The Ghost Of Normalcy Lingering Past Its Time

Everything seems mostly normal.

And it’s that word, that one word — “mostly” — that’s getting me.

A day begins, a day ends. Cars go past. Some cyclists, too. I make breakfast, I write some things, I make dinner, the family tosses a baseball around the yard. And then while we’re out there playing baseball, a plane goes overhead, and I make a quick joke to my wife and son — “Now, those people really know how to win at social distancing.” Because, y’know, forget six feet. They’re up in the sky and we’re on the ground. Only people doing it better are the people on the ISS, right?

But that joke, it’s not a normal joke. It’s normal to make jokes, to be clear; in times of standard operating procedure and in times of tumult, we make jokes. Light-hearted jokes and gallows humor alike. It wasn’t the joking — it was the joke.

That wasn’t a joke I could’ve made two weeks ago.

Shit, maybe even a week ago.

I wouldn’t have understood it. It wasn’t a thing. And now, it’s a thing.

A week ago, we went out to breakfast with a couple friends, and even though things were starting to get a little weird (my son’s school closed for a day due to “The Rona,” or are we calling it “The Cove?”) we still felt, you know, fairly normal. The blips and glitches in everything felt expected and unexceptional in the sense we knew we lived in strange times, what with the unbridled fuckery of the Trump Era, and we’d grown accustomed to those little bumpy hitches and pulled stitches. But now, looking back, that breakfast feels somehow indulgent. Like we didn’t appreciate it enough. And we don’t know when, or even how, a breakfast like that will happen again.

That’s what gets me, most. It’s that we’re living presently beneath a veneer, a shiny shellacking, of normal. Are things broken? No, not yet. Will they break? Probably somewhat, though to what extent, who can say? But right now we’re still in this interstitial space where things feel mostly normal, until something hits us that really, really doesn’t feel normal at all. A photo of emptied shelves, a cart full of toilet paper (stop hoarding toilet paper, by the way, you’re not going to poop more in the apocalypse, settle down), a picture of the stock market, a mumbly-mouthed presser with Trump, a new picture of the stock market as it plunges during his mumbly-mouthed nonsense, and then a Facetime call between kids because they can’t see each other, and then an e-mail from a local business about how they’re weathering the quarantine, then the quiet fear that the ground is shifting underneath your feet in a way that is as-yet-unperceived, a silent and unmoving earthquake, as much spiritual and emotional as anything else —

And then you look back outside. Cars and cyclists. Birds birbing. A plane overhead.

It feels normal, but that seems like an illusion. Like you can run your hand right through it — passing your fingers through a ghost. I suspect the illusion will continue. Until it doesn’t. How long will it be before something I did today feels rare, like a gift I didn’t appreciate enough at the time?

I think we’ll be fine, of course.

Not now. Maybe not soon. But eventually, eventually, we’ll be fine.

And eventually, we’ll find a new normal, whatever that will be.

28 responses to “The Ghost Of Normalcy Lingering Past Its Time”

  1. “…unbridled fuckery of the Trump Era.” You nailed it, and with such writerly precision, as always. If not for that I’d have more confidence about our collective situation when The Rona is finally in the rear view mirror.

  2. Agreed. I think it’s really hard to know what the arc of this will be. There are too many variables. I have some good experience with being okay with questions instead of answers but I also realize a lot of people are not. I hope they will become more comfortable with the wait and see approach. I think it’s important to model not panicking for people right now. Smile warmly from a distance.

  3. It’s very surreal. I’ve gone from seeing my two college age kids (who do live at home) but work opposite schedules of me, to having them around 24/7 since all our schools and work places are closed. Feels like we’ve gone back in time.

  4. I’m fascinated by how adaptable we humans are through this. I mean, sure, there are people out there acting like nothing is happening and continuing to spread The Rona, but the majority of friends and family I know are adapting so quickly–making concessions, spreading jokes, and staying hopeful. That current of positivity is really something. You’re right, we will be fine. And this whirlwind adaptability is proving it. It won’t be the same, that’s for sure. Worse off in some ways, absolutely, but who knows? Maybe better in others.

  5. Everything just feels so surreal to me. Overall my life hasn’t changed much. I’m still an introverted, anxious hermit taking distance-learning classes. But yesterday my apartment building management said they wouldn’t have someone around to accept packages any more. They walked it back this morning, so we’re good, but that one tiny little lifeline disappearing made me panic for a bit. I’m a little afraid to see what the next thing that hits home will be.

  6. Beautifully put, sir. Everything is so surreal. My workplace is quiet when it’s usually full of people getting books and visiting and all that small-town public library stuff. Staff are talking to each other a lot as if trying to fill up the weird emptiness. I totally feel that everything is shifting feeling. Thanks for this.

  7. Less traffic up and down my tiny, two-block street that dead ends into a mobile home park. The guy in the silver truck still drives like an asshole, trying to see how fast he can accelerate in a distance less than a football field (one day this may cause him or someone harm). Hubby and I are hunkered down as we pretty much always are. We fall into that “senior” category. The neighborhood kids aren’t marching up and down the street; their parents wisely keeping them contained. Zuni, the neighbor’s dog, still wanders over for a slurp out of our bird bath and a skritch on the head if one of us is outside.

