Unmasked America: How Showing Concern for Others Became a Political Statement

“Who’s that masked man, mama?”
“Someone who cares about other people, sweetheart.”

Americans in 2020 remind me of teenagers:

No matter the issue, how it’s framed, where logic comes in, or what consequences are attached, there’s always an argument. A debate. The foisting of opinions, drawing of lines, asserting of protests and presumptions. Of course, Americans have always been like this (think Salem witch trials or the movie Lincoln). Certainly since the Internet allowed us to be privy to and partake of everyone’s every thought this reality has been made evermore clear. But in the terrifying age of COVID, when matters are squarely focused on very real possibilities of sickness and death, the caustic noise of debate feels deflective and ill-advised. Especially with over 80,000 dead and numbers continuing to rise; despite disinformation, presidential fairy tales, and hopeful thinking.

Are we “all in this together,” as TV ads and inspirational messages insist?

Given the hyperbolically-armed lockdown protesters, privileged hysteria from beach-lovers denied their “fun in the sun,” overflowing NYC parks even in that COVID hotspot, and the hoots of restaurant diners defying distancing measures to make a point and grab a sandwich, I’d say we are not.

Though, were we ever?

We seemed to be at first, when fear and deep knowledge deficit had us vulnerable, eager for information and instruction. We stayed glued to TV news, social media, the endless articles and videos explaining the circumstances, scaring us straight with previously unfathomable death predictions and admonishments to stay home for our very survival. It felt like a mashup of World War ZInvasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Birds, and we were terrified, confused, and compliant… until the inevitable happened.

Politics creeped in.

As it always does. As it so vociferously does during this unfortunate time of Trump.

The predictable polarization and agenda-pushing of deeply divided partisans then took over what should have been a unified response (think post-9/11 solidarity or Brits during the blitzkrieg), and turned it into a counter-productive melee that, most destructively, dismissed true experts in lieu of political chest-pounding. In the midst of expertise and science-driven guidance and direction, and at the behest and lead of the current president, sensible, cohesive “pandemic management” got sideswiped, ambushed, co-opted and bushwhacked by conspiracy-theorists, right-wing propagandists, Republican enablers and naysayers, and an exceedingly narcissistic and desperate president most concerned about his polling, his pocketbook, and his chances of re-election (as has been the case since 1.20.17).

Which meant that every fact, every truth, every wise recommendation or life-saving precaution was contradicted or dismissed by Fox News and their braying bevy of sneering, glinty-eyed disinformers hellbent on driving the message that all this caretaking, distancing, and quarantining was just the pussified prescription of idiots who bought into hoax and hyperbole. “If you believe in freedom and the American way, people, you’ll strap on your bazooka, get out there in your red hat and unmasked face, and lockstep into any building or American street you wish, COVID be damned!”

And that message was embraced: science and medicine, compassion and empathy, protection of and concern for fellow humans, particularly medical personnel risking their lives to save those of others’, all became LESS IMPORTANT than politics and partisan arrogance. Taking their cues from an increasingly erratic, dishonest, and inept president, the great divide between red/blue factions became strangely emblemized by those who cared enough to wear a mask and those who didn’t, right on up to the Oval Office.

Which is insane.

Because COVID-19 isn’t discriminatory. It doesn’t care if you’re a #MAGA supporter or a “Bernie bro,” Adam Schiff or Rand Paul, Barack Obama or Donald Trump. It makes no distinction between the viewers of Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity, or those devoted to Rachel, Chris, and Lawrence. It’s prepared to infect in a restaurant, at the beach, around your dining table, or in the White House. Its viral mandate is to give not one hoot about the tanking economy, your failing business, the stock market, or cancellation of an entire season on Broadway. It’s hearty, indefatigable, and determined to follow its evolutionary imperative like a terminator with spikes, and no amount of partisan-driven bluster and braggadocio will diminish its ability to infect you and/or use you as a carrier capable of infecting others.

We’re certainly all in that together, political affiliation notwithstanding.

