BLACK LIVES MATTER

On May 25, a black man named George Floyd was detained by police. They laid him on the ground on his stomach, and one of the officers put his knee on his neck for over eight minutes. Mr. Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. The people around them pleaded for the officer to move. He did not. Mr. Floyd died. On the morning of May 26, I saw the news story shared on Twitter. I didn’t know the person who had shared it, the story it seemed too extreme to be real. I checked the publication, then Googled to see if other sources confirmed the story. They did.

The realization was like a jolt of electricity going through me. On top of the report about the killing of jogger, Ahmaud Abery, only a week before, on top of Eric Garner, who had also said he couldn’t breathe. On top all the others on the list that keeps getting longer. My eyes watered. My chest felt tight. Each of the other times I had felt… but this time felt different. After the fact now — in the wake of the outcry and the protests, I know this visceral reaction, the feeling of electricity — was shared. So often I feel witness to as opposed to part of, but in this case I was part of, without knowing, a pervasive a reaction that people felt, that would lead to protests across the country.

At this point, however, the world still seemed quiet. It was morning. No one else on my feed had mentioned the story. I hit “retweet,” knowing the news needed to be shared, but stopped short when it came to figuring out what I should say, what I could say — about this.

Any version of Beyond belief or This can’t be happening seemed specious when Black people in America live with the reality every day. Any version of horrible or awful, felt insufficient, like those of a distant speculator not that affected (which, it could be argued, I was). But to scream — to express the rage I was feeling — seemed performative, like the casual acquaintance who shows up at a funeral and cries on the shoulder of the widow. If I wanted to scream, how must Black people in America feel? Still, I knew it needed to be said, in some way, that I see this and this is wrong.

In the end, I posted whatever I posted, which in the scheme of things is unimportant as I have no Twitter engagement and soon enough social media exploded with many people who had more better things to say.

But, along with following the biggest issues at hand — those of police violence and systemic racism — I couldn’t help tracing, across the various platforms I follow — a hopping conversational thread where the voices in the world echoed the conversations inside my head. Calling out those who remain silent and are thus complicit, those who join in without understanding for cluttering the airwaves, those who hijack conversations and explain when explanations are not needed.

In general, I am probably guiltiest of the first, of silence — perhaps because I am scared of being tone-deaf, of making a mistake, of getting “yelled” at. This is not an unusual response for a white woman, and it certainly describes me. There is also the fact that when surrounded by many voices– regardless of topic and regardless of venue– I tend to “go quiet.” That feels like a sorry excuse in this case and I know it. I see the privilege and frivolity in taking this moment to claim that HSPism and introversion make it almost impossible for me to do otherwise. Am I saying I’m not white fragile I’m just fragile and hoping that makes it better?

And yet, there is part of me that resists eating this narrative whole. After struggling for much of my life to overcome the outward presentation of my interior qualities, I am learning to assert — at least to myself — that I believe those interior qualities have value. Going quiet means I am listening, that I am processing, and that eventually I will react. Granted, when it comes to injustice, there is such a thing as reacting too late… but the sad truth is that the world is so rampant with unfairnesses that a slow reaction for one event might be ready just in time for another.

Quick, reflexive soundbites are not my strong suit. But I hope my tendency to gather what to some seems an overabundance of information also can have value. My years of study are what I mine when I help other people tell their stories that are different from my own. I’ve seen my ability, in that context, to dive deep, to analyze and empathize, to provide a sounding board and suggest a framework, that I know that is a contribution too.

I am still going back and reading and watching the various articles and media posted over the last two weeks. And of course –no surprise — I’ve joined a book group that I’m very excited about — with a year-long reading list ranging from Souls of Black Folk, from the early 1900s, to White Fragility and How to Be an Anti-racist.

BLACK LIVES MATTER. This has never been a question for me. The questions, that I have asked before but now arise anew, lie in how that belief should impact how I move through the world and how I relate to others.

Remember When… Coronavirus Edition

I’ve just begun listening to a podcast called Fiction/Non/Fiction, and browsing through the catalog tonight, I chose Episode 10, called “Coronavirus and Contagion.”

