Daily new cases as of 3-20-2020

Changes

For the first two months of 2020, I was burning the candle at both ends, and then cutting the candle in half and burning both of those ends. I use this very specific, vivid, and slightly awkward yet humorous metaphor to describe my time engaging in an intense and focused job search while also working full time—and trying to find time to help plan a move for me, Dawn, the cats, and our stuff from San Francisco to Wisconsin.

And that effort paid off. On March 3rd, I got the call I wanted: a job offer from my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Starting April 22nd, I will be a Strategic Communications Specialist within UW-Madison’s office of University Communications. Dawn and I had been planning to move to Madison in April whether or not I got a job, but this makes it far more possible—especially now.

Because, of course, the context today, March 20th, is worlds away from the context of March 3rd and pretty much each of the individual days since. We’ve seen huge increases in COVID-19 infections and deaths worldwide, voluntary self-quarantines, the physical closing of non-essential businesses, most of the rest of us working from home (including my future co-workers at the UW), orders to shelter in place at the city and state levels, hospitals running out of supplies and having to make terrible no-win decisions. We live in a new world that is changing by the minute, and we have only vague ideas about our future course—aside from the almost certain fact that millions of people will die from COVID-19.

I don’t even know how to describe witnessing a pandemic unfold in real time. It makes you rethink everything you’ve valued and failed to value. It certainly reinforces my opinions of capitalism and plutocracy. I can’t help but think about, and worry about, our family and our friends, their health, the health of all their loved ones, and the tragic and profound losses we’re seeing worldwide in every facet of life.

My and Dawn’s continued health seems good as we take it slow and easy. I’m grateful (and lucky) that my soon-to-be new job is with a state university and not a more precarious organization. They made the offer, they need me and my skills as much as ever, and the hiring process continues to move forward.

There will be all kinds of unpredictable side effects of this crisis. One somewhat random one: right now, I’m not at all inclined toward comparison shopping. If a mover or an apartment rental company is willing to engage with us now, and the price point is reasonable, I want to give them our business and not waste anyone’s time. They need to make a living and we need to get there. So far they seem to very much want our business and that’s a relief. The possibility of not getting to move when we planned has been one of my immediate worries since this thing started.

I was hired to work to promote the Strategic Partnerships unit (which does federal, state, tribal, community, and business relations). Right now, it sounds like my team is doing crisis communications more than anything else, which I’d be happy to help with. I love jumping in and doing what’s most needed. No matter what, I am excited to work for my alma mater in a role that fits my strengths and in which I’ll be able to actively build meaningful connections between UW-Madison and the larger community.

For her part, Dawn will be leaving the VA and opening up a brand-new private psychotherapy and training practice, and will be available for tele-mental health referrals later on this spring.

In this last year, Dawn and I have been thinking and talking a lot about our lives and the direction we’re going. Losing my mom last February drove home the point that we want to prioritize family more than we have. We have also faced the fact that—even on one federal salary and one non-profit salary—we will simply never be able to have a better place to live in the Bay Area than our one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, under current conditions.

These are the main reasons we’re picking up these roots and moving them to Madison. (Back home to Madison, in my case—after 20 years.) We’d been incredibly excited about a new adventure and a different pace of life. We still are. Now we just have to wait a little longer for some of the things that we were excited about, and that’s okay.

So many of the things that were planned in the old world are going to suffer drastically. One of my good friends just lost his mom this week. The fact that he won’t get to gather with friends and relatives young and old, the way I and my family did last February, seems to me like it would compound the sense of loss. The associated expressions of love and connection and sense of closure (to the extent that it is attainable) will have to be deferred and/or happen some other way. One of Dawn’s former trainees was going to have a wedding this spring. It’s not going to happen the way they planned.

I’m grateful for many things in my life. Now I’m grateful for a whole new set of things I never realized I took for granted. Having a wedding with 80 guests. Having a celebration of life for my mom. Not being sick.

