A Year of Pandemic

As I write this, it’s been a little more than a year that we in the U.S. have been living under the shadow of COVID-19. Our country’s federal response was disastrous, leaving individual states to cope, or not, as they and their governors and legislators were able. Some didn’t cope at all. Some put on a false front and because famous, while botching their responses. (Hi, Andrew Cuomo!) Some did okay, mostly, and at least cared. (I think my own governor, J.B. Pritzker, fell into that category.) Hate crimes have risen, and police brutality has forced its ugly head into the public eye once more. And, in the midst of death and destruction and despair, we had to keep soldiering on, producing for the monstrous wheel of capital.

I’ve been reminded, as we’ve gone along in March, that many of my friends (not all) are still working remotely. I’ve been in person since June 2020. (I have not been vaccinated, despite having bad lungs and a bad heart. And yes, I’m terrified every day.) There are some excellent articles out and about, discussing the ways in which bringing work home can jack up one’s work-life balance. Mine was jacked up long before, as I put in twelve to fifteen hour days to prep my library for coming changes and answered emails late at night. It was, in fact, easier for me to maintain a work-life balance at home, once I realized that those fifteen hour days were only hurting me. But I acknowledge that I am unusual there.

It’s been about a year since my family lost someone very dear to us. In the time since, we’ve lost a hundred or more people in our extended circles, current and former coworkers, friends, extended family, And yet we’ve been luckier than many, a product, I’m sure, of race and class. (My mother is a performer, and music and the performing arts are always hard hit, by every plague, no matter what. It is the horrible nature of their lives, and it hits the local gigger as hard as it hits the megastar, for in the end all live the same precarious existence.)

In some ways this year has been almost good to me. I’ve begun writing for a local publication; I’m in one of StoryStudio’s most advanced classes, both balm to my low self esteem and an amazing craft resource. I found a doctor who, for the first time in my life, listened to me when I said everything hurt, and actually cared. (When I started saying this, at four, I was told not to be a baby—which carried over into ignoring a heart problem until I finally fibrillated. I hate to think about how much worse it would have gone for me had I been Black or Indigenous.) And, as I’ve begun to pull myself together, the fear and loneliness and grief of COVID-19 have been wrapped so tight around me I’m no longer sure I even feel quite the way I did.

I recently read an article from Politico arguing that these coming ’20s won’t be like the Jazz Age, for Reasons. I don’t really agree with any of those reasons, and I think they’re pretty short-sighted. I mean, remember, I’m a Millennial. Most of us feel guilt for something or another, ranging from good all-purpose Catholic guilt (which is me! never mind that I’m not actually Catholic!) to guilt for making it when our peers, who are just as skilled as we are, didn’t. I have no idea what they’ll be like, although I do doubt we’re going to see anything quite like those Jazz Age parties, which, as we all know, end with homicide, death, and general disillusionment, and most of us are disillusioned already—perhaps a little too much. I do think that we’re tipping at an impossible place, a place demanding constant work for low pay with little upward mobility with added layers of caregiving burnout and more. Ours is a difficult age, at best.

It’s been a year, of plague, of death, of grief, of fear. I don’t even know how to process the grief, especially without my culture’s ways of coping: namely the big, alcohol-heavy wake, which features collective grief but also collective celebration, a way to remember and a way to celebrate, a road into a tomorrow where the loved one is gone, but still carried. There are no big booze-filled wakes in times of plague, unless they’re on Zoom. And a Zoom wake isn’t the same. (A Zoom b’nai mitzvah, however, made me cry for the first time in a long while, for its pure celebration of life in this time of death and fear and grief.)

As a Millennial woman I’ve carried a financial burden as I help support others; I carry a caregiving burden too, one which won’t go away any time soon. I’m blamed for partying, even though, as my much younger brother E points out, those partiers are definitely not Millennials. Like many of us I work a front-line pink collar job, and face resentment that I might get vaccinated because I’m one of the Youths—never mind that I’m in my thirties. I’ve almost asked some people if they’re aware that it is Youths like me who are working in person and keeping the wheel of the country turning, but I doubt it would change anyone’s mind. And so I’ll just say this: the more of us are vaccinated, the better. For everyone.

I am no optimist, to believe that those amazing RNA vaccines mean the end of this pandemic. I think we will face struggle and grief and plague for a time to come; I think that we’ll see additional plagues, plagues as yet unknown, as we encroach upon wild territories and travel the world, carrying strange new viruses from one end of the globe to the other. I grew up batting around labs and backstage in concert halls, though, and so I have great faith that scientists will continue to fight against whatever comes next. I just wish that we’d stop cutting their budgets so they actually can.

But it’s a year of plague. I accessorize my outfits with my masks, matching colors with my multitudes of scarves. I keep plugging on, trying to maintain some sort of work-life balance in a time that isn’t exactly conducive to any such thing. I try to keep in touch with friends, try not to let loneliness or grief or bitterness color my interactions. I try to ignore the constant criticism of my generation, and of me, the reminders that nothing we’ll ever do will be quite good enough. I’ve watched my teacher friends be attacked for fighting for safety; I’ve seen the safety of my fellow librarians dismissed whole-sale. It’s something I’ll never forget, and, to be honest, something I’ll never forgive. It’s also one of the things I’ll carry, moving forward, into this COVID-tinged future.