In November 2021, as we wound down from our vulnerable yet necessary Revival theme, program director Matt Woods and I reflected on the upcoming year. We decided on the theme of “normal” late that summer; pondering about the changes in the workforce, Zoom University for those in school, and the new protocols in place for in-person events. We contemplated the effects of being in a pandemic for the second year in a row.
What would we be looking forward to as the holiday season was approaching? Thanksgiving, with all its lovely food and festivities? Maybe Black Friday, snagging a deal for Christmas? Or even Christmas day itself? Being around loved ones and family? Surely the holiday season vibes would find its footing?
Well, reader, I can assure you that it was almost none of the above. Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on all criminal charges. A school shooting at Oxford High School left four students dead and 11 injured. The U.S. surpassed 46 million cases of COVID-19, with 746,000 deaths.
And that was just in November.
Now post-holidays, I feel very meh about the topic of normalcy. In general. I feel very meh about most things right now actually. I am still shaking off the fog of the November Blues, November Blah, The Kickoff for the homecoming of Seasonal Depression. It gets dark outside way earlier now (yes! I know this happens every year!). But also we produce more melatonin so we’re a lot more sleepy, and it’s cold. I hate the cold (yes! I know I’m in Chicago!). These are the exact ingredients that do not bake into a productivity pie for me.
It also doesn’t help that for the past 4 years the holiday vibes felt off. Maybe it was graduating college, maybe it was entering adulthood where the holidays are actually not the carefree present-filled time from our youth, or maybe it’s my brain developing an awareness that some of the opinions of family members are actually not ♥holly jolly♥ at all.
Even the thought of writing this… I could not gather the enthusiasm to think critically about this topic, I guess? It was a catch 22. I could not gather the enthusiasm for quite literally anything. I was moving on physical autopilot, walking into intersections without even looking, crying on the CTA because there was so much inner turmoil with a side of overbearing numbness.
What does one write when it feels like there is nothing to say? I was wondering if this was writer’s block, on which Toni Morrison said: “I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.” But when was I supposed to get “it”? When things go back to normal?
I think back to the “Eye of Fire” that erupted in the Gulf of Mexico back in July. A gas leak sparked a swirling fire in the ocean that literally looked like a portal to hell only seen in fantasy films. Actor/writer Ryan Ken aptly pointed out how absurd it was that we’re supposed to see this ball of gorging fire in the ocean and then diligently go back to sending emails.
I guess it’s been normalized, going through all these collective traumatic events and then having to clock into work like it’s not affecting us. Hawaii faced a blizzard warning, with the last one happening in 2018. Ten people died at Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival after a crowd surge. As millions were struggling with unemployment and the ongoing pandemic, billionaires got $1.8 trillion richer and some even went to space.
Is gawking at the ocean being on fire, worrying about whichever sorority sister COVID has pledged, and raging about the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict really the absurd thing here? What on earth is supposed to be the normal reaction to this? What exactly would be the proper response to this? Is having a reaction really the most bizarre part of this situation?
What has been normalized is the dulling of our reactions to these absurd events so they do not affect work productivity.
But when does normalizing become dysfunctional?
I learned so much about grief and emotions in 2020-2021, and ironically, it’s during this time I felt I had the least amount of space to express it. It was no longer normal to react to the conditions one found themselves in.
So, Mildsauce invited five young journalists to reflect on the theme “Back to the Normal“. It’s been a very eye-opening experience watching these creatives reflect on very captivating topics. From investigating how photographers navigated normalcy, to questioning the very expectation of “normal” in society. Click here to see all the stories upcoming in our Normalcy issue.
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