Earlier today I saw a very innocent question on Twitter, and I was surprised by the immediacy and intensity of my negative reaction.
It doesn’t seem like I should be surprised by my reaction, because I frequently find myself reacting to things in the world with immediate, intense negativity; it is, as the youths say, my entire mood*. But it did seem a little strange that this question, which is presumably designed to give everyone who reads it a five-minute brain break to think about something nice that they’re looking forward to, caused instant stress. Because as you’d expect, most of the responses centered around the traveling or close personal contact that so many of us have been avoiding, and missing, since the spring. Those things are lovely! I miss those things too! I want to do them! Why does thinking about them make me tense?
Partly, it’s because it’s inherently sad to think about these things, because there’s no way to think about them without also thinking about how you have zero idea of when you’ll be able to do them. But partly, it’s because of the New Year’s Eve paradox.
Every year, you and your friends are like, “What are we doing for New Year’s?” Because it is a night for FUN. We are going to PARTY and have THE BEST TIME. We are going put on our finest, sparkliest clothes, and go to an exciting place full of brilliant, beautiful people, and drink champagne and dance, and the cocktails will always be perfectly chilled and no one will have to take their news shoes off because they caused a horrible blister and then forget the shoes under a table when they stagger tipsily into the night at 3AM. IT’S GOING TO BE AMAZING WILD THE BEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR WE ARE GOING TO PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999.
But by virtue of the fact that we have loaded the night with such high expectations, it can do nothing but disappoint them. Someone’s new shoes will always give them a blister. And that’s the paradox. The pressure created by the act of hype means the reality will never live up to the dream.
(Possible caveat: maybe it does for rich people? I don’t know, not being one of them. But it seems like if anyone was gonna make this work out, it’s the offensively wealthy.)
And this is what stresses me out about that question. Do I want to immediately do all the traveling I haven’t done over the past year, eat in all the restaurants, see all the family? Of course I do. Do I want to think about it now? I do not. I don’t want to turn it into a fantasy, and then have the dream spoiled by the inevitable flight delay or meh plate of chicken. My one wild and precious life is too important to be spoiled by meh chicken.
In this particular situation, I also don’t want the pressure of planning. Every single day of 2020 has been a new and horrifying kind of pressure, be it physical or psychic or political. I’m not emotionally capable of adding to that, even if the end game is a joyous family reunion with the new niece who I still haven’t gotten to meet but who refuses to do me the courtesy of not growing any more until I can get to New Jersey for a visit.
I also am totally serious about the luxury of doing mundane things. I want go to the gelateria and not worry if the person standing next to me is breathing virus into my hair. I want to go for a walk along the river with the dog and not be mad at the joggers who pass WAY TOO CLOSE WITH THEIR OPEN-MOUTH PANT-Y BREATHING DO THEY NOT KNOW ABOUT THE PANDEMIC.
Sorry. I have a thing with the joggers. #NotAllJoggers, but they know who they are.
My suggestion is that we each take 5 minutes now to plan a very humdrum few hours for our first pandemic-free afternoon. Things that we’re not emotionally invested in and that therefore cannot let us down. Things that we normally wouldn’t think much about, but that create a kind of quiet pleasure when we stop to think about how nice it is to just to them without constantly thinking about how far apart we’re standing or how many people touched that doorknob or whether the guy two seats over has a tickle in his throat or Coronavirus. Go do some banking in person, with a teller! Drop that bag off at the Goodwill. Take your car to get washed, finally.
It’s a win-win: your first post-Covid afternoon will meet every single expectation you had, and you’ll have gotten some errands out of the way so you can embark on your grander plans without worrying about whether the bank still accepts rolls of pennies.
* My actual entire mood is “severely overthinking tweets.”