My Favorite Whatever of 2022

Let’s talk about stuff I liked in 2022. No, not the best of anything. Just stuff I liked. And not necessarily stuff that was released in 2022. Just stuff I found in 2022. OK? OK. Let’s go.

GAMES

Marvel’s Midnight Suns: I know a lot of folks bounced off the story/dialogue/relationship stuff—and bounced hard. But a.) the core combat is so frickin’ magnificent that it’s really easy to forgive. The idea of tactical card combat with Marvel characters sounds ridiculous; it really shouldn’t work. But oh my, it really really does. And b.) I actually enjoyed the hell out of the story/dialogue/relationship stuff. The core conceit of “superheroes at home” is really compelling to me; I think any superhero fiction is at its best when it’s looking not just at the suits but the people in them. Yeah, it can get a little goofy at times, and the game is clunky in some other significant ways. But man, it just hooked me with both pincers.

Marvel Snap: I’m not sure if I dug Midnight Suns more because of Snap, or Snap more because of Midnight Suns, or neither? Or both? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But this one really has its claws in me, too. The speed and simplicity are just perfect for quick little diversions, but there’s a real depth of strategy there once you get familiar with the game. This is probably unsurprising to fans of other CCGs; I never was one of those. But a single moment in Snap made me finally get the whole idea of deck synergy in a way that no previous game I’d tried was able to. (It was playing Odin after White Tiger at a location that had just morphed to Bar Sinister, if you’re curious. Just delightful.)

Vampire Survivors: I lived through the 16-bit era, so retro-styled games often make me roll my eyes so hard I can see myself think. But this one showed up one day on Game Pass so I decided to give it a try. And I was this close to quitting and deleting within the first five minutes. (“Where the hell is the attack button?!”) Many dozens of hours later I think it’s one of the most fiendishly addictive and subtly deep games I’ve ever played. Really cleverly done and oh no it’s on iOS now.

Into the Breach: I heard so much good stuff about this game that I bought it when it came out on Switch pretty much sight-unseen. And I…didn’t like it. It just did nothing for me. I bounced off. Fast forward to 2022 and Netflix’s push into games, which included an iPad version available free for subscribers, and I gave it another shot. And something about the touch interface made all the difference in the world. I lost track of how many times I beat it before eventually having to delete it for space reasons.

And of course I played Tunic and Elden Ring and Immortality and Atari 50 and they’re all great. Believe the hype. (And there are also a few notable games I haven’t played enough of yet to form an opinion, like A Plague Tale: Requiem and Pentiment.) But these four, man. These four got me.

TELEVISION

Look, I do not watch a lot of TV. When I have downtime I tend to want to dive into a book instead of firing up even the most celebrated hot new series (a fact which will likely become very clear in the next section). But I did have some really great TV experiences last year. Like:

Midnight Mass: A dear friend of mine kept pushing me to watch this. He said he was convinced I’d love it, that it was practically made for me. I yeah-yeah-yeahed for months, because like I said, I just don’t really prioritize TV? And when some dumbshit website put a significant spoiler in a FRICKIN’ HEADLINE, I yeah-yeah-yeahed even harder. Then I ended up with a free weekend, when my wife and daughter were out of town, and decided to finally put it on and oh my sacred heart what an unbelievably great series. The writing, the performances, the cinematography—my god. Just unbelievable. I’d never seen any of Flanagan’s other stuff but now? I’ll watch anything the dude makes. I don’t think the show gave me nightmares per se but for weeks I’d wake up in the middle of the night and the first thing I’d think of was that scene. With Joe. You know the one. Oh, and the weekend that I ended up binging the whole series? It just occurred to me it was Easter weekend. I started the series on Good Friday. Might need to make it part of the yearly celebration now.

Severance: Yep. Yes. Uh-huh. It’s a real good show, Brent. They had better explain the frickin’ [redacted] though. My heart can’t take another Lost-scale disappointment. I re-upped Apple TV+ almost exclusively for the next season. Enough said, I think.

Sandman: Having pretty strongly disliked American Gods in spite of an absolute adoration for the book, I was skeptical of this one. I shouldn’t have been. It’s a spectacular, moving, gorgeous experience, and I’m so very happy it’s getting a second season. Now, maybe my appreciation stems in part from the fact that for this one I didn’t have anything other than the most cursory experience with the franchise. I’ll let you know once the series is done and I finally read the comics.

