I was going to post this to my personal blog, but my state of mind–as it has for a lot of people–is definitely affecting my state of mind when I work, and part of “keeping it real” here on Heroic Technical Writing must include the current circumstances. I am still working, fortunately, and I’ll try to talk about conducting business in this environment soon, but I don’t think it’s out of place to talk about social matters, too.
A Tale of Two Crises
For me, the difference between this situation and the last great crisis of my generation, 9/11, is that in 2001 I expected to get together with people I care about to talk. The isolation imposed by the coronavirus situation is forcing me in upon myself in a way those terrorist attacks did not. That can be good and bad.
Nineteen years ago, I was answering complaints for the Walt Disney World Resort. I was in grad school for a technical writing master’s degree. Most of my friends were Disney people, here in Orlando. We sorted through a lot of the feelings at the time by self-medicating with alcohol or hanging out in the theme parks, resorts, or saloons. Some folks ended up on Xanax or other anti-anxiety drugs. Hugs became more common for a while. My family was mostly up north, except my father and stepmom, who were local.
Elsewhere, my neighbors engaged a brief flash of panic buying in the grocery stores before things returned to normal. We had occasional anthrax scares in the theme parks when guests would become alarmed over the spilling of powdered sugar from a funnel cake, and people with the HAZMAT suits would show up. I suggested that rather than alarm people, we should “theme” the response, calling it a “Code 2319,” like the over-the-top response to contact with children in the Disney/Pixar film Monsters, Inc., but my suggestion was not taken seriously.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one was happier to greet my neighbors. There was (in my imperfect memory) more rallying around the flag and so forth, with an acknowledgment that “We’re all in this together.” There was also more encouragement to get out and (I kid you not) shop. Auto makers were offering up-until-then unprecedented 0% interest loans to get people to buy cars. After a six-month case of the nerves (I was flying on Sept. 11), I eventually let myself relax enough to enjoy being in public places.
Today, I’m back in Orlando after ten years in Northern Virginia and Huntsville, Alabama. Most of my friends are now “space people” scattered across the country. My family is still up North, though my mom and sister were actually visiting me as the theme parks and resorts started shutting down. My father and stepmom are still here, but visiting them seems like a poor choice now, given the virus’s harsh treatment of the elderly.
On the plus side, technology and the internet are a lot better now, with a lot more online communication apps to choose from, mobile or otherwise. Given the uncertainty in the country, I’m calling a lot more friends than I used to, changing my calculus on what constitutes an email-only request vs. a phone call. I might even overcome my squeamishness/discomfort with video calling. Instead of self-medicating, I took the unusual step of walking away from alcohol, leaving me with my raw, unvarnished feelings.
Panic shopping returned, but it’s been going on for weeks now and shows no sign of relenting. I did a grocery run yesterday ahead of a “shelter in place” order for Orange County (mind you, grocery runs are allowed even now, I’m just like that). The shelves were alarmingly bare in multiple areas. I had to scratch one meal I had planned to make due to a lack of chicken. I restrained myself from buying my usual count of items to leave some for others. There was a half-the-store-length line for paper towels and toilet paper, with customers nervously eyeing anyone who tried to cut in line or jealously looking at those few of us who got paper products before they ran out. There was an open acknowledgment of germ concerns, someone telling me that the grocery cart he handed off had just been cleaned off. An allergy-related cough or sneeze was viewed with mistrust. During my evening walks, people don’t say much even when I try to greet them, and “social distancing” keeps strangers physically away from each other.
Not everyone is trying to keep their distance. Cynthia, my friend who runs the ScribbleSpace coworking place where I occasionally hang out, is shifting their Thursday social lunches to online. And while I confess that so much talking often interfered with my workflow or concentration, I will probably attend this online meeting. Why? Just to see friendly faces…or any faces, for that matter. I don’t see a lot of people during my day, and now with my walks kept from the usually-busy Walt Disney World Resort, I have to seek human contact elsewhere. I barely see my neighbors, and like the people I encounter on my walks, they don’t talk much. That can wear me down after awhile, even if I do have work and hobbies to pursue.
I can be a bit of a grouch in my introverted isolation, but maintaining a social life is also a realistic part of work life, either as an accompaniment to it or a break from it. It’s part of self-care. How are you doing?