Post from August, 2020

Anxiety 2020

Sunday, 16. August 2020 22:48

Just when it seems time to turn away from the pandemic and politics of mid-2020, some other aspect rears its head and needs to be addressed—because, in addition to impacting lives, it impacts the making of art. And today that aspect is anxiety. You know, what you and I and many of us are spending a lot of time experiencing.

Even if it were a simple form of anxiety, it would be a problem, but the anxiety that we are facing as we head into the latter half of the year is complex and multi-faceted. And we might as well say from the outset that these anxieties that we are experiencing today are so closely related to depression that they might as well be the same thing.

These issues have a variety of causes, but almost all eventually relate to a sense of uncertainty and helplessness. First there is the anxiety associated directly with the COVID-19: will we catch it? If we catch it, how bad will it be? How will we pay for it? Who will look after the dog, the children, our parents? As if that weren’t enough, there is additional anxiety associated with reopening—venturing out of our houses, where we have felt relatively safe—to go back to in-person school, in-person business, in-person shopping.

And so we reach out, but the only really safe way to do that other than social media is through a video-chat service, such as Zoom. But it turns out that virtual video meeting is nothing like a face-to-face meeting and can also cause stress, and sometimes significant levels of stress. And that stress leads to anxiety, which adds to our pre-existing stack of anxiety.

So we turn to the internet and Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and we begin to scroll and that turns into doomscrolling (or doomsurfing)—i.e. searching for bad news. And the news we seek is not confined to COVID-19 or reopening. It can be related to politics and the coming election; it can be related to Black Lives Matter and social unrest in the cities; it can be related to the current situation with the USPS, particularly if we depend on the service to pay our bills or receive our medications; it can be related to climate change or international politics, or all of the above. And it turns out that doomscrolling can quite easily turn into a habit that can morph into an obsession which can induce even more stress.

And so the anxieties build. And, so far as I can tell, nobody is immune. Even those of us who are introverts, who naturally seek solitude are as subject to the host of anxieties as anyone else—because it’s not just about enduring solitude; it’s about everything that makes up the world of 2020.

So what can we do about it? The first thing is to recognize that we might be experiencing anxiety. Many of us live very close to the edge all the time; when we stand in the kitchen crying because an ice cube dropped on the floor, it’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong. The next thing we can do is get some help. Even if we don’t want to seek out professional help, there are coping guides available on the internet. Many are general and offered by reputable organizations, such as the CDC and the Mayo Clinic. Others are specific; for example, almost every article on doomscrolling offers advice on how to break the cycle, and others offer help with anxiety related to Zoom and other video chat services.

The other thing that we can do about it is engage in some activity. It sounds simplistic, but we might—even in the midst of the pandemic—take up a new hobby, or renew an old one. I know at least one person who has done that. Or we, particularly those of us who are artists, might engage in our art. No, it’s not easy, particularly when we are spending all our time and effort worrying about all that is stressing us out. But if we can force ourselves to take that first step and write or paint or edit or photograph or sculpt or compose something, we will be the better for it. Starting is the hard part; once we begin, old habits take over, and we may soon find that our anxiety lessens as out concentration on creating increases.

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Stop Waiting

Sunday, 2. August 2020 23:11

A lot of us are sitting around waiting for normality to return. Then, we say, we will get back to work; things will be just like they were, and life will go on. And some of us think that will be really soon now. Not to be a doomsayer, but I don’t think that’s going to happen—at least not any time soon. The optimists who are saying that we will be back to normal in a few weeks have not looked at history. The most similar pandemic to the current one was the 1918 flu pandemic. That pandemic had lasted two years, had four waves, infected 500 million people, and killed between 17 and 50 million. If COVID-19 is remotely similar, we are looking at a long time of staying home, social distancing, and mask-wearing.

And we might as well face it: normal is not coming back—at least not normal as we knew it. Even when a vaccine is developed, things will not be the same as they were. The economy will have been altered. Society will be different. We have to remember that we in the US are not only dealing with COVID-19, we are also dealing with an extreme political situation and with a movement calling out racial inequality and police brutality. The world will not be the same on the other side of this; we will not be the same.  And the primary reason for that is that when this is ever over—assuming that it ever is over—we not only will be living in a different world, but we ourselves will have been changed by what we have been through.

You may already feel the difference. Many of us are not the same people that we were five months ago. We have endured stresses that we never expected to encounter. We have had to learn new skills in order to survive. We have changed our lifestyles. Some of us have changed the way we think, particularly about political and social issues.

And the future is fuzzy at best. For example, even when we feel comfortable putting a new play on the stage, the audience may not feel comfortable sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to see it. That may take a while longer. It certainly may take a while before actors are comfortable being intimate either on the stage or in front of a camera. Art galleries where we used to display our painting, sculpture, and photography may no longer exist, their owners having had to find other means of making a living. So we don’t know what the world will be like.

Like Vladimir and Estragon, we are waiting for something that likely is not coming. So perhaps waiting is not the best choice. Perhaps doing is the best choice. There is nothing to keep us from making art: writing, drawing, painting. Just thinking and planning constitute artistic doing, as does adapting our work to the world as it is today (which may be one of the most valuable things we can do).

But what if we spend our time doing all that and it comes to nothing? That is certainly a possibility, but, having exercised our creativity, we are in a much better place, both mentally and artistically, than if we had just sat and waited. Stop waiting; start doing.

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