Though it aired on February 13 of this year, the episode was recorded on February 9 — two days after the death of Dr. Li Wenliang and two days before the virus received it’s name: Covid19. The number of deaths at the time was 800, almost all in Asia, and I believe the number of cases their guest, Lauri Chen, cites is under 40,000, worldwide. Four months later it’s like listening to an audio time-capsule.The discussion is serious, but there is yet a sense of the academic about it, with the American hosts discussing a phenomenon that is happening on the other side of the world.

I have fallen far, far behind in terms of pandemic updates, but for the record, the number of worldwide cases is just shy of 7.5 million, and the number of deaths is more than 400 thousand.

Life in a Time of Pandemic: Road Trip Edition (Day 1, Part 1)


Telling people you are planning to drive from one end of the country to the other in the midst of a pandemic gives rise to some questions. Do you think it’s safer to drive than fly? The answer is “maybe.” We have to make more stops, but we won’t have the hours of sharing air with strangers in a confined space. Also, we’ve brought our car to Florida and need to get it back to LA, along with all of our stuff, so it’s attractive to feel like driving is the safer option. Do you think an AirBnB would be cleaner than a hotel? Not really. I feel like the cleanliness of individually-owned properties is less predictable than a hotel that is part of a chain. In New Mexico, where we’ll spend our second night, the occupancy for hotels is capped at 25%, so it will be almost empty, and I figure I can wipe down surfaces and touch points in a single room with less error than in a house.

On the flip side, we’ve also made the decision to spend the first night with my uncle, who lives deep in the country heart of Texas. Because my uncle is not one for phones, emails, or plane trips, and because he is still recovering from a badly broken leg several months back, my family worries for him, and would like me visit. Paul is not a fan of this; he worries because he doesn’t want to be responsible for making him sick. I don’t either, but, I reason, we’ve been sequestered for several weeks, my uncle’s house is fairly large so we can spread out, and as an essential worker, he has been going to work, so he’s being exposed to some outside people already. Of course, the flip side of that is that we are also being exposed to him. Either way, though, we’ll need to do two week quarantine when we get back to Los Angeles. When I tell Paul my family is in favor of us going. He asks “are they okay if we go and then one of us gets sick and dies?” This is a fair question, so I call my mother and uncle and ask: They all say to go for it, and think it is weird that I should ask. Apparently, if something tragic happens, my husband may blame me, but my family will not.

April 24, Friday –Pre move plans always include going to bed early and getting up mega-early the day of the move… and never really work that way. Still, we are loaded and on the road by sometime between 8:30 and 9am. In addition to the bag of snacks we had on our way east, I’ve put together another bag, containing rubbing alcohol, a roll paper towels, a roll of toilet paper, and a container of Clorox wipes A small container of hand sanitizer sits in the center console, along with the cloth masks my mother has sent.

It should take about eleven hours to get to my uncle’s house. We have one “fun” item on the the itinerary, which is stopping at a Buc-ee’s filling station and purchasing brisket sandwiches for lunch after we cross into Alabama.

Our last planned stop in Gainesville is the Starbucks for Paul, but as we near it, we see the the drive-through line — the only line since there’s no in-store service — extends down the street. We keep driving, planning to find a sugary caffeine drink on down the road.

Two hours later, it’s time for our first bathroom break. Since restaurants are closed, the choices are gas stations and state rest areas and I think rest areas are the way to go. The bathrooms are spacious and, with few people traveling for leisure and mostly-male truckers, I’m guessing not crowded. When we arrive, I enact for the first time the routine I have planned: using a Clorox wipe to open every door handle, latch the stall door, and, after perching the wipe on the top of the door while I use the facilities, using it again to exit the stall, push on the faucet handles and activate the dryers. I wipe each touch point I pass as as a little act of service to whomever uses it next.
 
In Tallahassee, where we went to grad-school back in the day, our pre-pandemic plans had been to see friends, reach out to professors, revisit old haunts. Our new plan is to drive straight through. But outside of town we decide we can each text one friend, and offer to drive by and wave. Twenty minutes later we have a short ten-year reunion with our friend Susie, with us parked at the end of her driveway and she standing eight or ten feet away.  She tells us about her kids, the birds in the backyard, working from home and painting designs on furniture.

