It’s that time of year again where I remove my admin hat and go back to writing. Of course, I never stop writing as a PhD student and as a lecturer, but sadly my article days have grown short. And I’ll be honest with you dear reader, today’s article was a culmination of me pushing myself to just sit and write as the pandemic fatigue grows stronger despite my now covid-immune system(Thank you vaccine!).
So today, I wanted to reflect back over the past year. 2020 was a friend to very few. Maybe the super-rich, or super introvert, but otherwise, it brought a shit ton of struggles, fear, and loss of self. It was almost a year ago exactly that I made the choice to fly home from Scotland to New York before the world shut down as I was afraid that something might happen and I wouldn’t be able to get to my family, or them to me. I knew even then that this was no month long blip, I remember sitting on a virtual call with other faculty who discussed “giving a sense of normalcy…keep up the standard, they’ll appreciate the distraction” that I broke my usual silence on conference calls to call bullshit. We weren’t recovering from a catastrophic event like 9/11, or a natural disaster like Fukushima. What we were dealing with was an ongoing trauma that was going to change how everything worked, that had no clear end in sight, and threatened everyone all at once. While it saddens me to say it, the only ones prepared were Doomsday Preppers. I came home to the beginning of NY as the epicenter of a covid explosion. I saw my own work grind to a standstill as it was no longer feasible, I volunteered my time for crisis response for anyone, but especially frontline staff to receive free, short-term crisis counseling throughout NY. And I went through the usual stages of lockdown: Tiger King, Bread Baking, Cooking, Exercise, and Despair. And that was only 90 days.
Today’s piece is my usual list, but one that hopefully speaks to more than just students or practitioners, but to everyone.
1) Yes there was Tiger King, but there was also Hamilton
Streaming services saved us this year and we really humanity shine even through this relatively safe money-maker. I have no doubt that the makers of Tiger King were somewhat surprised that they became synonymous with quarantine life, as it provided a level of escapism and layer of weird that made it impossible to focus on the daily numbers, or where groceries were coming from. It ended up being one of the few bizarre collectivism in those beginning days. We also received a gift like no other during this time. As the novelty of who killed Carol Baskin’s husband died down(I mean…we all know right?), there was a growing anxiety about “what next?” Not for the first time, Lin-Manuel came to our rescue. Originally recorded for a future release, Hamilton’s Disney+ release allowed the worldwide yet constant unobtainable ticket phenomenon to our home. Broadway had gone dark painfully, as the city that never sleeps was forced to slumber. Lin, a man who feels the pain of the world in a personal way pushed to give us that gift, not for a week, but until the stage once again could come to life. I used to revel in taking first timers to see it, or chatting with a seatmate who had waited and waited to finally see the production, and the outpouring of excitement and love it brought, and continues to bring with each subsequent watching is my reminder that even during the worst of our time, a song still rings through. Each of these pieces had their place. No one will give Tiger King an award, but it gave us something we needed, so did Hamilton. With that we can understand that sometimes we’re the world wide phenomenon and sometimes we’re the distraction, but we’re always important.
2) I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Physical touch is something we usually don’t think too much about. A quick handshake, the hug of a friend, a friendly pat on the back by a new acquaintance are all part of our culture, suddenly became dangerous. Unless you were in a bubble(also a new term for us), touch was a no-go, and our bodies notice. Long before you started missing it, our bodies craved touch, because we need it, even those casual everyday one exchanged with co-workers, or a friend in passing fulfills a quota our very cells lean in for. The first thing I did when numbers dropped in the Summer was mask up and meet up with my best friend and we just crashed into each other. I’m sure the two of us made it on someone’s cellphone “what are these two weirdos doing” feed for the day as we spun around, danced, hugged, and fell to the ground just to actually touch one another again. For dancers, we became so accustomed to always having touch, even with complete strangers, so to go so long separated from others highlighted how much we need to safely bring it back. Nothing can make me tear up more than seeing family and loved ones finally reunite after so long and get that initial hug. You can see the depth of the hold in that first few moments. We’re social beings, and hopefully very soon we can be that again. Many of us still have a lot of trauma or anxiety surrounding public places or others still, and that’s okay, we’ll get back together soon, and in the meantime don’t be afraid to ask those in your bubble for more hugs, a hand hold, or a snuggle. Four legged family counts too.
3) I Love Technology But So Help Me On These Virtual Meetings
You’d think as a socio-tech researcher I’d love being proven right about technology. That lasted a whole……20 days. Now, I don’t want to watch one more virtual lecture, one more virtual happy hour, or play with my virtual background. That’s right, you can deal with my room, and no I’m not going to stage it to look better. I don’t care if I look like I’m lounging in my recliner(I am), or if my bookcase has random trinkets on it(it does). You don’t have to like my artwork, and you can bet with full confidence on the fact that I’m wearing pajama pants regardless of who I’m talking to. I’m tired of pretending I’m just in a different office and am being normally productive. I’m stuck at home, and I am very much struggling to produce the quantity of work I did previously. And I won’t apologize for it, but I will normalize it for everyone else. I am eternally grateful for the pros technology has given us during this otherwise isolating and terrifying year, but it’s not enough of a substitute that I can pretend I’m not struggling with it. This isn’t the responsibility of anyone to fix, but to pretend everything is great is just a lie, and I’m many things(you can ask around), but no one has ever been able to call me that.
4) Uncertainty Is Really Okay
I teach about uncertainty a lot. In class, in a therapeutic sense, in dance. Really anywhere, but no one likes not having a clue what will happen or if their carefully made plans are all up in flames. Thing is, even if your plans go up in flames, even when a plan will suddenly take longer, veers off, or is left for a new one, it will be okay. Not because of some fancy law of the universe, or belief system, though if you believe in that it’s great. It’ll be okay, but whatever you decide to do, and wherever you end up will still be worthwhile, it just might take a few adjustments to get yourself to where that will be. Not-viable is never a term you want to hear about a carefully planned project, yet the only thing you can do is shelve it, and start again. It’s still a process, and it’s still not settled, either with its structure or with my acceptance, but that just means I have to allow the same affordances for myself that others have. I’ll get there, you’ll get there, and if you need to hear it, drop me a line.
5) How Do You Measure, Measure A Year
I recently *virtually* went to the 25th anniversary of the opening of Rent, and the opening number is a start reminder that a year can be measured in many ways. This one has been particularly difficult for most, but that doesn’t mean that every part of it was bad. I’m truly thankful for the time I got to spend with my mom, and my aging pup. I love Scotland, but know it’s hard on them, and others in my life in the states. And while I couldn’t see everyone for safety reasons, I’m thankful for the time I get with them. It’s my mom’s birthday today, and usually I’m not here for it. My dog turns 16 this July and I know I don’t get furever with him(that’s not true, he knows he has to live forever). My family has been incredibly fortunate during this pandemic, and that’s not something I take lightly, but it has let me extend that grace and compassion to as many people as I can especially since they might not have been as lucky. So hopefully if my year is measured, it will be measured in compassion, in an extended virtual hand, in allowances for myself and others, and most importantly, measured in love.
I don’t know what 2021 will bring, it will bring vaccines, and that will bring us some relief. There will still be loss, and there will still be adjustments. But on World Social Work Day I want to bring the lesson I always leave my students with at the end of every semester. I don’t care what you’ve learned, or what you didn’t. If you don’t remember anything else, I want you to remember this and we’ll all be a bit better for it. Go out each and every day and do good.
Happy Social Work Day!
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