Notes From a Pandemic: May 16th, 2020

by Miles Raymer

Greetings, dear friends of the present and curious citizens of the future.

On this gray May morning, I’m trying to articulate the best lesson I’ve learned from the pandemic thus far. There are so many things we are learning––as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, as a species––that it’s impossible to huddle it all under the umbrella of a single message. But if I had to try, I’d say we’re taking a master class in how to confront, cope with, and flourish in a state of radical uncertainty.

Looking back through the centuries, our ancestors would chuckle at this. Isn’t that just life? they’d say. Isn’t every day a walk through the woods of unkept promises, unexpected consequences, and grand plans laid to waste? And they’d be right, of course. It is perhaps modernity’s greatest achievement that it has fooled millions of people into believing that the world is a stable, predictable place. And it’s not a complete lie, not by a long shot. Science and technology, with the help of global markets and institutions, have funneled the river of human desire into a remarkably consistent network of channels, tributaries, and canals––some with locks that control the water level so precisely that the vicissitudes of nature seem entirely absent. Most of us just paddle along each day, completely unaware of the vast artifice on which the stillness of our watery bliss depends. 

And then, as always, a storm. The water rises, spills over the grandest confinements, and begins again to follow the path of least resistance, which is also the path of most destruction. We’re still paddling, but more vigorously now and no longer to any preconceived destination or shelter. We simply don’t know where the flood is taking us and are desperate to keep the illusion of control. Very few of us catch a glimpse of the deeper truth: that the source of the water and its rightful path was always a mystery, that we never had full control to begin with, and that our little machines protected us but also muddied the terrible glory of nature. Fewer still are able to live that truth.

I am tremendously inept at dealing with uncertainty. This is my most childish quality, the one that leads me farthest astray from the man I want to be. The pandemic’s gift to me, then, is the same as its horror. It is the momentarily-stillborn then suddenly-raging infant ejected from the womb, the shock of finding oneself in the first light of new understanding, suddenly possessed of a quixotic agency in a world ruled by constraints. It is the attempt to wring a few drops of clarity from the dirty dishtowel of existence. It is the end of someone who never breathed or walked or loved, but whose shadow fell with mine in every fading light.

FIgure 8

So what’s the prognosis? Let’s get some second opinions

––>

An ability to tolerate the anxiety generated by ambiguity is what allows us to respect, engage, and grow from our repeated, daily encounters with the essential mysteries of life. But the payoff goes even further. Certainty begets stagnation, but ambiguity pulls us deeper into life. Unchallenged conviction begets rigidity, which begets regression; but ambiguity opens us to discovery, complexity, and therefore growth. The health of our culture, and the magnitude of our personal journeys, require that we learn to tolerate ambiguity, in service to a larger life….

In the end, our lives will be governed by mysteries, not certainties. In the end, whatever is larger than our constructs and beliefs and denials, will prove most worthy of our respect, our humility, and our considered beliefs. This is the experience of meaning. If we want our lives to be meaningful, we need to understand that meaning will not be found through any arrival at certainty, for any place we settle will soon prove inadequate. Meaning will arise from sundry departures from certainties, obligatory deaths and rebirths, and surprising new arrivals from which, then, new departures perforce persist. This is meaning. (James Hollis, What Matters Most, 27, 230)  

When you are in your twenties, even if you’re confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become.  Later…later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories.  Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety.  Later, the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches.  It’s a bit like the black box aeroplanes carry to record what happens in a crash.  If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself.  So if you do crash, it’s obvious why you did; if you don’t, then the log of your journey is much less clear.

Or, to put it another way.  Someone once said that his favourite times in history were when things were collapsing, because that meant something new was being born.  Does this make any sense if we apply it to our individual lives?  To die when something new is being born––even if that something new is our very own self?  Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood.  So does life.  Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Julian Barnes, The Sense of An Ending, 114-5)

Life is so uncertain: you never know what could happen. One way to deal with that is to keep your pajamas washed. (Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, 474)

My own task these past twenty years or so of living by words has been to try to find or make a language to describe the subtleties, the incalculables, the pleasures and meanings––impossible to categorize––at the heart of things. My friend Chip Ward speaks of ‘the tyranny of the quantifiable,’ of the way what can be measured almost always takes precedence over what cannot: private profit over public good; speed and efficiency over enjoyment and quality; the utilitarian over the mysteries and meanings that are of greater use to our survival and to more than our survival, to lives that have some purpose and value that survive beyond us to make a civilization worth having.

The tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle, and fluid phenomena, as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things. It is difficult, sometimes even impossible, to value what cannot be named or described, and so the task of naming and describing is an essential one in any revolt against the status quo of capitalism and consumerism. Ultimately the destruction of the Earth is due in part, perhaps in large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters. The revolt against this destruction is a revolt of the imagination, in favor of subtleties, of pleasures money can’t buy and corporations can’t command, of being producers rather than consumers of meaning, of the slow, the meandering, the digressive, the exploratory, the numinous, the uncertain. (Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me, 97-8)

Technology, of course, will not shape the future in isolation. Rather, it will intertwine with other major societal and environmental challenges such as an aging population, climate change, and resource depletion. It’s often predicted that a shortage of workers will eventually develop as the baby boom generation exits the workforce, effectively counterbalancing––or perhaps even overwhelming––any impact from automation. Rapid innovation is typically framed purely as a countervailing force with the potential to minimize, or even reverse, the stress we put on the environment. However, as we’ll see, many of these assumptions rest on uncertain foundations: the story is sure to be far more complicated. Indeed, the frightening reality is that if we don’t recognize and adapt to the implications of advancing technology, we may face the prospect of a ‘perfect storm’ where the impacts from soaring inequality, technological unemployment, and climate change unfold roughly in parallel, and in some ways amplify and reinforce each other. (Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots, xvii-xviii)

For several decades, it has been fashionable in some circles (especially the postmodernists and poststructuralists) to sneer at Enlightenment ideas, to declare that they are outdated, human-centric, or naive. Transhumanism continues to champion the core of the Enlightenment ideas and ideals––rationality and scientific method, individual rights, the possibility and desirability of progress, the overcoming of superstition and authoritarianism, and the search for new forms of governance––while revising and refining them in the light of new knowledge. The search for absolute foundations for reason, for instance, has given way to a more sophisticated, uncertain, and self-critical form of critical rationalism. The simple, unified self has been replaced by the far more complex and puzzling self revealed by the neurosciences. The utterly unique status of human beings has been superseded by an understanding that we are part of a spectrum of biological organisms and possible non-biological species of the future. (Max More, “The Philosophy of Transhumanism,” The Transhumanist Reader, pg. 10)

This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately.  You’ll finish and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years.  You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life.  It won’t matter.  Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all.  For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were.  You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you.  Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room.  But you won’t understand why or how.  You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place.

Old shelters––television, magazines, movies––won’t protect you anymore.  You might try scribbling in a journal, on a napkin, maybe even in the margins of this book.  That’s when you’ll discover you no longer trust the very walls you always took for granted.  Even the hallways you’ve walked a hundred times will feel longer, much longer, and the shadows, any shadow at all, will suddenly seem deeper, much, much, deeper.

You might try then, as I did, to find a sky so full of stars it will blind you again.  Only no sky can blind you now.  Even with all that iridescent magic up there, your eye will no longer linger on the light, it will no longer trace constellations.  You’ll care only about the darkness and you’ll watch it for hours, for days, maybe even for years, trying in vain to believe you’re some kind of indispensable, universe-appointed sentinel, as if just by looking you could actually keep it all at bay.  It will get so bad you’ll be afraid to look away, you’ll be afraid to sleep.

Then no matter where you are, in a crowded restaurant or on some desolate street or even in the comforts of your own home, you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by.  You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious.  And then for better or worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name.

And then the nightmares will begin. (Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves, xxii-xxiii)

Risk does not disappear simply because one is averse to it.  It is a necessary evil of existence.  Selective, temporary delay can be a smart policy, but attempts to eliminate risk will ultimately bring greater danger over the long run.  This is why higher perspectives such as that provided in the Cosmic Vision, aided by faith and courage, are needed when one is facing great uncertainty but also great potential. (Ted Chu, Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential, 305)

The difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people––and this is true whether or not they are well-educated––is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations––in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.

