16 January 2021
12 January 2021
The living of life, any life, involves great and private pain, much of which we share with no one. In such places as the Inner Gorge, the pain trails away from you. It is not so quiet there or so removed that you can hear yourself think, that you would even wish to. That comes later. You can hear your heartbeat. That comes first.
As a follow up to my last post, which I wrote after reading that the writer Barry Lopez had died last month, I have been reading excerpts from his book Artic Dreams, which has been hiding under a layer of dust on our bookshelf. And then I found these very moving interviews with him online. (Please be aware that in one of them he talks about being sexually abused as a child - and his recovery.)
In the beginning of the first interview, he mentions that he had just come out of the Grand Canyon where he had spent time with musicians. This is one of the pieces of music from that experience.
09 January 2021
Evidence of the failure to love is everywhere around us. To contemplate what it is to love today brings us up against reefs of darkness and walls of despair. If we are to manage the havoc—ocean acidification, corporate malfeasance and government corruption, endless war—we have to reimagine what it means to live lives that matter, or we will only continue to push on with the unwarranted hope that things will work out. We need to step into a deeper conversation about enchantment and agape*, and to actively explore a greater capacity to love other humans. The old ideas—the crushing immorality of maintaining the nation-state, the life-destroying belief that to care for others is to be weak, and that to be generous is to be foolish—can have no future with us.
*agape (ἀγάπη) means unconditional love, it stems from the Greek agapan (ἀγαπᾷν), which translates as greet with affection, receive with friendship
This came to mind when I read what Beth wrote a few days ago: "When we rise up against one another, with our righteousness, there is a darkness that overcomes us."
Let me list a couple of nice things that happened in the last week.
I called my top bosses on Thursday and told them that I want to work from home because, the virus and they said, sure, stay where you are. I have been working two days/week on campus since October because, morale and look what others are risking.
The grandchild has figured out that their name is connected to being an individual person and when asked - which we do ridiculously too often - who's that?, will reply matter of fact with full name and a slight shake of head as in, who are you to have to ask. Also, the repertoire of hand puppets has grown to include a baby owl. (Looks good on whatsapp.)
And this:AM sent me her 12 mandalas, I made them into a calendar with the help of an online photo service and today, this came in the post. It hang on the wall above my desk. The picture is shaky. It's a white background with a beige coloured frame. The size is A4.
Reasons to be cheerful. Stay healthy.
05 January 2021
It's grey, grey, grey and cold. We are arguing. About the same handful of issues that usually come up from time to time and have been around for the last 40 years. I banged a couple of doors on my way to the bike shed and cycled for 15 fast and furious kilometers along the grey river just before it got dark. Back home, my fingers were so numb, I swear I could have snapped the tops off and the bits of my hair that had escaped the hood were frozen.
There was tea waiting for me.
A week ago, my father was tested positive for the virus. When my brother messaged me, I was at work in my lonely office on campus, not a soul in the adjoining rooms, and for a second, I was afraid, I might die right here on the spot with no one to find me for hours, days. But only for a second, because I quickly realised once again that I am fully grown up, in fact, an adult for now well over 40 years and that he is a bully and a rude old man who walked out on my mother in the deepest night.
Anyway. He has no symptoms. He is 92 years old and lucky for him and us, one of the staff at his care home was able to replace the batteries of his TV remote control. So all is well. He is in isolation which means, meals are brought into his room and he does not need to roll himself to the dining area.
We set up a phone call rota but he immediately figured out that ruse - obviously - and told us to Get A Grip. Also, we cannot remember him ever being ill - apart from his collection of fractures after various falls in recent years and the odd upset stomach due to the wrong food/drink intake - no fever, running nose, cough, sore throat. Not him. He told me today that he certainly never missed a day at work, that sickness was for ninnies (like me).
I have been reading up on the virus mutation(s). As it stands, the vaccines will remain effective. And well, if you don't like the vaccine, try the disease.
We must slow the spread. Especially now as vaccines are rolled out. The more
transmission, the more opportunities for the virus to roam and mutate and evading immunity. And more mutations could mean less vaccine efficacy.
This article here explains it well.
We are in a new phase of the pandemic. Much will depend on how well and how rapidly the vaccinations take place, but also whether we as a society manage to act in solidarity - masks, distancing, the whole taking care of each other shebang, and most likely, for months.
