Monday, July 27, 2020
Sunday, July 19, 2020
“What might trigger it? Oh, I don’t know. Comes and goes whenever it wants. Let me think. Definitely, when I’m at the hood and when I have a hundred things to do already and I should be focused on keeping things as sterile as possible so I don’t… I don’t cross-contaminate. Sorry. I mean the tissue hood, the laminar flow hood, and working on my cell cultures. Or when I’m writing. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed thinking. I’ve had it pop up out of nowhere. Uh, no. Doesn’t seem to matter what I’m writing or what I’m thinking. Do you think it’s a subconscious thing?
“So… no trigger, I guess. Unless there’s a trigger there, somewhere; a trigger that’s subtle yet utterly debilitating. Oh, but only for a few moments. It’s not like it’s… taking the wheel of my car or keeping me up all night. Just a momentary freak out. It’s not a serious thing. I called in just to make sure of that, but it’s not, you know, debilitating. I won’t need meds for it. Ha. I just want to try to… figure this out. Seems to be happening more frequently, and I… try to just think of something else or get up and move. Drink something. Anything. I look at my cell. Anything.
“Yes. You’re right. That’s what I do. I distract myself. You could probably gather that from my notes. Not the one I sent by email, but the one on your form that I uploaded last week.
“Um, close. I didn’t have time to write everything down, but you have the jest of it. And, I don’t see the thing pop up in my head. That’s the odd part of this. Really, that’s why I’m here. I see it outside my head… like, here, in front of my eyes. Not floating, per se. I see it and, uh… I’m there seeing this thing and it looks so real. The screen. You know? Oh, excuse me; that’s my dog barking. Let me close the door.
“Ha! Do I think it real? Of course not. I don’t think it’s really in the room with me. Ha. I’m not a loon. It’s just, let me think. It’s not real at all, but it is very... vivid. It pops up and it, uh, hangs there, and then my stomach sinks and I feel panicked, like um… like something terrible is… like it’s the end of the world; is the best way I can describe it. A premonition, kinda -- but not, because I don’t believe in premonitions. I’m a scientist; I believe in science. But, funny enough, I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It feels like… doom. Pardon?
“Apocalyptic. Yes. That’s the word. It’s like the end of the world is coming, in just a matter of days, and I can’t stop it from happening. I just feel that it is, but I can’t… stop it. I try to fool myself, to recircuit this thing… the dread of it all, you know? I try to…. Excuse me. I need to get a kleenex. My mask, it... I need to blot it. I know that sounds gross, but it gets wet around my nose. Terrible feeling. What’s that?
“Ha. Good that it’s not just me who hates a wet mask. Yeah, I hear ya but don’t the cloth ones stay wet? I’d rather use these disposables than a cloth mask. These things dry out a lot faster, I think. I’m a little OCD with a wet mask. Ugh. I pitch them as soon as I feel like I’m drowning in them. What’s that?
“No, I get these from my lab. We’re required to wear masks at all times on campus. Been wearing them since early March, really. I wore them even when others weren’t required to do it yet. I keep some in the car. And, I know what you’re thinking. I don’t consider it stealing precious PPE since I need to get to and from the lab. It’s work-related why I’m even in the car and on campus. So, I don’t buy them from Amazon. Can you even get them? I think they are all back-ordered, probably forever.
“But, you’re right. It’s more economical to wear cloth masks. I’ll…. Yeah, I’ll get one, eventually. Just throw it in the washer. I’m always washing things, so it makes sense. Sterilizing all the groceries… the take out containers. We put everything in the garage and wipe them down now. Did you know that the University gives everyone 70% ethanol? In spray bottles, for each lab, for the pandemic response and -- you know what? We’ve always been provided 70% ethanol, but I’m talking liters of the stuff and not those small spray bottles. Pardon? You’re -- Doctor? You locked up again.
“Well, it’s to sterilize our benches and hoods and gloves. It’s always been that way, but everyone new to the lab or to research might think it’s because of the pandemic. Not true. Sometimes, I make up the stuff myself, if the Building Administrator isn’t keeping up. We can order the ethanol through EHS. Oh, sorry. That’s the university’s Environmental Health and Safety. But, it’s always been provided and used for sterilization. Always. Always.
“Pardon? Must I? Ha. Just kidding. Yes, I can describe it. Let me think. Well, it's a screen. Actually, it's more like the large computer screen used in the conference rooms in the building -- my campus research building. Each floor has a conference room and all have a large, wall-sized Surface-like computer on the north wall. We have lab meetings weekly, but hardly anyone is in the building because of the pandemic and -- well, all of our lab meetings have gone virtual since mid-March, so we just use the conference rooms for the screen. You know, the campus has rules that only three people can be in a room at any one time. So, usually, it’s just my student Craig and me going in there anyway. Barb was on maternity until recently. She’s our post-doc. Picked a good time to have a baby, huh? Wow. She went through a lot of stress, a lot of hell. Hospitals had limited space and all kinds of rules. Oh, yes, sorry. Back to the screen-thing.
