I guess it sounds pretty good, right about now- getting back to some sort of normal that is. There is a certain amount of safety and comfort there, with equal parts of denial and delusion. It all depends on how one defines normal, or how it is defined for them. In many ways, it seems just about right that we are in this particular normal at this particular time, given what has been allowed to happen. I do recall travelling across country, east to west, in November of 2015 with a rented Dodge van full of stuff from my parents’ place in New Hampshire and being stunned by the number of Trump posters and stickers everywhere. I could not believe there were that many people who actually were buying into his crap- his racist crap, his xenophobic crap, his “I’m one of you- damn the elitists” crap. But as I drove on into the uncertain sunset I just kind of said to myself: “you people deserve this guy.” Oh well.
So as we sit here now, supposedly coming out of the grand lockdown/stay at home/ social distanced pause that we have endured, what is the new normal we imagine that we are all are stepping into? Is it a step back to how we were before this all started back in March, or is it actually a step into something new? As we all revel in the imaginings of a brave new world that to some should rightfully be the natural progression of successful virus dodging and race equality enlightenment, I would ask my favorite question that a friend asked me when I was contemplating getting back into what had been a bad relationship twenty odd years ago, and that would be: “What has changed?” through all the marching and speech-making and CHOP-ing, as the word comes out of more and continued police shootings and choke-holdings and lynchings of unarmed black men across the country, I would say- not much.
And as the protests against wearing a cloth mask as a protection against the continued spread of the deadliest viral pandemic of our time continue to mount, along with the numbers of people testing positive for and dying from the virus, I would again say that as far as change goes, we aren’t doing so well as a collective unit. It kind of reminds me of my times at Burning Man, and the implied and assumed magic realism of passing through that portal known as The Gate, and then driving onto the playa and into Black Rock City. As you go through the ritual of meeting the greeters on the borderline who are there to make you feel special and welcome you to the city, you are also meant to believe that you are now transformed to some kind of alternate reality avatar of yourself. You assume a playa name (or at least you did- I don’t know if that is even done anymore) and you have your various costumes that reinforce your magical transformation. But in reality, there has been no wiping of the psychic slate as you cross that imaginary threshold, and in the reality of the unreality of the place, it turns out you are still the same good soul or fucking asshole that you entered as. I have seen it and experienced it- there is no magic in the crossing, just myth.
And so here we are, coming out of this disease induced isolation, but not. Lots of what I’m hearing and seeing and reading is saying in a loud but muted voice is that it ain’t over till it’s over, and it doesn’t appear to be over by all slants of the assortment of graph lines out there. While charts that show a jagged but steady climb to the positive and the ever increasing are usually regarded as something to aspire to, more and more in this case is definitely not something that is aspirational. An upward trajectory of anything brings to mind something that could be described in that Latin phrase: Per aspera, ad astra- through difficulties to the stars. But given the litany of news reports of late that tell of at capacity hospital ICU’s and exhausted hospital staff and Republican governors and mayors refusing to even acknowledge the impending peril their people are in, it would seem that another bit of latin-speak: per aspera, ad inferi, translated both as through hardships to hell and the steep slope to the grave, would be a more appropriate adage for these times.
It would seem that the normal we should return to is the normal many have been and still are avoiding, at least as far as this pandemic is concerned. Whilst reaching for the spirit-inhabited wood and knocking loudly upon it to keep those within on their toes, one could say that this solitary Island we are on is a good example of a success of social distancing by the default of its moat. It would be interesting to compare virus spread in isolated communities versus urban centers. I would suspect that something along those lines may be being studied somewhere as we speak. It will be interesting to see where our chart line goes as things open up. Hopefully we will continue to be an example of an isolation success. It would seem that, just as one dons warmer clothes as the winter approaches, the wearing of cotton masks will be adopted as a normal adaptation to a change in the environment, and when the winter of this virus finally spells its demise, we can set them aside as a part of the wardrobe that no longer serves a purpose.
As for the new normal in race relations, we had been told any number of times throughout our history here that slavery and racism are bad things, but for some reason we did not hear or believe them- at least some of us didn’t. The common comment heard these days is that we were never taught that in school, and in many cases we were not. From the attempted extermination of the American Indian to the slave breeding programs in the United States to the internment of the Japanese, a lot and more has been hidden from us in the name of making sure that we were always seen as good and right. Our current normal is opening windows into much that we need to know about ourselves and where we’ve come from. I think to some degree that normal has an implication of being comfortable. Tearing down statues of Confederate war heroes and renaming structures bearing slaveowners and racists restores a level of comfort once the reality of the person is learned and recognized, but I think some traces of this part of the past should remain as reminders of what was, and it should be taught in our schools and media why it should be remembered and why it was wrong. Erasing that part of the past- any part for that matter- makes it too easy to forget where we have been and why we left there.
And then there is the orange turd ball in the White House. The warning went out early not to normalize him, but we now nod and grimace at the fact that he still knows nothing of the office he is supposed to be serving in and he has told somewhere over 18,000 lies while pretending to be president in order to serve his friends and his own best interests. Of all the current normal in need of being declared an abnormality, Hair Twittler is the most blatant example of a normal we should never return to once we have left it. As the bibliography of exposés on the unfit, lunatic ravings of this national embarrassment continues to grow, we are also made aware in their pages of even more examples of actions by Agent Orange that make removal by impeachment or the presidential unfitness described in Amendment 25 an imperative. But all of that relies on a return to a normalcy of governance that this U.S. Congress has not seen in quite a while.
Having grown up in the 1950’s and 60’s, you could say that I enjoyed a childhood in normal America. Home was in a Leave it to Beaver cul du sac where the only Black person I knew of was Sam the bus driver, who took us to the only elementary school in town. The first time I had any sense that things weren’t “normal” was when President Kennedy was shot. I remember coming back from music class and our teacher, Mr. Maguire, was white as a ghost. When he said that he had something terrible to tell us I looked out the window, for some reason expecting to see Russian bombers in the sky, since at the time the Russians were the bad guys. We were let out of school and walked home, since this new middle school was only a mile from our house. A local cop was there to see us safely across the main, busy road. He was always nice. When I got home, the black and white teevee was on in the breakfast nook and Walter Cronkite was talking and occasionally taking his glasses off to rub his eyes and speak in a hesitating fashion that was uncommon for him, and certainly not normal. I’m not sure that things have felt normal ever since then. At this point, I have no idea what a new normal will look like. I do have an idea as to how Walter Cronkite would look if he were around to say “and that’s the way it is” after any news broadcast these days, but with him there, at least there would seem to be a degree of comfort that there might be a chance of a return to normal, coming soon.