Friday, March 20, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 03/19/20: "I am not ague-proof", Muffins, Back to Edith Wharton

1. I think it was last week, as people were beginning to stay home or anticipating needing to quarantine, that a meme was hopping around the World Wide Web that stated that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined during an outbreak of the plague.

I think the purpose of this meme was to encourage people that they could use quarantine time creatively and productively. After all, it was during a quarantine that Shakespeare wrote King Lear.

I like that idea. I'm hunkered down. I don't know that I'll produce anything outside of daily blog posts, but I will cook, read, and watch quality things on the Vizio. I'll enrich myself.

All the same, in my mind, the meme triggered a different response.

I have been thinking about that moment in Act IV, Scene 5 or 6 (depending on which edition you might consult) in King Lear when the two old suffering men, Gloucester and King Lear, meet. Gloucester has had his eyes torn out of his head and King Lear is in a state of madness,  fantastically dressed with a crown of flowers, having survived his night of exposure to a tempest on the heath.

Stripped of all royal power and trappings, King Lear is moving closer and closer to understanding that his life has been inauthentic, a charade and he's coming to understand essential, unvarnished truths about what it means to be human.

The insight he arrives at that keeps echoing inside me is when King Lear says the following about his sycophants at court: "They told me I was everything.  'Tis a lie. I am not ague-proof."

I guess I could start a meme that says something like, "Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined during the plague, he wrote King Lear and reminded us that no one is ague-proof."

Ague wasn't the plague, per se, but was a prevalent illness featuring severe fever, chills, shivering, and sweating.

For King Lear, "ague" is a metaphor. Until suffering the loss of his royal power, King Lear lived as if he were immune to the deprivations, sufferings, and hardships -- the ague -- of human life. Today, we might say he thought he was "bullet proof" or regarded himself as a "Teflon king".

But, he realizes, "'Tis a lie."

I'm not going to split hairs here regarding the difference between the plague, ague, COVID 19, and other infectious illnesses.

I think Shakespeare saw, in the plague, a connection between the physical world of infectious disease and the inward world of suffering.

Both physically and in our inward lives, we are not ague-proof. We are no more immune to novel contagion than we are to suffering.

As I've written before, I'm leaving the house only for the occasional trip to the store or to go on solo hikes or walks.

I have, in the past, lived as if I were ague-proof, primarily by overrating my importance as an instructor and a faculty member at Lane Community College. For whatever reason, I am vulnerable to illness when I overwork myself. When I was working, I saw other faculty work hard, many doing far more than I ever did, and they did, in fact, seem ague-proof.

But, I wasn't.

I ignored the effects of overtaxing myself and, in 1999, my immune system stressed, I contracted bacterial meningitis. After being released from the hospital, I thought I was ague-proof and returned to work much too early, spent entire weekends asleep recovering from the work week, and refused to acknowledge that I needed to slow down.

Again, in 2009, I overworked myself, mistaking irresponsibility for a false sense of noble purpose.

I thought I was ague-proof.

'Twas a lie.

I was hospitalized twice, once with pneumonia and again, within weeks, with C. Diff.

I am not at liberty to divulge details in this public blog, but it looks like two people close to us (not in Kellogg) likely have contracted COVID 19. Debbie's last contact with one of these people occurred before the person became ill and Debbie just missed being in contact with the other person when she left Eugene.

Neither person is hospitalized. Neither person has been tested and likely won't be. Because of that, if either or both of these persons are carrying the Corona virus, it won't show up in the official statistics reporting the number of people infected.

I didn't need the COVID 19 to hit close to home to take the precautions I've been taking for about a week now, but it has hit people close to us, and I'm more determined than ever to stay put.

I've learned.

I am not ague-proof.

Debbie's near contact with infected people was made possible by mobility, Debbie's as well as one of the persons who is ill.  Debbie and I will remain immobile for as long as we need to be.

The once powerful King Lear had thought of himself as invincible and learned he wasn't invincible.


'Tis a lie.

We are not ague-proof.

2.  My cooking project today was a simple one. I made cornbread muffins. I used whole wheat flour and so, to me, these muffins were dense and I liked that.

3. It's been a few weeks since I started reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, so I started from the beginning again today. Once again, I find her writing remarkable. When it comes to documenting the details of the opulence of the upper class in New York City near the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, her detailed descriptions are dizzying and open up a world of indulgence and conspicuous consumption that I find absorbing, even as I have absolutely no way of relating to it. Wharton has a keen eye for the absurdity of this much wealth and a devastating understanding of the foolishness of the rituals, rules of etiquette, and devotion to form and appearances of these people. Consequently, Wharton's writing is biting, sometimes sarcastic, and I sense that she is moving the story toward some kind of tragedy rooted in the vacuous lives her characters live out.

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