“Now that I think about it, I think it is the same screen as the ones used in the conference rooms. Let me think. Try to replay this thing. Yeah. Yeah. I think it is the same screen -- but larger. And… I always feel Craig is near me when the, uh, screen appears. I know it’s strange! I feel his presence, off to my left, as the screen appears. I don’t actually see him. Just, you know.... Just he’s there.
“Do I think it’s a flashback? Flashback. Flashback. If so, then I wouldn’t know to when. We’ve used the screen many times. Before and during the pandemic. Nothing out of the ordinary to use it. Geez. We’ve had dozens and dozens of meetings. No scary presentations have occurred as of late. Ha.
“Yes, that’s what I said. We are all virtual now, except for Craig and me. Pardon? Could you repeat that? Oh, yes. Barb returned to lab meetings in May, but she was still virtual at the time. She just had a baby, and she connected from her home. The 27th. Huh?
“Yes. 27th of May. That’s when she called in. Her first meeting since having the baby. I remember that meeting quite well, actually. We were excited to see her -- and the baby, of course. Pardon? Oh, well… I didn’t mean that I could recall that level of detail. Sure. I can try to describe the meeting. Let me think.
“We entered the room about five minutes before the meeting started. It’s half-dark in there, lots of sepia-shadows -- a tea-stained look to it. I remember thinking that. Felt stale. I don’t know why I noted all of this. I think we were the first to use it in a long time. You see, we usually use the conference room upstairs. It’s a scheduling thing. We just sorta decided on that minute to just go across the hall. Why not? We’re practically the only labs working full hours. Anyway, I saw the spray bottles placed on the table and wondered what that was all about. It’s strange to see that stuff outside the labs, you know?
“So, Craig took a seat at the farthest end of the long table from the telescreen. I increased the lights, looked behind me to gauge its strength, and then lowered them a bit to lessen the glare off the center of the table where the spray bottles were set. They had the 70% ethanol label on them and a sheet of paper with all the new social rules on six-feet apart and stuff like that.
“I remember looking over at him. Craig. So innocent. I wondered what he thought of it all, you know? I don’t recall what our conversation was before we entered the conference room. He’s an interesting young scientist, so it suffices to say that it was probably a witty discussion. Craig is an international student. He’s going back in August. Maybe sooner, but I’m not sure. Travel restrictions. This pandemic! But, he was so quiet.
“What did I say? Oh, I did? Funny. But, Craig is quite innocent. He’s a MS student and quite new to science research. As I mentioned, his schooling is messed up because of the pandemic. He’s from the United Kingdom. Poor guy. Extensions… poor communication… lots of uncertainties. He needs to get home. That’s all I meant to say. Did you know he might be stuck here? Stuck here for months? Terrible to not be able to go back home. Where was I….
“So, I search for the correct button on the wall… to turn on the monitor -- the computer. I never know which one, but when I pushed it, the button glowed blue and the screen lit up in an instant. Yes, I put that in the description because I see…. Well, I sometimes see a blue light, that LED, bright blue light when I have my episodes. Oh, geez. Did I just say that? Episodes! I make it sound so drastic. It’s not drastic, though. Really.
“Ah, let’s see. I then took my seat in front of the keypad near the screen and logged us in to the conference call… waited for my cell to ask for confirmation to continue on. Oh, yeah. You see, it’s a duo password system the university has set up. Here’s the app. Can you see that from your end? If we log into something secured, then we have to confirm it from another device… confirm that it’s really us. I know… so futuristic. Look how we’ve become, you know? I mean, look at us; you and me. This is new. One of these days, they’re going to put a chip in our brain to confirm everything is secured… perform instant, real-time DNA confirmation and neurological patterning, etc, etc. just to get anywhere or do anything. All the scary sci-fi stuff will become true someday. Hope not. I pray not. I’ve told Craig these things several times. He doesn’t disagree. But, what would one say? He’s Gen Z, so who knows if he really can fully comprehend the nightmare scenarios of such a spooky world as that. Maybe he thinks it’s -- oh, I don’t know the word… progressive? A natural evolution of the human condition?
“Excuse me. Really sorry. I hate it when my mask gets too wet. Hold your breath while I take this off for a second. Ha. Just kidding. I have another one in my car -- should have brought it in.
“You know what? Maybe he was thinking the same thing I was thinking. You know… the way he watched me set up the call and just waited there silently as those faces popped up one by one by one by one by… each staring into their screen, muted, and… muted, while Craig and I waited in our masks. Patiently.
