Not Cover Story 3 – Corona
CW: Corona Virus stuff.
Hi. I had plans to do a couple of different pieces in this space instead of another thing reminding us that the world is not how we expected it to be right now. But I’ve been consuming media that either tries to instill hope in more or less dangerous ways, or rehashes statistics and places blame, and I wanted to do something else.
Indeed, there is a lot wrong in the world at the moment, and it seems that at least several governments and organizations that should have done better didn’t. We have been let down, and we don’t know what to expect.
I feel like my job as a voice in your ear isn’t to say “buck up, there, kiddo. Things are going to be fine.” I have to admit that I personally have not-great anxiety and I am prone to catastrophizing in my personal life, and things tend not to be as bad as I might think. But things are bad. You know that. I’m certainly not trying to trigger any difficult emotions for anyone by saying that. On the contrary, I think my purpose is to say, “you’re not making this up.” If you’re freaking out right now, that’s totally fine. You obviously should check in with your mental healthcare professionals if you have any to make sure things aren’t getting too out of hand for you personally, but this is unprecedented in basically any living memory. This is so hard, and it’s hard for everyone. That’s a different kind of comfort, and one I don’t see much right now.
What we’re experiencing is a slow-motion global trauma. I spoke with one of my friends who was in New York City on September 11th, 2001, and after the initial chaos was over, the bars in Manhattan were open two days later and everyone was there to commiserate in person. With this experience, we are all isolated with maybe some family or other loved ones, and it is dragging on, and we have no idea how long it will last, and the deaths and illnesses are coming in waves on a nearly daily basis. This is not something that happened and the healing process has begun. This is something that is happening still, and we can’t hope to heal until it is somewhere in the rear view. The emotional work has to wait. And that makes these moments all the more agonizing and frustrating.
I’ve been in isolation, more or less, for over a month. I already work from home at least part of the time, so I know how hard this can be usually. The biggest change in my schedule is not being able to see people in person. I’m used to spending time alone. I’m used to battling myself for my own schedule. I’m used to the surreal knowledge that I don’t have to get out of bed at any particular time, but I will feel better about myself if it’s within a certain window. I’m used to getting dressed to see no one, but knowing that I would feel a lot worse if I didn’t. I’m used to the fear that inspiration or motivation won’t come in time. They almost always do, but I don’t know if that’s true for everyone. I’m used to the doubt and frustration that comes with spending so much time in your own head. This stuff is a different skill set. It’s not easy, and the people who make it look easy are usually having some trouble underneath. Or they will as time goes on. I think we’re all well into the time when this no longer feels like a sabbatical.
I know that many of you struggle with mental health, or at least with fitting your particular mind into a box that society deems appropriate. These times can amplify that. At first I had this strange notion that my usual catastrophic mindset had prepared me for this in a way that the mindsets of all of those normal people didn’t prepare them. I have often felt a certain peace in chaos because I was already in chaos, and the outside world just started to match that. But then I noticed that I wasn’t sleeping well. And then I noticed I was having uncomfortably vivid dreams. And then I started getting in fights with all of my loved ones. And I was tired. And a lot of my work started to pile up or I would cancel it. It would seem that I was not as impervious as I thought. I was definitely suffering. I was just as “pervious” (it’s a word; I checked) as everyone else. There was an image post floating around in the early days of this where someone had posted the hopeful thought that creatives would have so much more time to dedicate to their craft right now and how great that would be. Then the response was that sensitive people would almost certainly struggle with so much suffering in the world. You don’t have to be a creative to be sensitive, and, for better or worse, you don’t have to be sensitive to be a creator, but you get the idea. Some of us are more sensitive than others, and situations like these are going to hit us like a ton of bricks.
When the isolation was first recommended, I did think that this would be a great time to focus on my more introverted hobbies. I immediately ordered a few electronics projects I’ve been meaning to get to. You’re hearing this through a microphone that I modified. Or the microphone beside it. I’m doing some A/B checking. I built a drum machine and a new computer. I bought a synthesizer because the price was right. What I didn’t realize when I started this stuff is that this isn’t really the best time for me to be working on my life.
I managed to bend one of the keys on the synthesizer I bought. It’s like 2-3mm higher than the other keys now. It still works fine. After touch, velocity, etc. All fine. But I keep staring at the damn key like I ruined the beautiful instrument. I shrugged it off when I put a small hole in my upright bass, but I’m excessively worried about this key. The microphone modification that I’ve done here is fine, but the kit came with two different sets of capacitors, and I keep thinking I might have picked the wrong ones. Every time I make a mistake with my computers the onslaught of unkind language I’m using in my head is brutal. I had a RAM stick fail on me the other day, but I could barely figure that out through the haze of thoughts telling me that it couldn’t be hardware failure. It had to be something I did. This is all to say that uncertain times tend to unearth those superficially buried anxieties, and bring them front and center, like breaking a seal that kept some unlucky number of ghosts imprisoned. It totally makes sense if you’re finding it difficult to work on yourself.
I’ve also jumped into some old favorite anxieties, like replaying old relationships and reminding myself of the mistakes I’ve made and how difficult it will be to find something that works again. I’ve been diving into the feelings that if I had just made better decisions throughout my life, I would be in a far better position right now for this shitshow than I am.
I know that these things aren’t worth giving my attention to. And I know the techniques for setting them aside. And I know that they are merely symptoms of a broader uneasiness. If you’re having similar unkind thoughts, then I hope that you know that this is most certainly a time to cut yourself some slack.
I am in a much better position for a lot of this than I could be. I don’t live alone. It means that I have people I can interact with in person. It means there are people I can hug. It also means that I have to be careful for their sake, but this is easily a price worth paying.
I lost some gig work because I can’t host trivia if it’s unwise for people to gather. But I still have my Patreon income. I haven’t been hit too hard by this financially yet. Some people have withdrawn their support, which is completely understandable, but others yet have filled the gap. Thank you for that.
I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks. I won’t be able to have a party. That much is pretty clear. I share a birthday with Niccolo Machiavelli, if anyone wants to look that up. I had it in my head that I would promote my wish lists at this time, but it seems a bit in poor taste. I might feel frustrated by this lack of a birthday party, but the truth is that if you’ve got a birthday coming up in the next year, there will probably be some weirdness to it. I am certainly not alone in this.
So then it comes down to coping for the time being. I’ve often said that I’m no good at giving advice, and that remains true. But I also feel strongly that you can’t heal fully from something that isn’t over. In the meantime, I would suggest looking into mindfulness if you have the interest. I have a complicated relationship with meditation that I might get into at another time, but one of the tricks is to not expect too much from it. I’m still working on the sci fi meditation tapes that I mentioned a little while back, but I haven’t been as productive as I expected. Who would have thought. If that sounds like something you’d be into, maybe send me a message about that and it’ll give me the momentum I need.
Please take care of yourselves and those close to you. We’ll work together to pick up the pieces when this is over.