We have just been informed that the lock down has been extended until at least the end of January.
01 January 2021
In the days before smartphones and tiny headphones for children's ears, our car travel with a child often involved all of us listening to cassette tapes of children's stories while we navigated our way towards or back from holiday destinations.
There was a lazy spring afternoon driving along the back roads between Siena and San Giminiano listening to the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, long hours on French motorways with James and the Giant Peach, and a dark rainy evening drive back from Dublin with The Wind in The Willows.
Now, The Wind in the Willows has charmed us all, but on tape, we only had an abridged version of "stories from" etc. which was good enough at the time but when S started to read she discovered with surprised outrage that we had "missed huge parts" of it.
Especially, chapter seven, which to this day, is omitted in some versions, too much mysticism.
What happens in this chapter is Mole and Rat searching for Portly, the youngest otter, who has gone missing. They search most of the night and just before dawn find him asleep at the feet of the piper at the gates of dawn. The piper is of course, Pan, the god of the wild, of nature and of all who roam in and upon her, humans, animals, alone or in herds.
You can read it here, it's just gorgeous. Or you can listen to the gentle voice of Mike Scott from The Waterboys here:
This is January 2021, we have work to do, people. Not just get the vaccine and keep our fingers crossed. Our home, our planet is on fire, we need to wake up. When my grandchild is old enough to read this chapter, I want to be able to say that I tried my hardest.
25 December 2020
Be KindNot merely because Henry James said there were but four rules of life— be kind be kind be kind be kind—but because it's good for the soul, and, what's more, for others, it may be that kindness is our best audition for a worthier world, and, despite the vagueness and uncertainty of its recompense, a bird may yet wander into a bush before our very houses, gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds entirely equal to our own, still there's weather arriving from every direction, the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty may yet prove to be one, so why not allow the little sacrificial squinches and squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate the particular world with minute particulars? Dust's certainly all our fate, so why not make it the happiest possible dust, a detritus of blessedness? Surely the hedgehog, furling and unfurling into its spiked little ball, knows something that, with gentle touch and unthreatening tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked witches of our childhood have died and, from where they are buried, a great kindness has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course, in the end so much comes down to privilege and its various penumbras, but too much of our unruly animus has already been wasted on reprisals, too much of the unblessed air is filled with smoke from undignified fires. Oh friends, take whatever kindness you can find and be profligate in its expenditure: It will not drain your limited resources, I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses, and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.
21 December 2020
Midwinter. We are entering the Rauhnächte, as they are called here. The twelve nights between years. The year of the moon has 354 days, ending on midwinter. The year of the sun 356. These are the missing twelve days and for some mythologies, these are dead days, with the laws of nature out of order and the borders to the other world, the magic world of spirits, wide open.
I am not great on any magic, the spirit world has never been inviting. But there you have it, some things are bigger than what my tiny brain can come up with, I admit as much. The knowledge while here in the Northern hemisphere, we are struggling and trying to make sense of that on these dark cold nights, my grandchild picks strawberries and runs along a sunny beach in the Southern hemisphere, provides a different, cheerful magic. I can live with that. Gladly.
Just a reminder:
We cannot successfully contain the pandemic and save lives if we do not give up
some quite a lot of things in our lives at the same time. And we all have to act in this way without having convincing answers to all of our questions.
The number of cases, the number of deaths and the amount of research on this have undoubtedly shown one thing: the fewer the contacts each individual has and the less time we spend in social settings, the sooner this pandemic will come to an end. It is not a matter of chance. It is in our hands. We are not the masters of our fate alone here.
17 December 2020
Our capacity for denial is stronger than our capacity for belief. We find it easier to not face the truth. We go on living our ordinary lives while refusing to believe the overwhelming evidence that our way of life is self-destructive. A prisoner of the past, we go on doing things which we know are killing us. Worse, we believe that the inevitable conclusion of all our deeds will not come to pass. We think that somehow, at the last minute, there will be a miracle, a magical solution. We possibly even hope that factors in nature we hadn’t considered will somehow wipe clean the slate of our cultural and environmental crimes.
I could've done worse than read this story by Ben Okri (link here, go on it's excellent).
But only barely so. The title is inviting but seriously misleading for all of us who believe we are on top of things and superior to, say, the common fruit fly. Reading it did all sorts of things to me, I cried, I admit that much.
