The eye of the new norm
Week three at home begins
I am writing this post sitting on a couch completely surrounded by blocks, teething toys, wipes, pages slapped together with glitter glue, and an iPad that has way more apps this week than last.
It’s the end of week two of the quarantine in the United States and it’s felt a bit like reality has split from its originally-scheduled timeline and taken an entirely new tack. Just two weeks ago on Thursday, I was planning to come into the office on Friday, and then, on Thursday night, I was standing in line with hundreds of other panicked people at the grocery store, holding my eggs and milk in one hand, trying not to touch anything with the other.
Since then, I’ve potentially had COVID (or whatever it was, it’s thankfully mostly gone now), started working 100% remotely, had our daycare close and our nanny leave, and adjusted to a day that’s basically juggling calls and work and a preschooler and a baby, 24-7, alone with my husband in our island away from society.
We live on a fairly lively street, yet it feels these days like we are the only people in the universe. We go about our lives, taking our Amazon kipple into quarantine before it comes into the house, taking daily walks on the lonely, de-peopled streets, talking through sterile screens to relatives who aren’t there to see the baby’s first teeth emerge in person and friends who we can’t share wine with over a plate of appetizers at a restaurant.
Our problems are so, so minuscule compared to the other people, the people on the front lines of this thing. People who can’t socially isolate because they have to work, people who have already lost jobs in what’s shaping up to be an absolutely crushing recession, and people at the hospitals, at the delivery centers, dropping off our packages, at the edges of the infrastructure we are all now heavily leaning on.
And yet, every day it becomes psychologically harder for me to push past the wall of endless sameness and start my day, make up a math lesson, make baby food, run to my standup, manage to dash out a few emails, clean the dishes for the millionth time, and know that the same exact thing awaits me tomorrow, and every day for what’s looking to be the next month, at least.
I am probably most worried about my daughter. She’s old enough to understand, but not old enough be able to deal with not seeing her friends every day, being ripped away from her routine. I am worried that, like with many other kids of her generation, this will be her first significant defining memory of history.
And I am worried every time I read Twitter or the news about what’s happening. It all seems so vast, so large, and such an enormous and complete failure of the American political, economic, and healthcare systems, that I can’t bring myself to understand how this same country that gave us a moon landing, Silicon Valley (for all its current flaws), and, of course, the beauty of the all-you-can-eat buffet, is currently facing a medical crisis of disastrous proportions.
It feels so hard to think about anything normal, to write about anything remotely Normcoreish, and to refocus my attention away from the faceless, nameless awfulness out there to think about what annoying stuff tech companies are doing lately (and spoiler, it’s still a lot:)
So instead, I’m doing what I always do when I’m stressed out, which is watching Star Wars.
Star Wars has always had an important place in my life, as I wrote in this blog post a while back.
Being an introvert when you’re a successful respected working adult married to another introvert adult who loves you is easy. Being a lonely glasses-wearing, braces-grinding, book-reading, immigrant-kid sixth-grade introvert with an extremely poor body image who is not sure if anyone will think she is an ok human being was hard.
As a result, I spent a lot of 1997 at my local library.
I made my way through Judy Blume, then the Babysitters Club, and then after I ran out of books, I started browsing through the VHS rental stacks.
One day, I discovered the plastic packaging of the Star Wars trilogy on VHS, six tapes it was, I believe, held together with thick rubber bands.
I watched A New Hope on the tiny VCR/tv combo in my bedroom. I think it was on a weekend that my parents were out house-hunting. They always came back from these trips exhausted and dejected, and I mostly stayed reading or writing in my room.
To say that Star Wars moved me is an understatement.
The movie absolutely blew my mind.
It was completely different from anything I had ever seen in my entire life.
The inside of George Lucas’s mind expanded my pathetically small universe.
I watched New Hope eleven times before I had to return it to the library the next week, savoring each detail, trying to will myself to hold back in watching the other two movies.
Star Wars remains an important watch for me every year. Sometimes it happens around the holidays when I want to review the year. Sometimes in the summer around the Fourth of July. But always, I watch, and always, as I get older, I get both something comforting out of it, as well as something new.
This recent viewing, which happened on Disney+, what realized I got out of it is that I want to see people Handle Stuff.
Julia tweeted this earlier this week,
and I was reminded of a post I wrote much earlier, on competence, where I wrote about how rare it is to find people who know what’s going on and do what they’re supposed to be doing.
Competence is important. Competence is noticed and appreciated… competence is one of the qualities I value the most in individuals
In this viewing of Star Wars, I found that who I really appreciated were the X-wing pilots who attacked the Death Stars.
They’re not panicked, even when they’re up against the second Death Star with the energy shield still up (side note: Next time I’m out of Normcore ideas, I’m just going to rewrite one of my old posts and call it a sequel.) They calmly call out technical instructions. They watch out for each other. They gracefully turn and methodically pivot as they destroy TIE fighters, and they pause briefly to mourn for the fighter pilots who are destroyed as they continue on their mission.
It reminded me of the way Tom Wolfe described mentality of the early astronauts in his amazing book, The Right Stuff (read it if you haven’t yet, enormously strong and uplifting recommend.) The first astronauts were culled from fighter pilots who kept a cool bearing, knew what to do in an emergency, and had a surplus of confidence, even if all hell was breaking loose.
The first astronauts were in an an environment of absolute chaos, pressure, and enormous table stakes. But they persevered, innovated, and thrived under pressure to make the American space program legendary.
I am, it seems these days, made out of all the Wrong Stuff - anxiety, panic, and feeling useless.
I think I speak for the entire country when I say we could all use some of the Right Stuff now, and we could also use, like in Star Wars, a bit of a miracle, to get us through this next month.
For now, at least, there’s Disney+.
What I’m reading lately:
How do I and 320 million of my closest friends become Silicon Valley insiders? Asking for a friend.
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