Friday, October 16, 2020

Covid diary Oct 14-16

 Oct 14

At the campground, it’s down to us and another camper that’s just like ours but with a color scheme and inside curtains that makes it look “vintage.” It may also have a checkered tile floor inside, but I can’t remember since I once looked at the pictures of those for sale online. It’s a new version of our camper but it’s made to look old. Ours we bought used in the spring, after things started to open up after the shutdown. Strange timing, to get a covid camper, even though we were already in process with that plan well before. Now everyone is doing it. In any case, it’s colder here now and the fall colors are deep yellows and browns and starting to fade. The small inland lake is quiet and calm except for occasional fishing boats going out from the launch just down the hill, and the shots of duck hunters in the early morning and evening. There’s also traffic noise from the main road just beyond the campground, but the lake and colors are so lovely it’s hard to complain. In the news the covid numbers are still going up around the country, especially in WI and the Dakotas. It’s still going up in MI some too and the republicans want to take away all covid safety mandates and let the herd reign. They are back to the herd thing. Just let people get sick and die and eventually the covid will fade away or something. Just let it run its course and eventually things will even out. That other places have tried that and it was catastrophic. And in any case, the choice between doing things that everyone knows make us safer, that are little trouble really, and the other choice to just let people get sick and die because a few are too selfish and troubled by caring about anyone else. It’s the same story. But if they are going to keep going on about being oppressed, then the rest of us should keep going on about how they don’t care if everyone around them dies. Or has long-term consequences from the virus, much of which we don’t know a lot about yet, though a lot of which we do. In the other news it’s the Barrett thing and the continuing Trump things and Gary Peters is almost getting beat by a pc-looking-on-the-surface Republican bought and packaged by Devos and the Kochs and other big money Trumpers. They hate that Whitmer got elected and they lost Snyder from the payroll. And they’ve been trying to get rid of the Dem senators for a while. Michigan: Pure corporate greed, white militia supremacy, kickbacks to self-serving legislators who wield their power for no other reasons than their bank accounts and to destroy the lives of others because they can.

In the woods, many of the birds have gone. There are some blue jays and others I can’t recognize. But the loud birdsong of summer is over. The warm early morning sun holding out until mid-afternoon. Dinnertime like midnight dark, though one can see a sky full of stars without actually having to stay up to late.

Oct 16

We’ve moved to another campground. Our little trailer that’s comfy and keeps the heat, to a degree. Down to 30ish outside last night and I got cold in the early morning hours and couldn’t warm up. At least the sun’s out again today, after clouds and rain since we got here two days ago. Another deserted campground in mid-October. Another big camper in the other loop, so we have this loop and the lake view all to ourselves. Though at the house right next to the campground, the owner is running his leaf blower, keeping his fancy cabin in the woods lawn clean of stray leaves.

This lake is part of a series of small lakes, inland just west of Lake Huron, scenic and beautiful, surrounded all around by trees even though there are a lot of houses, some large big money houses, with Trump signs, the small houses away from the water also replete with flags and more cult décor. These lakes though, only a few of them so far and maybe more to come, are now listed as contaminated with PFAS. The thick soapy foam lining the edges of the beach and blowing up onto the land in places. The chemical levels exponentially higher than the small safe limit. These and other small inland lakes with expensive houses literally dangerous to use except to view from afar. They say it’s safe to swim, just don’t touch the foam. And don’t let your kids or dogs touch the foam. Maybe don’t let your dog even drink the water, or just don’t drink it when there’s foam nearby. I don’t know. I don’t want to swim in water from which appears foam that can kill me. The UP always looks like a better option when you come to think about most things, except it is certainly even colder up there right now, compared to this which is really already past the limit for outdoor enjoyment, except for walking, layered up and moving at a good pace with the dog.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Covid diary Oct 5


Trump has the covid. Some of his staff, some Republican senators, his press secretary, have the covid. Spin that Kayleigh, you terrible example of, and for, blond women everywhere. Yes many white women are ridiculous. But that also means that some are not. And even some blond women are not so terrible and ridiculous as T’s current press secretary might make us seem. But her act may not be working as planned… T is down in the polls with white suburban women voters, likely Kayleigh’s main audience, her ivy-education used to perfect lies and manipulation, her barbie outfits and smooth subtle curls making sure she doesn’t look threatening in any way. 

The other night I watched The Artist is Present, a documentary about Marina Abramović, the performance artist. This is a strange transition from Kayleigh McEnany, or maybe not, though T-world performance is of an entirely different sort. And watching the film felt like a way of responding to, or processing, this world dominated by T., who is a culmination of so much that has come before. 

