Covid-19 IS our new normal, y’all

Hey, friends–

I was talking to a friend the other day. Both of us are vaxxed and we both continue to mask up when we have to leave the safety of our caves and my friend said: “COVID’s with us from here on out. People need to get used to it.”

I’ve been thinking that since the first year of this latest pandemic — yeah, LATEST. Because pandemics are part of human history (see this timeline), and, because humans can also be colossal dicks, there have always been anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists and the whole bag of squirrels that goes along with that.

Here’s a nice piece from Scientific American that gives you the denialist playbook. No doubt a lot of that is going to sound familiar if you’ve been paying attention. And these movements can cause a lot of damage. (if you’re interested, an intrepid Redditor collected several images of articles and flyers over the past century that are eerily prescient for what we’re dealing with today)

I’ve been reading up on pandemics and different historical eras and I’m struck by how widespread disease interacts with sociopolitical structures. Pandemics have, indeed, changed the course of human history and like others before it, COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has exposed the underlying rot and rifts in countries (including the US) and systemic inequalities and tensions. So everything feels out of control and like a train wreck — for good reason. It is.

[Depiction of the great plague of London, 1665, from Origins at]

Professor of Italian history Paula Findlen at Stanford talked about 14th-century Italians dealing with bubonic plague in a 2020 interview and had this to say:

For Italians in the 14th-century, plague at first seemed extraordinary, then it became ordinary, even endemic. People responded creatively to the initial waves of plague. They thought about life and death, love and friendship, sickness and health differently. They took the moral pulse of their society, while getting down and dirty in the political struggles of the age. Once people got used to the idea that plague would periodically return, it became an economic annoyance, a catalyst for social negotiation and an administrative problem to resolve. The arc and duration of each outbreak became a measure of the success and failure of public health, rather than a subject of great reflection. Hospitals and charitable institutions benefited from the ongoing need to experiment with how to care and cure, and how to tend compassionately to the poor in the midst of the horrors and fears of a major pandemic.

[SOURCE: “For Renaissance Italians, combating black plague was as much about politics as it was science, according to Stanford scholar,” by Melissa DeWitte, Stanford News (May 12, 2020)]

Speaking of Italy and plagues, I discovered that some of the things that continue today put in place to deal with widespread disease can be found in Italy hundreds of years ago. Quinto Tiberio Angelerio was a doctor in the Italian town of Anghero when a plague swept through in 1582. Alghero is on the island of Sardinia and this plague outbreak killed almost half the population.

Angelerio had survived an earlier plague in 1575 in Sicily and thus had developed some practices to help combat transmission. So when three people died after developing symptoms in Alghero, Angelerio went directly to the city leaders and told them to start isolating other people with symptoms. Most city officials balked, but the viceroy prevailed and soon the town was locked down and guards patrolled its borders to ensure compliance.

And because people are dicks (and have been forever), some of the population freaked out about the measures and called for the lynching of Angelerio. But when the plague swept through the city, Angelerio was entrusted with taking further measures, and he would later list those in a 1588 pamphlet.

Some of the recommendations are wackadoo by today’s standards (I mean, the understanding of disease was rudimentary), but others are basically common sense: forbidding meetings, dances, and gatherings; disinfect (using heat) anything that had been in contact with someone with plague; and house lockdowns except for necessities (like food shopping; one person at a time and you had to get permission). And if you had to go out, you had to carry a six-foot cane and it was necessary, Angelerio said, to keep that distance between yourself and others.

So humans have been dealing with pandemics for centuries.

[Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Triumph of Death,” 1562. Thought to be a statement about a (the) plague. Hit this link at to dissect it and think about different elements of society and politics with regard to disease.]

The truth is, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle or, in this case, the virus back into the original vector. COVID-19 is now among humans, after making the leap from its previous hosts and, like viruses do, it mutates and lays waste to us, its new hosts, who don’t have any natural immunity to this disease. It doesn’t mean we won’t eventually get some immunity, or that more effective treatments won’t be developed. It just means that right now, our systems don’t have the hardware or virus protection to combat this threat. In a few years, perhaps, this particular COVID manifestation might actually end up being “like the flu”

But until that happens — better treatments, better vaccines, possibly the development of immune responses that are more effective against this damn thing — it behooves us as a species to take care of ourselves and each other in our communities and we do that by masking, keeping our distance, vaccinating (if possible), and using common sense: wash your hands effectively and often (and show kids how to do it, too); eat right, exercise, try to engage in self-care. Also, check in with people who might not have access to basic hygiene products to do that and help provide them, whether in your community or through donation sites to populations that don’t have them. Build some community if you can, and also, see what lessons you can glean from history.

