November 8 – Being Good is a Superpower

“Abash’d the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is,” John Milton begins in Paradise Lost. However, you might recognize it more recently by T-Bird’s final words in Brandon Lee’s cult classic film, The Crow. I’ve been hearing this voice echoing in my head a lot this week. I’m not the only one that’s going a bit crazy, but things are looking up.

Day 292. I wake up at 6:20 am again, another Friday closer to death — or at least, a month-long break for Spring Festival coming along mid-January. It’s one of those days where I’m so tired I’m vibrating, and I stumble into the bathroom quietly so as not to wake Shaolin. There’s a foul heaviness to the air, later I find out, a gas leak. Glad I don’t smoke any more. I wash my face, brush my teeth, and shave, but decide to keep a tidy beard for the winter. I boil some water, make some coffee and check my messages until it’s 7:15 in a flash, and I’ve gotta chuck my shoes on, grab my bag and thermos and summon a car. I get through four classes, enjoy the aha moments, discipline the silly students, and write a little in the breaks. I rush home in a black car.

Shaolin is disappointed; her local Salsa Club 5 will close — another hit from the pandemic.

In this crazy life, it’s another busy day, being a grown-up, trying to live a good life, whatever that means: virtuous, wise, somehow good. “The man who has virtue,” said Cicero, “is in need of nothing whatever for the purpose of living well.” Looking back to the old stoics, they described Virtue as “a habit of mind (animi) in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom (prudentiam), justice, courage, temperance.” (CICERO, DE INVENTIONE, II, LIII)

What are these virtues? And how can they keep me patient, sane, productive, and content when I feel like such a grumpy, anxious, impatient, selfish, dishonest, and often terribly flawed human being?

Wisdom — φρόνησις (phronēsis) in greek, meant excellent deliberation, good judgment, prudence, and good sense. Justice — δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē) means charity, charity, benevolence, good-heartedness, and fairness. Courage — ἀνδρεία (andreia): means to be brave, show fortitude and resilience, authenticity, honesty, confidence. Temperance — σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē): moderation, forgiveness, orderliness, humility, and self-control. These small virtues are tools in a tool kit that allows me to endure the bleakness of my own mind, my doubts and the uncertainty of a troubled time, ennui, a failure to accept my purpose, and doubts that my whole life is a farce. These stoic virtues give me the tools to find peace and happiness.

What is the goal of Virtue, after all, except a life that flows smoothly? — Epictetus (Discourses — Book I, 108)

We rush off to Daping shopping center to meet the family for Shaolin’s mom’s birthday and Ethan’s second birthday lunch. It’s nice, a bit spicy, but her folks love it.

We take off early to zip over to the Apple store downtown, excited to order Shaolin a new iPhone as a belated birthday present, looking forward to inheriting hers as an upgrade since mine is on the fritz. Unfortunately, and although they told us to come by on the 6th to signup, now that we are there, they said it’s impossible; we have to order online with the Apple app at 9 am (5 am California time). So, basically, on a busy day, we ditched family and spent two hours heading over there and back for fun. I am on the verge of Karening out and ask for their manager, demanding they make right their mistake that drove my tired ass across town on a Friday afternoon for no good reason. The kid in the blue shirt tells me he is the manager, and I don’t believe him, but looking around, I don’t see anyone else that looks more managerial, so I’ve gotta take him on his word. In a nutshell, he has no idea why the guy last week told us to come back today and is sorry we wasted our time. I get angry and flustered and then just shrug, like, whatever really, we will go for a walk, get a coffee, enjoy the day and then head back in time for class.

We get home in time to plan a lesson, relax a half hour, and some kids arrive, and we do an excellent two-hour lesson. Afterward, we have a snack, and it’s 9 pm before we know it. We open the Apple App on both our phones, but it’s having trouble loading — — swamped as thousands around the world all tune in for the first chance at the limited edition pandemic model: the iPhone 12. After about twenty minutes, the app opens up, and we select her new phone: iPhone 12 Pro Max, 256 GB. It’s the fastest, largest screen option we can get for her, with a new chip, supposedly a super fast upgrade, and 5G compatible. It’ll arrive in a couple of weeks, but I’ve already ordered a heavy-duty crash case for hers because I hope my current phone will be the last one I smash.

We watch a romantic thriller, Rebecca, an adaptation of a classic novel, and tomorrow morning is both a busy Saturday and something a bit different, the Flu Jab.

