The Grumpy Owl Guide to The Gloom

The Gloom wanders in. Puts its feet up on the table. Lights a pipe and has a brandy. The Gloom makes itself right at home.

I’ve heard the reports from a few different people. I’ve been there myself. Out of all my weeks of doing this, I think week two was about the hardest. And when North America finally started taking measures? It was a bit like going through it all again. Except I kind of knew some of the shit you all were in for. You want to know something about knowing? Knowing, frankly, feels like shit. Knowing doesn’t mean you have any control. Knowing is like some nightmare where you watch someone walk off a bridge. You can warn but you can’t protect.

Owls have always been like this though. Their appearance an omen of doom. When you saw The Grumpy Owl was back, that should probably have been warning enough.

I wanted to help –and feeling like maybe I could help just a little bit maybe helped me a little bit. But it’s hard to soften any of these blows. I’m going to keep trying to soften them though. You need to know, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone. You’re just in The Gloom.

So what do you need to get through The Gloom? Well, a flashlight might be more help than this guide but here it is anyway — The Grumpy Owl Guide to The Gloom.

What Is It About Week Two Anyway?

Speaking to friends, I’ve had to think about this week two thing. I remember that it was a rough time but I’ve had to think a little bit about why that was. I think it’s because you run out of things to do. That first week, you have plans. You have an approach. A schedule.

You got this. Then you don’t. You just don’t got this. At all. It’s got you.

Napoleon famously said that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy” and Mike Tyson restated this idea as “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Week Two isn’t the first punch in the face, nor will it be the last, but it’s when the plan falls apart and when you see it falling apart. It’s when you know – your plan ain’t it.

On top of that, you also realize that not only is your plan not going to work, the universe –like your immediate universe– is totally and utterly indifferent to any plan. It’s not even hostile. It just doesn’t give a fuck. Nothing you do makes any difference. Futility.

And this is an unusual feeling for a lot of people. The people I think may have the hardest time with this are those who are most accustomed to some sense of control. Whether they exercise that control through doing things, being productive, or engaging with current events, the sudden knowledge that your actions don’t matter, can be debilitating.

You ever see that Voyager episode Night? (S05 E01) Where they’re stuck in the void with nothing to do but just keep the ship running. You know who falls apart? Hard? Captain Janeway. She just goes to pieces. She’s not the sort who usually falls apart. She usually has a handle on the situation. That’s why she falls apart in the void. It has no handles.

Now, if I may be blunt for a moment — my feeling is that these sorts of people are, generally, distracting themselves from the void at all times. As such, they may not mind it as much as I think they may. They might just jump from project to project without even worrying about it. It could well be that they’re totally impervious to The Gloom. I have no idea. I’m not that sort.

I do worry about them though. I worry about the optimists too.

So, brass tacks, I don’t know if it will help you, but it helped me, Werner Herzog. Thank you Satan for Werner Herzog! Watch some of his movies. Dracula, Wrath of God, whatever. I really recommend Dracula. I know people have made Herzog into a bit of a joke in recent years but he’s the rare person who actually gets this shit. He gets it. He speaks to it.

And, for me, he helped get some sense of orientation back. It’s a void. It’s pointless. You need to look at it, see it, and forgive it. You might even learn to love it. In a way.

You need to learn these things because as much as you want to get back to normal? It’s not getting back to normal. And if, hell, when, you try to force it to get normal and do normal things to feel normal, you put a lot of people in danger. This is hard right now but you have to learn to stop wanting to get back to normal. You have to stop wanting to feel normal. You have to learn to distrust everything normal. The Normal is not your friend.

It gets easier.

It gets better.

Adapt to Weird

If you’re doing a thing and it’s not working, you might feel that it’s time to double down on that thing. Your instinct may be to do more of the thing that’s not working. This is a frame of mind that most addicts will understand. Those who have got off the crap may recognize and distrust this approach with an almost instinctive abhorrence. The fucking environment is not going to change. It’s you, sweetie. You’ve got to change. In ways you do not expect.

I’ve been here before. Back in the day, when I quit drink, cocaine, and the assorted relateds, you want to know what I was left with? Nothing. I was nothing. I had no concept of myself that wasn’t related to drugs and drink. I was a nothing. A void. I’d had dry moments after particularly shameful incidents but I hadn’t been sober since I was 15. I had no idea who I even was without drugs or drink. Those were my compass. To remake myself, I needed to start from the ground up. I needed to understand some things about me, about what was important to me, and write these things down, and then try to act in accord with those things. It was all a conscious decision. And I had to see what I got out of drugs and why I liked them and try to get that out of me. I had to become the drugs. It got weird. You think I planned on spending a bunch of money on suits? No. But that’s how I rebuilt. Into this thing.

You think I wanted to turn out like this? Think again, comrade!

You too are going to need to adapt and to learn to build in a void.

