Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pandemic voices

For weeks now, our Type M blog posts have circled around the central player in our lives - the pandemic. We have talked about the inability to write, the question of whether to include the pandemic in our stories, the lament over lost opportunities to celebrate and promote our books, and the ups and downs of our moods. As I tried to figure out what to say today, I thought "Can anyone stand one more blog about the damn pandemic?" Are we sick of it? Do we want our lives back? Can't we at least pretend things will go back to normal?

Then I realized this is our job. As artists we document the emotional reality of our times. Economists will talk about job losses, stock market rollercoasters, and accumulating debt. Scientists will talk about advances in virology and herd immunity, epidemiologists about infection curves and deaths per million, etc. Social scientists will analyze lockdown fatigue, crowd contagion, and the delicate balance of maintaining public cooperation. Ecologists will describe the return of the animals and the blue of the sky.

All important for the historical record. We are living through possibly the most significant global event in a century, in terms of its scope and impact on every single person (and indeed on nature and the planet). Other crises have had a more drastic effect on specific parts of the world, such as the world wars, the Holocaust, and the Khmer Rouge. And even then, much of normal life went on in the streets and towns. But this crisis is against a single enemy worldwide, and has changed almost every aspect of our daily lives, from hugging our families to trying to buy yeast.

People's experiences and reactions are all over the map, and as several posts have already pointed out, they change from day to day and evolve over time. Artists have always been a mirror to our inner life. Psychologists and other mental health researchers are going to dissect our adjustment and struggles minutely. They are going to subject us to surveys and statistical analyses and possibly even experimental re-enactments. All this is going to be very valuable for future planning, but trust me, as someone who worked in that field for years, it's going to be dry as dust. It will not bring to life the essence of being alone on Mother's Day, staring at your one-year old grandson trying to eat the phone his parents are using for Zoom. It will not capture the sound of your silent wail. Nor the hummingbird restlessness you feel some days after listening to too much news. Shall I bake cupcakes? Watch Netflix? Or even, horrors, wash the floors?

The blogs, poems, paintings, and short isolation videos that artists are producing all over the world will serve as a record of our times, a mirror of our feelings and thoughts at the moment we go through them. And any books that come out of it, whether about the pandemic or not, will be a testament to these times. So feel free to create and to put it out there, to be shared online across the world. Someone will be listening, and equally important, history will be listening.

1 comment:

Donis Casey said...

Excellent observation, Barbara.