Jeopardy!: I’m not kidding about this. While temporarily re-subscribed to Hulu Live TV to watch the next entry, I happened to catch an episode live and remembered how much I’ve always loved this show. And when I discovered that it airs on CBS here, which means I can stream it every night on Paramount+, it instantly became appointment viewing. I’m not a huge trivia geek but I do know a little bit about a lot of things, which means I can feel like I’m holding my own in an imaginary matchup against most of the contestants who are actually, you know, on the show. But also, holy crap is Ken Jennings a great host! It was such a pleasant surprise to see how well he’s taken on the unenviable task of following Trebek. He’s as personable as Trebek was, just ever so slightly more cheeky, and very, very quick. (And speaking of Paramount+: To my absolute astonishment, it’s something we actually use very regularly. So that was another nice surprise in 2022.)

The Cleveland Guardians: I am not a huge baseball geek either, but I try to catch games when I can. Last year, our newly rebranded team made a real run at a spot in the World Series, and they were fun as hell to watch. Considering they were the youngest team in baseball that season, they’ve got me optimistic for a really spectacular season this year.

Curling: I am so happy when the Winter Olympics roll around again, because that means I get to watch as much curling as I can handle. I have an unironic love for this sport. I watched nearly every match last year. I adore it.

BOOKS

Wayward (Chuck Wendig): The weakest Wendig books I’ve read (and I’ve read them all except the Star Wars novels) are better than like 90 percent of what else is out there. And this is most assuredly not one of his weaker books. It is, in fact, a heart-wrenching (and occasionally gut-wrenching) followup to his masterpiece Wanderers, and while it may not quite—not quite—live up to its predecessor in every way, it’s just wonderful in its own right. This one follows the aftermath of a global pandemic, so as with the first book (which came out just before the fan started spinning up on our current shitshow) there’s a lot of resonance here. Which is to say, it’s not exactly escapist fiction? But it is nevertheless fantastic. The fact that he could figure out where to go from Wanderers at all is halfway to a miracle. The fact that he did such an amazing job of it is most of the rest of the way.

The Broken Room (Peter Clines): Clines may be the best science fiction/horror author you’ve never heard of. His book 14 got me hunting down everything he’s ever written, and I recommend it unreservedly to anyone who likes creepy otherworldly horror like Silent Hill or the whole Lovecraftian thing. So when this one hit it was an instant buy. And while 14 is still my favorite of his, this is a very, very close second. Picture, like, a buddy-cop thriller, but one cop is an insanely capable government operative in the Jason Bourne mold, and the other cop is a preteen girl with supernatural powers…and the first cop’s former partner’s ghost living in her head. Also lots of horror and weirdness and violence and man do I love this book. I’ve seen it described as “Jack Reacher meets Stranger Things” and while I have no direct experience with Jack Reacher that sounds pretty accurate. I think Clines admitted to plans for a sequel, which can’t come soon enough.

Project Hail Mary (Andy Weir): After loving The Martian, I was really excited for another book from Andy Weir. And then Artemis came out. I have no memory of that book. I read it! But I have no memory of it. I just read the summary on Amazon and I still have no memory of it. It is not a good book, is what I’m saying. So I was ready to write Weir off as a one-hit wonder. Hey, it happens, and that doesn’t change anything about the excellence of The Martian. So it was an absolute delight to read Project Hail Mary. The biggest criticism I can think of is that it’s perhaps a bit too similar to The Martian, and as criticisms go that’s…not exactly strong. It’s another fun-as-hell spacey romp with smart characters and Actual Science. If you liked The Martian (and especially if you were then as disappointed by Artemis as I was), you’ll love this book.

The Ash McKenna Series (Rob Hart): A fun twist on the hard-boiled detective genre, where the main character’s journey is just as important as the mysteries he solves—probably more so, actually. I plowed through all five of these in, like, a week.

Gideon the Ninth (Tamsyn Muir): Goth princess and her assassin frenemy go on adventures and discover lots of death stuff. OK, it’s a lot more than that, but it’s a fun and thought-provoking book and well worth reading if you like your fantasy a little weird and snarky. There are two more in this series, including one that released in 2022, but I didn’t like either of those nearly as much. Still, I can definitely recommend them—especially if you’re a fan of Gene Wolfe and like to have to figure everything out on your own.

The Craft Sequence (Max Gladstone): Smart and often funny fantasy where the main magic system is based on economics. It totally works, trust me. There are more in the series now than just these five, but this is a real great place to start.

