A Pandemic Anniversary

Final scene of Tout Va Bien.

I suspect I’m not alone in reflecting back on the year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve been looking at the photos on my phone from February and March of 2020 and even went so far as to dig through credit card records to see where I ate out for the last time (Taix, at it turns out).

In February 2020 I was knocking on doors for Bernie and the last large public gathering I attended was the Bernie/Public Enemy rally on March 2nd. Alas, that brighter future that seemed possible was not to be, but I kept phone banking until the bitter end of the campaign. The triumph of business-as-usual combined with the untimely death of Michael Brooks were a source of considerable melancholy in the last half of 2020.

In mid-March the church secretary and I, on very short notice, helped put the Episcopal Cathedral’s services online when we could no longer meet in person.

In late spring through the summer of 2020 the one thing keeping me sane and occupied was rehabbing Kelly’s office shed. I redid the floor and ceiling and built a desk, bookcase and cabinets. Once we found out that Kelly had to go in for another round of risky open heart surgery, the remodeled shed gave her something to look forward to and something for me to work on.

While I was working on the shed, Slavoj Žižek’s managed to put out two books on the Pandemic that I read and enjoyed over the summer. Two observations from these  books stick with me. First, that we should remember that there are places in the world (such as Syria and Yemen) where things are so bad that COVID-19 is just a minor annoyance. Another point is that we need international solidarity, cooperation and mobilization to face crises like pandemics and climate change.

A lack of solidarity triggers, in me, moments of old testament prophet rage and foot stomping around the house. As Adam Curtis put it, we’re all just squealing individualist little piggies and that individualism isn’t working out well. I’ve lost the big-tent-homesteading ethos that led me to tolerate those who still cling to me-first ideology such as preppers, social media CEOs, corporate politicians of both parties, COVID denying wellness influencers and the local evangelical mega-church that decided to keep meeting during the worst of the pandemic.

At the same time I recognize that I was raised in the same culture and am susceptible to the same narcissism. I’m a squealing piggy with a blog after all. But let’s remember that this crisis has fallen disproportionately on poor and vulnerable people. We can’t forget the structures that perpetuated inequality and worsened the pandemic. Over 500,000 people needlessly went to an early grave in the U.S. and many of the people that cared for them are scarred for life while I sat comfortably at home.

I’ve also thought a lot about what works and what doesn’t during a crisis. A Buddhist friend taught me to observe my thoughts and emotions and that trick has been extraordinarily useful. Most of the time I noticed low level anxiety and fatigue caused by the constant risk management we all had to do. Sometimes I had COVID dreams and outburst of hypochondria. Observing these feelings helped to not get attached to them and kept them from spiraling out of control. I also came to the conclusion that it’s perfectly okay not to be productive all the time and recognize that the muses can be fickle in a crisis. Looking back I actually did a lot of construction work and beekeeping just not writing and podcasting.

I’m incredibly grateful to be financially secure, to have a roof over my head and to be fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, I’ve also eaten a lot of junk food and haven’t exercised like I used to. I took my first trip to the market in almost a year yesterday and am feeling optimistic and less anxious. But like Žižek, I hope that we don’t go back to the old normal but work towards a better, new normal.

What was the last year like for you?

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15 Comments

  1. So… I will politely defend myself and my fellow preppers here.

    I would have preferred a coherent unified wholistic response to the pandemic. But that’s not what we got. Instead, various factions used the situation as an opportunity to exercise what I call “complimentary neurosis.” Society pulled itself apart and the virus did its thing.

    In the absence of mutually agreeable and effective institutional frameworks my prepping worked great – for me. Because that’s what I have some degree of control over. If the nation would have asked me to conform to X, Y, or Z I surely would have jumped on board. But that’s not how things played out. Shrug.

    • I’m a city-dwelling progressive but I believe that most preppers are actually more similar to the way that you describe Johnny than the bogeyman that you describe. The big difference between them and “us” (personally, this pandemic has pushed me much closer to “them”) is faith in institutions. Living in the Bay Area means being surrounded by the technocrats who are directly involved in making the decisions about how we respond to crises like this one (and, probably not coincidentally, stand to benefit most from those decisions).