In your Primer you have a resource that will make you highly educated, but it will never make you intelligent. That comes from life. Your life up to this point has given you all of the experience you need to be intelligent, but you have to think about those experiences. If you don’t think about them, you’ll be psychologically unwell. If you do think about them, you will become not merely educated but intelligent. (Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age, loc. 4684)

In our contemporary era, perhaps the most profound insight Confucianism has to offer the world today lies in prompting us to rethink the role of family as the ground and primary site of the consummate life and by extension, of a truly robust democracy.  Ironically, we might argue that at the same time, inopportune intimacy in relations is also China’s primary obstacle on its own road to democratization.  With so much investment in intimate and informal familial relationships, the Confucian tradition has been slow to produce the formal, more ‘objective’ and ‘transparent’ institutions necessary to sustain a Confucian version of democracy, and when it has produced them, these same institutions are often compromised and eroded by the excessive intervention of personal relationships.

While the familiar appeal to universals might suffer from the ambiguity of practical applications, the Confucian attempt to extend consideration to all involved is handicapped by the need for more abstract regulative ideals such as courage and justice that provide direction for what is a legitimate claim for consideration and inclusion.  Indeed, as democracy emerges in China, the cure for the ills of a decidedly Confucian democracy might well be a continuing appeal to rule of law and the formal institutions of democracy to contain the excesses of those intimate relations that have their beginnings in family feeling.  And who is to say that in the fullness of time, a Confucianism-inspired democracy––that is, a democracy grounded in a regimen of role ethics that does not suffer from the obvious tension between foundational individualism and social values––between the justified self-interest of discrete individuals and their commitment to the possibilities of a flourishing community––will not provide a worthy alternative to liberal democracy? (Roger Ames, Confucian Role Ethics, 268)

Probability and statistics are useful tools for better understanding problems that involve uncertainty. However, statistics is not a magical cure for uncertainty. As statistician Andrew Gelman suggested in The American Statistician in 2016, we must “move toward a greater acceptance of uncertainty and embracing of variation.” (Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann, Super Thinking, 173)

On the twelfth of June, the forces of western Europe crossed the borders of Russia, and war began––that is, an event took place contrary to human reason and to the whole of human nature. Millions of people committed against each other such a countless number of villainies, deceptions, betrayals, thefts, forgeries and distributions of false banknotes, robberies, arsons, and murders as the annals of all the law courts in the world could not assemble in whole centuries, and which, at that period of time, the people who committed them did not look upon as crimes.

What produced this extraordinary event? What were its causes?…

For us it is not understandable that millions of Christians killed and tortured each other because Napoleon was a lover of power, Alexander was firm, English policy cunning, and the duke of Oldenburg offended. It is impossible to understand what connection there is between these circumstances and the fact of killing and violence…

For us descendants––who are not historians, who are not carried away by the process of research and therefore can contemplate events with unobscured common sense––a countless number of causes present themselves. The deeper we go in search of causes, the more of them we find, and each cause taken singly or whole series of causes present themselves to us equally correct in themselves, and equally false in their insignificance in comparison with the enormity of the event, and equally false in their incapacity (without the participation of all other coinciding causes) to produce the event that took place. The willingness or unwillingness of one French corporal to enlist for a second tour of duty appears to us as good a cause as Napoleon’s refusal to withdraw his army beyond the Vistula and give back the duchy of Oldenburg; for if he had been unwilling to serve, and another had been unwilling, and a third, and a thousandth corporal and soldier, there would have been so many less men in Napoleon’s army, and there could have been no war. (Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 603-4)

[Perpetual beta] refers to the idea of constant experimentation that assumes a high level of implicit failure instead of trying to avert every contingency through careful planning. The logic is that careful planning doesn’t work very well because both failure and opportunity arrive from unexpected directions anyway…It’ll be messy and awkward. But so is almost every adolescent. If it’s going to happen, we have to start right now. (Eliot Peper, Cumulus, loc. 2937)

It is the degree of predictability which our social structures possess which enables us to plan and engage in long-term projects; and the ability to plan and to engage in long-term projects is a necessary condition of being able to find life meaningful. Life lived from moment to moment, from episode to episode, unconnected by threads of large-scale intention, would lack the basis for many characteristically human institutions: marriage, war, the remembrance of the lives of the dead, the carrying on of families, cities and services through generations and so on. But the pervasive unpredictability in human life also renders all our plans and projects permanently vulnerable and fragile.

