In April of 2016, a weasel (technically a stone marten) went and fucked the hadron collider (technically chewed a wire), and ever since, we’ve been routinely time tunneling our way through iteratively worse timelines. From Trump’s election to right now, a pandemic in which we are all forced to remain inside our little territorial bubbles lest we catch the Cove, the Rona, the dreaded virus, and pass it along to others.
It wasn’t normal in 2016 when Trump was elected.
And we are a thousand — a hundred thousand — miles from normal now.
And yet, we’re expected to carry on, like we can respond to this with increased normalcy as a counterbalance. Writers will write more. We can cook more. We can clean and organize more. We have a lot of free time now and so we will use it, like industrious ants, like worker bees. But that’s bullshit. It’s not easy to just “carry on.” It’s like sitting at your desk at work and seeing a co-worker suddenly hike down his pants and shit in his little trash can. You can’t simply shrug that off and be like, “That Gary always finds his own path!” and then keep filling in the fucking spreadsheet on the screen in front you. A man just shat in a trashcan in the next goddamn cubicle. You have to acknowledge that. You have to stop and deal with that.
The situation outside our door is considerably more upsetting than Gary’s little “cubicle toilet,” and so you should not be expected to simply go about your day as if, gosh, I’ll be so productive now. I can do so many things! THIS IS ALL PERFECTLY FINE, you say through clenched and cracking teeth, eyes twitching and wet with tears, one snot bubble balloon inflating and deflating at your nostril’s entrance like you’re a cartoon character.
I’ll give you an example —
We went for a walk the other day. It was up a little backroad, and it’s a particularly nice walk. Bridges over creeks, a lot of forest, a lot of big rocks and such.
Except, that day it was not a particularly nice walk.
We were not the only humans who thought it would be. It’d be hyperbole to say it was packed, but there were a lot of walkers. And the road is narrow. And some people are good at social distancing, and others, nyyyeaaaah, not so much. We’d be walking up and see people agglomerating in the middle of the road like cholesterol clogging an artery, and we’d slow our walk in the hopes that, like human Lipitor we’d break up this oleaginous chunk of people and could continue properly social distancing, but still they gather, still they chatter. So as I got closer I kinda cleared my throat and made it sound a little like a cough, and that was enough to spook them like startled squirrels, and onward we could go. But then someone on a bike (decked out like they’re sponsored for the Tour de Fucking France) would zip by right past us, and you feel like, as they’re zooming by what if they cough, what if they just fire off a wicked aerosolized viral rocket and oh god now we’re sick. One guy on a bike slowed down to talk to us and he’s like HEY BE CAREFUL THERE’S A DEAD RAT UP AHEAD, and it’s like, who gives a shit? Get out of here, you mobile outbreak monkey. What’s the dead rat gonna do? Is it a zombie? Does it have coronavirus? (Spoiler warning: it also wasn’t a dead rat. It was a squirrel. What a dingle.)
So, what should’ve been a very nice walk was actually quite stressful.
Point being, this grasp for normalcy only heightened how deeply fucking weird everything is. And the response to that can’t be to intensify normalcy. You cannot meet abnormality with increased normalcy. It just doesn’t work. There’s no countermanding it that way. We’re told we can be more productive, that we’re all work-from-home now, but lemme tell you: this isn’t your average way to work-from-home. This isn’t how to accelerate productivity. It’s like being told to work-from-home during a locust plague and a forest fire. “Just sit there and do the work, head down, don’t look outside, definitely don’t match eyes with Baalzebub, who is currently stalking the neighborhood next door with a SCYTHE made of BITING FLIES. It’s fine! Ha ha ha! Haven’t you always wanted to learn how to crochet? Now’s the time! Just ignore the screaming!”
It’s hard to concentrate when everything is so strange, so broken, so dangerous. It’s like being told to paint a masterpiece while on a turbulent flight. It’s just not the time.
And so, I want you to know, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be somehow a better, more productive person in this time. You can be! If you are, more power to you. That doesn’t make you a monster. But if you’re finding yourself unable to concentrate, that’s to be expected. That is normal. Normal is feeling abnormal in response to abnormality. You must be kind to yourself and to others when it comes to what we think people can and should be able to accomplish during this time. Ten million people are out of work, suddenly. People are sick and dying. The thing we crave at a base level, human interaction, is suddenly fraught and fragile. Hell, everything is fraught and fragile. We’re only realizing now that it was fragile all this time.
None of this is normal. You don’t have to feel shamed into forcing normalcy as a response.
So, what then, is the answer?
There really isn’t one. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing. No therapy regimen, no best practices. Best I can tell you, and this should be taken with a grain of salt so big you’d have to chip away at it with a pick ax, is that you try your best. And when you fall well short of that, you instantly and intimately recognize why. And you forgive yourself, and you forgive the rest of the world for also falling short (“rest of the world” does not include politicians or billionaires, by the way), and you try again. And it’s okay if you can’t focus on writing, or reading a book, or planting a garden, or patching drywall, or whatever. Find a different thing. Keep busy when you must, but also don’t be afraid to sit with how you’re feeling and accept it. Accept it unconditionally. Accept your anger and sadness, accept your delirium, allow yourself the time to drift and to fail. Also accept any joy you feel, and do so without guilt. Joy is hard-won, and if you manage that victory, there’s no shame in that. Take the victory lap. We will have to hunt joy like an elusive beast across the wasteland.
If you capture it, celebrate.
I think most of all, just don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Now, maybe more than ever, don’t compare yourself to others. Everybody’s not only trapped in their houses, but also trapped in their own maelstrom of emotions, too. Let that be true. You can talk it out. You can share how you’re feeling. But don’t compare in a way that punishes you, or that paints your own feelings as a transgression.
This is all very new to us.
Normal is gone. There will be a new normal. We’ll get there. We’ll get through this. But things will change and that’s going to be okay. Maybe better than okay. Maybe we’ll come out better in the end. But we don’t have to be better now, we don’t have to be better overnight. This isn’t work-from-home. This isn’t your time to shine. This isn’t time to be productive. If you are, embrace it. If you’re not, forgive it. Do what you can do. Be safe.
And stop shitting in your trashcan, GARY.