Updated: May 1, 2021
Today, every day is about waiting; waiting for the corona measures to ease, waiting for replies to poetry submissions, waiting for responses to job applications, waiting for something somewhere to shift. 8 months of unemployment and nothing but immovable waiting. I started to write a book, then started a reading schedule to get me inspired and informed, but the exhaustion of perpetually waiting is just too much to keep the energy going.
The project now lies in wait, inchoate; its structure finished, its themes partly formed, little snippets of chapters scattered, catching digital dust. I don't have a writer's block per se, I know where it is going. I know the outline of every chapter and can jump in anywhere I want and still have enough room to play around or improvise a bit. However, every time I try to cut through the waiting by actually returning to the project I find myself interrupted and unable to get back into it. In theory, I am in full control of how I spend my time, but the constant pressure of job searching, of waiting for something to work out, of thinking about how to move forward if my current options turn out to be dead ends, of adapting to new dates for exams, interviews etc. all of it devours the energy needed to be seriously productive or creative. I have written more poems these few months than I have during the entirety of 2019 and 2020, most of them good even. I always felt academia was holding me back creatively and have been proven right on that account. However, the experience of looking for work during a pandemic has completely marred this new creative flourish.
Time feels dilated yet strangely diminished. These eight months feel like years but the events that occurred during them feel flattened; In the moment, something might be different, new and exciting but afterwards it will not stand out, nor feel like a progression or alteration. Every notable event, from graduation, to Halloween, Christmas, Easter and my own birthday seems interchangeable, repetitious in hindsight. We may have had a uniquely snowy winter, but my memory of the period is entirely monochromatic, its textural and sensory aspects are blurred and mesh into the same unflinching wall of sameness. The pictures I took of the holiday decorations, the snowy landscape, the budding spring, come across as uncannily distant, the memory of these fluctuations in the regular day to day is muted and unreal, faded like a dream. Similarly, creative endeavours might feel like a sudden resuscitation in the moment, but afterwards they all blend together and fail to make this period feel any more creative or productive.
The ways of the world are not helping to make sense of this personal haze. There is an eerie dissonance between horrific corona scenes from countries like Brazil and India and the impatience to ease the measures in the West. It makes our progress with vaccination and lock down measures feel fragile, sometimes imprudent. Don't get me wrong, unlike my somewhat intolerant attitude in February, I am increasingly sympathetic to people who want life to return to a sense of normalcy because of the cost this pandemic has taken on their mental health and livelihoods. However, the whole thing feels uncomfortably familiar; with new variants on the rise, vaccinations being completely absent in some parts of the world and the easing of precautions becoming more and more ubiquitous, every change for the better still feels like it could land us in a similar situation to the second half of 2020 and plunge us into new periods of extended lock down.
Mental health-wise, things shift in unexpected and sometimes unfortunate ways. Before lock down, I had somewhat resigned myself to having lost most of my student years to depression and the recovery from it, but the whole corona crisis has revealed the scope of the loss and the ways in which I lazily sabotaged my ability to recover some of the experiences I had missed out on. Through the lens of 2021 it seems absurdly wasteful that during my final few years I almost never went out to enjoy the social, intellectual, emotional, creative aspects of the student lifestyle, even though my mental health was more than capable of dealing at that point.
In fact, the whole period from teenage years to adolescence to the last few months before the pandemic feels like a colossal vacuum of experience and grimly barren due to the absence of genuine living. The corona crisis has made clear how my previous prioritisation of comfort over adventure, of familiarity over newness has stunted my emotional, intellectual and creative growth for many many years. I may have had the valid excuse of depression, emotional volatility and profound insecurities for most of that period, but that excuse doesn't hold up during the last three years pre-pandemic, when I was more than capable to make up for what I had previously denied myself, and still chose to cower in my dorm and home and live vicariously through media, literature and art, instead of experience life first hand.
This realisation has been accompanied by an increasing sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out, a central part of my depression years) as I hear more and more stories of people finding each other and having profoundly intimate experiences, even during the pandemic. This leads me to fear that the pandemic might be less of a limitation to genuine living than I have made it out to be; in other words that I am once again subconsciously sabotaging my ability to get to know life first hand and am using the pandemic as an excuse not to have to engage with the risks and uncharted territory of going out and having a new experience. Similarly, my post-Covid exhaustion and fatigue sometimes seems psychosomatic, a fabrication to excuse my increased passivity and a relapse into self-sabotaging socially isolated living when the measures are finally eased and the previous excuse falls away. The dissonance between my desire for comfort and safety and my yearning for new experiences, growth and changing scenery has long been fundamental to my mental health issues and will need to be resolved at some point, but therein lies the rub. Resolution is perpetually postponed due to the tenacious obstacles of circumstance.
During my depression years, this absence of progress engendered an oppressive sense of being trapped by the inflexibility of personal limitations, societal problems, social and family dynamics etc. This feeling has made an insidious comeback. I feel my options becoming more limited, I feel the world falling into a chaos that cannot be shut out, I feel my personal inflexibility looming over what life might be like post-pandemic and once again am fearful of my own limitations.
That being said, I lack the energy to turn the tide on my own. Everything is tied down by the necessity of waiting. The ability to finish my project/book, for example, depends on me being able to reliably demarcate my time and write consistently for at least a couple of months, but this cannot happen unless I escape the uncertainty of unemployment and find a job with regular and reasonable hours. So, I wait and constantly look for job offers, apply, apply and keep applying to then perpetually wait for the responses. The constant pressure to keep looking, keep applying, keep preparing, keep improving etc. drains away all my energy, especially as the waiting continues and the dead ends pile up. The same can be said for my poetry submissions. The writing itself is a relief from the strain of everything, but the desire to be read demands that I submit my work to magazines. Once again, this means more waiting, rejection, adaptation, resubmitting and again waiting. Every now and then an acceptance brightens the day, but the constant waiting wears down one's spirits and makes even the most generous acceptance feel underwhelming.
Finally, there's the waiting for a return to 'normal' almost everyone has to endure these days. This kind of waiting is becoming unbearable thanks to the constant news barrage of pessimism, recklessness and undermining stubbornness. The vaccination in poorer parts of the world is extremely limited thanks to private companies wanting to profit from vaccine patents (Thanks Bill). In the West, anti-vaxxers are becoming ever more prominent and are undermining our ability to establish some kind of herd immunity against Covid. The virus is mutating rapidly and more infectious, more deadly variants are becoming widespread. All of this, and the growing uncertainty about what kind of 'genuine living' will be possible personally makes the wait feel like genuine torture. Normality seems ever more distant and brittle. Bars, pubs and clubs may reopen, mask rules may become more flexible, but the spectre of this pandemic (or the next) doesn't seem to be going anywhere. We are eager to find out what life is like on the other side of this; what new and exciting options might be open to us, socially, emotionally, romantically, sexually, culturally, economically and politically in the Brave New World of post-corona, but for now, all that energy remains suspended in anticipation, burning away our resilience, our solidarity, our ability to stay hopeful or engaged. When the time comes, we might find that nothing has changed; we might find that we have become different people in a different world, for better or worse; or that the more things change the more they stay the same. Either way, all we can do now is wait. Or so it seems.