How’s it going?
I wanted to see how things around the world were going in the time of COVID-19, so I asked some of the amazing people I’ve met along the way of my three year walkabout the earth some questions about what they were going through, what they were feeling, and what they were seeing. I got perspectives from seven friends: Anastasia in Bratsk, Russia; William in Cape Town, South Africa; Mike in London, England; Frauke in Schilde, Belgium; Sydney in Missouri, U.S.A.; Nino in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia; and a friend who wished to remain anonymous in Tradate, Italy.
I asked them to describe the feeling of their atmosphere in three to five words. I expected to get results that evoked feelings of chaos, especially after watching the shit-storm that the U.S. is going through. Much to my surprise, the overwhelming feeling/emotion/concept they described was that of calm—that word was literally the one they used the most, calm. Quiet, refreshing, and peace tied for second place. On the flip side, my friend Anastasia in Russia didn’t have great things to report, and she wrote back that her environment felt “selfish and cowardly.” But that’s just 1 out of 7 who felt her town in a state of tension as opposed to a state of release. Maybe the longer things go on, the atmosphere will shift to one of strife and struggle and frustration (we’ve already seen protests taking place in the U.S.), but for the time being, stillness is the name of the game.
Perhaps because they are all level-headed, educated, and introspective people to begin with is why they’re seeing their atmosphere as calm and peaceful. Or perhaps it’s because everyone has replaced the time they would normally spend on social interactions with time spent on proven stress-reducing activities. Exercise was on everyone’s list and meditation was a close second. Cooking healthy, journaling, and reading where also on nearly everyone’s list. But, these activities aren’t out of the norm for any of them, really; they just get more time doing them.
Where are your f*ucks worth spending?
With the forced downtime, some have a new perspective on where and what they were spending their energy on and if that energy was being spent wisely. William in South Africa had this to say: “In a way I’m glad not to be doing anything social. I’m traditionally a homebody so this has been nice for me. Also, it has opened my eyes to the ‘effort’ that I put in to doing things that I don’t really want to do.” William’s perspective reminds me of Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. Manson basically says you get to decide what your f*cks (i.e. your effort, your energy) are worth and where you should be spending them. Should you spend them on fulfilling activities? Things that bring you joy? Things that make you grow? Or should you spend them on people who suck your energy? Activities that leave you unsatisfied? It’s only for you to decide, but I think William is doing it right and taking a hard look at where he’s spending his f*cks.
As for jobs, all but one are still working in roles of teacher, train operator trainee, nurse, customer support director, software engineer, and research assistant. My girl Nino in Tbilisi was teaching art, but it didn’t translate well to an online environment, so she’s out of a job, for now. But, Nino is one of the, if not the, most positive persons I know, and her optimistic outlook at being out of work, and really the whole situation, is inspiring. “I spend more time doing things with my son. I am doing more art, reading and writing more, and participating in more international art projects. It all makes a positive impact and keeps my mind and soul healthy, and now I have time to get a clearer picture about what I want,” she wrote. Like William, Nino is using her downtime to figure out a few things about where she should spend her energy.
Sydney, my cousin in the U.S., is a nurse and is working in the wing of her hospital that houses the COVID patients, which they’ve aptly nicknamed COVID Country. When not at work, she’s spending her energy to maintain her sanity with daily walks, journaling, home-improvement projects, and meditation. Having witnessed firsthand the havoc that the virus can wreck to one’s health, Syd’s perspective is different than most because of her experiences, so her adherence to the stay-at-home order is next-level. She says it’s frustrating to hear of people taking unnecessary trips to the store or to have her friends invite her over for a BBQ, not taking the situation seriously and telling her she can wear a mask if that would make her feel better. When this is the case, Syd, appropriately assertive, asks her friends and family members to stay the f*ck home, lest one of them wind up in her care. But really, everyone should heed her advice and stay the f*ck home. We’ve got a great opportunity with few distractions; let’s take advantage—be introspective, get creative, read a book (be like Frauke in Belgium and reread the Harry Potter series for the “umpteenth” time), or learn something new.
Speaking of learning, my friend in Italy is an elementary school teacher and is still teaching. Her classroom has moved online, and she said her kids are doing ok, but she’s worried that the longer this goes on the less engaged her students may become. “Our concerns are not so much around if the students have access to online learning but more will they make and sustain the effort, especially if we have to do this for seven more weeks. It is tiring for all, looking at screens all day without the physical and social interactions that define a school,” she said. And, not only do the in-person interactions define a traditional school, they define our adult social lives.
What will things look like?
Personally, I question what in-person interactions will look like when we go back to “normal.” Word out of China is that you can go to a restaurant with a friend but have to sit at different tables. In Tbilisi, there are restrictions when driving, like no more than three people in a car and no one but the driver can be in the front seat. Mike out of London described what he has to do when it’s time to pay for stuff at his local shop: “The man who runs our local independent little health food shop has a non-passable barrier two meters (six feet for you Imperial users) before the checkout counter and thrusts the card machine towards you taped to a broomstick when it’s time to pay.” All of this reminds me of the saying “I wouldn’t touch it/you with a 10-foot pole.” We’re all accustomed to some form of touch, be it a handshake from a colleague or a friendly kiss hello from a friend, or something a little more spicy for those in a romantic relationship (how many babies are going to be born nine months from now?). So for people who dislike a hug as a greeting or the infamous French faire la bise (kiss on the cheek), maybe social distancing isn’t so bad. But for some of us, the lack of human touch, even platonic touch, makes us feel empty and disconnected from the world. At least, this is what I’m feeling, so maybe I’m projecting a bit, but nonetheless, the way we interact with others will likely change. I’m guessing there will be more situations where one person goes in for a hello-kiss and the other goes in with a handshake. Awkward!!
Luckily, we don’t have to wait for the future for awkward or strange things. Syd has seen people stealing masks from the hospital, William saw a guy in full SCUBA gear at a coffeeshop, and Frauke was having a hard time finding bananas. I’ve been doing strange things, like vacuuming my oven and disinfecting the bottom of my shoes. Everyone has taken to hand washing like their lives depend on it….oh, wait! It just might. One thing in common with everyone that wasn’t strange or awkward was connecting more with friends and family. Zoom, Google Hangout, FaceTime, and good ol’ Skype calls have increased for us all. And that sounds like one of the best ways we can spend our f*ucks.
I love that the friends I tapped for information seem content and accepting of the situation, that their coping mechanisms are healthy, and that they are taking some time to reflect on what is important in their lives. A big thank you to Nino, Sydney, Anastasia, William, Mike, Frauke, and the Italian (who wished to remain anonymous) for answering my questions and allowing me to share your stories.
To everyone: Be good to yourselves and each other. Much, much love!