The Change, and The Ways That Come After

20/20 vision is clarity on balance at a distance. In this year of clear vision I happen to find I need bifocals so that I can appropriately adjust my perspective to scale. I have put off making an appointment with the optometrist because of plague fear compounded by lack of independent transportation and conserving funds for whatever is in the distance that I can’t yet clearly make out.

When I was laid off I discovered four decades of burbling coding — initiated, as best as I can tell, when I received my first paper-route tip and compared it to the tips my older brother was hauling in — that conditioned me to attach my worth to my market value. Suddenly having no market value causes a scurrying to map one’s worth. A perspective shift, a reorienting around where my sun rises and sets, was in order. So I rearranged my bedroom. My map is now one of a person whose bed faces south. From where I regularly stand on this planet, I’m of the understanding this invites more light.

A massage therapist once told me that the benefits of chiropractic adjustment are amplified and longer lasting when coupled with massage. Our muscle memory is profound and unwavering and even after enormous disruption our muscles will pull the body back into shapes cultivated, for better or worse, by habits. Sudden realignment doesn’t change habits. Why this information discounted chiropractic procedure whole-cloth in my mind I’m not sure, but I have an occasional twitchy thumb from poor posture while playing my bass, and during This Time of Our Desperate Need for Comfort, bass playing is non-negotiable and an adjustment might be in order. So nothing is all-or-nothing after all.

I raise monarch caterpillars and nurture their habitat. The monarch population is dying off and human intervention may or may not increase the chance of their survival. Easily an hour or more of each of my days is spent harvesting common milkweed, separating out eggs versus caterpillars, feeding, cleaning frass, and releasing butterflies. I raise food, too. This year it’s a few varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, jalapeños, poblanos, red bell peppers, mesclun, herbs, two types of radishes, and kale. The kale plants are infested with cabbage worms — velvet, glowing, caterpillars the same jade of monarch chrysalides — that decimate leafy greens. Easily an hour or more of each of my days is spent on hands and knees scrutinizing every part of every kale plant, discovering the larvae, tearing them from leaves and stems, and flicking them far across the lawn.

It wouldn’t take long to drum up more metaphors. It would provide a welcome distraction. I’m activated and metaphors are bedtime stories for my fears. Metaphors package, explain, soothe. A friend said the other day that “life as we know it is over,” and all that bubbled up in me was “I wasn’t all that attached to life as we know it.” It’s important to state it plain: It was not good. 

It was not good: Many were working full time and more without a living wage. “Living wage” is a buzzy way of saying “Enough to survive.”

It was not good: Tying health insurance to work means we are beholden to our employers if we don’t want to go bankrupt over illness, and in the face of massive unemployment it means less access to healthcare, affordable or otherwise.

It was not good: Many employers are not accountable, much less beholden, to the safety and well being of those whom they employ.

It was not good: Our addiction to work and in many cases the necessity of working multiple jobs in order to make ends meet has eroded civic engagement and our connection to community.

It was not good: Our schools are vastly under-resourced and the disparities break pretty clearly along both socio-economic and racial lines.

It was not good: Higher education is inaccessible for many.

It was not good: Health outcomes for White Americans are far better than for Black Americans.

It was not good: Wealth outcomes for White Americans are far better than for Black Americans.

It was not good: More than 40% of children in Michigan live in poverty.

It wasn’t working. It wasn’t good. And because it wasn’t good many people are exhausted, in chronic physical and emotional pain, afraid, ill, untrusting, isolated, and angry. It wasn’t good and we didn’t think we could change it. We were disempowered.

Making space for those who feel it may have actually been good or at least good enough: The degree to which you believe it was good may correlate with the degree to which you are/were not seeing how not good it is/was and are/were therefore not invested in making it good.

Since the early days of the Great Reckoning of Things I Took for Granted, I have been giddily awaiting The Change and The Ways That Come After. I’ve been mooning over the inevitable UBI, the cotton candy cloud of Medicare for All, the massive Banding Together to Overcome Shared Adversity that Americans have boasted for at least 70 years now. I’ve been staring out the window in breathless anticipation. But I bear news from the far horizon: The Change is not coming. The Ways That Come After are not destined to be an improvement. 

