New realities. I mailed twenty-four homemade face masks to my family and friends yesterday. Each took an hour to cut and sew. Hand-made bias tape tie strings substitute for unavailable elastic, a nose wire provides a snug fit, and a filter pocket allows insertion of extra filtering material. I am excessively proud of these masks. Tomorrow I will send out more.
I visited the chicken retirement home I run in my backyard, presided over by boss chicken Queen Elizabeth, to see how my three young hens are adapting to their new home. The elderly hens railed at me in protest at the newcomers’ invasion. I gave the old girls apple peels from yesterday’s apple cake in apology and assured them I would not let my husband make them into coq au vin.
Last night, I sat with my dog on the front porch and howled with my neighbors and their dogs at 8 p.m. sharp, our rural mountain town version of banging on pots and pans and singing arias to thank medical workers and first responders for their courage. The ski resorts around us are hard-hit. We are afraid.
Ten years ago, I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, working as a venture capitalist hunting for tech entrepreneurs with good ideas in the high desert. I found right livelihood in bringing employment and tax revenue to a region in sore need of both. I loved feeling part of building out the future.
Now I am a part-time venture capitalist and an emerging writer.
I write these words under the dread shadow of Coronavirus burning through humanity, destroying our institutions, and laying bare the defects of our global system. As Ursula Le Guin noted,
We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.
Rich people and knowledge workers ride out the pandemic in style, safe at home behind Zoom screens, homemade masks, bootleg N-95 masks, enjoying home delivery of food and toilet paper. They post amusing memes about their suffering while keeping their jobs and their employer-based healthcare access. Poor people go to the front lines as cashiers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, or lose the income they need to eat and pay rent. Rich people flee to their second homes and work from home while the poor who still have jobs huddle together in small apartments and crowded subways. The less fortunate still stand quietly at six-foot intervals at community soup kitchens. Ours is a few blocks from my house. The food line stretches almost to my door.
Even the Zoom people cannot look away from economic and racial divides in our society any longer.
We tally the dead, the infected, the recovered. Numbers matter, cold, compressed traces of multi-dimensional human beings no longer with us, missed and mourned by their families and friends. Do not scorn the soulless numbers, for they carry tales as well, of the African-American and Hispanic people who are falling ill and perishing at much higher rates than their white fellow citizens. Tallies of the grandmothers and grandfathers dying alone in nursing homes. Whole communities felled by meat cutters falling ill on the line and bringing the disease home to their families. Only the numbers quantifying the carnage can carry their story to the Zoom people who are not their neighbors, not their friends, not their family.
This insidious, invisible enemy burns away our pretty tales about opportunity and freedom and the benefits of global capitalism. How can we defeat a global pandemic when tens of millions of our citizens lack access to health care, and hundreds of millions around the globe lack access to clean water to wash their hands? Was it ever wise to save a few pennies on manufacturing labor to the benefit of the executives and shareholders and send our ability to feed, protect, clothe, and heal ourselves overseas? How can we thrive as a society when so few have so much, and so many have so little?
Le Guin’s call to arms, her demand that we reimagine our system, has never been more urgent or timely. We must, as writers and politicians and leaders, find a new vision for our civilization, new words that recognize and honor the invisible web of obligations connecting us all. None of us will be safe and healed until all of us are safe and whole. Now is the time to plan for rebuilding together a more just, sustainable, and inclusive world.
Stephanie R. Spong received her B.A. in Economics and Asian Studies from BYU and an MBA from Harvard. She spent decades working for Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Citibank, and other global firms in far-flung places: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Manhattan. Her first novel, Toru: Wayfarer Returns, was a finalist, Multicultural Fiction, 2016 Foreword INDIES; an Honorable Mention, Commercial Fiction, 2017 Eric Hoffer Book Awards; and a Silver Medalist, Science Fiction, 2018 CIPA Evvy Awards. She serves on the boards of non-profits and venture-backed companies, helping them raise money and create jobs. She lives in the rural mining town of Leadville, Colorado, at 10,152 feet with her husband, six hens and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
She encourages you to check out Lake County Community Fund .