I had this whole list.
All the projects I was going to get to during the Social Distancing weeks. It even included an exercise plan. But, instead, for a person who was technically going to be fired along with her entire team because “they have nothing to do”, the past two weeks have been the most work-intensive ones in all of our years at the school.
First, we all became IT specialists on the fly and out of necessity. Teleconferencing began almost immediately with various constellations of team members and parents. The team spent hours and hours on the phone, trying to keep the school alive, while parents bickered and raised old grievances among them. “Really? Is this all necessary? Can’t it wait?” I thought to myself. It quickly became clear that the crisis in the school had existed long before the virus arrived. Corona just let it all come bubbling to the surface.
Meanwhile the team was trying to figure out how to set up learning platforms for the kids and creating a schedule for who will man the empty school on which days – as ordered by Ministry of Education.
Meanwhile, hundreds of emails were flying to and fro, most of them requiring attention.
Meanwhile, new WhatsApp groups were popping up like mushrooms, setting my cell constantly a-dinging.
Meanwhile, the website I used to post all of my assignments for the school kids came crashing down, adding an extra dose of stress that I seriously did not need.
Meanwhile, I began noticing again and again how the comfortingly familiar – the taken-for-granted stuff – can suddenly get hinky and . . . eerie. Take this, for example – I go daily to the MSNBC website for updates, but one day this week, the big red banner at the top for breaking news looked like this:
I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to decode “Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE”. Was it some kind of secret code? Hackers? A Russian bot? Subliminal messaging? A warning? I confess it unnerved me a bit. It was creepy.
I need my normal things in life to remain normal.
I have been finding excuses to go to the neighborhood store every other day. I’ve discovered that seeing the fully stocked shelves puts my mind at ease. I then buy things I don’t need to justify my visit there. Yesterday, I really did need a particular thing though. The husband was making spaghetti carbonara and we realized we didn’t have enough noodles. I zipped down to the store and . . . they didn’t have any. “OMG! THEY DON’T HAVE SPAGHETTI!!” I thought. Now let me add that there were about 15 other types of pasta in plentiful amounts, but . . . “OMG! NO SPAGHETTI!!” Creepy!
And then there was the stranger. He walked past the house and then stopped to ask which direction he should go to get to a certain wine tavern in a nearby village. It was a situation I have had a thousand times, living in a resort area and right on one of the major hiking paths. But this time it was weird. “Where did this tourist find a room when all the hotels are closed?” I asked myself. “And why is he heading toward a closed restaurant?” Creepy.
And then there is the constant low-grade anxiety. “Do I have it?” one thinks by every tiny ache or pain. I mentally run through the litany of virus symptoms on a regular basis. If I cough, I think “Was that a dry cough?” And then I go sanitize my hands and try to tune my body out. I tell myself that we are all suffering from activeimaginationitus. It’s creepy.
I used to have a rhythm. There were workdays and there were free days. Now, every day, I have about an hour for my morning rituals before the emails and text messages and WhatsApp messages and the conference calls start coming in. And even that hour is disorienting. A week ago it was sunny T-shirt weather. Three days ago I was woken up by a frigging earthquake (!!) Yesterday, I woke up to a white wintery world covered in new fallen snow. Mother Nature is now sending me disorienting messages too. I raised my hands toward the sky and, looking up, I asked her “Really? Is this all necessary? Can’t it wait? It`s creepy!”
These are all unneedful things.
So, what makes all this bearable? The fact that Corona isolation causes creativity.
There has been a veritable explosion of it everywhere I look. My backward, alternative school has gone high-tech in the space of a week. The gym teachers in my husband’s school started posting funny “Sports at Home” videos and within 24 hours the students started spontaneously contributing videos of their own. My team and I had a WhatsApp cocktail party, sending one another pictures of our gin and tonics while chatting. A creative writing group of parents found a way to meet online and created a wonderful collection of “Life under Corona” pieces along with new, deeper connections among the participants. I’ve just been invited to join an online needlepoint circle who will collectively make blankets for a homeless shelter. Yoga teachers have found a way to keep their classes going through live streaming. My daughter had her first piano lesson by Skype. Musicians are finding ways to collaborate from balconies and basements to make completely new forms of music. As I write this, my other daughter is upstairs taking part in an open mic session with a group of jazz singers. And in the offline outdoor world, long-time laconic neighbors are meeting and talking (from a safe distance) for the first time.
It’s all communicative. It’s all collaborative. It’s all free. It’s all needed.
I try to be wary of romanticizing a pandemic. But there are things happening that I hope we will be able to take with us into the post-Corona world. As much as I crave normalcy – I would love to see a new normal emerge. A new school rising out of the ashes of the one being burned down now. An economic system with longer-term thinking and contingency plans. A new consciousness that a health care system based on profit and with gaping holes impoverishes and endangers everyone. A realization that we had become isolated long before this sickness began to spread. And when that isolation became a physical reality, we discovered that reaching out to others was the only way to return to sanity.