The John Dies at the End Series (Jason Pargin, originally as David Wong): Starting with a caveat here: While the first book is good, it’s also very dated in a lot of ways. (Like, it mistakes “offensive” for “edgy” a lot.) The sequels just keep getting better, though: JDATE is followed by This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It and What the Hell Did I Just Read, and while I haven’t yet had a chance to dive into the newest one—If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe—it’s on my Kindle and I’m really looking forward to it. Just insane contemporary horror with an extremely twisted aesthetic and some memorable, awful, and memorably awful characters.

The Violence (Delilah S. Dawson): Another pandemic novel, one so tightly written and compulsively readable that I devoured it in something like two days and then immediately turned to:

The Shadow Series (also Delilah S. Dawson, as Lila Bowen): Gothic Western fantasy with a trans male lead. Fascinating and delightful. The first book is called Wake of Vultures. All four are great.

MUSIC

2022 was a depressingly sparse year for new music for me, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning these three fantastic releases:

Strange Mornings in the Garden (The Loyal Seas): Tanya Donnelly from Belly and Brian Sullivan of Dylan in the Movies (who, to be clear, I’d never heard of until just this moment) joined up to make this lovely collaboration. It’s a grownup summer album that hit at just the right time for me to fall deeply in love with it. The way their voices blend is just magical.

The Revisionist EP (Jawbox): This is two dramatic re-imaginings of tunes from Jawbox’s first album, Grippe, plus a Wire cover. The fact that one of those re-imaginings is of “Consolation Prize”—which on odd-numbered days is my absolute favorite track from that album—and yet I still actually like this one anyway is a testament to the magnificence of this band. I’m so very happy they’re touring and recording again and oh MAN do I hope they do some all-new tunes sometime soon.

Holidays 2022 (Belly): Yes, two of my three recommendations have Tanya Donnelly in them. Fight me. These two new, piano-focused versions of “Red” and “Seal My Fate” from 1995’s King are warm and haunting and gorgeous and I NEED MORE BELLY PLEASE.

MISCELLANEOUS

Beats Fit Pro: When they first came out, I absolutely jumped on a pair of AirPods Pro. My wife had a set of the OG AirPods and I liked the functionality, but active noise cancelation had become an absolute must for me. So when the Pros hit, it seemed like the perfect set for me. And I hated them. HAAAAAAaaaated them. I thought they sounded like crap, the ANC was next to worthless, and no matter what I did they refused to fit. (In their defense, the first two issues may have been caused by the third—but I simply could. not. make. them. fit.)

But now that I had a taste for it I really wanted to find a set of earbuds with good ANC to use while mowing our once-spacious lawn. I tried a few cheaper models, the best of which was an Aukey set for $60 (no longer available as far as I can tell) that actually had amazing sound and pretty decent ANC—except that it would only cancel higher-frequency noise, so it had almost no effect on the lawnmower. I ended up with a pair of Sony WF-1000XM3s which had great sound and at the time the best ANC available on earbuds (or at least earbuds outside of the absolute top of the range, I dunno). But those are bulky, the touch controls are stupidly finicky, and the app used to control them is a mess.

Then this year I happened to stumble across a review of the Beats Fit Pro. I knew Beats was now owned by Apple, but it didn’t occur to me that they might have the same seamless functionality as AirPods. But they do. And they fit. And they sound fantastic. And they have actual physical buttons. And the ANC is unreal. And they stay in snugly. And I love them so much. (And they’re regularly discounted fairly significantly—often well below the dramatically inferior AirPods Pro.) Now, a big caveat here is that I have not tried the newest generation of AirPods Pro. But I honestly can’t imagine they’re significantly better, if at all. These things are so great that I am always astonished how little I hear about them. I know Beats have a bad rap (HA HA SEE WHAT I DID THERE) among audiophiles but these are the real deal.

Razer Kishi: This is a controller built to straddle your phone and you can miss me with your outrage, Backbone fans. Review after review mentioned how the Kishi feels like an Xbox controller and the Backbone feels like the Switch Joycons and my giant hands made their own decision. I’m very happy they did; it genuinely does just feel like a regular controller and oh no Vampire Survivors is on iOS now.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway: In February we spent a long weekend at Disney World to celebrate my parents-in-law’s 75th birthdays. It was a lovely time. It hadn’t been that long since we’d been there, but it had been decades since I’d been to Hollywood Studios and I was SO EXCITED to visit Galaxy’s Edge and especially ride Rise of the Resistance. And that is all amazing. But go ahead and revoke my geek card because Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the ride that must not be missed if you’re at Hollywood Studios. The tech here is unreal; the ride is long and surprising; it’s just a fantastic experience all around, and it made me super-excited for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT (another “trackless dark ride”—and brand new last year). But when our reservation time rolled around, it was closed for maintenance. Something to look forward to next time I suppose.

