Plague Journal 2: Electric Boogaloo

This is gonna get political so just stop reading now if my angry leftist perspective upsets you.

I’ve had this new thing happening to me for the last two, two and a half weeks, that’s been driving me fucking crazy. You know that feeling you get right around the bottom of your sternum when you suddenly realize you’ve fucked up horribly? Like, “Oh shit, I was supposed to be at the airport to pick up John an hour ago!” That kinda fuck up? And it’s all your fault and there’s nothing you can do to unfuck it up, and there’s not even a clever lie you can tell, because you’ve been livestreaming a sidewalk chalk art lesson in front of your house for the last three hours, and there’s verifiable evidence that’s permanently on the internet that you just fucked up and let your buddy John hang out at the airport and fend for himself, and all you can do is call him and tell him you’re a complete turd and you’ll buy him dinner every weekend for the next month to make it up to him.

That got a little specific, but anyway…that. That horrible feeling. I’ve had that every day for weeks now.

My shrink called it “hovering anxiety” when I was on the phone with her a little bit ago. She described some of the symptoms of low-grade anxiety attacks and I don’t have any of them, so I don’t think it’s quite that. Anxiety for sure, and dread, but not really an attack.

Two weeks ago it was really bad. I was getting them a dozen or more times a day, but two weeks ago I was struggling to make a writing deadline, and I was trying to prep three classes that now had to be taught entirely online. I wound up getting them prepped in three days, which is insanely fast, and I think the reason I worked so hard to get them done as fast as possible was because I thought that clearing them from my schedule would make this horrible feeling in my gut would go away. And it’s definitely diminished but here we are two weeks later, and I’ve already had it once today.

I’ve been in therapy (more on than off) for the last eighteen years, and I’ve learned to be pretty great at paying attention to what’s going on with me, but I’m also painfully aware that I have blind spots and occasional cluelessness. I’m still working my way through this shit, which is partially why I’m writing about it, but I think what’s causing this low-level anxiety and dread is that my country is clearly broken and terrible people are in charge of the government.

I don’t particularly feel the need to explain the terrible people in charge of the government thing; you either agree with me or you don’t, and I know I’m not going to be able persuade you of thinking otherwise if you don’t.

But my country is broken. The way we live is broken, and has been for a long time now. You’ve encountered all the memes on social media, I’m sure. Healthcare, systemic racism, underfunded education, unrestricted capitalism, the move to privatization, blah blah blah. Again, you either agree or you don’t, and I’m not going to be able persuade you that you’re wrong (ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU BELIEVE) if you don’t (but you are).

We’ve been living wrong for decades now. we’ve had working poor people living in their cars for 25+ years now. We’ve tied healthcare to employment, which is insane (“Well, you deserve healthcare, because you had enough patience to stick it out through four years of college and get a business degree, but you don’t deserve healthcare because you work at an art supply store.”). We’ve created a situation with our economy where 80% of the students in Los Angeles County are on the free and reduced lunch program, which means that 80% of the families living in LA County can’t afford to feed their kids three meals a day if the schools are closed. Dot com boom. Dot com crash. Housing market boom. Housing bubble burst. Financial markets collapse, government bailout, massive recession, massive recovery, and on and on and on.

For as long as it’s been true that some families can’t afford to feed their children without the assistance of public schools, the economy has been terrible for that entire length of time. And by the way, come at me with any economic theory you care to spout. You’re wrong. As long as families can’t afford to feed their children – regardless of circumstance – the economy is failing. We are failing.

My entire life I’ve heard how fucking necessary billionaire entrepreneurs and corporations are for our all-important economy. They’re the Bold. The Risk Takers. The Job Creators. They’re the people who keep our country running. And the people who work for them? Well, whatever. If they don’t like their minimum-wage jobs, they can get off their asses and go to college or start their own businesses. They can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the way the Job Creators did.

Well, here we are, after only one month of quarantine, where all us workers and consumers are staying home, not going out to eat or see movies or get our daily coffee or whatever, and where’s our economy? IN THE FUCKING TOILET. These billionaire entrepreneurs and corporations, with their magical fucking bootstraps, apparently can’t keep our economy healthy without us.

And look, I’m not saying that all of our economic stability is entirely due to the working class. The economy is a huge, complicated beast, and there’s no aspect of it that can be simply explained. But I am saying that our economic stability is 100% a collaborative effort between the employers and the employed. And I’m also saying that without us workers and consumers, the billionaire entrepreneurs and corporations would be completely fucked, and maybe it would behoove them to stop hoarding so much fucking money and share the profit with us a little bit. Hey! How about a quick anecdote?

I’m a college professor. Every single term, in almost every single class, I have at least one student who works for Starbucks, and at least one student who works for Amazon. Both are massive corporations, but without exception, my Starbucks students are really happy with their jobs. Being a barista is never their dream, which is why they’re in college, but it’s a good job, it pays well, they have benefits, and they’re happy to continue working there until graduation. Also, without exception, my Amazon students hate their job, and can’t wait to get the fuck out of there. I’m positive there’s some terrible shit Starbucks does that we’re unaware of, but they seem to recognize that the people who work for them are a valuable resource worth taking care of. Amazon seems to be fine with their employees pissing in Gatorade bottles. One of those companies is doing things better than the other, but that company is sadly the exception and not the rule.

Anyway, we’re living wrong. I’ve suspected known this to be true for a long time, but now we’re literally surrounded by objective proof of this. Or, put another way: Things have always been fucked, but right now, things are really, really fucked. I’ve talked about how I start my day with a newsletter from Heather Cox Richardson. The following is taken from the last few paragraphs of a recent email:

At the same time, the pandemic has…shown that our essential workers are not CEOs, but rather the farm workers and fishermen and janitors and teachers and postal carriers and tradespeople who keep society functioning.

I hear and see people all over the internet talking about going back to the way it was. Fuck the way it was. If possible, I’d like to never set eyes on that bullshit again. Over the weekend, there were protests and gatherings all over the country, mostly dip shits and mostly white (this becomes important in just a moment, be patient), demanding that they be given the right to go back out into society and get on with their lives. And if they were the only ones they’d be harming in doing so, I’d be fine with that. Hell, if I had the money, I’d pay them to do it, especially if they could take themselves out of the equation before November. But the problem with all disease is that it doesn’t target the stupid.

Forget the hypocrisy of conservative voters holding signs saying the government doesn’t have the right to tell them what they can do with their bodies, the part that makes me angry is the part where all these dumb motherfuckers are white, and to the best of my knowledge, not one canister of pepper spray has been lobbed their way.

Black people, armed with righteous anger and NOTHING ELSE, gathering in front of a courthouse demanding that their children not be shot dead like fucking coyotes are met with dozens of cops in full riot gear, and all the usual riot gear party favors (police dogs, fire hoses, tanks, rubber bullets, and yes, pepper spray). White people gathering, demanding their nonexistent right to get sick and spread a disease that we currently have no cure for, and they’re left alone to engage in their first amendment activity. One of these groups is a severe threat to public health and safety, and the other group is black people. The way things used to be can go fuck itself.

I’ll end this here with one last quote from Professor Richardson:

[This crisis] has proved that reordering our priorities and adjusting our lives can renew the ailing planet.

When this deadly crisis passes, we will be faced with the task of building a new era. What it will look like is ours to choose.