Bob Schwartz

Month: August, 2021

Poetry is to live for

Poetry is to live for

While there are mysteries
There is living to solve
While there is poetry
There are mysteries
About the next line
Or the mystery of
The next line missing

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

The Covid Fall of Magical Thinking

I’m fascinated by magic. Not the sleight of hand, card trick, disappearing kind. The kind described this way:

“Magic is one of those terms for a phenomenon that is hard to define, yet easy to recognize. Magic is the overarching term for a ritual for power involving incantations, symbolic behavior, materials, and/or formulae meant to influence events and/or entities.”

Magic has been with us since antiquity, and will continue forever. Thinking, often against reason, that a magical intervention will affect the course of events is very human. We want to believe that wishing and hoping themselves may have such power.

There is a small chance that this fall may see an immediate gradual or dramatic drop in the impact of Covid in America. But every indicator says otherwise. With so many people still unvaccinated, with so many officials banning or limiting effective mitigation (vaccination, masking, testing), and with a more contagious and deadlier variant on the attack, such a drop is very unlikely. Not impossible, given that the behavior of the virus is still full of surprises, but very unlikely.

Yet there are plenty of people and institutions acting as if that isn’t the case. Instead, they are insisting that normal life as it was in 2019 return—right now. Some might call that unbridled optimism. Some might call that ignorance or denial. It seems more apt to call it magical thinking. If we somehow act as if the threat is not there, it will disappear. Like magic.

Covid is here. Like the worst of our enemies, it lives to hurt us and kill us, to hurt and kill our loved ones. All the magical thinking won’t slow it or stop it. People will believe what they will and think as magically as they will. The only “magic” is the one that science is trying to provide. We ignore and reject it at our most dire peril.

Leading university tells its students “masks are not effective on chins only”

True story.

Fall semester is starting at American colleges, and there is a confusing array of covid protocols for students, from mandatory vaccination and masks to anything goes.

One leading university that is not mandating vaccination or masks but is encouraging them actually included this in a message to students:

“We ask that you please keep a facemask with you at all times and respect others who might have personal or family health considerations. Also, masks should cover your nose and mouth, as they are not effective on chins only.”

It is hard to tell whether the administration is serious or being sarcastic, but it strikes me as possibly funny or possibly sad. Very sad if it is a needed earnest reminder to college students that a covered chin is not a substitute for covered nose and mouth. But as crazy as things are right now, you never know.


A friend wrote to me today about the choice of living in a desert city, at this crucial climate time. It led me to this by Robert Frost:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice

We can no more ignore or discount sense, science and knowledge than we can live unconditionally and entirely by them. People will label the various balance points as enlightenment, pragmatism, rationalism, romanticism, idealism.

Things call to us, we are called, there is calling. The prophets to their caves, the desert fathers and mothers to their wilderness. Most common and human of all, love and friendship, which are not science (despite the attempts to dissect them) but are callings. None of this is stupid, as in a stupor, but soulful.

It has rained in this desert city more than any month in contemporary history. It is only a blip on the current path of heat and drought. The front yard is dirt, rocks and palo verde trees. But the rare constant deluge has grown patches of grass where none were. A deer climbed the hill to munch the grass, having been called by the green.

Rainstorm in the desert

Rainstorm in the desert

Every day the sun
without relief
heats the hills.
Now clouds rumble
explode in torrents.
Even in the desert
it is always raining.

© Bob Schwartz 2021

Randomness and getting outside your self

As noted before, I believe in the value of randomness, and keep a dish of polyhedral dice on my table as a reminder. I frequently quote Gregory Bateson:

“I am going to build a church some day. It will have a holy of holies and a holy of holy of holies, and in that ultimate box will be a random number table.”

We can take action, for better or worse, effectively or ineffectively, and we should try to. But we are not in complete control. According to different philosophies, that other power takes many forms, from people and institutions exercising their own controls, to higher powers intervening, to the vagaries of randomness.

As with all those belief systems, randomness helps get us out of our self. It removes us from the delusion that we can be, or aspire to be, the perfect mechanics of a finite and knowable machine. We are not those mechanics and there is no finite and knowable machine. What you think there is and the role you play depends on what you believe. But believe what you will, randomness is always there to get us outside our self.


The desk is well worn and love-ly
Surfaces and drawers witness to
Time spent and misspent
On close inspection the gouges and stains appear
Stepping back all you see is the burnished whole
Wholly what it is what it was what it will become
Worn wood arranged to fit a life lived

© Bob Schwartz 2021