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Psychic shock, & coming back from it

Well, after a good deal of thought, and quite a bit of help from my friends and colleagues, I have made the choice to come back from the brink here. Not the edge of disaster mind you, but the decision to retract inward. That desire was strong in the face of the stark grief of what we lost. My husband and I lost a way of life we’d enjoyed for decades. The scope of which became clear when he and I had a Zoom brunch with our good friend Lisa this past Sunday.

Lisa is this amazing lady. We used to call them the “great ladies of wine” when I was a wine salesman. She’d walk into a room and it was an immediate smart fun respectful belly laughing kind of party. Joy followed her everywhere. We became friends and she got to know me, as I did her, and our own personal struggles were transparent to one another. I love her so much. And yet, this dynamo was talking about hating grocery shopping in the era of Covid-19. Something she used to enjoy for the sheer social aspect of it. Then my jaw dropped in that she said she is done with going out to restaurants and bars even when they open. Eddie and I have been talking the same line since being quarantined has forced us to use our love of cooking every day now. We are fortunate in that we have one another and that we actually enjoy the time at home and, well, cooking. Bedroom divorce or not, we are together still.

It was in those two moments though when I realized that this was a shared, collective, psychic shock felt around the world. Something none of us, even my parents, have ever felt. Not since my grandparents and great grandparents who are all dead, and the stories with them. My knee jerk toward cleaning everything, limiting all contact with other human beings, including Eddie inside our own home to foster distancing patterns in case one of us gets sick, well, it was a lot to take really quick and a redefinition of all of our patterns all at once in a life and death race to stay alive and keep others safe.

Discovering that I love ramen at home -which I’d rather have with my friends at work from a nearby shop

Still, that’s the thing Lisa was talking about. Life may never go back to what it used to be like for us. While we are lucky, Eddie and I are actually saving chunks of money like we never have before, opening up some possibilities that were just talking points before. We’ve changed. Lisa has changed. I would gander that there’s an equal sea change rebounding across the (privileged) world right now. We don’t need all the stuff we thought we used to want. Another failure of capitalism to provide meaning. The disintegration of supply chains even as they promised so much cost savings, at the cost of local business, which cost us our independence making us reliant upon mega stores that can’t even stock yeast, flour, or toilet paper consistently.

Then, the dark nights when my eyes would well up thinking about the folks who lost jobs. Like, I believe, 25% of the entire US workforce right now. Starving American children. And the bastards who are running the government while diverting vast sums of money to corporations so they can perform stock buybacks under the rouse of a “payroll protection plan.” Bullshit. Anger. Fear. And yet… choice. Do you have a hairstylist? A personal care something or other? A favorite waiter? Someone who is shut down like the rest of us? I have the means, meager yes, to keep paying some of mine for future sessions. Even $65 can make a difference to these folks. Don’t cut these folks loose. Bring them tighter. Just like the gay campground I like to go to. While I have no plans to go there soon, I will probably throw them some love as well this summer. Let’s face it, it’s the little things we do in the near future that will prove who we are.

Yeah, anyway, I can’t solve on the macro level. So my reaction was to retreat. It was too much and I was completely freaked out. Hell, there was even a night when I reached out to a trusted coworker and let him know I was struggling emotionally. It helped. But it was, once again, the old me thinking I could handle everything, and in reality, time and time again, I learn over and over that I can’t.

There was another moment when I was talking with a friend over SMS and his boyfriend. One was crossing State lines for sex and company with the other, which I get, but then there were the boys he’d have over or go over to another friend’s house for sex during the height of the pandemic phase one. I’m all for polyamory and one’s right to have sex. It’s a basic human need. But, as I knee-jerked again, I decided to cut this guy out of my life as a message that I think he should be in this with the rest of us. That as an HIV+ man, he is at high risk. I even talked it through with my best friend in Portland Oregon who agreed with the message, maybe not my delivery, I was kind of on shaky ground already hence the touchpoint, it’s complicated, but these are the costs of Covid-19. All of our collective losses. Each of which we are going to grieve for years to come.