Vulnerability and fragility have other sources too of course, among them the character of the material environment and our ignorance. But the thinkers of the Enlightenment and their ninetieth- and twentieth-century heirs saw these as the sole or at any rate the main sources of vulnerability and fragility. The Marxists added economic competitiveness and ideological blindness. All of them wrote as though fragility and vulnerability could be overcome in some progressive future. And it is now possible to identify the link between this belief and their philosophy of science. The latter with its view of explanation and prediction played a central role in sustaining the former. But with us the argument now has to move in the other direction.

Each of us, individually and as a member of particular social groups, seeks to embody his own plans and projects in the natural and social world. A condition of achieving this is to render as much of our natural and social environment as possible predictable and the importance of both natural and social science in our lives derives at least in part–although only in part–from their contribution to this project. At the same time each of us, individually and as a member of particular social groups, aspires to preserve his independence, his freedom, his creativity, and that inner reflection which plays so great a part in freedom and creativity, from invasion by others. We wish to disclose of ourselves no more than we think right and nobody wishes to disclose all of himself– except perhaps under the influence of some psychoanalytic illusion. We need to remain to some degree opaque and unpredictable, particularly when threatened by the predictive practices of others. The satisfaction of this need to at least some degree supplies another necessary condition for human life being meaningful in the ways that it is and can be. It is necessary, if life is to be meaningful, for us to be able to engage in long-term projects, and this requires predictability; it is necessary, if life is to be meaningful, for us to be in possession of ourselves and not merely to be the creations of other people’s projects, intentions and desires, and this requires unpredictability. We are thus involved in a world in which we are simultaneously trying to render the rest of society predictable and ourselves unpredictable, to devise generalizations which will capture the behavior of others and to cast our own behavior into forms which will elude the generalizations which others frame. (Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 103-4)

There is a tendency to see historical events as the inevitable consequences of deep-rooted forces. While we place great emphasis on how the history of economic and political institutions create vicious and virtuous circles, contingency, as we have in emphasized in the context of the development of English institutions, can always be a factor. Seretse Khama, studying in England in the 1940s, fell in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman. As a result, the racist apartheid regime in South Africa persuaded the English government to ban him from the protectorate, then called Bechuanaland (whose administration was under the High Commissar of South Africa), and he resigned his kingship. When he returned to lead the anticolonial struggle, he did so with the intention not of entrenching the traditional institutions but of adapting them to the modern world. Khama Was an extraordinary man, uninterested in personal wealth and dedicated to building his country. Most other African countries have not been so fortunate. Both things mattered, the historical development of institutions in Botswana and contingent factors that led these to be built on rather than overthrown or distorted as they were elsewhere in Africa. (Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail, 117)

The common experience of oppression and exploitation creates the potential for a united struggle to better the conditions of all…Political unity, including winning white workers to the centrality of racism in shaping the lived experiences of Black and Latino/a workers, is key to their own liberation…In this context, solidarity is not just an option; it is crucial to workers’ ability to resist the constant degradation of their living standards. Solidarity is only possible through relentless struggle to win white workers to antiracism, to expose the lie that Black workers are worse off because they somehow choose to be, and to win the white working class to the understanding that, unless they struggle, they too will continue to live lives of poverty and frustration, even if those lives are somewhat better than the lives led by Black workers. Success or failure are contingent on whether or not working people see themselves as brothers and sisters whose liberation is inextricably bound up together. Solidarity is standing in unity with people even when you have not personally experienced their particular oppression. (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, 214-15)

Once before, when camping on a mountaintop with some friends in the fifth or sixth grade, I had seen stars in such numbers that they filled the sky. It almost seemed as if the sky would break under the weight of all those things and come tumbling down. Never had I seen such an amazing skyful of stars. Unable to sleep after the others had drowsed off, I crawled out of the tent and lay on the ground, looking at the sky. Now and then, a shooting star would trace a bright arc across the heavens. The longer I watched, though, the more nervous it made me. There were simply too many stars, and to the sky was too vast and deep. A huge, overpowering foreign object, it’s surrounded me, enveloped me, and made me feel almost dizzy. Until that moment, I had always thought of the earth on which I stood as a solid object that would last forever. Or rather, I had never thought about such a thing at all. I had simply taken it for granted. But in fact, the earth was nothing but a chunk of rock floating in one little corner of the universe: a temporary foothold in the vast emptiness of space. It–and all of us with it–could be blown away tomorrow by a momentary flash of something or a tiny shift in the universe’s energy. Beneath this breathtaking skyful of stars, the uncertainty of my own existence struck me full force (though not in so many words, of course). It was a stunning discovery for a young boy. (Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 248-9)