  2. Wait…you buried the lead on that….do you have a year’s worth of food and drink stored in your basement like Johnny? How did you eat without going to the market for a year?

    • Cat–Johnnie used to have a post on his blog that showed his amazing food storage system. You can hear him talk about it on our podcast: https://www.rootsimple.com/2020/03/137-corona-crisis-with-johnny-of-granola-shotgun/. That said, Johnnie is a different kind of prepper–he helps other people. The preppers I’m thinking about are the ones that deny the reality of COVID and climate change which makes me think that their prepping is about something else not actually preparing for crises. Johnnie actually prepares for crises and helps other people do so.

  3. Your post made me dig into my photos a bit because I was thinking I had another week before things went south but well, it was *this week* last year that the turning point happened. Looking back, I made a lot of art early in the pandemic and plenty of baking. And lots of outside time and enjoying bike rides. Now I’m back at work and really missing some of the working from home aspects. And of course a lot more to this than a simple blog comment.

  4. This isn’t exactly the same, but around New Years I wrote a post detailing all the “good” from each month in 2020 as an exercise in gratitude building. Like you, I recognize that I had it relatively easy because of financial security, a wonderful partner, etc., but still…it was hard. My mental health suffered. My physical health suffered. Yet, I knew I was still living a blessed life. Reflecting on that so deeply was very beneficial for me.

    …it seems surreal that it has been a year. I am not sure if that’s because it feels so interminably long…or because it all went so fast and here we are again. It varies from day to day. Time is so fluid and relative. That was really driven home to me over the past year.

    My family and friends are getting vaccinated slow and steadily. I eagerly await my own opportunity to do the same. I have high hopes for this year, but not that they will be “normal” exactly, but that we will continue to find a way to make things better. Better than they are. Better than they were.

  5. It was a difficult year, with anxiety and crushed hopes galore. But with some sunshine too, literally: experiencing all the daylight hours at home for so many weeks on end, was pretty much a novel experience. And having every meal with husband and daughter and (don’t tell my boss) drinking a sip of wine at noon felt luxurious and idyllic.

    Personally, the sentence “I’ve lost the big-tent-homesteading ethos that led me to tolerate those (…)” resonated with me, though my loss is that while I am sad for every lost life and livelihood, I think we collectively deserve every bit of suffering this pandemic brought on.

    I think I became a bit of an anomial misanthrope…

  6. If truth be known, I cannot actually recall 2020. Although that sounds like a good thing, it isn’t really: I have suffered from Long Covid for nearly a calendar year and it has been helly (well, the parts that I can actually remember have been).

    I’m older and disabled with a genetic auto-immune disorder, regularly living a very isolated life alone for years, so when I realized that I was ill I made the conscious choice not to seek medical assistance or to tell anyone that I had Covid. It seemed unfair to risk the health of medical professionals who were helping folks whose lives were needed by others. And I kept quiet to the few people who know me so that they wouldn’t be tempted to try to come help–just a way of keeping them safe, too. My life, the way I see it, is in God’s hands anyhow so I would just do the best I could and maybe it would be my time. Surprisingly, I survived. Heaven knows why or how.

    Oddly enough, Long Covid is quite similar to the disorder that I’ve been battling for decades and it attacks the same body systems so at least it has been a familiar enemy. I slept 16 hours a day for months because sleeping was all that I could do, although I woke constantly because my breathing was so noisy that it wouldn’t let me rest. And when I was having extreme problems breathing, I did not sleep at all because of the need to sit up. At one point, I was awake for for nearly 60 hours because breathing was so difficult. Constant exhaustion was also a companion, and walking from my chair to the kitchen took on the atmosphere of a trek across the continent….well, those 15 feet sure seemed that far, and the journey required half an hour to recover from. Once I dropped the mail accidentally on the floor, and there it stayed for four months because I could not lean over to pick it up. Many times three days would pass before I realized that I hadn’t brushed my hair after I had taken a shower, and it would still be damp near my scalp. Inexplicably I spent hours and days watching a Yahoo video feed of the multiple parallel train tracks in Shinjuku because at least I could see movement and life in the constant flow of the trains. Although I’m not fond of trains generally but that video feed kept me going, and the sound of the clattering of the tracks soothed my weary soul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQYKarjjWi0

    And that is what I remember of 2020. Breathing and restless sleep and trains. Covid has been hard to endure. Unbelievably hard. It’s not done with me yet either: Covid has affected both my sight and my hearing; the pain in my joints is relentless; my sense of taste and of smell are minimal. I still have difficulty eating because eating and breathing at the same time can be tricky.