Hocking Hills for Thanksgiving: We ended up trying something new for Thanksgiving this year, heading to the Hocking Hills region in the southeast quadrant of Ohio—basically north Appalachia. The place is loaded with secluded cabins, lovely scenery, and beautiful parks with caves and waterfalls. It’s a lovely place to go to relax, just far enough from Cleveland to feel like a real vacation but close enough for a quick getaway. This year, it being Thanksgiving, we met my in-laws there, so we got a larger and nicer cabin than we normally would—and we barely left. It was just a delightful, relaxing, long weekend with good food and family, pool tournaments and holiday movies. A real highlight of the year for me.

DISHONORABLE MENTION

Billy Summers (Stephen King): I truly love a great deal of Stephen King’s work. I think his massive success causes people to overlook what an absolutely beautiful, poetic writer he can be. He does horror so well because he can make you feel it so well. Yeah, he’s terrible at endings, but when he’s at his best his work is just magnificent. Billy Summers is the opposite of King at his best.

This entire book is essentially about two people: Billy and Alice. Billy is former military sniper who’s became a reluctant hitman and aspiring author. Alice is a 21 year old woman who was violently, graphically sexually abused. That’s it. That’s her backstory. I kept waiting for King to deliver any kind of justification for introducing her like this—any kind of reason beyond mere shock value. It never came. The book is gross. Avoid it.

The Ol’ GE-Home Depot Tag Team Experience: One day our dishwasher stopped working. We liked the dishwasher. So we bought a newer, slightly nicer version of pretty much the same thing. But we made one fatal mistake: We bought it from Home Depot. When it arrived, the installers hauled out the old one and prepped to put in the new one. But when they opened the box, they discovered it was crushed. Crumpled. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the box—the box was fine. This was the dishwasher itself. Now, this was clearly not Home Depot’s doing, but rather GE’s. It sucked, but hey, things happen, and we’d only be without a dishwasher for another three or four days until they could send over a new one. When that one came, the installers came in, checked that the area was still prepped, and then unloaded the machine from the truck.

Then they called me outside.

This time the dishwasher itself wasn’t crushed—but the drain hose was. Feeling increasingly nervous about this purchase, I called GE to overnight a new hose. To their credit, they did. And to Home Depot’s credit, they sent out a team of installers quickly once the hose arrived.

Trouble was, this third team of installers had, quite clearly, NEVER INSTALLED A DISHWASHER BEFORE. So I got to hear the head guy call his boss three times—THREE TIMES—for advice on how to mount a dishwasher under granite countertops. Which means I got to hear his boss tell him THREE TIMES what to do. Which means it was VERY VERY OBVIOUS that he didn’t do it right. The first time we opened the door after they left, the entire thing tipped forward. Not great!

…But it ended up being moot, because this unit had a broken heating coil. Now, remember, while this was the third installation attempt, this was only the second machine—and it had obviously been packaged badly. So we were willing to give GE one more chance to get us a working machine. A week later, a new team of installers brought it in.

And refused to install it.

They claimed that they’re “not allowed” to install machines that are hard-wired electrically—only if they plug in. This was…a surprising revelation. They insisted. They left. I called Home Depot. I sat on hold. I spoke to a very very nice woman who did her absolute best to get this taken care of. But apparently, it is their policy not to install appliances that don’t plug in to a regular outlet. And the first three installers were…I dunno, visitors from another dimension? Regardless, our options were to REWIRE OUR HOUSE….or pay a different company to install it. My wife finally said, “Fuck it, let’s try to do it ourselves.” And we did. And it worked. And it was secure. And after three weeks of hand-washing we finally had a working dishwasher once again.

Long story short: OH GOD DON’T BUY APPLIANCES FROM HOME DEPOT.

And finally:

Elon Musk: lol what a tool

Elon Musk is Hilariously Insecure

How insecure is he? He’s just made it against Twitter’s TOS to link to other social media sites. (Sites that seem to be exempt from this rule include Truth Social and Parler, which…man, if we could just figure out what political leanings that dude has. Ah well, the world may never know.)

ANYway, as a result, I’m taking the opportunity to create a post just to link to my other online presences, so I can post that to Twitter before the whole damn thing implodes. Ready?

