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What the Hell Was That?

Macro-level thoughts on 2021

For weeks--at least eight of them--I've twisted my fingers in every which way, trying to type out a few hundred valuable words on the subject of 2021. Every attempt rightfully went into that little metal trash bin at the bottom right side of my screen. It wasn't a case of writer's block so much as a bout of perfectionism. I want to get these things as close to right-and-true as possible. But I've tried long enough and will post this draft, no matter how it turns out, because—like a shitty lover with whom you've just parted ways—2021 doesn't deserve another hour of free rent in my head.

After all, a year ago, I was certain that 2021 was bound to be better than 2020. It had to be. I'm not talking about what happened to me personally in those 12 months—I'll make that list another day—but rather the macro-level global trauma we'd already endured as a novel coronavirus swept across the world killing millions.

There was such promise in the air! The year began with miraculous new vaccines!! Soon, we'd feel safe returning to some semblance of life as we'd once known it. The U.S. had elected a new President, and we would finally have kind competence instead of corrupt cruelty!! And while January 1, 2021, saw most of the country enduring a harsh wave of Covid cases, there was reason to hope that science, rationality, and general goodwill between people would turn things around.

But 2021 turned out to be an altogether different kind of shitstorm, didn't it? If 2020 was the rotten apple of hard years, then 2021 was the moldy orange. The same, but so different. For reasons that will never make a lick of sense to me, it seemed like we collectively chose (at least in the U.S.) to make matters a whole lot worse than they needed to be. Is there another species of animal out there that actually works against its own self-interest with such fervor?

January 6th was the first sign. The insurrection. The Big Lie come to life, spurred by the criminal enterprise that was the Trump White House. Did you, like me, watch it unfold, slack-jawed with your hand over your mouth? If so, skip to the next paragraph. If not, then please, please, please: if you have not witnessed these events, find the footage and permit your eyes to take this all in. Or check out this interactive report on the event from the Washington Post. Or consider listening to "Four Hours of Insurrection," an award-winning episode of the Washington Post's daily podcast. Point is: there should be no doubt that a large number of our fellow citizens (almost exclusively white, btw), were fed a massive pile of shit, and they're still choking on it. Now, they've got their story and they're sticking to it, even—or perhaps especially—if it triggers violence.

This was NOT a "normal" day. And the House Committee and DOJ need to put their feet on the gas in 2022.

Vaccine opposition to science was the next sign. In early 2021, I joined roughly half the country scrambling to get my first jab, and I wept with gratitude when it went in. An utter miracle of modern medicine, these vaccines were the tool we needed to gain herd immunity and keep new variants from taking hold. There was significant "hesitancy"—some of it understandable, some of which has been overcome—but all the science in the world hasn't persuaded a third of the country that these safe and highly effective vaccines were and are our way out of this mess. Nope. Once again, no matter how batshit crazy and conspiratorial, anti-vaxxers have their story, and they're sticking to it.

Woman with bandaid on arm where she just received COVID vaccine.
First Pfizer jab. What you can't see in this pic are the tears of gratitude pouring out of my eyes.

Can you imagine being on your deathbed, continuing to claim that covid doesn't exist? That kind of crazy is right up there with the Big Lie, and the overlap between the two is obvious. And I'm so tired of trying to find compassion for those who've swallowed the Kool-Aid. So tired of walking on eggshells around this nonsense. So tired of the selfishness.

Climate change continued to exact some righteous and warranted revenge for all we've done to fuck up the planet. February brought "Snowpocalypse" and the crash of the power grid for a week here in Texas. In this house, we never lost power, just water. But I have good friends who lost both. Millions were in the same boat. For days. For almost a week. And the snow/ice prevented people from going anywhere. The mental health toll of that experience coupled with isolation from covid brought many to their knees. Over 200 people died. All because Texas can't share its toys and has to have its very own power grid; can't stand regulation so ignores safeguards; can't be bothered with doing good when getting rich is so much easier. And let's not forget the extreme, off-the-charts heatwave in the northwest, or Hurricane Ida's 150 m.p.h. winds that devastated (again) the Gulf Coast.

