None Of This Is Normal


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.

Why?

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.


71 responses to “None Of This Is Normal”

  1. I’m not sure if here’s the right place to share work but on the subject of Chuck’s “iteratively worse timelines” here’s a thing I wrote in the halcyon days of Christmas last year. It’s a darkest timeline take on Back To The Future 2 mashed up with Citizen Kane. I thought he and his followers might get a kick out of it. It’s called Citizen Biff. Any relation to current world leaders is painfully intentional.

    Here’s to getting to the new normal.

    https://citizenbiff.squarespace.com/

  2. Bless you for this. This is something we’ve needed to read for quite a while. Yay to all the Marie Kondo wannabes out there, taking this time to fold underwear into little squares and pack them neatly into drawers. But yay also to those who are soldiering through by laying on the couch in their underwear, covered in Cheeto dust, binge watching Friends. I’d type more but my right eye is twitching uncontrollably making it difficult to see. Gary has always been a dick.

  3. Wow. Dead on.
    Yesterday I was asked to eyeball a marketing email (yes, I know) for work and it started with “Welcome to the new normal” and it made my skin crawl. Happily I can report my input was respected and the term was removed. It’s the small battles these days.
    I’ve been beating myself up that I can’t feel creative, though I have all this “time”. Thanks for the perspective.
    Stay safe.

  4. I really needed to hear this today because I have had a bad day – not least because I have been trying to be normal. I was already WFH a couple of days a week, but to suddenly have to do it all the time with all the other stuff to contend with makes it very different. And I’m an introvert who doesn’t like people, but I somehow find myself craving that contact with others now, just being able to turn to the person next to me and say something inane is an odd thing to miss, but I do.

  5. Thank you so much, your thoughts and words were perfectly timed for me. Over are the fun Zoom Cocktail parties. We are entering the Zoom condolence chats. Sobering.

    Love your work, your ability to share, and your style of writing. Thanks again for making me feel normal about not feeling normal anymore.

  6. Yeah, good shit today, Chuck. Because I felt so chuffed at actually FINISHING A BOOK—reading not writing, of course—yesterday. Actually scraped enough attention span off the sole of my distraction to read a book. The owners of the little studio of independent trainers I was seeing one of my med exercise people at before all the crap hit sent out an email asking how we all were. I said it was depressing, horrible, hearing about all the death and terror and how hard trying to work remotely is. Everyone else said “oh, we’re all healthy and happy here and just really enjoying our family time.” Healthy—great. But happy? Really? ARE YOU PEOPLE PAYING ANY ATTENTION? Just because I feel pretty safe, I sure don’t feel normal.

    Although watching Run Silent, Run Deep was pretty restorative the other night so that’s a win.
    Thanks, Chuck.

  7. That was the most beautiful rant I’ve read recently and thanks for the perspective. I’m working from home for the first time in my life, and if I had to find a clean background to go on camera I’d have to go outside. My home looks like a clutter-bomb went off, and I have no energy to address it. On a positive note, I now have fingernails because I don’t dare bite them even though this is a nail-biting time if ever there was one.

  8. Anyone else finding that they are doing things they don’t normally do? For example, I’ve started sleeping on the couch at night. It started a few weeks ago when I was simply exhausted and fell asleep watching TV. I woke during the night I was just too tired to find my way to bed so I stayed on the couch. Now it’s basically a planned thing. “This is where I’m sleeping tonight.” I have a few thoughts and ideas why, but it’s not entirely clear to me.

    • The brain likes consistency. The mind is keenly aware of the fact that life is different, and if you do everything the same, it’s an inconsistency, or a cognitive dissonance. So your brain will compensate by either denying that life is different, or by causing you to change what you do. It’s essentially trying to make it all line up.

      Plus, while we’re stuck at home, we will find ourselves changing how we do things due to boredom and a certain antsy way that comes about when we feel trapped. Changing how we do things in the midst of all this makes us feel like we’re still in control, like we aren’t at the mercy of something way bigger than us – which we are, but why acknowledge that, right? 😉

      Trust me, what you’re finding yourself doing is perfectly normal – your brain is just trying to make sense of and compensate for all this mayhem.

