I worked three days last week and it felt so good. This change was exactly what I needed. Things are loosening up here in Austria, however, everything still feels somewhat weird and deserted. While I walked to work, I thought that I never realized how much I took for granted the assumption that new things would always happen to me. That even while going about my normal routine, I would still see or hear or feel or smell something novel purely because I was out in the world, and each day would take shape a little bit differently as a result. That when someone asked me, “What’s up?” I would have an answer worthy of uttering. It is strange for this expectation to suddenly seem like a distant privilege, and stranger still that it’s the precise opposite. Staying mostly inside all these weeks seemingly indefinitely has become one as well. Is this why some call me the sullen girl?
Corona has claimed the most space of anything inside my head. Unavoidable to some extent since it has also marked off territory in every conversation, every email exchange, every radio station, every news headline, every scroll through Twitter and somewhat I even mention it in every article I write. The pandemic is global in more aspects than simply its geographic reach; it has infected the cultural mind-scape on every level. Just as I wonder how long it will be before reaching out to shake a hand becomes second nature again, I also wonder how permanently the indentation of this experience will remain pressed, like a thumbprint, on our psyches.
But then there is work. Work, an area of my life I have never been more grateful for and challenged by is such equal, concentrated doses. I feel fortunate to love my job, and in this period of grave economic uncertainty, I also feel fortunate to simply have an employer. However, at the same time, I have found that it is easier than ever for “work” to become precariously synonymous with “me”. I have never needed a sense of separation more, but I have never fought for one less. Work is the only thing I can rely on right now, and therefore one of the things that keep my brain from withering on the vine.
Time does not change, time reveals. The longer this corona-madness lasts the more aware I become of myself, my own flaws, and the imperfections that live in others. I begin to see them in passing moments and then all at once always in everyone around me. Is this how we are wired to cope with tragedy or romanticize nostalgia or perhaps even become kinder? Is it ever wrong to remember something better than how it was? I am not sure I do know this feeling. When I see possibility, what could be and not what is or was I welcome gratitude into my life. This is the story of human ambition, I guess.
Speaking of human ambition, I don’t know how routinely you are taking yourself to the fridge these days. For me, it has become the Grande Sortie of my day. I get up in the morning, walk to the fridge, and am like, “Good morning fridge-door. What have you for me today? Yes, yes, yes kitchen, give it to me!”
We all have our weird little comforts. To survive this pandemic. Those things we do not trick ourselves into feeling a sense of control. We organize junk drawers or defrost the freezer for the millionth time. We bake banana-bread. We are neurotic to keep our email account at zero and get incredibly soothed by that maintenance. We may set up special boxes, create shortcuts that automatically mark certain things or unsubscribe from things. Everyone has their drug of choice, and we all know the delicious high of EVERYTHING IS FINE. Mine is being in nature, spending a lot of time with myself, with my partner, and with my son. Are these just gateway coping mechanisms? Who cares. It fills me with a sense of calm. I will take that feeling whenever I can get it. We could all use a big hit of Everything is Fine right now.
The fact remains though that it is not, and while lots of us are cooped up struggling to cope with his mess, there are many out there in the thick of it. I think of that each time another ambulance screams past my window, knowing that, relatively speaking, I am more than fine and I will make the best out of this. Things could always be worse.
So, I will bake a cake now. It doesn’t make sense, but it makes me feel better. That’s just what I do in the new, new normal. And when this is done, I will take three slices to the living room with a cup of coffee, and wonder what the next new normal will bring. In the meantime, we enjoy that damn cake. For me, nothing is okay, but everything is okay.