More to come.

epilogue, 18 1/2 years later

You can’t just start writing a novel. You have to plan it out.

Don’t you?

I mean, it just seems weird. You and the page. The blank, empty retina screen covered with little cat hairs. (The cats love the laptop keyboard; it’s so warm.)

There’s no structure, there’s no form. There are no people. You’re essentially creating a universe. You’re a god.

You’re God.

Maybe that’s why people like writing novels.

It feels tiresome to me. It feels like a lot of work. I have my own voice in my head, very strong. I guess I have my mom’s, now, too. But do I have a cacophony of characters clamoring to get out?

No, not really.

Where are they? There’s (pretty much) just me in there. Are there various parts of me? Heck yeah. But am I going to split them up into little caricatures? And how is it not just entirely arbitrary, what you write?

It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to read, like, a single page of the several writing books I own. So, yeah, long form fiction? I love reading it. Never really wanted to write it.

I did try to do National Novel Writing Month in November 2002. I got about 5,000 words in, which is farther than I had remembered, and it is sort of interesting. It’s also terrible, but it is an incomplete first novel, so of course it is.

I got 10% in, in 11 days out of a 30-day month, which means I was horribly behind the pace. The fact that I was doing this during November 2002, which was my fourth month in the Bay Area after moving here (soon to be “there”) without a job, tells me the venture was a bit of a half-assed attempt to avoid reality. I was dialing for dollars and really did not like it. I had very little energy left after canvassing at night, staying up too late (sometimes until sunrise), and then getting up (sometimes around dusk) to go canvass again.

I had also just left a young woman behind, and we were somewhat emotionally entwined at the time. She loved me in her way. She wanted to want to be with me. Maybe she only wanted to want to want to be with me. In any case, I was a source of stability. My feelings for her were strong, but I was also pretty emotionally immature and needy. (I might still be, but not like I was then.)

I used her middle name to name one of the main female characters in the story. I didn’t quite pattern the character after her, but close enough.

I never finished the story I wrote. It was a little cliched—what if the country split up into smaller countries? It’s been done. And it was kind of about the emotional journey of these two guys—one certainly a stand-in for me, but it’s difficult to remember after seventeen years.

Interesting, though, that I’m thinking about this. Sure, I’m going through old files and photos. I’m six weeks from leaving the place I’d been for just ten weeks… seventeen years ago. And everything is almost exactly the opposite!

Photo of a diagram of how grassroots organizing works drawn on large easel-size post-it notes at Howard Dean for President’s New Hampshire HQ in Manchester, January 24, 2004

On electability

Here’s another one of my topical reaction pieces—you could even call it a column—that originated as a comment or two on the Washington Post website. Edited 3/21/2020 because life.

Electability is specious and spurious. Many (maybe most?) candidates declared “electable” have gone on to lose – so what does it mean anyway? It’s a flawed second-level measure. It’s abstract, amorphous, and self-fulfilling. It’s entirely too cute.

Let’s keep it simple. Voters should feel free to judge the candidates on temperament, personality, platform, perceived effectiveness, and so on. (Maybe the media should encourage that.) True electability is only determined after the fact by the actual vote. The electability frame does not help us get the best candidate.

My suggestion to voters: Vote (and caucus) for who you most want to be President.

Electability will sort itself out.

Don’t overthink it. Vote for who you most like. The one with the most votes wins (your state’s nomination [probably]). It’s that easy.

The person who gets the most votes is the person who the most people want. That’s the only way to truly determine “electability.” It’s impossible to predict before the fact. Why else would so many “serious candidates” run?

Just vote for who you like best. Yes, there will be people who abdicate their responsibility to make a choice between bad and worse. That’s fine. As long as we end up with a candidate who is capable of turning out enough voters not only to vote against Trump but to vote for them in November, that’s all that matters.

I also wonder this. Why do people think that what would result from a Warren or a Sanders presidency would actually be what they plan? How has that worked for any President?

