the zoo has been closed to visitors since January 26 as a measure to fight the coronavirus). Or perhaps the zookeepers’ showing him video footage of other pandas doing the deed proved a useful how-to? A panda conservationist, Dr. Li Binbin, says, “These animals are shy and sensitive to noise, smell and objects around them. If they are stressed, they cannon indulge in normal behavior like mating.”
Reports of unusual behaviors in wild animals have proliferated on the Internet, from a lengthy video of a fox and skunk playing together in a Maine backyard to a puma descending from the Andes Mountains into Santiago, Chile, one of South America’s busiest capitals.
Aphrodite Caserta, public relations director for Safari West, “the Sonoma Serengeti,” says that the mammals, birds and reptiles from Africa that populate the private reserve don’t appear to notice the lack of visitors. “Our one thousand animals are wild and free to roam on 400 acres. They are interacting with their care-keepers daily, as they always do,” she says.
When pressed a bit further for anecdotes, Caserta speculates, “People ‘on safari’ can’t touch the animals, but we have a particular giraffe who is very friendly and likes to nuzzle the guests. It’s possible that he might be a little lonely.”
Ann Marie Bisagno, Oakland Zoo’s Zoological Manager, has this to say, “We thought the closure might be a nice relief for the animals, some peace and quiet, but the animals are missing seeing people. In particular, the chimps.” Bisagno asked the staff to have their lunches in front of the chimp exhibit, maybe show them some videos on their phones. A male eland in the giraffe exhibit approached a staff member walking by “and looked at us, as if to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”
It’s true that some animals are indifferent, but certain species want more interaction, like the macaws and gibbons and other primates. While enrichment is part of the zoo’s routine in normal times, it is especially needed now when visitors are absent. Bisagno explains that “enrichment” can mean playing music for the animals, or, as in the enclosure for lions and tigers, hiding their food in boxes or palm fronds. Staff will also scatter elephant urine and zebra dung in the habitat, disrupting the atmosphere to get the big cats more active. She observed a group of giraffes turn to look in unison when they saw a lone employee walking by.
On April 1, the Oakland Zoo’s 110 part-time employees were laid off—that’s almost two-thirds of the entire workforce. Now, only essential personnel, made up almost entirely of animal care/zookeepers and veterinary hospital staff, are working. There are 750 native and exotic animals on the 100-acre site, managed by the Conservation Society of California.
Oakland Zoo Live Online
The Zoo’s marketing VP Erin Harrison says, “We’ve had to be creative in finding new revenue streams since the closure, so we launched Behind the Scenes Live in record time. This platform allows subscribers to log in every weekday at 2:30 p.m. (PST) for a 20-30 minute live interactive experience, featuring a different animal and interviewee each time. Viewers get to see things they would not usually see, even when visiting the Zoo in person. A sampling of topics for the week of April 13 include: “Monkey Business,” “Let’s Talk Tigers” and “Wolf Pack.”
During each broadcast, viewers get to ask questions by typing them into a chat feature. The four-person production team and a host who formerly worked at San Diego Zoo’s Kids Channel ensure professional quality. Anyone can subscribe to Behind the Scenes for $14.95/month; Oakland Zoo members get the first month free, then pay $9.95/month thereafter.
“We’re hoping to get enough participation in Behind the Scenes to offset any more layoffs,” Harrison says. “Having reserves was key to keeping us afloat for the time being. But those reserves will run out by August if the shelter-in-place isn’t lifted before then.”
Yes, all of us “creatures in captivity,” have adjustments to make.
In reading a New Yorker editorial in the middle of last night (not sleeping that well), I first learned about the howling. This morning, it’s front page news in our local Press Democrat. As a way of connecting with neighbors, we set up an audio uproar; in Sonoma County, it’s at 8 p.m. Like a communal OM, this sacred vibration unites us through the very air we breathe, releases stress, acknowledges our essential workers and first responders, and relieves our frustration. The kids seem to dig it.
The nightly howling, like my organizing the day around meals and online dance classes, creates a routine that gives the body something to look forward to.
We crave every act of physical pleasure at a time when we can’t hug each other as automatically as we used to, or touch our own household members if we are in self-isolation or quarantine. I’m thinking of calling into service that teddy bear I once cuddled as a prop for an acting class monologue.
The Nation magazine has generously suspended its firewall for reading online articles and I suggest you take advantage of it. Here’s a piece by one of my favorite Nation writers on (just) this week’s activities of the mad king: “Trump, our Grifter-in-Chief is a Global Menace.”
I’m less afraid of the virus than of the machinations of banana republicans who are tolerating the behavior of the “dear leader.” Perhaps they are supporters of herd immunity. Just let the virus run rampant through the population and see who’s left at the end. Force people to vote in person (as in Illinois this week) and get rid of a few more Democrats. It’s hard not to think some of the dystopian writings published over the past decades were premonitions.