    These are odd times, that’s for sure. I’m catching up on a couple of online courses, knitting, watching the news because I can’t not watch some days. Friends adjust their “tribes” from workplace to virtual, ponder writing their state representatives to give teachers more money and benefits because they are now the teacher. People share homestead-style methods of gardening, grooming, and gathering via social media methods.

    The best to you, Chuck. You’ve shared with us how susceptible you are to viruses and I truly hope this novel virus doesn’t find you. Be well.

  8. I haven’t been outside since Saturday, my last day at work and also when I braved the grocery store, but the busy streets that border me seem a lot quieter.

  9. I keep thinking of the term ‘sea change.’ Where I live I can’t see the road, or my neighbours, just trees. Everything is the same, but completely different. I’m thankful for the extra time as a family and I hope it brings us closer, but I think our world will be much changed on the other side of this and change is often hard on humans.

  10. While this is all quite shocking, in a way, it isn’t. It feels almost expected. Does anyone else feel this way? Maybe I read too many books like Mr. Wendig’s…
    I’m not sure things will be better soon, but I can hope–there’s always that.

    • Absolutely. And there’s a certain kind of … I don’t know. Relief, sort of. As if I’ve been holding my breath for 15 years and have finally expelled it.

      I guess in a really bizarre and odd way it feels like the turning inside out of everything so that it feels a little like it does when someone dies has something a bit healing about it. As if the wizard behind the curtain is exposed, or things that were invisible have become invisible and perhaps there is an opportunity for something new.

      That’s when I’m not shizzing myself, of course 🙂

  11. A beautiful post, Chuck, and a reminder to cherish what we have – always worth doing, no matter the circumstances. Humour is much needed, again at any time. My favourite internet meme is of a cartoon dog telling his owner that he has to stop touching his face – and the owner is wearing a cone of shame. As amn Aussie writer of 90 books, I’m used to self isolating, but prefer that it’s by choice. Compulsion never feels good to artists and rebels, and me. Stay safe and well.

  12. Here’s the thing– we’re all slowly climbing that damn peak in that “flatting the curve graphic”. We’re hoping that everyone gets that by making that peak smaller we’ll all come out on the other side of this thing and things will go back to whatever qualifies as normal under President Dump. But the reality is that in this country people are so proud of their individual freedoms that there are people who will defy logic and science just for the sake of being assholes. “Just because we can”. Now, Singapore, South Korea, and China are seeing the curve flatten out, things are slowly going back to normalcy there. Because their governments are despotic, defying the self quarantine could have dire consequences other than getting the virus or giving the virus to grandma and grandpa. Here, the government is relying on people to not want to kill their vulnerable family and neighbors with this bug, and frankly, since science has been denigrated so much in the last three years, I’m not sure some people are smart enough to understand that they can carry the bug without having symptoms but they can still kill grandma after sunday brunch.
    Personally, I think we’re fucked, and this is going to be a long recovery. Instead of coming out of this like China or Singapore, I think we’re going to look like Italy only much, much, much bigger.
    Just call me the prophetess of love, or whatever.

  13. Had pizza delivered, not unusual. But what WAS unusual was worrying about touching the box. And the receipt. And the pen I signed it with. And then washing my hands for a good solid 30 seconds just to make sure. And then hoping the woman delivering the pizza is going to be ok.

    Is it ever going to be normal again?

  14. I think those of us (like me:only child, lives alone, self-employed etc etc) who think were are self-isolation experts may be surprised. We are good at it because we could imagine the world pottering on while we are away. We could pop back in when we needed to. But now, every time we look out, it is radically different. And that damages my sense of ‘me’ because I create ‘me’ in relation ‘not me’, and when ‘not me’ changes I will also have to change.
    Please keep posting Chuck, we need to hear you.

  15. Or over the past few days, as you’re focused on shifting to work from home and all the upheaval that causes, you feel a little more tired than usual. But you’re not sleeping very well, too much social media and news websites. Couple days go by and you wake up with a sore throat, but it’s Texas in March so allergies are a thing. You take some meds and drink some tea and get on with it. Then yesterday your chest feels weird, like when you had walking pneumonia that one time. Kind of achy inside, but you shrug it off because of course not, it’s far too early. No way can it be the virus, you’ve been washing your hands like crazy, you’re the social distancing queen. It has to be the bronchitis you get every couple years trying to set in. You’re not even coughing.

    You wake up today and you’re coughing. You didn’t even own a thermometer. When you or your husband get sick you just argue with each other that the other one should go to the doctor until you both give up and go. So you’re the weird couple who goes to doctor’s appointments bonded at the hip. Your hippie neighbor drops a thermometer off on your front porch, bless her, and you try it out on your lunch break. You feel very foolish because of course it can’t be the virus, but you do it anyways. And it’s 101.5.

    And then what?