To counteract any feelings of hopelessness, I am listening to/watching a live performance by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra directed by Daniel Barenboim. They are playing Beethoven to celebrate the composer's 250th birthday. Beethoven was born a few miles down the road from where I sit right now and this concert comes live from our city's opera house.
The musicians sit spaced safely apart, they all wear masks, apart from the woodwind and brass players. Daniel Barenboim plays the piano and does not wear a mask, he shed a few tears during the Largo (second movement of Beethoven's piano concerto no. 3).
I am not particularly attached to classical music (I wrote about why this is so here) but I like the idea of it being a freebie (thank you covid) and that I can do some editing, i.e. paid work, while listening.
And I also think highly of Daniel Barenboim.
We just had a break in performance and now Mr Barenboim is back with a mask on and we're off with the do do do doo at the start of the fifth symphony. In another lifetime, when I was just about to become a rebel, I had to write a school essay on the second movement of this symphony and the ongoing motif with its apparent sunny nature and its source (a Franconian folk song, I kid you not) in contrast to the fateful tone of the first movement. It all comes back to me now. Honestly, school! Now, today, I can finally use this knowledge. After all the trials and tribulations of the past almost 50 years. Here we are, thank you Beethoven, thank you secondary education.
Actually, the second movement is quite lovely to listen to.
11 December 2020
Do you remember the happiest day of your life? What about the saddest? Do you ever wonder if sadness and happiness can be combined, to make a deep purple feeling, not good, not bad, but remarkable simply because you didn't have to live on one side or the other?
We are entering the darkest days. The next six weeks, three before and three after midwinter. When I was a child, this was a time of silences, in the 1960s in Franconia, there was snow or sleet, dark forest, early evenings with advent candles, baking, lots of baking, no commercial xmas jingle bell clutter. Not yet.
This winter will also be a silent one as we are about to enter a hard lockdown, probably until mid January.
I don't mind the darkness of winter, I can cope with the cold, foggy weather. I am a grown up, I know it's really just a short few weeks. But I admit that we are tense, unsettled. Trying to find the right words to explain this feeling, all that I can come up with is that I am sad. We are living through the saddest days, the saddest time. And I don't just mean the pandemic. We are a hopeless species, really. Let's face it. We've made a mess of things.
Oh no doubt, I'll cheer up again soon. I hope so.
04 December 2020
While I was reading what Robin wrote today about kindness and the wonderful poem "Small Kindnesses" (here is the link to that post), two things came to mind.
The first thing is the ongoing research by Felix Warneken, professor of psychology at Harvard University, and Michael Tomasello, anthropologist and behavioral researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany.
They have been investigating altruism in human infants and compared it to altruism as shown by young chimpanzees and then developed this further to figure out more about altruism as a human trait or whether it's a learned thing and so on.
There are lovely videos online of their research experiments where they looked at how small infants react when faced with adults in a dilemma.
(more videos can be watched here)
Recently, they carried out another, particularly impressive, experiment, examining the influence of extrinsic motivation, such as praise, on the helpfulness of young children.
They had three groups of small kids for another experiment where an adult showed that help was needed (similar to what is shown in the video above): the children from the first group received no response to any help provided, the children from the second group were thanked and the children from the third group even received a reward.
They did that a couple of times and then they repeated the test without giving any reaction or reward to any of the kids in the three groups. This is what happened:
The first group, the children who initially had helped and never received a response, continued to show a very high level of helpfulness.
The second group, the kids who had received a "Thank You", showed a minimally reduced level of helpfulness.
The third group, the kids who had been receiving a reward, showed a significantly lower level of helpfulness.
In other words: An unconditional willingness to help had turned into a conditional willingness to help. In technical language this is called the corruption effect.
But because most societies are convinced that children are not naturally helpful, it seems imperative to create an incentive - i.g. parents give their children money to help in the household or, believing that children are naturally lazy, pay them for bringing home good grades.
(I could go on about household chores, which are mostly repetitive, boring jobs we adults assign to kids because we think they are dummies who need to learn, but that's for another day.)
The second thing that came to mind is another study investigating honesty and selfishness in adults. This experiment was carried out in 40 countries involving 17,000 people and the results were published last year (here). Briefly, "lost wallets" containing varying amounts of money were handed in anonymously by the researchers at various public and private institutions (hotels, libraries, banks, post offices, shops etc.) and then it was examined whether the recipients did in fact contact the owners to return the wallets.