  9. Yes. Going to the grocery store made me self-conscious and anxious, and I couldn’t pin down WHY. This is why: I think about the distance between myself and other people, I think about the stray hair in my eye that I’m not supposed to touch. Every glance from the other shoppers feels like a judgment or pity that I might have the plague or that I might be shopping too early and invading the seniors’ hour. That’s outside of trying to help teach the children or do my own work while they shout loudly at their video games or try to talk to my husband who is sequestered in the home office on another video conference, all of which lies atop the normal tasks of keeping house and loving my family and practicing my own hobbies and self-care. It’s all so surreal and dear god, I can’t find homeostasis, but at least I know I’m not alone.
    Thanks, Chuck, for helping me understand WHY it still feels crazy and giving me the freedom to respond abnormally to abnormalcy.

  10. Best post I’ve seen about the reality of dealing and coping ANYWHERE!

    I don’t have the extra time everyone (seems like everyone to me) is crowing about. I’m teleworking full time now, and I don’t have time to clean closets or gaze at old photos of grandma churning butter on the front porch. It’s fine if people DO have more time, but it reads like they’re sugar coating to me.

    This is a pandemic, people!

    I argue every day with my mom-in-law (who lives with us and has a lot of underlying conditions) who wants to drive around, pick up coffee and flowers and God knows — EVERY DAY!

    What don’t people get about this?

    And as for that cyclist you encountered? I say, “Stay in your lane, bro.” Damn. Denial is rampant. I guess Kubler-Ross should be required reading. Or AA meetings. Online.

    Thank you for talking reality, Chuck. It’s needed.

  11. OMG, you spoke my mind. Though much more succinctly. My family and friends are all emailing or texting, telling me how great it is I have more time to work on my musical. A MUSICAL. Can you think of any other genre so completely opposite of the shit that’s going on right now? Of course, as a diligent writer, I tried to do it. I really did. But something about acting out dance steps in my office and twirling to an upbeat tempo… I dunno. It’s like all my creative juices are hiding under the covers, where I want to be. So yeah, don’t ask creatives to be creative right now. If some of them are, bravo. But I am a human before I am a writer. And I am a bit of a sad and frightened human at the moment. Hard to turn those feelings into disco moves.

  12. Thank you! It’s something I’ve reminded myself as I talk to friends and family who sometimes act in surprising ways. I remind myself that this is really not normal times and we should all be given room.

    And OMFG people were like that the first week of quarantine here (CA) but now that the governor has extended SIP until May 1 they now get the fuck out of the way.

    Walking is still stressful. They closed the parks finally. So now we walk down the center of streets that suddenly seem wide with no cars. And that’s better.

  13. Well, I can’t take care of the residents of the senior living facility where I work unless I’m physically present, so I’m not sheltering at home. In my case, it’s doing everything I can to keep from bringing the CORONA VIRUS home to my family. Yes, we’ve already had two cases among the residents, even though we’ve been on lockdown for over two weeks. Now I’m stressed that I’m not doing enough to keep everyone at home safe. I could quit my job, of course, but who will help the residents then?

    OK, I’ve vented enough of my worry. Just remember that even though I’m still actively working, my life is as messed-up as anyones.

  14. I’ve been disabled for the last couple years so I’ve mostly been home anyway but this is just weird. The only times I went out before were to pick up groceries or go to physical therapy. No more therapy. I live with my daughter who is home now, and my granddaughter who splits time between parents, which is weird too. We don’t have time to do anything, we’re either entertaining a 5 yr old or recovering from said 5 yr old. She’s a joy to have around but it’s exhausting when you can’t go anywhere. I’ve found that if I put on headphones I do a better job writing though, so I’m hopeful….

  15. I’ve been trying to take some online classes, since I have been furloughed from work. I don’t have much patience for it at the moment, and keep zoning out when I get to some of the topics. Some of that is that I am bored crapless by some of the topics (CSS makes my eyes glaze over, and while I use networking at work, the class is dull beyond comprehension). I have tried over and over to learn to code, and it turns out that I just don’t like it, and it’s not sticking. I don’t know what to take next instead, but add to that the weirdness of the outside world blowing up, it’s a huge pile-on of can’ts, nots, and everything else.

