In the pandemic’s early weeks, my favorite meme was a vertical list of the days of the week — Monday through Sunday — with the first syllable of each word scribbled out, leaving just day, day, day, day, day, day, and day.
I’ve worked from home for 27 years and am long accustomed to the days blending into one another, work becoming home, home becoming work, weekends and weekdays blurring around the edges. But during the pandemic, even I have found myself struggling to identify the day of the week like some shipwreck survivor on a desert island. While I never resorted to etching daily slashes in the sheetrock with a sharpened stick, I can’t say it didn’t cross my mind.
The pandemic foisted the amoebic nature of time on us further by stripping away the markers we’ve always associated with specific parts of the week. Having friends over for dinner? It must be Saturday. Breakfast in town is a Sunday thing. Going to First Friday? That’s… well… Friday. Whereas during COVID, the Hoyt social calendar has been left to the professional meteorologists, turning mostly on whether it will rain or how hard the wind will blow.
A couple of months into this ordeal, the sameness of the days began to take a strange toll on me. In the Before Times, I’d never go for a walk without my trusty handheld voice recorder. When I’m on my feet and moving my brain goes into ‘create’ mode. Ideas for jokes, stories, and radio shows flow, and I happily yak away as I stroll along, barely noticing the passersby who cross the road to avoid “the guy who talks to himself.” I was a poster child for social distancing before it was even a thing!
Then the pandemic hit. I was blown away by the explosion of creative energy happening online and looked forward to it washing over me in a flood of inspiration. Any minute now, I’d be recording hilarious play-by-play coverage of our neighbors’ sheep racing for their dinner. Any day now, comedy sketches celebrating the Rise of the Introverts would burst from my flying fingers.
By May the creative spigot in my brain had pretty much switched off. I put my radio show on hiatus. I no longer brought my voice recorder on walks, and my computer keyboard grew cobwebs. When people asked how I was doing I’d spool out a nothing answer with a side of flip: “Oh, pretty good… You know… Considering…” with no way for them to know my trailing ellipses silently implied “… except for COVID and racism and sexism and the state of American Democracy.” Evasive but on brand.
By autumn I was answering the question more honestly. “This blows!” I’d blurt. Almost immediately, I started feeling better, and so, so many friends began to fill in their own trailing ellipses.
I think this pandemic has wreaked a unique kind of mental havoc on each of us. For quite a while it was like I was living that nightmare where no matter how hard I run, the door to safety at the end of the hallway doesn’t get any closer.
But then I got a real shot in the arm… in the form of a real shot in the arm! Your mileage may vary, but it really felt to me like that second needle had miniature morale-rockets mixed in with the vaccine. The door at the end of the hallway feels closer now.
Reflecting back on the past year, I think my brain just needed a freaking break! Instead of using walks to ruminate on ideas, I’ve used them to gaze at the water, listen to the birds, or immerse myself in music. And it’s working! I’m coming out of creative hibernation at last. Ideas are popping again (this Beachcomber series, for example) and in the coming weeks, I’m finally going to launch the podcast I’ve been putting off for years.
When we get back, I wish for our diligence and patience. We must take care not to invite a backlash by dancing in the streets too soon, and be gentle with our dormant but well-rested mojos as they stagger unsteadily out of cold storage. When those first tentative hugs return, we may be like awkward teenagers at first, collectively living inside a John Hughes coming-of-age film. There will be laughs. There will be tears. Probably best to just embrace the embrace and play it as it lays.
So yeah. This will be a weird trip out, but hey — it was a weird trip in.
Me? I’m finally looking for a calendar that has all the days on it again.
Jeff Hoyt is a writer, audiobook narrator and the long-time program director of Voice of Vashon.