distortion zone

My mood over the past few days has been peculiar but not entirely unfamiliar. It emerges from an attempt to balance the debt owed to the past with what’s owed to the present. For me, this feeling comes most acutely after leaving a place. Most people have probably never really left a place but most people have probably felt the same thing. They’re out of some thing and into another and that old thing keeps knocking. That old thing has expectations, demands, and, if you ignore these, you feel like you’ve let everyone down.

But it can be a bit much.

I felt the same sort of thing after leaving Toronto for California. So much of my twitter feed, my Internet in general, was rooted in Toronto. I was constantly getting local news updates from a city I no longer lived in. To say that I no longer cared about the city or the people in it would be going much too far. It wasn’t like that at all. But what the fuck was I supposed to do about any of it? And how the hell does one move forward carrying a city on their back?

On top of this, all this news gets harder to understand. It just gets hard. Following the news of a place from distance is bit like following a baseball team through the box-scores. It tells you something but not nearly enough to understand what you’re being told. Someone who didn’t watch the A’s but looked at the numbers would be surprised that they suddenly fielded a good team. But someone who sat through the games. They’d know they were close.They’d see that the shortstop was about to break out. The numbers and the Win-Loss column were missing a lot of improvement, potential, and good at bats. The results and record don’t always reflect the reality or the process. And, as time goes on, as the distance from the reality increases, the results grow even more distorting. The teams turn over. The players change. You can no longer picture the swing. You might think that social media would clarify some of this but it really does not. It turns out to be a running commentary by millions of Tabby Bucks. It’s a reaction to a context you don’t share. You just lose the plot.

And keeping up with the plot, even badly, would be a full-time job.

There’s an aspect to watching the news that is so casual we often take it for granted. When you watch the news, you compare what you’re being told to your surroundings and your understanding of them. When you don’t share the surroundings, you lose context. You can only compare the news to your understanding and memory of the surroundings. As time wears on, an increasingly large portion of your understanding starts to be formed by the news. Memories get supplanted. They turn into memories of news. It all gets a bit ridiculous.

Context is fucking important.

It’s easy enough to leave Canada. The whole damn place pretty much vanishes the moment you cross a border. But America? America chases you down, tackles you, and then shoves itself right down your throat. America is everywhere. It’s hard to get out of America.

But what America has in volume it lacks in clarity. Those speakers are always pushed beyond their limits and clipping out. It’s loud and distorted. At the best of times.

These days, it’s increasingly difficult for me to follow what’s going on. Not just emotionally but even the facts of the matter. I can see and read and hear the reactions, and remember what is being reacted to, but it’s like eavesdropping on a drunken fight. How the hell is one supposed to think about claims that masks cut off carbon dioxide or whatever crazy shit the right-wing is spouting these days. It’s hard enough to follow and fight when you’re in the middle of it. From a remove? The context and conversation is just so bizarre.

It’s just what the fuck?

The whole closing and reopening, it’s like, that’s fine, I guess, but will anything different going to be tried this round? Like, the country needs to build a healthcare system for any of anything to work. And the plans to build that are sitting there. Warren and Sanders both had these plans. Are these plans just gathering dust on a desk? So, yeah, shutdown again, but fucking implement one of those plans. That’s just a starting point. That’s just what it takes to keep from going backwards upside down again. That’s just punching the clock, it’s not the work.

Another contrast that’s difficult to articulate, a contrast I that I think is really important but am unsure how important it is, or what you can really do with it, so I’m just going to leave it here, as an example of differing context and how hard it is talk across it is:

Since this whole thing started, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term “essential services” used here. In regards to the spaces deemed “essential” in America, many of these spaces were just called “high risk.” And, right out of the gate, it seemed bizarre that in North America, the only things left open would be the high risk facilities — and that they would left open in conditions that only increased the size of the crowds, and, therefore ,the amount of risk. It seemed to combine the worst of a shutdown and the worst of doing nothing. Like, we’re only leaving these few stores open, you will have to go to them, and they will now be raves. They will be staffed by an unprotected underclass who can’t access medical treatment. But we’ll call this staff heroes, the company will buy them a pizza or let them wear jeans to work, and they might even get a button. And that will be that. Should turn out fine!

As far as the concept of “essential” itself goes, here, we’re kind of told all the time that everyone is important. Your job could be baking throwing pies at the local clown school and it’s still understood — this job is really very important to you and this nonsense is essential to your livelihood, and every life is precious. And to protect anyone, we have to protect everyone. Will it be perfect? No. Will there be mistakes? Yes. But the only way out is through and the only way through is together. You can’t abandon individuals, never mind whole classes of people to a disease and just expect it to work itself out. That’s bonkers.

That term “essential” itself annoys me. For a pretty large variety of reasons, it’s not a term that I think can be productively embraced by unions or workers to get rights or better pay. (Tho, there might be some legal element to its use.) Yet “essential” is the term that has been latched onto by both sides. One for advertising purposes, and the other to show that the jobs are needed — as if necessity ever mattered or helped the workers get a better deal. As if California doesn’t already staff its essential services of firefighting with prison labor. As if “essential” isn’t just an excuse to abuse workers. Anything goes when the work is essential.

Okay, I’m off on one here, but my point is — from distance, the American experience is just increasingly incomprehensible. It’s not hard to follow what the thinking is –it’s just the usual racist genocidal logic that has guided the place for centuries– but listening to the conversation grows more difficult. It gets harder to understand as the words and their meanings keep changing, often dependent on who is saying the shit, and, on top of that one ends up depending on news sources who never represented any sort of point of view that was rooted in the lived realities of myself or anyone I knew in the first place. It’s harder to speak to that situation because if you say anything like – we never had a shutdown, none of that can even begin to translate into what Americans generally think any of that means now.

So, like, what the fuck?

How do you balance this shit? What you owe to a past and what you owe to a future or present? How do you understand or communicate? I’m trying here but I really have no idea.

I mean, the story about The Wife of Lot has never made any sense to me. Not on any level. Not at all. Until now. Now, I fucking get it. Looking back at a collapse is fucking dangerous. But it’s not like a person can really help themselves. You look back. You turn to salt. Weird thing is, and left out of the story is, you can keep running anyway. So, onward, I guess, and I guess we’ll try to sort this shit out in the rubble, and, until then, Hail Satan!

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