In every country, whether in Asia, Europe, Africa or America, people were more likely to return the wallets that contained a higher amount of money.
The researchers concluded that these were "acts of civic honesty, where people voluntarily refrain from opportunistic behavior" despite "monetary incentives to act otherwise".
And on a final note: Occasionally, the university clinics I work for run low on blood plasma and we all receive emails encouraging us and our families and friends to donate blood. Several times people have suggested that if the clinics would pay people for this there would not be a shortage.
Not so, there have been many studies that have shown again and again that the number of blood donors will decrease if the donation is rewarded with money.
Anyway, reasons to be cheerful.
22 November 2020
If half of us believe the earth is flat, we do not make peace by settling on it being halfway between round and flat. Those of us who know it’s round will not recruit them through compromise. We all know that you do better bringing people out of delusion by being kind and inviting than by mocking them, but that’s inviting them to come over, which is not the same thing as heading in their direction.
Some of us don’t know how to win. Others can’t believe they ever lost or will lose or should, and their intransigence constitutes a kind of threat. That’s why the victors of the recent election are being told in countless ways to go grovel before the losers. This unilateral surrender is how misogyny and racism are baked into a lot of liberal and centrist as well as right-wing positions, this idea that some people need to be flattered and buffered even when they are harming the people who are supposed to do the flattering and buffering, even when they are the minority, even when they’re breaking the law or lost the election.
from one of the best essays I have read in recent times, more here: Rebecca Solnit
15 November 2020
10 November 2020
Our little Meyer lemon tree as of this morning. We have been harvesting for weeks and still no end.
And here, for all the fans of bitter plants belonging to the genus Cichorium, is the buttery heart of catalogna puntarelle di Galatina deep inside its rocket-fennel-liquorice tasting leaves. It's a bit of a task to grow and we are mighty proud of our harvest.
There are the three positive aspects that carry me through these strange times. One, I am an old hand at this, living as a social recluse more or less for the last ten years. Two, for many years, we, that is R and me, have developed the fine art of close (grand-)parenting, despite the vast geographical distance between our dinner tables. And three, my father is a staunch defender of - what he calls - civilised conversation versus wimpish physical expressions of emotions.
It helps. I am not at a loss, or at least not more than usually, when I think of my once weekly phone call with him, all properly civilised, while listening to a friend's tearful lament because she misses hugging her dad. And later, I mention this over whatsapp to my daughter, who nods her wise nod, while we cheer the grandchild jumping over sofa cushion mountains on the other side of the planet.
It's not ideal, but nothing is.
In the evenings, I wrap myself in a blanket and listen to the latest science podcast on the pandemic, to the eager voices explaining vaccine studies and virus mutations and protein sequencing and viral loads and it all washes over me like a soothing lullaby. In the early days, way back in spring, I would take notes and read through the scripts and references, trying to squeeze understanding into (out of?) my mediocre scientific brain capacities. Now, I just feel reassured that there are people who will not give up, who love research for the sake of it. And sometimes, I imagine these scientists coming home to their families after a long day, maybe playing with their kids for a while before dinner.
By now, admittedly, I just want us to make it through in one piece. There is one unconfirmed case in the care home where my father lives. The infection rate here is beginning to decrease ever so slightly now that we have completed our first week of the November semi lockdown, but it's too early and the number of Covid patients on the intensive care ward, two floor above my office, has tripled in as many weeks. Still manageable, but only just about.
"The pandemic is not an inevitable fate. We determine by our behavior whether the situation gets worse or better.
. . . personal freedom cannot be achieved in isolation from society. In order for the freedom of all to be maintained, it is in turn necessary that people stand up for one another and take responsibility for one another. The better it works, the less intervention and regulation is required.
The pandemic has shown how relevant this principle is. The more I act responsibly as an individual of my own free will, the less reason I give the state to intervene in social life. The more thoughtless and selfish I act, the sooner the state has to restrict my freedom in order to effectively protect the community as well as the well-being of other people."
