The Chair’s Guide to Quarantine

 

My husband was at the market today and unwittingly made a woman smile.

She was unsuccessfully trying to juggle SIX DOUBLE ROLLS OF PAPER TOWELS in her hands as she hurried towards the checker and, seeing the futility of her efforts, met his eyes, nodded and laughed.

Perhaps your story involves insane amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, or aspirin – either falling out of people’s arms (or your own) or not on the shelves at all.

Funny because it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

But THIS is a typical part of the day in the life of America today.

The calm before the storm, the panic before it could inevitably get really bad.

In order to stop myself from indulging in such behavior, I automatically think about what my mother used to say when Too Sensitive Me was getting overly upset by something going on in my world.

Just keep it up and I’ll really give you something to cry about!

Or, if my Mom’s brand of tough love isn’t working for you (Note: It certainly doesn’t for me), how about this admonition from the immortal Cher:

Perfection

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote those words for her to deliver in the classic 1987 film Moonstruck but they are no less timely 30 years plus later.

Still, this does not mean they are not overly HARSH.

If we want to weather the storm (or tornado or typhoon) of COVID-19 we need to practice….     um…..       Social    ……………………………………………     distancing.

What this means is not getting too close to others, keeping our hands clean, resisting the urge to touch our faces or mouths and, most importantly, and when possible –

STAYING HOME

Just remember to wash those sheets!

Yes, this is an economic hardship, especially for those who will no longer get paid for their jobs or others who are either unable to work virtually or have children now home from school.

Still, it’s just been announced every worker affected by self-quarantine (nee staying home) is at least eligible for unemployment.

Not to mention, remember all that guilt you might have felt for not spending enough time with your kids?  Well…..

If all else fails, empty boxes will do

Okay, who am I kidding?  I don’t have kids and am fortunate enough to be able to do my job from my bed, I mean, um, home… office.

Nevertheless, as one out of the many fortunate millions who managed to live through the raging AIDS epidemic of the eighties (and beyond ) who is still around to tell the tale, I do know something about viral panic.

There was a time not so many decades ago that I remember washing and disinfecting my hands so religiously and profusely that I actually scrubbed the surface layer of skin off the top of one of my palms.

Not feeling nostalgic for this

It was then, and only then, I began to understand the futility of hysteria and the hilarity of my own neurosis.   No matter how appropriate I believed I was being that is how much my reactions weren’t helping.  Certainly, they weren’t making me any cleaner.

So until they get more information and come up with a reliable, available test/treatment/cure for this virus en masse, here are some handy survival tips:

1- TAKE POSITIVE ACTIONS OF YOUR CHOICE – Demonstrate on the streets (alone, or with a few folks 6ft apart please), commiserate with friends and loved ones (more on this below), rant at the TV and politicians (Note: Well, THE politician, wink wink) , research and come up with position papers that will solve the entire thing but Do NOT FEEL GUILTY about NOT doing EVERY ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY.

I support Netflix, I do not support pizza in bed (I mean, there is a line)

Seriously, no one is Mother Theresa, not even Mother Theresa.  She might have done great unselfish things but even she is a construct, a gold standard of perfectionism and self-sacrifice that is non-human and can’t possibly provide you a true unvarnished 100% human X-ray of a real woman.  Or man.

Therefore, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.  You’re not letting yourself off the hook for anything, you’re simply being yourself.  And you get to wake up and try again the next day, and the next, and the day after that.   Because you’re one of the lucky.

2- COMFORT FOOD TV – This does not mean binge watching The Wire or finding a streaming service offering all 14 episodes of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Instead it means marathons of The Simpsons, The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), Law and Order SVU/CSI/NCIS/Blue Bloods or WWE (Note: That’s Worldwide Wrestling for my fellow gays).

Gotta love that Olivia Benson brand of encouragement #benson2020

A few days ago someone told me that a really smart person they knew had taken to watching countless back-to-back Big Bang Theory episodes they’d already seen.

But I have that beat.  This weekend I tuned in Logo and in one sitting tore through twelve straight episodes of The Nanny, a show I seldom if ever saw in first run.

THOSE. OUTFITS.