First, the other social media places I’m at, in order of how much I expect to use them:

Instagram: johnnyhighground

Post: joerybicki

Spoutible: MAN do I hate this name, but it looks like it’s going to be the closest analog to Twitter and has a lot of backing and other good things going for it, so I suspect that might be where I end up mostly. I should be joerybicki there when it goes live

Hive: I loved them but are they even available anymore? I get the impression they lost a LOT of momentum having to take everything offline and it may simply be too late for them. Can’t link to a profile because they don’t have a web app (yyyyeahhh…) but I think I’m joerybicki there?

Cohost: Well, I’m there. But I don’t expect to, like, BE there much. I appreciate the mid-‘90s aesthetic but I don’t want to look at it more than I have to.

Mastodon: I hate the look of this place and I strongly suspect the design and fragmented nature of the site is going to ensure it won’t be “the” Twitter replacement. So I’m not gonna bother unless it turns out to become the undeniable heavyweight and then I’ll be as late to that party as I am to any other.

Facebook: lol, no

I think that’s it for the social stuff? I’ll add more as they become available and note any new additions. Meanwhile, two other places you can find me online:

Work Stuff: higround.net

Music Stuff: johnnyhighground.com

That is all. Good day.

On Shots, and the Throwing Away Thereof

Hi. So, as many of you probably know, I come from a very large family. With such a large group, there is a correspondingly large diversity of sociopolitical opinions, approaches, positions, beliefs—I dunno what you want to call it, I am SO TIRED. Long story short, it became pretty clear to me pretty quickly that a significant percentage of my loved ones might not be fully on board with the whole treating-COVID-as-a-real-and-serious-thing… thing. So in a fit of optimism and a need to feel like I was doing SOMEthing about *gestures wildly*, I sent the following e-mail to all 43 people on my sister’s family reunion mailing list. I tried to write it as simply, clearly, and non-confrontationally as I could, and I know it could be better but I feel like I got pretty close to where I wanted to get. That being the case, I thought I’d share it here in case someone else might find it useful. Feel free to crib from it if you feel driven to write a similar e-mail. And stay safe out there.



Hello family!

Sorry for piggy-backing on the [reunion] email but I have something I want to share with everyone, because you’re my family and I love you. It’s this:

Covid is extremely serious. But vaccines are extremely helpful. Please get your shots. 

Look, I know there’s a lot of weird baggage around this issue. And before I go any further I want to clarify that the absurdly long message that follows is not, like, copy-pasted from somewhere else. This is all me — your brother, your brother-in-law, your cousin, your nephew, your uncle — and what I’ve learned by reading things by people whose job it is to know about this stuff. I am not one of those people! I don’t claim to know everything about these issues! (I will include sources so you can see where I’m getting my info from, though.) But among people who do actually know about this stuff, these things are very, very clear:

1. Covid is extremely serious. Early on in…all this…some folks tried to downplay the severity of the disease, saying it’s no worse than the flu (or worse, that it was a total hoax) and that the seriousness of the pandemic was being exaggerated for reasons I’m still not totally clear on. By now I hope we can all see that this approach was pretty misguided. As of this writing 4.7 million people have died of it

I know none of us finds it easy to wrap our heads around numbers that big, so to add some context: That’s a bit more than the population of all of Northeast Ohio. Imagine literally everyone in your hometown just…gone — empty houses, shops, schools, for miles in every direction. 

Of course, the flu is serious too! In the roughly 1.5 years since Covid hit, we could have averaged as many as 750,000 deaths from the flu. Still really bad! But Covid is six times worse. And that’s not taking into consideration “long Covid,” where some folks lucky enough to survive the initial onset of the disease continue to experience some of the symptoms for months afterward (and maybe even longer; it’s not fully understood yet). (Also, side note: I say “could have averaged” because this past flu season had dramatically fewer flu cases than average — like around one fiftieth —for reasons I’ll get to in a bit.)

So, yeah. Covid: It’s real bad! Which makes us really, really lucky that…

2. Vaccines are extremely effective. We currently have three Covid vaccines approved for use in the U.S.: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The first two (those are the ones that require two doses) are currently shown to be at least 80 percent effective at preventing infection by Covid — even the more infectious “Delta variant” — and at least 85 percent effective at preventing getting sick from that infection. The single-dose J&J doesn’t seem quite as effective, but it still more than halves your chance of getting infected or getting sick. (All stats as of August 9, from here.) 

