Protecting Our Children from the Trump Virus

March 24, 2020

I’m not sure what day of the self-quarantine this is. I know it’s the second day of Oregon’s “shelter in place” order but the streets of Portland have been increasingly empty for over the last ten days, since the governor ordered all the schools closed a week before spring break, dropping thousands of kids in the laps of trying-not-to-panic parents. We don’t know what’s happening. I wonder if they do.

Our Cozy, at 5 and a half, is pretty smart. She rides around the car with me, secretly listening to NPR (I thought she was staring out the window, thinking about unicorns). Like most, I’ve been a little too addicted to the news about the advancing Trump virus. “Hey, Coze, where do you think this coronavirus came from?” I asked, trying to gage her comprehension of the global slowdown.

“It’s from sick bats in China,” she calmly said. I was expecting some kindergarten-level theory about it coming from flying monkeys hiding inside rain clouds. She’s probably been checking the infection rates on the Johns Hopkins website.

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But the reality of the impending sense of doom as the Trump virus shuts down the world she knows lurks like a monster in the closet. Our spring break tradition includes a trip to the super weird and wonderful Enchanted Forest amusement park, south of Salem. Closed due to the virus. We had planned a trip to Joesph, Oregon to hike around the eastern part of the state. Prohibited. Play dates, ice cream shops, jungle gyms, The Old Spaghetti Factory, all her favorite things are off limits for now and we don’t know when they won’t be. She doesn’t care about the stock market, but the fact that she can’t hug her friends is a red flag that things have changed drastically.

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This might be every parents secondary concern right now (the first being how to protect their children from contracting the Trump virus). How do we keep the kids from being infected with our generalized anxiety? Things are about to get even worse, but I don’t want my small child to know. She’s got washing her hands to “Happy Birthday” twice down pat, but does she realize that she’s not returning to her kindergarten class? The next time she goes to school she will be a first grader (God, please) and everything will be different. I keep thinking of that 1997 movie, Life is Beautiful, where Roberto Benigni and his young son are in a Nazi concentration camp and he convinces his son that they are actually in an exciting game to keep him from being completely traumatized. Dad is murdered by the Nazis in the end.

I’ll be honest, this Dad has been struggling. The Trump virus has upended the economic stability I started to find in 2019. It’s put my 70-something parents at risk. I’ve got an old friend in the ICU in an Atlanta hospital with a COVID-19 infection, and the dumbass Spring Breakers at the beach are not exactly flattening the curve. I feel like I’m inside a Joy Division album. Cozy is frustrated that Dad spends so much time watching the news or checking in on line. What to do, as we slide deeper into the social distance?

As usual, my bad ass wife snapped me out of the funk. She reminded me of all the positive things that are happening in this moment, most importantly all the wonderful family time that we’ve been gifted that will have a huge impact on our daughter. We’ve gotten to be homeschoolers, play dates, and creative time passers. (Andi has already given Cozy a haircut, two (henna) cat tattoos, and lots of weekday attention.) We’re planning some family art projects and Cozy and I are committed to learning how to play chess before this thing is over. We’re also catching up on Disney movies (Thank you, Disney+ for releasing Frozen 2 three months early!) And we’ve got a daily calisthenics routine we do on the sidewalk, to the delight out our neighbors.

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I’ve been running daily (now that the gym is closed) and reconnecting with the music of my youth. (You can run really hard to Van Halen). In the process, I’ve noticed neighbors and strangers seem more friendly, waving from their bubbles. The explosion of live music coming in from my social media platforms has put me in the room with some of my favorite performers, including Patti Smith, Michelle Malone, and Ben Gibbard (every day at 4 pm!). Something is happening. It’s like a government imposed artist retreat (as Patti called it) that’s also producing some much needed civility. The Trump virus is the great equalizer, but beautiful things may emerge from it. Andi and I have even started on a screenplay project!

She was quick to remind that when all this is over, people might slip back to their 9 to 5 grooves, complaining about how they don’t have any time to do the things that they really want to do. As a sociologist, I’m hoping this is a paradigm shift. That once we taste this new version of our lives, we won’t want to go back to the rut. We’ll create a new synthesis, transformed by the quarantine into a new global community.

