Question: Have you figured out the succinct way you explain your COVID quarantine year to others?
You know, the concise way you put into wordspeak your specific-but-universal experience with the intricate and indefinite trauma of a global pandemic and the way it affected all of your insides and outsides?
Now that we’re socializing more, this convo starter is almost a new level of small talk.
To be fair, I’d call it “intro talk,” because it’s really not that small. The general, vague niceties of shallow verbal interactions are--mostly--a thing of the past. Because we can’t likely greet a person we haven’t seen in a long time, ask how they’ve been, and expect them to respond “Oh, fine” with a frozen smile and a dismissive hand gesture of OK-ness.
Plus, for a lot of us introverts and empaths, small talk was never really a thing, anyway.
You’re talking to a girl who, when asked at a college reunion what she’d be up to lately, said “I’ve been thinking about SHAME a lot…” So the sort of low-hanging convo fruits just have never been my forte.
Us feeler-folks have always sort of delved into the deep caverns of meaning and emotion, spelunking into the dark unknowns to mine gems of understanding. But now, everyone’s been traversing through the maze-like maw of emotional processing through cavernous COVID trauma, and we all gotta come up for air sometime. So how do we communicate a year of intense loss, anxiety, uncertainty, change, and isolation?
For me, the succinct way I’ve come to “small talk sum up” my pandemic is this: It was the hardest year of my life, and also the most transformative. It included some of the lowest, loneliest, darkest times I’ve ever experienced, and somehow grew in me a greater capacity to survive and find joy.
Maybe that sounds too Pollyanna, but it’s true.
And while I’m still reckoning with the mourning of things lost (like I said in last week’s ANNIEGRAM), I’m also seeing the specific ways I’ve grown to accept life--not just any life, but MINE--as it is, right now.
Nothing could have driven home this new awareness of my adaptability more than the great Portland apocalypse heatwave of 2021, which happened a few weeks ago.
115 degrees is intense no matter where you are, but 115 degrees in a topographical region woefully understocked in fans, AC units, and coastal breezes is another beast entirely. On that weekend, our specific corner of the PNW was hotter than every place on earth except three: The African Sahara desert, the Persian Gulf, and smack dab in the middle of California’s driest desert.
While a lot of people flocked to the rivers and lakes to find relief, I decided to avoid the crowds, put cardboard up on my windows, and hunker myself down in my dark home-cave like a bear surviving winter, but the opposite.
This actually worked pretty well. I filled up water bottles with electrolyte water and froze them, in case I got dehydrated. I stockpiled the ice from my two little plastic trays and gulped down gallons of chilled H20. I slept cheek to cheek with cold packs like a desperate, needy lover.
All was going well until the last, hottest day of the weekend when even the night was going to maintain a temperature of near 100 and offer no relief from the stifling, swampiness of a post-global warming hellscape, and then…I had to scoop up a smelly, bloated dead rat from outside of my house.
After, as I returned to the body and mind I had disassociated from so I could complete the task, I ran around the inside and outside of my house as dark descended, frantically cutting cardboard and traipsing back and forth through untamed brush and debris of unknown critter terrorists as I attempted to install an AC unit in my bedroom window.
Later, sweaty and tired and dirty and somewhat defeated, I stood under the stream of a lukewarm shower, the water dripping thick and warm from its pipe from the day’s relentless heat.
Just then, a spider fell out of my hair.
Maybe another time, I would have sobbed. I would have been swept under the tides of physical and emotional tiredness and just wept deeply like a despairing, broken soul.
But instead, I laughed. And I laughed. And I just laughed and laughed and laughed. Giddy with glee, giggling like a small, worry-less child hopped up on cartoon TV and a sugar high.
Let’s be honest, I SHOULD have looked at that spider with the confused horror that this baby has for bath bubbles. I SHOULD have been traumatized. But the heart does some strange things in times of struggle.
And, also: Sometimes, I think we get a glimpse behind the curtain of the cosmic comedy show, and all of our small fears and coveted stories of chaos fall away for a second, and we’re somehow melded seamlessly at that moment with some sort of pure, wise essence of our beings and the universe and the absurdity/slash/awe-full-ness of life.
I’m not trying to discount the things that are legitimately worrisome, and shitty, and scary. Life can be hard, my friends. But sometimes it’s good to know that our self-protective selves can giggle defiantly in the face of gross circumstances.
It’s nice to know this about ourselves. Tt shores up our hope for strength in other sucky moments. Because in a culture and ego-consciousness that often wants to be elsewhere, what triumph could be greater than a complete acceptance?
Sometimes we mourn. Sometimes we fight. And sometimes we face our lives with no dream of escape, no notion of “better” aggressively elbowing the current reality out of the way in our hearts and minds.
Sometimes we stock up on popsicles in the sweltering heat, sing praises to the gods of full freezers, and let our souls strangely lift when the hair-spiders fall.
THREE GOOD THINGS
I recently bought this watering can on sale and I checked the “this is a gift” box and wrote a note to myself CUZ WHY NOT, TREAT YO’SELF.
Speaking of Treating Yo’ Self, I recently referenced this phrase to someone and they didn’t understand what I was talking about and it made me sad because Parks and Rec is my fave show of all time and yesssss I know the first season isn’t great but PLEASE. If you need a soul lifter, skip the first season and get started. It’s so good. SO GOOD.
I’m making handpies today for the first time, from berries I picked last weekend! It could be great! It could be a disaster! Stay tuned!
As always, you can financially support writers writing words (I mean, ME) by becoming a paid subscriber of the ANNIEGRAM. Or not, it’s cool. You do you. This spider-hair world will keep on spinnin’.