The Pool

It is an onyx pit fluttering with the choppy crashes of ice cold hurt. Crisp currents forged from happenstance and happiness and past decisions and mistakes you can’t take back or atone for. For all its apparent fluidity, the pool is hard and dark and unforgiving and it will drag you into its eddies and maelstroms like a stranger with bad motives if you’re not careful. The sick thing about the pool is that it is always familiar. It was, after all, you who made the pool first splash. The water arrived the moment you first began to live. But you can never see the edges. The pool has no discernible dimensions. Land? An optical illusion as phony as time, but it does crop up every so often. You do your best to swim through the muck, to evade the stings of jellyfish, to dodge the barnacles that can pull you under the water. As the years pass and your limbs atrophy, it becomes less easy to negotiate the pool, although, as a French chemist once pointed out, chance favors the prepared mind. The swimmer becomes more invisible and less loved and can sink to the bottom if he is not careful. The opportunities to build a boat likewise dry up. Because too many people want to horde the wood found on sylvan archipelagos. What keeps you swimming in the pool is anything that remains of your energy and your vitality and your character, which sometimes translates into love and resilience and connection but not always. It’s often very lonely to swim. It really is. But you swim. Because it’s either that or drowning. The pool knows damn well that it was forged from all of your earlier wades and breaststrokes. It knows that there were friends and lovers who once swam with you, friends and lovers who now swim in their own pools. The pool knows that it’s luck that matters above choice. The pool taunts you at night with loud laughs from the waves and whirls. Eidolons. Spectres. But you swim. And you’re amazed that you’re still able to do so. Because there are some days in which you’re so close to drowning.

The Nightmare is Over

Today was the first day in which I felt proud to be an American since 2016. Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States. With his sweeping victories in Georgia, Pennyslvania, Nevada, and Arizona, Biden won several states that seemed beyond him — often by a razor-thin margin — and defeated the menace that had threatened to permanently destroy democracy.

The mood here in Brooklyn was one of jubilation. Cars honked for hours. People danced in the street. As I did my laundry, an exuberant Jamaican woman offered hilarious commentary to accompany what came from the television. It was the same television in which I had witnessed Hillary Clinton concede while folding my shirts in hopeless tears. Grand Army Plaza was thronged with jumping bystanders feeling a wave of possibility that I haven’t witnessed since Obama took office in 2008.

There still remains much that is uncertain. Namely, whether the Democrats will take the Senate. Two Georgia seats are heading into a twin runoff race. There have been whispers from Alaska about Dr. Al Gross having a mail-in shot. Even Cal Cunningham in North Carolina is behind now by only 95,739 votes, with 2% of the ballots left to count.

But somehow the hard details don’t matter today. Today, we restored dignity and empathy to the Presidency. And this was no small battle. As an American, I feel that we have a strong shot at regaining democracy again and maybe even listening to each other. And I know that everybody I talked to in the streets of Brooklyn felt the same way.

I don’t feel any desire to punch at or mention the man who Biden is replacing. Frankly, that man is digging his own grave by refusing to concede or to even leave the White House with dignity. One feels that a giant marshmallow has deflated and melted. And it’s a strange feeling given how much of a threat he was only last week. He’ll probably pull a few shenanigans in the next 75 days. But what we can confidently say is this: The system held. The republic endured. People made compromises and knew who they needed to stand behind. Let us hope that this spirit of unity holds into the new year and the new presidential administration.

Audio Drama: “The Yellow Wallpaper”

We just released “The Yellow Wallpaper.” This is a standalone story that is part of the second season of The Gray Area. You can follow the audio drama series through this episode guide.

This is the first audio drama that I’ve adapted from another source — in this case, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” one of my favorite short stories of all time. This adaptation is set in the modern day and is dedicated to the #metoo movement. This radio play honors the text, but is somewhat experimental.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who want to support our show, we have a great deal of behind-the-scenes material available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion
Adapted from the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story

CAST:

The Woman: Katrina Clairvoyant and Nicole Papadopoulos
John: Zack Glassman
Jenie: Devony DiMattia
The Child: Devony DiMattia
The Wallpaper: Pete Lutz
The Guests: Michael Saldate, Charly Saccocio, and Edward Champion
The Voice: Carol Jacobanis
Mary: Belgys Felix
The Nurse: Argyria Kehagias

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who reads too many books.

Music licensed through Musicfox.

Image licensed through Getty.

Thank you for listening!

If you’d like to support this independent audio production and learn more about how we made it, for only $20, you can become a Season 2 Subscriber! You’ll get instant access to all episodes as we finish them — months before release. Plus, you’ll get access to exclusive interviews and more than 400 minutes of behind-the-scenes commentary! Here are some behind-the-scenes photos and videos pertaining to this episode that we made during the more than two years of production we put into the second season.

