Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 to 2021

Oh, 2020. You little rascal. You got us all with your little surprises. I wrote about my hopes for you on January 1, in an essay called Peeping into 2020.

I’ve not been one to make resolutions, but my Twitter profile has become a place that sums me and my efforts in 160 characters or less. Revising it annually has become a fun practice. Here are my 2018 and 2019 ones:

And here’s my 2020.

It’s evolved a bit over the year- which is not something I’ve done before- all thanks to what 2020 ended up being and how I responded to it. I added the she/her. I switched my photo a couple of times- at one point I was so upset at the US political landscape I changed my photo to a picture of a tree stump roughly cut by a chainsaw. My pinned tweet became not a plug to sell my books, but to remind myself and others of my involvement in this country’s problems (more on that to follow).

In 2020, I had hoped to write about and learn new ways to present information on how we humans are amazingly linked to each other and to our natural surroundings. I had visions of officially studying and exploring first-hand in my own life and environment the types of connections I had read about in Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees or Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass in 2019. I pictured filling myself and those I was privileged enough to teach with wondrous examples of these amazing truths and being inspired to project that new understanding into imagining and building a more unified and beautiful future for us all. I imagined bringing people together in closer harmony and understanding to both each other and all the green spaces.

Sometimes, our connections can threaten us or take us down unplanned paths.

Then, a new-to-us microbe living in China leaped into that web of connections and threw our globe into chaos. On top of that, the simmering racial inequities in the US blew up as more Black lives met early deaths at the hands of police. As each country in the world reacted to SARS-CoV2, we learned so many things about worldwide medical and science preparedness and how leaders can cultivate or destroy hope and direction. I saw political affiliation eat away at things I thought everyone could agree upon.

The US’s gutted interest in and means to provide communal needs like public health were dramatically exposed to the world this year.

Some might say this microbe is simply another facet of the world’s connections that we need to adjust to- that some individuals will perish but a new balance will eventually be found overall. Some might say that the loss of certain people or peoples is simply part of that every changing balancing act, too.

Those notions seem way too easy for me to accept. They free us from any responsibility for our choices and actions and that's not right. Cain’s story reminds us we are each other’s keepers. We are, or can be, stewards of all we touch. I think I spoke to that in my Twitter profile when I said “everyone has outside burdens”: we should try to HELP each other because we ALL have burdens. COVID19 became a universally shared one.

2020 hammered home to me that I need to be even more inclusive- my long-term belief in us being stronger together? For all my unity fervor (how many times have I typed "we're stronger together"?), I could do way more thinking, speaking, and writing to promote and argue for that truth. I will do so in 2021. Learning of historian Heather Cox Richardson this year has been an incredibly positive thing for me as she is able to wonderfully describe where we are politically and how we got here. Her social media and others have opened my view on how many people are on this path to understanding. Folks like Robert Reich and Stacey Abrams give pointers on what we can do about it all.

It’s ALL connected. WE are all connected. And NONE of us is more or less “human”.

Political sectarianism has settled into the US and I struggle against siloing or vilifying myself. In 2021, I pledge to speak up and stand up, but to also gut-check. Am I shaming or finding commonalities? Am I escalating a situation or cultivating space for us all to work through some stuff? I’m looking back at my experience with PlayWorks and places like for inspiration.

What could that look like?

“I hear you say…” Truly listen.

“I see you…” Validate.

“I also like…” Connect.

“What are your three favorite foods?” De-escalate.

“I’m interested in our success together…” Extend that hand.

“What if we…” Collaborate.

“Let’s table this for now.” Walk away from conflict.

What exactly do I hope for in 2021?

Here's my 2021 Twitter:

ONE BOAT: Nationally, we need massive efforts on multiple fronts: public health, social justice, green economy, education, infrastructure, and health care. Covid is top, but the others are vitally connected. By the end of 2021, I just want to see some progress on all these. We didn’t get here overnight. We won’t get out of it overnight, either. Dr. Richardson was a reminder to me of that truth and I hope to read one of her books this year to further my understanding.
REAL PEOPLE AND THE PLANET: We need to show we care about both. That we need to care for both. It's not about years old customs and stock prices. 

STAY ENGAGED: To that end, I want to see an expanding political/societal participation by all the people at all levels- especially state and local. Volunteering somewhere. Supporting candidates. Talking with family and friends. Attending meetings as a citizenry. It’s important. Unfortunately, our problems are so big, many can’t do much more than try to survive. Those who can, should.