“What was I thinking? Oh, I was thinking - thinking, ‘Seriously? Seriously? This is normal?’ I mean, how could this be normal in any sense? It’s all surreal! Sanitizers. Blue lights, masks, a big, I don’t know; a huge Orwellian screen coming to life as we wait for five digital faces to appear on it from some other place on Earth… for a freakin’ lab meeting to start?
“Bizarre. A Brave New World, isn’t it? Look. An entire campus research building-- ah, now mostly empty -- and a conference room left to go stale and no longer used for in-person meetings... for actual people in the flesh to meet. I mean, everything’s gone virtual, electronic. Everything! And, for how long? When will it end? Oh I know it will, of course, but I wonder… I fear really that it won’t truly end. I think -- perhaps I’m thinking too much? As a scientist? I think this particular pandemic might be more persistent than we realize. Surely...
“I mean, can a pandemic ever be declared normal background noise? Acceptable deaths, like the flu? Or drownings? Or, will we forever be zeros and ones and-and-and we’re supposed to think this is a normal way to live and communicate?
“He’s a Gen Z! Craig! What’s he thinking of this world? He’s wearing a mask and I’m wearing a mask and the spray bottles and a laundry list of rules on keeping apart and only three humans per room and alternating work schedules and 70% ethanol. Then Barb came online and… and she, with her crying… her here it comes. The screen!
“I can’t describe --
“I can’t doctor, I --
“Blue! But the screen is -- I’m talking to her. I’m talking to her, I ask her how she’s doing -- but she’s muted. The blue light is everywhere, but the screen... and her baby! Her baby is crying - top of his lungs and she can’t respond, she can’t answer me, but she is trying, she --- I mean, I mean she is answering me, but I can’t hear her because she’s on mute with the microphone bar across it and-and she’s bouncing the baby in her arms but I can’t hear them! She’s putting him over her shoulder, and his face - the baby! - his head is all red and he’s screaming at the top of his lungs and she’s patting his back -- but I can’t hear them! Craig! He’s there, to the left of me and the blue light drowns him out but I can’t look away from the screen even if I wanted to, Doctor! I see only the screen and Barb and her screaming baby but I can’t hear them and goddamn I know, I know, I know it Doctor! I know it! I know it’s the end! I know it’s all blue!
“Dammit! Let me get my mask from the car, Doctor; please just stay on the screen and let me go get my clean mask, goddammit you, before it all goes blue!
Sunday, June 28, 2020
She does a few other clever "future self" talking to her older self videos. They're pretty great.
I'll pause here so you can look them up.
It's pretty wild how six months have changed the world. Nothing seems the same. Nothing seems quite right.
Some conversations with my family have ventured guesses about what the future may look like: the waning playgrounds, the bankruptcy of big-box movie theaters, the lesser number of small businesses. I have no idea if any of this will be true in the future.
What I am going to venture to guess about is the world of books and writing.
In the last twenty years, the written word and the publishing business have evolved.
Getting into the traditional publishing business has become more cutthroat. Print books and bookstores are slowly declining. Online publishing is increasing. Self-publishing has increased. Authors need to learn marketing and business to promote themselves and their work.
In the last six months, the written word and publishing have changed more. In the Corona isolation, people have been reading more. The long-term effects of isolation and political upheaval may affect our world of writing in ways we cannot foresee.
I am not really sure what this means for us writers and the written word, but here are a few guesses:
- More entertainment and genre fiction. People might be reading more, but they are reading to escape. Easy reading, fun times.
- Less "speculative" and experimental fiction. We have too much real-life drama going on. Who wants to be challenged in fiction? That stuff is scary.
- More ebooks. E-reading means that people don't have to come in contact with anyone at the library or the bookstore. No worries of social-distancing or even offending people if the cover of your romance has a scantily-clad white man with a white German shepherd on the cover. And if a library burns down, will anyone miss it?
- Less libraries and printed books. That stuff costs money. Besides, environmentally conscious people might take offense to printed books in the future.
Will readers in the future demand an easier, more electronic, more entertaining book?
Will that change what any of us write? Do we want it to?
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Yet, I cannot let my mind wander aimlessly like this forever. I must calm the storm, as it were, and alight on a single subject. It being Father's Day I have decided that this is a good place to start. I would like to tell you all of the man that was my father.
It has been almost a year now since my father passed away. He died on August 19th in the wee hours of the morning in a run down nursing home on the east side of Indianapolis. It had been ten days since we first took him to the hospital until that final moment - a victim a failing heart. I don't know what I expected the end of his life to be, but I suppose I imagined something...more dignified. Not to slip away plugged into an oxygen machine set on full, desperately trying to force oxygen into your body. And yet...this was his end.