07 November 2020
06 November 2020
There are several reasons presidents cry. Anyone who has ever had one and been up half the night with it – or all the night with it, night after night – can tell you this. Sometimes presidents cry because they’re tired, sometimes they cry because they need their nappy changed, sometimes they cry because they don’t want you to leave them, sometimes they cry because they have a gnawing pain in their tummy, and sometimes they cry because they’re just being impossible that day and you should probably go to bed and leave them to it but somehow you just can’t. To anyone going through it currently: this phase will pass. Of course, a crying president demands incredible amounts of attention, and while you’re in the thick of it, consumed by this, it may feel like it will never stop, or at least you won’t make it out.
For parents of small children, and also for anyone who has ever seen a small child behave badly in the supermarket or the street, the thing we are watching on TV now is extremely, totally, instantly recognisable even to the very young. The big orange guy is angry because it is not his turn any more.
28 October 2020
Today would have been her 95th birthday.
When my brother called me early on that one morning in August 1999, to tell me that she had died in the night, I was relieved. Hugely relieved. It was over, I was free. Finally.
I have a memory of that day, of myself dancing, slowly swinging my body around by the open patio door, humming along to some imaginary music, raising my arms into the hot summer air. But maybe that was just in a dream. My boss at the time gave me a week off and warned me to take it easy, that no matter what, I would be shattered. It's the hardest experience, he warned me, the death of your mother. His words. Not mine. I wasn't shattered. Not then, not now, not once since her death.
There was no funeral, she had donated her body to science. She announced this decision the same way she always announced her threats, of starving herself to death, of jumping off the roof, in front of a train, down a bridge, swallowing ground glass, or sharpening the fruit knives. Nothing was ever without drama, nothing was ever normal. This one, she followed through. We did not stop her.
There was a short memorial service, siblings, a cousin, a neighbour from long ago, one of my brother's old school friends. As expected, my father didn't come.
For a child of an addict growing up is hard work. It marks you. It marked me, for life. Something sitting inside my chest that will never lift. Never allowing me to feel good enough. The smell of stale cigarette smoke coming from a woman makes me wish I could walk away. If I can, I run. But most of the time, I stay, try to be polite. Try to be good. Always trying to be good.
It has taken me years to understand that my mother had not simply been a careless addict but that she had been suffering beyond my comprehension. That all her angry rants, her harsh punishments of our never ending faults, her endless physical ailments, imagined or real, always headaches, back pains, colicky stomach, her inability to eat a proper meal while at the same time forcing us to finish what's on our plates, all her special diets and bottles of medicines on the kitchen window sill beside the full ashtrays, that all of that was part of something so much bigger.
I have no name for it, I cannot call it depression, sometimes I tend to call it PTSD. And under my breath, behind closed doors, I whisper, the war, the war. While just as easily, I could whisper, the nazi childhood, or, the glass ceilings all along her way, or, her 1960s unhappy housewife valium and martini days. Or. Or. Or.
But what I can say now, one month before my 63rd birthday, what I know with certainty is that it was not my fault. I played no part in it. I just happened to be one of her kids. And it has taken me, oh, so many years to understand and accept that.
Addiction is a disease. But
often we don’t see it that way. We see only the bad
behavior, the actions that wound and betray us. And yes, she did all that. And I admit that much. The wounds will never heal.
25 October 2020
In sickness, you’re too much with yourself. The whole body burns with memory, the volume of sensation is turned up. You are filled with an excess of remembering. Your skin, wherever you touch it, says “I.” There are muscles here, yes, there are nerves here, yes, there is pain here.
Then the illness subsides and you go back to self-forgetfulness.
But for the chronically ill, this is what cannot be forgotten. Every square inch of one’s body is at all times crammed with "I," with self.
I am an old hand at this, I should think. But it floors me every time something happens that triggers a flare up. Which is where I am currently finding my miserable self. The usual coping mechanisms are in place, dividing up the day into tasks and rest and floating in between these stages with equal degrees of anger and resignation. Autumn does not help, not my season, neither is winter. I could go on.
And I hate myself for it, this over dramatisation of the person I think I am and the futile attempts to pretend I am not. The anger that rises up inside my head when I watch someone about my age being active and fit. The futile attempts to pretend I don't care. That lesson in my childhood socialisation training, the one about cheer up and who do you think you are compared to others who are far worse, it sticks. I crawl to work and pretend I am superwoman.
As for the covid, it feels like an oncoming tsunami at times, despite the detailed information we receive. Numbers are climbing, even the shittiest tabloid has by now dedicated a front page to what exponential growth means and why it happens and what we need to do to keep it as low as possible - and why.
