I look out the window to imagine Rick Grimes riding on a horse on his way to lead me into a brave new world. Instead I get Tiger King on Netflix helping me feel better about my socially distanced existence by showing me that people suck … sometimes. As a joke, I tell my husband that I might start raising tigers. He doesn’t laugh. It’s not that he doesn’t get it, it’s that I am clearly a failed comedian. This new normal has creeped up on me. Not the most painful of self realizations. I have long made my peace with the fact that I am not funny. And yet I continue to try to make my family laugh with my goofy, PG13 mom jokes.
Two months ago when talk of a lock-down was beginning to be circulated, I took my parents to Costco for their monthly stock up. I myself didn’t need anything. Once inside, hordes were clamoring around the toilet paper section. The men and women emerging from the hub bub looked so victorious clutching their bulk packages of fluffy white rolls of paper. Then a strange thing happened. A possession took over my body. I found myself, for no reason at all, joining the crowd and grabbing a package for myself. I held it between my arms like a long lost loved one. So this is how mass hysteria happens. A new normal disguised as purchasing need. Instead of learning how to slay zombies with my katana sword, I need to confront the fact that I too submit to crowd psychology. I am the zombie. This realization does sting. It’s not like toilet paper is one of life’s essentials. I can think of five different alternatives to toilet paper if I ever ran out. Two months into the lock down and there is yet to be a shortage of the white fluffy stuff. Who started this trend? and why? and how did it spread around the world like a virus?
This is not the apocalypse I dreamed of.
“Hell is other people,” said Sartre. He meant that the judgement of others resulting in shame and self-hatred we place on ourselves is the stuff of eternal damnation. I have been pondering this statement since my life has been emptied of so many others. I don’t want to dwell on things to make me sad or to forget the necessity of why we are all making the sacrifice of isolation, but, I find myself longing for mundane things I had before the lock down.
I love coffee. Luckily, I got plenty of it at home. I’ll sometimes make my way into a neighborhood coffee shop for a cup of hot brown liquid. I like to find a quiet corner for people watching. I take delight in the sights and sounds of a busy café. The bubbling conversations that come from a nearby table might provide an inspiration to my writing. An endless variety of topics that bounce off the walls of the shop. I notice the most minute of details: where cadences and phrasing heard can be vital in making dialogue sound authentic, or finding some expression uniquely creative. A random facial expression. The particular way a woman is clutching her purse. The ease with which a youngster stands….. all might make their way into whatever it is I am working on.
“We have more in common than we don’t” keeps coming up for me. It’s one of those things that I never fully appreciated until it was gone. But it’s not gone forever, and once we all get through these pandemic days, and once things get back to whatever “normal” we find on the other side, I’m going to go back to my favourite coffee shop, order a coffee, and let those little conversations and human interactions wash over me again.
I miss people. I miss being an anonymous being in a sea of humanity of strangers. I miss gatherings. I even miss annoying people. The annoying old lady on the bus that insists on telling me her whole entire life story. The rude man who picks his nose in public. It seems that hell is the lack of people as well.
Who was it that said “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”? ….. wait let me google it ….. I found it …. Blaise Pascal …. some french philosopher. Another quote I have been thinking about. Mainly because I have been forced to spend lots of time sitting quietly in a room alone. Maybe the saying only applies to men. But I don’t feel that it has solved all my problems. I would tell Blaise Pascal that his theory has been proven wrong on a global scale.
I have been going on walks. Unfocused and purposeless walks. Lots of them. During which I practice my best toxic waste barrel impersonation. I take the furthest b line possible when passing somebody. Others do the same. Recently I found an old tshirt that makes the wearer look like a toxic waste barrel. It seemed so funny years ago when I bought it. Now it’s simply heart breaking.
All of us are buying the absolute minimum basics and suddenly the economy collapses. Tell that to the next minimalist you meet. What is wrong with the economy that it requires all of us to be wasteful. I don’t claim to understand such things. In the new normal, Netflix suddenly seems to have become a basic human right. It does lead me to imagine a new way of life for myself. One where zombie toxic waste barrels are depicted more favourably.
I don’t have answers or useful insights. I just go outside for another walk. Everything seems the same but different. Life goes on and yet all is on pause. I feel that I am living inside a strange sci-fi movie. Or perhaps an episode of The Twilight Zone. Only it’s unlike any movie I have ever seen. I would like to know who the director is. What is the point they are trying to make?
How has the new normal treated you? Would love to hear your stories of these strange times we are living in.