Worst of times? Best of times? Definitely totally confusing. Listen enough to the cacophony of actual news, fake news, rumors, conspiracy theories and anything else flying through the ether, and your head will spin from trying to figure it out.
So many prophesies of doom and gloom. The economy tanking.
Guidelines for how we deal with the pandemic changing almost daily.
When I write this, we’ve recorded over 95,000 dead in the U.S. In a little more than 2 months. Still counting.
But some folks continue to claim this is nothing but the the common cold. No worse than regular flu. Then reminding us that we don’t shut down the country over those.
All the while channeling their inner Lord Farquaad: “Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”
Wonder if that tune would change if they or their immediate family came down with COVVID-19?
In 5 seconds flat, I’m guessing.
To get back to the title of this article, and to be perfectly honest: I don’t know that there is any effect of coronavirus on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.
And yet there may well be. By extension. Because, well, everything else has been affected. So why not?
The play, The effect of gamma rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, is about a broken mother, Beatrice, and her 2 daughters, Ruth and Tillie. All barreling downhill towards another generation of dysfunctional. Except Tillie, the younger daughter, just may be finding a way to change her destiny through a science project.
Into a dysfunctional vortex
Kind of feels like we’re in a deteriorating vortex. Spinning downward. While hoping for a return to normal life.
Because a few months ago, we were going down the paths of our normal lives. We made decisions and choices about tomorrow and the day after. Based on the, usually rather logical, assumption that things won’t be any much different a week, a month, a year from now. Life will continue to be normal.
That gave us a sense of stability. At least perceived stability.
To be sure, if you’re working for “the man” (and most of us are), then you’re never really more than a paycheck away from everything changing. We just don’t think of it that way. We assume the current job will continue to be there.
For small business owners, it’s a similar thing: We count on there being a reasonably steady flow of customers. We project income for the next year, basing the projection on how the past year went and how confident we feel about the future, as well as the world’s need for our offerings.
In regular times, it’s pretty easy to subscribe to a worldview that there’s enough to go around for all of us and that there’s more money where that last paycheck or invoice payment came from.
Then all became zero-sum
When everything goes topsy-turvy, the world suddenly appears to be of very limited resources. Meaning, for me to get the (fair) share I want and demand (and need), someone else has to go without theirs. Because limited resources! (More of my thoughts on this concept: Life: Zero-sum or something else?)
That doesn’t tend to engender impulses for sharing. Rather gets folks angry and into hoarding mode. First it was toilet paper. Then meat and canned goods. This week at Kroger, all the Marie Callender frozen pies were cleaned out.
Actions and reactions
When everyone is edgy and focused on number one, it becomes more important than ever how we act and react. Maintaining social distancing doesn’t make that any easier. Because everyone and everything becomes suspicious.
I go walking in the neighborhood. When others come down the sidewalk or street, it used to be you just moved over enough to not bump into each other.
Now, I’ll cross the street prior to meeting someone. Wide berth. At least 6’ apart. I’ll still wave and maybe exchange a few words, across the street.
But it feels weird to walk across the street when someone else is on the sidewalk. Feels like I’m being rude. Which is not at all on my mind.
Kroger, like other stores, instituted senior citizen hour first thing in the morning. The idea being for seniors to shop when the store was freshest, without worrying about running into “younger folks” and crowds.
Tried that a couple times, but the store was packed. Because seniors did in fact come out at that early hour. And with the occasional empty shelf, people were worried about where to find whatever they were looking for. Which slowed down movement or made it more erratic.
I went back to my usual preferred grocery shopping hours: mid-morning-ish. There are just fewer people in the store then. It’s pretty much like shopping before the pandemic started, except people wear masks and gloves now.
Fewer people in the store makes it less stressful for me and I can really use less stress right now.
The stress of living in a pandemic
We all have more stress today. Because of all the changes. Because we worry about getting COVID-19. Or worry about the things we’d like to or should do, but can’t right now.
Regardless of whether you believe COVID-19 is an existential threat or still stick to the story that it’s just the common cold (or regular flu), these are stressful days.
So on one level, I understand the folks who are protesting various closings. They’re stressed out and cling to the notion that if we just reopen, go back to ‘normal’, then all will be fine. The virus will go away.
Normal in this case of course means how life used to be for them up to a few months ago, before all this.
Also totally understand all the folks who have little choice but to show up to work in packed, often unsafe conditions (like meat packing plants). Because those jobs are hard and stressful on any day.
So no matter who you are or what you believe about this Coronavirus thing, life is definitely more stressful now. With no clear end in sight.
Which may explain why, when a beach, park or bar is opened, people flock there and crowd together. Just pretending that everything is back to ‘normal’. Look ma, no stress!
If we can’t see it, can it still hurt?
If I were COVID-19, I would absolutely love those fresh crowds. So much energy propelling virus laden droplets into the air and so many people packed close together to land on. In all that movement, you just know hands are going to be in so many places where they shouldn’t be (like the face), increasing the likelihood of viral contamination.
But you can’t see the little buggers. Which makes it easier to deny that there’s any problem at all.
On the other hand, a lost paycheck because we’re under stay-at-home orders is very visible. Directly felt when bills keep coming due. Plus most people don’t have huge bank accounts or trust funds to fall back on. They just have bills piling up.
Which is why we get the calls for getting people back to work. Come hell or high water.
Stress and fight and flight
I’ve worked with farm animals and know that stressed or spooked animals do strange things. Unexpected things.
So do wild animals. Take a flock of birds sitting in a tree. Nothing happening for a long time. A few birds come or go, but they’re mostly all just sitting there.
Now make a loud clapping noise. It’s instant takeoff. Whole flock in the air in seconds.
It’s the fight or flight response kicking in. The most primal part of the brain taking over.
People don’t have wings, but respond in much the same way. When we’re stressed and frightened, we get into a mode of either pushing for confrontation or fleeing it. Usually neither one a very helpful response in our modern society.
A reasoned, measured response is likely more appropriate. And helpful. You know, one where we analyze, consider options. Check facts. Think rationally. And then chart a path forward based on that process.
Except the fight/flight part of the brain takes over. Unless we start asking questions. In which case our inquisitive nature (a different part of the brain) takes over. We’re no longer in survival mode. Instead we’re able to use our creative faculties to deal with what’s facing us and find a way forward.
Finding the way back to a future new normal
In the play, that explains how Tillie was able to get herself on a path out of the downward spiral her mother and sister were in. Through her science project.
She was asking questions, gathering verified information, fact checking, forming a plan and taking an action. Not the full, complete life-changing action. But a first step. Then another. Managed to grow her marigolds and win a prize.
That approach helps get us out of the stress cloud and into being able to move forward, dealing with life in a constructive way.
This pandemic will pass. Great minds are at work to understand the virus and find ways to treat and deal with it.
What won’t happen is going back to exactly what was before. The old normal. Because that’s gone forever. We can however forge a new normal which can even be better than the old one. One where we are actually prepared to deal with pandemics.