The virus only survives because we host it. It floats in the air because we send it there. It's a people thing.
16 October 2020
The test came back negative, the head cold went into overdrive. I am getting better. I think. I cut R's hair today, I made breakfast. The numbers are climbing steadily, the city is quiet, I have been told.
Here’s the thing. If you buy into a false narrative that the body is controllable, that illness can always be prevented, you better realise that you have reached a damaging, erroneous conclusion: the belief that a person’s ill health is their fault. And regarding a pandemic, we better learn that this virus is bigger than what we think we can explain in our imagination and arrogance.
Anyway, this is for all the sorry sunshines in your lives:
This is Winston Peters, a very conservative, right wing NZ politician. Currently deputy PM but on his way out. Still, he got it.
03 October 2020
As we walked through this sunlit forest, I once again felt such betrayal, such loss. How can we ever again call a forest like this one by its name? Beech forest, Buchenwald. (They chose that name for a reason. The monsters in their leather coats and shiny boots.)
That was two weeks ago. Now, autumn has arrived, I am looking for my cycling gloves and we turned on the heating. Autumn could be lovely if only it wasn't a gateway to winter.
I am unwell and eventually called the covid hotline, on a Friday evening, no less. In the past, this would have been a bit of a blocked nose, no fever, sore throat, headache, shivers sort of scenario. But apparently, I tick too many boxes. Now waiting for my test slot, while R hovers at a distance with cups of tea.
We’re all hurtling through our lives, and the planet is hurtling through space without a seat belt. We have to discover successively more freedom inside the terrible things that have happened and the terrible things that certainly will happen, and the whole of it is also a mysterious splendor, full of kindness, welcome, and cups of tea.
As for the other news, I leave you with this, because, whether he's ill or not, whether he knowingly passed the virus on or not (and in my humble opinion, he did), whether it matters or not that the news broke after the stock market had closed for the day, stay focused:
First, let me say that I am fine with Trump being called a fascist because he is using fascist tactics, and it's a word that resonates with the public. We need a wide, inclusive, and resolute American opposition movement, and this word conveys the necessary urgency.
But I've largely called him an authoritarian or autocrat instead of a fascist because "fascist" implies loyalty to the state. A fascist wants to embody and expand the state and usually has imperial ambitions. Whereas Trump wants to destroy the U.S.: he wants to strip it down and sell it off for parts to both domestic and foreign backers. His cohort's ambitions are similar to what oligarchs and other hyper-capitalists did to the U.S.S.R. after its collapse — which is not surprising because the Kremlin and an associated network of plutocrats and oligarchs are the prime backers of this operation.
24 September 2020
23 September 2020
One thing I know—and this is the central paradox of COVID-19—is that despite the isolation, we are not alone. The pandemic has brought about a sense of shared human consciousness and experience. A friend emails to say: “I find I’m beginning to tune out the politics of it and get more into the humanity of it.” Maybe this is what COVID-19 means: a referendum on humanity. A societal performance review.
The only way to fight the plague is with decency.
Albert Camus (The Plague)
and for the winter, this:
19 September 2020
|artist: EJ Hill |
This week has been somewhat tough, despite holiday rest. I did have that long overdue shingles vaccine on Tuesday because heaven forbid I catch a case of shingles while living in my isolation cocoon. But then again, R had it out of the blue this time last year and the friendly GP has been reminding me ever since.
So, with such splendid fatigue and a grand potpourri of aches and pains, I try to remind myself that, yes, this body is still my own.
Most days, I try to make a joke since after all, I have been working really hard to be one of those people who seem to live through all of this with courage and humour. And sarcasm. Don't forget sarcasm, that handy disguise of despair.
Anyway, don't try this at home, it doesn't work.
In the absence of any further cohesive thought from me, I will just paste a couple of things I have picked up along the way.
11 September 2020
Half way through my two week September holiday - and still more to come! A week each in October, November and December. The beauty of German civil service regulations.
I don't miss a thing, apart from maybe a visit to the seaside. I mostly sit on the patio, R's voice drifting out of his office upstairs, explaining to some (un)fortunate final year student the intricate workings of cell membrane structures, around me the busy noises of the retired neighbours exercising their expensive gardening tools.
I crawl out of bed every morning in disbelief that this body is actually me. Morning stiffness is a glorious euphemism. This is when dawdling comes in handy. Slow dawdling.