 

Maybe it was Fran Drescher’s voice, or the fact that Renee Taylor, the comic actress who played her mother, reminded me of my mother, or just maybe it’s the fact that, like me, the title character is from Flushing, Queens AND Jewish and likes to wear loud clothes and is a scheming nag when she doesn’t get her way.  But after all those decades, in this particular time of this decade, boy is she hilarious.

3- START A SILLY CREATIVE PROJECT DOOMED TO FAILURE –Maybe it’s the book, screenplay, poem , song or short story you always wanted to write.

Perhaps it’s rearranging the furniture in your living room.

Or even hanging the framed picture that’s been sitting in your closet for a year because you are sure you’ll f-k up your wall if you try to do it yourself.

When I was in my twenties I thought it was a great idea to use high gloss black paint on every wall in my bathroom and to this day I treasure the reaction of my landlady when she saw it.

The point is, why NOT?  God knows you have the time and it will give you something to talk about instead of the virus.

4- “PHONE” A FRIEND – This might sound silly or obvious but there is a lot to unpack here.   Living in a world where EVERYONE is being told to stay inside as much as possible means that for one of the first times in your life you are truly NOT alone.  So use it as an excuse to reach out to…..ANYONE because, well, you actually have a reason.

it’s time to Facetime!

This means someone from your past, present or perhaps…future?  You don’t need to pretend anymore.  We’re all a bit crazed.  Some aberrant behavior is to be expected.   So take advantage of the fact that there’s a wider berth of crazy for all of us.

The office acquaintance, the best friend who is no longer best, the former or future lover of your dreams.  Even the individual you at one point wanted to tell off but now actually miss.  Does it REALLY matter???

And know that in 2020 coronavirus parlance, “phone” clearly means, Skype, text, gchat, zoom or any virtual reality of your choice.

5- BE.  OF. SERVICE. –  Nothing takes you out of your own insanity or isolation more than helping someone else with his or her own stuff.  This means ANYONE and ANYWHERE.  Oh, and there is little noble about this.  Most likely whomever you are helping has it FAR WORSE than you do and you will get to feel mighty good about YOUR life afterwards.

This + thinking about Tom Hanks (and Rita!)

This is how many of us got through the eighties.

And how many of us will get through today.

Justin Hurwitz – “Quarantine” (from First Man)

Truth to Power

There was a Law and Order episode on this week where a young and ambitious female investment banker accuses her firm’s billionaire client of rape and is eventually offered a $5 million a year job at a competing firm that will require her to keep a low profile. Which ostensibly means dropping her case.

This being the fictionalized world of both Law AND Order, the young woman, who was indeed raped and rightly accusing the slick billionaire of sexual violation, eventually decides NOT to take the money (Note: A guaranteed $20 mill over four years) and instead stands up publicly to him in court. When asked why on the witness stand she proclaims – parroting the words of our beloved Lt. Olivia Benson, nee Mariska Hargitay – it is because “I will not allow him to steal my dignity one more time.”

I light mine every night. #SaintOlivia

The proclamation of dignity vs. submission, and the forfeiting of personal wealth and power for a greater good (i.e. standing up to criminal behavior and thus saving other potential victims) is, to say the least, reassuring. As is, as always, the show’s subsequent final credit, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DICK WOLF.

But life is not an episode of Law and Order where people are convinced to do the right thing because we all want to live in moral clarity. Where we all have a conscience that moves us to the better choice. Where good wins out in the end over evil. Or at least over selfishness, money and immoral actions.

You can’t appeal to people who are sociopaths. Who don’t live in aspirational morality. In trying to “do the right thing” and “be better.” To make the right choice that will benefit not only us but the most people.

Those who live primarily in selfishness and self-aggrandizement, whatever their reasons, are playing a different game. Putin, Trump, or whoever you like. When power and money and ego are at the center of your world you are working for yourself.

Gag me

You might occasionally note to the outside world that you are NOT working for your own inner world and might even convince yourself of that from time to time. But inside you instinctively know better. You have a knee jerk reaction about what makes YOU feel good. About yourself. About what you exude. About what you can provide for LOYAL FRIENDS and FAMILY MEMBERS around you. Even about what you can provide for “your people.” In your country.