I’m irritated with the constructed narrative that the Democratic Party is driving people away because it’s too far left. It’s simply not true. In my lifetime, Democratic Presidents have ALWAYS governed from the middle. What is the middle, anyway? It’s moved farther and farther right as the Republicans have moved the Overton window over and over again. I’m thankful for our current crop of candidates and elected official who are proud social democrats or even (gasp) socialists. They’re moving us back in the right (er, left) direction. And, as polls have repeatedly shown, they are actually in the mainstream of public opinion.

People who subscribe to the electability argument apparently believe they can predict what is going to happen between now and November, or what the majority of the voters want, or who is going to actually turn out. They expect those of us who believe that there should be a social safety net and reasonably-priced health care (you know, like the rest of the civilized world) to settle for the “safe” moderate who will please no one and either lose or win and get nothing done. I reject that demand. How did being President work out for John Kerry? Or Hillary? The “safe” candidate is anything but.

We need someone who will inspire people, who people like. My belief is that most Americans don’t vote for President based on which candidate most closely matches their positions on all the issues of the day. They vote for who they like better.

Everything changes in the general election, of course. I don’t care if it’s Senator Warren or Bernie or Senator Klobuchar or Mike Bloomberg or Mayor Pete or Vice-President Biden. No matter what, I’m voting for (and getting completely behind) that person. Obviously I have a preference, but any of them would be better than the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The fact is that the Republican Party is going the way of the authoritarian and, regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, the only responsible thing to do if you are a citizen who values democracy is to vote for that person.

I can live with incrementalism if it’s going to replace insanity.

Giving it away for free

Hi there. Happy 2020, a year that promises to be filled with a great deal of change. For the better, I fervently hope.

I am back, very nearly a year after losing my mom (see prior post for a very personal avalanche of thoughts and feelings about the person who influenced me more than anyone else in my life).

That isn’t necessarily what I came here to write about, though.

I have mentioned previously on this site that I have cultivated a slightly lazy habit of commenting on articles on newspaper and other websites. I get a brief hit of gratification from responding to news with my own unique and well-thought-out opinion. But, eventually, it scrolls into the ether, and probably no one else goes deep enough into the comment thread to ever read it again, five minutes after I’ve written it. (Except when I go back through the links in my commenter profile to see how many likes I got. Yep, I do that. Another penny dropped in the slot, another tiny dopamine gumball.)

What is the point of giving it away for free like that without building it into something else? Sure, for a moment other people feel like they’re part of a community, or maybe they feel like they have another enemy to despise. But if I were to only expand those thoughts a little bit into reasonably cogent blog entries and tweets, there’d be a lot more content on this site and maybe a few more readers.

Do I care about having readers? In a broad sense, sure. My original audience was 80% my mom and 20% the people I left behind when I abruptly decided to leave Madison in 1999. My new #1 fan (2011 to present) got a bit of a glimpse into who I was by reading the archives of this site and luckily wanted more.

Anyway, here’s what you’ve all been missing.

Letter to Mom

[In memoriam: Debbra M. Ream]

Dear Mom,

I’m so sorry you’re never going to see this letter in person.

In loving memory: Debbra M. Ream, 1954-2019

In memory: Debbra M. Ream, 1954-2019
Below is the obituary I wrote for my mom. It will be published in some form in Hartford, Wisconsin; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Monroe, Michigan, the three places she lived in her 64 years. I have not publicly shared any account of her struggle with memory loss until now, in order to respect her privacy. It was a complicated thing to be at least partially responsible for. My brother Jared and I had talked in recent months about how to share the news of her dementia with relatives and friends (some of whom had figured it out for themselves, and undoubtedly more than I had realized). That question is now largely moot.

