SwanShadow Gives Thanks, Volume 17: Global Pandemic Edition

Who knew, right?

Anyone who says that they accurately predicted at last Thanksgiving the worldwide horror the calendar would call 2020 CE is peddling a falsehood. None of us saw this coming. Many understood that a global pandemic like the one that swept the planet exactly a century ago could happen at some time, but no one knew that 2020 would be our COVID-19 annus horribilus.

Too much sickness. Too much death. Too much sheltering in place. And way too much conflict over what to do or not do about it. (Seriously, people: Put a mask on. Don’t crowd up. Stay home as much as possible. It sucks. But sickness and death suck more.)

In times like these, though, it’s even more vital to focus on the people and things we are grateful for — and, in fact, to be grateful in general. It’s easy to let so much darkness obscure what light there is, but when we don’t appreciate the light, however small it seems, darkness wins.

Therefore, as is our long-standing (17 years and counting!) tradition in this tiny corner of the Internet, we present our annual outpouring of thanks on this Thanksgiving weekend. Given that I always have far too much in my life to be grateful for, each year I choose 26 items — one for each letter of the alphabet — to stand in for everyone and everything for which I’m offering thanks this year. It keeps the list to a manageable size, and makes certain that the list actually gets done.

I found it tempting, in the face of all that 2020 has thrown at us, to modify the tone or style of this year’s post. I decided that would defeat its purpose. So, even though there will be some direct allusions to the dreadful realities we’ve dealt with this year, much of the list is as it always is: Random, slightly tongue-in-cheek at times, and with an understanding that the seemingly insignificant items on the list underscore a broader perspective that embraces gratitude as an attitude, for the monumental blessings in life as well as for the minuscule.

With that said, at Thanksgiving time in 2020, I’m thankful for:

Aging rockers. Three of my all-time favorite bands seized the year to deliver brand-new studio albums that compare favorably with the best work from their classic periods: Kansas (The Absence of Presence); Blue Öyster Cult (The Symbol Remains); and most recently, AC/DC (Power Up; or, if you want to get strictly typographical about it, PWR/UP). For BÖC, it was their first album in 19 years; for Kansas, their second with current lead vocalist Ronnie Platt (the previous Platt-era effort, 2016’s The Prelude Implicit, is also quite good); for AC/DC, their first since the passing of co-founder Malcolm Young, and a reunion with members Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams, and Phil Rudd, all of whom had departed for various reasons in recent years. To hear these bands, who all began their recording careers in the 1970s (albeit with markedly different lineups), once again producing outstanding music makes my heart sing, and offers me hope in my own down-slope years that greatness remains possible.

Biden/Harris. I don’t typically do politics in public fora, but I can’t express how thrilled I am that the nightmare of Agent Orange is nearly ended, and that actual human beings will be in charge of the country again. I am particularly ecstatic for all of the barriers that Kamala Harris (on whose Senate campaign I was privileged to voice a few ads) will break when she takes office as Vice President.

Chadwick Boseman. 2020 robbed us all of far too much, including the life of this brilliantly talented actor whose charisma lit up the screen like few others. To think that he gave us not only the personification of T’Challa, the Black Panther, in four Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but also stellar performances in Marshall, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and the upcoming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom without the world — or even most of his colleagues — knowing that he was dying of cancer is nothing short of incredible. Rest in power, King.

Dr. Fauci. A national hero, trying to help Americans wrestle with a terrifying unknown while the Clown-In-Chief keeps tying his arms behind his back and spitting in his face. And he never quit.

Español. One of the projects I’ve used in an attempt to maintain sanity during lockdown has been developing my facility in Spanish using the Duolingo app. At this writing, I’ve managed 177 consecutive days of lessons. I’m not fooling myself into thinking I’ll ever be functionally bilingual, but I’ve pretty much resurrected (and likely exceeded) my two years of high school Spanish, and feel certain that I could ask directions to a bus stop or buy a green suitcase in a Spanish-speaking country if the situation arose.

Frontline workers. I can’t say enough how deeply I appreciate the efforts of everyone who’s kept our society running in the face of the pandemic, and especially those whose work presents them with constant exposure risk. That includes the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff caring for the infected (more about them later), but also mail carriers, delivery drivers, restaurant cooks and servers, retail clerks, and everyone else for whom showing up and facing the outbreak every day means the rest of us get the things we need to carry on. Thank you all, and God bless you.

