log: stay sick

벌레 일지 WORMDATE: PHASE 1: 378(+31): 18-2892: 80.4%–75.7%

It seems very early to start thinking about this but I’m wondering about the ways this pandemic has changed me. Very early. But the start of PHASE 1 seems like a decent enough place to stop and take stock. Arbitrary, to be sure, and we are still in the middle of it — just had a 1000 case surge today.

I’m not even totally convinced that these “living with COVID” strategies aren’t just the state washing their hands of the matter and shifting responsibility to the populace.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s a decent time to reflect. A bit like a New Year’s Eve for infectious respiratory disease. A new seasonal celebration and ceremony for one of our new seasons. Season of the Sick. Basically made up but what isn’t?

Now, my general feeling is that none of us are going to have much idea about the influence of this situation on our psychology for a very long time to come. We may never really know. And I certainly feel an almost total inability to measure its effect on my thinking. To be completely honest, I’m not sure it’s even had one. I can’t tell.

The pandemic feels a lot like moving to a new country as an adult. And maybe it’s a country you don’t even particularly like, under circumstances you did not particularly want.

Listening to what a lot of people said they were feeling about the whole pandemic, their experience reminded me a lot of how I felt moving to America. The uprooting of life, the complete loss of social connections, of acquaintances, replaced with either overly purposeful interactions and technologically mediated ones. The general sense of being cut off, alone, confused, and adrift in a landscape as novel as it is hostile. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. The changes to the body. To diet. The absolute obliteration of routine. I’ve felt all that before. Gone thorough it a few times. It all sounded pretty familiar.

Changing countries may seem glamorous. Being genuinely cosmopolitan may also seem glamorous. But these things have a certain horror. A definite intense misery.

They’re difficult.

The main difference is that, when one changes countries, they do it alone. They go through all that alone. The pandemic? For better or worse, we’re in this shit together. Still.

Now, shortly before this began, I’d changed countries again. Though I loved LA, I was and am much happier in Korea with a pandemic than I was in America without one. But the strange timing of this, as well as the symptoms being so similar, makes it difficult to tell whether any changes to me have been caused by the pandemic or by the move.

So these changes. What are they?

Fucked if I know. I feel pretty much fine.

As far as it goes, I’ve had a decent pandemic. Finished my associate’s degree, started my bachelor’s, have drastically improved my Korean — though not as much as I might have done in a situation where I could use it more. I learned how to do pull-ups, became familiar with the forest, and learned how to see deer in darkness. Kept in shape, managed to explore, and wrote over 70 shorts, while working on a novel. Fairly productive.

But I’m not particularly interested in my productivity as a metric of health. I’m not even really interested in “health” as a measure of minds. Actually, if you push me on that one, I kinda totally fucking object to the idea of mental fucking health. “I got my own ideas about the righteous kick, you can keep the reward, I’d just as soon stay sick.”

And, as far as all that “productivity” goes, I think of Jen Gerson’s interesting piece – “The post-pandemic mental-health crisis is here. It’s not what we thought.

She touches on something that I feel too. Or felt . . .

I wish I could have used this energy more usefully; I would have volunteered at hospitals or tried to help with contact tracing, except none of our governments, as far as I could tell, used COVID-19 to try to galvanize the population with the very acts of sacrifice and service that would have given the crisis meaning and the population an outlet for its nervous energy. I think we would be faring much better right now if we had directed our fear into the sort of collective action that could have bound us together as a society. Instead, we were told that the heroic action was to sit home, relax, watch Netflix and waste away as the Groundhog Day of our lives morphed from comedy to horror. It’s not enough to merely be safe. We need to be of use.

Yet, in my case, this feeling did not appear as the pandemic wore on. It lessened. In the early days? It drove me crazy. I did have some fairly wild mood swings. These moods passed. I might have had such moods anyway. I don’t know. But those early days?

I very much would have liked to have been of some use. To someone. Somewhere. About something. And I’m not a person who is all that in love with being of use. 내 원체 아름답고 무용한 것들을 좋아하요. But still. One wants to help. And yet one can’t.

Those early days were not about baking banana bread. Not to me. Those early days were a waking nightmare of survivor’s guilt. The sense that had I still been in LA, performing my functions as union steward at the grocery store I worked at, I might have been able to do something to help. Something. concrete. Something that might have made some difference. And even if I could not help, I just wanted to be there to suffer with my friends. That doesn’t make sense. I know. But being basically out of danger really makes a person wonder “why me?” The answer is “shouldn’t be.” It’s not a satisfactory answer. I’m not sure if that feeling has passed or I’ve only grown numb to it. Either way, I seem to have accepted it.

Just thinking about this no longer sends me into fractal despair.

I am not, for example, shaking and sick while writing this. I’m not even crying. I feel fine. Should I?

I’m more comfortable with being useless. Should I be?

Maybe now I should learn to bake? Except, I don’t have an oven.

Overall, the practicalities of my situation could not be much disrupted by a pandemic. My schooling was already online, as were my friends and family. Maybe I was already in such a disruptive situation that, well, what’s a little novel corona between friends? My losses have not really been of things I had –I was not here long enough to have much– but mainly of things I might have had. The chance to practice more Korean. That sort of thing.

Nor have I been much surprised by human stupidity or evil. If anything people have acted a little better than I thought they would. So far, at least. We’re not yet back to public hangings in the town square –a practice I fully expect to see return during my life. But we’re not there yet and most people have been decent. The usual villains have been villains. Not surprised.

But angry? Yes. Full of rage? Of course. What else is new? That rage has been with me for decades. It’s in my bones. It might even be my bones. I am fucking angry. I’m kind of an angry person. I want, very badly, for some of these fuckers to get what’s coming to them.

And I’m exhausted by stupidity and greed. It’s just so boring.

A sort of allergic reaction to some terms. “Get back to normal” is one of them.

I am curious to see how things will be once I find myself back in a crowd. I love crowds. To make a distinction, I like crowds, not masses. A crowd is the hustle and bustle of a packed market. A mass is a bunch of people watching an event. One is a city street, the other is a line. One is a carnival, the other a concert or club. I can’t stand a mass. Awful, dead, things — all action and no life. Get me the hell out of there. But a crowd? Vibrant. Frission and fission. Eros. There’s few things I like more than a crowd. I miss crowds.

But I have no idea how I’ll react when I’m back in one. It might be too much!

I don’t know how I am. If I’m fine or not. I’m no further ahead than when I started writing this. No closer to an answer. Insofar as I’m fine, I think some things have helped.

Staying off social media, avoiding American news, and getting my briefings from people who know what they’re talking about instead of every passing person (whether I like them or not or agree with them or not) has been a pretty huge help. Limiting information, in other words. Avoiding fights with every passing twit. Concentrating on following instructions rather than second-guessing them has been a help. Some things are difficult. So difficult, in fact, that you sometimes need to just stay the fuck in your lane. Thinking is fine and all. But it’s landed better people than me in a lot of trouble. There are times when discipline is more important.

Thinking helps one tell what time it is. But there’s no need to get carried away with it.

Anyway, I guess, we’ll see. Not like we have much of a choice.

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