    But I’m still here; still breathing; still moving around. It’s all good, and I’m better than I have any right to be.

  7. The last year has been measured in baby steps for me – literally. My son was 9 months when everything start shutting down. He took his very first unassisted steps the day after his last day of daycare. One year later, he’s a running, jumping, active toddler! His milestones have been a bright point in the last year of worldwide turmoil. And it’s been great to have an example of how to live in the moment! When I struggle with yet another week at home, we go outside and watch the chickens, or find pine cones, or just dig in the dirt. It’s hard to worry about anything when you ask a toddler what they’re doing, and they answer “dirt snow” as if throwing dirt on the snow was the most obvious game in the world!

  8. On the minus side, 2020 was a year of genuine fear, extreme stress, and anger. There is just no looking at the good stuff without acknowledging the grip of emotions around temporarily closing a business, nearly losing a close family member, losing a couple of poorly known extended family members, dealing with online schools, and dealing with the fear of severe illness or death. These are all things I wish on no one and do not want to do again any time soon.

    On the good side of things, my pantry management genuinely improved in a way that I believe will stick. I am no longer succumbing to “saving” food in storage for that nebulous future time when we might need it. I’m cycling through it much more efficiently. I’m actually getting more proficient at seed-starting. So many of my gardening efforts have languished from a poor attention span. I have developed the habit of just checking on my seedlings every day and, voila, I don’t suck at it so much.

    Probably most importantly, I reached some kind of critical juncture when I understood that you have to lead from the front, not from the rear. When my favorite aunt walked covid right through the front door to my elderly grandparents (they were very ill but survived!) because they didn’t believe North Dakota was a hot spot, something broke. There was some moment of clarity there about true personal responsibility and being willing to step up and meet the challenge of keeping our community members safe. There are a lot of people around me that I thought had the mettle and discipline to tackle something hard and they do not. And those were the moments that I realized that I actually do have the ability to tackle something truly hard, day in, day out, over the long haul. That will probably serve me well for the rest of my life.

  9. Throughout this past year I have become more forgiving to myself and to others and grateful for everyone in my life. In fact every morning that I wake up I am thankful for another day. In this process I feel that perhaps I have become more generous in sharing what I have with others and realizing what is really important in life. Before I was so focused on what I thought I ‘needed’. Living in quarantine has made me see that I need very little. Just a phone conversation with an old friend-each of us checking on each other after many years of silence-is worth more then all the prepper stashes in the world. Yes, I do believe in being prepared so that I will not be a burden, but I have more faith that all will work out and no amount of stress will change anything.
    And,just to comment, I really enjoyed reading other comments and insights posted here. Blessings to you all and especially you and Kelly.

  10. Last spring my city had refrigerated morgue trucks parked by hospitals and the cemetery down the road had to get an environmental waiver to run their cremation ovens for more hours per day. I learned what a potters field is. I learned how to properly wash my hands and why surgeons wear masks during operations (I don’t know much about medicine- hey, I have other strengths). I voted for Sanders even though he had ended his campaign by the time of my primary.

    In the summer, I spent every afternoon I could on my tiny little deck during the couple of hours of direct sunlight. I grew basil and peppers in containers. I fed my worm bin. I also got a phone call from my dad. It had been over 10 years since I’d spoken to my parents, and now my dad had leukemia and might ask me to get tested as a bone marrow donor. The next day, we drove to their home. My mother kept talking about politics and I learned they voted for Trump. This was actually more difficult to hear than the leukemia diagnosis. Sadly, I ended our communications again in September.

    By winter I had new routines and felt less anxious. I love working from home. I love being with my dog all the time. Like another commenter, my pantry management has improved a great deal and I learn how to pressure can. We’ll make it through.

