Category Archives: 2020

Where Were You When…?

“Where were you when…?”

There are events that so significant, so momentous, that they sear themselves into the psyche. I say ‘sear’, because these moments are often negative events, such as the Challenger explosion, or 9/11, but these events can also be positive, such as the first person on the moon[0], or the one that happened yesterday morning, the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election being called for Joe Biden & Kamala Harris[1].

For us, this was a momentous and significant occasion. We had been on tenterhooks for days[2], perhaps for years, ever since the unexpected upset of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump in 2016. The presidency of Donald Trump was an exhausting one, with endless breaking of norms, rampant illegality, and cruelty.

We had an endlessly raging sense that this was not normal, and it was difficult to focus on other things, when there could be a new evil or stupid thing being done each day or week, that could potentially harm thousands or millions of people. Earlier in the week, it had become clear that barring a catastrophe, Biden would win the election, so my tension level had gone down significantly (especially when it became obvious that Fox News and the Bush/Rubio wing of the Republican party would not support such an illegal seizure of power as Trump was contemplating).

But it still felt odd, and somehow wrong, to focus on other projects until this was well and done. The actual calling of this election for Biden was an important step on this road to normalcy, and perhaps also an indication that we could take our eye off the ball and relax for just a second…[3][4]

For us, this happened when we were out in the wilderness, in one of our favourite spots, when S’s watch buzzed, and showed us the following message:

Where were you when you first heard?
Where were you when you first heard?

…indicating that the newpaper(s) of record were now willing to put their credibility behind the fact that Biden was going to win this election.

We expressed our happiness a little bit, and then immediately wanted to check which state it was that had made the difference, and it turns out that it had indeed been Pennsylvania, as had been suspected all along[5]:

With Pennsylvania called for Biden, the election is over.
With Pennsylvania called for Biden, the election is over.

While looking at this map, we encountered some other people coming the opposite way on the trail, and perhaps cathartically, or just to have some human connection to share this experience, I made hand motions and cheered, to which they replied that they had also just heard.

Admittedly, people who drive to an art gallery in the wilderness so that they can go walking on a trail will tend towards certain demographics, but it is telling that within minutes, we all knew this most significant bit of news, suggesting how much everyone around the world was on tenterhooks.

Here’s hoping that we remember this moment as a turning point. Keep pushing my friends, this is not over yet.

[0] (It feels like there’s a whole book to be written about why all of my positive examples (and many of my negative ones) have to do with space flight/exploration/travel…probably having something to do with space travel representing all of humanity working together to solve a problem…a super-poignant one for me was the landing of ‘Curiosity’, I remember exactly where I was, and how verklempt I was that this little robot[6] had gone so far (560 million km, to land so exactly (within 2.4km), and they cared so much about it that they had altered the orbit of the Odyssey orbiter (not done trivially) so that they could check on Curiosity immediately after landing…There are also probably comments about how the advent of television makes these moments possible, such that all of humanity can experience something in real time, and so viscerally through the visual medium.)

[1] It will remain to be seen whether this moment is as changing of the course of history/presaging a new era as the other ones mentioned. For the sake of the planet, we hope so.

[2] The election was officially held on the Tuesday, and it was finally called on the Saturday morning.

[3] (The link is people dancing on and around a car to the tune ‘All I want for Christmas is you’, along with commentary that contrary to when this song is normally heard (endlessly in retail areas in the month(s) leading up to Christmas), it was actually pleasurable, and led to people being verklempt, because of the incredible catharsis and sense of relief: “this was the first time i heard this song in 2020 and it was absolutely the best possible occasion
🎁”

[4] Remember, there are two senate runoff elections happening in Georgia that will decide things like how much healthcare Americans get for decades to come, and there is still the ‘lame duck’ session where Trump will have some power to cause damage. There will likely be an unimaginable amount of money flowing into that election, and the most incredible GOTV campaign that you can imagine, both of which you can help with.

[5] fivethirtyeight.com had given a 36.6% chance that Pennsylvania would be the tipping point in this election, but that was the chance of Pennsylvania being the one state that was closest to the edge, once all the votes were counted, which has not been determined yet. But being the state that pushed the ‘called count’ over is probably good enough for Gritty fans.

[6] A tiny capsule, flying through the immense void of space, carrying so many of humanity’s hopes and dreams with it, and trying so hard to do its job as best it can…

The End of the Beginning…

Winston Churchill said after the Second Battle of El Alamein[1] that “…this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

This morning, the first minor outlets started calling the U.S. Presidental Election for Joe Biden. I remember seeing the first indication that Biden had actually taken the lead in Pennsylvania just after 9:30am:

The long-anticipated lead for Biden in Pennsylvania finally happens:
The long-anticipated lead for Biden in Pennsylvania finally happens:

This had been predicted by many observers, and we had been seeing the slow march in this direction for days, as the mail-in votes in Pennsylvania were being counted:

The day before, when Biden was still catching up:
The day before, when Biden was still catching up:

But it’s one thing to know almost for certain that something is coming, and another thing entirely to see it actually happen.