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So this is what we must share out with our children, that out of crisis comes opportunity. Not to make a fast buck, like those looking for a corporate bailout from the Trump virus aid package. The opportunity to create new things, that connect us in new and beautiful ways. Cozy wants to write postcards! The social organism is adapting. We might look on this moment in history like how we look at how the Black Plague in 1340s Italy paved the way for the Renaissance, as Europeans embraced a lust for life instead of endlessly pondering the afterlife. Let the Trump virus unleash our lust for life and let our children know all the beautiful things that are coming.

Let us come out of this a new version of us, connected and complete. And let the optimism of our children be our guide.

Message in a Bottle: Watching the Wheels Turns One!

November 24, 2015

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This blog turns a year old today. It is officially a toddler. It’s definitely developed an attitude and occasionally runs away from me, leaving a trail of destruction. Since I started this little experiment, articles have been accessed over 280,000 times from nearly every country on earth. (I don’t know what’s the problem with Chad and Turkmenistan.) It’s been an opportunity to talk about things as micro as gender socialization of our daughter and as macro as immigration and refugee issues. I’ve tried to keep the theme of feminism in the forefront as it’s the paradigm that best helps me make sense of the world.

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A year ago Andrea was starting her job at Planned Parenthood, I was on parental leave from Portland State and Cozy was just a cooing infant. That first blog post was about channeling John Lennon to embrace being a stay-at-home dad. Now Andrea is working at an amazing law firm in downtown Portland, I’m on permanent leave from PSU and Cozy is throwing all sorts of shade about not eating her chicken dinner. In that year we’ve taken Cozy to Canada, Mexico, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

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For the last year I have been writing like my life depended on it. We fully funded The Dream Police book and I’m wrapping up the seventh of nine chapters. My short story, “Elvis is My Rider,” was published in a great collection called A Matter of Words, and I try to get at least one blog post out a week, linking the big bad world to the tiny act of raising a baby girl.

Writing almost makes up for not teaching. It’s an inward act instead of an outward one, but it’s still about connecting the dots so you can connect people to each other.  The writer who is turning my first novel, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, into a screenplay, Elizabeth Carlton Chase, suggested that I try my own hand at screenwriting and that I enter the Short Screenplay Challenge that she won in 2006. I thought, “More writing! Let’s go!” The challenge is a series of five page screenplays. They give you the genre, the setting and a prop. Oh, and 48 hours to finish.

I didn’t even know where to start. I had to Google what a page of screenplay looked like. My first round assignment was a drama on a toxic river with a doll. I wrote a little play called “Letting Go,” about a couple in southern Georgia who live downstream from a paper mill and lose their daughter to leukemia. It was an exhilarating experience. If it wins its heat, I go on to the next round in December. Winning it all gets your foot in the door in a big way.

All this writing keeps me grounded but it’s also a lifeline out of this mess. Like messages in bottles, I throw each page out into the world and hope something reaches somebody who says, “This is really good. Let’s give this guy some money so he can write more.” Like a musician sending dozens of demos out into the universe in hopes one lands in the ears of a major label A&R person having a good day, I write my lottery tickets. Then the story can be told of how the big break came from a funny blog post or a convincing Amazon review.

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When Mission first came out, I went down to LA to push it everywhere I could think of. I snuck copies on to the New Release shelf at Book Soup in West Hollywood and left a copy in the men’s room of the Directors Guild of America office on Sunset with the inscription, “This book will change your life.” It seemed like it would make a good story. I could hear Wes Anderson on Jimmy Kimmel saying, “There was just no good material out there and then I found this book about Portland in the bathroom of the Urth Caffé on Melrose…” And there’s Cozy strolling down the red carpet. A boy can dream, right?

I know my stuff is good on some level. I’m certainly no David Foster Wallace, but I’m also not overly tortured to the point of suicide. Having an author that you connect with can be such a rush. Every positive reader review I’ve had has been a dream realized. I want to do what my favorites did for me. My favorite writer is Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and the fact that we both have books for sale at Powell’s is really enough. I’m just happy that there are still plenty of people who want to read something longer than a tweet and some of them seem to really like reading my musings. It’s an honor really, that anyone would spend any of their time with something that started out for me as a blank page. (If you’ve read this far, snap your fingers two times.)

So a year after this blog started (and went completely viral with the help of a full blown fascist named Donald John Trump), I’m still writing away. After The Dream Police is done, it’s time for a non-fiction book about feminist fatherhood. I don’t have a title yet, maybe Sit Down and Pee, but I’m doing a lot of research. I write because I have to and if someone wants to give me some money at some point, I promise I won’t lose my hunger.