Strong heart needed.
Facing the dire near future. Or not quite facing it. Or not at all.
I hadn’t gone hiking in years. A few hours of it sounded like an excellent contrast to my unusually busy weekend schedule of seeing friends, hearing some live music, and nursing a minor heartbreak (more on this later). An acquaintance convinced me to come out and play in one of the less crowded areas of Gunpowder State Falls near the Loch Raven Reservoir. I’m a city girl through and through but I know how to fall down in wet leaves and stand up again with the best of them.
We started talking and I realized I had never fully understood what Andrew does for a living. I met him more than ten years ago when he was a marketing guy, a highly supportive music fan, and a committed Baltimore citizen/network-builder operating behind various scenes to address various intractable problems. Turns out one of his projects is hardening the food and agriculture supply chain, here and elsewhere in the world.
Out there in the muddy spring woods, he said that based purely on geopolitics—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, among other longstanding or newly emerging factors—and a highly globalized food industry dependent on already unstable markets in wheat, fertilizer, and other required inputs…as well as (not to omit) some totally counterproductive yet populist-pleasing policies based on strong anti-GMO movements in some nations, policies which by the way are anti-science and not the least bit environmentally sustainable…)…we are staring down the likelihood of 2 billion people falling into chronic malnutrition within 18 months.
Middle of next year. Global famine. Two billion: fully a quarter of the human population, dying or soon dead from lack of food. Not some distant day—soon. Based on the cold mathematics of agricultural inputs and outputs. A machine in motion, with no means to stop it.
“And all that’s before you get to the effects of climate instability,” my friend said.
Nations and regions that are net food exporters, such as the United States, India, and parts of the Middle East, will close their borders and protect their supplies, and probably do okay. Large swaths of Africa and Asia that depend on imports to survive will not at all do okay.
Then there’ll be panic, and we have recent evidence that large groups of humans don’t do very well with panic.
Andrew is basing his outlook on the predictions of a prominent geopolitical strategist and author named Peter Zeihan, who’s got critics but is far from a crackpot. Apparently, analysts like Zeihan are now consulting with federal agencies all over the world to figure out how the hell to keep feeding people. The answer seems to be that many people will simply not be fed.
Since our hike, I’ve been feeling like Jennifer Lawrence in DON’T LOOK UP, or maybe the characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe facing Thanos. It used to be that a few hours tromping around in tree shade meant a great night’s sleep, deep and full. Instead, I was wide awake at 4:30 on Monday morning, Googling various doomsday articles on this topic and some of the other dark things my friend and I discussed. (When I called Andrew to thank/cuss him out he laughed and described himself as a human cup of strong coffee.) The catastrophic loss of species. The wars that follow famines. The intractably corrupt politics of Baltimore City.
Why, though? Knowing more is not going to enable me to do anything about any of it.
I was having the time of my life until I wasn’t.
A true mensch soul in the body of a former marathoner has been my instant, constant best friend for several months—right up until last Tuesday when he bravely and thoughtfully ended our relationship. Yes, I got dumped. The phone call surprised me and I was momentarily stung. I’m still just a few months past what has turned out to be a very amicable divorce. More LTR-focused than I am at the moment, my new friend was trying not to waste our time—he’d promised as much in his dating app profile. Commitment to the process was how he’d described his attitude, and exactly how he’d handled our thing.
And now he was on the phone, admitting that all the wonderful pieces of this whirlwind weren’t adding up to something bigger for him. I pondered that a moment. “You’re not in love with me,” I said. It came out of my mouth in such a low-key, matter-of-fact way that I realized the not-feeling was mutual. He said “No” with equal composure, and then used a bunch of soft, extra words to mitigate his bluntness.
We spoke for a few more minutes, acknowledged we’d miss each other, promised to check in soon, and hung up the phone as good friends.
Over the next few hours and days, I cried a little bit but also felt weirdly happy. It was the right decision, rendered right on time. How often does that ever happen? We had been singularly attentive to each other for a short while, as well as scrupulously truthful.
He used to run marathons. He’s got a strong heart.
Mine comes from lifting heavy things and putting them back down.
Sometimes it had felt like we’d known each other for years. And let’s avoid an X-rating here and just say we got very good at centering joy. But we are different kinds of people, and our limited points of connection would have been played out sooner or later. We’d have exhausted our small storehouse of things to talk about. (He’s as politically pessimistic as I am but sometimes got annoyed when I’d dwell on dark topics like the continued unraveling of American democracy. We can’t do anything about it, so why keep talking about it?)
I’d been busy frolicking and I suppose I didn’t want to stop yet. But I’m glad he gamed it all out in his head and came up with a firm policy prescription.
