Thoughts on Pandemics

One of the best things to come out of this nightmare is seeing my favorite public figures broadcasting from their homes, getting to know another side of them. I, personally, am writing to you from my warm bungalow in Los Angeles. I live with my mother and while both of us are high risk due to underlying conditions, I feel grateful to have a roof over my head, provisions in the pantry and a delicious, gigantic mug of hot coffee to sip.

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A Globe of Coffee. Photo by A. La Canfora

As the coronavirus sweeps my state of California and beyond like a silent tsunami, I keep thinking about M. Night Shyamalan’s film, “Signs.”  Quarantine feels like the scene where (SPOILER ALERT) the family (played by Mel Gibson, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin and Joaquin Phoenix) are sequestered in their lonely farm house, windows and doors boarded shut and unseen but audible aliens are attempting to penetrate their home. It’s a perfect metaphor – we all wait in our homes frightened, confused, frustrated. Will this largely invisible force breach our walls and claim our fragile bodies? Maybe the aliens aren’t above us. Maybe they’ve been right beside us all along (Click for a scene from Signs, one of my favorite films)

We watch the daily news in horror, noting how no one is spared – royalty, world leaders, famous musicians, writers, the rich, the poor, the fat and the fit.

I’m a lover of history and have been reading about ancient pandemics while in seclusion. The course of history has been radically altered many, many times by pandemics. Let’s take a look at some of the major ones;

The Antonine Plague

– during Roman times, up to 10 million people died over a 15 year period of what is believed to have been a smallpox outbreak. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonine_Plague

The Justinian Plague

– raged for nearly 200 years as a result of fleas infected with bubonic plague. The pandemic coursed throughout the Byzantine empire from 542 AD through til 750. Believed to be one of the world’s worst pandemics, estimates of those killed range from approximately 25 million to 100 million people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Justinian

Japanese Smallpox Epidemic

– Existed from the years 735 to 737 and claimed the lives of 2 million people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/735%E2%80%93737_Japanese_smallpox_epidemic

The Black Death

– Still considered the worst pandemic in world history, exact numbers of the dead don’t exist, but it’s widely acknowledged that a minimum of 125 MILLION people died, beginning in 1347. Like the Justinian plague, it too was caused by infected fleas, only this time arriving from travelers along the Silk Road. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death

1520 Smallpox Epidemic

– In Mexico, approximately 40% of the population was annihilated, between 5-8 million people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_smallpox_in_Mexico

The Persian Plague

– From 1772 to 1773, 2 million lives around the Persian Gulf region were lost to bubonic plague. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1772%E2%80%931773_Persian_Plague

…and soooo many more.

I list these ancient pandemics not to scare you but to give you perspective. Pandemics are not uncommon. They are part of the cycle of life on Earth.

So if we consider the course of past pandemics, we will probably go through boom and bust cycles indefinitely with our present coronavirus, until a cure or vaccine is discovered. When the number of deaths start to ebb, people will try to resume normal life, then the number of cases will start to rise again and we will all have to go back on lockdown. Rinse, lather, repeat. History has shown that certain factors may mean a worse outcome for a region – a large, dense population; poor hygiene practices; poverty; age; frailty; lack of access to potable water or nutritious food; poor air quality, etc. The good news is…that we know this and therefore can take actions to mitigate a pandemic’s effects.

We also have a leg up on our current pandemic over ancient ones in that we have sophisticated technology and the ability to communicate with one another around the globe in real time, to work as one in finding a vaccine or a cure.

If you’re reading this, then your ancestors survived these terrible pandemics! You are stronger than you think.

Andrà tutto bene!

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We will endure. Photo by Angel La Canfora, 2018.

Taking the Pain Out of Moving

If there’s one thing in life I’ve perfected, it is the art of moving. I’ve moved…a lot. I’ve moved house all totaled a little over 30 times. It started fresh out of the womb. Not long after I was born, there was a major earthquake in LA, damaging the Hollywood garden apartment building my parents inhabited. They then decided to move to Orange County. We moved 5 times before I was 11 years old and I think it’s not a stretch to conclude that all those moves indelibly imprinted me.

My teenage years were stable, boring even, in middle-class Huntington Beach. It was one pleasant valley Sunday after another and I dreamed of roaming free. So straight out of high school, I hit the road and didn’t look back. But while I wanted to travel, I also wanted to get to know different regions and towns, learn what made locals tick, so I would set down roots for 6 months to a year or more before moving on (is it any wonder I majored in cultural anthropology in college?).

Over the course of my life, I’ve moved crosstown, from state-to-state, cross country and abroad. In all my moves I have learned some things and I’d like to share the benefit of my experience with you (Note: the following tips are for people on a budget. If you’re independently wealthy, move right along. There’s nothing to see here).

1. PARE DOWN – Even though I’ve moved a lot, it was oftentimes incredibly stressful. But I can tell you in a word the one thing that will always make it more stressful and that is STUFF. I’m talking about furniture, TVs, desks, washer/dryers, books, etc. The more stuff you have to pack, the more stressful and expensive your move will be. If your move is within town, go ahead and take all your stuff. But if you’re moving out of the city/state/country now is the time to ruthlessly cull your possessions. And be brutal. Sell off your couch, your TV, even if they are newer. Because you will either have to pay to have these items shipped to you or you’ll have to ship/bring them yourself and either way, it’s not worth it. Shipping/moving vans are costly and the more miles away you move the less worth it is to bring items that can be easily replaced in your new town. Think about what is meaningful to you and hard to replace. Bring that original Picasso but sell the microwave. Now’s the time to hold a garage sale or sell stuff through Craigslist or Nextdoor. Pare down to the bare essentials for living and that which is irreplaceable (this goes for cars, too!)

