I was talking to my therapist about everything, because that’s what you talk to your therapist about; specifically, I was talking to her about the protests and the police brutality, about the riots and the curfews and the sense that things were, honestly, slipping further and further towards a dystopia that still feels almost fictional if you think about it too much — there’s still a pandemic out there as everything is happening, and I really can’t shake the question, what happens to the infection rate now that we’ve all started gathering in large numbers again? because that’s how my brain works — and I said, essentially, how are we supposed to not feel utterly overwhelmed by all of this?
The things is, as overwhelming as it feels, as debilitating as the totalitarian forces stepping on us slowly, the sight of the President pushing the country closer and closer to martial law because he’s a scared old racist who can’t even manage to hide how small he really is being both laughable and horrifying, as bad as this all feels right now, I don’t want it to stop feeling this hard. Yes, it’s a struggle to work right now, yes, my brain refuses to engage properly on normal tasks because I’m all too aware of everything else that’s happening, but… that’s got to be a good thing, right?
When the coronavirus started closing everything down, ending the world as we knew it, I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t want quarantine to become normalized in my head, for the simple fact that it’s not normal. Months later, that’s harder to comprehend fully because… well, it’s been months; memory fades, and while I can objectively look at the Way Things Were, or think about the millions out of work as a result of all of this, the emotional costs for everyone unable to see loved ones, the hundreds of thousands dead, it somehow did become easier to accept everything. It became the new normal.
What’s happening now can’t go the same way. We can’t accept that nightly protests, the police and the National Guard (in DC, the military, too) at war with the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting, is just the way things are now. It’s too important to surrender and accept that as a new new normal. So, overwhelmed it is.
The world is on fire.
That is, at once, a metaphor and a reasonable, realistic description of the country I live in, as I write this (the Sunday morning before this publishes, for a change; no working three weeks in advance this time). Across the country, protests against police brutality are being met with further police brutality — does it still count as irony if you’re heartbroken? — and cities are literally aflame at night as a result. The world, at least my part of it, is on fire.
I’m finding it hard to think of anything else. Perhaps I should be grateful; it’s a new obsession, something to finally push the coronavirus out of pole position. Now I have a new tragedy to be unable to stop thinking about! But even that grim humor holds no truth — the new normal had set in to the point where I’d search the news each morning and allow myself to read stories on different topics again, the COVID of it all settling into everyday background radiation. What’s happening now is an additive, not a replacement.
In a way, that makes it… maybe not worse, but certainly more layered. I support the protests, but worry that everyone there is going to get sick, that each protest is the ideologically acceptable, morally right equivalent to the spring break party petri dishes I disdained last month.
I feel tired, I feel sad, I feel overwhelmed. How could anyone not? What’s happening feels so big that it pushes out the smaller stuff, even when it’s not really small. There’s a sense of, how dare I feel sad about the dogs going back to my ex-wife who still doesn’t wear a face mask when out in public, but why should I be surprised, she also drives between states needlessly despite quarantine, but surely none of that is too small to feel, even now…?
Or perhaps it is. It’s not clear in my head right now. There’s a world burning all around me, after all.
As if things weren’t strange enough these days, there’s a new rhythm to my week that I’m still struggling to get used to, on a number of levels. Thanks to the economic calamity caused by COVID, THR has cut my rate by 20%, which had the effect of essentially furloughing me one day every week, to the distress of everyone involved. (Me especially, as you might imagine.) The upshot of it all is, every Wednesday, I sit down from THR. It’s been harder than I’d expected, and I’m not entirely sure why.
I mean, there are the obvious reasons: I’m working less, and earning less money as a result — although, in this case, it’s actually the reverse: I was told I’d be earning less money, so the conversation pivoted to, “Well, clearly I have to work less,” a deduction thankfully shared by my wonderful editor Aaron — which is going to be a stressful situation at the best of times. It’s one not helped by the fact that, earlier in the month, Wired laid me off entirely, again because of COVID-related cutbacks; through no fault of my own, I’ve ended up with roughly 60% less income on a monthly basis, which has been an entirely unwelcome cause of extra stress and worry.
But the Wednesday thing is somehow odd beyond that. I find it curiously difficult to not work, if that makes sense. The rhythm of my weekdays is thrown off — I don’t have breakfast with everyone then head upstairs at 9am to get started, because there’s nothing to start; the muscle memory kicks in and I have to consciously go, not today, body, internally. I’m also oddly, distractingly aware of the fact that, if news breaks on a Wednesday, I’ll miss it, and that’s proven to be hard to come to terms with, mentally… as has the fact that, by Thursday, my inbox is a mountain of unread messages to catch up on.
Despite all this, I know that this isn’t a bad thing — well, aside from the financial aspect, of course. The break means I feel more energized on Thursday and Friday, and it lets off stress steam that would otherwise smother me. I get to spend more time with Chloe, which feels like a sneaky gift in the middle of everything else.
I’m trying to look at this as a potential benefit in disguise, a blessing in the form of a shit sandwich. Maybe it is! But it’d be easier if I wasn’t worrying about money, my email, or the possibility that the biggest story in the world will break in the middle of the week for unknown reasons. I’ll get there eventually — just in time for THR to restore my salary and everything to return to normal, most likely.