So now I’ll suffer a small bit of loneliness but walk away with fantastic memories unmarred by drama or inconsideration, and with the luminescence of being briefly—if not “in love”—very well-loved.
We’d met on a dating app; I told him that if they allowed ratings I’d give him 5 stars and a nice testimonial.
The fact that something ends isn’t a good way to judge it. The quality of it, including the quality of the ending, matters more.
The breakup phone call happened last Tuesday evening just after I’d made dinner for another friend, Margaret, who works as a public information writer for a major astronomy institution. She loves the job, although there’s sometimes a bit of guilt. Astronomy doesn’t do anything, doesn’t help anybody, not in the immediate way so many human beings need help right now. It does not solve any imminent political, economic, or social problem. It will not dismantle white supremacy, reverse climate change, or solve gun violence. But it’s filled with wonder and beauty, and can get very philosophical. Along with the steady paycheck, she can’t ask for much more.
I feel the same way about working in the arts! The beauty and philosophy and wonder. Not so much the steady paycheck thing, but oh well. I’m figuring things out as I go.
Wednesday—the day after getting so beautifully dumped—I swore I’d focus on my many work ambitions and stay off the dating apps for a while. On Thursday I reactivated Bumble and Hinge. Yes, you can laugh. There were, surprisingly, a few men who seemed of interest. On Friday evening I sent a funny, charming message to one person in response to his funny, charming profile, and had a funny, charming phone call with him on Saturday morning. Reached out to a second similarly winsome guy on Saturday evening. Then spent parts of my busy Sunday and Monday intermittently chatting and joking around with each of them by text, phone, and video chat.
What can I say? I am addicted to love. What else is there? We are at any given moment having some kind of “time of our lives.” At any given moment it’s a bad, bad time for so many. If we are privileged enough to be having a good time instead, we probably should.
Make no mistake, we are privileged. As US citizens we may soon experience a lot more hunger and poverty than we already harbor, and as usual, the people with already the least to lose will suffer the most. Add in the likely hoarding of our kleptocrat de facto rulers and none of us is truly safe. But overall we will be relatively okay. Citizens of many other nations will not at all be okay.
There’s guilt, yes. There’s always survivors’ guilt and its specialized version, lovers’ guilt. Be with whoever you are with and offer five-star attention to detail. The works. Center joy because WTF else is there? Be strong of heart. Everything will end, eventually. The quality of the ending matters.
Saturday evening a different friend came over. This was after the breakup but before the doomsday conversation in the woods. I thought Mike was going to bring his bass so we could play some tunes, as we’ve been doing from time to time for years. Usually jazz standards, sometimes an original of his or mine. But he came with an agenda rather than an instrument.
He’s an East Baltimore native who grew up playing straight-ahead jazz with some of the local heavyweights who’ve got major careers now. He’s got a day job in nursing, but on upright and electric, he’s just as badass as his full-time musician friends.
They still court him to play bebop and post-bop with them. He’s not interested anymore. Old tunes by dead men, he said. He has decided he wants something different, some new, something potentially more popular, and furthermore, he has decided that the different and new and potentially more popular thing he wants to play is my music.
He wants to be the first official member of my permanent new band. He came over to insist on it. Next time we meet, he’ll bring his acoustic and his electric—his chops on both are through the roof these days—and I’ll start to teach him my repertoire. We’ll build the band from the bottom up. I’ll be looking next for a drummer who wants to be a part of this. Most musicians at this level, including the ones who recorded my last record, already have serious band commitments, so if I want us to start playing or touring in a few months, I’ll probably have to recruit recent college graduates to make it work. This is the tradition.
It’s the dream I’ve been harboring for a long time. My bassist friend is pushing me toward partnership and accountability, the exact things you need to turn dreams into plans.
Yes, I’m excited. But also scared because I don’t have a hell of a lot of investment capital or a steady enough paycheck from my part-time day gig. I’ll figure it out.
That thrilling conversation with a fellow musician was on Saturday. That terrifying conversation with a global food policy expert was on Sunday. Today is Tuesday again, a week after I got dumped, albeit beautifully, and one small, beautiful heartbreak can’t compete with the larger darkness I’m holding at bay.
A world tour with my new band one day in the future? Wow, the very idea seems laughably naive right now. What world will there be? I don’t mean to hyperventilate. But, but, but. The hard math of agricultural inputs. Global famine. Two billion to be pushed into extreme hunger by the middle of next year.
My heart is strong. I lift heavy things and put them back down.
Music doesn’t do anything. I keep frolicking, though.