Been a year, hasn’t it?
Out of respect for the unpredictability and importance of any particular day, I usually like to save these year in review posts for when the year is safely dead and buried. 2020, in particular, has been a bit of a horror show monster. You think its dead and then it grabs your ankle. Probably best to wake until this year is shot twice in the head, staked through the heart, beheaded, burned, and the ashes dumped in running water before anyone starts saying, “well that’s been 2020 . . .” A lot can happen in two days. So can nothing.
Usually, I just like to run over the various high and low points, shit I got done, and all of that sort of thing. But I’ve having a bit of a hard time thinking about 2020 in those terms. I can’t even look at 2020 like it’s been a good or bad year. It’s been bad. Worse is yet to come. Strange or normal? The strange beginning another normal. More than anything, 2020 feels like a Rubicon year. Throw the dice high.
The only way I can think to do this is month to month, a bit like those grumpy owl guides, and just see how it comes out. I’m as curious as you. So here’s The Grumpy Guide to 2020, I Guess.
You know, I actually got a tattoo in January. It’s not a thing I mentioned here or anywhere, really, because it’s not the sort of thing that anyone over the age of 17 should be proud of and I didn’t do it for the gram, but it is a thing I did. It was pretty spur of the moment.
Wife needed to get some of her tattoos fixed up and I tagged along. Then, much to my surprise, I was just kind of like, “fuck it, do me too.” Some of it is just finally deciding on a thing I wanted and being in a tattoo parlor. Some of it is just that getting a tattoo is technically illegal here and, aside from just liking to break the law, I’m just like — if you’re on a crime scene and not participating, then you’re just a witness.
So, yeah, anyway, did that.
People say it hurts. I liked it.
If I ever get another, that will probably be why. I like how it felt.
At the time, we were just starting to hear about COVID. It seemed mainly like a thing that was happening in China and something that would probably go like SARS or MERS or whatever –an annoyance but something that could and would be brought under control. But you did not want to cough in public. That was a thing. The edginess was there.
Masks were advised and this is when we started wearing them. Signs started appearing, alerts given, and the response had started.
For me, this was the strangest month. It rapidly became apparent that this COVID shit was serious business. Wuhan had locked down. Cases were popping up. Even in America and Canada. Then, The Daegu Outbreak. And it was like a bomb had gone off.
Until this, it was very go with the flow. If you’re in an area where people are wearing masks, wear a mask. If no one else is, why bother. You always kept one on you but not always on your face. Daegu changed that. We went from just a few cases to a major outbreak overnight. And that was a scary moment. No one knew what was going to happen.
The city went silent.
I stocked up and stayed the fuck home.
But the strangest thing was seeing all this happen here and nothing happen in America or Canada. No testing or anything in my home countries. No shutdowns. People just continuing life as if nothing was happening. And my wife stayed working — for a while at least.
It gave me such a weird fucking feeling. There were times when I was like — is this all in my head? For God’s sake, they’re talking about Spring Training in North America — about the sports seasons like these are just a thing that are going to happen. They’re not even testing.
And not being out, I could not even see what was happening out there. I just heard and felt this swell of silence. The beach looked empty from my window but I had no February to compare it to. It was such a bizarre disconnect. Even with the clear and precise communication from the government and the health authorities, there were times when I could not be sure what the hell was going on, if anything, or if I had just flipped my fucking lid and was the only person staying indoors, totally overreacting to a news story.
The rare trip out was a great relief at this time. Seeing the silence of the city, the empty shops and streets should have been scary. Mainly, I felt assured of my sanity. Something was happening. I was not alone. We were all doing this and doing it together.
This is when North America finally seemed to realize that something was happening. On one hand, this was reassuring. Finally! On the other, terrifying.
Having already seen the speed this bug moved with, how much every hour and day counted, how quickly one case exploded into hundreds, it seemed like it might already be too late. Also having seen the amount of effort it took to respond to this bug, I had some serious doubts about whether America or Canada would be at all capable or rising to the challenge under any leadership – let alone the leadership it had. I worried that they would do the exact wrong things. Xenophobia, deciding some lives aren’t worth saving, profiteering, and manipulating the whole situation to the benefit of the bosses.
It’s just one of those situations that you very much go into with the society you have, not the society that you want. And, as they say, a battle is no time to sharpen your javelin. This thing finds the weak points in any society, any inequality, any injustice, and it ruthlessly exploits it.
On one hand, a crisis is a chance to change. On the other, a crisis is a magnifying glass. It is both of these things at the same time. It can be one or the other. You can get better or you can get worse but the one thing you are definitely going to be is what you are.
But still, it was good to see these places finally acknowledge some sort of reality. To see some measures finally be taken. Too late and not enough but better than nothing. And, having seen what works, the good news was that, unlike us, North America had a proven democratic model. It only needed to adopt it in order to succeed. It had a tested blueprint.
It just had to do it. That’s all.
And we went deeper into shutdown and started to suffocate the motherfucker.
The news out of America was bad. There must have been news out of Canada too but fucked if I can remember any of it. I suppose, it seemed like Canada was doing a better job but considering that it has a healthcare system, this was to be expected.
Any advice or help that I might have been able to give at the start of this thing really started feeling useless. After a few weeks, you sort of know everything you need to know about the situation. There isn’t a lot more to be said. It’s just repetition. Doldrums.