Personally, I just want us all to feel a little safer- to not feel like everything's hanging by a thread. That's #1. Then, I’d love to work with others and earn some sort of reward in return- money, food, other? Keeping busy would also help me shed some of those pandemic pounds. I’d love my kids to get back into society and the oldest to get a job and his driver’s license. A nature-based retreat sounds delightful: I want stars, water, and living stuff. And a bustling gathering of friends with great food, music, and drinks would be a dream come true. That's it. Well, that and finally see BTS again live. 

Here’s to a 2021 that sustains us. May we find ourselves more grounded by what we do and experience in the next 12 months. May we be open to fully experiencing all of it, but also able to not cling to any of it. It's the breathing of life that's crucial to our growth and development. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Time Will Tell: The Mess and Hopes of Wisconsin and Beyond

I didn’t do a monthly look back on the 14th as I have since we were all back intto school back in September here in Wisconsin. The data spoke for themselves. The increasing numbers of folks knowing friends and loved ones suffering and dying spoke of our realities.

For a great review of where the nation is at, I again refer you to Dr. Tom Frieden and his blog, Covid Epidemiology, where this week he says this will hopefully be his last report as the federal government operations that normally are in charge of this stuff aren’t being muzzled anymore and are posting this information publicly as they should have been since the beginning. It’s bad. Most of the nation is about “six times the rate at which we figured contact tracing would be hard or impossible” to do.

Through 12/21, Milwaukee County has lost 942 to COVID19 while neighboring Waukesha County (with 42% the population) has lost 310. There’s a disparity there just as there is in the populations that need addressing but that’s for another day. One could argue that it’s “only” 0.10% and 0.08% of each county’s respective total population suffering the ultimate penalty. One could say it’s “only” a death rate of 1.2% of all positives in Milwaukee County and 0.9% of all positives in Waukesha County.

But it’s also 1,252 families with new holes at the family tables. Thousands of friends with one less number on their phones. Probably hundreds of workplaces with one less employee, religious organizations with one less congregant, and businesses with one less customer.

It’s also about 112,944 folks who have had to isolate- or who should have. Who had to stop working and interacting with others to not spread the virus, thus affecting everyone they live with. Or should have. If those folks worked, it impacted their employers and probably cost them wages. Or should have. The government isn’t helping much in that regard.

It’s about the approximate 4,870 people of that 112,944 who have been hospitalized and have either slowly recovered or...are still fighting. 4% of all positives in Waukesha end up in hospital care. 5.8% of all the Milwaukee County ones do.

It’s thousands of healthcare workers who have to treat all the positives in their care at nursing homes, care facilities, and at clinics and hospitals as positive cases become critical. Those HCW impacted also have families of their own who are touched by this all: children, spouses, parents…

Looking at today’s totals on world rates of covid, the US has the 5th highest overall positive count in the world from the beginning of this pandemic- behind only Czechia, San Marino, Montenegro, Luxembourg, and Andorra. 55,075 cases for every million people. People are suffering around the world, make no mistake. But the US is showing the world a side of COVID19 in a shameful scale.

The world isn’t partying while the US wallows in some false reality of a fake virus. The fact that the “greatest” country in the world has a huge percent of the population believing things like this and not working together with medicine and science is so depressingly mind-blowing. Watching this unfold has been stomach-turning.

We have so much work ahead of us. Dr. Frieden highlights this, too. This virus needs to be controlled and THEN people need to be reintroduced in widening circles to each other in systematic ways. National and international pandemic plans need to be created to be in place for the next time this happens. (I love how Dr. Frieden put it: “It’s literally now or never to fix public health at local, city, state, national, [and on] global levels.”) Our economy needs to be rebuilt, including collecting taxes and/or donations of investment from our most solvent corporations and individuals to restore the nation’s financial strength. All the other crises the US is facing also need to be addressed in their own ways by thought-leaders within those fields, including racial equity, climate change, green economy, education, and health care.

After this year is done, we can take a look back and see how our overall death rates compared in 2020 to what we have experienced in previous years. Perhaps folks like me will be begging forgiveness at blowing this virus out of proportion. I for one would be glad to do so.

We have to get through this virus first. I eagerly await 2021.