There’s no guarantee that what worked yesterday will work today or what works today will work tomorrow. All you can do is be open to it getting weird. Be open to yourself getting weird. Weird to others, weird to you. You just may not be the person you thought you were. That’s okay. You might have other interests than you do. That’s fine. You may suddenly, unaccountably, not be the person that your people expect. That’s just dandy.

All you really need to worry about is getting through another day.

It gets better.

Good Days and Bad Days

There are good days and bad days at every step of this thing. Some days, you have this sort of calm and directed energy. You clean, you get shit done. Other days, you are itchy with restlessness. You climb the walls. You want to scream. Nothing works. And some days, you just need to wallow. There’s days when you feel fine and days when you really don’t. It’s okay. You don’t always need to fix it. You just need to get from one day to the next.

Wife and I – we have good days and bad days. Some days, we’re all in together, other days, we kind of retreat into ourselves. The trick isn’t stopping this, it’s just being aware of it so you can stop it before it spirals. Once you see a thing, you can kind of adjust to it, talk about it, and work together. You just have to see it first. It is hard to see in The Gloom. Remember to feel around. Reach out. Talk to people. Fuck it, talk to me.

Week Two kind of felt like one long bad day. I wish I could stop the bad days from happening but I can’t and you can’t and no one can stop the bad days. You just have to be there for the people you love when you’re up and they’re down and hope they can do the same for you, tomorrow, when your positions are reversed. Maybe they can, maybe they can’t. It doesn’t stop. But it does get weird, and it does get easier. Go easy on each other.

It does get better. Then worse, Then better again.

Know Your Dark Place

I don’t remember if this is a week two thing –week two was so long ago and I don’t think it is week two thing– but it is a thing and it may be coming your way soon.

We all have some sort of Achilles heel. We have some pattern of thought that, if we get into it, just takes us down a very dark road indeed. It takes us out of The Gloom and into The Crushing Wilds of Despair. You end up there, you get nostalgic for The Gloom.

For me, it’s some fucked up form of survivor guilt about The American Grocery Situation. It’s thinking about my union family. Some of my best friends in America are now being treated as sacrificial lambs for the gods of Wall Street and the toilet paper panic. I wish I could actually help and do something. I can’t do anything. I can’t help. Even thinking about this fucks me up and it fucks me up hard. It sends me into a very dark and miserable place and I do no one any good when there. So, like, right now –at this very moment– I am just going to stop thinking about that. Because I can’t do it. I just can’t with that right now. And I know, even if I simply can not with that, then soon enough, there will be something else that really can with me. I don’t need to look for trouble. But, seriously, please stay the fuck out of the grocery stores unless you absolutely NEED to be in one.

You’re killing my friends.

Some people feel like you need to confront and overcome these dark things. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know. I’m just not a great believer in picking fights — especially ones you can’t win or even really fight. If you see a big angry bear and you know it’s a big angry bear, do you wander over with a stick and start poking at the thing? No. Of course not. That would be silly. That bear isn’t going to get any smaller or any less angry. It’s still going to be a bear because a bear is what it fucking is. You need to accept that there is a bear in the room.

Still, you really can’t avoid the damn thing and you can’t really do anything about it either. Sometimes, I guess you just have to let the bear eat you. Just try to know that’s what you’re doing and, you know, don’t start anymore mess than you need to. Try not to, at least. I mean, it’s a fucking bear! You don’t have a chance! Have you even seen those things? Bears don’t fuck around. They have no god, no law and no master! They are bears.

But, bears or not, it gets better.

Don’t Get Attached to Clocks

I’m trying to save you a punch in the gut here. The end of this thing is always two weeks away. If you start pinning hopes on these timetables, you are setting yourself up for a world of hurt. You get to the end of that two weeks and things are either worse or unchanged. After a while, unchanged will feel like better. But these things will not be better in two weeks.

My wife’s job is on its third two week delay until opening. She was supposed to back at work on, I think, March 8th, March 22, and now April 5. Every time it’s cancelled, it hurts.

You’re probably starting to come up on the first two week set of cancellations. It will hurt. And it will hurt the next time too. But you can basically keep steady on this, I think.

Just avoid getting too caught up or attached to these clocks. Even if things are unchanged, the virus thrives in normal conditions. Normalcy will make things worse. Aside from that, things can get much worse. You can have a Patient 31. There can be an outbreak. The shit is basically unpredictable. There are no timetables for a return to business as usual. Anyone who is selling you a date when this ends is selling snake-oil. There is no such date.

But the two week thing? It’s not necessarily a bad sort of lie. It’s a sort of goal. This thing is easier to deal with and organize around when it’s presented in two week chunks. Just don’t get too attached to the reality of these clocks. You don’t want to start up with a whole “BUT WE WERE TOLD!” type of thing. It doesn’t matter what we were told. There’s no guarantees in The Affected Area and the clocks run upside down. The situation in The Affected Area is fluid. A lot can happen and most of it is bad.

But it does get better. Just not like that.

Hell is Other People

Now, this is going to be some pretty fucked up advice and I’m trusting you people to not get all carried away and Mad Max cosplay with this –a trust that is frankly unearned after the whole toilet paper debacle– but here we go anyway: You don’t owe anyone shit.