I miss her more than I can describe. Anyone who had spent significant time with her in the last few years will understand what I mean when I say I had begun to miss her several years ago. She was still so much of herself to the end—luckily her personality hadn’t changed much, if at all—but her lost independence, which meant so much to her, broke my heart. She was also the one who did so much to hold our extended family together: making phone calls, keeping her address book current, staying active on social media and texting, and sending cards and letters at every birthday and many holidays. Sadly, her ability to keep up with that gradually faded, even before her memory issues were really evident to those of us closest to her. I have so much more to say about the wonderful, amazing ways in which I am who I am because of my mom. She was an extraordinary person who had an effect on everyone she met, she was an amazing storyteller and writer, and her capacity for love and trust given what I understand of some of her early experiences was nothing short of miraculous. I love and miss her with all my heart.

Please join friends and family at Suminski / Weiss Funeral Home, 1901 N. Farwell Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202 on Saturday, February 16, 2019. Visitation will begin at 12:00 noon and her Celebration of Life will begin at 2:00 pm.

Debbra M. Ream, May 28, 1954 – February 6, 2019

After several years of illness resulting from vascular dementia, diabetes, and other ailments, Debbra M. Ream, age 64, of Hartford, WI found peace on February 6, 2019. Deb, born Debbra Marguerite Williamson in Monroe, MI on May 28, 1954, was an artist, a published poet, a lover of animals, a fan of travel and history, a beloved wife, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, niece, cousin, and friend, and a delight to all who met her.

She passed away while holding hands with her beloved husband of more than 30 years, Richard Dale Ream. She and Richard were inseparable in the last few years after he retired and became her full-time caregiver in 2016. They shared many adventures in life, including trips to Vancouver, California, Brazil, and the Bahamas, many visits to the Bristol Renaissance Festival, and others too numerous to count.

In addition to Richard, she is survived by her two deeply treasured sons, of whom she was indescribably proud: Jason Lee Gohlke (and daughter-in-law Dawn Lawhon) of San Francisco, and Jared Martin Gohlke (and fiancée Stacy Austen) of Kannapolis, NC.

She is survived by more relatives and friends than one could count: granddaughters Nora Ruth Gohlke, Emily James Gohlke, and Susan Louise Gohlke, stepson Keith Ream, stepdaughters Carrie Bristoll-Groll (Tony Groll) and Danielle Bristoll McNeil (Patrick McNeil), aunts Josephine Bushroe, Marjorie Calkins, and Violet Barton, sisters Sally (Richard) Venia, Lori Theisen, and Violet Williamson Bellair (husband Ed Bellair), brother Floyd T. Williamson Jr., sisters-in-law Sandy (husband Rod) Wallner, Barbara Ream, and Alice Ream, brothers-in-law Ken Ream and Ed Ream, nieces and nephews including Maris (husband Eric) Miller, Elise Venia (husband Scott Varty), Noelle (husband Ryan) Fragner, Todd Knabusch, Lance Theisen, Olivia Dawn Williamson, Christopher Williamson, Jacob Houston, Michelle Ream, Janell Ream, Janette Ream, Jillian Schroeder, Wayne Ream, Heather Ream, Michael Ream, stepgranddaughters Stephanie, Brenna, Kiera, stepgrandsons Jesse, Zach, Harlan, Tristan, cousins too numerous to name, and many friends from every stage in her life.

She was preceded in death by her sister Sharon, her beloved mother Marguerite, father Floyd, and beloved grandparents Edna and Garold Bosenbark, who were a great influence and comfort to her while growing up, and many other friends and relatives.

Growing up in Monroe, Michigan, Debbie was a tomboy and a free spirit. When she was eight, she lost her younger sister Sharon to childhood diabetes, which affected her greatly. Deb moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1972 to attend Patricia Stevens Career College, which she was fond of describing as a “glorified charm school.” During her first days in Milwaukee, she overcame the death of her grandfather, who had frequently taken her fishing and been a strong influence in her life. She also beat uterine cancer. She was married to Jeffrey L. Gohlke from 1974 to 1984, and having her two sons during that time was the pride of her life. Deb’s mother Marguerite was a confidante and friend as well as a talented artist, and her untimely passing in 1984 affected Deb for the rest of her life. Deb married Richard in 1988, after which they moved to Hartford, Wisconsin. She took great pride in her home and impressed many with her eclectic, fun, and unique interior decoration style. She enjoyed painting and turned her LP tank into a Yellow Submarine. She also wrote poetry throughout her life and published poems such as “The Old Man with the Hop,” a poem she wrote for her son Jared.