    Long story short, it sucks to be motivated to do something else, and feel like you are getting nowhere.

  16. It’s the weirdest thing.

    I’m vacillating between feeling like I’m tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole/standing on the sidelines watching the world implode/pretending everything’s okay/crying because people are dying and nothing will ever be the okay–

    *deep breath*

    It is what it is while we, the fragile human race, do the best we can . . . those of us with a heart and a conscience, anyway; speaking of which, thank you for this post, Mr. Wendig.

  17. I recommend reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning if you want an interesting take on how to handle a deeply f-ed up situation and how he got through it. Take notes – you are experiencing history and yes do take time to be mindful of how bizarre this is. We will need the writers and poets and artists to remind us of this when it is done.

  18. I just want you to know that your blog posts may be the only reason I’m keeping my sanity during this whole thing. Never trivializing this shitshow we’re in, and yet somehow hysterically funny. Mobile outbreak monkey! I laughed until I…..well, until I coughed….but it was just ’cause I was laughing so hard! Nothing to see here. Anyway, thanks for being so real and so funny and so distracting. All of that is so important right now.

  19. Chuck, What can I say. I woke up this morning in distress, and feeling guilt about that, not knowing how I should feel. People are writing about all of the wonderful and productive and distracting things that I, too, can be doing to feel normal. But right now I don’t want to feel normal. I want time to take all of this in and maybe come out the other side having learned some new things. Right now I want to feel sad and upset and afraid because it’s appropriate because of what is happening around me in our World. You say it better. You say it exactly right. Thank you. Thank you.

  20. Just a big bucket of tears today. First I cried for 20 minutes because a friend’s cat died. Then I cried because my university canceled our creative writing residency in June. Then I cried because my kids saw me crying and I felt bad. All while I’m trying to work from home, compiling a report and writing some super-upbeat stories about our students. Now I’m eating, because that feels like the most normal thing (at least until I finish eating and start foraging for more food).

    • I cried when someone said a kind thing to me. I cried when I saw an apple tree full of brand-new blossoms. I’m living so far outside my skin right now I could be on another planet.

  21. Thank you for this, Chuck. You made me and everyone I passed this too feel a little bit better in the middle of the non-stop sh*tstorm that has been the last four years.

  22. This is an amazing and helpful, comforting even, article. Thank you. I’m going to stop beating myself up for those times where I can do nothing but sit and stare into space for awhile. I’m going to appreciate more than ever those times where I can summon the energy to make art, clean my house, or do less pleasant things like taxes. Be well.

  23. Thank you for today’s post. It was good for a laugh and, as is always the case, you say something that helps me see things in a new way. I write quotes from you on the front of my note pad–this one is from 12/13/18 “You gain your groove by wearing it into the floor one micrometer at a time.” This one is written on the inside of a binder of notes about self-publishing and story ideas (sorry no date) “Characters at every level of the story want something-love, revenge, cake, whatever–and when we meet them we’d better soon know what that thing is. Especially if it’s cake. We can all get behind a character will kill for cake. I’d kill for cake wouldn’t you?” There’s more but I won’t bore you. You make a difference. Today you made a difference because I re-read these quotes and felt better. Thank you and stay safe.

  24. I went on a hike yesterday, and hit a hole in the trail. Totally wiped out, full on fell into some mud. Some joggers came up behind be, asking if I was ok. They were far enough behind me where they could go around. But I immediately thought, ‘Wow, what if they tripped over me? That would have been really bad for social distancing.’ Never mind that my ankle could have been broken (it wasn’t), that was where my mind went. Despite my own pain and embarrassment, the thought of someone coming close enough to touch me was a far worse prospect. Messed up.