The total all encompassing guilt of these times. I felt guilty just for getting out of America. For seeing Trump for what he was, America for what it was, and that death was coming. That a terrible, homicidal mess was coming. I did not know what death would look like but I knew death was coming. We decided to get the fuck out before it arrived. Too try. The one thing I did not want to be was someone staring down a holocaust and thinking — we’ll wait and see. If I know a thing, I lack the imagination to ignore it. Better to get the fuck out. If I thought America could change, I would have worked to change it. Hell, I did try. When and where I could, I tried. It was not enough. Nothing can be. But it was something.
Starting in 2015, Wife and I made a bet. We had to sell a house, give up what we’d hoped would be a future in America, work for a few years, and race against time. We had to do what we needed to just in case we ever needed to go back, and we tried to remain decent under the dictatorship. We got the fuck out because, honestly, fuck that fucking shit. The bet paid off. For us. A lot of people could not bet like this. It might have felt better to be wrong. A lot better. A luxury to even be able to think about that. A disgusting luxury.
Survivor guilt is a dry term. The feeling is real. It’s horrible sort of spiral. A feedback loop of despair. You feel guilty for even feeling it. And there’s not much you can do about it. This is not a guilt about nothing. It’s not a guilt that you even want to talk yourself out of. You can’t tell yourself you earned survival because you did not earn it. Mainly, luck. You cannot and should not feel fucking clever about it. You just need to wear the shit. Accept it and try to do something with it. The guilt is not an end but a beginning. One hopes, at least. One tries.
March and April Again
A rotting confusion sets in. Pours a brandy, puts its feet up, and makes itself at home. There are times when I am not sure where I am. The numbers out of Korea are very different from the numbers out of America, and I’m not sure what situation I am reacting to. The daily briefings are a great help. What is happening and what we need to do is laid out in clear detail. But even if you can go get a coffee here, how can you when that is happening there.
Time gets slippery.
Space gets slippery.
Time and space get slippery.
Some time in this endless March and April, Wife is sent home from her job for a month, I think. That might have been another March or another April. A stimulus check arrives. California’s blue sky turns orange. Korea gets down to zero cases.
We can go out for coffee again and we do.
Then another outbreak.
The winter looms. We wait.
The season of anxiety. There is an election. I vote for Biden.
My nerves are shot. It’s the American news. This is the most American news that I’ve watched in years. It’s a pointless misinformation machine designed to hop you from one commercial break to the next. It induces suspense and anxiety. But I cannot turn it off.
I know I should.
Day after day of watching people try to count. Days of BREAKING NEWS and UPDATE and MAGIC WALL. A monomaniacal focus on nothing BUT the election. The constant sorting of the world into winners and losers. Marked for death. The gibbering pundits congratulating themselves on FREEDOM and FAIRNESS while muscle bound muscle heads object to the use of three syllable words. A man in a black t-shirt bemoans the difficulty of math on live television. Somehow, he still has a job tomorrow. His idiocy humanizes him. A republican wears Chuck Taylors. His shoes humanize him. Your patience is appreciated. THE GREATEST COUNTRY ON EARTH must count. The nation suffers through a nightmare of counting. It thrashes and groans but cannot awake. If one plus one equals two, then we will have three but let’s wonder what would happen if if one plus one equaled three. There would be a different result. Not an issue or a policy will be discussed. No time for that in THE GREATEST COUNTRY ON EARTH. Only genocidal scorekeeping. Fascist strategizing. Winners. Losers. Let’s all learn to be one and kill the other. Let’s be sporting, America.
The result comes in. Another fight begins.
I finally change the fucking channel.
I am somehow getting through school. It provides structure to my days. I stop using Facebook. I have triangulated my location. I am more firmly in Korea and I am more firmly in time. The places that guilt have rubbed raw go numb. I still awake bloody and covered in cuts from scratching myself in my sleep but in late December even that pauses.
Zero cases are a distant memory. Level One is gone. Going out for a coffee is a distant memory. We are in a third wave, worse than the first. There is no more sense of irreality about the thing. Everyone is in it. Just do what you need to do. Stick to basics.
Vaccines and mutations. Wife on winter vacation.
Tonight is a full moon. I’ve never felt better in my life. Better in my life.
I’ve never felt better in my life.
The more things change . . .
No matter how sensible, things lose their meaning with repetition. But the situation we’re in now is much the same as the situation we were in at the start of 2020 and it is similar to the situation we’ll be in at the end of 2021. If anything, COVID is a pretty mild practice run for the shit that is coming. This could be worse. It probably will be. Shit is getting worse.
Whether or not we’re tired of following it, the best approach remains the same. We need more, much more equality. Of all different sorts. Income, racial, gendered, all of it. It’s generally better to be wrong and kind than right and cruel and, for fuck’s sake, try not to be wrong and cruel. Too many, far too many people, already are. Believe, they got it covered.
Be gentle with each other and gentle with yourself but not too fucking gentle. Like it or not (and I sure fucking don’t) we are in this together. The only way out is through and the only way through is together. We can learn this now or we can learn it later. But failing to learn it? That’s murder-suicide. We must learn it. There are more than enough things on this planet trying to kill humans. Humans don’t need to help them along. It’s already hard enough.
A mess like this, we all have to try to get through it without becoming numb to death. There will be triage but avoiding triage is the point. We cannot allow ourselves to get into an algebra of death. And you must, we all must, attempt to retain and develop a moral perspective on these things and to make a society where that perspective has just as much teeth as The Market. Leaving people to die is wrong. There must be consequences.
It doesn’t sound like much and it probably isn’t, but try to stay decent. It’s more than many will do and more than many have done. It’s not enough but it is something.
Anyway, I hope you have a good New Year and a good 2021. Maybe it’ll be okay. Adaptation.