Behind the Scenes:

The Case for Canceling Thanksgiving

We’re less than a day into November and already the anti-science propaganda has been unspooled like a mildewed floor roller desecrating an immaculate hardwood floor. Resident wingnut Karol Markowicz, the New York Post‘s answer to a Karen for the written word, has urged her readers to celebrate Turkey Day, come hell or high water. “Go and see your family in Thanksgiving,” writes Markowicz. It doesn’t matter if they are out-of-state. It doesn’t matter if they are old or immunocompromised. Markowicz expressed all this, even as she risibly claimed that she had arrived at this conclusion “precisely because I listen to scientists.” Actually, Karol, it’s pretty damned easy to dismantle your ridiculously convenient logic. Her remedy for not passing on the virus is to find some magical place where you can get a rapid COVID test and wait for the results before enjoying the turkey and mashed potatoes.

The problem here is that there aren’t enough rapid tests available — least of all in remote regions that are highly averse to implementing desperately needed testing and tracing. Here in New York, the state that has offered the most ample testing, there have been only 400,000 rapid test kits distributed throughout the entire state. 148,935 tests were reported by Cuomo yesterday. If we replaced all COVID tests with rapid tests, we would burn through the available rapid test supply in less than three days. But that’s not going to happen. Because these rapid tests have been earmarked for schools in COVID hot spots. Markowicz’s math simply doesn’t add up. Does she think that rapid test kits grow on trees much in the manner of L. Frank Baum’s lunchboxes? I can only imagine how poorly she manages the family budget. Moreover, she foolishly believes that COVID tests will take less than 24 hours to process when any of us who have been tested know that a result can take as long as a week to come back or, in a worst case scenario, ten days.

Adding balderdash to batshit, Markowicz also guilts the reader through offensively treacly rhetoric: If you don’t see your family now, you may never see them. This wantonly assumes that the majority of senior family members arranged at the hypothetical dinner table will drop dead in the next eighteen months. Dr. Fauci’s own projections indicate that we’re not going to have anything close to normality until 2022. And, even then, this would be contingent upon a global vaccine that was successfully distributed and applied among the global population.

The reality is that we’re going to be living with masks and social distancing for at least eighteen months.

Markowicz then goes on to defend Kim Kardashian’s deservedly reviled 40th birthday party on a private island. “It was the fact that Kim got a little ‘normal,'” Markowicz writes, “that really seemed to rub people the wrong way.” Actually, it was the obscene narcissism of Kardashian flaunting her wealth and privilege that caused people to get upset — as any cursory review of Twitter swiftly reveals. When an estimated 31 million people are waiting on unemployment benefits as Mitch McConnell holds up a desperately needed second stimulus check until the start of 2021, the last thing that anybody wants to hear is an attention-seeking moron insulated by vast wealth bray on insensitively about the luxury she gets to enjoy while a sizable cluster of America fears eviction. Markowicz even refers to Kardashian’s ploy as a “regular life.” Really? When frolicking on a private island is within the scope of more than 300 million Americans, then we’ll talk. But Kardashian is no more “regular” than a flock of dodo birds somehow transcending extinction to saunter through Midtown.

We then get two obscenely fabulist paragraphs painting a panorama of overeating, drinking too much, and arguing about the election. I’ve counted the family members that Markowicz adds to her sham idyllicism and we have a mother, a father, a great-aunt, plentiful cousins (let’s say four), and at least one aunt and uncle. That’s a super-spreader event of ten and I’m not even counting family friends or significant others. We know that roughly one in ten people have been infected with COVID. Let’s say that the family home is in South Dakota, which presently has a 46% positivity rate. These aren’t the kind of odds you want to mess with — not if you want your family to stay healthy and live.

Last year, 31.6 million people traveled for Thanksgiving. Let’s say that half of those people brave the planes. That’s still about 15 million. Scientists at MIT and the Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health have informed us that HEPA filters in airplanes don’t function nearly as effectively against the virus. If the planes are packed with Thanksgiving travelers, you’re going to see planes turned into superspreader vessels. Your chances of getting COVID increase if you remove your mask to eat food or you are sitting very close to an infected person. Let’s be hopeful and say that only 10% of our estimated 15 million travelers come down with the virus. Well, that’s still 1.5 million cases. And if 1% of those people die, that’s 150,000 deaths to add to the already 230,000 fatalities we have seen since March.

