BASE jumping into the hell zone
Trying not to reflect on two years of pandemic life
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I spent a few hours going through old photos, messages, tweets and emails from that period an attempt to capture where we are today, another year later. But something unexpected happened: writing that essay made me feel absolutely fucking terrible. I had no idea of the mental ordeal required to go back to that place, albeit temporarily, emotionally displacing myself into a time I’d thankfully left behind.
I had unwittingly descended back into “the hell zone.”
I went to bed that night drained. All day Tuesday I couldn’t bring myself to look over what I wrote. And when I woke this morning, with a fresh head and refuelled from a day spent in the present, I read the essay again. And promptly deleted it all.
Putting myself back comes with overwhelming waves of negative emotions—anxiety about cancelled work projects and uncertain about our income, fear about the safety of my family, disappointment at how quickly I numbed to never-ending statistics on deaths, anger at how those in power didn’t do enough to protect those in need.
But looking back over photos from that time, there’s a different narrative that sits parallel to this. In the pictures I took of my kids during those weeks, they’re smiling. Almost always. There’s a cognitive dissonance between the young faces beaming at me and how I remember the same period. I can only put it down to what I tried to capture a year ago:
I've told Padme at least twenty times over the last year: "In my whole life, I never had the chance to spend this much time with my parents." It's been filled with struggle, with pain, with a perpetual march towards nothing. But there have been moments to be thankful for. Watching our baby turn into a little boy, and following every step of the way. Stuck in the house, teaching my daughter to ride her bike without stabilisers, and then watching her teach herself to skateboard down the same hallway a month later. Moments of pleasure that can be found right under your nose, if you’re only attuned to them. Like Mary Karr said during a recent Tim Ferris interview: “it’s just getting curious about where the light comes from.”
It’ll be impossible for me not to think of those 42 days, and the following months, as a gruelling slog, a period where time in it’s normal sense ceased to exist—where hours became weeks, months somehow turned into days, and two years coagulated into one long period of whatever the fuck that was. But I don’t think my kids will.
I learned a lot about myself during that time. But I’m finally ready to leave the past in the past.
3 things to read this week
“If We're Back to 'Normal,' Why Am I Still So Exhausted All the Time?” by Dan Sinker in Esquire. Looking for more reflections on two years of the pandemic? Here’s an alternate viewpoint from a father who is struggling to return to “normal,” and questioning whether that’s even where we should be heading. “People are desperate for this to be over, to go back to normal, back to the lives we led 731 days ago, the day before all this happened. My phone is constantly reminding me of those days, pinging me to remember when we were together in crowds, smiling. We had no idea.”
“We’ve All Changed” by Katie Hawkins-Gaar in My Sweet Dumb Brain. Tapping into the hive mind of her community, filled with thoughtful considerations on how much the last two years have changed us, the people we love, and our relationships with them. “I will never go back to being that woman who was too tired from my daily dose of commuting time and work-induced social anxiety to connect with her daughter everyday [...] I know her so much better than I did two years ago, and I can really trust in the person she's becoming.”
“Becoming News Resilient” by Oliver Burkeman in The Imperfectionist. The last few weeks have seen a marked increase in discussions around news intake—for obvious reasons—and two camps have started to form. One side was best captured by James Grieg in Dazed who implored those tweeting from safety in their living room to “stop making the Ukraine war about you.” The other (which I find myself part of) is those managing their own wellbeing amid a non-stop cycle of doom scrolling, which Burkeman provides an antidote for in his latest newsletter. “Assuming you're not reading this in an active war zone, it doesn't follow that you need to mentally inhabit those stories, all day long. It doesn't make you a better person—and it doesn't make life any easier for Ukrainian refugees—to spend hour upon hour marinating in precisely those narratives over which you can exert the least influence.”
The “early days of the pandemic” March 2020 flashback edition
One thing to watch with the kids this week
We watched Turning Red on Disney+ this weekend and loved it. It was a noticeable departure from previous Pixar movies: more mature themes (the movie nods to—both allegorically and literally—the first period of a teenage girl, which has inevitably annoyed some viewers), a more “human” art direction, and accurately capturing the feeling of being a 13 year old girl—so I’ve been told—right down to the boy band obsession. A huge amount of love at TNF HQ for the Priya, the deadpan Indian best friend, who was voiced by Never Have I Ever’s Maitreyi Ramakrishnan.
Short one this week, in what I think is an attempt to draw a line under writing about Covid. At least until I get it a third time? Just kidding. Or maybe not?! Like I said, this one took it out of me. Going to close my laptop and head out for a walk. Did it work for you? Your feedback helps me make this great.
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