(For more about effectiveness, here’s a good primer from the WHO, but basically “80 percent effective” means that the infection will only sneak through the vaccine’s defenses in about one out of every five people — when considering the group of all vaccinated people. So that apparent effectiveness can vary pretty significantly depending on specific situations; like, places where people are in closer contact might see more people getting sick because they’re more likely to be exposed to more people who are already sick.) 

But the really great thing is that even if you get it after being vaccinated, you’re way less likely to get seriously ill from it than unvaccinated people. The effectiveness there gets into the high 90th percentile. (And the effectiveness against death from Covid is very close to 100 percent!) We hear about “breakthrough infections” a lot right now, and I personally know four vaccinated people who have tested positive. Of those four, though, one had no symptoms, two had what felt like bad colds, and one had to spend a day or two in bed. Compare that to a week of misery (at minimum) that Covid brings to unvaccinated people. If you ask me, that’s a pretty fair tradeoff, especially since…

3. Vaccines are extremely safe. I know this is a sticking point for some people. Here’s what we know: Aside from the kind of side effects you might get after a flu shot — slight fever, muscle aches, fatigue, etc. — there have been two issues that have shown any significant link to vaccines. First, a treatable blood-clotting issue called TTS showed up after some folks (mostly women) got the J&J vaccine, at the rate of no more than seven in a million. Three people who did not get the condition treated have died (page 26) — out of 8.73 million doses. The other thing is myocarditis that has shown up in a small number of (mostly minor-aged) recipients of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. That’s a potentially bad issue if it lasts, but these cases seem to clear up quickly

So why might we have heard stories about other illnesses or deaths from the vaccines? That’s probably because of how the CDC collects data. They have a database called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, where anyone can submit details about conditions that arise after getting vaccinated. There’s two really important details in that previous sentence: 1. Anyone can contribute, and it’s not curated by the CDC. That is, it’s intended to be for collecting information, not for spreading information; the claims are evaluated and investigated, and when the scientists and statisticians see a legitimate connection, that then gets shared with the public. (That’s how we learned about TTS and myocarditis.) And 2. The system asks for any symptoms or events that happen after being vaccinated — but “after” doesn’t mean “caused by.” To use a kind of extreme example, if someone got hit by a car walking out of their vaccine appointment, this could technically be submitted to VAERS as a death following vaccination. 

So there’s some statistics for you. I think it’s also useful, though, to consider a more personal side of vaccinations. Like, every living president (and their wives) have been vaccinated; every governor has been vaccinated; at least 80 percent of Congress has been vaccinated… These are people for whom death or debilitating illness would be a very big problem for a very large number of people. But they, their families, their staffs or administrations — they’ve all agreed it’s safe enough. (Source here.) I feel like that says something.

All that said, though…

4. Vaccines can’t do everything. This has been another source of contention, so let’s talk about what vaccines can’t do. So, we know that vaccines are very effective at preventing infection. What we don’t know at this point is whether it’s possible to carry and transmit covid virus without being technically infected. What we do know is that Covid is a sneaky little bugger that doesn’t like to let you know you have it for a few days. That’s one of the big reasons we’ve been in this pandemic for so long: You can have Covid for several days — and be infectious! — without showing a single symptom. And since no vaccine is perfect, that means that it’s entirely possible to be vaccinated, get a Covid infection, and spread it around to everyone closest to you without having a clue. 

So how do we combat that? Well, first of all, it helps a lot if anyone who can be vaccinated, is vaccinated. Think of it like this (though I don’t think this math is perfect): If you have a 20-percent chance of getting infected while vaccinated, your vaccinated loved ones have a 20-percent-of-20-percent-chance of getting infected by you — that’s 4 percent. And their vaccinated loved ones who you don’t see have a 20-percent-of-20-percent-of-20-percent chance of getting infected by you. Thats less than one percent! 

But because nothing is perfect, and we can have Covid without knowing it, it’s also really important to wear a mask and keep your distance when around unvaccinated people. I’ve seen a meme saying something like “If vaccines work, why do we have to wear masks? If masks work, why do we need vaccines?” The truth is, prevention methods complement each other. One virologist I follow calls it the “Swiss cheese method”: Each slice of Swiss cheese has holes, but if you layer a few slices from different blocks on top of each other, the holes are unlikely to line up. The vaccines are a slice of Swiss with very few, very small holes. Even something as “holey” as a bandanna can block a lot of them. 

And if you worry that these methods don’t do anything, remember from like fifty-seven paragraphs ago when I mentioned the flu being practically nonexistent this past season? That’s because we were masking regularly, keeping our distance, and washing our hands. We have proof that taking these simple steps is effective!