Great British Bake-Off. Or Great British Baking Show, as Netflix calls it here in the States to avoid legal action by the Pillsbury people. It’s a joy to tune in each week to watch Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith put a gaggle of flour-dusted Britons through their paces. I still miss former hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins — and more recently, the delightfully droll Sandi Toksvig — but the thematic elements remain the same, and the contestants always seem pleasant and just thrilled to take part. (At this typing, I haven’t yet watched this season’s finale. Don’t spoil it for me.)

Hawkgirl. A fantastic representation of Shiera Hall (or Shayera Hol, if you prefer it in Thanagarian) by Sideshow Collectibles entered my statue collection this year. My rules for adding a new statue: 1. The character has to already be represented multiple times in my art collection. 2. I have to love the piece the first time I see it. (If I don’t love it immediately, it’s not worth buying.) 3. I have to have room in my office/studio for it. Shiera, despite her considerable wingspan, made the cut.

Inspiron. The Pirate Queen recently allowed me to replace my old, agonizingly slow, keyboard-challenged (the O key kept popping off, and the space occasionally has a mind of its own) studio laptop computer with a new desktop model, accompanied by a gorgeous 27″ monitor. I now hunch and squint far less.

Jim Edgar. I am blessed to name as friends a startling array of wonderful people — possibly including you, if you’re reading this. My buddy Jim stands out for his unfailingly kind, generous, and helpful spirit. Jim has made himself a valued and trusted resource within the voiceover industry through his technical expertise, in addition to his phenomenal talents as an actor. I am constantly impressed with the manner in which Jim goes out of his way to advise, inform, and assist his colleagues (who are often potential competitors as well — it’s a tough business) by openly sharing his insights and experience, and his efforts to build a more harmonious community within the profession. I know numerous fellow actors who inspire me to want to be a better actor. Jim inspires me, whenever I observe or interact with him, to want to be a better person. And I’m not alone in that.

Kids, and Kisses. The K’s represent the people who, beyond all else, make my life worth carrying on. The Kids — The Daughter and The Son-In-Law — uplift my heart every day, just by living their lives and being quality people. I couldn’t ask for better. And, here’s the big news: The Kids are expecting their own kid — the first GrandKid — in the coming year. (It’s rumored to be a boy.) They’re also shopping for their first house. “Kisses” represents the Pirate Queen, who always signs her notes to me in that fashion. She uplifts my heart every day, too.

LionSteel. If you asked me at this very moment, “What’s in your pocket?” the answer would be a blue titanium slipjoint knife from LionSteel in Maniago, Italy. There’s another LionSteel slipjoint on my desk, with olivewood scales. They make some really nice knives in Italy.

Medical personnel. We all owe our gratitude to the medical experts who daily labor in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. This includes not only the physicians, nurses, technicians, caregivers, and others who provide direct treatment to those afflicted by COVID-19, but also all those folks behind the scenes in testing labs, and in research facilities working toward safe and effective vaccines against the disease, and better treatments for dealing with it. Pray that their labors prove fruitful.

Nova lox. I don’t know who the person was who first had the idea to smoke a salmon, but that person deserved a hearty handshake. Probably not from the salmon, though.

Online quiz leagues. If there could be said to be an actual upside from the pandemic, it has been the development of a number of online quiz leagues, at first intended as a stopgap in the absence of in-person pub quizzing, but now taking on a life and purpose of their own. I currently participate in two: Quizzing World Cup, based in the UK and comprising teams and players around the globe, and Online Quiz League USA, an offshoot of the original British OQL with material keyed to a North American audience.

Pentatonix. There is no more expressive musical instrument than the human voice, and not many folks demonstrate that more profoundly than the five members of America’s favorite a cappella quintet. When I feel an anxiety attack coming on, one of my most effective therapies is a Pentatonix playlist in my Sennheiser headphones.

Queen’s Gambit. If you haven’t yet binged this charming Netflix limited series starring Anya Taylor-Joy as a brilliant but troubled young chess wizard in the 1960s, do yourself a favor and check it out. I know what you’re thinking: A TV series about chess has to be about as interesting as watching paint dry. Just remember these wise words of the late Roger Ebert: It’s not what the show is about that matters, but how it is about it.

