America. Land of the Free, Home of the…Incredibly Selfish?

Listening to an elected congressman, too-loose mask slipping below his nose, finger pointing, voice crackling with indignation, demand to know just when Americans can “get their liberty and freedoms back,” might have, in other circumstances, inspired a round of applause. After all, our liberties and freedoms are what make us uniquely American, for God’s sake, so any attempt to diminish, limit, or impose upon those vaunted privileges is certainly something to protest.

Of course, in this case we’re talking about ever-contrarian, “I scream before I talk” Republican congressman, Jim Jordan, whose permanently aggrieved brand of discourse has been painfully endured for years (who could forget the Benghazi hearings?), and who’s now decided that Dr. Anthony Fauci, with his prescription of precautions — masks, distancing, hand washing — designed to mitigate the already horrific death toll of COVID (nearing 600,000 Americans), is to be excoriated for the audacity of presuming Americans give a damn about each other.

When a sitting congressman frames commonsense steps to help keep each other healthy and safe as denials of our “liberties and freedoms,” you know you are in the Land of the Selfish. Jim Jordan is, apparently, a leader in that land

As we watch and listen to right wing pundits, Republican senators and representatives, conservative media, et al., take “bold” and outspoken stands against science, against logic, against any notion of “for the greater good,” I’m struck by how uniquely selfish Americans are. Maybe we always were — considering Manifest Destiny and the scourge of slavery that seems a good bet — but at this particular historical conflation of a deadly global pandemic, systemic racism, and the ongoing, never-ending, deeply disturbing epidemic of gun violence, that selfishness has come into high relief, making clear how destructive misunderstandings about the true definitions of “liberty and freedom” have become.

If you were to listen to a Republican, whether a stalwart oldie or one of the newer, more incendiary of the party, you’d believe that “liberties and freedoms” mean, “I can do, have, be, own, behave, respond, react in any way I want, regardless of impact, damage, or injury to others.” This blanket mandate extends to everything from wearing a mask during a pandemic, supporting logical gun laws, right up to everyday things like keeping your dog on a leash, or not calling the police when a Black person sits in a Starbucks.

Why are Americans so selfish? How have they twisted the notion of personal freedom into expressions of “carelessness” in its most literal definition? Societies and communities have survived over the hundreds of years of this country because of rules and laws that evolved out of need, as a response to events, reaction to problems; the understanding that a thriving whole is nurtured by the compassionate one.

What we’ve got now is a toxic brand of individualism that’s really more about entitlement mixed with hardcore self-centeredness.

According to Jim Jordan and other hissy-fitting right wingers, just the simple, self-and-other protective act of wearing a mask during a raging pandemic is his — their — “lost liberty.” Rather than frame it as a small but effective step they can participate in to help keep others safe, help the country overcome the pandemic, even help keep themselves from being infected, they’ve chosen to stamp their feet and declare such an “ask” as something oppressive, an infringement, because, dammit, that cloth on my face is just an intolerable assault on my personal liberties and freedoms!

The sheer childishness of that kind of response to a thoughtful, simple action meant to assist the “greater good” is just one small example of the great plague of American selfishness. Instead of the solidarity of, “we’re all in this together; what can we do to help our fellow Americans?”, we get a grown man waving his arms around, demanding that the renowned scientist he’s berating give him a date, a metric, dammit, for when all this foolishness will be over. Even the question is the height of stupidity, given that NO ONE can predict when this will all be over, but asking is endemic of the juvenile, tantrumming position this man and others have taken.

Meanwhile, the daily average of new COVID cases is over 70,000, but JIM JORDAN WANTS HIS LIBERTIES BACK.

I sometimes think about Great Britain in WWII, how the citizens of that country had to work together, in union, solidarity, and with great deprivation, to survive the almost-year-long Nazi “blitz,” and imagine that if Americans were asked to make such a sacrifice, Jim Jordan and the Republicans would be screeching about the oppression of blackout curtains and rationed butter. It seems whatever admirable independence is part of the American DNA has been, for far too many, subverted into a kind of corrosive civic narcissism. “What I need, want, think, demand is all that matters, damn the Nazis!” Would we have survived as well as England? I doubt it.

We see that same American egocentrism play out in the deadly, relentless gun debate, where rabid 2A zealots like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and so many others have prioritized their rights and freedoms over any discussion whatsoever that might help mitigate the over-ease of gun purchases, the lack of enforced regulations and due diligence of gun purchasers; the rethinking of a Constitutional amendment that is antiquated, misinterpreted, and couldn’t possibly have foreseen the current rash of assault weaponry and the country’s appetite to own such guns. As we’re daily met with news reports of mass shootings, domestic gun violence, suicides, gang wars, death on a massive scale, there feels to be no answers, because that egocentrism is so pervasive, so loud and threatening, so almost-violent in its pushback, that sane people looking for solutions to our gun violence epidemic are shouted down and finger-wagged much like Dr. Fauci in front of a sputtering Jim Jordan.

What is the answer? I don’t know. Well, actually, I do know: the answer is that Americans have to evolve beyond their conviction that their personal independence — “liberties and freedoms” —is rationale, justification, defense of selfishness. Just as Brits joined in solidarity to survive the deadly onslaught on their country without framing it as a loss of liberty and freedom, so can Americans do the same regarding our particular “wars.”

Of course, that would take an attitude adjustment. A reframing of “united states.” A willingness to care about, empathize with, and humanize those outside our personal circles to actually DO what’s best for the greatest good. Are Americans capable of that at this moment in time?

As I watch Jim Jordan haranguing Fauci, as I read Boebert’s and Greene’s toxic pro-gun tweets, as I note the racism and bigotry insinuated in our systems, as I witness continued refusal to take necessary steps to stymie the gun wars, I fear that Americans of the 21st century have lost their ability, their will, their compassion to act in global, national, and personal solidarity to make the world a safer, more just, more functional place for all people.

Are we really going to let that be our American identity? I hope not. My liberties and freedoms are not threatened by wearing a mask. By pushing for better gun laws. By considering equity as essential. In fact, my ability to participate in and contribute to those goals IS what makes me a good American.

Think about that, Jim Jordan.

Photo of Jim Jordan by Gage Skidmore @ Creative Commons


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.