The World is on Fire. Are you Burning?

So, I’ve not been updating as frequently or regularly as before. Turns out, all this pandemic nonsense has taken a bit of a toll on me!

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2020 wasn’t a too terribly difficult year for me. I had all my classes online, I got to flex my online expertise, and I had a very nice schedule going. I was comfortable. I was complacent with the new change. In many ways, it had a lot of positives compared to my “normal” schedule. I was ready to do my part to protect others and make sure this pandemic was but a fleeting memory. We were in extraordinary times and I was ready to contribute, in whatever small way I could, to the extraordinary response needed to protect humanity.

2021 is when everything came crashing down. I had to go back to campus to teach 2/3 of the time, and before I got vaccinated, this was incredibly stressful. I got the vaccine but I was noticing more and more how incredibly messed up and terrible the world was. It’s was easy to cocoon myself in 2020 in the safe embraces of Japanese lockdown, but even within that bubble, I started noticing cracks I couldn’t ignore anymore. I know you can’t have cracks in a bubble but work with me here.

Whittling Away: The Many Small Forces That Wore Me Down

I think what has really killed me the most during the past two years is that I’ve learned that people, when given a historical moment to reach out and help one another, they cannot be counted on, and this stings. I’ve always wanted to believe that people are good, deep down, but the pandemic really has me questioning that essential philosophy of mine. People didn’t want to do what they were told, like children, because it inconvenienced them. Heaven forbid! What would be inconvenient for others who may be high-risk or unable to get vaccinated would be if these people encountered these “patriots” marching through Target chanting for others to take off their masks, but they didn’t think about that. The self-centeredness, the selfishness, the lack of compassion, and refusal to grant others basic human dignity on display under the flimsy veils of “liberty,” “freedom,” and “distrust of big pharma/gov/the Illuminati” was deeply troubling. It still is deeply troubling, if I’m being perfectly honest.

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The obstinance is insane to me. Why choose this hill to die on? There are people literally dying because they are refusing to follow basic public health measures (yes, every word there is a link to a different death story from around the world). The entire world is in peril with this new disease: Most people in the global south don’t even have vaccines yet, and we have these individuals in what are supposed to be the most developed nations on the planet, the leaders of the world, struggling to wrap their heads around the simple advice of “cover your mouth and get your shot.” Advice we get year in and year out for the flu, vaccines for admittance into public education and universities, advice they had no issues following until it became an inconvenience for them.

And if they did distrust medicine before this? I feel great pity and concern for their lack of scientific literacy. Their distrust of established authorities. Their unfaltering faith in their own faculties, despite the fact that they are just as flawed and susceptible to disinformation and misinformation as anyone. Their lack of compassion for their fellow man who may not have the most robust health to fight off these diseases. It brings my optimism for the future into question. I don’t know if I can honestly say I see brightness in the future after seeing all the ugliness this pandemic unveiled.

Why don’t you just embrace some good ol-fashioned escapism then?

This may also seem silly, but seeing some of my favorite entertainment being exposed as… well, not good, has really hurt my ability to relax as well.

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First is Disney Parks. This is silly. I recognize how absolutely privileged and awkward this is, but seeing the state of the Disney parks has really hurt. I am a Florida native, and grew up during the Eisner era of Disney, where that crazy son of a bitch was like, “Yeah, let’s throw deals at Floridians to get them coming to the parks more.” It was a strategy that really shaped the parks for decades to come, and my middle-class family was able to go to soft-openings of new hotels (Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, and the former Dixie Landings resorts, just to name a few). We walked through Epcot, experiencing the odd 80’s futurism the park encompassed (an aesthetic that I have a real soft spot for in my heart). We went to the newly opened MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom parks. I saw Downtown Disney expand with the Virgin Megastore and DisneyQuest. I have a lot of great memories down there (and a few very unfortunate ones as well). Hell, I worked in the College Program at Epcot in the Electric Umbrella (RIP) for two months after graduating college in 2008. To see what is happening to the new parks under the new leadership is a huge bummer: failure to control crowds, copy-pasting attractions from other parks around the world, a lack of innovation, layoffs and labor problems for cast members, massive changes to imagineering and the loss of some really fantastic talent. The money-grubbing never seemed to have a hugely negative impact on the parks, but it seems the pandemic really pushed many aspects of Disney over the edge. News out of the parks always seems to be bad news, and that bums me out because it had such a formative role in my life. It inspired me to have that optimism about the future, inspired me to be more creative, to demand more of myself, and to seek out new experiences in life. Now it seems like a Disney vacation is more about power gaming, optimizing your schedule, and staying glued to your phone to get the most from your time there. It seems like a far cry from what I remember making it magical as a child, teen, and young adult.

Second is the revelations in the gaming world about rampant sexual abuse, particularly at Activision-Blizzard. I used to jam real hard with Blizzard games growing up: Diablo II was the game everyone played in middle school. I would spend hours running Baal and Mephisto, searching for gear and crafting my builds. It was an almost meditative experience after so many hours and really connected me with some of my best friends in a new and exciting way. I was stoked for the Diablo II remake. Then the harassment news, with each new headline grimmer than the last. It gave me a moment for pause; maybe I shouldn’t support this company right now? Maybe I should support the devs doing the right thing and buy the game? My mind was a jumble. Then the game dropped and it was… less than impressive. This killed me, because I thought I was going to have a bit of a second renaissance with friends, old and new, but there were so many failings– technical and moral– that I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to purchase it. And now I watch a company I once loved get snatched up by Microsoft, continuing the troubling trend of studios being swallowed up by larger and larger entities and losing that spirit and polish they once had.

Photo by Maik Poblocki on Pexels.com

Things that once brought me such joy are not really a reliable source of that joy anymore. That sucks. I have to look forward to different sources, but with the aforementioned lack of hope for the future, I get the feeling of… what’s the point? Why bother? Everything is on fire; why not submit myself to the flames?

That’s a Bit Grim… Are You Going to be OK, Buddy?

Well, that’s hard to say. What is OK anymore in these whack times? A lot has changed and I have changed with it, trying my best to adapt myself in the least harmful way. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the goal, anyway.

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Even when many in the world are doing things I (and many medical experts) consider wrong, harmful, or selfish, I have to hold myself to a higher standard. I can’t let myself fall into the trap of doing what is easy, IE: ignoring all the difficult sacrifices being asked of us to do and continuing doing nothing to help anyone else in the pandemic. That doesn’t sit well with me. I find my empathy won’t let me do that, so I will continue to wear my mask, get my shots, follow common-sense public safety measures, and heed the advice of public health experts. As the pandemic moves along and they get more info, they can adjust and fine-tune these recommendations, and I will follow. I understand science: This isn’t flip-flopping; this is re-evaluating what you think you know– constantly– and adjusting your behaviors, outlook, and practices accordingly in light of new and ever-changing data.

So, while the world burns metaphorically, should I find myself burning with it, I will resist. I will pull some sort of strength from within and march forward, no matter how painfully, because resisting that hellish fire is what we all need to see. It’s what we all need to do.

(If you think being anti-mask or anti-vaccine is resisting that fire, then fuck you. You are the fire. This post isn’t for you.)

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