The point is, humans have weathered plague storms before, detractors and assclowns included. And we’ve done it with a lot fewer resources and a lot less knowledge. But take measures to help you and others weather this storm. Such things have been in place for centuries, after all. And maybe use this “new normal” to start making some real change in your life and in your community. But please take precautions and stay safe.

When words are all we have

About two weeks ago, my co-admin at Women and Words and I got an email from one of our writing colleagues who blogs at the site with us. It was the kind of email that leaves you reeling. Our colleague let us know that the back pain she’d been experiencing — which she thought might be a pulled muscle or some such — was because of a tumor on her spine. She also let us know that the cancer is metastatic and tumors are on her liver, lungs, and in other parts of her. The cancer is aggressive, she told us.

We got that email 2 days after she’d posted a blog for us.

We were stunned. Our colleague told some others about what was happening, but didn’t make the announcement public until October 20, five days after she let me and my co-admin know. Metastatic stage IV, she said that day.

What kinds of words can convey what you’re feeling when you receive news like that?

At that point, the amazing outpouring of love for her on Facebook and no doubt in emails and phone calls created an astonishing and beautiful synergy between her and so many of us, who are still grappling with this horrible news and trying to figure out how best to help and support her and her friends and family as she remains in the hospital. Late last week, her medical team was trying to get her pain under control so they could begin chemotherapy. Her pain, those close to her said, is excruciating.

And then the news got worse.

She announced this past Monday that tests over the weekend revealed that the number of tumors on her liver has doubled in a week and the cancer is moving through her bones at a speed the medical team didn’t anticipate. Chemo and radiation, her medical team said, wouldn’t do anything. Three months, they told her. That’s how much time she might have left. They’re down to pain management and hospice.

We — her community — are devastated for her, her wife, her friends and family. And we struggle, still, for words to help us somehow. We post them on social media. We email her. We PM her. Offering love, support, whatever we think will help, forgetting, perhaps, that as much as we think words can’t convey our feelings, they nevertheless have weight and take up space in days that are someone’s last.

We consider, thus, the efficacy of words. Their timing, their message, the places we put them, even as we look for answers when a loved/respected one is blindsided like this.

Our colleague, who is in her 40s, has been doing everything right. She’s a runner, pays careful attention to her diet, and she is a beautiful and positive person, who gives of herself every day through teaching, writing, volunteering, and just being. She is one of those rare people who not only walks in light, but carries it and shares it with everyone she comes into contact with. No one is untouched in some remarkable way when they meet her or read her books or follow her posts on social media.

That’s the kind of person she is. She reaches people, no matter the method of communication, and regardless of whether she actually meets them in person. She creates and instills goodness, brings laughter, warmth, and joy. She revels in life, and makes others want to do that, too.

And because we are all human, we demand to know why, in light of all this goodness, this is happening to her. As if we all strike a bargain with the tides and rhythms of life itself. We sit, too stunned to process. We cry. We rage at the cosmos. We ache for her and those closest to her.

Because ultimately, there are no answers to our question.

There is only the reality that this is happening, that we are losing her, that her friends, family, and beloved are losing her. That the world is losing her, too.

We dream of miracles, of something — anything — that will stop the cancer and restore her. Perhaps we think of our own mortality, and realize that if this could happen to her, why not us? We forget that ultimately, we are all human and no matter the bargains we think we make, there are no guarantees.

We realize that we will all have our goodbyes, whether those of others or, eventually, our own. And we wonder what words can best convey that, or whether we should even engage words at all.

Sometimes, words may not be the best goodbye. But use them. Use them to tell the stories of your loved ones who are no longer with you, and of those who will soon join them. Use them to tell your own stories, to express yourself at the best and worst times. Use them to build and sustain community and to help give voice to those who cannot speak.

Because sometimes, words are all we have, and as poor as they may seem when we must say goodbye, they can still serve us well in shoring up memories, sharing stories, and honoring those who have gone.

And live well, my friends. Live to the best of your abilities and circumstances. Love deeply, laugh often, and revel in the time you have. It’s precious.