If there’s one thing that I feel that we’ve learned during these last 9 months of pandemic isolation, it’s that there is a significant difference between understanding something intellectually, and the full-on emotional experience.

People were saying that this election might not be decided until late this week, and that it might be a nail-biter…[2]

…similar to ‘life will not go back to normal until there is a vaccine, and that will not happen until late 2021 at the earliest’…a nail-biter that one is living through is very different than one that one is merely discussing in theory. I would posit that people around the world lost a significant amount of sleep (and not just those counting ballots) from the stress over the starkly divided U.S., perched on a ‘knife’s edge‘.

But it now looks like we have a way forward. The current numbers are juust over the biggest barrier, and the overall trend is good. Barring some catastrophe[3], Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, and as he alluded to in his ‘not-quote-a-victory-speech-speech’: “We believe when the count is finished we’ll be the winner“, that it is time for the country (really, the world), to come together to heal.

“What brings us together…is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart.”

We need to keep up the pressure, so that our politicians implement what they said they would do, and we need to watch for shenanigans around every corner (and do everything we can to win both Senate seats in Georgia), but there is light at the end of the tunnel…and if we play our cards right, we[4] could end up with a president that can bring together a consensus on programs that rival the New Deal in scope and progress.

Stay safe and keep pushing…

[1] The Second Battle of Alamein (and indeed the entire African campaign and WWII) are fascinating in their own right, but are far too large and out of scope to address here.

[2] To be precise, fivethirtyeight.com predicted that:

“…it wouldn’t take that big of a polling error in Trump’s favor to make the election interesting. Importantly, interesting isn’t the same thing as a likely Trump win; instead, the probable result of a 2016-style polling error would be a Biden victory but one that took some time to resolve and which could imperil Democrats’ chances of taking over the Senate. On the flip side, it wouldn’t take much of a polling error in Biden’s favor to turn 2020 into a historic landslide against Trump.”

While many were undoubtedly hoping for the latter, undoubtedly record Republican turnout meant that we ended up with the former.

[3] #knockonwood

[4] I wonder if this is how empires happen…that those in the hinterlands are so affected by the decisions made, or the culture projected, that they start to identify with the leaders, rooting for them as they root for themselves…

The Feracious Potential of Autumn

I went for a walk today. This would not normally be notable, except that it was only the second time I’d been out on a walk on my own during the pandemic, and the first time since S went home to visit her parents.

It was a nice night. The perfect, slightly chilled temperature of late summer/early autumn, a light breeze bringing smells of something delicious, something burning, just cool enough to make you think of goosebumps.

People always talk about the potential, the bountiful feelings of spring, but I think that the fall speaks to me even more strongly. I’m not sure how much of it is that the heat of summer has finally broken[1], how much of it is that it signifies going back to school, the creativity and freedom/safety of end-of-summer music camp[2]. Conversely, it signals the end of summer, the world now feels like there is a deadline, that time is moving forward, and that things must be done before it is too late[3].

Whatever the reason, walking outside just now, I feel full of potential, and I’m looking forward to expressing more of it.

Saturn & Jupiter, sandwiched between the terrible streetlight pollution in my neighbourhood.
Saturn & Jupiter, peeping out from behind the terrible streetlight pollution in my neighbourhood.

Photograph taken 2020-08-18:
https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/night/canada/toronto

[1] Interestingly, I grew up in a room that was directly over the furnace, so I think that I have a little more heat tolerance/expectation/less blood circulation to my extremities[1a] than many others do. However, when it gets much above 23, I can feel my mental efficiency going down. I can still function, I’m still in emotional control of myself, but creativity, of the ‘sitting down creating something'[1b] type is greatly curtailed. My guess is that there’s something about the brain overheating, or energy being used elsewhere in the body (it does take some energy to ensure homeostasis during sweating). But back to cogitation and heat tolerance. It is known that the human brain uses about 20-25% of the body’s energy budget, and “As a metabolically demanding organ with intense heat production, the functional activity, and energy efficiency of the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to fluctuations in temperature”. My understanding of this is that one of the reasons scalp wounds bleed so profusely is that much of the purpose of blood flow to and around the brain is thermal regulation, basically keeping your brain cool so that it can keep thinking efficiently.

[1a] Also, tall people problems.

[1b] Not the ‘react with witty remarks’ type, that is pretty hard-coded, and seems to activate upon waking, and is almost impossible to turn off.

[1c] I was going to make a comment here about how the heart & brain make more ATP per glucose than other parts of the body (38 instead of 36, or 36 instead of 34), but it seems that science has moved on since I was in school, and I could not find a source for different cell types or organs generating different amounts of ATP, and also it seems that due to leaky mitochondiral membranes and other factors, human (eukaryote) metabolism is thought to generate only about 30 ATP molecules per glucose molecule[1d].

