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The Grapes of Math- Or How Shit Just Got Real.


I've been back to work for a month now and listening to The Grapes of Wrath on audiobook for my drive to and fro. I can't help but find continued parallels between circumstances within these novels and my current COVID19 experience. It seems I'm keeping up with my parodies of classic literary works and dragging them through my life. I'm nothing if but consistent.

Perhaps the most distressing thing about working as a math teacher during these apocalyptic days of our lives, is that not only have our lives changed, but our language describing those changes has too. There is a phrase that I have heard quite a lot recently and each time it hits me the same. It's chilling really when I hear this turn of phrase because I've only ever heard it in dystopian novels- never has it been applied to a current (read: real) circumstance. I wonder if the speakers know what it is they've done, what it is they're truly describing when they say it. This little turn of phrase that seems to encapsulate these times so poignantly is the basis of some of my very favorite works of fiction like Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, The Handmaid's Tale (before it was popular), 1984, and Animal Farm- all dystopic reading. But if I were being completely transparent my true taste for dystopian tales are along the lines of Soylent Green, Omega Man, Logan's Run and more recently The Man In The High Castle adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel I own but haven't yet read. Steinbeck too was trying to capture a kind of "realistic dystopia" of the Oklahoma-to-California Dust Bowl Days migration and economic fallout.

Thus as I listened to the Grapes of Wrath and Steinbeck's normalizing details of dry earth and emotionally repressed farmers squatting squatting squatting in the dirt, the seemingly endless "pages" describing how the earth movers will come because the nameless, faceless Bank-Monster needs to be fed profits and the landowners are simply its hapless and helpless minions, did that new turn of phrase spring to mind. I first read Grapes of Wrath when I was in high school. Back then the events of Grapes seemed so far away and such a long time ago that it might as well have been a story about furry beasts on a mythical moon called Endor.

But it wasn't. Just so happens that the great-grandmother I wrote about in a previous post that was misattributed as being Blackfoot (based upon a relative's faulty memory), I later found out was in fact born in Enid, Oklahoma in 1907 and was very white. She and her husband moved to California a few years before the winds began to blow across the already-depleted Great Plains. It seems a part of my family were participants in the ongoing Federal economic incentives to lure white farmers to the Great Plains...only after the U.S. Army and local militias had driven off, through bloodshed and sequestration, the indigenous populations of the Plains like so many wild horses. I find it interesting that in those times one half of my family would have hated the other half of my family. Did one or any of my white farmer ancestors take up arms against one or any of my Comanche or Cherokee (or Mexican) ancestors who where defending themselves against a bloody land-grab in the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle? It was rather distressing to hear with new ears how "Pa fought the Indians" for the land and how they would have to give it up; there is no more clear-cut definition for "white entitlement" than that, folks. And the corn-headed farmers and their children are left squatting squatting squatting in the dust realizing what they have done. Karma is nothing if but a bitch.

Everyone does the best with the hand they are dealt and I have to come to work nearly ninety years after the events in Grapes, stand six feet from my students like we're all on the playground accusing each other of having cooties, and that is in fact the case. How else am I supposed to feel except like I'm in a dystopian epic? Beyond the masked surrealism of duck-billed educators that reminds me of Twilight Zone's Eye of the Beholder and the neo-fascist rhetoric of the current federal administration which brings to mind Arthur Koestler's Darkness At Noon, it's the fear pulsing underneath each interaction I have with anyone at my school that screams "shit just got real." It's chronic. It's a kind of wide-eyed freak show of our words and emotions being tyrannized behind a mask. Shit is so real. Now don't get me wrong, it's a freak show, but not *that* kind of freak show where we're going to drive to Sturgis, South Dakota on our motorcycle with our middle finger in the air to everyone wearing a mask. Shit can't get more real than that. Nor a streaky-flop-sweat rant about "the global conspiracy to allow the Illuminati-controlled Bigfoot lizard people hybrids to take over the earth." Thank you @theRickWilson. Some shit is so real it will never be unseen. #Rudy. No, going to work every day is a freak show because it didn't have to be like this. But the reality of our shit isn't found in dystopian novels and cinema. That's because they are metaphoric. We always have to be asking ourselves, what are they really trying to say when Thorn finally reveals, "Soylent Green is made out of people."

For several years at the beginning of my writing career (that would be four years ago) when I'd speak to or query agents and publishers they often made specific their desire to *not* accept dystopian works of fiction. I guess they'd gotten hella tired of everyone trying to be the next Hunger Games. I get it. But now, as we are living through our own kind of Hunger Games mash-up with The Walking Dead graphic novel (or TV show, whichever you prefer) it becomes clear that America's dystopian shit just got real, but we're not using that particular phrase all that much. What I keep hearing, as people tacitly acknowledge that shit just got real is, "in the Before Times." As in 'before the shit hit the fan'.

But unlike the sci-fi events of Hunger Games, Walking Dead, and the others, our shit has been getting real for some time now. We are living through our own Grapes of Wrath because of our own actions. We have sewn seeds of discontent, misinformation, and political tribalism (or allowed them to be sewn) and the only way we can cope with this immediate, drastic and life-threatening karmic harvest is to harken back in our mind, in our memory, in our communications, to more familiar times before the seeds had ripened, before politics became a death cult, before we were reminded that human darkness still exists; in the Before Times when our ignorance was bliss.


 

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