So why wouldn’t you wear a mask? Why wouldn’t you hedge your bets of infection, tip the scale towards protection, do what you could to help mitigate transmission of this deadly virus in every way available? What possible rationale defends the act of gathering in large groups with no masks and little space in-between when science tells you how foolhardy that is? Even if you’re convinced of your own imperviousness, how can you justify even the possibility of contributing to another person’s illness or even death?

How does being Republican, a right-wing conservative, or a follower of Donald Trump protect you from all the vulnerabilities endemic to every human being? It doesn’t. It simply deludes you into thinking it does, and that is very dangerous, for you, and for those you come near.

Even if predictions turn out to be exaggerated, even if cases drop faster than expected, even if the virus “disappears without a vaccine” (as Trump so blithely disinforms), it’s here now, it’s infecting now, it’s killing now, and if 80,000+ deaths in three months isn’t sobering to you, enough to compel you to take the simplest of mitigating actions, I’d check both your pulse and soul.

A guy who disagrees with me tweeted today that, “It is 100% about fear. We are all capable of assessing our own level of personal risk and acting accordingly. If you are afraid then you stay home where, ironically, most COVID patients are getting sick.”

He was referencing an article about, specifically, new hospitalizations in NYC, while conveniently leaving out the fact that catching COVID at home means you or someone in the family pod brought the virus in from the outside. I also countered that it’s not “fear” driving smart people to stick to precautions; it’s a healthy dose of self-preservation and an abiding sense of compassion and concern for others you might asymptomatically infect, which is why, particularly, masking is important:

“A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important in the event that someone is infected but does not have symptoms. A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people must go into public settings (grocery stores, for example).” CDC FAQs

Sometimes it’s hard to protect people from themselves.

I can only hope that smarter, more caring people refuse to be bullied, insulted, or made to feel small for being smart. We do have to figure out how to bring the economy back to life, but both business owners and other patrons have to look past frustrations, financial concerns, and political posturing to realize that the majority of Americans remain worried that restrictions lifted too early will have a deleterious effect moving forward, and that has to be recognized.

It means the flouters are outnumbered. It means good business owners must explore how to open safely enough to actually bring the majority back. It means the noise and protests and tantrumming of right-wing foot-stompers are drowned out by the silence of those who prioritize safety and health, theirs and others.

It means, people, please wear a damn mask.

Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Unsplash


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

COVID Confessions: No, I’m NOT Writing Up a Storm

“You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”
~ Golda Meir

I’m in the ring, sister. ~ LDW

After almost two months, I think it’s safe to say that people are dealing with the COVID pandemic in as wide a range of unique and individual ways as can be imagined, from charming Tik Toks and Zoom musicals, to cynical beach hooligans, and gun-toting right-wingers co-opting Rosa Parks to defend their hissy-fitting. Humans, being both resilient and ridiculous, don’t disappoint in their extremes. Add to that a phenomenally lunatic president, wildly diverse social media, and daily onslaughts of unprecedentedly hideous news, and you can understand why we’ve all gotten twitchy.

Not known to be a curmudgeon, generally optimistic despite existential conundrums, and a lifelong self-generator of creative projects and worthwhile activities, I have nonetheless found myself deeply unimpressive during this unprecedented moment. I’ve done essentially nothing. Not a thing. I haven’t deep-cleaned the house, leapt into any heretofore ignored projects, updated my photography website, or converted those C-videos to digital. There’s been no participation in clever sing-alongs, uplifting kitchen choreography, or sweet conversations with babies via FaceTime. I’ve managed a few conference calls and Zoom gatherings, but my latest novel is being ignored, I’ve barely written a journalistic word; frankly, I’m not even sure I’ll get through this article.

Maybe it’s the fact that as, predominantly, a writer, I was already grooved into the routine of endless days at home working alone on my computer bereft of outside chatter and collegial interaction, and had, at the beginning of 2020, looked forward to branching out for the sake of my sanity.

Maybe it’s because earlier, before the new year, we’d had a medical event in our family circle that demanded time and attention over a period of several months, which, once largely concluded, left me relishing the thought of focusing outward, to hopefully rustle up some new collaborative adventures of the creative and social kind.

