It has been an exceedingly weird week. I'm sure most of you saw the pictures of the Golden Gate bridge bathed in a smoky orange twilight in the middle of the day earlier this week. I woke up that day at my normal time, around 6, noting that it seemed darker than usual but not thinking much more. The seasons are changing and the sun is coming up later in the morning, after all. About an hour later I stopped what I was doing and stepped outside. It was still dark, and the street lights were on. In the Bay Area, a thick marine layer can sometimes make the day gray and obscure the sun, but this was different. It was like the sun wasn't coming up at all. The air seemed okay though, I didn't smell any smoke. When I stepped back inside, I left greyish white footprints across the floor. I didn't see the dusting of ash across my front porch and yard.
From that point the day just went sideways. Clearly something was very wrong but it was nothing that I was able to fix, and I felt that familiar mix of dread, sadness and disbelief. I decided to muscle through it and go to the studio as usual. My studio is all floor to ceiling windows on one side, so I rarely need to turn on more than a small area light to be able to work. That day I turned on all the lights and it still wasn't enough. I couldn't keep my attention on anything because I kept being drawn to the windows to look outside as the day gradually went to from night to the weird dim orange-tinged world that took over every social media feed. The street lights never turned off, and I felt a sense of just being in the wrong place. Vallejo has a pretty quiet downtown as it is, but that day no one in my vicinity opened their doors, all the businesses around me stayed shut. After a couple of hours, I went home and met up with Andrew who had been sent home from work, and we retreated to separate corners of the house, trying to stay busy.
As it turned out, that day was another unprecedented event in a year that is unprecedented itself. The sun was literally blotted out by high altitude smoke from the West Coast being on fire, helped along by a thick blanket of fog. Forecasters couldn't tell us what was next because they don't have models for an event like this, a widespread fire of this kind hasn't happened lately.
I was thinking recently about how early in the pandemic, I was having a fantasy about the party my town would throw when the pandemic was over. I was picturing everyone gathered on the waterfront, and we would have the biggest group hug ever. We would get in each other's faces, share food, and roll around in the grass together. This was a fantasy mind you, but the idea of having a marker of this scope to end the pandemic seemed like something that could happen. I felt uplifted just thinking about it, it would be amazing! A celebration and a time to reflect on all that we had been through, and an appreciation of being able to be together again. Now of course I realize that the pandemic can be added to the long list of human problems that we have trouble solving, and may never completely solve, despite all of the knowledge and resources we have. A party the mark "the end" will likely never happen, along with the end of climate change and systemic racism. These three things, pandemic, climate, racism, are separate yet intertwined problems, strands that cross over the other and back again, supporting and amplifying the other, creating a cultural weave that seems so strong and so difficult to untangle. Will they ever end, and how will we know they have ended?
While I believe in the power of the individual to make change, these days I'm pretty convinced that for widespread fundamental change, it take a mass movement. It takes everyone who cares really getting involved with other people and pushing hard. Personally, people kinda get on my nerves and I prefer spending my days alone in my studio. I've been living like that for over 20 years and I like it. But I need to feel the power of other people working together, working alongside myself. Not just writing checks, but showing up. It might give me some hope that I can be an instrument of change and not just endless complaining.
What about you? Are you involved with a group making change? Let me know about it.
Before I go, I wanted to share one link to a RadioLab podcast, Dispatches from 1918, that I found so fascinating. I am very drawn to stories and documentaries about the 1918 flu, trying to glean wisdom and perspective. Here is a copy and paste of the description:
It’s hard to imagine what the world will look like when COVID-19 has passed. So in this episode, we look back to the years after 1918, at the political, artistic, and viral aftermath of the flu pandemic that killed between 50 and 100 million people and left our world permanently transformed.
Go listen! I learned so many interesting things from this episode.
As we shift into yet another season with the virus and all of its attendant issues, I hope all of you are finding ways to find some hope, taking care of yourself and maybe even someone else, and having moments of joy.