Spring Zombies, Pizza, and Unenlightenments

It’s fascinating how quickly we adapt to new realities. 

This morning I went to the grocery store, an act which now requires donning a mask and latex gloves and waiting in a line that stretches out the door, everyone six feet apart. Only 25 customers are permitted inside at a time. Once inside, a young fellow takes my body temperature remotely with a gun-like thermometer to determine if I have a fever. 

At least the frozen pizza includes a Greek god…

Plastic veils are everywhere, little red Xs mark the floor every six feet along with unidirectional arrows. The masks I see have evolved into designer patterns—the cop behind me wears a Spider-Man mask. Nearly everyone I meet is overtly courteous. People are eager to make eye contact. To chat. To wish each other safety. I can hear smiles behind masks. A woman in the dairy aisle comments on my Pac-Man T-shirt, telling me that her first date with the man who would become her husband included a visit to Chuck E. Cheese where the two of them bonded over the famously addictive classic. 

Back home, it’s begun to lightly rain. A FedEx truck pulls down my driveway. I meet the driver with about 20 feet between us. He sets the box down. “How are you holding up?” I ask. He laughs and says, “As best as I can. How about you?” And despite the rain, we chat for several minutes, human to human. He’s been playing Xbox on his off-hours. I recommend Red Dead Redemption 2. “You even get to make deliveries,” I tell him, “on a one-horsepower Mustang!” and this gets a deep laugh. We both agree that what we’re looking to most when this is over is the ability to sit down in a restaurant and eat a burger. We’ve heard that some restaurants in Europe have reopened… with customer tables cordoned from each other by floor-to-ceiling plastic veils.

Back inside, friends are hosting virtual group movie-watching and remote roleplaying sessions. There are virtual weddings on the news. A teacher friend of mine has a virtual classroom now.

Later as I’m taking out the garbage, a neighbor I can barely see behind the trees bordering my property calls out to me. “Can you believe this?” he asks. “It snowed yesterday, we had thunderstorms today, and it’s supposed to be warm and sunny tomorrow. Stay safe, okay?”

Hope everyone is staying safe and okay today.

*


I’ve been commissioned to write a zombie story, which has been keeping me busy during this Boccaccio-style lockdown. Many of my writer friends are reporting varying levels of productivity; for me, my productivity has absolutely gone down. The pandemic has screwed with a lot of my own self-care strategies: the gym, the park, visiting friends and family, going to museums. While that new reality forces one to be creative, it’s been a challenge achieving the right balance again. I wrote previously about how if you want to write, you need to make the time to do it. That’s the most important step, but it’s not the only one. Research is also essential. So is the act of counterbalancing with things that are not writing. That’s been a real challenge lately. 


*

Right before the pandemic hit the States, I decided to give indoor skydiving a shot. This included a few standard “flights”, and one VR-empowered flight in which I stepped through the recorded eyes of a wingsuit jumper (I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kathryn Bigelow’s criminally underrated 1997 film Strange Days).

“It has the same basic rules, rules like gravity. What you must learn is that these rules are no different than the rules of a computer system. Some of them can be bent. Others can be broken.”

There’s a Battle School quality to it, when one isn’t hopelessly succumbing to the urge to reenact Point Break, Willy Wonka, and the zero-g fight from Inception. The VR “dive” was my least favorite, partly because my body’s movements weren’t matching up with those of the recording. Nonetheless, it did convince me that VR is what it would take for me to enjoy exercise bikes (currently my least favorite activity at the gym). Pedaling across the moon, the Great Wall, or Jurassic Park would be infinitely preferable to the stationary hamster wheel. Of course, this does skate close to the ugly world in my story “By the Moon Unblessed”, as well as to the idea that we’re already living in a simulation.

Then again, I just saw a trailer for a movie adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight… and I just learned that Henry Rollins will be voicing Tri-Klops in the upcoming He-Man reboot. So the chances that we are in a simulation went up ten percent.

*

Some utterly unexpected news today: a fan alerted me to the fact that my dieselpunk story “Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky” in Rhonda Parrish’s Grimm, Grit and Gasoline anthology got a mention on tvtropes.org?!? The trope was “fire-forged friends” and the entry reads:

“Averted in Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky by Brian Trent. The protagonist gets shot In the Back by a compatriot during World War II. When he mentions this trope she just sneers, ‘We’ve known each other a goddam week. You set a low bar for friendship.”

*

Unfortunately, we’re still living in the Unenlightenment.

As I write this, the latest conspiracy theorist nonsense video, in the repulsive tradition of “Loose Change” from back in the day, is making the rounds among the gullible and desperate. As my friend Doctor Steven Novella writes, “Conspiracy thinking can be dangerous on many levels. It creates an alternate view of reality, one insulated from facts and refutation.”

This is how you get people to deny the Holocaust. This is how you convince people to harass the grieving parents of dead children at Sandy Hook under the guise of “just asking questions”. This is how in the year 2020 we find people who believe the Earth is a flat disk, or that 5G towers create the coronavirus, or why last month a train conductor tried crashing his train into a hospital ship that he believed was a “deep state” hoax.

The conceit that “all opinions are equal” has been one of the most damaging aspects of prevailing culture. Some of this is fueled by the media’s fetish for giving “equal time” to perspectives that aren’t equal in factual weight. Some owes to poor social media hygiene on our part: thoughtless meme-sharing, posting (and commenting on) articles we haven’t ourselves read and vetted, and insulating ourselves in safe bubbles of confirmation bias. No one side of the political spectrum has the monopoly on conspiratorial thinking or lynch mob mentalities, either– far from it. Indeed our hyper-tribalism is an immense part of the problem, with entire industries (and professional astroturfing troll farms) which thrive on keeping us that way.

We need a new cultural and personal dedication to reality. Facts, evidence-based reasoning, and the light of science to get us out of this cultural dark age. Misinformation is now fueling a body count.

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