Is it weird to say that during the first year of the pandemic I didn’t feel that much more isolated than I did before?
At the time I did night shifts in a convenience store selling snacks, cigarettes, alcohol, and occasionally groceries. This work was deemed essential for the proper functioning of the nation so it was declared my patriotic duty to go in “As Normal” during this abnormal time.
Sure, I couldn’t see my friends or family when and how I’d like to. But that was not an unfamiliar feeling. The shop which employed me was chronically understaffed. In the past I had spent many months trapped in overtime vortexes – solo night shifts daisy chained together into the far, far distance. And I’ve had it relatively easy. I’ve seen co-workers dissolve their relationships and their mental health into 60+ hour work weeks – human connection melting into lonely barcode beeps.
Of course not everyone has had the same experience.
I would hear often from customers – people who were furloughed or who had no employer to furlough them – how disorientated and alone they felt.
Usually, it was easy to feel bad for them. Particularly those whose minds unravelled and started getting tangled up in all manner of outlandish conspiracies. Covid slithering down through telephone wires. Lost in their own personal sci-fi horror.
However, I must confess some of the customers I grew to resent. I recall one well off regular who would frequently whine to me how cooped up she felt and how lucky I was to be going in “As Normal.” At the time my co-workers and I were being overworked even more than usual. It took some restraint not to offer to trade places. I could get paid 2-3 times more to sit at home, write a novel, and go for daily walks in the park. She could take a pay cut and familiarise herself with the stores twice hourly Covid cleaning regime – the sting of cheap hand sanitiser washing into tiny cuts and the bits of frayed skin you always get in corners of your finger nails.
Not everyone had the same experience in 2020.
Just as not everyone had the same experience in the years before or after.
Sometimes on my days off I would speak to my disabled friend via Zoom. They would tell me how hurt and alienated they felt. Everyone was describing being stuck in their homes most of the day as unbearable torture. But for them this was just normality. They cant be on their feet for more than short distances. They work from home. They’re relationship with their family is strained. Once a day they get into their wheelchair and take their dog for a walk. Otherwise they’re inside. Isolated.
Was this situation only unacceptable now because it was happening to “Normal” people?
Here is something I made from footage of a kettle boiling and some beavers swimming in Ljubljana Zoo.