Thursday, April 08, 2021

Starting Afresh

Kameron Hurley's newest LOCUS column discusses making a fresh start with the turn from winter to spring:

Plotting the Way Forward

Noting that the ancient Romans marked the New Year in March rather than January, Hurley muses about the signs of spring that show up in March. This year, she finds particular hope in the change of seasons because a potential end to the COVID crisis may be in sight. She ponders what is meant by "returning to normal": What will go back to the way it was? What will have changed permanently? As she puts it, “'normal' is a shifting target. After the last year, our world will not be quite the same."

One change she welcomes is the decline of shopping malls. Here I disagree. I'm a big fan of malls, even though with online ordering I haven't frequented our local mall in recent years nearly so much as I used to (especially after its chain bookstore closed). Sure, a green-space town center with a cluster of shops, within easy walking distance of home, would be lovely. But that's not likely to sprout up out of nowhere near us (all the ground within walking distance being occupied by houses or, if one has the stamina to hike one-point-three miles to the main road, existing stores). Nor does it describe the neighborhoods where I spent the years between age eight and moving out of my parents' home to get married. We lived in the suburbs. There was nowhere to walk except other houses and, a longish trek from our home, a major highway at the entrance to the development. A very long bike ride could take us to a shopping strip with one large store and several smaller ones. When the first actual mall opened near us (in the greater Norfolk, Virginia, area), in my teens, I was thrilled about the concept of shopping at a bunch of stores in the same location, with plenty of parking, under a ROOF! That last was a big deal in one of the more rainy regions of the country. And I still think malls are a great idea in places where most people depend on cars to get anywhere, which describes every city we've lived in throughout our married life.

But I digress. Some of the changes Hurley welcomes, I can agree with. As for the ambition to "re-think our crowded buildings in crowded cities that have few to no greenspaces," that sounds desirable, but such a revolution can't occur with the simple wave of a wand. Shifting many jobs to remote work is a change I'd like to see made permanent, if only for the sake of our grown children who've benefited from it. What about universal mask-wearing? I look forward to not having to do that all the time, yet I agree with Hurley on the advantage of getting sick less often. I could embrace a custom of wearing masks out and about when suffering from a mild illness, as many people do in Japan. As a probable side effect of the COVID precautions, I haven't had a cold in over a year. Hurley also looks forward to future advances in medical science as a result of discoveries made in the course of vaccine research. Like wars, pandemics can produce occasional positive technological side effects.

I've missed attending church in person, but I hope after we resume live gatherings our church will continue to record Sunday services for availabilty to people who can't be present for one reason or another. The pandemic has compelled us to try many such innovations that would be helpful to hang onto. The ubiquity of restaurant meal ordering, for example—it's become easier than ever before to get home-delivered meals from a wide variety of our favorite places, on websites instead of over the phone, prepaid with a credit card. With the success of virtual conventions in the past year, maybe some of them will continue to provide an online track for fans who can't make it to the physical location. However, there's at least one minor negative about the increasing shift to electronic media, from my personal viewpoint: More and more periodicals are switching to digital-only. I like magazines I can hold in my hands and, if worth rereading, store on a shelf.

A related trend that predated COVID but may have accelerated recently is the convenience of being able perform many activities such as financial and government transactions over the Web. No need to drive to the bank to transfer funds, the post office to buy stamps, or the motor vehicle office to renew a car registration. This trend is likely to continue and expand. Of course, the downside involves less convenience for people who don't have a computer (my 90-year-old aunt, for one, but many citizens lack computers and their associated functions from poverty, not choice) or adequate internet access. As has often been pointed out recently, computers with internet connections are no longer luxuries but household necessities on a level with water, electric, and phone services.

Hurley concludes by invoking March, which heralds spring in much of the northern hemisphere, as the time "when we celebrate surviving the very worst the world could throw at us, and plot a new way forward." Or, as Brad Paisley says in his optimistic song "Welcome to the Future," highlighting modern marvels formerly enjoyed only in the realm of science fiction, "Wherever we were going, hey, we're here."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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