From The New Yorker (May 4, 2020)
From The New Yorker (May 4, 2020)
When I tune into my incessant brain noise that, during this period of the Atila virus, has been even more virulent than usual, I find that some bits are of interest as they buzz by. I have come to see, though, that, if I spend too much time alone and if I have no outlet for this constant racket in my head, I will eventually become, in a word, nuts.
I have decided, then, to present you with a snapshot of how some of these jagged thought fragments, often unremembered just seconds after I notice them, can spill into the material world where I am living out my days. I do this in the hope that, by recording a little of what I notice, I will be spared from acting upon at least one or two of my less noble impulses. This desire to protect myself from myself first emerged when I was very young and had no way of expressing bewildering emotion other than by crying for hours on end. When I was a little older, though, I found that writing helped me to escape my darker sides, at least somewhat. At that time, finding myself isolated inside a home with two raging lunatics who were much stronger, louder, and larger than I was, I began to express my feelings and thoughts by writing them into poems and short stories of grief, fortitude, and escape.
So, fearful thoughts, of which there have been an awful lot: Although I have been terribly afraid of this virus, I only am just becoming aware of how debilitating the fear can be by seeing how it manifests in the mundanity of my daily life. For one, I have become increasingly absent-minded. Yesterday, for instance, I put my eyeglasses in the refrigerator and then spent an inordinate amount of time searching for them. This included a trip down the elevator to my car in the garage, for which I had suited up with personal protective equipment, such as it is (consisting as it does of one overstretched paper mask, which I have used for five weeks now, and a pair of gapingly porous exfoliating gloves for the shower, which were the only gloves I could find at the store). Eventually I found my glasses — but only when I next went to the fridge for some food.
Then today, as I was removing clothes from the dryer, I saw that I had added an individual packet of liquid detergent (instead of a dryer sheet) to the clean, sopping load. Fortunately, the liquid remained inside the tidy packet while the clothes went through their 45-minute, hot-air tumble, though it had become quite sudsy and appeared to have morphed into another chemical mixture altogether.
Afraid of going out to buy food, I have had to become more efficient at shopping for a pandemic. The first week I ate most of the food I bought within a day or so (and was especially focused on inhaling, pretty much right away, the special treats I brought home) — after which I berated myself for being weak and without will. Since I was slow to learn my lesson, the second week was a repeat of week one, and almost immediately I had to venture out shopping again. The third week I thought that, to stretch meals, I would cook up batches of things at the urging of some cruel inner voice that told me I was lazy and entitled for buying expensive, pre-packaged meals, soups, and salads at Whole Foods. Around mid-week that week, I made a rice, chard, and ground turkey dish that was truly inedible, and I literally threw the entire revolting thing into the garbage. Within a few days, I had to venture out shopping again. You can imagine the self-judgment that followed me.
During week four, I saw that I had been learning from my missteps. I bought enough pre-made meals, soups, and salads to last quite a few days because, honestly, I realized from my previous fiasco that I was not going to be motivated to cook healthful, time-consuming meals for just one excessively frightened soul, not when thousands upon thousands, near and far, were deathly sick and dying. No. It would be enough for me simply to nourish my body, I thought. Putting things away in the refrigerator, I mentally decided what I would eat on a given day, and I told myself that, for my health and for the health of those around me, I would try to stick to that plan so I would not need to go to the market again for a while. The first day of the shopping, I ate the peanut butter cookie I bought. It was delicious. I saved the chocolate chip cookie for the day after the shopping. Progress.
A few words about fear and toilet paper::I have been obsessed with toilet paper since the outbreak began in this country — not having enough, or any, of it and, when I have some, worried that I will run out of it all too quickly. Prior to the virus crisis, I had gotten very good at finding and stocking up on the softest and longest-lasting rolls I could find because, more often than not, manufacturers have been in the business of selling the least amount of toilet paper possible per roll for the most amount of money they could fetch. Now, grocery stores near me either have none on their shelves or receive piddling daily shipments that are sold by 8:00 am. Some days ago I managed to show up bright and early at the one market near me that gets and guards its supply by placing it at the front of the store, where hoarders and other cheaters can be closely watched. I bought one package, all that was allowed per customer, and was gleeful about the 16 rolls I was certain would last me for a good long time. Not to be too explicit, but to make a point about capitalistic greed, I have been going through about one roll a day. If I am especially careful and thrifty, I can probably make it last for about two days.
In desperation, I went on Amazon to buy in bulk. There wasn’t much available, although businesses that sell toilet tissue to large-scale, industrial operations are now selling giant-sized toilet paper rolls to individual consumers because many of their customers currently have few, if any, employees in need of bathroom breaks. I could have bought a package of four rolls, which, when placed side by side, would likely have taken up the width of a double bed. I opted, instead, for a package of 10 rolls, which, judging by the marketing photo, seemed normal-sized. As you probably know, during the pandemic Amazon is no longer shipping things out at the speed of light, but my order was shipped fairly quickly because it is an essential item. Hopefully, it will arrive tomorrow, at which point I will have to make a mad dash to wherever DHL has deposited it.