Since I started this post, I’ve Zoomed and Facebook Live-d through two and a half dance classes, and tonight I’m tuning in to Left Edge Theater’s online play, “A Steady Rain.” I plan to sip some Balletto Pinot Noir and maybe discuss the performance with a friend afterward.
I wish you similar beneficial engagements on this Passover/Easter weekend. Bravo to all the creatives (the “second responders”) who are currently enriching our lives.
When it was announced that our shelter-at-home period would be extended through May 3, I clicked on the link to the Sonoma County Emergency website and the latest Order of the Health Officer. “Failure to comply is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.”
I was looking for clarification on what were essential businesses. (Could I find a nursery where I could purchase spring vegetable starts?) Are face coverings now required, as in LA? (I had just seen a video of the U.S. Surgeon General making a “mask” out of two rubber bands and square of T-shirt material emblazoned with the name of a drug used to reverse opioid overdose.)
What about those teens playing basketball in the park and three adults sitting on a bench—with less than a foot between them—watching? (Would I go so far as to snitch on a neighbor for safety?)
Who would be on the list of ten people I would want at my funeral? (Funerals and burial services are allowed as long as not more than 10 are physically present.) I used this detail of the health order to prompt a writing exercise that yielded results both surprising and profound.
Now, there’s another month of isolation to get through. In the midst of anxiety, financial and physical suffering, stress and boredom all around, can I look for something to buoy and inspire me?
I see Gov. Newsom, along with a select group of other governors and local officials, stepping up and acting, perhaps, the way a President should?
I see 25,000 retired medical professionals volunteering for California Health Corps on the very first day it was announced.
I see creativity bursting everywhere, from a woman’s silken face covering that slyly incorporates a minipad, to the uncounted number of online concerts, Broadway plays, operas—all free, well, free if you have a phone, computer and internet access.
I can hear Patrick Stewart giving me a daily reading of Shakespeare sonnets or my friend David reciting the poems of Adrienne Rich, Ted Kooser, John Berryman and others from different spots around his San Francisco home and garden.
For a tiny fee, I can choose all or any of 16 virtual classes from Dance Arts, a studio 35 miles away from my home and difficult to attend very often in person. There are other free or subscription dance classes recommended by classmates I have yet to explore. I admit, it’s not the same as being there for a high-touch artistic pursuit, but the sessions give me plenty to work on until I rumba with my favorite teachers again.
And while spare time has yet to materialize because I have been working as a journalist and grant writer from home, I hope that sometime in the next month of “retreat,” I’ll get a start on my next book.
So, today, aided by morning clouds and rain, I will focus on the silver lining.
I had just finished watching the last part of a previously-recorded American Masters special on Miles Davis (“Birth of the Cool” — highly recommended) when my TV, usually tuned to KQED (our Bay Area PBS station), announced the next program on the broadcast schedule: American Experience, Influenza 1918. “Is this something I want to see right now?” I asked myself. Nevertheless, I tuned in.
The DVD of this documentary came out in 2006 and I’m sure it played a big part in inspiring my fellow citizens to get their flu shots each season. The programmers at KQED were right, I think, to air it at this time. (It is available to watch online until April 30). As the two epidemiologists who serve as the main talking heads for the film point out, when this horrible pandemic finally passed, amnesia overtook the country. Our leaders, as well as the population, had thought such a thing could not happen and didn’t want to believe that it could happen again. Magical thinking still prevails, as we have seen, at the highest levels of our government.
Margaret Harris of the World Health Organization said in an interview this morning that Hong Kong and other parts of Asia have responded so well to the current Covid-19 pandemic because they learned from their experience with SARS. They did not choose to forget the nightmares of the past, but chose to prepare for the nightmares of the future.
Based on the for-profit “just in time” manufacturing model, American hospitals do not/did not stockpile supplies; empty beds are not cost-effective. In the public health sphere, money has been gradually drained away at the Federal level over years, with special emphasis on the last three years!
To me, that was why the 1918 influenza story was so enlightening and relevant. At that time, the United States was in the middle of World War I, and those troop ships crowded with soldiers going back and forth to Europe were floating incubators of the flu. Medical people did not know then about viruses, undetectable with an ordinary microscope. Today we can sequence the genes of these insidious invisible enemies!
So here’s the contemporary parallel. “Captain of aircraft carrier struck by virus wants sailors off ship,” says an ABC news report. “In an unusually blunt memo, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier has warned top Navy leaders that most of his ship’s crew of 5,000 needs to be quarantined ashore in Guam— because he’s concerned that keeping them on the ship would continue the spread of the novel coronavirus. Similar news reports here from The Guardian and CNN.
America could have been better prepared, but alas, as with the climate crisis, denial and wishful thinking abound. The direct connection between climate change and mutating viruses is elucidated in a 1995 book, The Coming Plague by Pulitzer Prize-winning medical journalist Laurie Garrett. I admit I owned the book, read some of it, but donated to the Sonoma Public Library about 10 years ago. Little did I think I would want it today… and Amazon is all sold out.
Put this episode of American Experience on your watch list, but I would view it after the kids have gone to bed.