What Markowicz is arguing for here is mass murder. To offer her a historical example she can understand, Operation Reinhard killed over 11,000 victims in Krakow. Even if we reduce our estimate by half, she’s essentially arguing for seven Operation Reinhards to go down in December. And the hell of it is that these needless casualties are so easily preventable.

We recently saw Australia — a vast country of 2.97 million miles (only one million less than the United States) — emerge into some semblance of normalcy. No new cases for five months. And that was only because Australia adopted strict lockdown measures that lasted for 112 days. The United Kingdom is presently attempting a similarly strict lockdown that could last four weeks. Maybe longer. The nation is joined by lockdowns in France, Belgium, Germany, and Greece.

Without a vaccine, the only real way to fight the virus — particularly as it bristles into the central regions of America — is through a national lockdown and significant penalties for failing to wear a mask in public. Failing that, seeing as how our government refuses to enforce a life-saving measure that will result in fewer deaths and potential containment, it seems to me that canceling Thanksgiving this year is merely a modest strategy to eliminate further spread of a virus that is clearly out of control in the great American heartland.

The only reasonable way I can see anyone celebrating Thanksgiving is for a “COVID pod” to agree for all parties to quarantine individually for two weeks before the turkey gets carved. But there’s also the potential exposure risk that comes with air travel. So even that isn’t a foolproof solution for people who aren’t fortunate enough to live in the same city as their family.

Look, nobody loves cooking for sixteen hours and feeding people more than I do. I’ve done the full Thanksgiving cooking marathon — turkey and all — five times now. Nobody loves ensuring that stranded friends have a place at a table during the holidays more than I do. But the rules of existence have changed. The way we live now is not the way we lived in March. If we want to return to that way of life — and we will eventually — then we need to consider some fairly radical ideas about how we can stop COVID. Now is not the time for the kind of foolish misinformation and fake news that is apparently Karol Markowicz’s specialty. But then she works for The New York Post. One would expect no less from a paper that couldn’t even report the professed Hunter Biden scandal right. When Tucker Carlson serves as the voice of reason, you’re hardly in the position to be arguing the wholesome high ground.

The National Epidemic of Selective Empathy

When CNN anchor Don Lemon pointed out to Chris Cuomo on Thursday night that he had to cut off some of his friends because they were “too far gone,” I knew exactly what he meant. The problem is that the disgraceful act of punching down at anybody who is struggling isn’t confined to the right anymore — even though all the calls for basic human decency have emerged from Democratic leaders. Back in August, Biden gave an acceptance speech at the DNC that was surprisingly eloquent. He demanded an America that was “selfless and humble” and hoped to redefine the nation as one of possibilities rather than division. The Left’s talking points have seemed — on the surface, at least — to prize decency and humility as the honorable traits that distinguish them from Trump’s minions.

Earlier in the week, Wallace Shawn wrote a thoughtful essay for the New York Review of Books that featured some surprisingly trenchant truths (for Shawn, at any rate) about the way in which America has shifted away from being kind:

Trump has liberated a lot of people from the last vestiges of the Sermon on the Mount. A lot of people turn out to have been sick and tired of pretending to be good. The fact that the leader of one of our two parties—the party, in fact, that has for many decades represented what was normal, acceptable, and respectable—was not ashamed to reveal his own selfishness, was not ashamed to reveal his own indifference to the suffering of others, was not even ashamed to reveal his own cheerful enjoyment of cruelty…all of this helped people to feel that they no longer needed to be ashamed of those qualities in themselves either. They didn’t need to feel bad because they didn’t care about other people. Maybe they didn’t want to be forbearing toward enemies. Maybe they didn’t want to be gentle or kind.

Shawn is absolutely correct. But a certain type of professional pundit who professes to speak on behalf of regular Joes and Janes, usually epitomized by Dirtbag Left types sitting on Patreon-fueled piles of money — the kind of brunch-entitled elitist or “sensible” middle-of-the-road type who not so secretly despises the vast promise of humanity — would seem to suggest that some people who claim to lean left are just as guilty in cleaving to false pretense. To even point these obvious blind spots out is to be falsely branded as a Quillette fan. (When I called out the aforementioned elitist on his insensitivity to the brave food service workers he poked fun at, even citing articles pointing to how they were underpaid and risking their health during the pandemic, he decided to personally attack me, much in the deranged manner that he once demanded that a Nigerian prove his country of origin within ten seconds.) It’s clear that many of these self-appointed experts, driven by hubris and the Need to Matter, are unwilling to practice the very empathy that they profess to stand for. You won’t find them at Black Lives Matter protests. You won’t see them committed to tangible action that can get us closer to the goal of an America that considers everyone. Above all, you’ll never see them listening. And this does a disservice to the heartfelt DSA types committed to indefatigable organization or the Democrats rolling up their sleeves for a long and hard fight that considers the bigger picture.