See those pretty berries in ice? I don't. I see the snow which we'll haul into the bath tub so we can flush the damned toilet.

Mass shootings showed no signs of slowing down. A condominium collapsed in Miami. Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the second-degree murder of George Floyd, and there was justice for Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, but Kyle Rittenhouse boo-hooed hard on the stand, got acquitted, then got a job offer from (I think it was) Matt Gaetz (who's in some righteous trouble for trafficking young women. Tsk, tsk.) Britney Spears got her freedom--but so did Bill Cosby.

And the icing on the cake? 2021 killed Betty White 17 days before her hundredth birthday. That's some cruel, cruel shit.

And what of 2022?

I've lost hope. Geez. That's hard for me to write.

Attorney General Merrick Garland noted in a televised speech on January 5 that over 700 people have been charged in the insurrection whose anniversary we just observed, but those charged are low-level offenders—the equivalent of street dealers—and critical operatives have yet to be charged with organizing, funding, and provoking the violence of that day. The House Committee looking at that event is only now beginning to pick up a modicum of steam. Please, please pay attention to this. The work of DOJ and the House needs to move as quickly as possible; this November's midterm elections are a ticking clock, and what's left of our democratic republic is at stake. I fear the worst.

Speaking of elections and democracy, what about voting rights? Anyone who thinks this is a non-issue isn't in la-la land. SCOTUS gutted long-standing legislation to protect the vote a couple of sessions ago, and now state legislatures across the country have had a field day constructing all kinds of remarkable roadblocks to voting. (Here in Texas, there's no paper to print the new requests for mail-in ballots, but you can't use the old forms, so... you're fucked.) And back in D.C., the legislation that Biden finally pushed (not nearly enough of a priority) is dead in the water. President Manchin and Veep Sinema refused a set aside for the filibuster because it's "divisive." (Sweet Baby Jesus, that's rich. I can't wait to support their next primary opponents.) As for election day? I fear the worst. Votes will be suppressed, and in areas where some Dems manage to eeeeek out a victory, the GOP will claim fraud. Again. Without a shred of proof.

And the planet says, Fa! Fa, I say! You can piddle around all you want with justice and equity and democracy, but Mother Nature has the final say! This is entirely true.

The Omicron variant, detected in South Africa at the end of 2021, is now raging across the globe. In my own circle of vaccinated friends, there's some debate as to whether we shouldn't all let ourselves get sick with this one, hope for the best, and be grateful for the antibodies and increased herd immunity. I disagree. It's not that I don't see a certain logic to that thinking, but it ignores the strain on healthcare systems that are once again at the breaking point. And healthcare workers deserve a shit ton better from all of us. Plus, we are literally only weeks away from having antiviral pills readily available to those who need it. These pills, I believe, will be the game-changer that really lets us get back to living. For now, I follow the science and the rules. For now, my KN-95 mask stays on.

What else? Well, if the past is a fine predictor of what's to come, I'd say we can safely assume our hearts and backs will be broken by more:

  • More Covid variants, more deaths, more division

  • Climate disasters, dry and wet and hot and cold

  • Mass shootings and continued gun violence because we apparently have that predisposition in our cultural DNA here in the U.S.

  • Continued aggression towards underrepresented communities of color, LGBTQ+ communities, women (especially of childbearing age)--essentially anyone who isn't an old white man.

In other words, January 2022 doesn't inspire a lot of hope. The cock-eyed optimist that I used to be--and not that long ago--has run away from home. I can't find her anywhere. I put up "Lost" notices on the utility poles around town--a photo of me, smiling broadly, Have you seen this woman?--but they've faded and frayed. Not sure if the old, upbeat gal will ever make another appearance, and, if she does, will she bop on back into my consciousness as if she's had a great vacation and is raring to go? Or will she slink into the bottom of my heart, malnourished and sick and ready to die for good? Either way, I miss her.



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