Recently, I found myself hollering at people on television (full disclosure: I was watching Tiger King on the Netflix) for standing too close to each other and touching not only their own faces, but the faces of others! Sometimes, multiple faces at once! A mere month ago, I wandered wantonly through public places without a care in the world; now I judge reality television characters for their personal proximity choices (I judge for more, but let's just focus on this one point of interest for now). The world, mercurial in the best of times, continues to shift and boggle the mind.
In these times, there exist only two acceptable topics of conversation: the global pandemic and Joe Exotic. Both boast confusion, intrigue, the inability to look away, and a tendency toward unhealthy obsession. Both cause the emotion of, "Wow, it could be so much worse for me." Both inspire crossover memes of great hilarity. Both define who we really are, in our most base and uncomfortable skins. The insane juxtaposition of the two exemplify a) how little control we have over our lives and b) what weird and terrifying things lurk beneath the surface of our seemingly normal collective existence. I wonder if Joe Exotic ever imagined he'd be the distraction we need from stay-in-place orders issued forth from government entities?
Yesterday, it was announced that school is going to elearning for the remainder of this year. This caused more distress in me than watching Carole Baskin (f-in' Carole Baskin) attempt to explain away the disappearance of her husband. Had I known a month ago, when it was still okay to move freely, that March 13 was the last time I'd see my students this year, I would've certainly spent that last week telling them how phenomenal they are. I would've laughed at the specious reasoning only middle schoolers have instead of trying to redirect them to the more serious task at hand. I would've stopped and heard more of their rambling stories. I would've just stopped. Teaching them through a computer, while acceptable, just can't compare to sitting in a group of brilliant kids discussing the twists and turns of Never Let Me Go or helping them process the Boxer Rebellion in preparation for Boxers and Saints. I'm sad for my own children, who are home for the duration - one from her freshman year of college; the other two from their sophomore year of high school. No sports. No friends. No nothing.
I consider the kids who now, not unlike Joe Exotic's tigers, are trapped in the cage of poverty and neglect and abuse. For so many, school provides meals, hugs, acceptance, and safety. What will happen to them? Who is looking out for the least of these? How can I help when I can't leave my house?
I consider what "normal" will look like after spending months hedgehogged in our homes, imagining microscopic death molecules in every exhale. The loud kids next door were blowing bubbles the other day, and all I could think was that those bubbles were just floating containers of disease. Will we ever be able to group together in the same way? Will every cough, sneeze, and wheeze ever be just a cough, sneeze, and wheeze again? Will my diet soon consist of expired Walmart meat?
I consider how people have fractured into three camps - the conspiracy theorists (f-in' Carole Baskin), the doomsday types, and the political fanatics. I suffer from social media fatigue and the realization that nothing polarizes people like a pandemic. I tend to be a realist/borderline fatalist. I don't want false hope; I want facts and stats and truth. The tremendous volume of information out there in the interwebs tangles my brain and turns me into the anointed sovereign of sighs and groans. I realize Joe Exotic's story pretty much exemplifies the insanity of vain attempts to secure the actual truth of anything. Joe Exotic is an extended metaphor, and that's why we're drawn to the show. Or maybe not. Too much time in my own head is terrifying enough without conflating reality TV with life. But what else have we got to do in the foreseeable future? To quote other geniuses, Bill and Ted, "Be good to each other." Have grace, Help when you can. Don't think too much about the Tiger King.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.