  11. In the past year, I have gone from being relieved with the Austrian government’s response to COVID that kept infection rates very low last spring to being alarmed at said government’s reopening in-person school in February and not acting soon enough to vaccinate the population or to contain the South African variant, which continues to spread here in Vienna.

    It was a year of whiplash after the horror of the executive branch’s actions over the past four years, the whole election circus, and the attack on the Capitol and then after the inauguration the 180° turn in U.S. politics to an orderly vaccination roll out, no Keystone pipeline and drilling, and an affirmation that science matters and climate change is the next challenge the U.S. will throw its might into solving. On this side of the pond, every weekend the “Anti-Corona” protests in Austria get bigger and bigger – tens of thousands of people in the street supposedly marching for freedom, many of whom are scary previously convicted far right neo-Nazi types. I don’t see them gaining the upper hand, but it is troubling how people are adamant about wanting to ignore reality and believe a simplistic narrative, and it irks me that yoga-wellness-spiritual types are out marching too.

    Freedom has been a catchword this year. It appears we all have radically different definitions of what freedom means. The only freedom that I feel has been trampled on is my freedom to leave my home and not worry about contracting a potentially fatal illness. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the vaccine was developed? We can accomplish a lot if we work together towards a goal. I am lucky that I will surely have in my arm before the end of this year.

    With the exception of not being able to see family and especially my father, who has advanced dementia, in person, I haven’t found the past year to be a bad one. I grew as a person – what more can we ask for? There were low points this past year, but they would have occurred regardless of the pandemic. I have also become more focused on doing what I want to do. I try to do each of the four activities I find bring me joy every day in some way or another. One is travel. I count reading about journeys or watching documentaries on other cultures or nature as traveling.

    Thanks for all your writing, which helps shape a better, new normal. Best wishes for you and Kelly – and all readers!

  12. Melbourne,Australia, a year after getting back from an overseas holiday to a building covid19 crisis.
    No job for 6 months and the type of job where it’s not possible to work from home. No going to weekly trivia night (& dinner), no local urban harvests (homegrown produce swaps) every Saturday. Plenty of toilet paper already on hand and UHT milk and a well stocked pantry and freezer so little need to go to a supermarket. Chickens for fresh eggs.
    I missed the social aspect of work, missed the socialising of trivia nights, dining out and community rapport.
    Got to work more often on the garden, talked to the increasing number of people who were making the most of the 1hour we were allowed out to exercise and read some of the many books on site.
    Fortunate enough to be financially stable despite the no work, fortunate not to have anyone I knew amongst the 800+ covid victims here.
    Fortunate enough to not suffer overly from the loneliness living alone brought after all my social outlets were knocked out.

  13. The year started with the news of a mysterious virus infecting those living in Wuhan province – I listened on NPR to reports of restricted travel for Chinese new year, never imagining what was ahead. I walked around in utter astonishment for many weeks as the situation was declared a global pandemic, and things shut down. Horror was the other emotion, as friends denied the seriousness of the situation, and 45 held completely unhelpful press conferences that I watched as one might watch the aftermath of a terrible car accident. Then, as lockdown lifted, it seemed that so many had decided the pandemic was over, but the deaths continued to increase, demonstrating that it was not. I saw pictures of fb friends gathering, and wondered if there were some mysterious algorithm they were privvy to, that I was not, and it allowed them to determine their risk. I have always been introverted, but I began to feel downright alienated from society. I stopped watching the news in the lead up to the election, terrified at what a 45 win would mean for the situation. My relief was great when the election was called for Biden. Family invited us to Thanksgiving (we declined) and then tested positive not long after that invitation was issued. My neighbor told me she thought this was the ‘end times’. I wanted to say ‘what about so many other times throughout history when people in other countries have endured unimaginable horrors, what about present day Yemen, what about …’.

    The year ended, the new one began, cases spiked, the vaccine was approved, I watched anxious people in their 80s line up in their cars at the fairground to get their shots. I wait to be called, still cautious, still puzzled by the actions of so many, who decided to continue life as usual. Still getting comments that I am living in fear. Feeling more than ever alienated from those I thought I knew.

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