    Outside of little jarring moments like that, where you’re face-to-face with how not normal any of this is, it’s almost funny how industrious our household is. My husband does a very “remote-able” job (IT support) and he’s been getting to close the tickets other people haven’t been able to. I keep knocking off one article deadline after the other like it’s nothing, even on days where I write through a haze of depression and stress. We’re both independent workers/severely introverted types, so we joke that we were engineered for the plague times.

    But I keep hoping that after we’re allowed to congregate, people take to the streets demanding a government that won’t ever allow this to happen again. Who the hell wants to live in a society where the bookstore is closed?!

  25. I’ve been getting your newsletter for, what, a couple of years…and I just started reading it four days ago. All I can say is I deeply appreciate your message and your method. Almost sounds like me talking to myself. Thank you.

  26. In the midst of this global new normal, my husband and I are divorcing. We’re quarantined together until next Friday when he moves a state over (provided the borders are still open, god willing and the creek don’t rise). This week found us donning gloves and masks to sign and notarize our divorce papers in a local UPS store and to gingerly interact from a 6 ft distance with a very earnest young personal banker in order to remove each other from our joint accounts, the last vestige of banking apparently impossible to do online for whatever cruel reason.

    I don’t even remember what normal used to be like. Does that make me more or less prepared to face a shifting reality? I will say, both the UPS notary and the 20-something bank attendant (having both been deemed “essential” to the functioning of society, for once in their professional lives) batted not one eyelash at either our PPE or the circumstances of our visit, but instead performed their duties with the steely calm of a sharpshooter.

    I think we’ll all be just fine, on the far side.

  27. Thank you for this!! I have been struggling for the past few weeks with this whole WFH situation. I want to be productive but there are times I just am not feeling it. The last few days I have been giving myself a little space to read and just slack.

    Thank you so much for writing books that take my mind off of what is happening in the world.

  28. Thanks so much for writing and sharing this. It really helped. I’ve been out of work for over a month now due to the virus, I have barely been able to speak to anyone for the last two weeks, and, to top it all off, have been sick (though thankfully not with covid). Needless to say I have been feeling super down about it all and the fact that I haven’t been able to get any writing done has just been the cherry on top of a really REALLY shitty cake.

  29. Ohhhhh GARY. What a vazey flapdoodle.

    I am sitting here nodding at everything in this post as I’m reading. Heck yeah, Herr Wendig. TESTIFY. Last week, I thought I had a handle on all this. I painted. I wrote. I taught my kid. I mothereffin’ ACCOMPLISHED.

    And this week, whoop-de-do and pass the moonshine, I utterly fell apart. Tears, snot, and wailing. The perfectionist in me says to pull myself the fuck together already.

    The wiser Me says: None of this is normal and you don’t have to be. Give yourself some space, some love, and some understanding. And when you’ve done that, do it some more. And then some more again.

    Let’s all be kind to ourselves and to each other — together — at a safe distance.

  30. This made me snort outloud:

    “Haven’t you always wanted to learn how to crochet? Now’s the time! Just ignore the screaming!”

    I’ve been trying to do cross stitch for the first time and I’ve been sweating at my pattern for days. It’s a kind of therapy, but not terribly calming.

    Anyhow, thanks for making me laugh. As always.

  31. Thank god! Somebody had to say this! We are all thinking it and now, Chuck, you went and verbalised exactly what we were all feeling and thinking – simply because we’re all too terrified somebody out there will bash our brains in; because we’re scared it’s us and not them, all because … well, none of us is sleeping well, and we’re ready to hurt other people due to how they’re acting.

    I went shopping during the early trading hours for pensioners (I’m on welfare and could use those hours where I am, so long I produced my pension card) and when I packed my groceries at the check out, and moved out, I found I had one bag packed too heavy. So, I moved as far away from the checkouts as I could and pulled out another reusable bag to make that heavy bag lighter. Well, one other shopper walked up next to me – right next to me – and took a piece out of me, telling me to ‘fuckin’ move it!’ and said something about social distancing. A man behind her (standing the right distance away from her) told her off, saying that she moved towards me. I simply looked up at her, smiled and said through my mask, ‘Why don’t you go fuck yourself, lady. I’m working here.’ I looked back at what I was doing and ignored her.