No vision of an indolent paradise now, but something more ambiguous, challenging––and, by Roman lights, worthwhile. Honor, in the Republic, had never been a goal in itself, only a means to an infinite end. And what was true of her citizens, naturally, was also true of Rome herself. Struggle had been her existence, and the defiance of disaster. For the generation that lived through the civil wars, this was the consolation that history gave them. Out of the calamity could come greatness. Out of dispossession could come the renewal of a civilized order… What is gone and what is to come, both cast their Shadows, one on the other, meeting, merging, separating again. (Tom Holland, Rubicon, loc. 5719-35)

The first step toward wisdom is the realization that the laws of the universe don’t care about you. The next is the realization that this does not imply that life is meaningless, because people care about you, and vice versa. You care about yourself, and you have a responsibility to respect the laws of the universe that keep you alive, so don’t squander your existence. Your loved ones care about you, and you have a responsibility not to orphan your children, widow your spouse, and shatter your parents. And anyone with a humanistic sensibility cares about you, not in the sense of feeling your pain––human empathy is too feeble to spread itself across billions of strangers––but in the sense of realizing that your existence is cosmically no less important than theirs, and that we all have a responsibility to use the laws of the universe to enhance the conditions in which we all can flourish. (Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, 434-5)

The legacy of the Enlightenment is the belief that entirely on our own we can know, and in knowing, understand, and in understanding, choose wisely. That self-confidence has risen with the exponential growth of scientific knowledge, which is being woven into an increasingly full explanatory web of cause and effect. In the course of the enterprise, we have learned a great deal about ourselves as a species. We now better understand where humanity came from, and what it is. Homo sapiens, like the rest of life, was self-assembled. So here we are, no one having guided us to this condition, no one looking over our shoulder, our future entirely up to us. Human autonomy having thus been recognized, we should now feel more disposed to reflect on where we wish to go.

In such an endeavor it is not enough to say that history unfolds by processes too complex for reductionistic analysis. That is the white flag of the secular intellectual, the lazy modernist equivalent of The Will of God. On the other hand, it is too early to speak seriously of the ultimate goals, such as perfect green-belted cities and robot expeditions to the nearest stars. It is enough to get Homo sapiens settled down and happy before we wreck the planet. A great deal of serious thinking is needed to navigate the decades immediately ahead. We are gaining in our ability to identify options in the political economy most likely to be ruinous. We have begun to probe the foundations of human nature, revealing what people intrinsically most need, and why. We are entering a new era of existentialism, not the old absurdist existentialism of Kierkegaard and Sartre, giving complete autonomy to the individual, but the concept that only unified learning, universally shared, makes accurate foresight and wise choice possible.

In the course of all of it we are learning the fundamental principle that ethics is everything. Human social existence, unlike animal sociality, is based on the genetic propensity to form long-term contracts that evolve by culture into moral precepts and law. The rules of contract formation were not given to humanity from above, nor did they emerge randomly in the mechanics of the brain. They evolved over tens or hundreds of millennia because they conferred upon the genes prescribing them survival and the opportunity to be represented in future generations. We are not errant children who occasionally sin by disobeying instructions from outside our species. We are adults who have discovered which covenants are necessary for survival, and we have accepted the necessity of securing them by sacred oath. (Edward O. Wilson, Consilience, 325-6)

If the world is already done and done for, if its character is entirely achieved so that its behavior is like that of a man lost in routine, then the only freedom for which man can hope is one of efficiency in overt action.  But if change is genuine, if accounts are still in process of making, and if objective uncertainty is the stimulus to reflection, then variation in action, novelty and experiment, have a true meaning.  In any case the question is an objective one.  It concerns not man in isolation from the world but man in connection with it.  A world that is at points and times indeterminate enough to call out deliberation and give play to choice to shape its future is a world in which will is free, not because it is inherently vacillating and unstable, but because deliberation and choice are determining and stabilizing factors. (John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 309-10)

Micro actions, by most people most of the time, have no effect whatsoever on the behavior of the system as a whole––they are completely dampened out at the macro level. But sometimes an individual acts in a place and at a time where the macrosystem is extremely sensitive to small perturbations. Then a little act of a little individual can trigger an avalanche of consequences, and result in a complete change of the course of events. The childhood rhyme “For want of a nail” illustrates this idea perfectly.