Social distance reunion

She is in the middle of her workday, and we are still ten hours from our destination, so after fifteen minutes we are on our way. We make another spontaneous detour to see the graduate student housing where we lived for three years, only to discover the university has razed most of the buildings, including the one where we lived.

The line for the Starbucks in Tallahassee is even longer that the one in Gainesville, so we continue to the highway.

Before leaving, I asked the Facebook what music we should listen to on our trip, and got a handful of responses that includes Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on A Gravel Road, Weezer’s Blue Album, and Step Inside this House by Lyle Lovett, so we’ve downloaded these, along with an album I’ve been hearing about all week, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. These all seem a little less “basic” than the music we listened to coming the other direction– Paul’s choices of Taylor Swift, Maroon 5 and the Hamilton soundtrack.

We play the Lucinda Williams, and I’m getting into it — I’ve always had an affinity for raspy female recording artists — but four songs in, Paul says “I don’t think I can do it.” He hits the control on the steering wheel that I’ve never gotten the hang of, and next thing I know, we’re listening to “Memories” by Maroon 5, which, I have to admit, is catchy. I’ve always had an affection for the earworm masterpiece that is Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and that affection transfers to this pop song that borrows heavily from it.

After a little while, Paul starts Weezer album, which I think I remember liking. Now, though, high-hat cymbal feels constant and grating and tinny — but I don’t say anything. It’s good to listen to an entire album and experience it as a whole, I tell myself.

At 2:15pm, Kelly Clarkson plays as we discuss the new Heidi Klum-Tim Gunn show Making the Cut, trying to break down precisely what it means to have a taste problem, what it means to feel more expensive, and how each of these might translate to both the entertainment industry and life. “I think maybe we’d be better off,” says Paul, “if I felt more expensive to people.”

By this time we are already passing billboards for the Buc-ee’s, even though we’re still 100 miles out. For those who don’t know, Buc-ee’s is a Texas-based gas-station chain. A Buc–ee’s generally has at least a couple dozen gas pumps (one location has 100), and a convenience stores the size of a small Costco. Each store has a deli, a fudgery, a meat carvery, a desert case, and lots of branded tchotchkes. Fans wax poetic about the signature chopped brisket sandwich which, in case you don’t get the chance — tastes like a heightened McRib’s with pickles on it.

As we cross into Alabama, we can see some congestion going the other direction, at a checkpoint going from Alabama into Florida. There’s no checkpoint in our direction. For us, the only slow-down is the line of cars entering the Buc-ee’s.

If you squint, you can read the Sweet Home Alabama sign.

I’m a bit ashamed of how much social environment affects my perspective. I’ve found myself wearing the mask outside when there’s no one within a hundred feet. Based on my reading and common sense, I know this is unnecessary, but everyone else is doing it, so I do, too. In Alabama, outside the Buc-ee’s, the opposite is true. People are hanging out by their vehicles, and those entering aren’t wearing masks. For a moment, this seems reasonable. The store is as big as a theme park– we’ll be able to social distance easily, right?

A Buc-ee’s picture I stole from the internet.

But as soon as we walk through the sliding glass doors we realize this is not right. The lines at the two checkout stands are spaced in six foot increments, but because of this the lines extend down main aisle of the store — the same aisle that every customer needs to traverse to get to the contents of the store. While customers have space from the person in front of them in line, they are also within two feet of every customer entering the store .. like us.

Paul and I look at each other and in unison don our masks.

All around us, people without masks dart away from each other, like bumper cars, or like people with no umbrellas trying to dodge the rain. “If we come home with the virus,” I joke to Paul, as we grab our foil wrapped sandwiches from the bustling carvery, “it’s probably because we had to gett sandwiches at Buc-ee’s.” It wasn’t that funny of a joke.

We eat our sandwiches in the car. We’ve reached what I’ll come the “depressing part of the day.” Which is that time you are thinking you should be almost done driving, but according to the GPS you have five or six more hours to go…