He deserved better.
My father was an Eastsider man and boy. Save for a brief time when Uncle Sam called him to service during the Vietnam War, he remained a scion of Indianapolis to the last. A graduate of Arsenal Technical High School and IUPUI he was on the forefront of computer programming. These were the days of punch cards and main frames the size of a city bus that had less computing power than my phone. I remember many nights when he would get the call to come and fix an error in the "code" (do punch cards count as code?) when the company would run its inventory and accounting. He always answered the call no matter what the time and stayed for as long as it took to make the thing go. It was only after 40 years and light years of change in the computer industry that he powered off his mouse and left the building for good.
He was a man of passions. Golf was chief among these. There was not a time when he was not considering playing a round. It was only thunderstorms and blizzards that kept him away, though I suspect he would have braved even those if he could. My mother used to tell the story that my dad was out golfing the day I was born. This was in a time before they let fathers in the delivery room, so it can be forgiven.
Now, when I was 11, I declared my intention to learn to play golf. It wasn't so much that I wanted to be like all the other members in my family as much as it was that I didn't want to babysit my little sister anymore while they were all away golfing. This was particularly true on our summer vacations to Michigan. However, it turns out that I am truly terrible at golf. I was so awful at it that is was painful for others to watch me try to play. My father, though, would come back from playing 18 with my relatives and then take me out to a small 9 hole course nearby to let me play. Oh, he would get aggravated with me and repeat the constant refrain of, "Keep your head down." but he would always take me out.
Fishing was another of his endeavors. Nearly every Saturday in any given summer would find us at the Mallory Conservation Club since I was the age of five. Now, at that age, I was mostly interested in chasing frogs and blowing bubbles in the water through the hollow bit of my bamboo pole, but he brought me (and later my sister) there week after week. I also remember always wanting to pluck a water lily flower for my mother. These were at the back of the pond and were notoriously difficult should your hook get entangled in the stems. Yet, he would row me back there at least once or twice in June and July to get some blooms for her.
He never told us out loud that he loved us. Men of his generation did not do such things. Yet, it was in his actions that we knew that he did. It wasn't just the golf and the fishing, but also the band concerts and academic awards "dinners" that he attended even though I am certain he would have rather been anywhere else. It was through these acts that we knew he loved us and it is these things that I will remember of him the most.
Father's Day comes at the same time of year that tiger lilies bloom. My father always told me that he liked these flowers more than any other. He would ask me year after year what they were called knowing that I knew of such things. And now, whenever I see them growing in the roadside ditches or in clumps in old fashioned gardens, I smile and wipe the tears from my eyes thinking of the good man that was my father.
Sunday, June 14, 2020
Saturday, June 6, 2020
He leads me to the marsh with his hand in mine; a hand he says I should not hold.
“My hand is only to take me from the watchful pueblo.
Come undress me, two-spirit, with the stars by the river.”
He gives me a drink that he cups with his hands; a drink he says I should not taste.
“The water is only to quench my searing thirst.
Come drench me, two-spirit, with the rain by the river.”
He touches my lips that he found with his own; a kiss he says I should not linger.
“The kiss is only to stifle my smoldering fire.
Come douse me, two-spirit, with the snow bed by the river.”
He blends his flesh and heat with mine; a communion he says I should not destine.
“My body holds captive a restless spirit.
Come release me, two-spirit, with the windstorm by the river.”
He settles my head on his drum beat chest; a song he says I should not hear.
“My heart belongs to one high elder’s flower.
Come abide me, two-spirit, with the shadows by the river.”
He calls to me from his house of rooms; a home he aches to part.
“My wealth is burdened by nettled secrets.
Please welcome me, two-spirit, to the river of old!”
I dry his face with my trembling hand; a hand both bare and aged.
“You offer me only the shelter of night; no blessings beyond the dawn.
Do you pine for the love of me, one-spirit; or want for the river alone?”
He leads me through the nights with his hand in mine; a hand I wish I could hold.
His hand only steals him from his pueblo house...
and leaves me with the break of dawn by the river, alone.
I am asked by signs as I wander the homes of spirits to not touch the sacred water of Mó-ha-loh. The water is vital and faithfully serves the pueblo as it ripples over hard stones of the Red Willows and succours the marsh root, soothes the bare-boned desert's scorch, and bids the will of the Rio Grande in the canyon's deep swallow.
|Photo is the property of Randall S. Wireman|
Monday, May 25, 2020
Joyas Volardores by Brian Doyle
It's funny and strange how a brief conversation about hummingbirds can trigger a memory about an essay I haven't read in years.
That's the lovely and wonderful and universal memory in great writing.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
|Built in cable|
|under the arch|