Where Do We Go From Here?
The grim report from week 86 of shelter-in-place.
Last Wednesday someone casually mentioned it had been 86 weeks since we were originally instructed to shelter in place in mid-March 2020. Putting a hard number on it made me gasp.
I took in this information just as I was noticing the ways in which prolonged isolation, especially around work, has been having a deleterious effect on my mind and spirit. I find myself perpetually disheartened, terrified, frustrated, angry, insecure, weepy, easily irritated, emotionally exhausted, hopeless, impatient, forgetful...
I miss living in the world. I miss serendipity, the surprise delight of bumping into someone I didn’t anticipate seeing at a bar, or a restaurant, or the movies, or karaoke night. Oh, how I miss karaoke nights.
Although the advent of Covid vaccines has offered a greater degree of freedom to move about in the world, the threat of break-through infections is very real, so I’m still keeping it all pretty close to home. I’m getting most of my socialization from increasingly toxic social media, where The Discourse, like everything else these days, tends to be pretty polarized and polarizing. (“Kidneygate” utterly destroyed me.) It’s getting me down, but in some ways, it still feels better than deactivating my accounts, because that would only bring more isolation at a time when steady interaction with other humans, especially those who work in my field, feels so necessary.
I’ve written before about how hard it’s been, since early in the pandemic, to no longer have Kingston Writers’ Studio to co-work in, among local colleagues. That loss of camaraderie—and a reason to dress and leave the house each morning—was followed by a quick succession of other losses: first lay-offs of several beloved co-workers at the online publication where I worked; next the elimination of our Slack channel—essentially both our newsroom and water cooler; and finally my departure from that publication, one I had deeply loved being apart of for over five years, when a number of factors made my staying there no longer tenable.
It was a shock to my system when it all went down. I’m a fairly social creature, who had already been struggling, since moving upstate in 2005, with feeling too removed from the New York City lit and media worlds. I’d finally found some ways to mitigate that feeling, and now those were lost to me.
The shock wore off a wile ago, but it’s been replaced by a lingering, droning, malaise that has left me rudderless. Without comrades to interact with regularly, easily—sometimes accidentally—I feel as if I’ve lost the plot of my own work life, which is closely aligned with my social life.
I’m fortunate to have a handful of colleagues nearby, whom I see socially now and then—for lunch, walks, dinners around a fire pit—although often I’m too depressed, or ambivalent, or overcome with inertia, to reach out to them to make plans, or to accept their invitations. I try to push myself, but lately it doesn’t always work. I wonder whether prolonged illness this summer took the wind out of my sails, or this has all just been going on too long, at too fraught and dark a time in the world.
I’m also lucky to have a handful of gigs to juggle and keep me busy, especially after losing three months of work to mononucleosis this summer. But in recent months it’s become hard to keep a handle on my sense of purpose—why I’m doing the particular work I’m doing other than to try and make a living, especially since so much of it is low-paying, and more demanding than its low pay warrants. Where is it all taking me? Where do I want to go with it? What’s the point of it all? Depressed in isolation, I no longer really know.
In May I started looking around at spaces where I might be able to re-launch Kingston Writers’ Studio. But then I got sick. While I was sick, we learned about the Covid variants. And it became clearer and clearer that, mostly for abhorrent political reasons, a huge segment of the population is unwilling to do its part to help end the pandemic. Those factors, and an insane jump in Kingston commercial rents, keep me from moving forward on relaunching. I’d love to just join an existing co-working space, but the two here charge gentrifier rates—$325 and $350 a month. So that’s out of the question.
Just as I don’t really know where I’m going with work these days, I also don’t really know where I’m going with this post, other than to say: IT’S BEEN 86 FUCKING WEEKS OF THIS SHIT AND IT SUCKS AND IT’S TAKING A TREMENDOUS TOLL ON ME.
As it probably is on you. So maybe my purpose here is to let others of you who are struggling through this endless morass know that I’m struggling right along with you—although, all the way over here, in my house in Kingston, NY. WHERE I HAVE BEEN STATIONED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY FOR 86 WEEKS.
💔 💔 💔
Adding to my persistent pandemic malaise, yesterday I got word that Tracy Kennard, whom I’d mentioned in a July post, passed away from the nasopharyngeal cancer she’d been battling.
I’m overcome with sadness at the loss of this vibrant, 47-year-old—a talented writer, graphic designer, erstwhile cafe owner, food and wine enthusiast, and more importantly, a kind, thoughtful, generous person. If you haven’t already—and even if you have—I recommend reading her moving New York Times essay about her struggle to eat, and to relocate her appetites, as she endured painful cancer treatment for two years. RIP, Tracy. I feel fortunate to have known you.
This news comes as I am in the midst of the grievance process against the maniacal ENT doctor who, in June, insisted—after one quick look at my throat—that I had nasopharyngeal cancer. What I actually had was an acute mono infection. Tracy’s passing brought me right back to the terror of that experience with that horrible doctor. It also further galvanized me. I’m going to keep fighting on that front. Wish me luck.
In other news, it was a pretty busy week here, at Botton, Ink.:
Catapult published the second installment of my column, “How’s the Writing Going?” featuring R.O. Kwon, who has some pretty great hacks for writing in troubling times.
Substack featured me and my other newsletter, Oldster Magazine:
At Oldster, after wrestling with the transcript of my three-hour interview with 92-year-old Holocaust survivor Tibor Spitz, (for which I paid $190!) I finally decided to let him tell his story himself, by way of The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire.