May 27: I began this Diary on February 10 in order to organize my thoughts about a situation that was at turns confusing and terrifying. To process events and manage thoughts and emotions which could not be resolved by my real-time inner monologue or tamed by my usual coping skills. Writing is, ultimately, the best form of therapy in my experience, and I have gotten almost 120,000 words worth of therapy out of this.
But it’s time to end it, at least as a daily exercise. There may be some periodic Pandemic Diary entires going forward as events warrant — perhaps some longer form posts inspired by a single topic — but it won’t be a regular thing. If you want to read the entire Diary from beginning to end, here it is as a single document. Here are all 74 individual posts.
I’m not ending it because I feel like, on any level, the pandemic is over. Our leaders and the media may have begun speaking about it in the past tense, but their doing so is an exercise in either conscious or tacit propaganda. They’re declaring the pandemic over because they simply want it to be over. They are reopening things and are attempting to impose normality on society because they are simply unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to properly combat COVID-19. Even if it means obscuring the facts, cooking the books, and allowing thousands to die by virtue of their decision to deny reality.
Reality, though, is pretty indifferent to those who would deny it, so people will keep dying even if people in power do everything they can to push those deaths out of view. The pandemic will continue. Likely for a very long time.
So no, I’m not ending the Diary because I think we’re back to normal now or believe that we should be. I’m ending it, for the most part, because the exercise has ceased to be a therapeutic one.
As is the case in any crisis or time of upheaval, everyone eventually begins to find their gravity and I have probably found mine. My routine and my family’s routine is not anything close to what it was before all this, but the constant uncertainty and pitched anxiety of before has morphed into something approaching a dreary sameness with anxiety sprinkled on as a topping. At the very least it has achieved something approaching predictability and there isn’t as much about it that requires or bears daily analysis in this format. I’m probably already repeating myself and I don’t want to do that if it can be helped.
The other primary topic of this Diary — what the government and society are doing in response to it all — is still a raging trash fire, but if the Diary were to continue to focus on that stuff in the micro detail in which it has to date, it would morph into more of a daily political blog than it already is. That’s not anything I ever really intended on it being.
There is probably a need for that, but I don’t think I’m the person to do it. I’ll piss into the wind like any good blogger on any number of topics but the stakes of the pandemic — the death and the sorrow — is starting to take a mental toll on me and will only get worse if I continue with it. There are already enough obvious reminders of just how callous and indifferent the powerful are to the weak and the vulnerable in our society that my continuing to seek more of them out in order to write about them is starting to become an exercise in masochism. I need to disengage from it in some ways. I need to spend less time in that darkness.
Less negatively: I have some other things I want to do. Mostly other writing projects.
Back in February, right after the stuff about my kids going viral, well, went viral, I began talking to some people in publishing about the possibility of putting together a book of essays. Some about my family, some about myself, some about the world. There was no set plan or offer. No agent or publisher has approached me or anything like that. But a couple of writers who I respect have looked at what I’ve written over the years and told me that I owed it to myself to see what I could make out of it all. Maybe that’s ultimately nothing, but I feel like with a good bit of work I could put a proposal together for something publishable and I feel like I should give it a try.
If that doesn’t work, I started a silly crime novel last fall and wrote exactly one chapter but it was a pretty good chapter.
If that doesn’t work a lot of people have told me that there is a book in this Diary. I am a bit skeptical of that — this has been all so immediate and subjective and bloggy that I don’t know if it’s really readable as a book — but if I can’t do anything else, maybe I’ll work on that. No matter the case, stuff like that will take up a lot of my free time and giving up the Diary is a good tradeoff to that end.
But even if this Diary has run its course, and even if I have other things to work on, I’m sad to see it end.
Having a daily routine in which I forced myself to put all of the thoughts bouncing around my head into writing helped me get through an extremely stressful and challenging time. I’m not sure I would’ve made it with my sanity intact without writing my way through it.
Still, it has caused me a great deal of discomfort at times. Mostly because it forced me to accept some things — truths about our country, its people, its values, and its future — that I have tried hard not to think about in recent years.
Americans are well-versed in the notion of American exceptionalism. I’m certainly no exception to that. As a white middle class man who grew up around people who had lived through a depression and a world war and who, despite some pretty dubious family history, managed to prosper in postwar America, I was presented with a pretty strong case for America being the best country in the world. For as naive and privileged as it is to think that way, I was brought up to believe that there was nothing we could not do if we, collectively, put our minds to it.
An education, some life experience and listening to people who were not as privileged as I was disabused me of the notion of American exceptionalism many years ago. But I still believed that if the shit really hit the fan like it does once or twice every century and truly threatened us collectively that the country would and could come together to face it and overcome it.
In light of that, watching our nation fail in real time to meet the challenge of COVID-19 — hell, to actively refuse to even attempt to meet it — has been heartbreaking. My faith in America had been on shaky ground for some time. Since not long after 9/11, probably. But it wasn’t completely shaken until now.
All of the time I’ve had on my hands these past couple of months has caused me to look at America with new eyes. And, with those new eyes, it seems inescapable to me that history will record the period of 2001-2020 as the fall of the American Empire. The time when America’s leadership in the world came to an end and justifiably so. Maybe we can quibble on the exact dates — maybe the rot began to set in much longer ago than I’m prepared to admit — but our disastrous failure in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic will undoubtedly stand as our Waterloo.
Given the wealth and military power of our country and given how the inertia of history works it will be easy for people to deny that for some time, but it will be impossible for anyone who looks closely to do so. I’m glad I’ve taken this time to look closely, even if it’s been hard to look.
Finally, I’ll be sad that I won’t be able to write this every day for you.
In normal times this site gets a small but steady trickle of readers each day. More when I write something I promote on Twitter or when something goes moderately viral, but the baseline isn’t tremendously large. When I started the Diary that baseline began to grow steadily and, just this past week, peaked at a level higher than the site has ever seen. The most-read entry in the entire Diary was this past Sunday. There wasn’t any particular reason for that. No big site or account shared it or anything. Hell, Sundays are usually slow days anyway. The Diary has simply become a daily habit for a lot of people.
A lot of people who have reached out to me about it, sending me emails or DMs telling me that reading it was therapeutic for them too. People telling me that that I was putting into words a lot of things they were feeling but which they might not have been able to express. Ask any writer and they’ll tell you that there is no higher praise than that. It’s the entire point, in fact.
Writers tend to live an isolated existence in a lot of ways. Physically. Mentally. Both. Most of us write to transcend that isolation. To share our thoughts and feelings with others and hope against hope that some of them resonate. We write in hopes of discovering that we are not crazy to think those things in the first place. We write to make a connection of some kind.
The Pandemic Diary has done that for me. Thank you so much for taking a bit of time to sit down and read it each day.
Featured Image: Michael Klajban, Wikimedia Commons