Our current incarnation of capitalism (and its confederates in the unholy trinity: patriarchy and White supremacy) ultimately forces us to compete with one another for basic resources. We are now watching individuals, families, organizations, and communities fracture at all the points where capitalism has degraded their bond, the cracks in pavement where volunteer flora propel themselves toward the sun they can’t see but can feel.

This system that does not serve all is trying to hold fast. 

Disempowerment is reaction. Overstimulation is reaction. Overwork is reaction. Martyrdom is reaction. Fracturing is reaction.

The Change is not coming. In order for The Ways That Come After to be an improvement over Life As We Know It, we will need push through and respond rather than react. We will have to actively assess every relationship, organization, business, and community we’re involved in for ways that we’re serving regression to a state of existence that was unsustainable and already in decay. We will have to push against our comfortable (enough) cultural muscle memory to ensure a lasting realignment. Building new muscles can feel like a thousand daggers. That’s where the massage comes in. Our resistance to regression is the chiropractic adjustment, our building new models is massage. We have to discern which caterpillars need feeding and which need flinging across the lawn. We have to reorient ourselves, with increased clarity, toward the light.

I don’t know what this is. Not a blog post not yet an essay. I’m intentionally avoiding shoehorning it into meaning, avoiding the urge to reactively package and brand and make tidy stories of our fears and our arcs. Somewhere between screed and glib is true consideration. I’m going to keep wandering around in that middle distance. I hope to see you there.

What are we doing?

What are we doing? What are we doing? Oh, my god, what are we doing?

Getting our minds blown. Getting our understanding torn asunder. Getting our suppositions demolished. Getting our constitutions rearranged. Doing dishes.

When it rains we don’t walk. When we don’t walk, fears pool in our joints, collect in our mouths. We spit them out as frustrations. Early afternoon sky clears and we finally walk, flush out the system. Walking is precious. Faces of weary friends, viewed at safe distance, are precious. Dogs screaming at each other are precious. Electric green new grasses are precious. It may be rabbit scat or it may be deer scat and we debate it but regardless it’s precious. Tomorrow we will walk earlier to avoid the poison.

Some days playing music feels like getting a root canal with no drugs, brutally scraping us out, but we know the pain’s not gonna leave on its own. Awareness of abundance. Relief of old frustrations showing themselves out, slipping away humiliated.

On March 25, 12 days into quarantine, I said to Chafe, “If we both live through the next month the spring’s gonna be glorious.” Red winged black birds and chorus frogs.

A dear friend and respected creator of thoughts and things gave us this calendar just before the new year. When we received it I thought a lot about calendars with days with no room to write things on, never thinking about not having things to write on the days.

Nothing on the calendar but art.

Nothing on the calendar but creating the future.

Welcome, weirdo.

Hey, good people of Earth. Chafe (and Anne*), here. We’re excited to launch our new website. Anne and I are active creators and collaborators in Kalamazoo, Michigan (free college tuition, celery, origins of Gibson Guitars, Elvis at the Burger King). We’re always looking to try something new and to work with and support others along their artistic and academic journeys. (Collaboration is our mode made manifest in many formats. Let’s all make things together forever and ever.)

WW grew out of a desire to share a digital space together (finally, after sharing varied actual spaces for 25 years). Anne and I just celebrated our twenty-year wedding anniversary in August 2019 (we did, which feels both impossible and elating), so we thought it was a good time to anchor our creative partnership online.

(Here I would like to point out that you may be wondering why “weirder” and, more specifically, why I called you a weirdo. It’s counterintuitive but true: the specifics of how we differ, person to person, are the exact sites that ignite our humanity. Those deviations we often fear exposing are precisely where we connect. Weird doesn’t have to look freaky. Weird is simply the individual, and expression is most potent when it’s a detailed demonstration of the individual. The weird in us is the source of generative collaboration, and we need generative collaboration, weirdos. We need it acutely.)

(We welcome your perusal and hope you enjoy.) Connect with us. Hire us. Work with us. Make with us. Get weirder.

*Parenthetical inserts reflect the views of Anne and may or may not represent Chafe’s perspective