Before I began writing this, I let out a long, heavy sigh. This is the third or forth (now fifth) attempt I’ve made to write this blog and it’s not going well. Many iterations of this blog have sat in my drafts file.
Since I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, so much more has happened in this country that the grief and bewilderment from it all is just emotionally crushing. We surpassed 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US. A black man was murdered (on video) by a cop, as others stood by and watched. Minneapolis is on fire. Business are being looted. Journalists, who were just doing their jobs, covering the protests were arrested on live tv by Minnesota state police. The president’s tweets are un-presidental and grotesque. The pandemic is still raging. No one in this country agrees on anything–including the basics, like whether or not we should wear masks or continue social distancing. Covid infection rates are still rising. Millions are still unemployed, hungry, and unable to pay the bills.
I’m honestly at the limit of my capacity to process it all.
And sitting here, in my house, in Upstate NY, I feel helpless to do anything about the BIG THINGS going on in the world. I hesitate to even add my voice to the millions of voices who have already weighed in. I’m weary of the body-less echo chamber, the compulsive need everyone has to share their opinions with the world. It really doesn’t help, does it, to have a nation of jackasses braying back and forth at each other? With all that noise and indignation, the people who should be talking are being drowned out. And we’re accomplishing so little, despite so much noise.
I feel guilty in my inaction, but I also feel like I’m doing my part simply by staying out of the fray.
And then there are the little tragedies that hit closer to home.
We cancelled our much-anticipated trip to Disney World in August. We had so enjoyed planning for it, and imagining all the fun we would have. Now, with that off the calendar, the summer stretches on like an endless Groundhog Day.
Yesterday, I dropped the boys off for their scheduled “locker clean out” at the middle school. Masks were required. Social distancing was in effect. I couldn’t go in, but they tell me that they checked in, went to their lockers (which the school had already unlocked for them), grabbed their stuff, went to their gym locker, grabbed their stuff, went to the art room, grabbed their stuff. Then they were shown the door.
They didn’t have much to say about it, beyond how weird it all was. But for me, personally, it was just another micro trauma. Sam’s unceremonious exit from middle school is all the goodbye he gets before he transitions to high school (and nobody knows what that will look like). In his shoes, I’d feel unfinished, unprepared, anxious. As a parent, because he is my oldest, I think I needed that long eighth grade goodbye to prepare myself emotionally for the next stage of his life. And I didn’t get that transition either. How do I parent in this haze? How to I prepare him for something I can’t know and can’t visualize?
I have so much on my mind these days, and so little energy to unpack it all. And even if I did have the energy to do a deep dive into my psyche, who would I even talk about it to? I’ve said before that the world has telescoped so small, and we’ve all diminished ourselves to such a degree, that the outside world is more like a drive-through holiday pageant. Other people are going through their little daily routines, and without any meaningful interactions with them, you are their theater and they are yours.
It starts to wear on you after a while. And with everything else going on, this lack of human contact and communication makes the world seem impersonal and scary–as hard to read as a face behind a mask.
I went back and read some of my earliest Coronavirus blogs, and it just seems like a different time. Back then, I thought it might be bad, but I couldn’t fathom how bad. And while I figured we’d be quarantined a while, I couldn’t have imagined for how long. There’s an energy and optimism to my earlier posts that I just don’t feel anymore. I have matured into the reality at hand and have settled into this weird, new, socially distant lifestyle to such a degree that the before time might as well be some event in the far flung past.
Did we hug once? Pack into theaters? Visit each other’s houses? Laugh? I don’t remember.
Occasionally, something will happen, and I’ll get a shocking reminder of my previous life. Once upon a time, I was querying a novel, wasn’t I? I heard back from one of the literary agents who had my full manuscript. Reading her email was like reliving a hazy dream, a distorted reality. She wrote me an incredibly long, thoughtful, detailed email–honestly more like an editorial letter than a “thanks, but no thanks”, and gave me some really specific feedback on ways to make my story better.
I’m not in the frame of mind to write anything right now. And that stresses me out. I should be able to power through, right? But I’m afraid I will try (badly) and the story will seem forced and jammed together–which is worse than writing nothing at all.
In the meantime, I make masks. It makes me happy. It takes my mind off the crush of everything else. All the spoken worries, and the unspoken ones. It’s the only thing making me feel any sense of purpose. The part of my brain that controls mask making is raring to go, and I have endless energy and creativity for it. I’m too on edge to disappear into fantasy worlds. But when I’m sewing, I can still be creative. Still have a little fun with the fabrics.
I’m struggling badly and I know I can’t be the only one. My good and bad days come in waves. A really good day will be followed by a bad one. It’s almost if my brain can’t accept dual realities — that something horrible is happening and that the world is still beautiful and amazing and things can be wonderful. Is it survivors guilt? I don’t know. But every day I get on the emotional seesaw and ride it up and down, up and down.
I hate that we have to wear masks, and making them makes me sad. But at the same time, I love finding a cool new fabric to work with. I love playing with different fabric combinations, and exploring how different prints translate to mask fashion. I also love reversible masks and playing with the idea of what we show to the world, and what we keep on the inside. Probably no one realizes that I’m doing that. They just think “Ooh! Options!”
And that’s okay. It’s good for my mental health to be playful like this.
There’s a big debate about wearing masks in this country right now. And I get it. We’ve all been conditioned to see masks as unnecessary at best and dangerous or suspicious at worst. Villains and bank robbers wear masks. They are frighteningly impersonal. No one up to any good wants to wear them either. They suck. They’re hot. It’s hard to be heard. Verbal and nonverbal communication– especially friendliness–is muted. There’s also a lot of debate about whether they even work and make a difference. But I’m willing to risk it. Trying something is better than doing nothing.
When I started making masks, I wanted to make masks out of fun fabrics with tons of personality. I wanted people who wouldn’t ordinarily want to wear a mask (starting with me), feel a little better about it by injecting some fun and whimsy into a decidedly not-fun and not-whimsical experience.
I hope my masks do that. I hope they help. Because otherwise, I feel very helpless.