Sometime this morning, 7:30am-ish, about six minutes into my morning survey of devastation, ( or as you might know it, the New York Times headlines), it occurred to me that I probably needed to talk to a therapist. I don’t have one right now and can scant afford given the fact that I should be probably be hoarding shedded cat fur for sweaters, to say nothing of cash (which no one will accept anyway because COVID), given the imminent economic apocalypse. I thought I might have the bills directed to the Sulzberger family, or the editorial board.
Instead, for the first time since Trump was elected, I let my finger hover over the Cancel Subscription button for just long enough to surf whole karmic pickle of being an anxious writer taking money away from other writers. I didn’t cancel. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. They make the front page Coronavirus stuff free so we can all be equally traumatized, no matter our subscription status.
The global pandemic thing is not the fault of the New York Times (or the Washington Post or the Guardian). In general, reporters are doing a great job covering the crisis and we need them on the front lines. The analysts and pundits that comprise the Opinions pages? Well, I’ve never felt more connected to them than now, because it would seem that they’re having the same panicked End-Times prophet catastrophist anxiety loops as I am.
Some things in life are scary—mean dogs, raw chicken, Brown Recluse spiders, popular girls, unmarked white vans in public parks, sun-warmed mayonnaise. Global pandemics, like World Wars or Climate Change, are objectively terrifying. It has been my habit, since childhood, to try and work through the things I am afraid of by learning as much as I possibly can about them. Theory being that the monster in the closet is a lot less scary once you look it in the eye. Once I know what I’m facing, I can think my way out of it. Over the last decade or so, I’m less confident that obsessive fact-finding helps (is it at all useful to know the velocity of the train about to hit you if there’s absolutely no chance you’ll be able to get off the tracks?) and a little tiny bit jealous of people that don’t have the compulsion to go deep on the cataclysmic. Because there’s no bottom to the awful. It just keeps going. And here I sit, flipping pages, and checking sources, and jumping at news alerts.
Where does it end? What have I gotten from my daily deep-dive into COVID-related media? Put it this way: so long as I could do so without infecting anyone else, personally catching (even becoming severely ill and dying of) the virus itself is no longer even in the Top Five of COVID-related things that keep me up at night right now.
Is that rational? No/Maybe/Probably not. (What are the rules for rationality in times of crisis?). But I’m certainly not alone. Certainly the pundits and self-described thinkers and editorial writers are right there with me.
“I think you’re especially freaked out because you can’t think yourself out of this one,” my best friend told me, on the phone last night, as I went on about the Book of Revelations-style conclusions that all felt/feel so crushingly inevitable.
I know she’s right. And I’m also freaked out about the dearth of leadership. I’m freaked out because there are two modes right now in discourse about this thing— the apocalyptic “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO SHIT FOREVER!” and the ignorantly patronizing “Everything will be absolutely fine by June 1 : )” The latter is awful, dangerous, almost worse than the bad news. As for the former, I mean, there are evidently people out there not scared senseless enough to social-distance and stay home. Maybe it’s useful? It may even be true, but I will get nothing from sitting home trying to suss out the odds of global collapse. And there’s a piece of me, a glowing, hard, furious piece of me that wonders what the point of all the conjecture is. This vast global experiment of trying to protect people and keep them alive—all this fine talk of being in it together and staying strong– if the best we can offer humanity for their sacrifice is endless grim prognostications, assurances that millions more will lose everything and a thousand variations on the theme of everything will be terrible indefinitely, maybe forever. Why are we bothering? Because, like, isn’t the goal here–the only real goal here– to keep as many people as possible alive?
I don’t need a sugar-coating. I know things are uncertain. I know that it’s unprecedented (I now loathe that word, by the by). I know the way out is long and hard. But could we please start talking about the way out? Could we start strategizing about reasonable, practical ways to keep everything from falling apart while we’re trying to evacuate instead of dancing around in the rubble? Could we, instead of gilding the collapse, start thinking about the foundations of the rebuild? Hundreds of thousands of people are going to die from this thing. Many, many more will suffer the fall-out, personal, economic, psychological, etc. The world has and will change irrevocably. We have got to figure out something to say to people who have suffered and will suffer other than “Sucks to be you, but check out my nine cool theories on how civilization collapses between now and July!”
And since nothing is coming from the top down (dearth of national leadership, sociopath in White House, politicians still politicking over increasingly irrelevant politics while people die/starve), I think we’re going to have to do it. Individually and collectively.
For my part, I clearly have to work out a better “get through it” mantra. I have to start thinking about clearing a path to get through. Again, I have to believe there is something through. I can’t just hide out, quarantined, refreshing out computer, waiting for for the end of the world to arrive, so I might accept it without argument and invite it, graciously, into my home and heart. That is not who I am. That is not who I ever want to be.
TLDR: Fuck the news.
Picture today is of the Mad Mouse roller coaster in the late Pavilion at Myrtle Beach, circa 1991. It was an unsettling jerky, not terribly satisfying ride, exactly like sleep in April of 2020.