The past year has been an exercise in mass compartmentalization: how can you take what’s happening around you, flatten it, then divide it into small enough sections that you can endure it? If you can just get through the summer, you’ll be okay. If you can just get through the week, you’ll be okay. If you can just get through the day, the afternoon, the hour.
Most of us have found ourselves in September functioning “okay,” if by “okay” you mean barely holding everything together and likely to fall apart with even one slight shift in our daily schedule, in our health, in our family’s financials or general well-being. But a lot of us haven’t. Our composure has disintegrated. Our health has too, either because of COVID’s immediate or longterm effects, financial catastrophes, unemployment checks that haven’t arrived, or hovering eviction. Our nerves are shot. We’re clumsier. I keep accidentally cutting myself while slicing vegetables. We lose things. We sleep less. Our stress overflows onto our kids. All of us are unraveling, but it’s happening so incrementally that it’s easy to ignore just how vulnerable we’ve become.
Our “surge capacity” — the ability, as science journalist Tara Haelle put it, to handle crisis — was already gone. And then the hurricanes, and the fucking inland hurricanes, and the record-breaking heat, and the fires started. Two of my close friends have lost family homes — one in Washington State, the other in California — over the last three weeks. I wake up every morning wondering if I feel like shit because of the smoke, because I have COVID, or because I’m just exhausted. Something has to give.
"habituation to horror" – Culture Study: