Thursday, September 17, 2020

Dressing for the Apocalypse II: Covid, Killer Smoke, and the End of the World


My God. 2020.

I'll be 50 next month, and I have never lived through a year like this. I was born to draft resistors in the States during the Vietnam War. I remember the hostage crisis. I remember the oil crisis. I remember the terror of the Cold War. I remember the AIDS crisis. I remember 9/11. I was here for all of that and more.

2020 is worse.

I mean, it's been bad for a while now. We all know that. We've all lived in a state of constant shock and dread for the last four years, since Trump won the American election. From Canada, I've watched him destroy his own nation, erode diplomacy, hold the Ukraine hostage, vilify Black and brown people, uphold white supremacy, attack Muslims, degrade women, bolster antisemitism, put children in cages, repeatedly break the law, defend pedophiles, send in the military against justified, peaceful protests, and more. Far more.

I've watched him willfully ignore, and even actively undermine all warnings about Covid, and all measures his nation could have taken to save lives. I've watched as his actions and inactions have caused the death of nearly 200,000 Americans - so far.

And now the fires.

Now the smoke, here, in Canada.

Trump may not have caused these fires, but climate change did, and Trump's climate change denial will be the cause of future fires. 

Besides, Trump is obviously not the only problem here. There are legions of people around the world who think and act as he does, not just about the climate, but about everything. If such people were rare, I wouldn't be so worried. If such people were rare, I would have hope.

(A quick note: I haven't used any filters on these photos of my city choked by American, forest fire smoke. I wanted you to see what it's really like.)

I took this photo at 4:00 in the afternoon on a sunny, cloudless day. All of this darkness is forest fire smoke.

Four years ago, when Trump won the election, I wrote the following:

"I fear that... the next four years under Trump will be a great deal of darkness, with only brief patches of dim light that I'll try to call hope... I don't know what comes next, in this darkness. I really don't. But let's remember one thing: we're in this darkness together. We must not turn away from it, no matter how much we might want to. We must not turn away from each other. It's a matter of life and death."

Today, these words seem prescient, but let me tell you this: Nothing, nothing prepared me for what was to come. 

Four years ago, when I spoke of darkness, I meant it metaphorically, but now? It's literal. The darkness has indeed descended.

Dress: Reitman's; Boots: Ecco; waves ring: Effy; rhinestone ring and earrings: vintage
Remember this: Even if Canada had a perfect environmental record (which it doesn't), it would make no difference right now. The smoke from American mismanagement of the environment would still be pouring up here, choking us. We'd be helpless. In this case, we are helpless. The decisions of one nation affect us all.
Despite all this, we go on living the best we can. Despite the smoke, Beau and I decided to take ourselves out to a safe, social distancing, outdoor coffee at our favourite cafe. We know that soon, as the weather cools, we won't be able to do even this. But, on Saturday, we still could.

But the smoke! 

Our world is a dark, horrible, gritty grey, and a sickly, eerie yellow.

Skin glows yellow ...

... and there is a dark haze even looking across the street, even looking across a room ... 

... let alone looking further than that. This is usually a city with glorious mountain views. No-one has seen those mountains for a while now.

Grit and soot are everywhere: on this telephone pole, between our toes, on the leaves... 

... in our lungs. Yes, I'm coughing. Most people are. Everyone has a sinus headache. Many of us have sore throats, stuffed noses, stinging, watering eyes. Some of us have swollen glands.

It's also cold. The days have been sunny, but the sun can't get through to us.

It's extremely bleak.

It reminds me of what it was like when Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980.

Then, as now, a vast portion of North America was covered in grit and soot. 

It affected everyone ... 

... including Canadians, though, as usual, we're not on this map which shows the spread of ash. We're left off of a lot of maps.

Back then, in 1980, ash was everywhere because of an unpreventable, natural disaster. 

This time, we've done it to ourselves. We're still doing it to ourselves. This is climate change. 

This is our doing

I live just east of the southern tip of that large island, Vancouver Island.
No matter which government is letting this happen to which country, everyone suffers.

Borders are a human invention, and the planet doesn't recognize them. Not for forest fires.

Not for Covid.

I've been thinking a lot about Empty World, a scary, post-apocalyptic novel I read as a kid, and reread a few years ago. In it, the news is filled with what seems an imminent, third world war, a nuclear war, a war that will kill everyone and everything. Everyone is in a state of shock and dread.

And then: a virus hits, at first distant, but spreading, closer, and closer, killing virtually everyone in its path, till almost the entire human population is gone.

Sound familiar?

In those scary, apocalyptic novels I read as a kid, the Apocalypse was always fast: everything was normal and then, one day, or one month, everything changed, everything died.

All the green was gone. All life was gone.

But now I know that the end of days is slow, creeping - but inescapable. 

The planet is dying. We are dying. Species are dying.

And there is still life, even abundant life.

Life is astonishingly tenacious.

Yes, even human life is tenacious. If it weren't, I wouldn't still be here today. Most sex trafficked kids die within seven years of first being sold. So I should have been dead by ten, I guess. My abusers almost killed me so many times.

But here I am. Badly crippled by abuse, barely walking, choking in the smoke, but here.

But this can't go on forever. Just like a human body, the planet can only take so much abuse before it just can't sustain itself.

We make these small efforts at positive change. Before Covid hit and schools closed (don't get me started on how awful it is that they're open again), the kids in this elementary school planted this tiny little garden to "save the bees," as the sign proclaims.

And the bees are coming. These two, small, flower beds were absolutely busting with the vitality of fat, happy, fluffy bumble bees.

We see such small things and we think, "See? There is hope."

But what are two small flower beds in the face of this? 

We look at the tenacity of nature and we take comfort, forgetting how much we've already tinkered and toyed with it in irreversible ways that are causing damage many of us don't even understand.

This little House Sparrow? She's not indigenous to North America. Back in 1851, some idiot thought it would be nice to have familiar, European birds in Brooklyn, so he released 16 House Sparrows into the wild. Here and there, others did the same. House Sparrows have no natural predator here, so their species spread throughout the Americas. 

In other words, through no fault of her own, this hungry little girl is part of invasive species. They've settled into the eco-system relatively peacefully. Not so the Starlings. Not so for other species.

Now what?

Meanwhile, all along, we humans are a part of nature too. We tinker with nature, we tinker with our own future. 

So how are we doing?

Not well. People are dying. 

Last I checked, 35 people have died as a direct result of the American forest fires, and God knows how many people are now homeless. The long term effects of climate change will be far worse.

So far, 9,188 Canadians, and 195,000 Americans have died of Covid, with Black Americans hit the hardest. 

To date, 931,000 people have died of Covid worldwide.

In some ways, these horrible times are unprecedented.

But, in other ways, we've been here before. In 1918, we were in the middle of the first world war when the Influenza Epidemic hit. The war helped spread it. So did human stupidity. 50,000,000 people died. 

Then, as now, people played a blame game, calling it the Spanish Flu. This time, Trump and many others are blaming China. It doesn't save lives to blame nations.

Blaming Spain did not save my maternal great-grandmother Jennie in upstate New York

... and it didn't save my paternal, great uncle Charles in New York City.

Did we learn anything from 1918? Then, as now, there was trouble getting people to wear masks. Then, as now, some people were loathe to heed the warnings of scientific fact. 

Why is that? Why do people prefer superstition and conspiracy theories over science and facts? (Yeah, I believe in God. My faith in no way contradicts my belief in science. Why would it?) 

Even if these stubborn idiots are willing to risk their own lives to Covid (or climate change), why do they refuse to have enough empathy to see that their own choices affect others, and even kill others? 

I don't get it! I cannot fathom that level of selfishness.

A group of neighbours have a responsibly distanced social gathering in a front yard.
Of course, there are many who do heed the warnings of medical experts, and do social distance ... 

... and do wear our masks when people outside of our social bubble are nearby. 

Did you notice that I coordinated my mask with my outfit? I always do now (on the few occasions when I leave the house at all). I'm not the only one. It's become pretty common.

Did you ever think we'd live to see such a day, when people not only have to wear masks, but choose to coordinate them as a normal part of their outfits?

It reminds me of the gas masks people wore during WWII. At first, they carried them in quite ugly, fabric bags ...

... or boxes, slung across their shoulders.

But, soon enough, for those who could afford it, there were attractive, stylish bags in which to carry gas masks. 

When I first learned of this, I thought it was stupid. "My God," I thought, "such trivial vanity in the midst of a world crisis."

But I get it now. Not only do we want to preserve some normalcy in what feels like hell, but we also want to find ways to nourish our beleaguered spirits. For some of us, style helps. If it helps, I say, okay.

(This photo made me laugh. I somehow accidentally turned on a feature that adds little sparkles to the light bits in photos. On this horribly grey, bleak day, with my ghostly white skin, that meant sparkly fingers, a sparkly forehead, and a fancy sparkle on the nose protector of my mask. Not the things I'd chose to highlight during the end of the world.)

Heck, I've been coordinating my canes to my outfits for years, and that helps. 

My cousin, Roza, revived her love of style
while she was on the run from the nazis, and she said that helped her. In fact, she said it brought her back to life.

So I say again: If it helps, okay.

This little girl's pin mask matches her pink shoes. Is she scared of Covid as she clings to her father in this socially distanced line for food? Probably. Is she scared of the smoke? Probably. Does the pretty pink of the mask help her feel just a tiny bit better? Probably.

Who can begrudge her that? Who can begrudge anyone that?

Okay, so with the spirit-reviving power of style in mind, let's talk a bit about my outfit. Some of you have said that you miss my outfit posts, so I thought I'd give you one. I hope it lifts your spirits a little. It lifted mine.

Before I start though, I should mention my weight loss. I don't know how evident it is in this loose outfit, but I suspect some of you will notice it and wonder about it. I am not on a diet, and I have not been on a diet.

The short explanation for my weight loss is that, in May, I had emergency gallbladder surgery for severe, acute pancreatitis. Since then, I've been shrinking, in a healthy way. I gather I was very sick for a very long time, and it was messing with my digestion so badly that I gained weight, and my belly became distended. 

I'm working on a longer blog post about it all, and how sexism and antisemitism kept me from getting a diagnosis years ago. But, for now, the main point is that I'm feeling a lot better ...

... and a side effect of my improved health is lost size. I noticed it yet again when I put on 
these boots, and saw the gap at the top.

The other thing to mention: Covid hair. I have not had a hair cut in a very long time, and it shows. I think it looks nice from the side and back. Indeed, I would be more than happy to grow back the long, thick waves and curls of my youth ...

... but they just don't look quite right anymore. They always grow back sort of chunky and uneven in the front, no matter how great my hairdresser is. But I'm willing to give it another go. Heck, I have no choice! I figure, by the time I get to my hairdresser again, it will have been at least a year since my last haircut. Maybe he can do something nice with that. Here's hoping.

Meanwhile, Beau's Covid hair is amazing! He's always had beautiful hair, and I have to admit that I think it's pretty hot longer like this. Can you believe he was buzz cutting it when I first met him?

Okay, now back to the outfit. I'd spotted this dress in the autumn of 2019 but thought that it was both too expensive, and a style unlikely to be flattering on me. But then, in the spring, it was for on sale for some crazy low price like $15, so I went ahead and got it. 

I was surprised that it looked good on me. Beau says it looks even better in motion than in still photos, since it kind of moves and glides over my figure. 

Of course, with Covid, I didn't actually get a chance to wear it until this past Saturday.

Weirdly, these autumnal shades matched the yellow and dark greys of the day. It was a bit disconcerting. 

As I said, I didn't put any filter on these photos. I wanted you to see how strange and unpleasant the light was, and how the camera struggled to deal with it. In some photos, it managed to adjust to the light and my skin fairly well.

In others, not so much!

Cameras aren't designed to deal with the unnatural light of the Apocalypse. Maybe that will change as we see these colours more and more. God help us.

Anyway, let's talk about the colours of the dress itself.

The 1970s, baby!

All the way.

Those delicious, greens, reds, browns, oranges, and yellows ...

... of the 1970s.

Since tall, creamy brown, red, and tan boots were so popular in the 70s ...

... it was a no brainer for me to wear mine. 

God knows, it was cold enough! This is the sun vainly trying to beat its way through the clouds at about 4:00 on Sunday afternoon.

Normally, they would have been too hot at this time of year, but not today. I actually had to wear a sweater on the way home, but I forgot to take a photo. It was a nice, oversize, forest green cardigan, if you're interested.

Anyway, in its cut, the dress reminds me of 1960s "baby doll" dresses (an infantalizing name that has no business being used for women's clothing) ... 

... so adding the boots also gave it a slightly Mod looking ...

... kickiness.

This cut though, isn't quite the "baby doll" cut of the 60s...

... or of the 90s, but it's reminiscent of both. 

Dare I go out on a limb and say my outfit has a slight Buffy vibe? 

My God, couldn't we all use some serious, kick-ass, Buffy energy right now? I know I could! Look: Her world even looks like the dark, smokey world I now inhabit.

And, while we're on the topic of a kick-ass Buffy, I will never, in a million years, look as cool as Buffy Sainte-Marie looked in this short dress and these tall boots back in the 1960s. Heck, I'll never look as cool as Buffy Sainte-Marie in any decade!

A quick mention of accessories. Since these "baby doll" dresses were usually accessorized with big earrings, and since I was going for a bohemian look...

... these big, copper coloured hoops seemed right to me. It's funny though: they match my hair so well, you almost don't notice them. I didn't know that till I looked at the photos.

I wore the swirly ring because I thought the tiny diamonds kind of echoed the tiny white and pink flowers in the dress. And, obviously, I had to wear this, cheap, vintage, costume ring, because, oh my, the colours! Bee approved.

And so I dressed for the Apocalypse. 

And went for a safe-ish coffee.

In the short term, what else can we do? God only knows. My smile might be a little strained. But life goes on.

For now.


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