I’ve had to end two friendships since the pandemic began. These two people weren’t Trump-voting Republicans, but rather strident neoliberals who felt as if their right to enjoy the good life was not something to be shared by those who fall into a lower income bracket and who seem incapable of perceiving life outside their hermetically sealed bubbles. I’m a far left progressive who was in the tank for Bernie and Liz, but who swallowed his pride for the greater good and who extended numerous hours phone banking for Biden out of a need to preserve democracy by any means necessary. The strategy here, one shared by other progressives who see stability as a long game for radical change, is to revive an American framework in which we can theoretically listen to each other again and make true change happen that is good for everyone.

But my perspective is a bit different from that of my moneyed middle-class peers. I grew up white trash. I have been homeless. I have lived in environments in which physical and emotional abuse was the daily norm. I have a toxic family who relished in hurting me and who left me to die repeatedly. I’ve had to do considerable rewiring of my attitude in the last six years so that I don’t feel resentment, but wonder and gratitude for all that I have and that I can pass on to those who are hurting. I have tried to pay it forward by taking care of other people in my life even as I often stay silent about my own needs and my own difficult struggles. I have known what it is like to have only thirty cents in my pocket and to have no pecuniary hope for the future. I have known what it’s like to have people in positions of power go well out of their way to smear me and distort the truth of my life. I have lived entire months in which I have eaten nothing but Top Ramen. And I am deeply aware, given the present unemployment crisis and the failed economic relief for Americans, that I could very well find myself in that place again, along with many other people who are dear to me. I believe that everyone deserves basic welfare and a second chance — even if it comes at the risk of repeat offenses, as we saw over the weekend with Ruth Shalit Barrett. To not extend such clemency is to align yourself with the Dirty Harry acolytes who believe that all people are hopelessly corrupt and incapable of change.

To believe in such liberalism right now can, in some circles, be an act of apostasy.

I decided to end these two friendships — one of which had endured for more than fifteen years — because these two neoliberals refused to consider the homeless and the working class even as they insisted that they “knew best” for America. Because I was such a loud advocate for the working class and the marginalized, these two former friends proceeded to disrespect me, somehow sensing that I was lesser by way of not adhering to the uninventively vanilla and somewhat sociopathic idea that the middle-class was the common origin point. These two “friends” vitiated me when I had given so much of my time and my energy to them. Something about our austere political atmosphere had made this kind of “What’s in it for me?” style of friendship a political issue, much as empathy, which must remain inclusive to anyone irrespective of political affiliation, has become a partisan issue.

In short, what united my neoliberal ex-friends with the hideous Trump cult was the selfish idea that there was only one narcissistic narrative that mattered: theirs and only theirs. Let’s not forget that the self-absorbed and the selfish can be found at any point on the political spectrum. You can suss them out fairly quickly by their need to announce their good deeds rather than simply performing their benevolent acts. There isn’t a concern for posterity or for extending a hand to the underprivileged. There isn’t a sense of historical continuity.

What I hope that everyone voting on Tuesday can come to understand is that we have two completely different paths for the future of our nation. One of them is a terrifying road to authoritarianism. The other is a path to greater promise. But let’s not be selective about our empathy. It’s a mistake to assume that all Republicans are Nazis, even though there are plenty of strong reasons to condemn the Republican Party’s repugnant actions over the last four years. When contending with fascist policies, your job is to fight hard, at any cost, for a greater tomorrow. When fighting systemic racism, your job is to be indefatigable.

Even so, the only reason I reached Republicans and Independents and converted them into Biden voters while phone banking was because I took the time to listen to their grievances and I paid close attention to their life stories. I took the time to find common points. We must remember that the people who are uncertain about Biden are driven by the same qualities that we ultimately are: empathy and decency and the sense that they are being heard rather than getting left in the dust. Flexing your ego on social media or within the framework of an article that only your peers will read may make you feel better. But are you actually doing the work? Are you trying to get people to listen? Do you have more than a superficial understanding of the clusters of people you are speculating about and for whom you falsely profess to be an expert? Because as far as I’m concerned, that tactic is just as inconsiderate as Trump leaving millions of Americans in the cold and refusing to offer a healthcare plan or a strategy for national recovery. As we look forward to a prospect in which we can hopefully move to a governmental system that takes care of everyone, we must not fall into the same trap as Trump. We are the United States of America. And that means finding new ways of reaching total strangers who we swiftly condemn as our enemies.