I don’t mean that you have no obligation to other people. Of course you do. And I don’t mean that you should stop caring about the people you care about. Even if you could, you shouldn’t. But you may not be able to help them. Not from where you are. At some point, you have to trust their friends and neighbors, and society at large.That’s the horror of all being in it together. You need trust. A lot of trust. None of this works without trust. And you need to trust strangers. You need to trust strangers with the people you love.

What I mean by ‘you don’t owe anyone shit’ is much more limited. I mean, you can turn the news off. You don’t need to put the burden of keeping the world informed upon yourself.

If a person is distressing you on the social networks, even if you really like that person, especially if that person is me, you can and should mute them. (Believe me, I wish I could mute me.) I had to mute people. I liked these people. I still like them. But I just couldn’t deal with how they were dealing. No sense fighting about it. No sense confronting them or acting like THERE IS ONE TRUE PATH here. They have to deal with things in their own way. I have to deal with it in mine. We all have to do this in our own way and these ways will differ.

And it’s not the end of the world. I still pop into their timelines to see how they’re doing and whatnot but deciding when I want to do that is a lot easier on me than having them show up in mine. It’s fine. You do not need to climb up on a cross and die for your friends (not like they’re the Dow Fucking Jones hungry for human blood sacrifice) and, if they’re your friends, they don’t want you to go through it and don’t even want to put you through it. Why would they? For likes? Fuck that. We all need some space sometimes. Shit happens.

Like, seriously, if I’m bugging you or whatever, feel free to fuck off for a while or whatever. I just don’t need to hear the litany before you go. No one needs that. No one needs more time for introspection than what we’re currently enduring. And I don’t want to bother anyone. That’s not what I’m trying to do — even when it’s exactly what I’m trying to do. No hard feelings. You do exactly what you need to do for you.

But that’s all pretty easy. That’s affection. Not everything is.

When it comes to blatantly aggravating nonsense like seeing that party on the beach or whatever, I get you – I get the anger. I understand how seeing that might make you feel. Try to see it from my point of view. Can you imagine being in Korea and watching how all of North America was ignoring this for so long? You were those people! For over a month, you were those people! ALL OF YOU WERE THOSE PEOPLE BUT WORSE BECAUSE THOSE PEOPLE ARE JUST DOLTS AND YOU ARE NOT DOLTS SO WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU AND WHY DID YOU WASTE ALL THAT TIME AND EVEN NOW WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING SHOPPING AGAIN! Did I shout and rant? Yes. Of course. Did I just do that now? Well, maybe, yes, okay. I’m no fucking saint. But hopefully I did not shout and rant at you too much. Would it have helped if I did? I don’t think so. You just have to accept, this thing does not come evenly to everyone. It’s not fair. It’s fucking infuriating. But that’s how it is and that’s how it’s going to stay.

You have to accept that you just can’t fix certain types of stupid. Anger can be a really good and productive thing and it can even help you pass some time ranting but just don’t get too worn out on it and try to keep your anger at least sort of productive, you know? Try to think before you shout. And try to remember, in times like these, remaining decent often has to be enough. Is it enough? No. But sometimes it has to be. And to remain decent, to get through this thing, you are going to need to trust people. If you’re just angry at people because of some dolts on the beach or something you saw on the news, that trust is going to be harder. And breaking that trust is how they break us. We need trust.

I wish I could say that this whole other people thing gets better. It doesn’t get better. People have suffered idiots for around 300,000 years. There will still be idiots tomorrow.

It’s not ideal.


Look, no lie, this thing is not easy, nor is it short. But week two? That can be one of the hardest times. You’ve done what you need to, you’ve brought your best plan and your best moves to this fight, and what’s your reward? The void. That’s all. The fucking void.

But the void is deep and it is weird and it’s not as boring as it looks and you can adapt.

You have to be forgiving of yourself when your plans don’t work –they’re not working for anyone– and you have to be open to getting weird about the whole thing. Don’t worry too much about who you were before this or what people expect from you. Things have changed. You can change with them. You must. Be open to weird.

Moods are going to go up and they’re going to go down. Some really weird shit awaits you in this void. My shadow, for example, has started detaching my body at night and chasing the cats around the neighborhood. You’re going to have to keep the basic goal in mind -staying indoors- and you have to act in a way that facilitates that. Above all, that. Don’t fuck around.

And please stay out of the grocery stores. Like please!

And I want you to remember this. It might feel like your life has stopped. It hasn’t. Your life has changed. It’s going to stay changed. For a while, at least. You live in a much stranger place and interesting time than you probably thought you were going to. This happens.

You will get the hang of this. It will get better. Just probably not how you think.

Until then, FIGHTING!

And have some love – you might need it.

1 thought on “The Grumpy Owl Guide to The Gloom

  1. Pingback: The Grumpy Owl Guide to Some of What You Can Maybe Expect in the Next Few Weeks | The Grumpy Owl Redux

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