But the definition of “your people” has less to do with who you will lead by their birth into your world and your responsibility to them, and everything to do – once again – with loyalty. But to the state – which in your mind – means to YOU.

This skewed view of the world means that anyone who disagrees with you, and those who most certainly look down on your world view, are not your problem. You will go around them or mow them down. They are not your responsibility. In fact, in many ways, they are your enemy. Because they are getting in the way of the agenda you seek to execute and provide. Essentially for your FOLLOWERS.

A 90s cartoon that is all too real now #help

This is essentially how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon thinks. His uber nationalistic view. His determination to tear down the international liberal world order he sees as poisonous. He doesn’t want his kids to go to school with “Jews” because, as his ex-wife stated, he doesn’t like their “values” and “whining.” Bannon’s background is militaristic, two terms in the Navy, and someone who was educated at Harvard, weaned by Goldman Sachs out of the military and then went to work in Hollywood, selling syndication rights for multi millions of dollars for Seinfeld (Note the irony), which made him personally rich. And then opening his own consulting firms where he made hundreds of millions in international deals worldwide with clients such as a Saudi Prince who was one of the richest individuals in the world.

A striking image

Bannon actually was educated among Jews, made money for and with them and then somewhere along the line (or perhaps he always felt this way) decided they were a turn-off once they provided the experience and means he benefitted from in order to enable him the platform to hang with the big boys and create his own international power platforms. Which he did quite ably. He boosted alt-right racist and sexist ideology at Breitbart News in order to blatantly challenge an accepted morality that the majority of the world operated on. Who knows how he really felt at the time? Was it a means to the end or did he really believe this stuff? Perhaps both. Perhaps either one. What seems clear at the moment is that it almost doesn’t matter. What is clear is that what he sees is the big picture of power. And like Trump and Putin, it is a world where there are pockets of power that he and a handful of others control.

… and all too easy to get drunk on that power

There is not an overall mass morality. The MORALITY is survival and power, POWER and SURVIVAL – of the FITTEST. The idea of what is “right” – whether it’s okay to “rape” a woman, deceive a small group of people who don’t understand, or an entire state or country who won’t ACCEPT, this order, is immaterial. It’s not particularly in the picture. It doesn’t fit into HIS world view. And really, HE doesn’t appear to have much conscience about it. Certainly, HE doesn’t fit into a Law and Order episode “arc” or morality.

Fin, for the win

The sooner we can all accept this, that we’re not playing the usual game, the more effective and psychologically better off we’ll be. You can’t intellectually argue with this kind of ILLOGIC. You can only accept this is THEIR view of the world and work with those who share a more traditional similar morality or right and wrong to save the world. You cannot expect THEM to play under your RULES. You can’t play poker with people who by themselves decide deuces are wild and one-eyed Jacks are higher than an ace without telling you. Or perhaps inform you after the fact and expect you to play under these rules. Which they assumed you should have known. Or always knew and are now lying about.

Some say it’s a matter of perception

What this means is hardball. It means resistance. We can’t act like a hurt school boy or gal who is in a relationship with the absolute wrong person but thinks if they only reason with the person that they love and they know (deep down) LOVES THEM, they can get them to change. This kind of continued, emotional, prolonged attempts at negotiation are the very definition of insanity.

What we need to do is distance ourselves and breakup with a person who doesn’t hold our values. We need to be very, very strong and not be seduced by whatever seductions or appeasements they may offer. We need to be vigilant, as we would with any person, or people, who we are ENABLING to ruin our lives. Contrary to what we think, in LOVE and in political power struggles of self-determination, the CHOICE is always ours. We DO have the POWER.

You got that right, Chairy.  #MaxineWaters #TruthtoPower

Here are two links immensely helpful in shedding light on this psychology. One is by Molly McKew, a woman I caught on cable news who has spent her adult life consulting with leaders opposing Putin.

The other is a detailed history of Bannon’s worldview formation and strategies that recently ran in the Washington Post.

Real information is THE most powerful weapon of the 21st Century. Don’t be clouded by populist rhetoric or shiny new promises. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. So to speak.