To put it another way…

5. Your choices matter. We’re currently dealing with this more serious Delta variant of Covid because the virus has had time and opportunity to reproduce a lot, which means it’s had time and opportunity for mutations to appear that have made the current vaccines slightly less effective. A bad enough mutation could put us right back where we were early last year. The more chance the virus has to spread, the worse off we’re all likely to be.

But that means the flip side is true, too: Everything you do to make things harder for this virus helps everyone. Like, in the world. Getting vaccinated protects you, yes, but it protects your community too — and it also, even if just a tiny bit, helps protect literally everyone else on earth, by taking one potential host out of the pool, giving the virus one fewer opportunity to reproduce and potentially mutate. You’re especially helping those of us with kids who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated yet (and those with loved ones who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons). 

I would be so grateful if you could help Eleanor in this way. 

So that’s what I wanted to say. If you’ve read this far, I really appreciate it. I appreciate you taking my thoughts under consideration. If you find this helpful, please feel free to share it. If you have questions, I’d be happy to do my best to answer. (That’s why I’m sending this via BCC, so we don’t have a reply-all tsunami.) Please, whatever you do, stay safe. This pandemic will be over eventually. I’d really like to see you on the other side of it.

With love and optimism,
-joe

On Grief

or, What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Never Feel Okay Again, Ever

I’m no stranger to loss. My dad died in 2003, my mom in 2006. One of my four brothers passed in 2012, another in 2013. And one of my dearest friends offed himself like an idiot in 2012. 

But this past week has been hard. 

Last Tuesday, after a freakishly quick sequence of unlikely health events, my nephew Dan died at the age of 33. There was no time to prepare, no feeling of reluctant relief at a cessation of suffering. He was fine…then he was sick…then he was gone. He left behind a wife of four years, who moved from South Africa to be with him, to join our vast family. (They met in World of Warcraft—a fairy-tale relationship in many senses of the term.)

Today was his funeral, and I couldn’t be there. (Work obligations, you know; when you’re self-employed you can’t always get bereavement time.) But I went to visitation yesterday, hugged his parents and three siblings as hard as I could, and told them that it will get easier. In time. 

That’s a hard thing to believe in the moment. In the moment it feels like things can never get easier. And maybe, as my wife pointed out, on some level you maybe don’t want things to get easier. Maybe it feels like a small betrayal to let yourself heal. But like it or not, we heal. Things do get better. In time. 

With that in mind, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned about that process, from my experience going through it—as well as from being raised in the family business of funeral service.

1. However you grieve is the right way to grieve.

This may be the most important thing I’ve learned from my experiences with death. Everyone grieves in different ways; some may get angry, some may get goofy, some may make inappropriate jokes, some may go silent. It takes different forms even in the same person, over time—and no, it doesn’t always follow a handy five-step process. So grieve in the way that you grieve, and don’t give yourself grief over it! The important thing is to let it happen; the only “wrong way to grieve” is to not grieve at all. Don’t suppress it, and by all that is holy don’t be embarrassed by it! Allow yourself to feel what you feel. 

And a corollary: Allow your loved ones to feel what they feel, too. There will be situations when your grieving process conflicts with someone else’s. Recognize that both are valid, and try to be respectful of each other: If it’s a problem for you, communicate that you don’t feel comfortable with that approach, and ideally you can find ways to do your own grieving out of each other’s way. But try not to judge. And try to forgive.

2. Take care of yourself.

In this country we have this odd relationship with death, where you’re supposed to be sad but not express your sadness too loudly. Where you’re supposed to put on a brave face but not experience any strain from doing so. Where you’re supposed to look out for every other person in the deceased’s life…except, sometimes, yourself. 

Fuck that. 

You’ve just suffered one of the most horrible, stressful experiences a person will ever have to experience. I hereby give you permission to be selfish for once. That can mean stepping out from the services whenever you feel like it; it can mean taking that vacation you had planned; it can mean unashamedly walking away if you don’t like what the person you’re talking to is saying about your loved one. You do you. It’s what your loved one would have wanted, isn’t it?

3. It will get easier.

I know it’s virtually impossible to picture right now. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it. But I just ask that you trust me: There will come a time—and no one knows when—that you discover that when you think of the person you’ve lost, the good memories have, improbably, started to outweigh the bad. Just a little. I wish I could tell you when that will happen. 

4. But it might get harder first. 

I hate to have to be the one to tell you, but I want you to be prepared. Right now, you’re probably in shock. And you’re definitely in an unusual life situation: You’re planning or participating in or have just participated in a funeral ceremony, which is weird and totally out of the norm. At some point, though, you have to try to go back to “normal” life. And that’s hard.