Every day since placing my order, I have worried about whether it would be delivered to the secure, locked location in the apartment community in which I live, where it stands less of a chance of being stolen than if the delivery person decides to drop it, alone and unprotected, outside my large building or outside the shuttered leasing office. (I have imagined that the words “TOILET PAPER” would be stamped neonically across the entire surface of the package.)
In any event, the order is likely to be stolen quickly by others even more fearful than I am — that is, if I don’t get to it first. So I waste time wandering around in my brain, trying to plot the best strategy I can think up to ensure I get my hands on what has become in these times one- or two-ply gold.
It is not often that I reprint an article from elsewhere, but I think this Washington Post opinion piece by Jennifer Senior is such an intelligent, insightful, honest, and necessary addition to the public discourse about Donald Trump that I thought you would want to read, and share, it. I think you’ll also see how beautifully written it is — and how blistering.
Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats (emphasis mine). Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.
Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.
But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.
Let’s start with the basics. First: Narcissistic personalities like Trump harbor skyscraping delusions about their own capabilities. They exaggerate their accomplishments, focus obsessively on projecting power, and wish desperately to win.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump says we’ve got plenty of tests available, when we don’t. He declares that Google is building a comprehensive drive-thru testing website, when it isn’t. He sends a Navy hospital ship to New York and it proves little more than an excuse for a campaign commercial, arriving and sitting almost empty in the Hudson. A New York hospital executive calls it a joke.
Second: The grandiosity of narcissistic personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong.
What that means, during this pandemic: Narcissistic leaders never have, as Trump likes to say, the best people. They have galleries of sycophants. With the exceptions of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Trump has surrounded himself with a Z-team of dangerously inexperienced toadies and flunkies — the bargain-bin rejects from Filene’s Basement — at a time when we require the brightest and most imaginative minds in the country.
Faced with a historic public health crisis, Trump could have assembled a first-rate company of disaster preparedness experts. Instead he gave the job to his son-in-law, a man-child of breathtaking vapidity. Faced with a historic economic crisis, Trump could have assembled a team of Nobel-prize winning economists or previous treasury secretaries. Instead he talks to Larry Kudlow, a former CNBC host.
Meanwhile, Fauci and Birx measure every word they say like old-time apothecaries, hoping not to humiliate the narcissist — never humiliate a narcissist — while discreetly correcting his false hopes and falsehoods. They are desperately attempting to create a safe space for our president, when the president should be creating a safer nation for all of us.
Third: Narcissistic personalities love nothing more than engineering conflict and sowing division. It destabilizes everyone, keeps them in control.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is pitting state against state for precious resources, rather than coordinating a national response. (“It’s like being on eBay,” complained Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York last week.) His White House is a petty palace of competing power centers. He picks fights with Democratic officials and members of the press, when all the public craves is comfort.
Narcissistic personalities don’t do comfort. They cannot fathom the needs of other hearts.
Fourth: Narcissistic personalities are vindictive. On a clear day, you can see their grudges forever.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is playing favorites with governors who praise him and punishing those who fail to give him the respect he believes he deserves. “If they don’t treat you right, don’t call,” he told Vice President Mike Pence.
His grudge match with New York is now especially lethal. When asked on Friday whether New York will have enough ventilators, Trump bluntly answered “No,” and then blamed the state.
And most relevant, as far as history is concerned: Narcissistic personalities are weak.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is genuinely afraid to lead. He can’t bring himself to make robust use of the Defense Production Act, because the buck would stop with him. (To this day, he insists states should be acquiring their own ventilators.) When asked about delays in testing, he said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” During Friday’s news conference, he added the tests “we inherited were broken, were obsolete,” when this form of coronavirus didn’t even exist under his predecessor.
This sounds an awful lot like one of the three sentences that Homer Simpson swears will get you through life: “It was like that when I got here.”
Most people, even the most hotheaded and difficult ones, have enough space in their souls to set aside their anger in times of crisis. Think of Rudolph Giuliani during Sept. 11. Think of Andrew Cuomo now.
But every aspect of Trump’s crisis management has been annexed by his psychopathology. As Americans die, he boasts about his television ratings. As Americans die, he crows that he’s No. 1 on Facebook, which isn’t close to true.
But it is true that all eyes are on him. He’s got a captive audience, an attention-addict’s dream come to life. It’s just that he, like all narcissistic personalities, has no clue how disgracefully — how shamefully, how deplorably — he’ll be enshrined in memory.
I think this poem is gorgeous: it fills me with such peace and hope. I especially like that he has placed “others like myself” between “plants and animals” and “ships and buildings.” I also think the semicolon, the only one in the poem, is perfectly placed, and the title is perfect, too, sitting as it does atop the poem — and reappearing as its last line.
I saw this in my Twitter feed yesterday and watched it more times than I will admit because, well, I just needed to laugh and to feel outsized joyful emotions for another being. When I went to YouTube to get the URL, I noticed that there were 12,465,938 views since January 3, 2016, which included 366K “likes.” But there were 4.5K “dislikes,” and I’m trying to figure out why. I’m typically very sensitive to anything that has even a hint of animal cruelty, but I don’t see any here. Is it that those who gave a thumbs down thought he was being teased or exploited perhaps? Or did they just not like the sound of the dog expressing himself so passionately? Or were some simply being trolls who roam the internet looking for ever more ways to be a******s? If you have any ideas, please leave a comment.