This is an optimistic conclusion, because it suggests that not all individual action is doomed to be futile at the macro level of social systems. There is no excuse in not trying to be good, because even if most of such actions would probably dissipate without any lasting effect, once in a while a small action will have a large effect. (Peter Turchin, War and Peace and War, 319-20)

She cried out of a sense of surrender. She finally understood how she was but a mote of dust in a grand wind, a small leaf drifting over a broad river. She surrendered completely and allowed the wind to pass through her, allowed the sunlight to pierce her soul. (Cixin Liu, Death’s End, pg. 577)

The unfathomable character of existence is not a matter of ignorance to be resolved, it is not something to overcome by knowing more or having some special knowledge. Instead, like wonder, it is something to undergo, to realize, and to appreciate. I am not simply speaking about the mystery of coming into being and passing out of being, or the strange sense that I was not here at the beginning and will not be here at the end. I am speaking, rather, about the mystery of existence itself, the mystery and amazement that anything exists at all.

This awareness of unfathomability is not something to fear and flee from, but to realize deeply. Unlike the experience of the uncanny, it does not separate me from other people; it brings me closer by making me more aware that whatever our powers or limitations, whatever our possessions or lack of possessions, we are all in the same boat. This is not a leveling down that does away with differences. On the contrary, it makes for a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of others and of myself. I realize more deeply my own insignificance, as if I were a brief flame in an endless darkness, and I am also more aware of my incomparable worth, a preciousness that is somehow bound up with being a once-and-for-all, never to be repeated. (Milton Mayeroff, On Caring, 93-4)

New beginnings

For the time being, this will be my last pandemic journal. I’ve decided to put the project on hold for a couple different reasons. The first is that, as I mentioned in my last journal, my motivation to write them on a weekly basis has waned considerably. Humboldt has not (yet) had a surge of COVID cases, so sheltering in place is fairly uneventful at the moment. We’ve seen a small but worrisome bump in new cases over the last week, so it’s possible the situation will change rapidly. If that happens, I will probably start journaling again with some regularity, but only if I feel like I have something worthwhile to share.

The second reason is that my life’s about to get significantly busier. This is because, in the wake of much reflection since the pandemic began, I’ve decided to go back to school. Like so many others, this crisis forced me to take a hard look in the mirror, and when I did, I realized that I want to make some serious changes to how I am allocating my time, energy, money, and skills. After doing some information-gathering, I’ve decided to pursue psychology with the goal of ultimately earning a Master’s in Counseling from Humboldt State University and becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). This is an idea I’ve toyed with on and off over the years, and now seems like the right time to start pursing it. Even after the medical emergency is over, the ripples of the pandemic will play out in every corner of human life. One of many critical battlefronts will be the human mind, and that’s the fight I want to be in.

Life always has its own plans, so I have no idea if I will arrive at my intended destination. But the wheels are in motion. In order to become eligible to apply to HSU’s Master’s in Counseling program, I will need to take a few prerequisites from College of the Redwoods. I’ll be starting with Psychology 1 during the summer session, which begins on June 1st. Then I’ll be taking Introductory Statistics in the fall, and Psychology 2 during spring term. I’ll be continuing to work for Northern Emeralds during this period, so my plate will be somewhat fuller than usual. But as I said, I’ll reboot this project if I feel sufficiently motivated. And I’ll keep reading and cranking out as many book reviews as I can manage.

If you’ve read one or more of these journals, I hope you got something useful out of it. I’ve been immensely grateful for the positive feedback I’ve received, and count myself lucky to have such a thoughtful and warm readership. Wherever and whenever you are, I am wishing the very best for you and yours.

Miles in Mask

Until next time, be well, and good luck.

Global: 4,586,915 confirmed cases, 309,184 deaths

United States: 1,450,269 confirmed cases, 87,841 deaths

California: 76,942 confirmed cases, 3,154 deaths

Humboldt County: 72 confirmed cases, 0 deaths