At first, you will feel that person’s absence always. You’ll feel it everywhere and in everything you do, like a missing tooth that you can’t stop touching. And that’s hard. You will carry this absence with you, like dark matter: invisible, defined only by negatives, and unbearably heavy. But in my experience, that’s not all that different from what you’ve already been doing.

No, in my experience, when things get hardest is when you’ve just started to heal. Your brain will have begun to block off the pain, and so eventually it’ll turn out that you don’t think about that person’s absence for minutes, even hours at a time. 

And then you remember. 

Please realize that grief doesn’t have an expiration date. You get to grieve however you want to grieve; you get to take care of yourself; you get to trust that it will get easier—for as long as it takes. Only you will know when you’ve healed enough to feel that you’re “done” grieving. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. And if you find yourself in this situation…

5. Ask for help.

By now you’ve probably lost track of the people who have told you “if there’s anything we can do…” That’s a great sentiment, but you’ve probably realized by now it’s not terribly helpful on the surface. People say that because they don’t know what specifically to offer to do, but if you’re like me you’re not about to just call someone up and say, “Hey, remember when you asked what you can do for me? Listen up.”

But what you need to realize is that people actually mean this. They genuinely want to help, they’re just not sure how. So try as hard as you can to put any awkwardness aside and take them up on it. Here are some phrases to get you started:

“Hey, so, it turns out I actually could use some help…”

“I didn’t think of it at the time, but would you be able to…?”

“Hey, I’m not quite on top of things yet, could you possibly do me a favor?”

I promise you that everyone who cares about you will be delighted to be able to help. 

6. Get mushy.

Finally, I want to formally give you permission to be as expressive to your surviving loved ones as your heart can stand. If there’s one good thing about death, it’s that it reminds us that life is finite—but love is not. So hug your loved ones tight, tell them how much they mean to you. Cherish the opportunity to love and be loved. And know that, no matter what happens, that love will always be there.

Always.

Dear Diary

I’m scared. That’s what it is, I guess. I’m just damn scared.

I’m disappointed, sure. I’m disappointed that almost half of the voting public doesn’t place a high value on decency. I’m disappointed that a significant portion of that near-half seems to have been suckered in by innuendoes and flat-out lies, sharing and re-sharing a narrative that can be disproven with the slightest research and/or the slightest critical thinking skills. I’m disappointed that anyone trusted a man who has given us exactly zero reason to trust anything except the fact that he is entirely unworthy of trust.

And I’m angry. Oh so very much yes, am I angry. I’m angry at the half of the voting-age adults who stayed home rather than participate in the future of our country. I’m angry at the subhuman mouth-breathers who took the result of this election as license to trot their racism out into the open. I’m angry at the cozy suburban enablers who are downplaying that behavior—or worse, defending it. I’m angry at the protesters who are letting themselves get violent, who are making us all look bad.

And I’m sad. I’m sad for the credulous voters who believed anything this vile man said; I’m sad that their hopes are already being squashed. I’m sad that it appears we were more right than we knew, those of us who predicted that he would disappoint his supporters early and often. I’m sad that this bumbling conman appears to be “draining the swamp” right into his own gaping, feculent maw.

But mostly, I’m scared. I’m scared for every single one of my non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual friends, family, and colleagues. I’m scared for my Asian, immigrant daughter, and what she might have to face in the coming years if these trends continue. I’m scared by the possibility of a return to the roaring, Red-hunting ’50s, when government nurtured suspicion of one’s neighbor. (Was this when America was “great”?) I’m scared that internment camps are being touted as “precedent” for elements of the incoming administration’s policy platform. (How about then?) I’m scared that a petulant man-child will have control of America’s nukes, its military, its intelligence apparatus. I’m scared by the many, many parallels between that small, mewling man and the worst leaders of history.

But you know what? I’m hopeful, too. I’m hopeful that this election has been a wakeup call to the complacent, to the political abstainers, to the press. I’m hopeful that at least some few in the Congressional majority will take a stand for what’s right rather than only what’s right-wing. I’m hopeful because a greater number of those who did vote actually voted against the race-baiting demagogue—a number that seems to be growing every day. I’m hopeful because the racist fuckheads aren’t the only ones who’ve been mobilized and emboldened by this election.

So yeah, I’m scared. I’m disappointed, angry, and sad. But I’m also hopeful. And that’s no small thing.