Maybe it’s the reality that everything seen, heard, or felt through the lens of a deadly global pandemic and its looming, limiting message of detachment and danger does not, in spite of Ms. Meir’s robust suggestion, leave me feeling ready to rumble, “sparringly” or otherwise. It actually leaves me less and less willing to leave the house. It leaves me concerned about everyone. It leaves me… meh.

Now, I know this is not exactly uplifting, me chronicling my meh-ness, and I know people need and want encouragement, positive messages, and delightful reminders of hearty humanity during this cataclysmic moment. And there are certainly gazillions of those kinds of stories, articles, and videos out there, good stuff, some great stuff, all very informative, helpful, and inspiring.

But let’s face it: on the flip side of all that fierce can-do spirit there’s the other reality: the one that acknowledges that this situation basically sucks, all of it, and once past the deepest, darkest agonies of sickness, pain, and death, once beyond the essential people working in the medical, health, food, and welfare industries, there’s… the rest of us. The regular, less essential, folk, huddled at home trying to figure it out, trying to find where the lines are drawn, where we lean in or lean out. Where we set boundaries, where we relax and breathe, where it’s safe to breathe, with or without a mask. The markers move every day, sometimes several times a day, and we have no real idea when it will end or where we go from here.

That’s honestly daunting. We get to feel daunted by that. I feel daunted by that. I have my cheerful moments, but, to be honest, I don’t particularly want to dance or do video concerts. I want to hug my son, perform live with my band, audition for a play, have a dinner party. I want to walk on the beach, organize a political fundraiser, visit my mother, and join a mentor group. I want to feel like myself again, a strong, resilient person who doesn’t slam into dread because I forgot and impulsively hugged my neighbor, or got too close to a store clerk, or heard my husband cough. Frankly, I’m slightly confused about my state of being at the moment, it being somewhat distant from the one  that existed before this event, the one that was creatively indomitable and relentlessly dogged. She’s on a break.

In fact, when I Facebook-posted about an award my last novel won recently, a dear friend responded with congratulations, adding, “I bet you’re writing up a storm right now!”, and though I hated to burst her jolly perception of me by telling her the truth, no… I wasn’t. No storms here. Not even a puddle. In fact, my lack of artistic expression leaves me befuddled. But here’s some pandemic rationale for it all:

As an author of contemporary fiction with a manuscript-in-progress that takes place in the here and now, I am suddenly left to either include the earth-shattering reality of COVID (where it has no place), or decide to… what? Put the story in an earlier year? Not mention COVID at all (strange, given its pervasive impact on everyone, everywhere)? Touch on it but don’t make it a part of the main plot (again, odd, since it literally is the main plot of everything at the moment)? I have no idea, yet, where to go with this, no idea what the publishing industry will look like or want once we come out of hiding; no idea what I’ll feel compelled to say, tell, write, or share once there’s more to think about than relentlessly washing my hands or figuring out how to speed-walk with a mask.

Hard to “write up a storm” under those circumstances, and those are my circumstances.

But even as I confess to all this atypical cantankery, I must follow with the various conclusions I’ve drawn, at least as of now, six+ weeks in and no end in sight:

I won’t pretend. I won’t force myself into good cheer by virtue of virtual peer pressure. I’ll embrace happiness when it comes organically, encourage it as a matter of practice, but allow myself the sadness, disappointment, anger, restlessness, and fear that trickles in between. I’ll grant myself permission to mourn the opportunities, income, and career advances I have personally lost, despite the fact that none are on a par with dying or losing someone beloved. I’ll sleep later than usual, walk my five miles a day because I must, and continue our socially-distant family gatherings on the front lawn because without them my heart will break. I’ll try not to gain weight, I’ll do my best to cheer others, and promise I’ll refrain from hugging you. even on your birthday.

