Pandemic Memories

This weekend’s weather is not favorable for outdoor photography, so I looked through images I captured last week to glean another one to offer here on Intensity Without Mastery. I gravitated toward a flag photo I took at a local park. The sight of it swirled my mind in moments of the pandemic.

Before I dig further into the recent past, I’d like to mention I understand the pandemic is far from over. Thousands of people all over the world are still dying from Covid-19 every single day. I speak in the present tense from a time of relative intermission in the American pandemic.

I am hesitant to offer my pandemic memories. I’d like to think that my position through the height of the U.S. pandemic is unusual in that I am both a blogger and an essential worker. I put my blogging aside to avoid writing much about my experiences. In all honesty, it wasn’t so much an avoidance but a sense of being utterly unequal to the task. This is a thing which happens to me when depression rolls in like a fog. I believe that I cannot write except in a basic, functional way, such as writing lists or relaying instructions.

The current tagline of this blog uses the phrase life after depression, but I do not mean to imply that I am free of the affliction. I still suffer from episodes of depression. I just know what to do about getting the condition treated before I slip into a major, abiding case of it.

Now I will walk back to the matter of believing that I cannot write while I am depressed. This sense of incapability is not a delusion, for it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. My diction becomes so halting and Yoda-tastic that I give up.

It did not help matters that my feelings about working away from home during the past crests of the pandemic were deeply ambivalent. I vacillated between resenting my predicament and feeling a sense of solidarity with my fellow workers. I very seldom felt sorry for myself. I’d notice that press accounts of essential workers were awash in varying degrees of pity, but I believe this sense of pity was a reflection of guilt some better-offs had toward the working class rather than the actual self-pity of the workers themselves. I know that’s a bold assertion for me, but that was my overall impression of mainstream press coverage of essential workers.

I haven’t begun to tell you the darkest parts of my pandemic life, about how I partook of and witnessed much myth-making of survival in hard times. I haven’t yet told you about how my mother went mad and raged like Lear against the storm of a Covid-tainted world, and how this madness exhausted her in a prelude to her death.

My sister and father would be far better equipped to tell Mom’s story, for she kept me away out of concern of contagion during the last three months of her life, until she was too worn out to protest my presence. The matter of who might infect whom changed day by day. Over the phone, she’d tell me she was worried she’d give me Covid, and the next day she’d say she wouldn’t go to the doctor because she might get Covid. Ultimately, the separation was futile. It is almost certain that she had been infected when my dad got it three months before she passed away. As for me, I tested positive for antibodies around the time she died, so I must have had an asymptomatic infection at some point.

In other words, we all got it anyway, which leads me to a frequent theme of the myth-making I mentioned above: We’re all going to get it anyway. Many times I’d counter that statement by saying or thinking it was deeply unreasonable, that at best it was false and at worst it was a mildly deluded way of risking infection. Then again, who am I to judge given that I too got it anyway?

The problem lies in how the myth of We’re all going to get it anyway reduces agency by treating the future as if it were the past.

The U.S. flag image I offer with this post reminds me of January 6, 2021, a day in which a crowd of people did the opposite by indulging in inappropriate agency by storming the Capitol. I tried to listen to the Electoral vote certification at work, but I turned it off after a few minutes because I couldn’t divide my attention between my tasks and listening to the broadcast. As I drove home, my first clue that something had went terribly wrong was spotting an upside-down U.S. flag flying at one of the houses I’d pass on the drive home. It had taken the place of a Gadsden flag that was usually aloft at the same address.

When I watched the news that evening, I mentioned to my husband how our city has a few of the same flags that the right-wing rioters proudly carried, and he replied, “They walk among us.”

When I think of my country’s complicated response to Covid, the first thing that comes to mind is that when some Americans say “Live Free or Die,” they mean it literally.

Fantastic

I am not so bold to claim that this post in and of itself is anywhere near fantastic. Instead, I use that word in a title because yesterday I was confronted with the fact that I’ve been using it entirely too often when I speak. I had an idea of creating short podcast episodes about my favorite songs. I am wont to offer a small anecdote in connection to songs I like, so I figured that I could just improvise the content of an introduction to any of my favorites.

I vastly overestimated how well I could fill a couple minutes of air time. I used the word fantastic no less than four times in two minutes and 27 seconds, and I lost count of how often I made the umm sound. I have a newfound respect for anyone who can spontaneously fill airtime on radio or TV. There’s nothing natural about it.

I am devoting my first “Favorite Songs” mini-episode to “The Unforgettable Fire” by U2, and this post is my script.

I neglected “The Unforgettable Fire” for the first 32 years I owned the album of the same name. I bought it with my allowance money way back in 1987, when I was finishing up junior high in a cloud of Aqua Net. Back then, I just didn’t have the patience for the title track with its slow, ambient beginning. I actually had the album cover hanging in my high school locker. Anton Corbijn’s red-filtered black and white photo on the album cover proved to be deeply influential in my love of photography. The daily sight of that image slowly taught me that photos can leave deep impressions, and I took up photography with a small hope that I could one day create images that lingered deep in the viewer’s memory.

I didn’t love the single “The Unforgettable Fire” until I stumbled upon it in my Facebook feed a couple years ago. There was a retrospective clip of U2 that featured it, and I immediately wondered how I could have missed such a (umm) fantastic song.

I love everything about it except the bridge that that hasn’t aged well with its 80’s sledgehammer drums and synth. Its momentum makes it a near perfect driving song. Actually I’ve listened to it in my car a hundred or more times in the past two years. I love its deep ambivalence, and I doubt that my teenage self would have related too well to loving someone who is very flawed, to wanting that beloved to both leave and come back.

I will close this post with the song itself.

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