I only learned of Abramović recently, a few months ago, at an arts residency, from another performance artist who follows her work closely. So closely she (the person I met) became part of Abramović’s piece at MOMA in 2010. I hadn’t known what to make of the art. Only having glimpses of some of her work before watching the film. Her work has often been intensely physical, subjecting her naked body to violence or other physically demanding challenges. When I started watching the film, I still didn’t know what to think. But by the end, like so many of her real fans, Abramović has pulled me in, I become captivated. I know lots of art experts and critics have written and commented on her work, and I’m sure there’s all kinds of interpretations and explanations, reflections on motives and political messaging… I haven’t read any of that. I don’t know if I will. But as a writer, I’m fascinated by the total physical bodily experiences that so much of her work focuses on. The Artist is Present. To me it’s about the physical body/bodies in physical space. And mental and emotional presence. The main work during the MOMA exhibition was Abramović sitting for eight hours a day (6 days/week for three months) at a small table, and where visitors could sit in the chair opposite her and be with her at the table, in that space. She sat still, closing her eyes between visitors, so that when a person sat down, she opened her eyes solely upon them, and when they got up to leave, she closed her eyes again and lowered her head, creating an entirely new space for each successive person. She held them in her physical and emotional presence. Toward the end of the film, the camera gave more focused time to the up-close faces of some of those who sat across from her. Some cried. Some put their hands over their hearts. Some expressed deep and intense feeling from their eyes, faces, as if no one had ever actually looked at them before, hadn’t before sat in quiet presence with them in such a way. Abramović slowed down time to imperceptible movements during those visits. She gave her visitors the entire space of her attention and care. Her facial expression sometimes changed subtly, and sometimes more discernibly, as she connected with others. A few times, tears also fell from her eyes. 

Some of the other pieces in the exhibition were also about physical presence in space. A number of her earlier pieces were re-created by other artists or actors hired to perform them in other parts of the museum. Two naked bodies, a man and a woman, faced each other with a small amount of space for visitors to squeeze through, so that the nude and clothed bodies pressed against each other for a few seconds at a time. Another nude body lay under a (probably real) human skeleton, a commentary on our own mortality maybe, or a look to the insides of ourselves that we don’t otherwise see. Videos projected on the walls showed Abramović’s past performances, including whipping her own naked back repeatedly, and two naked bodies slamming into walls or into each other. I think about how these represent the literal and figurative body in physical and other kinds of space. As our bodies exist in and move through the world. Navigate, survive, circle through physical, emotional, psychic spaces. We slam into walls, beat ourselves up. Some of us  are subject to literal and metaphorical beatings, many kinds of violence and violation. Sometimes we move in the world without thinking, unaware of our physical selves. The videos were mostly in black and white. The other artists’ live performances were mainly naked white and black and brown bodies. The main element of color in the whole exhibition was the blue or red dress or white dresses that Abramović wore at the table, across from visitors. These kinds of physical/emotional resonances have always been true, but isn’t it all even more incisive now? 

In the final month, the table was removed, so that the connection between her and her visitors became even more closely connected. I don’t know if she offered an artist’s statement about this exhibition, or reflected on the relation between the video works, the re-created works by young performance artists, and her presence at the table. I don’t know if she spoke to the intended disconnection and thereby connection between the violence done to bodies in the world and the undoing of emotional violence in relation, in human connection, in two people holding each other in their gaze and in their hearts. At first glance, one unfamiliar might see the naked bodies as sexual, sexualized, or calling attention (sex sells) in some way as an attention-getter or distraction. But the bodies are instead vulnerable in ways beyond sexual activity. Though sex can make one entirely vulnerable and subject to various kind of emotional or physical violence. But the performers in the nude, stripped of the false protection of clothing and accessories, make the audience vulnerable too, as maybe we see ourselves as fragile individuals in the world and subject to how the world treats us, or how we pass by others often in close contact but don’t connect. How sometimes we are put on display and held there, through no intent or motivation of our own.


By the end of the film, I am held in that space. I look into the eyes of the visitors across from Marina who connect with her in that space, and I think about art and the power it can have in the world. I think about how the idea of the power of art is often, for me, so hard to hold on to, to really know and trust in, when so much news and politics and literal actions and events are happening at breakneck speed every day. So hard to remember when scrolling through social media or working on random tasks that take up hours every day. And instead of imagining what it would have felt like to sit across from her, to look into her eyes and let her into mine, a thought that only now crosses my mind two days after watching the film, instead of that I thought about art. It’s power. It’s necessity. Marina was able to stop time in that space. She invited people in, and held them, for as long as they wanted to sit there. Recognizing how we are often alone in the world, battling and surviving and moving, often not allowed the vulnerability of our own feelings and emotions and need for human contact and love, she made a space of quiet presence, like a gift, for everyone who entered. 

Even if, as is said clearly in the film, she needs the audience, needs to feel seen and acknowledged and loved, maybe as much as or more than the audience needs her, the power of that performance, and the clarity, is striking. The exhibition was in 2010. I don’t know what she is doing now. Or if her art has changed. Many artists have talked in these past few years about figuring out how to be artists and political activists. I wake up every day wondering how to be both, though in many ways I’ve abandoned my artist/writer self to be more active, more political, more focused on literal news and events and responses to those. I spend more time working, for my job, for volunteer causes, and less time writing or engaging in other kinds of creative practices. And I don’t know how to trust more in art, in it’s potential to affect and maybe even create change. Or to feel allowed to spend more physical and emotional time there. But I don’t want to have to choose. There are many kinds of art, many kinds of action, many things that make our lives whole, and that make us care and think and relate to one another, that make us question, and trust, and critique, and be human.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Covid diary Sept 23

In the eastern UP and the tourist season is mostly over. Unless you go to the state park where fall color voyeurs crowd the waterfall trails. The leaves are changing, from summer to fall, from awake and eternally optimistic to quiet, not yet resigned. Though there are still some last moments of quiet nature harnessed like hope just waiting for us all to act in its and our best interests. 