    I swear, some people are just so weird.

    We also have the fear mongers in our society who love to make us scared of our own shadows about this too.

    Thank you again for keeping this real, Chuck. We need people like you in this world.

  32. Now see here, Mr. Wendig, shitting in trashcans took me years to perfect. I have a cult following. It’s a culture! Don’t judge me!! In all seriousness, best wishes to you, your family and everyone here. These are dark times we are living in.

  33. I already worked from home. I’ve seldom been busier.
    It’s like people haven’t realized that the work you get paid for is not in fact the sum total of the work that goes into life (which false assumption underlies a lot of problems in Western society, but no time for that rant now). Housework and yardwork haven’t magically disappeared. Relationship work has suddenly exploded in time-consumption because you can’t just bump into people and chat. Anybody bumps into me, I’ll probably scream.

  34. I am currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for a (thankfully curable) stage IV cancer. Because of that, my immune system is compromised and I have been self-isolating now for several weeks. I wanted to write to let you know that I found this article entitled, pessimistic, and an indirect threat to the lives of people like myself.

    It’s perfectly fine to acknowledge that things are difficult—they are. And it’s normal and healthy to forgive yourself and others for imperfections. That, however, does NOT mean that it’s acceptable to advocate helplessness. No, it isn’t easy to “just carry on”, but sometimes valuable, important things aren’t easy to do. Creating a sense of normalcy—trying to establish a bit of routine in your life, trying to stay productive to feel like you’re contributing to society in some sense, etc.—IS a helpful way to counteract the stress and panic that many are experiencing in this situation. It’s willfully ignorant to write that there are “no best practices” and that people are perfectly entitled to just give up and wallow in their feelings. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge and accept your feelings, but there’s much more we can do than just wallowing in them like helpless children.

    Where is all of this “shame” to be productive coming from? You don’t provide any examples, and in my own experience I’ve seen nothing of the sort. Instead, I’ve seen people trying to make the best out of a bad situation: people embracing hobbies or other efforts and sharing what they’ve done to try to establish feelings of productivity and community. Why should other people feel shamed at that? Not everyone is going to be equally productive, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that others’ attempts to make the best of this should be seen as “shaming” anyone else.

    The only people I’ve seen who’ve been encouraged to be MORE productive are health-care workers, emergency service providers, grocery and other retail employees who are embracing increased standards for hygiene, and the others who are going above and beyond during this pandemic to make things safe for the rest of us. Many of those people are under a tremendous amount of pressure and they should be applauded and supported for their efforts. But those of us who’ve been ordered to work from home? Sure, there’s still a push for all of us to maintain some level of “productivity”, but that doesn’t equate to being shamed into productivity. The fact of the matter is that we can’t just curl up into a ball and hide whenever things go wrong. We have to do our best to make do, and ultimately that’s a positive message—not a promotion of shame.

    Reinforcing the idea that we’re entitled to stress and panic only serves the agenda of those like Trump who would see these restrictions lifted as soon as possible. Writing that we shouldn’t accept this as normal and that there is no answer to these problems only plays into the hands of those who want to force a return to “normal” (for their own economic benefit), and that is dangerous for those, like myself, whose underlying conditions mean that COVID-19 could be a threat to our lives. I don’t want to die because someone else wants to make more money. I also don’t want to die because someone else finds it a bit too difficult to avoid physical gatherings for a couple months. I’m not saying there’s no challenge involved in social distancing; I AM saying that challenge is worth it, because it will save lives, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

    On the topic of that challenge… does social distancing seem too difficult to overcome? Try chemotherapy. Try multiple major surgeries to cut tumors out of your body. Try dealing with the news that your cancer has spread and your chances of living another 5 years have plummeted frighteningly low. Try putting on a strong face to comfort your mother, because you know that she is having an incredibly difficult time with this and that if you die, she will be the one who’s actually around to suffer.