    You go back to your desk in your dining room and try not to think about it. Just get some work done. You try to focus on putting out the fires that will probably crop up if, for some reason, you have to be away for a bit. You message HR to tell them, feeling really silly because of course it’s not the virus, but also…you were in the office 4 days ago and Sam down the hall is close to retirement with health issues.

    You wait for hours and hours for a call from a doctor who tells you it’s *a* virus, an upper respiratory virus. But they’re not going to test you for *the* virus because you can’t tell them if you’ve been in contact with someone who had it. Even though you have immune issues. Even with the symptoms. You’ve read enough articles in the last few days to know that policy is far too little too late, but this doctor didn’t make that policy so you don’t tell him where to shove it. Instead you thank him as he calls in a script for cough medicine, but not even the good kind with codeine. He tells you to isolate and hydrate, and to call someone if you’re short of breath. You’re suddenly very conscious of your breath and wonder where the line between “enough” and “short of” is.

    Your husband makes dinner, and you sit in that space where the cat in the box is both alive and dead, but no one will let you open the box. And you’re not even sure you want to open the box. Because there is a small chance you *are* the cat and right now you’re breathing.

    But your lungs ache.

    (And you’re slightly scared. But still feel silly all the same. Somehow that translates to writing this huge long comment on Chuck Wendig’s blog at 1:30 in the morning. But he was so nice to you that one time at a con so you hope he won’t mind, and it made you feel better so maybe you can sleep.)

      • Thank you for your post Chuck. It helped last night to realize I’m not the only one living in bizarro world. Plus I devoured Wanderers, a compliment from you means a lot, thank you. I’ll let you know how my patch of the apocalypse plays out, lol. Best to you and yours, stay safe and give ‘em hell.

        • Thank you for sharing and hope you’re doing better Sarah. 🙂

          Appreciate your perspective. I’m also one of the “watch and wait”, “call if…” Its unnerving.

          I’ve read numerous articles on the day to day symptoms, the common, rare, new symptoms. The “turn” where symptoms escalate. Even writing that feels wrong as I’m trying to stay in the moment and focus on the positive. I’ve stopped watching the news. Only Netflix and light movies (absolutely no edge). Yet in the early days of my symptoms, I actually watched ‘Contagion’. I’ve had so many symptoms and no test of course. (Even had an allergic reaction to medication.)

          Focus on the good. Anything good.

          Trying to get back into old routine of actually reading, or even listening to an audiobook. Still haven’t opened a book. (I’ve realized that I do not want the association with what I’m going through right now with any book.)

          Found this mini essay and especially liked “ That’s what gets me, most. It’s that we’re living presently beneath a veneer, a shiny shellacking, of normal. “ and “ then the quiet fear that the ground is shifting underneath your feet in a way that is as-yet-unperceived, a silent and unmoving earthquake, as much spiritual and emotional as anything else —”

          Oh, to be the possessor of a time machine.

          If you’re lucky enough no have no symptoms – minimize exposure as much as possible and do something fun. And for those feeling unwell – wishing you a speedy recovery and all the best wishes.

    • Sarah, so eloquently put. I hope your “a” virus is just that. I hope if it’s “the” virus it goes through it’s course fairly easily. I hope others read your comment who need to see that fear articulated. Hang in there. Drink fluids, yada, yada… all the best.

  16. Thank you for putting some words into this whole surreal reality. I’m in Spain, and we are in day… five I think? of forced quarantine. We can’t go out at all except to buy food or meds, walk the dog, or go to work. There’s police in the streets and they fine you pretty easily. I’m pretty introverted myself, and usually a day can go by that I don’t step outside, at all, but this is different. It feels different.

    My partner (he is staying with his sick mom, so we probably won’t see eachother for what, weeks?) went to the supermarket this morning, and there were a lot of empty shelves. There is food, of course, but not the one you want, or usually get. And there is no beer. Go figure, its one of the things we are seriously running out of…

    What I’m trying to say is that normalcy slips out easier than we all think. It is here, and then it is not, and you keep wondering how much, how long, how worse it is actually going to get… It truly is unlike anything I’ve experience. But hey, I’m fine (I gueess…?) my family is fine, we got a home and stuff and internet and books and wine, so… I don’t even feel like I can complain.

    You US people take care. Keep to yourselves. Hydrate. Isolate, really, as much as you can. If you have latex gloves is always a good idea to wear them when shopping, even if its just to avoid touching your face with them (yuck). We are all together in this, so you have all my love.

    Sorry for the ramble, and again thanks, Chuck. x)

    • Hi, Gloria. I’m in Spain too, and also away from my partner. We have no idea when we’ll be able to travel and see each other again. Some of our family members are sick, some have lost their jobs. It feels weird to me when I see other people in other countries, in a situation we were in not that long ago. It’s kind of like being in the future, if that makes sense?

      Just wanted to say someone read your comment and feels the same way. Mucho ánimo.

      • Thank you, friend. I follow you on twitter, and its good to year from you here. What a year this past two weeks have been, uh? Just a few more days and we will be, as the Doctor says about Yule, “halfway out of the dark”.
        Lots of love, y mucho ánimo para ti también.

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