2. DON’T LET THE MOVE DESTROY YOU – Obviously, the more time you have to plan and prepare for your move, the better. But if you’re pressed for time, remember to take care of yourself! It’s easy for a move to be all-consuming, to spend every waking moment fretting about the details. Unless you’re under the gun and have to move immediately – which is a whole different ball game – try to relegate working on your move to certain times of the day, for your sanity’s sake. If you’re working full time, then give moving prep an hour or two a day and then LET IT GO. By scheduling the time when you work on moving plans and prep, you free your mind and body for your present life. You can’t worry about it all day, every day. You need moments of recreation and decompression.

3. MAP EXERCISE – In the event that you have to move but are unsure as to where to go, here is one helpful way of thinking about where to move. Print up a map of the general area, then X out all the places you know for sure you don’t want to live, or can’t live in (parkland, lakes, etc.). Next, research the places that are left. Check out real estate listings, climate forecasts and Niche.com for demographics, crime info and reviews. Watch YouTube videos of the area. As a result of your research, you’ll then wind up crossing more places off the map. When you narrow it down to a handful of places, then take a trip out there. Your list will then get whittled down further once you’ve experienced them in person. When you’re down to the top 2 or 3 then you go actually stay in those places for a few days, to get a taste of what life is like there. Try to act less like a tourist and more like a resident. Go to the post office, the grocery store. Take a walk or jog around the neighborhood at the same time of day when you normally would at home. Remember that while you may love it now you may not love it at the height of summer or the depths of winter. In my experience, it takes at least a full year to get to know a community, to understand the rhythms of the seasons. But most of us don’t have that much time for moving prep. So next…

4. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS –  Repeat after me – “there’s no perfect place.” Try not to succumb to tunnel vision and idealize a place through rose-colored glasses so much so that you forget to look at the big picture. You’re not going to turn into a different person just because you move into the house of your dreams. Wherever you go, there you are. We all have our criteria –  affordability, safety, access to shops and malls, proximity to job to lessen a commute, etc. The chances you’ll find a place that ticks off every single one of your boxes is slim to none. Not to sound cynical, but really, people, there’s no perfect place. Trust me on this one. You can move into a fabulous historic villa in Tuscany and find you have a bat problem. There’s no perfect place! You might move into that charming cottage by the lake you’ve dreamt of your whole life only to have your face eaten off by mosquitos every July. There’s no perfect place! You might purchase a house near the river only to have it swell and overflow its banks next year, causing you to evacuate. There’s no perfect place! You might move into that cute Hollywood bungalow only to have your neighbor across the street install a 10 foot “Putin 2020” sign across his garage door replete with blinking red lights. There’s no perfect place!

OK, so that about does it. I really can’t stress enough how much paring down household items will relieve the stress of the move and bring down the costs. But if you absolutely can’t bring yourself to cull, then may I suggest a storage unit?

 

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Downtown Los Angeles viewed from Torrance. Photo by A. La Canfora

Is the Internet Doing More Harm than Good?

I’m just old enough to have witnessed the rise of the internet, to watch as it engulfed our culture in every way.

It all started with electronic mail. Wow, you could just dial into your modem, and 11 minutes later after it noisily connected, you could compose a message to someone and click send. It was revolutionary, changed how everyone communicated seemingly overnight. Websites were primitive and slow to reveal themselves. Graphics were pixelated. You were lucky if photos would load on a webpage if your connection was buffering, which was common.

You all know the rest of this story. “We are already cyborgs,” Elon Musk was recently quoted as saying in an interview and it’s hard to argue with that. Unless you’re off-the-grid, you are internet-dependent. You most likely get your news, TV shows, music, movies, porn, shopping, bill-paying, socializing via the internet.

As the internet blossomed, we Gen Xr’s felt like we were privy to the dawn of a new era. The excitement was palpable. The internet was going to unify us, bring us altogether, some said. Make our vast world smaller as people 1000s of miles away could Skype you in real time.

I first logged on to the world wide web in 1999 and was instantly fascinated. I taught myself to code and created websites for myself and friends. Templates for website building had yet to become a thing so it was time-consuming but I didn’t mind.

More and more, I gradually immersed myself into cyberspace. As a music nerd and musician, I was in heaven when Napster came online. I would spend hours searching for and downloading mp3s (for my own listening pleasure. Please don’t bust me, feds!). I was a member of a few music discussion lists (for Captain Beefheart, Robyn Hitchcock and Dylan, primarily). In 2000, I founded an internet based band, the Learning Lovers Project. My bandmates lived all over the U.S. and the U.K. We would lay down a track, burn it to CD as a WAV file then mail it to the next in line, who would then add their track & so on.

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Angel La Canfora working on a track, circa 2000

Hell, I even met my 2nd husband online, through Facebook-prototype site, Friendster (I would divorce him 5 years later).

I’ve been wondering lately, though – has the internet reached a tipping point? We have been witnessing, in recent years, the darkness that the internet can bring, the ills it can cast on to society. Rather than unifying us, the internet seems to be doing the opposite. People choose sides, form groups and cliques and then war with each other via the You Tube comments section, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Governments employ hackers and trolls to disrupt other country’s elections, or to sway people against certain politicians or public figures or policies. As social media companies grow larger and hungrier for dollars, we look on in horror as our personal lives and information is mined and sold to the highest bidder. Memes, once the height of online silliness, have grown a sinister underbelly, can now sometimes include harmful messaging that targets the vulnerable, encouraging children and teens to abuse others or themselves. We watch videos of thieves stealing packages from porches, of terrible car accidents from dashcams or shaky footage of police brutality, all of these serving to undermine our sense of security. As the next generation comes of age with their faces buried in iPhones will real life social skills continue to erode?

If the internet isn’t healthy, can society be?