We wake up at 8:30 on Saturday, get some coffee ready, and hit the road. I’m happy Shaolin is escorting me because I would get totally lost otherwise, so I pack my iPad and keyboard to do a little writing, and we get there at 9:40, early for the 10–12 slot, so I’m registered and ready first, patient 001. She wanted one and got a 002, but the limited supply was all accounted for when they checked the lists, so we’ll just try to keep her safe. If I don’t bring a flu home from the 1500 kids I share an ecosphere with every week, that will be pretty good.

The jab makes my arm tingle a bit, but I don’t have a reaction to it, and after 30 minutes, I’m clear to go home. I don’t have all the numbers in front of me, but the flu shot in Canada is a point of contention; it is not 100% effective, some only 30% effective, but still a popular option for teachers and those in service positions. Experts are wringing hands that a mix of COVID and seasonal winter flu could aggravate each other, causing organ damage and higher rates of Death. For me, it’s an easy answer: the flu shot is pretty safe, and I don’t want to be sick, especially with a deadly cocktail of COVIDFLU, so I jumped up to get the shot when my school asked teachers and admins if they were interested. Curious, I look up the stats, and according to the CDC website, “CDC’s influenza vaccination coverage reports show that overall flu vaccination coverage (among people 6 months and older) during 2019–2020 increased from the previous season to nearly 52%.” I guess that means it works perfectly in half the people, rather than half works for everyone, but still, it’s better than nothing, and if I can stay healthy, I’ll be a happy guy.

These days, I’m tired but happy. My NaNoWriMo is off to a slow start this year, too much election anxiety, maybe? At least life feels like it’s moving along in a positive direction, and I’m ok with that. My old international department asked me to teach a drama class, but I’m full up and exhausted, so I offered a creative writing class, at least that’s my cup of tea and area of expertise.

A distinct mutation of SARSCOV2 has been identified in Denmark, and it has crossed the species threshold from humans to minx to do so. Since minx has different receptors to human ACE2, the virus has mutated in some significant ways to cross over the species threshold. This might be a minor or a major event; we simply don’t know yet. What we do know is this: it has the potential to be a strain that is distinct enough that those with antibodies or herd immunity will be susceptible once again. It could make a vaccine useless against this strain, resetting our clock back to January 2020 if it becomes widespread. It could be more contagious or more virulent, or shed virus for longer, or be more fatal, or any other number of qualities. For their part, Denmark has ordered the extermination (genocide) of 17 million minks across the country in over 1000 farms. To me, that’s disgusting, but so is fur farming. Although this strain has had the opportunity to reinfect humans, flights out of Copenhagen remain quite available. Some areas have been locked down, but the country itself is still open for travel.

I remember when tigers at the Bronx zoo in New York got COVID, and there were fears over cats and dogs mutating SARSCOV2. It seems like dogs were fine, but I’m surprised there are not more studies being done to, as Dr. John Campbell himself said, prove or disprove the correlation between COVID rates of cat owners versus non cat owners and see if the cat owners are receiving mutated forms of COVID. It would be great to know.

Several countries, such as the UK, have placed voluntarily self-quarantine measures on citizens returning from Denmark. Still, enforcement is weak or nonexistent, and it would only take a few people to start a new outbreak. It could be nothing, or it could be Wuhan all over again. We simply don’t know. As Dr. John Campbell said, “it’s like we’re driving around the bend of a mountain road, and there could be a 10 tone truck barrelling towards us, so what do we do? Do we slow down and take the turn safely, or do we speed ahead, hoping that it’s probably fine?” The leaders of the world have opted for the last year to “hope it’s fine,” and over a million people have died, many millions sick, many trillions of dollars in economic damage, while the few independent doctors that called for us to use precautionary principles, to play it safe, seem eerily like Nostradamus, and I, who’ve followed them from the beginning and thus been months ahead of the conventional expert in one thing after another, have been called the harbinger of the plague, for my prescient advanced knowledge. It didn’t have to be this way — but somehow it feels like those in charge of protecting us are burnt out and half asleep at the wheel.

There is another mutation in Norway, shown to be more easily spreadable and for longer than the previous SARSCOV2 virus. It’s only a bridge and a drive from Denmark through Sweden to Norway, so could this be evidence of the mink mutation spreading through Europe? OR another distinct mutation? Each transmission allows the potential for mutation. Each mutation the potential for a killer twist that could ignite this fire out of control; thus, all those who are prolonging this by mishandling it, ignoring self-imposed quarantines, or protesting masks and lockdowns are really playing with fire.

