- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 3/8/21
Good morning! This Saturday marks the 365th day mark for the Musings. More about the passage of this year later this week. Several people have commented on the fact that I number the Musings, noting that it is a daily reminder of how long this has gone on. It was intentional. I had no idea when we “entered our bunkers” how long we would remain. I thought keeping tabs on the number of days would offer a daily reminder of how much we have been through, It's a kind of metronome to mark how far we’ve come. I never would have believed some 360 days ago—nearly a year now—that this would have gone on this long. MUSING ON THE MUSINGS A couple of months ago I was asked to give a talk to a local service organization entitled “Writing My Way Through the Pandemic.” This allowed me the opportunity to think about this enterprise . The first question is “why did I decide to do this?” Second, what (if anything) has this accomplished? Finally, what have I learned from—and about—others? First, why? WHY DO THIS?
I wanted something palpable to mark the change from the “before times” to (and through) the “COVID times.” This would be a daily accounting for the differences in our lives as a result of the social distancing we were embarking upon. Instead of a morning commute, why not have another morning ritual?
It’s a challenge. What better than to start each day with a task and make it through the bunker with something to do. The idea of making lists of things to read, watch and do seemed pretty good. My lists are quirky…including books that have a particular year in the title (e.g., 1066, 1776, 1865), dystopian novels, and presidential assassinations. As for movies, these include epics, sequels, sophomoric comedies, movies set in LA, and time travel. The pandemic offered the opportunity to play this game of lists and rankings. It has given me context and a daily activity to mark time in the bunker and exercise the mind.
Drawing Connections. I believe in the notion that, while history doesn’t repeat itself, it often rhymes. I wanted to spend time putting thoughts to paper about how history informs and defines us, with an eye toward current events. The recent “big ones” have been the pandemic, the election, and the effect of technology, the attack on “main stream” media and the impact of social media on our society. Having read a good deal about the Flu pandemic of early 20th century, the plague, and myriad diseases throughout history, there are common elements of behavior and feelings that speak to today.
Following the election. There has been much written about the recent election (perhaps too much!) and comparisons to other elections. One election not often discussed is the election of 1960, a bell weather election in that it was so greatly affected by a new medium—television. That election may have been the last when candidates from the two parties seemed to flirt around the middle and each other on policy objectives; it was difficult to tell which candidate was the more conservative. People forget there was a time when the most liberal Republicans in the Senate were more liberal than many Democrats and the conservative Democrats were to the right of Edward Brooke and Margaret Chase Smith .
There are things I want to say. I don’t purport to be an expert on everything. I do believe I’m a pretty good observer of some things. Not much of what I say is earth-shattering but much of it is just simple logic. I’m a raging moderate. I like to think I see both sides—I am not wedded to a particular ideology. It’s stuff many of my readers—many of you—would sit down and conclude or write about if asked. So why not discuss these issues with a bunch of folks whom I respect and hear their responses?
It is a challenge to be transparent, vulnerable and humble. Andrea questions my motives all the time—Why would you want people to know what goes on inside your wacky mind—clutterred as it is with ideas and trivia? Writing makes one vulnerable and humble in the knowledge that one can be shown to be wrong. I decided a long time ago to always tell the truth and always be candid (they’re not the same). This is the ultimate reflection of this. I’m out there. On the record. Willing to be challenged. Have at me. I don’t care. This is what I think but feel free to try to convince me I’m wrong—you won’t be the first.
I sensed that we need community. I sensed that this pandemic, coupled with the political vitriol and the lack of civility and connection in our daily lives, would cause us all to be anxious, even depressed. In the upcoming sheltering in place, life would become smaller, more routinized, and lonely. Maybe in some small way I could help address the isolation and in a small way bring some bit of community.
The lens through I look at things is one of reasonableness. I judge human behaviors by the lessons taught by my parents. They were great observers of the world. I often note that they could recognize a fraud from a mile away. I’d like to think some of that rubbed off on me. Bill and Jessica, rational thinkers both, would be stunned at the seeming triumph of conspiratorial thinking, the lack of trust in institutions, and the failure of those leading our institutions to see beyond their quarterly earnings or the next election. Next week, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned. WE ALL NEED EDITORS I understand there has been a perennial battle between the “artists” and the “suits” in Hollywood, with studios and their executives directing artists to reshape and reconsider certain aspects in their films. The artists resist this interference. Both sides have it right—studios are all about money and selling tickets. But artists (indeed, we all) need editing and advice. Humility is a trait that is learned; but it also is a trait that needs to be triggered from time to time from those who care and warn us, “well, wait a minute, maybe you’ve gone to far” or “you know, this is a little long…” After having watched a number of celebrity “star turns” on TV, it feels as if TV producers are allowing celebrities (actors, writers and directors) to do what they want with little direction or input. It seems to me that what appears to the lack of an editor (or second set of eyes) results in a lesser product, even when supported by credible performances, to wit: News of the World. Tom Hanks. Grumpy old guy travels across the West with a young, spunky girl in tow. If you want this genre, watch True Grit (either the John Wayne or the Jeff Bridges version). The Midnight Sky. George Clooney. Grumpy old guy obsessed with his science. Separated from his family by his single-minded pursuit of a mission, befriending a woman on a spacecraft. First, anything else by George Clooney is better (including Gravity, the story of another a single-minded man of science on a late-in-life mission, befriending another woman). If looking for the grumpy dad seeking redemption on a space mission, try Bruce Willis in Armageddon (or how about Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove). The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Coen Brothers. Moments of brilliance but nowhere up to their classics, Fargo, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, Hail! Caesar, or Miller’s Crossing. Have a great week, Glenn