[1d] 29.85, at last count.

[2] Music camp holds a very special place in my heart. Similar to High Hrothgar, it is a peaceful place, very disconnected from the troubles of this world. For a number of years, I spent the last two weeks of summer at National Music Camp, playing music for five hours a day, spending time with old and new friends, spending time outside. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of walking from place to place, and hearing the drifting sounds of people practicing and making music being a completely normal and natural thing. One could use the percentage of our time we spend making music as a metric for quality of life, and as an indictment of our modern society.

[3] Similar to squirrels saving for winter, like the one earlier this week that perched on the chair six feet from me and noisily and ostentatiously ate a carrot.

Note: I tried a few different titles before I settled on ‘feracious’, meaning ‘producing in abundance; fertile, fruitful‘. ‘Subtle’ is not quite right, as it’s more of a quiet power, and ‘flowering’ or ‘flourishing’ are really more spring or summer words, respectively.

2020: Processing How We Got Here I

It’s now been 11 weeks since we went into social isolation, somewhere between 12 and 13 weeks since S said “Perhaps we should stock up a little.” Since then, (our part of) the world has been upended, time has lost all meaning, even while the season has turned. Looking back at pictures that I took back then[1], there was snow on the ground, and today it was sunny and 19C.

But like I said, time has lost all meaning. It’s been difficult a couple of times the last couple of weeks remembering which day of the week it is, even taking into account a working-from-home[2] schedule. I keep coming back to ‘time has lost all meaning’. I’m one of those people for whom it’s easy to lose an hour[3], if I get into something, or get distracted by something. I can even lose weeks because I’m in the barely-slept now. But this is very different.

Some of you know that a main reason that I started blogging was because I was afraid of life passing me by, of the fear of looking back and not having anything tangible to show for all the time I had spent on this world. I successfully wrote every day for 7 months, and even after I fell off the wagon after falling sick, I was still able to gather myself and write intermittently. In fact, I was in the process of restarting a regular cadence[4]…then all of this happened.

How does one write a long series of in-depth articles about a phone strategy game that no one has heard of or cares about, when there’s a global pandemic that is the only thing on everyone’s mind? Is that even a remotely responsible thing to do? It took me a while to understand that I needed to write about this experience instead, and first, as a way of processing everything that I was feeling and experiencing. Some people say it’s important to document along the way, to help you (and others) understand later what it truly felt like. All I can say is that the allostatic load has been so high, that it took me this long to find the mental space to do this. But back to our story…

There was a flurry of activity, reading up every bit of information on Covid[5], preparing ourselves, seeing my mom one last time, going out to see friends one last time…then on March 9th, I went to the office for the last time, and then…waiting…waiting…waiting for people to take this seriously enough.

On the 11th, I shared this article “Why you must act now“. We had spent the previous week in a ‘hair-on-fire’ state, S had her last day in the office on the 6th, I told my team at work that same day to bring everything home that they needed for an extended stay.

So, we were personally ready (we thought) for this exponential threat that was coming at us, I was telling the people I knew that it was coming, and they seemed to be aware of the danger, but we weren’t seeing it in a bunch of the people as we walked around, and we weren’t seeing it in the media. The previous Thursday (March 12th), Doug Ford was saying that school would be closed for two weeks after March break, but still saying that people should ‘enjoy themselves’ over March Break. Later that day, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau self-isolated (and eventually tested positive). I think this ended up being a good thing, as it put a human face on the pandemic, and perhaps helped convince people that everyone was susceptible (and perhaps put more of the fear into the politicians).[6]

This is getting long, so I think I will stop here, somewhere in the second week of March. We’re safely isolated and stocked up, (we think)[7] we know what this will feel like, some politicians (in Canada at least) are juuust starting to say the right things, but people are still getting ready to go for March Break, and we’re hunkering down for the long waiting period of ‘turning the ship’ of convincing tens of millions of people to change this seriously and change their behaviour.

Thank you for reading this. This feels cathartic in a good way, and really important to help me process this. 🙂

[1] In the ‘Before Times’.

[2] I have a lot of words to say here, but fundamentally, I feel so lucky and blessed to have a job/career that allows this easily.

[3] Or five.

[4] Huge thanks to L here, who suggested meeting up in a local cafe, where I got a lot of good writing notes in, that will be interesting posts some day, hopefully soon. 🙂

[5] I feel uncomfortable saying the word ‘Covid’. I’m not sure why. It may be that I have very strong and complex feelings about the word, and I assume others do too, and I very much want a specific and understood[5a] reaction to each word that I use, and words that are this loaded make me apprehensive.

[5a] To the extent that a human can ever be said to understand another human…

[6] This also eventually gave us this magical song: Justin Trudeau sings ‘Speaking Moistly’
(Original clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slK5IY_GJzI )

[7] Ha ha ha so wrong… 🙁