The USA is on day three or four of its election counting, and COVID is slipping under the radar. First, they broke 100,000 new cases in 24 hours, then 120,000 the next day. On TV, we have a calm, patient, and peaceful narrative from Joe Biden and a frantic, angry, and paranoid one claiming crime and fraud without evidence from Donald Trump. In some states, his supporters cry “stop the count,” even in states where he’s behind, and “count the votes” in a few traditionally republican states that Joe is surging ahead in. The ironic and pathetic strategy Trump’s seemed to execute for the 2020 election is: spend months disparaging mail-in votes as fraudulent (without any evidence), encourage his supporters to never mind the pandemic and vote in person on election day, and then try to get all the mail-in ballots stopped and claim victory. I guess to him, that seemed reasonable. This is a guy that supposedly writes whatever score he wants on his golf cards, and people just accept it. He can’t understand why it’s not working with democracy.

I can’t worry about him, or anyone really, hell, I can barely handle myself.

Only attend to yourself, and resolve to be a good man in every act that you do. — Marcus Aurelius (Meditations — Book VII, 167 ACE)

Growing up, my life was pretty exciting. I pushed with all my might for the next thing; greedily getting more records, more clothes, more gigs, more parties, drinks and friends and girlfriends and gadgets too. But it was frantic and unstable, and I had no idea where it was gonna end up. I figured I’d either end up rich and famous or insane and homeless. Now, the idea of that frantic scrambling that used to keep me distracted and ‘fulfilled’ is gone, and the ‘dreadful bore’ of stability is good and peaceful.

In fact, being good is kind of like my superpower now. I get to focus all my energy on sustainable pursuits, such as my writing career, retirement savings plan, education, a few solid friendships, and a good relationship with my family. I just get my work done and move on to the next thing.

One of the best quotes as the election seems to be winding down, in Joe’s favor, came from Detroit. “We’ve gone from picking cotton to picking presidents. This is our time.” There is a sense as large, urban, mostly black cities flip republican states (Atlanta, Georgia), and cities like Philadelphia and Detroit secure the end of Trump’s white nationalism. CBC Pundit Aisha Mills says, “Black People are saving America from itself.”

They describe Trump’s court challenges as insignificant, a “fluster and bluster,” and soon, he will turn his attention from trying to save his job to trying to save himself from prison. Stay tuned. In a hilarious analogy of Trump’s whole team’s incompetence, ‘America’s Mayor,’ Rudy Giuliani, having managed to tuck his shirt back in after the damaging and hotel shocking expose in Borat 2, scheduled a press conference to defend the beleaguered soon to be an ex-president. Trump tweeted out that it would be at the Four Seasons, and then corrected, Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a gardening depot between a crematorium and a sex shop. The bleak press conference was comically absurd, like his administration, somewhere between screwed and dead.

Stacy Abrahams in Georgia is getting a lot of credit for calling attention to voter suppression and giving diverse swaths of America hope that this is the beginning of the end of the old America, white, stiff, racist, and two-tiered. A new America is being birthed after the pandemic, BLM protests, and this drawn-out election.

A run-off second election in January might determine control of the senate, hope that Dems could flush out all GOP anti-intellectual hands on the controls. In such a complicated time, we don’t want science deniers to make policy decisions.

The hope is that with sound science and the USA in a position of leadership for a change, we can beat the pandemic this year, tackle climate change with a green new deal by 2030 while creating more fair and just societies as we, nation by nation, address systemic racism and create more diverse environments to give everyone a fair shake of it. It sounds easy enough, but it won’t be, still, it feels good to have a path forward that is not all doom, gloom, and sadness.

Watching Trump almost in tears on the White House lawn as his empire of fascism, racism, and the millions of fools he’s conned is being rightfully taken from him almost makes me feel something; it’s human empathy. I tell myself that is a strength, not a weakness, but I must remain stoic as likely, his millions of supporters will not easily accept Biden’s win, and chaos may still be to come. Still, it looks likely his reign of idiocracy is winding down, and with it, we can hope for an end to widespread anti-intellectualism, but I have always been an optimist.

I seek the narrative but spending so much time in my head, I am aware I am a mini-plot protagonist in my own life most of the time. Perhaps this is good, for if we are not comfortable in our own minds, we will find solace and serenity nowhere.