    I’m not writing this to shame you into thinking you have it easy. Suffering isn’t a competition; social distancing isn’t easy for many people, and I get that. What I ALSO get is that there ARE things we can do to get through difficult, abnormal times. What has helped me get through my struggle (so far) with cancer? Not defeatism. Not the idea that “this is just fucked” and that I shouldn’t even try anymore. No, it’s been an attempt to hold onto normalcy. It’s been going to work as much as I can. It’s been trying my best to live a life similar to the life I was living beforehand, and similar to the one I want to live after this is all over with. It’s been maintaining a sense of gratitude that I still have a chance, and being grateful that things aren’t any worse than they already are. Being grateful for the time I’ve been given so far, regardless of how much time I have left. And knowing that there IS an end in sight, no matter how difficult things happen to be in the present, and that I have to keep living my life as if my life will continue no matter what the odds might be.

    Does that mean I haven’t had intense moments of anxiety, sadness, and fear? Of course not. But it also doesn’t mean I gave up on having a sense of normalcy. I forgave myself the times I fell short, and I think your suggestion that we do so is a very positive one. However, I think that is precisely the sort of thing we should see as NORMAL. Forgiveness and compassion aren’t just for states of emergency—they should be how we deal with our troubles every day.

    This pandemic isn’t forever. We can acknowledge the struggles we have while also fighting to retain a sense of meaning and stability in our lives. We don’t just have to give up.

    • Matt: I send my most sincere wishes for your improved health (saying “I’m so sorry you’re having such heavy health problems” just didn’t sound right).

      I think you may have misunderstood Chuck’s message here. What I’m getting from it is that it’s okay to not be all smiles and “we’re fine and it’s great and lookit all this free time we have!” while we’re all stuck in our homes. It’s okay to feel weird and out of balance and desperate and not be sick with *anything*.

      We’re all living through the same thing, but each of us is in a different situation, so we each cope differently.

      Yours is a unique set of circumstances; the journey to recovered health includes a positive mindset, for you, right? That’s what I’m getting from what you’ve written, and it’s what I’ve understood from many others who’ve written about their battles with life-threatening illness. Your focus is very different from those of others not in your situation. Which is fine! As Chuck always says, you do you.

      What I got from Chuck’s post is this: we’re all human, so we should be compassionate with ourselves and each other. Perfect is an illusion.

      • Chuck clearly means well, and some of what he suggests is very good advice. However, he’s also suggesting that there’s nothing we can actually do to make this situation better (aside from forgive ourselves for our failure to do nothing about the situation), and he directly calls the things that DO make situations like this better “bullshit”. Sticking to whatever routines you can to maintain a sense of normalcy through difficult times is a proven method to relieve stress, and calling that “bullshit” is NOT helpful. Yes, everyone responds to moments like this differently, and yes, we should be compassionate with ourselves and with each other, but that doesn’t justify writing that any attempt to find a sense of normal here is “bullshit” or that trying to find the silver linings in a difficult situation is an attempt to “shame” others. I see the positives he is suggesting, but he has packaged them with a whole lot of unhelpful, harmful negatives. If I have misinterpreted, perhaps he could be more clear in the message he is trying to convey.

  35. Part of my (now remote) work is to make sure 7 other people are being more or less productive and are okay. I quoted you to them in our daily short meeting today. Our daily facetime meet is actually 5 minutes of business and 20 minutes of talking trash and lately pretending to pick our noses, and each other;s noses on a web meeting. But they are stressed. It is my job to take care of them – plus I like the silly buggers. Thank you for giving me Words to keep my weird work family okay. And helping me pull my shit together so I can help them. Now on to making masks out of my bandanna collection using 2 zipties and a hairband….really. NY just put out we should wear them in public. I want to do funny lips and stuff….and send them to my team.

  36. Thanks, Chuck. I’m glad you’re around to express the words most of us have stuck inside because we haven’t found the right sequence of connections to get them out of our heads yet.

  37. None of this is normal and I miss normalcy. Those little things we take for granted.
    Nonetheless, this will be over and we will hopefully learn some lessons.
    Better yet, we should focus our efforts in the upcoming election.
    No, it would not prevent another pandemic from ever happening.
    But perhaps electing officials who do believe in science and vaccines will help make it not worse if it does.
    Great post.

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