During normal times, I consume a lot of research. I enjoy dissecting not just the result, but how the analysts got to their answers. What biases can I find? What assumptions could we remove, to create a different, perhaps better study? Playful puzzling of questions and answers made science fun when I was science-ing. It makes work fun in my current kind of working.
But I learned about myself, that when times aren’t normal, I consume research voraciously. In unhealthy ways. I read all day, and most of the night. I take notes obsessively and maintain a bibliography.
Like, in case a friend asks me what I think, I can cite my sources kind of bibliography? Yes. That. And also so I can go back if new information emerges, compare the two, and either merge them or discard one.
Looks (and smells, frankly) a bit like informational OCD.
Readers from the back in the days when blogging was a thing and when I rather enjoyed making it one of my things, may recall that I’ve observed this behavior veering from curious learner to compulsive data-gulper through my life, and that have one way of coping: write a paper synthesizing the research, calling out the flaws and gaps, proposing new research or fresh insights.
Some people eat their feelings. I cram them into densely-researched think pieces. In effect, I try to nerd my way out of fear and sadness. Nerding feels better than feeling big feelings.
Unsurprisingly, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 has burrowed into my brain, and planted a need to understand, to source, to cite, to compare, to interrogate, and to adjudicate data. I researched myself into a ball the past few weeks, until I remembered to solve paralysis by letting myself process the possible scenarios, unknowns, inflection points that would change the landscape.
And I delivered (to a group at work) a document that lays out what we know, what we don’t, what it means, and what to plan for.
So now I’m sitting, exhausted, with a headache, not doing anything. The boys are with their dad, so the house is still. My list of projects is too long, too boring, too adult, and will likely go untouched. Multitudes of unwatched shows and movies aren’t compelling. Birds outside are loudly and defiantly proclaiming that THIS virus, at least, isn’t their fault, and that they fully intend to continue nesting in the house’s eves. Good for them. Steve the hamster sounds as though he’s secretly snacking, but refuses to emerge even when I sing him a new, heretofore unreleased song about being a hamster who comes out to play in the day. The cats are catting. Who knows where they are, unless they REALLY NEED LOVE RIGHT NOW FOR 30 SECONDS and then go away to wherever it is that they ignore me 99.98% of the time. The neighbors, and their dogs and cats and kids and partners, are all inside. My friends are on my phone. My family is on my phone. I’ve muted my phone.
This phase of our life, suspended and upside down, has made me uneasy in waves of hope and of loneliness. Whether it’s temporary or part of a new normal – it’s unnerving. None of the joys or sadness feels normal, and it’s all vaguely nauseating.
The community has come together in sweet ways, offering each other help, and trading in rare goods (I dropped decaf whole beans on the porch of a neighbor last week; someone else brought us raisins when we realized out oatmeal:raisin ratio was, honestly, unacceptable this early in a pandemic). Yet the intentional social ties people are weaving to ameliorating the physical distancing has come together in ways that are annoying, including trying to schedule online school and online birthday parties and online drinking. Blerg. If life isn’t normal, I don’t want to make a fake normal. I don’t want to conference call meals. I don’t want to pretend anything is going to be okay.
I want to get through this, ideally in about eight hours of sleep, and then just be goddamned done.
The people around me are getting grumpy, too. Neighborhood walks that, in weeks one and two of the lockdown were replete with smiles and 6 feet of distance have become much less friendly. No smiles. 12 feet of distance. Walking heads down and faster. Most people seem bothered, scared, and tired, and are potentially having as hard a time as I am with some part of the emotional toll of distancing.
I did feel better about potential outcomes for most of humanity once I’d contextualized everything, and gotten it out of my head and onto paper. But that doesn’t mean the prospects are good. Hospitalizations and deaths, economic shut down, waves of infections and ICU admissions, industries collapsing, people out of work and hungry, ill people unable to get treatment, marginalized populations in prisons, homeless encampments, retirement homes, and immigration centers essentially abandoned much too quickly for a society that claims to be civilized. Why did I feel better about humanity’s outcomes? Because the unknown is more scary, even that what’s going on. Spreadsheeting my way out of panic is ludicrous. But it helped.
What we’re going through now (and let me state the obvious that entering week four at home is quite different from states that are at different stages) is not a few weeks’ or months’ worth of massive life changes. This is generation-defining, things-will-never-be-the-same, two years of pervasive lows and fewer highs.
And I’m not sure how to cope next. Because unlike the other times I’ve spun myself in circles of data consumption and methodological-moral-superiority, we’re still in it. This crisis, this trauma, isn’t over. This isn’t a fire that rips through our community and leaves us to rebuild in its wake. This isn’t a car crash or friend’s death that marks a moment of trauma that changes a small circle of people, creating a touchstone and memory that colors with months and years. This isn’t the loss of someone that spurs a stronger community than before. Those are all moments in time, and reactions afterwards.
This is still going.
I don’t know that more research is going to help. And I don’t know if writing addenda every two weeks will do anything at all. And going for a walk just doesn’t seem as though it’ll solve anything.
I don’t know what to do or where to go from here. I don’t think many of us do. None of the answers are wrong, I know. We’re just doing our best. So caulk around the tub or go back to bed…doesn’t matter in the long term. Handle some of the paperwork, file stuff, move the living room furniture around…doesn’t do much to stave off panic or stoke hope. So I’m not going to try.
Being productive has historically been one of my things. I pull myself out of bed with ‘should,’ and checklists. And we can set aside for later whether that was ridiculous, denial of mortality, distract-oneself-from-existential-dread-level coping, more adulting than human-ing. Later. Bigger fish to fry, and whatnot.
More to the point: if productive isn’t a thing that I either want or need, for now, and calculating odds and modeling potential options is kind of done, for now, what to do?
That’s why I came here.
I write. To think, to connect, to process, to be. I write to think and connect and process.
I did. And I do. And I think I will.