Deb was a frequent reader of novels and a particular fan of Stephen King. She was an activist and a donor for a number of causes, including the environment and the protection of animals. She loved music of all kinds, especially pop music from the sixties to the present, and world music. She was a lover of animals, especially elephants and owls. She had many beloved pets throughout her life, including several cats that were her devoted companions, including Max, Macintosh, Rio I and II, and Frisco. She loved to tell stories over coffee and cigarettes, she enjoyed meeting new people and making friends wherever she went, and she brought joy, laughter, and love to so many.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in her memory to one of the following organizations:

Family and friends will gather at the Suminski / Weiss Funeral Home, 1901 N. Farwell Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202 on Saturday, February 16, 2019 from 12:00 Noon until the time of the Memorial Service at 2:00 PM. More info: https://www.lifestorynet.com/obituaries/debbra-ream.125891

WordPress 5 and me

The fact that this post exists and that you can see it is a win.

As of yesterday it was only half a victory, because none of the links worked, but I got something together today.

See, I have this site set up in a weird way. [Prepare for a slightly technical explanation.] In the early days of WordPress, if you wanted to keep your root directory tidy, you could install the files in a “wordpress” directory and have the URL be the root directory. That’s pretty funny now, given what a disaster my root directory currently is.

Anyway, the decision I made to do that in 2007, on this, the site of my first WordPress install, seems to have introduced some complications 11 years later. I was having problems with permalinks and .htaccess, but I seem to have ironed them out with a fresh install, a nice new theme designed by someone else, and a final .htaccess modification to ensure old URLs work.

The next question is this: will I update the site now that it’s relatively stable again? No one knows.

Haven’t been here in a while

As always, I have a couple draft posts floating around from six months ago, about politics and television, that aren’t really finished enough thoughts to publish.

But as the end of another year approaches, I feel the pull to be both more introspective and more extroverted that having a blog tends to create. I’m guessing that happens more frequently if you actually care about keeping it up to date. Publishing, I imagine, is self-reinforcing.

This year, things really changed for me in terms of work, one area that was very, very stable — some might say stagnant — from 2002 to the middle of 2016. On the one hand, I am doing many of the things I have been doing for the last dozen years in non-profit communications (which I like to think I’m good at). On the other hand, I am now at a new organization: Pacific Forest Trust, a land trust and policy organization based in the beautiful Presidio of San Francisco, and I am their Communications Manager.

I am really happy to have landed there in August. I get to do the things I like to do: manage projects, run websites, write, design, persuade, grow an organization. I’m excited about the resources I have there — really smart and passionate co-workers, a well-defined and complex mission, a history of incredibly impressive successes — and now all I have to do is let more people know about us and get them to care about what we’re doing. I feel great about what I’ve done so far and how integrated I already feel into the organization, and I’m excited about what I’ll be able to accomplish in 2018.

Thankfully, things have been good at home. Though we’ve had some family (including pet) health issues this year, Dawn and I wind up 2017 happy and healthy, and for that I am immensely grateful.

I finished The Leftovers

I first encountered The Leftovers while watching other HBO shows, both live and on demand. The network added spoiler-riffic promos for its second season at the beginning of every show for months. Despite my admittedly irrational irritation with knowing more about how Season 1 must have ended than I would like (which is anywhere north of zero), I was still intrigued, and I watched the whole show from the beginning.