We make it through two young classes and one older one and relax, a bit tired, but it’s ok, and watch a scary movie and tuck in early. For all my stoic talk, sometimes I chafe at the bit to resist the pedestrian day to day of teaching and working and eating and sleeping and long for the days of gigs and adventure and high stakes living. I’m not perfect, I’m really not, I’m only a deeply flawed individual trying to live my best life. I think all adults maybe aren’t In any way better people, we’re just better liars, we’re better at quieting that selfish child voice that wants satisfaction without consequence and become better at giving without expecting, at seeking Virtue through work and moderating pleasure — it’s not easy. It’s never done, but there is a goodness to simple living.

I’ve come to realize that life is a great charade, a great farce after all. I do not really matter all that much. If I were gone tomorrow, a handful of other people would feel sad, and the rest of humanity would hardly notice my absence. You could make the argument that most of us are just breathing, eating, pooping, screwing, and sleeping as a biological function of evolved single-cell initiatives to survive. We just do — without question, without purpose, or without usually any grand plan. This is why we become so open to the idea of religion, or, lacking religion, a cult-like Trumpian politics. Because standing and staring into the abyss and knowing I don’t really matter and being ok with that is a strength that not many of us are comfortable practicing.

Even I, a warrior poet, and a veteran of the dreamlands, often falter in the face of great hopelessness. But is in the comfort of stellar insignificance, a little mite upon the back of an intergalactic dog, hurtling through the cosmos, that I find joy — — I’ve been famous, sort of. I’ve been a hero to some, a community leader, and sometimes I’ve let them down, and to others, I’ve been a villain, a real rascal. When you live long enough, you realize you are many things to many people, good, bad, and ugly, and within each of us is a collection of many stories, many characters we play. Few are as beloved as Bernie Sanders, who promised to bring fairness and equity to the masses with integrity only to be stifled by the elite class that refused to pay for it, or as reviled as Donald Trump, who to millions of others was their Bernie Sanders: a Joe Everyman, humble billionaire, who would make their jobs come back from the grip of Chinese automation or Mexican A.I., and make them great again, you know, when they had their own bathrooms and water fountains.

In fact, he exposed lingering prejudices, fear of the future and reality, and deeply divided America, reducing it to a punchline for many, a laughing stock these four years. Now the guy that loved to yell, “you’re fired!” has been fired himself, and it remains to be seen what he’ll do for the rest of his life. He might be good at selling insurance, or maybe he’ll spend it in jail for the many crimes of which he’s accused, but I hope he won’t get to be a leader again. In his absence, many feel elation and a heavy weight being removed — — the “I can’t breathe” movement was not just about police brutality but the brutality of government, where many groups from BIPOC to LGBTQ, immigrants, and even artists felt unsafe from day to day and squirmed in anxiety for years wondering every day what tweet could send the sky falling around them and shatter all sense of safety.

Today feels different, to millions of folks, and to me, watching VP-elect Kamilla Harris take the stage and say, “I am the first woman to be Vice President of America, the first black woman, the first Asian woman, but I will not be the last,” and little girls around the world watch and know that anything is possible. Black woman, she said, are often overlooked for all their work and all they do, but today they are recognized as ending an administration of hate and fear and ushering in a new administration that says it’s “time to heal.” We will never forget, and we will use this momentum to stop COVID, to return to the Paris accord and work to prevent climate catastrophe, to remain in the WHO, because we recognize with pandemics and public health that humans are only as strong as the weakest link and the big and powerful nations must support the growing, poor, or developing ones.

I say that Virtue is more valuable than wealth to the same degree that eyes are more valuable than fingernails. — Epictetus (Fragment)

Trump was not entirely evil, as a man, and watching a picture of him, surprised, and bewildered, near tears as he contemplated the unthinkable: that he is what he hates most, a loser, and that he is leaping towards irrelevance — — I felt empathy and almost sadness for him. That said, he was a deeply selfish man. President Trump was an uncommonly divisive and cruel, horrible leader, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his people, separating children from families and caging them at the border, and making hate and racism in social situations seem not just acceptable, but virtuous.

I think Trump is what happens, what we all could be, when we grow up with family money, don’t have to work hard for our success, and instead manage to dodge the sacrifices and hardships of life while pursuing our own hedonistic joy until we become craven, greedy, and creepy predators. Perhaps that is why he’s so repulsive to me, to many of us, because we can see how a life of excess and without responsibility will lead to that result. His America, his world, was a scary place, but the one now, the post-Trumpian world, is one of cautious optimism again, where everything seems possible. If we work together, a new, better, solar punk world where we unite to solve our problems and tackle our time’s serious issues seems not only possible but inevitable. We must not strive to return to the Obama-Biden years’ flawed normalcy but use this launching point to truly address what COVID has made startlingly clear: the deep divisions between us, the need for systemic fixes, and the incredible challenges that await us in this decade. I think many of us are just excited to have ‘Sleepy Joe’ running the USA in the background, without waking up every day to some new horrible reality. It will take some time for our nerves to calm.

