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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Thursday 18 June 2020

What Is Even Happening Right Now?

So, astute readers will have noticed that I've been completely silent since February. Where'd I go for three months? This is going to be rambling and less focused than my usual posts, but perhaps my readers will forgive it.

Content warning: pet death, current events

Well...frankly, I haven't been able to figure out how to write about what's been going on. Despite years of editing and writing science fiction, including stories about or related to pandemics, actually enduring one myself was not something I seriously considered. I mean, I grew up in the era of both SARS and H1N1, the latter of which I actually contracted. It was a bit scary, and it sucked, but the deaths were relatively few in number, and fewer still, those who developed serious complications.

Now, I realise the case was different for those living in Hong Kong and China and South-East Asia in general, but that was my experience as a Canadian. I trusted the medical system to handle a disease of significant scale. 

How fact and fiction differ

For starters, the contagiousness of a disease is inversely proportional to its ability to spread. This is something that sci fi usually gets completely wrong - diseases are portrayed as both easy to catch and very deadly. But an extremely deadly disease usually burns itself out. Bubonic plague was an exception to this in part because the way diseases spread in the ancient world is different from the way they spread now - there were a lot more vectors back then because of the lack of knowledge about hygiene. There may be more opportunities to spread diseases now due to the increased population size and contact methods, but human beings have far less contact with blood, other animal species, and each others' bodily fluids than we used to. We know that washing our hands is even a thing we should do, rather than just a cosmetic or convenience factor, and we have functioning sewage and water lines (in many parts of the world, though not all, of course). The world is a lot less gross than it was in earlier eras, and frankly, that's protecting us more than we realise. 

Not enough, of course, to keep us from contacting new bacteria and viruses, and global warming is also increasing our risk of contracting ancient illnesses for which we no longer have immunity. 

The practical upshot

Of course, all of this is intellectually interesting, but living through a pandemic is still flat-out terrifying and hard to deal with. I was already following the news avidly, fearful and concerned about the world, and then...this all happened. 

But that wasn't all. On April 4th, our cat Maxwell Maximilian Maximus passed away, having a heart attack at the age of about 12. We rushed him to the vet's office, but were told it was too late, and he was in heart failure. I'll skip the painful details, but his sudden death shook both my partner and I quite badly. We later realised he'd had his first heart attack in late November, and had actually been in heart failure for some time, but the benefit of hindsight is a sad one. 

Still, having a cat for almost his entire life was a privilege and a joy. Because I hysterically demanded that we fill the "cat-shaped hole" in our home as soon as possible, with tears still on our faces, we went to the non-profit Humane Society to have a look at their cats. I can't recommend that enough for anyone grieving a lost pet - the joy animals have and their appreciation for human company is immense. After a few more visits and some discussion, about three weeks later, we brought home Alfred (Alfred Sylvester Codworth) and Chester (Chesterfield Archer Chestermere), a dignified 4yo tuxedo Ragamuffin-mix and a bouncy 10mo shorthaired tuxedo respectively, both with light green eyes. They get along wonderfully, and although new pets absolutely never replace the old, they made grieving a lot easier. 

Cat pictures, because of course. Top: Chester; bottom: Alfred.

Alfred, named for his calm and butler-like solicitiousness, even seemed to figure out what happened to Maxwell. Of course the house still smelled of Max (to the cats), and coming fresh from the shelter, they started investigating to see where the other cat might be. On Alfred's first day at our home, he sniffed the area by the bookshelf in the bedroom where Max had spent most of his time crouching, and seemed to follow the scent trail to the closet where Max hid in fear (an unusual place, one he never spent time in) when the heart attack was happening. Animals instinctively know the smell of death, and Alfred must have recognised it at some point. He somberly padded from the closet to myself on the carpet by the bed. I burst into tears and hugged him, and the calm creature patiently let me sob into his luxuriant black fur. 

Since then, of course, things have been markedly less glum, and less painfully quiet than during the two weeks and a bit before we brought them home. It seemed like things were looking up. With a 290K fantasy novel to work on, I had professional occupation aplenty to boot. I even re-started my online D&D campaign, feeling that it might help me stay motivated and connected to the world. 

But the world had other plans. 

Current situation, protests

Although I've been planning a blog post on Things I've Been Wrong About, such as police reform, I am in many ways not especially well-equipped to speak on the epidemic of police violence and decades of racial injustice that has provoked Black Lives Matter's triumphant resurgence. Suffice to say for now that I fully support these efforts, and I now understand why merely reforming police is inadequate. I will be writing more about some of thoughts about this and other leftist issues in the future, so I'll keep it short for the time being. 

You'd think that writing about revolutions would equip me to handle living through one to some degree, but I don't feel especially well-prepared. If I am better prepared than I would have been otherwise, it's hard to say. The truth is, the world's been in a rough spot for as long as I can remember, and by the world, I mostly mean "America," the loudest part. I also am considering a post about what it's been like to grow up as a Millennial, for the purposes of contrasting it with the Gen Z experience, so look for that in the coming weeks. 

Do I think this is the apocalypse? 

Well, the apocalypse is never the end of the entire world, because that's meaningless - if by "the world" we mean "our experience and lifestyle up to this point," then yes, this is an apocalypse - but we've had those before. The start of the Cold War, the First and Second World Wars, the invasion of North America by Europeans - all of those were apocalypses. 

But I also believe that these painful contractions are spasms of death for some of our worst beliefs. The fact that people can even demand justice and be listened to is a significant step forward. However, not resting on our laurels or being content with crumbs is of vital importance, and any momentum gained from demanding either the abolition or restructuring of the police has to be used to demand the restructuring and abolition of prisons and other measures for creating equity. 

There's a lot of work to come. We have to stick together, forgive each other sometimes, keep learning, and take time to rest, because the world just won't stop. 

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their two cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
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