Everywhere I look, which seems to include mostly screens these days, is emblazoned with things like UNPRECEDENTED TIMES and EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES and BEST NOVELS TO GET US THROUGH NOVEL CORONAVIRUS. Okay, this last one isn’t real, though many lists like this inexplicably have neglected to cash in on the novel bit. But I would be lying if I didn’t think while staring blankly at my computer, that it would be a good idea to write it. I digress.
The fact of the matter is, these are unusual circumstances for my generation—even for my parents’ generation—regardless of how helpless it makes me feel to see endless streams of emails from every corporation from which I have ever purchased anything bemoaning how unprecedented these times truly are, so please just bear with them while they figure out how to sell us more stuff as we sit at home staring at people wearing face masks (or, bonus horror, those who are NOT) walking their dogs. But it is not unprecedented or even unusual to our grandparents, to Native Americans, to those who have lived in displaced person encampments, to so many. It is hard to hold onto generational memory, to this awareness, when everything in every present moment feels so surreal—like being pulled in different directions.
Still, I feel connected to the world as a whole in a different way than I have ever before observed—through that of almost universal shared experience. We are all trying to navigate what life means under quarantine; we are watching as government corruption continues to be exposed through violence and mishandling; coming together with music and laughter from across balconies, streets, cities, reservations, and the whole globe via the Internet. I wept when healthcare professionals were applauded at shift change, I wept when the whole of Italy emerged from their homes and filled the streets with music. I weep for the confused dogs that don’t know why no one will pet them on their walks, I weep for the lives lost to coronavirus and to police violence, I weep as environmental protections are rolled back under cover of the admittedly looming concerns we face now. And I will continue to weep for every act of kindness, every small sadness, and every act of injustice. This is the new normal. Perhaps this was always how it was. I don’t know anymore.
I have begun to refer to days under quarantine as The Miasma. Time has been simultaneously compressed and stretched out into a warped block, oppressive in the pressure of stillness. I feel frozen in place, and like life is made out of sticky, yellow mucus (appropriately?). It pulls at my awareness and anxieties until I am nothing more than a part of The Miasma—capable only of playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and using faux order and unrelenting cuteness to stave off the ever-rapid rising crescendo of the snapping and writhing rubber-band-ball that lives in my chest in place of my heart.
And, honestly, I am intentionally dramatic to feel a sense of wryness about the anxiety that has pummeled me my entire life, particularly now as that innate desire to feed the anxiety monster is exacerbated by current events. Yet, it doesn’t minimize the weight of it. I have to acknowledge the gravity with farcical gravitas so that I can also remember that it isn’t entirely rooted in the rational mind. One must laugh at oneself. In contrast, however, it has shone a light on all of the things for which I am grateful. I am overwhelmingly grateful that I have a spouse who is lovely and funny and fun to be around. I am so grateful for my cat and his nose licks. I am excessively grateful that I have found myself in a place where I am safe and secure—never before a guarantee. I have an endless sea of books because of my previous compulsive book buying for which I now get the added benefit of feeling VERY JUSTIFIED and also prescient.
It has been challenging to write, though. And I find myself sitting uneasily with that like having an old friend that I don’t particularly like for lunch, and I am trying to puzzle out the why of them. Perhaps it is quarantine, though I spend most of my days alone and at home and happily busy in my own headspace. Maybe it is the weight of the news, though the news has never particularly brought anything but, at the very least, extreme dissatisfaction with the way of things. I am increasingly suspicious, though, that despite my personally celebrated hermit nature, I actually thrive on those small moments when I could see my friends, hug my sister, see a show. When I could think about my new niece arriving while knowing that I could hold her. My creative energy is fueled so much by the small bursts of energy that I am privileged to witness from other people, even the insignificant joy of watching strangers. I think I had taken that for granted.
So, the question is, then, where does one find creative energy when surrounded by the same four walls day in, day out, with no known end? I think that there is creative energy there, it is just not the same sort I am used to. It is a start to at least acknowledge it. And then, suddenly, it doesn’t feel so much like The Miasma after all.