The Year of the Virus: What I learned about Whoopee Pies

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I started this post on March 16th. In sitting down to expand on my eventual life story, Cheeks and a Dream: The Memoirs of an Unwitting Participant, I had a gut feeling it would be that rare attempt that spanned quite some time. And that thoughts would have to come intermittently, with tonal movements as the Virus shifted gears and became a pandemic covering all the world, save for Antarctica.

What began my experience in this time of the Virus was a darkly comedic day when I had to (“had to…”) eat the dozen whoopee pies I had initially purchased for students. As we were not going back to school, there was little choice in the matter (You do NOT waste a Fiore’s Bakery whoopee pie). But this initial week of sometimes unnerving quiet, stretched and evolved into what is (at the time of this paragraph) the third official week at home in quarantine.

And there are a lot of things I suppose I could talk about here. But many of them have been said. We’re at our brink with regards to media saturation, many of us confused about what kind of media we should be taking in- is it ok to laugh? Is it healthy to continually know all the death statistics? How do I continue to weigh those with recovery ratios, when this virus seemingly defies pattern or logic? It’s all a very confusing chess match, psychologically.

So I reasoned the only thing I can offer with any sense of sincerity in this time was myself. As in many times of questioning we turn once again to Kerouac, and his humble reckoning that there are moments where all we have is our own confusion. Its ability to impact others through a collective emotion provides solace in a shared loss and drifting tide of understanding. And so here are bits and pieces of my life right now, my own confusion, in the hopes that they leave you with a grasp that in yours you are not alone.

I live by myself in a 3 decker in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Having lived by myself for two years in New Jersey prior without a lot of nearby friends, I had a mental map for how to return to some degree of isolation. That doesn’t mean this is easy for me by any stretch, what it means is I know the importance of routine. Of knowing you need to feel you are needed- and if that means making art, if that means helping a friend who’s going through it, so be it. Form a schedule and stick to it. You will need it.

I also know that being on your own is very hard. I do all my grocery shopping. I expose myself to whatever is out there because frankly, ain’t nobody else around to do this. I do wish more people understood that, but it doesn’t make me upset. I did see a lot of initial posts about people “Wishing” they were alone enough to be bored like someone without kids or a big family to quarantine with. Just to provide some clarity, I am not bored. We can’t keep ranking who is handling this better than others, having no actual idea about their situation.  The grass on both sides of the fence is Coronagrass, so I’m not going to say “I wish I just had to color with my kids.” Because kids are also fucking hard. It’s hard for all of us. We need to understand everyone is going through it and not assume there are easier paths psychologically.

My own situation is I’m a professor who is absorbing about 60 additional experiences of grief from my students, who justifiably are trying to do their best with this collective loss. My days typically run 9am-6pm straight for meetings and classes online. Followed by additional fires to put out in the evening via email, and then hopefully I get to watch my show via text with a friend or two, eat dinner and go to bed, usually somewhat exhausted, if I’m being real. This past week I had to screen calls at times from family and friends, simply out of self-protection in terms of emotional overload. Sometimes, it’s necessary.

That is my story in this so far. I try to get a walk in as often as I can, breathe some fresh air, and balance this new normal as best as I can. Not knowing the end date is hard, but it’s best not to assume it’s soon, I’ve found. When I have bad days, I think about how I’m grateful that at the time of this paragraph, I’ve been asymptomatic to this point. I don’t try to minimize that I’m having a hard time in moments when that happens, but as tiring as some days are there’s no room in here to complain while people are dying.

And so at the end of this, when the fog eventually lifts and we are able to look at the experience with perhaps enough distance to reason with our collective experience, there are elements to remember. Books will be written, films will be made, art will be created. But there’s an opportunity for progressive growth if we’re listening, and while it didn’t happen with any other natural disasters, I suppose we can still hope. Because more than anything that’s what gets you through to the other side.

So I will remember the following:

• We owe the world to our health care workers, and they were heinously mistreated. They died for this, for us, because the idea that a pandemic could hit was dismissed. The idea that we were equipped economically and financially was touted without factual support, and they did the best they could under horrible decision making and faulty leadership on the federal level. Their portraits should line the oval office.

• The economy does not succeed because of billionaires. We learned that immediately when we saw billionaires could stay home and ultimately provide little value to the collective whole. You know who we actually needed? Essential workers. Workers we pay next to nothing who had to show up on the front lines in the face of real, actual danger. They are vital to our success as a country and community and should be paid appropriately, with bronze statues made to live permanently in front of the White House.

• It was the Governors, not the White House, who made calls that saved lies. Though some egregiously mishandled their state’s response, and ergo the collective progress, many stood up to absolutely dangerous policy and barked right back at it on behalf of their constituents. They were (or will be soon) directly in the shit, and shit is quite the illuminating construct with regards to character.

• I hope that we remember forever the way our President deliberately mishandled this situation. I’d invite you to prove otherwise, but I have too many facts at my disposal. His arrogance and selfishness led to countless additional deaths, and at this paragraph’s time of writing, he has used the Virus as a smokescreen to fire Inspector General Michael Atkinson, whom you may remember as the person who called out his Impeachable offenses with Ukraine. Volumes could (and will) be written about not mere inadequacies, but tyrannical, authoritarian attempts at a dictatorship conducted via a global health crisis. We haven’t seen something akin to this in our country’s leadership this close before in modern times, but I hope we never do again.

• And finally, it was our communities, our neighbors, our friends, who showed up and helped each other get through this. Those who had sewing skills to make masks. Those who had funny skills to crack needed jokes. Those who had listening skills to hear pain. Don’t forget those who were there for you, and – life skill – don’t forget those who weren’t. Money may buy you a Coronavirus test, but it can’t buy your survival when a system of feed the rich wasn’t prepared to ensure recovery. Know neighbors, not numbers.

I’m not going to end this with some kind of silver lining. I don’t care for the ways some are trying to make light of this. To be blunt, people are dying. It’s alright to acknowledge we are “in it” right now. This isn’t the earth trying to heal, this isn’t a comeuppance for humanity. To consider it as such makes a mockery of people’s mothers, brothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or friends who have died. When someone I know dies, I don’t want a lecture about how it was for the good of the world. So I’ll end once again with a return to the words that often help me, when I realize I don’t have answers for even myself, let anyone else. They illustrate the notion that in some regards, that exact realization can be the first step to enlightenment and then comfort.

I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion” – Kerouac

But I’m here with you, in this confusion, just the same.


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