The Year of Unmagical Thinking

If we hung out, sometimes you might ask me why, seemingly out of nowhere, I've gotten angry. It's not like there aren't thousands of reasons all the time to be angry, but, mostly, we all keep that in check. This last two years, though, I haven't really been able to, and I'd get morose and snippy and generally unpleasant. I can pinpoint why pretty exactly. 

It's not just the pandemic, although that would be enough. It's not the deaths and suffering, although that never goes away. It's not about my own experience of this time because I know that I have not had it nearly as bad as so, so many others. It's specifically when I think about young people, those in college and graduating during this damned period, and all the opportunities that have been lost, all the lives that have been stunted or postponed because of the foolishness of our leaders and the selfishness of a large part of the population. I'm angry for those young people because I'm a generation or two older and we should have been looking out for them and we didn't. And I'm angry because someone needs to be held to account, and we're not doing that...

If I start to list all the things connected that contribute to my anger, I'd never stop. 

I've talked to many, many people who find themselves or people close to them suddenly upset or anxious, who feel trapped or despondent, who no longer enjoy things like they used to, who don't accomplish as much as they once did, and who beat themselves up over feeling any or all of that. "Maybe it's because we're dealing all this," I'll say, gesturing at, well, everything, primarily meaning the pandemic, but all the damage that has been done because of it. I don't mean that as a diagnosis or anything. I mean it as an observation, that we have been living through trauma and damn if that's not going to have an effect on, well, everything in our daily lives. That's what collective trauma does. 

And how could it not be traumatic? At this point, we're certainly not far removed from people who have died from Covid. All of us know someone who has had it or we've had it ourselves. Again, it's not just the disease. It's being forced to learn how to interact in the world in a new way (and resistance to that is its own kind of demonstration of trauma), from how we work to how we shop to how we go to school to how we gather to how we breathe. It can be relatively minor. For instance, for years, I knew to check before leaving: Keys, wallet, phone. Now I have to add "mask." Or it can be more severe, like the fact that I've barely taught in person for nearly two years and didn't see members of my family for extended periods. It's the involuntary nature of it that gets to us. We didn't choose this, like moving to a new house or getting a new job. It was done to us.

And, for lack of a more concise way of putting it, it's fucked us up. Badly. And extensively. The world was one way and now, in the blink of an eye, really, it's another. 

"Maybe we just need to be more forgiving," I'll say to people, to fellow professors, to friends, to myself. "Maybe we need to forgive ourselves and forgive others for sometimes not being able to hold it all in. Maybe it's okay to feel like that."

I have learned the act of forgiveness in so many ways over the last two years. I've been advising professors to be forgiving to their students in ways that we never would have been prior to March 2020. Many students have written to me about how they've had to negotiate the pandemic landscape, how they've had to care for family members, how they've gotten sick, how they've just felt depressed and unable to work. Maybe I'm a sucker, but I can't help but feel like I need to forgive them and let them make up work or turn it in late or help them out. I'll be a more discerning judge of their pain in the undefined future.

The trauma is especially keen now because we've been told, at least twice now, that we were emerging from the pandemic and back into whatever normal is going to be, only to have it Greek-lettered away. And that trauma is on top of the steady thrum of stress and trauma we were already dealing with on a daily basis, the personal events or racism or sexism or poverty or abuse or some terrible combination of those and more. Yes, there are things that shouldn't be written off as related to the pandemic. But one exacerbates the other. 

Just to be clear, though: No, I don't forgive the willingly unvaccinated, especially those who refuse to get their children vaccinated. I'm only human, after all, so I won't forgive those I blame for putting us in this terrible time and those who are keeping us in it.

But this last year has been one where I had to remind myself that, despite however many meds I suck down to keep me from going on a five-state killing spree, of course I'm going to be upset, irritated, angry, even. I've been in mourning for nearly two full years. Now, though, I'm not mourning for what's past. I'm mourning for what is. And I'm trying to push myself through dread for the future. 

I want next year to be better. Truly. I'm not despairing yet. Hell, I keep writing and sending stuff out. That's gotta mean I believe in a future. I know we've got a big fight waiting for us politically in 2022, and I wanna fight it. Hell, I'm planning trips, buying tickets to concerts and shows, and looking forward to seeing friends. Hell, I'm heading to a bar now to meet up with people. See? Hope. And whiskey.

I'm filthy with hope, but I'm exhausted by this last year spent hoping. I'm exhausted because I know it's not enough, but it's what we've got.

In the back of my head, though, I know we're one slight push from it all being swept away. 

And I forgive myself for thinking that.