I don’t think I’m alone in this negotiation. I’ve heard from many of you, those of you left facing that next layer, the one beyond the novelty of Zoom holidays, video diaries, and the relaxation of “business sweats.” The layer that realizes it’s been over six weeks, and a quarrel is blooming between isolation exhaustion and fear of going out. The layer that merges various harmonics of depression, anxiety, sadness, and fear about what we’ve lost, what lies ahead, what life will look like in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

We each get to process this communal, devastating, universal experience however we can, however we do, however we must. We get to mourn, grieve, dance, write, veg, create, clean, work, sleep, inspire, save lives, do nothing, laugh, cry, scream, or stare at a wall. It’s all valid. It all works. We’re all writing this unknown story together, and until we can envision the ending, until we know where the various and ever-changing plot points will take us, we are free to experiment and experience in real time, in real life, with real emotions… though responsibly, of course, and with no harm to others.

I cut my own hair the other day. My husband says it looks good. That’s something. And I got to the end of this article. Progress.

Stay well.

Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Pandemic Protocol: Walking When the Only Distance That Matters is Six Feet

You’d think it was a given, walking. We’ve all been doing it for decades, most can manage it while chewing gum, and certainly at this time of “permission to be lazy” (aka: “shelter at home”), anyone getting out and walking should be applauded, not critiqued.

But it seems, like so many other things these days, that lives — and frayed nerves — depend on how we do things, even the most basic things, so maybe a little “pandemic protocol” when it comes to our last allowed outdoor activity might be helpful.

So… I’ve been out; walking, getting sun, breathing air, all necessary for my mental and physical health, and always with utmost adherence to social distancing mandates. For weeks I was accessing various walking paths in my neighborhood, a favorite being one that winds down to and through my local beach with a wide, meandering bike/walk path that allows for miles of hearty, scenic outdoor activity. Every time I’ve availed myself of it, I made note that people were vigilant about observing sufficient spacing, cyclists flew by without incident, and those on the beach were set with well over six feet in between. The largest “groups” I saw were small family units of three or four on a blanket, or a couple walking together on the path. No “Florida at Spring Break” mayhem here, so I felt confident we were doing it right.

Not so much.

It turns out my neighborhood was, perhaps, an anomaly; photographs popped up on various media depicting other Los Angeles beaches and trails where excessive crowds were defying social distancing orders, congregating shoulder-to-shoulder, on both beaches and mountain trails, with impunity. Either they hadn’t gotten the memo or they were feeling defiant, but Mayor Eric Garcetti was having none of it. In short order, all LA county beaches, bike paths, multi-use trails and natural areas were closed to the public, with parking lots chained and official personnel on hand to suggest we move along.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

What this has meant to my outdoor exercise regimen, and that of many others, is the relegation, en masse, of all walkers to local neighborhood streets and smaller paths accessible by foot. Which means LOTS more people are now traversing where few had been prior, exhibiting a panoply of walking behaviors that swing from dutiful and friendly to aggressively uncooperative, leading me to realize, particularly after hearing from others who’ve had similar experiences in the wilds of city streets and sidewalks, that a “Pandemic Protocol for Public Walking” may be necessary.

Main rule? MOVE OVER! That’s pretty much it… every rude, thoughtless, health-endangering behavior on a public walkway comes down to that. But let’s throw out some specifics for the sake of discussion:

1. GET IN YOUR LANE — I’m by myself, tucked over on the right-hand side of the sidewalk; you’re coming toward me, but, for some reason, you’re more in the middle. As we approach, I look at you, you look at me, but you don’t move to your right. RULE? GET IN YOUR LANE! All the way to your right; ALL THE WAY. Even that, depending on sidewalk width, may not give us the prescribed six feet, but if it’s the best we got, take it. Don’t make me have to tromp into the brush along the sidewalk to give us space. Don’t make me have to ask you to move. It’s obvious. Get in your lane. Thank you.