I was able to binge season 1 and most of season 2. Season 1 was certainly fascinating if a bit uneven. Still, I was hooked on the acting, the characters, the science fiction scenario, and (after reading the book and finding Season 1 to be very faithful to it) I was excited for what Damon Lindelof would do with it going forward. I was a fan of ABC’s LOST and, though I found its final season conceptually disappointing, I still regard LOST as one of the best network TV shows ever.

Flash forward nearly a decade to The Leftovers. Season 1 was very faithful to the book, which was both good and bad. The story was definitely better as a TV show than as a novel. The fact that Season 1 ended where the novel did, however, created the possibility that the show would become a collaboration between Perrota, Lindelof, Mimi Leder (whom Lindelof cited as key to the show), and other writers and directors, designed specifically for TV. Seasons 2 and 3 were absolutely brilliant and I applaud the show’s creators for finding imaginative ways to work together to transcend the source material. I can only imagine the process of coming up with what to keep and what to get rid of—and how do you get to the point where someone says, “what if we moved it to a small town in Texas and leave most of the rest of the characters behind?”

This show was a huge opportunity for Lindelof to do what he does, with the latitude afforded by being on HBO, and wrap it up in a more satisfying fashion. (“We have to go back” indeed.) As far as I can tell, The Leftovers was free of the baggage that LOST carried as a pop culture phenomenon with superlatives and high pressure expectations attached. That and the fact that this really was a whole new thing (despite the obvious echoes of LOST’s themes and mysteries and manner of storytelling) I think freed them up to make something great.

[Perhaps redundant spoiler alert.] Like LOST, The Leftovers suggests to me an obvious spinoff from an obscure plot point. It would feature J-Lo and Shaq, and it would co-star Gary Busey and Bronson Pinchot. These celebrities, who disappeared in the original show, would of course play themselves in an otherwise fictional and sparsely populated world. This would in no way rival, however, what ABC should have spun off from the “Jack’s death” half of LOST’s sixth season. Sawyer and Miles, as played by Josh Holloway and Ken Leung, were a hilarious unlikely duo reimagined as detectives. This buddy cop show would have been top notch.

[This is the third installment in my ongoing series “Previously Unfinished Thoughts: long-abandoned draft blog posts edited and posted years later.” I wrote it in June 2017 and finished it in January 2021.]

Really healthy and really overdue

Tonight (or, more accurately, very early this morning), I finally finished and posted the piece I started writing in January, which may appear below this one. A post every two months is pretty prolific for me these days, but I was particularly inspired today.

I am getting better and better at this “looking for a job” thing, which is increasingly becoming a “who am I and who do I want to become” thing, which feels really healthy and really overdue. Just like with anything else, the more I try to express who I am, the more I begin to understand myself. Until now, I have given myself scant permission to attempt to direct the course of my life as much as is possible (which I acknowledged earlier is seldom much and maybe less than we’d all like to think). I have always found it easy enough to define myself by the things that I do, or that I know how to do, or have done. Accomplishments and skills are easy for me. It’s a little harder for me to get up the courage on a regular basis to actually reveal what is important to me. Instead, I have allowed the things I’ve done — and for whom I’ve done them — to speak for themselves. The result is that, more frequently than I like, I have allowed myself to be defined by the goals and the mission statements crafted by others. It’s not that I’m not imaginative; it’s not that I’m lazy; it is not even that I haven’t sufficiently apprehended the importance of showing my values, dreams, and goals to the world. It is simply that I have been doing other things. (Also, frankly, I have been afraid of myself and my own personal power and the fact that maybe I could actually accomplish some of the things I want to, if I just put myself in position to do them.)

Having no job at all for a longer period than ever before as an adult — and we’re talking barely more than a month, to be clear — has been a gift so far, as I had hoped but not necessarily expected. It has helped me shed some of the ways others have defined me and allowed me to start defining myself so much more clearly. It’s also helped me start to prioritize what will really get me where I want to go. It’s cleared away the barriers to truly thinking about what I want out of life, what I want to accomplish, and which path I want to follow.

Soon I will articulate a few of these things, some of which I spent a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about today, but not just this moment.

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