Thursday, March 11, 2021

Thoughts on the Pandemi-versary: Will we really learn anything?


Sign of the times: the collection of masks I've accumulated over the last year

Today is the anniversary of the day when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Here's an entry from my pandemic journal on the topic. I'll keep posting that journal, but I thought excerpting this entry would be a good way to commemorate our pandemi-versary.

Thurs. 11 March 2021

It is exactly one year since the pandemic was declared. What a fucking year.


It’s maybe indicative of the whole experience that I’m not sure I can summarize it adequately—or really what to say about it at all.


I could talk about what I’ve learned. I could discuss what I think we as a world or as a society have learned, or failed to learn as the case may be.


I could tell stories of things that have happened in the last year. I could talk about my own journey with how I’m feeling about my job, life in general, our precarious place in this universe, etc.


There are a lot of things I could do. But I’m not sure what I can do.


Let’s try this. I could go back to the beginning of this journal to see this story of the day the pandemic was declared, but I thought it would be interesting to tell it now without looking at that to see if the way I tell it has changed.


On March 11, 2020, I was on spring break visiting family in Minneapolis. I started the day at my sister’s place and spent some time with my three-year-old nephew. Then we took him to his school, where maskless adults and children mingled freely. Then my sister and I went to meet an old friend of mine for lunch at a Persian restaurant near the University of Minnesota campus. After lunch, my sister and I went to a wrestling themed bar for margaritas. Then we went to pick up my nephew to bring him to his swimming classes in St. Paul in a stuffy hot swimming pool room packed with parents and kids (we ran into an old friend from our college days). While we were there, I got the email from my university that we were going online for a few weeks. After swim class, we went with my brother-in-law to a Vegan restaurant in St. Paul. (This technically wasn’t my last dine-in experience … that happened a few days later with my other sister in St. Louis as I drove home to Chattanooga).


Sometime after we got back to my sister’s place, the news broke that the World Health Organization had declared the COVID-19 situation a pandemic. And everything changed. Not even overnight. It was faster than that.


I spent the next couple days in lock-down with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. I know this year has been tough on them. I canceled my flight and rented a car to make the two-day drive back to Chattanooga, stopping for the night in St. Louis to visit my other sister. My last dine-in restaurant experience was a burger place in St. Louis that Saturday. By then social distancing was in effect, but masks weren’t. My last movie theater experience had already happened several weeks earlier (the very lackluster Downhill on Valentine’s Day). If I had known I would go more than a year without going to the movies, I would have made a point to see The Invisible Man in theaters (I eventually saw it a couple months ago at home).


Or maybe let’s try this. There are some things I’ve learned in this pandemic. But I don’t want to say anything as gauche as “the pandemic was worth it to teach me some lessons.” What selfish nonsense! What ridiculous “just so” stories!


I didn’t learn how to make sourdough or learn a new language or whatever, but I feel like I did learn a few things.


·      Although I detest any sort of simplistic introvert-extrovert dichotomy, I am able to dial up my introvert tendencies to be okay with spending a lot of time at home. I have a lot of books to read. And I was lucky to have been able to concentrate enough to read them. I've also been lucky to have my spouse and my cats. We haven't murdered each other yet, although sometimes I wonder if one of the cats is contemplating it.

·      I still don’t like teaching online and will be thrilled to get back into a classroom, but I’ve made my peace with online teaching. It will (in ways that are as sad as they are inevitable) change how I teach going forward.

·      My country (the United States) has many leaders who care more about profit than people. And many Americans are truly selfish assholes, not to mention the white supremacist terrorists. What kind of country makes wearing masks during a pandemic a political issue or has a mob of its leader’s supporters attack a government building to prevent the certification of an election? Jesus fucking Christ. I’ve never been one to be conventionally patriotic, but the last year took me to some new lows in disgust at my country. But also there are many Americans who care deeply about humanity and justice. The Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and the work in favor of voting rights have been inspiring. Let’s see if we can keep doing the work. And while there are of course plenty of criticisms of Democrats, having them in charge for a while is better than the alternative. My country is always teetering between fucked up and beautiful. Let’s hope it teeters more toward the beautiful in the next year.

·      My porch allows me to be outside while being at home. It has probably done more for my mental health than just about anything through all this.

·      Zoom and similar technologies are a blessing and a curse. Ditto for restaurant delivery, at least when it comes to being able to get Taco Bell at your door without talking to another human being.

·      I really miss restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and bookstores, but I wonder how long after all this it will take me to feel comfortable in public again. Will I always have a residual amount of the anxiety I feel now about being around people? What kind of trauma will this pandemic do to people in the long term?

·      The confluence of breaking my arm in January, the pandemic, tenure as of August 2020, and burnout at the end of 2020 (from both my job and my activist activities) has taught me a valuable lesson: I was doing too much before. I need to slow down. Life is too short to spend it scrambling around all the time. It’s okay if I don’t get everything done on time. I may disappoint people. I may disappoint myself. But whether there’s a pandemic or not, the best any of us can do is the best we can do. So, go easy on yourself and others.

·      I’m lucky my spouse and I have had jobs through all this, but it would be better if survival in America didn’t depend on luck. It doesn’t have to be this way.

·      Things like work and money are much more imaginary than we were led to believe. Let’s keep seeing that.

·      The world needs what MLK called a revolution of values. I believed this before. I believe it even more now. I’m not sure I believe it will happen, but maybe moving in that direction is enough.

·      Will we – as individuals, as families, as communities, as a country, as a world, as humanity – really learn anything from this pandemic? I hope so. I fear not. But in reality: I don’t know.


Happy(?) pandemi-versary.

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