RBG died on Friday. Today is Wednesday. If we don’t act fast and in large numbers as people who want to save the earth and save ourselves, so much of what she worked for will be lost. I don’t know how many decisions RBG made that specifically related to environmental issues, but the environmental and the social are related. If we let capitalism run unfettered, we destroy ourselves. When white men rule everything, everyone else suffers economically, politically, in terms of social justice, and in other ways. RBG dissented against rulings that allowed more and more money to go toward political campaigns—money that often favors conservative corporations and super-wealthy individuals—and she was against dismantling the voting rights act—the new version making it harder for Black Americans, Latinos, and other communities of color to have fair access to voting across the country. If she’s replaced by a Trump appointee they may get rid of Roe v. Wade—if you don’t like abortion, don’t get one, but you don’t have the right to control others peoples’ healthcare needs; healthcare as we have come to know it under Obamacare—a system that needs to be improved or replaced with something better in order to get healthcare to more people, not discarded leaving millions uncovered; and if Trump loses the election he may even get the court to say he won, giving him more time to destroy everything. 

I remember in early March, when talk first started, that colleges might go 100% online and we might have to isolate ourselves in our homes for two weeks… I remember thinking that was totally crazy and would never happen. How could colleges just suddenly stop and move everything online? Well they could because teachers picked up all of the slack. And staff people. Doing the labor of making it happen for students. Yes, higher admins have a lot of meetings and make a lot of decisions. But then they send emails that say thanks for doing such great work, when you aren’t doing it wrong and hurting students, and keep doing the great work indefinitely but with no extra pay and little extra support etc. etc… And I thought, how is it possible that we will have to stay home, and everything except grocery stories will be closed, what will we do? Like everyone, I couldn’t conceptualize or envision any of this. So many months later, in some ways things are a bit better because we can go to stores and other places wearing masks. I have finally felt comfortable eating or drinking on patios at a limited few restaurants. There is now more info from doctors and researchers about how the virus spreads and how to be safe. But I remember feeling sick to my stomach every time I went to the grocery store for the first months of all this. And feeling deep relief when the governor finally, too late, but finally, made masks mandatory at any business indoors—gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores—and as other stores opened back up, masks have been required everywhere.

We’ve been traveling around northern Michigan a lot, and sometimes I’m surprised to see little stores in the middle of nowhere—where the Trump flags fly loud and aggressive—enforcing the mask rule. Ironically, one guy in a tiny UP grocery was wearing his Trump 2020 mask; not ironic, hypocritical maybe. But never mind that guy, life is somewhat easier now when everyone wears masks and we can all just walk into the gas station or grocery and just do what we need to do and get out and feel less terrified. But MI Republicans are trying to take that away. That little bit of care and safety for each other. Again making us less safe and more scared and eternally more divided. 

By Friday of this same week, only a week after RGB died, Trump has said we just shouldn’t have ballots. Or some nonsense. And that he won’t go quietly. And in not exact words, basically the election will only be fair if he wins. T. voters will vote in person and then continue to discredit voting by mail or early voting. RBG’s funeral is today. And he’s going to name a replacement tomorrow. And that person will probably get voted in. While the Covid numbers are going up in places they have not gone up before. WI Republicans took away their Gov’s emergency powers and they are bursting with Covid there. And higher ed is no better than the state Rs, knowing better and not doing enough to prevent spread among students back to campus. Bringing it home to their communities and families. It will go on like this until there is a vaccine because people are people or something and can’t be trusted to do better, not enough of them/us can be convinced to care about others. Or maybe the rest of us who do care shouldn’t have such high expectations. Maybe we want too much. Maybe humans as a species can’t evolve enough for all people to care about others. Maybe there would be other kinds of consequences to that that we can’t foresee. Maybe the uncaring people are like the one loud kid in class who gets all the attention and disrupts everything, while everyone else just wants to get on with things. Maybe we need to learn how to turn away and amplify our own more human messages, advocate for justice on the loudspeakers, silence anyone who harms others with their words and ideas. Not fake harm, real harm. If you are a white person brainwashed to be afraid of people of color, that results in real harm. If you are afraid for your health or your safety, but the state or the feds refuse to take public health seriously, that is real harm. If you hurt others in exercising what you believe to be your individual freedom, that is real harm. If the earth becomes uninhabitable because we’ve destroyed it by letting capitalism kill us all, that is real harm; or maybe some of us still live, while many others don’t, and we don’t have clean water, air, or options. But there are also always responses to harm. More protests. More voting. More fighting for real news, real stories. Maybe we can work harder on getting our messages out ahead of the bully, and ahead of the bullies that will continue to follow in his footsteps. Maybe we can change the lies into hope. Imagine compassion. Etc.