And so I fill my time with pleasant useless stuff until eventually, my limbs begin to respond to my wishes, at least enough to push the bicycle out into the world and get a move on. I have slowly but purposefully increased my daily distance to a now staggering 20 km, which is still a crying shame compared to my healthy past self. Anyway, must take things as they are. By the time I am back home, triumphant and sore, inflamed tendons screaming, more dawdling awaits.
And thinking, trying to explain the world in my head.
In no particular order, this is what's swirling around:
1. The covid conspiracy theories - there are people I know, who really truly want to believe that the world is good at its core, that all power lies with nature. And now this evil nature dishes up a creepy virus. So it must be someone else's fault. I have given up any desire to discuss this. I admit I have avoided phone calls.
2. Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through
our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that
democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
3. Garden. Here is one blossom from each of the currently flowering plants. As of today. We are inundated by wasps this year and we have completely surrendered one apple tree and most of the grapes. They feed on it in a frenzy for a day and end up dead on the patio stones. In other words, they are starving. It won't last much longer.
4. Sir Ken Robinson died in August. I was a great fan. Watching this talk always brings me back to my student days, when I still had dreams of changing the way children are educated - something I soon realised as utopian on a grand scale. Anyway, listening to him still makes me a tiny bit hopeful.
had to agree have been told to reduce my home office work and, after this holiday, will have to go back working on campus for two days a week. My GP is not amused. In theory, there is a strict hygiene protocol incl. airing the room every 30 mins which I can just see happening in the winter months. Not.
6. I leave this here for general perusal (for source click here). When I am in my office, I'll be in the yellow. But currently, only 40 cases in my city.
Risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic people in different settings and for different occupation times, venting, and crowding levels (ignoring variation in susceptibility and viral shedding rates). Face covering refers to those for the general population and not high grade respirators. The grades are indicative of qualitative relative risk and do not represent a quantitative measure. Other factors not presented in these tables may also need to be taken into account when considering transmission risk, including viral load of an infected person and people’s susceptibility to infection. Coughing or sneezing, even if these are due to irritation or allergies while asymptomatic, would exacerbate risk of exposure across an indoor space, regardless of ventilation.7. We are in for another heat wave, apparently.
8. This week's music is in memory of R's parents, who taught this to my daughter one day driving back from the beach.
28 August 2020
This is footage from Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands in Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland. It's a wild place, rough and windy. The land is crisscrossed by stone walls, protecting the fields from the wind. About 4 mins into this video, you see Dún Aonghasa, a prehistoric hill fort, one of several Bronze Age sites on the island. But this is not a history blog, so for anyone interested, go here.
The poem is spoken by Mike Scott of the Waterboys. He wrote it in the early 1980s when the band was living in An Spidéal, a small village on the Atlantic coast, overlooking the Aran Islands and the coast of county Clare. The village is famous for traditional music sessions.
I like to believe that the storm he is referring to at the beginning of his poem is the one we ran away from in October 1981 when we were staying on Inis Mór for a short while. I have very little memory of our time there other than that we walked a lot, were accompanied by all the island dogs, met very few people and smoked our very last joint sitting next to the fort looking out on the ocean. That day, we decided it was time to have a child, one of several, so we imagined.
Back at the harbour village of Cill Rónáin, the fishermen had started to pull in their boats and gear, windows and sheds were secured and by dinner time, the storm warnings were all around us. Early the next morning we got the last boat back to the mainland.
This was the time when I started to think of myself as becoming an adult.
21 August 2020
15 August 2020
13 August 2020
Two nights ago thunderstorms washed over us from midnight until almost sunrise. After our first delight and the open windows to let the wind blow through the house, we got grumpier by the half hour and wandered up and down the stairs checking for damage (none) and whenever we had settled down to catch up on sleep, it started anew.
Obviously, we were not in top form yesterday. Also, it got steamy and muggy hot, and before we knew it the sky was closing in with black clouds and not a breath of wind. We got a storm warning from the insurance app and I pulled the router plug seconds before the lightning started. I've experienced my share of thunder storms but this was massive incl. hail stones and water in sheets so dense you could not see through to the other side of our suburban street.
Today, I made apple sauce from the windfall apples that dropped from the neighbour's garden onto our back lane and cut R's hair, finally. The apple sauce is delicious but the haircut is messy.
