by Lorraine Devon Wilke
“You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.”
~ Golda Meir
I’m in the ring, sister. ~ LDW
After almost two months, I think it’s safe to say that people are dealing with the COVID pandemic in as wide a range of unique and individual ways as can be imagined, from charming Tik Toks and Zoom musicals, to cynical beach hooligans and gun-toting right-wingers co-opting Rosa Parks to defend their hissy-fitting. Humans, being both resilient and ridiculous, don’t disappoint in their extremes. Add to that a phenomenally lunatic president, wildly diverse social media, and daily onslaughts of unprecedentedly hideous news, and you can understand why we’ve all gotten twitchy.
Not known to be a curmudgeon, generally optimistic despite existential conundrums, and a lifelong self-generator of creative projects and worthwhile activities, I have nonetheless found myself deeply unimpressive during this unprecedented moment. I’ve done essentially nothing. Not a thing. I haven’t deep-cleaned the house, leapt into any heretofore ignored projects, updated my photography website, or converted those C-videos to digital. There’s been no participation in clever sing-alongs, uplifting kitchen choreography, or sweet conversations with babies via FaceTime. I’ve managed a few conference calls and Zoom gatherings, but my latest novel is being ignored, I’ve barely written a journalistic word, and, frankly, I’m not even sure I’ll get through this article.
Maybe it’s the fact that as, predominantly, a writer, I was already grooved into the routine of endless days at home working alone on my computer bereft of outside chatter and collegial interaction, and had, at the beginning of 2020, looked forward to branching out for the sake of my sanity.
Maybe it’s because earlier, before the new year, we’d had a medical event in our family circle that demanded time and attention over a period of several months which, once largely concluded, left me relishing the thought of focusing outward, to hopefully rustle up new collaborative adventures of the creative and social kind.
Maybe it’s the reality that everything seen, heard, or felt through the lens of a deadly global pandemic and its looming, limiting message of detachment and danger does not, in spite of Ms. Meir’s robust suggestion, leave me feeling ready to rumble, “sparringly” or otherwise. It actually leaves me less and less willing to leave the house. It leaves me concerned about everyone. It leaves me… meh.
Now, I know this is not exactly uplifting, me chronicling my meh-ness, and I know people need and want encouragement, positive messages, and delightful reminders of hearty humanity during this cataclysmic moment. And there are certainly gazillions of those kinds of stories, articles, and videos out there, good stuff, some great stuff, all very informative, helpful, and inspiring.
But, let’s face it: on the flip side of all that fierce can-do spirit there’s the other reality: the one that acknowledges that this situation basically sucks, all of it, and once past the deepest, darkest agonies of sickness, pain, and death, once beyond the essential people working in the medical, health, food, and welfare industries, there’s… the rest of us. The regular, less essential, folk, huddled at home trying to figure it out, trying to find where the lines are drawn, where we lean in or lean out. Where we set boundaries, where we relax and breathe, where it’s safe to breathe, with or without a mask. The markers move every day, sometimes several times a day, and we have no real idea when it will end or where we go from here.
That’s honestly daunting. We get to feel daunted by that. I feel daunted by that. I have my cheerful moments, but, to be honest, I don’t particularly want to dance or do video concerts. I want to hug my son, perform live with my band, audition for a play, have a dinner party. I want to walk on the beach, organize a political fundraiser, visit my mother, and join a mentor group. I want to feel like myself again, a strong, resilient person who doesn’t slam into dread because I forgot and impulsively hugged my neighbor, or got too close to a store clerk, or heard my husband cough. Frankly, I’m slightly confused about my state of being at the moment, it being somewhat distant from the one that existed before this event, the one that was creatively indomitable and relentlessly dogged. She’s on a break.
In fact, when I Facebook-posted about an award my last novel won recently, a dear friend responded with congratulations, adding, “I bet you’re writing up a storm right now!”, and though I hated to burst her jolly perception of me by telling her the truth, no… I wasn’t. No storms here. Not even a puddle. In fact, my lack of artistic expression leaves me befuddled. But here’s some pandemic rationale for it all:
As an author of contemporary fiction, with a manuscript-in-progress that takes place in the here and now, I am suddenly left to either include the earth-shattering reality of COVID (where it has no place), or decide to… what? Put the story in an earlier year? Not mention COVID at all (strange, given its pervasive impact on everyone, everywhere)? Touch on it but don’t make it a part of the main plot (again, odd, since it literally is the main plot of everything at the moment)? I have no idea, yet, where to go with this, no idea what the publishing industry will look like or want once we come out of hiding; no idea what I’ll feel compelled to say, tell, write, or share once there’s more to think about than relentlessly washing my hands or figuring out how to speed-walk with a mask on.
Hard to “write up a storm” under those circumstances, and those are my circumstances.
But even as I confess to all this atypical cantankery, I must follow with the various conclusions I’ve drawn, at least as of now, six+ weeks in and no end in sight:
I won’t pretend. I won’t force myself into good cheer by virtue of virtual peer pressure. I’ll embrace happiness when it comes organically, encourage it as a matter of practice, but allow myself the sadness, disappointment, anger, restlessness, and fear that trickles in between. I’ll grant myself permission to mourn the opportunities, income, and career advances I have personally lost, despite the fact that none are on a par with dying or losing someone beloved. I’ll sleep later than usual, walk my five miles a day because I must, and continue our socially-distant family gatherings on the front lawn because without them my heart will break. I’ll try not to gain weight, I’ll do my best to cheer others, and promise I’ll refrain from hugging you, even on your birthday.
I don’t think I’m alone in this negotiation. I’ve heard from many of you, those of you left facing that next layer, the one beyond the novelty of Zoom holidays, video diaries, and the relaxation of “business sweats.” The layer that realizes it’s been over six weeks and a quarrel is blooming between isolation exhaustion and fear of going out. The layer that merges various harmonics of depression, anxiety, sadness, and fear about what we’ve lost, what lies ahead, what life will look like in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.
We each get to process this communal, devastating, universal experience however we can, however we do, however we must. We get to mourn, grieve, dance, write, veg, create, clean, work, sleep, inspire, save lives, do nothing, laugh, cry, scream, or stare at a wall. It’s all valid. It all works. We’re all writing this unknown story together, and until we can envision the ending, until we know where the various and ever-changing plot points will take us, we are free to experiment and experience in real time, in real life, with real emotions… though responsibly, of course, and with no harm to others.
I cut my own hair the other day. My husband says it looks good. That’s something. And I got to the end of this article. Progress.
Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash
For detail and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, visit: www.lorrainedevonwilke.com