2. STAY IN YOUR LANE — This may seem redundant, but it has specificity to it. I’m behind you, tucked on the right once again; you’re walking slower than me, so as I approach I’m going to use a passing maneuver. But just as I position my trajectory to do that, you start wandering to your left, blocking me. I slow down, assess whether I can now pass you on the right; just as I’m about to make that move, you ever-so-slowly wander back to your original position, causing me to screech to a halt until you’re back in place. RULE? STAY IN YOUR LANE. Realize others may walk at a different, faster pace and, given the need to not bump shoulders or brush hips, you’ll do everyone a favor by keeping to the right.

3. THE SINGLE FILE RULE — You’re with your Mom, your friend, your significant other; someone you’re close enough to, or live with, that you’re unconcerned about prescribed distances. It’s a lovely day, you’re walking abreast of each other, deep in conversation, when here I come, to your left, on my right, in my lane… but you two (or three) are taking up all the lanes in your approach. What to do? (Does it really need to be said?) MOVE INTO A SINGLE FILE. Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t make me stop. You see me, you know I’m headed your way; you know there’s no room (or not enough) for me to get by, so be a walking mensch and preemptively move behind each other in a single file. I promise it’ll only be a few seconds before I’m past, and then you can go happily arm-in-arm again.

4. DOG-WALKERS: LEASH & CLEAR THE PATH — I’ve love dogs, I’ve owned dogs, I know basic dog-walking drills, the slow, sniffing, stop-every-three-feet rhythm of a curious dog thrilled to be outside and moving. On those wider, wilder nature paths we used to be able to traverse in pre-pandemic days, dogs were often off-leash, gamboling freely and without incident. Now? We’re all stuck on the same neighborhood streets and short local paths, so dogs, like humans, have to step it up. Of course, it’s on the humans to make that happen. RULE: Leashes without question. And if your dog is slowly sniffing in my lane while you stand in yours, CLEAR THE PATH. Move Fido out of my way so I don’t have to stop or walk around you, particularly if, together, you’re taking up the whole sidewalk. Thank you. Your dog is really cute.

5. WORKING ON SIDEWALKS & PATHS? CLEAR! — I had this happen the other day: I was coming up a path from town, up to my neighborhood, and there were two men taking pictures of erosion repairs being done on the adjacent hillside. I could see them from a distance, it’s a narrow path, but no problem; they’ll move. They didn’t move. These two large men with cameras continued taking photographs, both standing so that I could not possibly get by without either climbing up the hillside or down into the scrub on my left. They looked at me without reaction and kept shooting as I walked closer. Despite proximity, and in a game of “social distancing chicken,” I continued on, wondering if I was ultimately going to have to holler “MOVE” or actually shove past them, when finally the one in my lane slowly moved over. Slowly. As if I were inconveniencing him. I wasn’t. It took me all of a second to move past. I had an impulse to say something nasty. I didn’t. But don’t do that. We’re all in this together, as we’re so constantly reminded. Be courteous, be rational; don’t make whatever rare interactions we have with our fellow humans these days any more curmudgeonly than need to be. We are the world.

6. GROUPS — This one’s easy: NO GROUPS. “Groups” shouldn’t be walking on any paths, playing any basketball; kicking around soccer balls, clotting in farmers’ markets, traversing any trails or sidewalks. There should be NO “groups” out and about anywhere. None. At all. ANYWHERE. Not until this plague is over. So please, groups, be wise; breaking up is not hard to do. It’s lifesaving. Make it happen. And if you’re too self-focused to do that, at least have the courtesy to steer clear of all other humans who are observing social distancing. This isn’t A Clockwork Orange. Get off the sidewalks and maraud elsewhere please.

There are probably others suggestions that apply, but these six are the most obvious. You have some to add, leave them in comments… I’d like to hear them. I promise I will abide and hope you will too.

Now that beaches and trails have been shuttered, I’d hate to see sidewalks and neighborhood paths fall to that same fate for lack of social distancing. This pandemic will be with us for months (sigh), and our sustained ability to get out and walk in the exceptionally clean air is essential. Let’s please honor all the protocols that will keep us healthy and keep the outdoors up and running. Or walking, as it were.

Besides, even without a pandemic, don’t you think every one of these makes good common sense?

Photograph: Wind Walking by LDW


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.