Rocketbook. What seemed at first like a cool novelty item has become an indispensable part of my daily routine. Rocketbook makes an ever-growing variety of products designed around a common theme: Reusable notes. Instead of an endless stack of paper notepads or Post-Its generating scattered castoffs everywhere (if only you’d seen my desk…), Rocketbook notebooks offer a system of reusable pages that can be written on, scanned and stored (if you’re so inclined), then wiped clean and reused again and again. My favorite Rocketbook model is the Flip, which is designed like a steno pad. I keep one next to me at all times for scribbling down quick ideas, or for recording lists of facts I want to reinforce for quizzing. The equally handy Fusion contains templates for calendar and schedule planning. Writing on the Rocketbook’s plastic pages with erasable ink (the system requires Frixion pens and markers, made by Pilot and readily available everywhere) takes a little getting used to, but I’ve found it worth the effort.

Safeway. In these times when spending time indoors in a crowded store presents a considerable health risk, we’ve come to rely on the online order and pickup service provided by the supermarket giant. It took a bit of trial and error to get the system down smoothly, but now after several months, the store we use does a pretty decent job of filling our orders in a timely fashion. It’s made grocery shopping about as safe as it can be during a pandemic, and reasonably efficient.

Trebek. The last 32 years of my life have been indelibly transformed by my experiences on Jeopardy! My two favorite Alex Trebek memories: 1. Alex confused my name with that of another contestant when I won my quarterfinal match in the 1988 Tournament of Champions. It was nice to see that our unflappable host was fallible and human after all. 2. When I won the 1998 Battle of the Bay Area Brains, Alex went out of his way to spend a few minutes at the afterparty chatting with The Daughter, who was nine years old and had never met a celebrity in person. She still treasures the T-shirt Alex signed for her. Rest in peace, Uncle Alex.

Unemployment benefits. Like millions of Americans, the Pirate Queen was — thankfully, very briefly — out of work for a portion of 2020. She had never before in her working life collected unemployment. Having those benefits did not mean the difference between sustenance and survival for us, but they alleviated the burden of worry for the Pirate Queen as she pursued other options. We are acutely aware that many of our fellow citizens are not so fortunate to have the assets we have. It was an important reminder not to take our means for granted — and to have greater compassion for those who are struggling. And here’s another thing: In a society as wealthy as ours, no one should be in danger of going without food or healthcare or losing their home due to circumstances beyond their control, and no one should have to worry that their unemployment checks will stop coming because the government can’t get its collective act together. We have to do better, America.

Vibranium. I hear there’s a mountain of it in Wakanda. but don’t tell anyone I told you.

Wheat Thins. Delicious with any topping, or with none. Do I even need to explain? I didn’t think so.

Xoloitzcuintli. Pronounce it “show-low-eats-QUEENT-lee,” or simply call it a “Show-Low” for short, as most people who own one do. It’s a (mostly) hairless breed of dog, originally from Mexico. Studio Assistant Tazz looks a little bit like a Show-Low, albeit with a full coat of hair. Then again, he’s 50% Chihuahua, so there might be some common ancestry there somewhere.

YouTubers. Keeping me entertained throughout the long days and nights of COVID sequestering has been a smorgasbord of videos on YouTube, both from content creators (including Pete Pardo, host of Sea of Tranquility and Comic Book Geezers, and Dr. Kat Marchant of Reading the Past, among many others I could name) and from those who post content that would otherwise be unavailable. In the latter category, I’m especially grateful for those who diligently upload daily episodes of quiz shows from the UK and Australia. Viewing and playing along with those programs was critical in my preparation for my online quiz leagues, and for… other things that I can add to my Thanksgiving list next year.

Zoom. The video conferencing service has been a genuine boon in keeping us all connected to the people — whether family and friends, or work collaborators — from whom we are physically distanced by the present distress. It’s not the same as being together, but it’s decidedly better than not seeing others at all.

As always, friend reader, I’m thankful for you, and for your continued visits to this blog. I sincerely hope that you and those you love stay safe and well during this crisis, and that we all have a return to some semblance of normal life — whatever that means — to be grateful for at this time next year.

Explore posts in the same categories: Aimless Riffing, Jeopardy!, Listology, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, Thanksgiving, That's Cool!

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