On The Covid front, I'll cut and paste as my latest public service announcement from an excellent article by Garret FitzGerald, director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania (the bold markings are mine):
". . . the World Health Organisation estimates there are 165 vaccine programmes under way. This is unprecedented, as is the diversity of approaches to vaccine development. (. . .) Indeed, it is likely we will need more than one effective vaccine if we are to reach the numbers globally that are necessary for effective immunity.
Given the political, cultural, and logistical challenges, attaining the goal of population immunity of 60-80 per cent, necessary in our connected world, is likely to take some time, maybe years.Population protection in advanced societies with an assured supply of a vaccine by late summer 2021 is a reasonable bet.
Despite politically and commercially-driven promises that we will be protected from Covid-19 by vaccines early next year, this is extremely unlikely. Mass vaccination based on trials of a few thousand patients – as suggested in Russia – would be reckless.
Masks, distancing, and hand-washing will be the rule for the foreseeable future. In the meantime there is encouraging progress in the development of drugs to curb the severity of Covid-19 and this, as with AIDS, may lead us to a semblance of normality even sooner than an effective vaccine."
(You can read the complete article here.)
08 August 2020
05 August 2020
31 July 2020
24 July 2020
"Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadistic admiration."
". . . the belief that humanity will soon become involved in a deep and abiding worldwide partnership with nature. Millions of us will commit ourselves to reversing the long legacy of environmental degradation that threatens to destabilize the climate as well as the great ecologies that sustain life on Earth. We must develop a vast stewardship initiative, which will become the great work of our time. Fortunately, there are as many ways to serve the Earth as there are people willing to engage in this vast restoration project. It includes nothing less than stabilizing the planet’s climate as well as saving ourselves."
19 July 2020
"Two things. One, I just try to express how much I admire the real heroes on the front line for getting in there every day and essentially putting themselves at risk. I'm operating from a different vantage point where I am, but I almost miss the days of being in the trenches with you. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is that, you know, this is so stressful for all of us. I think we have to remember that we're gonna get through this. This is not something that's gonna be forever. We're gonna get through it. It's gonna be over. And we're going to look back and hopefully say we really gave it our best shot. And it's gonna be over from two standpoints: It's going to be over from a public health standpoint if we get it right, public health–wise.
But I think science and good biomedical research are also going to come to the rescue because we're going to get a vaccine, hopefully sooner rather than later, and we will get effective therapeutics. So for the people on the frontlines and in the trenches, hang in there with us. We're all in it together and we're gonna get through it. So that's my message to them."
17 July 2020
10 July 2020
This is something that happens to other people in other times; something you might imagine, might read about – not experience. But it is real, it is happening. The plague is back. It never went away. Welcome to the future. No, welcome to the present, to the reality of an ineradicable highly contagious and sometimes fatal virus. There might be a vaccine for it at some stage, as there is for measles. There might not be, as there is not for HIV. A reliable treatment might be developed, as there is for HIV. Or it might not be, like measles.
In any event, there is a gap between what we know about our situation and what our gut believes, a gap that creates confusion, promotes outrage over inconveniences, complacency after early successes. We “know” what’s happening, but we don’t quite “feel” it. Our collective gut is still telling us normality is just around the corner. The reality has been slow to sink in because it’s beyond our privileged experience.
As you will yourself into the reality you perhaps start to understand how the millions before you didn’t understand either, didn’t read the signs, didn’t grasp calamity unfolding, were unprepared, were lost in history’s turmoil, thought their mass grave impossible even as they dug it. We’re out of practice. Mass disasters don’t happen here, not in our lifetime. The plagues and total wars and famines and deaths in the thousands and millions are confined to television screens. Even our hard times remain relatively soft in the broader, longer scheme of things. Other people’s individual tragedies have gone on regardless. In groups sometimes, in planeloads. Communities when fire or flood or landslide tear through. Bad, terrible, but this, this indiscriminate imposition … on everyone? And slowly the comprehension comes – it has always been everyone.
The single diagnosis and mass verdict, the individual execution and the genocide: Each one, one person, however many. One person facing mortality. We’re born to this. We will get used to it. Adapting is what we do best.
07 July 2020
I think that many of the good things in life, like close social contacts, being with a lot of people, festivals, big weddings, going out, going out to eat, celebrating, will probably only be possible with a vaccine with the "old" lightheartedness.