Mid-February. That was when I first compared this year to a nightmare rollercoaster ride. Not sure of the exact date (I could dig up the text I wrote to somebody, but meh.) The point is, that impression has strengthened a thousand times over since then.
Do you know the kind of nightmare I mean? The kind of dream where you didn’t even want to go on the ride but you’re still strapped into your seat and can’t escape? Where the cars, containing everyone you know & love, sloooowly climb up that super-steep hill, and the whole way up you can see the ride is on fire? Oh, and it’s storming with tornadoes so everything is swaying in high winds & being hit by lightning, and maybe there was also an earthquake because the whole structure will collapse into a yawning void at any second?
Doesn’t sound familiar? Maybe I’m the only one who has dreams like that. ANYway. There’s a very specific feeling that goes along with those dreams. And I’ve been getting those feels while I’m awake since about mid-February.
For weeks I kept hoping things would improve, that measures would be taken to prevent disaster, that various situations wouldn’t deteriorate. (Optimist, me)
Now the RealLife Flaming Rollercoaster ™ is going through stomach-inverting loops every day. Are we going off the rails at high speed with our known lives falling into ash as we plummet into a terrifying chasm of a future? DON’T ASK ME! I DON’T KNOW.
This post isn’t about answers or facts. It’s about feels. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever felt like this. Not even the second or third.
Passover & Easter happened last week. (Wait! Bear with me, I promise there’s a point.) I celebrate neither religious holiday as such, but I do have annual traditions, one of which is the Easter Weekend Viewing of The Ten Commandments.
Fairly late in the movie, a child asks
Super-dramatic Charlton Heston Moses something important and relevant. “How is this night different from all other nights?” he asks. It’s part of the Passover seder, that question, but it also made me think: how is this catastrophe different from all other catastrophes?
(Thinking is dangerous, I know, yet here we are.) This time is different, but it isn’t unique. I am way too familiar with this wrenching sensation of the world changing in horrific ways.
The timeframe of my life brackets multiple genocides, military conflicts, political overthrows, and momentous natural disasters. Also in the history books: assassinations, terrorism, and more exploded economic bubbles and demolished dreams than I have digits to count on. Most of the events were distant, but many left deep scars and shaped my life.
But only a few events gave me this same feeling that reality has come unhinged and is swinging loose in the winds of fate. Beacuse reasons, I decided to compile my list.
1968. Robert Kennedy’s assassination. This is the first one I remember. I was little. (If you need more background, my parents were politically active Democrats, and we were living in southern California at the time.) I don’t remember details or a timeline. I remember being home with my mother. I remember inconsolable weeping, and being told why, because the tears distressed me. For ages afterward I remember tension and rage and frustration, and I didn’t understand, but those feelings of dizzying, terrified disorientation color every memory of that summer and autumn.
1974 Watergate & Nixon’s resignation. Another political disaster. I was still young enough to be sheltered but old enough for rational explanations this time. My mother taught history, and my father was a story spinner, and the family watched the news together most nights while eating supper, so the events of the unfolding investigation and the looming impeachment aftermath were threaded through our daily lives. There was never a Moment. The change came on like a dust storm, darkening everything, and again, the sense of doom and horror weave through all my memories of that year.
1986 Challenger disaster & aftermath. Like a lot of folks, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was standing in the art supply aisle of the ND bookstore, being annoyed by people talking loudly because I was listening to the overhead radio. Which announced the launch and then…the rest. That one was A Moment. It was a gut-kick that lasted years. Apollo moonshots were my earliest TV experience. (Well, that & Vietnam coverage) I’m a science nerd. I got obsessive about following the Challenger investigation: it was my way of handling my grief for the future that crashed and burned along with the shuttle. (side note: one of my Big Happys in recent years is pop culture’s revival of deep excitement & support for space exploration.) That year also marked my first introduction to conspiracy theorists.
1991 US enters war with Iraq. I was teaching high school as a substitute, which meant I often got to see teens acting differently than they would in front of their parents of regular staff. And what I saw in the weeks & month after the news broke left me gobsmacked. The students were elated. EXCITED. I now know this was ‘Murica! phenomenon in its early stages. Don’t get me wrong, I was familar with jingoistic, flag-waving racism. I grew up in central Indiana during the Iranian hostage crisis, FFS. But this? This was different. That year marked first I saw raw, naked, nationalism go unchecked by any authority. Many of the teachers shrugged it off, or expressed resignation, or were themselves supportive, and that was worse.