Outdoors during quarantine life

For me? This is all about loss. Our dead. The needy. Those at needless risk because we, as the once most powerful nation in the world, dropped all of our balls in favor of shareholders and a departure from Democracy as rural Americans, the folks and small towns that I love so much. Guns, smokes and whiskey and all. It makes me sad that they were made to be so afraid that they would accept Nationalism and hate as “making America great.” Again, loss. It’s been our status quo since we elected a troll into the White House.

But, we have a choice. More to the point, I have a choice. Continue to retreat or start to live again. And by “live,” I mean, Lisa. Take the new normal and the benefits we’ve been given. Continue to do our part and social distance, be mindful of our neighbors, wear goddamn face masks as some studies show those alone would slow the spread by 80%. Eighty fucking percent. But to live. For me? Specifically the hiking season. I got choked up over while recording a segment of a series on Covid-19 home life in a project, which I will never publish to YouTube. At that stage, like 3 weeks into the stay at home quarantine, I felt like all those trips were just up in smoke. Gone. Grief and loss for my 2020 outdoors plan gripped me hard. For those who don’t know me, it’s my therapy. The single thing that grounds me more than anything else. Maybe it’s my hi-five to my younger idealism as a forestry guy. I don’t know. All I know is that I come back from these outback trips more sound of mind than when I enter them. The information I am getting, however, makes it sound like I should be able to get out there and not put other people at risk so long as I keep to myself, wear a mask, clean my gear and my hands and so on… of course, hand sanitizer would help, but there’s (hopefully) enough bleach and rubbing alcohol to make my own.

Some of the best people I’ve ever met out hiking from a trip late last winter – and I miss every single one

While this post is probably an abnormally rough, honest, reboot for me. It’s my effort to be open with my feelings. Reach out. Explore grief.

Summer of 2019 was such a ballbusting good time. Really. Probably the best year of my life. I thought it was because I gave myself permission to live. That thought. I know a guy in Seattle. He speaks fluent squirrel when having sex. I kid you not. But he said something important. The things we think are impossible are only moments away from happening once we give ourselves permission to do them. So, if there’s any lesson in our histories, I am fixing to do that again. So I am giving myself permission to live again instead of waiting to die. Break out my backpack, sleep sack, and tent. Death, of course, will inevitably happen. But it’s what we do with those days that matters. First and foremost keeping others in mind and causing no harm. That’s the primary thing these days until all this passes someday in the distant future. But the choice is to find and embrace our new normal. Then live and dance under the moon, together or alone, in spite of it because we have the sheer joy of breathing a full lung of air without pain. Having a body that works.

So yeah. I don’t plan on going dense campground camping this year, which is a big drag, something I lost. But I do plan on going backpack hiking. Solo again. Anytime spent outdoors, pack on my back, small campfire with a good book at night, well, that’s my everything. The moment I thought I could not do that anymore was the moment I thought I may as well retreat inward. Never a good choice for anyone. But I stand by my decision matrix that if that’s what it takes to keep others from harm, then that’s what we should do. The kinds of choices we should make. Ones of compassion. Not ones of selfishness.

Yeah, so here’s to hope. Here’s to strength. Here’s courage. With a nod at self-forgiveness, I suppose.

Working from home, more often than not, means the cats saying “play with me” and my pants hanging on the chair next to me.

[I still plan to move this platform to Azure or Google Cloud, but for now, I think I am going to breathe a little more life into this now old blog of mine and document my hiking trips through the Covid-19 era.]

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  1. Lora Lora

    Wonderful piece…smiles, tears, heartache and laughs (could you get a video or even audio, of the guy who speaks fluent squirrel?). Lessons, lessons, lessons, thats what life is all about. I find this time the most fascinating in my life! To see what happens next. My new goodbye…If I don’t see you before, Ill see you on the other side.
    Love you now and always, AL

    • Jim Jim

      The squirrel guy would be me. I’ll get a sample to Jeff!

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