The calendar is creeping back toward March 13, a date that now feels definitive and fateful in my memories and, it seems, on a cellular level, too. I see loaves of sourdough bread popping back up in my Instagram feed, parents posting photos of their children playing in the early spring sun while admitting that four years on, they still feel seized by an existential sense of dread when the days begin to lengthen. In March 2020, we instantly realized that we weren’t sure anymore what was safe or promised to us, if we’d ever had the privilege of believing so. (I would argue that across the sociopolitical spectrum, we still don’t know, or if we feel we do, we aren’t willing to hear anyone else’s perspective on it.)
As Jon Mooallem explains it in his recent piece on spending time with a Covid oral history project: “Anomie sets in when a society’s values, routines and customs are losing their validity but new norms have not yet solidified.”
Put another way, that “normlessness” left us all hungry in early 2020 for a frame of reference, a clear list of guidelines, a way to bring meaning to our suffering and fear and uncertainty.
And yet here we are in spring 2023, and despite the ways in which we consider the pandemic “over” to varying degrees, we’re still mired in limbo. Mooallem’s explanation of this felt, to me, like gears clicking into place: “We tend to gloss history into a sequence of precursors that carried society to the present — and to think of that present as a permanent condition that we’ll inhabit from now on. We have started glossing the pandemic in this way already. But because we don’t totally understand where that experience has delivered us, we don’t know the right gloss to give it.”
But if we’re fortunate, or just trying to survive with our dignity and our sense of joy intact, we homed in on something clarifying from that muddled time — “repertoires of repair,” or practices meant to bring about some sense of normalcy.
I’ll end with this quote that is giving me great comfort as I consider how to make space for (and sense of) art as a part of my repertoire, from another interactive NYT piece published a year into the pandemic:
“I think if I could go back in time and give myself a message, it would be to reiterate that my value as an artist doesn’t come from how much I create. I think that mind-set is yoked to capitalism. Being an artist is about how and why you touch people’s lives, even if it’s one person. Even if that’s yourself, in the process of art-making.”Amanda Gorman