This week we globally race past 50 million COVID cases. The US is doing the heavy lifting with 10 million COVID cases, with about 100,000 new cases a day and 1000 deaths a day. North Dakota Republican David Andahl, who died of COVID-19 in October has won reelection to state legislature. This is the modern GOP, a party of zombies and zombie ideology. This would only accelerate for four more years likely if Trump had won another term, but hopefully, with competent governance and a science-based approach, things will be under control in a year or so. We can only see, but it’s good to hope. In the 75 or so days until Joe takes power, things can get a lot worse in the world. I feel lucky to be in China, but I hope to see my family in Canada again soon. I hope things get better, but I’m ready for what happens. Happiness is reality minus expectations they say, so I’m ready for reality and I choose to be happy.

The soul that companies with Virtue is like an ever-flowing source. It is a pure, clear, and wholesome draught; sweet, rich, and generous of its store; that injures not, neither destroys. — Epictetus (Fragment)

Trump wasn’t entirely evil, as I look upon that picture of him tearing up as his dreams crumble about him, but he was a real devil of a guy. Bankrupt- financially, mentally, spiritually. He was intellectually bankrupt, not a reader, not curious, instead of full of ignorance that spilled onto us. He showed us every day that honesty, truth, and justice don’t matter, and we should all just look out for ourselves, our own pleasures, everyone else be damned. It was the height and worst of western individualism gone sour like lousy milk, a curdled husk of pestilence, and I think we all saw something of ourselves, left unchecked, in him. I’m glad he’s gone. The question of how to neutralize an angry Trump in exile with a large swath of angry voters and how to avoid another populist strong man rising up again are questions for tomorrow.

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one. — Marcus Aurelius (Meditations — Book X, 167 ACE)

Joe is no angel, but what he seems to offer us now is virtuous: empathy when we are suffering, kind words when we need them, and unity when we feel divided and alone. He is willing to do the work to roll up his sleeves and serve as an example, showing us, in each of our homes, what a good leader can do, and how we can all strive to be better people. Sacrifice is good, helping others is good, resisting your temptations to do what is best for the many is a goodness. It resonates deeply with me.

The good or ill of a man lies within his own will. — Epictetus (Discourses — Book I, 108)

I battle with my own temptations, with my own vices, addictions, evils, and sins. I get tired of the good work and want to run away and eat cheesecake and drink whiskey and smoke cigars on a Thai beach as the sun comes up, and that’s ok too. It’s life’s pleasures after all, but the balance of living is what we all strive, to help each other, to help our future selves, and that’s what I am working on, to be the kindest I have ever been to me I am not yet; to give him a strong body, mind, a fortune to retire with rather than a bag of debts and sea of debtors, in many ways, this striving to be kind to my future self has been my life’s work, my life’s journey. It’s been a journey through hell and back, but a journey all the same of peace.

One ought to seek out Virtue for its own sake, without being influenced by fear or hope, or by any external influence. Moreover, that in that does happiness consist. — Zeno of Citium (Quoted by Diogenes Laërtius in The Lives: Book 7)

If life doesn’t really matter if being rich and famous mean nothing that endures, then I choose to be peaceful, happy, and good because it resonates through me and is a kindness to my wife, my parents, my family, my friends, the thousands of students that have looked up to me, and all of those who I’ve made an impression on. Being good does not mean being perfect, just pulling back from the devil’s of our darkest impulses and make us content to seek solace in the winks of our better angels. Thank you, Joe. I already feel like a better man today.

“We stand again at an inflection point. We have the opportunity to defeat despair and to build a nation of prosperity and purpose. We can do it. I know we can. I’ve long talked about the battle for the soul of America. We must restore the soul of America. Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses. It is time for our better angels to prevail.” — President-Elect Joe Biden, 46th president of the United States of America in his acceptance speech November 8, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.

As I watch millions dancing in the street, hugging, kissing and cheering that Trump has been defeated the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Yes, he was defeated, yes it was a good day for truth and justice and virtue, but please go back to your home and stop spreading the pandemic.

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