2001 9/11 attacks With this one, the flaming roller coaster shot right off the track into the maw of chaos. The day was traumatic, tragic, horrible. The slow-motion unchecked, slide into authoritarianism, the
2008 Global stock market crash This event, for me, was more like the end of one of those long roller coaster rides than anything else. Look. I worked retail for 20+ years. Everyone working the front lines of retail saw this coming for at least a couple of years. I started dabblinb in post-apocalyptic fiction in
2020 Covid-19 Yeah. This one.
I’m doing month by month posts on this year (okay, fine, I’ll start posting them soon. I haven’t yet because putting my life events alongside the unfolding bigger picture has been too much Too Much. Mainly because I keep reading posts that say things like, “Wow, everything moved so fast,” and “How could the world change overnight like this?” and “When do you think people will get back to work & school so life goes back to normal?” or “Sure, maybe we’re going to have a new normal when this is over,” but then they start describing a world that’s much the same.
And I keep thinking, “But no, things didn’t happen fast, not at all.” Epidemics grow on a log scale, and that’s why they’re so dangerous, it’s been a shock because we saw this coming and instead of acting, waited & hoped it would go away until it was here, but it only felt like a fast reaction because we hit a tree instead of tapping the brakes as we went into the icy curve. So to speak.
And also…get back to work? UM. People are still working. No, not the sick ones. Or the dead ones. But people haven’t stopped working, just like kids haven’t stopped learning.* The how of it all has changed, not the what.
Oh, and, OVER? This will not be over. Ever. It isn’t about getting through a month or getting over it and going on to “ordinary life in the new normal.”**
ANYway. That’s my list of the only times I’ve really felt my whole world had gone off the rails.
And I do mean MY list. I’m pinning impressions to a virtual board to make this surreal existence feel more real. I’m not making sweeping generalizations about meaningfulness, dismissing pain, minimizing fears, or engaging in competitive loss. Like I said at the start, it’s been a half century full of scary, terrifying events. This is me. You do you. You’re valid.
I do know all the scary times have been worse for others. I’ve been sheltered & buffered lifelong from the effects of World Nightmares. My race and culture give me undeniable educational, financial, & societal advantages.
But in the end, all that means is that I’m observing from a different seat. Everyone with a heart grieves, and everyone with a sense of justice feels rage. I don’t know where this latest ride is going. What I do know is this: I will whatever I can to bring it into the station once again (burned, battered, shaken, irrevocably changed, but still intact) and not into the pit for real
There will be a more cheerful post soon, I promise.
New basement pictures. And flowers.
I had even more digressions than usual in this post. Have a few cut scenes, so I don’t make whole post-rants out of them.
- “but the children!” No, Kids aren’t in school. They may or may not be absorbing their standardized academic lessons. They aren’t getting the same social experience their sibs & parents did. All that is true. But! They Are. Learning. Every day they’re building memories and making decisions and exercising judgment, and that is what learning is all about. Maybe they aren’t “learning the right things. But don’t give me the ruined lives line. We all only get one childhood. Memories harsh or sweet are what make or ruin them. Bitterly–constantly, publicly–listing all the things “this generation won’t get to do” is a grieving activity, and understandable, but we should not let our grief suck the joy out of the only now they get.
- ( I am SOOOO sick of the “new normal” phrase. I now wish I had never used it in a book even though I wrote the book 7 years ago..) The new will not be normal for a LOOOOOOONNNNG time yet. When I look into the future where we redefine how people work in a world where physical contact is dangerous again.*** That’s when I get the worst of those Nightmare Rollercoaster Feels. I fear I may only recognize the world on the far side from reading dystopian SF.
- –yes, again, this isn’t new, pandemics are not modern. NOT having to deal with life shutting down on the regular for an epidemic is a recent, and evidently temporary thing.
- I’m trying a few New Blog Things here, primarily cutting back on the time consuming sidetracks of header pics & tags & labels & excerpts. I’ll be experimenting with the various post formats too, because I can.