Weekend Worriers: Apocalypse diaries (week 2)

Thinking about what you’re going to do when the quarantine is all over is a sucker’s move.

It’s taking on the role of that police detective who is only one week from retirement, who gives a little speech about how he’s going to take his houseboat down to the Florida keys and really start living his life after he solves this one last case. It’s little Private First Class Johnny DiGiacomo waiting to storm the beaches at Normandy, telling his buddies in the boat how he’s got a sweetheart named Mabel waiting for him back home and she bakes the best apple pie you ever did taste. And how he can almost smell that pie right now, warm, steamy wafts of it floating through the air to him, stronger than the battlefield scents of gunpowder and flop sweat.

We’re only a few weeks into this global quarantine thing, but when you’re in the middle of something scary, the last thing you want to do is jinx yourself, like a character in a movie or TV show who is clearly just about to meet their doom. So you don’t let yourself think too far into the future.

It’s harder on the weekends. During the week, many of us are still working from home. It gives you structure, keeps you busy. Routine mostly suppresses all the negative speculation and worry. Mostly. But once the work week is done, you have to mix things up. As important as routine is, it’s just important to take a break from it. That’s why we have weekends. To do stuff for you. Write a blog. Listen to music. Fix things up around the house. Watch a movie. You replace being busy with being distracted. But it’s not as effective. Your mind starts to wander. You think about how long these lockdowns just might last and all the bad things that are still to come. And it scares you. So you try to think about positive things too, to balance things out.

In the back of your mind, you start to make resolutions. You can’t help yourself. You think about that trip you’ve always wanted to take. Maybe how you could finally write that book you never quite had time to get started on. Re-connect with old friends. Learn the guitar. When this is all over, maybe I’ll finally take a houseboat down to the Florida Keys….

…and just like that, you’ve become that character in a horror movie who goes to check out a mysterious sound, telling everyone “don’t worry, I’ll be right back.” You’re just asking for it. Or are you?

It’s really hard not to be superstitious and anxious during a global pandemic. The safest bet is probably to turn your brain off and alternate between busy-work and distraction. No thinking. No planning. No jinxing. Turn off your feelings and your ambitions and hide yourself away. People with big hopes and dreams and who think too much suffer more. They’re asking for trouble.

It’s such a strong cautionary impulse, that I’m having a hard time even writing about it. Is blogging about how I’m not thinking too much about what I’m going to do after the pandemic a jinx? Or maybe the whammy would really come from thinking about blogging about what I’m going to do after the pandemic but not doing it? It’s enough to hurt your brain.

Everybody says you’ve got to stay positive. But do you do that by keeping your head down and getting concentrating on the tasks and chores in front of you, or by allowing yourself to hope and to plan for the future?

It comes down to surviving versus living. 

I’m an anxious flyer, so when I’m on a long-haul flight, I do everything I can to tune out and turn off my brain. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and watch movie after movie. Play a videogame. Take a valium. Anything to get me through and not leave me alone with my thoughts and anxieties. But even the longest flights end eventually. You can only shut yourself down with distractions for so long. What we’re going through now – nobody knows how long it’s going to last. I don’t think I can turn myself off for weeks and months.

There’s an old adage that goes: “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”

It’s a saying I’ve always hated. It makes God into an adversary. A killjoy. A jerk. Someone out to thwart us rather than enable us. Whichever God you believe in, he or she surely would want you to make plans. It’s within those plans, hopes and dreams that you’re more likely to find God. There’s no holy book in the world that says things like: “Just live your life and keep out of trouble. Don’t rock the boat. That is God’s word.”

So this weekend, I’m going to try to ignore that voice in the back of my head, that tells me that having ambitions is the same as asking for trouble. So here I am, writing this blog and accepting any negative juju that might come with it – but hopefully won’t. And I suppose I’m tempting fate in other ways too. I just started learning to play guitar. So far, I suck, but I’m trying. And I’m thinking about the future. It’s scary to admit right now, but I have the ambition that – at some point in my life – I want to live in Italy. There, I’ve said it. Yes, Italy, which is suffering more than any other country right now and I don’t want to jinx them or jinx me, but you also have to have a little faith that someday things will be better.

Am I going to wind up like the policeman who is going to get killed one week from retirement? Or the solider who is never going to taste their sweetheart’s apple pie again? I certainly hope not. I’m still washing my hands and keeping social distance and doing all the things we’re meant to do to keep safe during all of this. But I don’t think entirely hiding away and refusing to have any hopes or plans are going to help keep me any safer. When times are tough, you have to believe that God is there rooting for you to fulfil your plans someday, rather than laughing at you for daring to have them.

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