While time moves slowly many days, life is happening too fast right now. Last Sunday in Nashville we had a big storm blow through knocking out power for upwards of 200,000 people. Not a tornado, which devastated spots of town and outlying areas just two months ago, but a “derecho.”
“A derecho is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms known as a mesoscale convective system. Derechos can cause hurricane-force winds, tornadoes, heavy rains, and flash floods.”
Trees were down everywhere, close friends were without power for several days, but besides losing her Internet connection for a day, M. and I were untouched. Five days later and many are still without power, not forgetting we’re in the midst of lockdown orders. Life really is happening too fast right now.
Two weeks back it was M.’s birthday and we were standing in her kitchen having coffee, talking, and I began rambling about this Jason Isbell interview I’d read. Isbell is someone I hold deep regard and admiration for, and as soon as that man writes a book I’ll be among the first in line to buy it. Two points landed hard with me from the article, the first being about how his shifting relationship with singer Ryan Adams (who was publicly accused of sexual misconduct last year) has helped spur him to start paying better attention to the relationships he keeps in his life.
“I need to actually care more about what somebody is doing on a day-to-day basis, because, first of all, I don’t want to be close to somebody who is doing these kinds of things again. And also, if you’re gonna be somebody’s friend, you need to know ’em better. I wasn’t being a very good friend. You know? Whether he deserved a good friend or not, I should have known that those things were going on.”
What he’s talking about here is being present. There are a lot of people hurting badly right now. Both Governor Lee and Mayor Cooper have spoken to the toll this is taking of people’s mental health, with Lee adding, “COVID-19 is a viral pandemic, but its also a pandemic that can produce hopelessness in people when they’re faced with losing their jobs, or losing their business or losing their health or losing their parent. It’s an imminent threat to the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors.” A month ago calls at the YWCA had already jumped somewhere between 30% to 55%, with Diane Lance, of the Metro Office of Family Safety, noting “There are many triggers right now for past traumas and mental issues and compounded stress, powerlessness, unemployment—all triggers.” Part of those spiking YWCA numbers are due to more calls about domestic violence. The national unemployment rate is now conservatively estimated to be about 15%, overwhelming systems such as Tennessee’s, significantly delaying processing times, or in many cases leaving people unable to file in the first place. Food banks can’t keep up with the demand. The true fallout from opioid overdoses has yet to be gauged. There’s just so much to pay attention to. Being present seems an impossible task at times.
For all the grief Governor Lee’s team has been given during the pandemic, Tennessee has stepped up its COVID-19 testing like few other states have, covering the costs of ongoing testing for all citizens. Since the last time I checked in on the state-wide data, two weeks ago, total cases stood at ~8,700 with ~180 confirmed deaths. Now we’re hovering at ~14,400 cases (66% increase over two weeks) with ~240 deaths (33% increase over two weeks). I’m still quite skeptical about the reported death figure, considering national trends speaking to how greatly they’re being under-reported, and especially so considering the Tennessee Department of Health’s refusal to release information to the CDC relating to probable deaths related to the virus. The reported figures are likely still unrepresentative of what the true picture of this virus looks like.
While I remain skeptical of Lee’s “Tennessee Pledge” plan, which has already opened up business in 89 counties, he’s actually been called out for not being aggressive enough in his strategy by a pair of District Attorneys. Locally, Mayor Cooper’s already throwing out his plan which called for a Sure. Now, on the other side is a change of position locally, which originally called for a “Data driven, not date driven” approach. “A sustained downward trend in cases over the course of the 14 days is a requirement for proceeding to the first stage of reopening,” noted Cooper just a couple weeks ago, when he established Nashville’s stipulations for moving forward. That plan is now out the window. While there’s still no transparency from leadership over what’s at the heart of this abrupt change of heart, I appreciate Councilman Freddie O’Connell’s reaction which he posted on Twitter,
“I’m frustrated by this decision because it suggests that the work of slowing the spread proved too difficult for us. I.e., that we chose metrics that were aspirational and proved too difficult for us to achieve, even with strict public health orders. As best I can tell, we’re preparing as a city to accept more public health risk despite broad public acceptance of #StayHome measures for the possibility of marginal economic activity, all despite an inability to hit our earliest metrics.”
“Ideally [the virus] would be disappearing, but no one thinks that will happen until there’s a vaccine,” Cooper said this week, speaking to the new plan which allows for a limited-reopening of restaurants and stores this Monday. I suspect the looming “crisis budget” is at the heart of the decision, as the quick flip-flop speaks to a complete one-eighty of his public health-first approach. I question his administration for not addressing that outright.
Steven Hale’s cover story in this week’s Nashville Scene speaks to how we got here financially, as a city, and why the proposed property tax hike “is not designed to invest in a bold new vision for the city, but is rather a desperate attempt to plug holes in a ship that once seemed like it would cruise easily forever.” The article can be summed up by a quote from Metro At-Large Council Member Bob Mendes,
“You could’ve maybe withstood the revenue shortfall if we had even an average rainy-day fund for a big city in America. But choices were made in previous years to not do that. So when you combine the fundamentally worst-in-America big-city rainy-day fund with a tourist-heavy economy in a state with no income tax, that’s a significant budget issue.”
I’ve listened to the following podcast with Jason Pargin (who—I only just recently learned—resides in Nashville, despite having been a reader of his for the better part of a decade) several times over the last week and time and time again I’m awestruck by a tweet he mentions which reads, “we’re a bunch of paycheck to paycheck employees living in apartments owned by paycheck to paycheck landlords and working for paycheck to paycheck corporations. Lmao whole economy full of broke bitches. Whose idea was this?!?” The curtain has now been drawn. It’s terrifying, but also fascinating. The way forward isn’t going to be linear, everyone is merely reacting right now, and no one knows what they’re doing or has a plan (arguably because “the plan is to have no plan”). And so we’re left here, together, just trying to make sense of a life that’s happening too fast for any of us to keep up with.
“I feel like the whole process of growing as a human, as a man, as an adult, as a husband or a father, a musician or an artist, all those things come back to awareness. And you know, how many different perspectives can I be aware of and how many different stories can I really pay attention to? And how many things can I notice? Just as simply as that. Just let’s see what all we can notice today.”
That’s the second point from Isbell’s interview that continues to resonate with me. What can we notice today? It’s sunny. Yesterday wasn’t. I logged on Facebook only to read that a friend’s father passed away last night. We exchanged texts this morning, and I’m glad she’s taking it in stride. I just had the pleasure of a phone call with a close friend, who is happy and healthy. M. is in a good place this morning, and I’ve had just about as much coffee as it might take for me to follow through on plans I have to build a small planter in my back yard. There is a lot of pain in the world today. But life is still happening, too. I appreciate Isbell’s thought if only because of the playful curiosity it inspires in me despite the waves of darkness that seem to be slamming against humanity’s shoreline right now. Now I’m going to go see what else I can notice today. If I’m open to it, some of it might even be good.