I don’t recognize myself anymore.
And not just because I’ve barely brushed my hair in a month and am, conservatively, a few short weeks away from being able to braid my eyebrows together.
Suddenly, I’m knitting — or trying to — with the aid of chirpy YouTube tutorials that mostly make me want to stab something with my knitting needles.
I’ve also dragged out a discount easel from some bygone attempt at reinventing myself, or at least finding a hobby. So far, I’ve created an interpretative watercolor that looks as if I took a technicolor dump on a canvas, and a charcoal drawing that was meant to be a moody abstract but that looks more like a vagina.
All that to say that the pandemic hasn’t just done a number on the world as we knew it. It’s also doing a number on our identities.
Who the hell am I?
My identity has always been my work as a journalist, specifically the kind of work that put me inside people’s homes for face-to-face interactions.
I’m missing that experience — and, if I’m honest, I’m also wary of the growing drumbeat about layoffs across the journalism industry, which has seen most of its already tenuous revenue crater thanks to the pandemic.
And yet, even with all the “what-ifs,” I’m one of the lucky ones.
Others have had their identities pulled right from under them. Overnight, isolated and unemployed at historic numbers.
For now, my identity crisis is more about adjusting to the claustrophobic new world shut inside, and then the one that will be waiting for us outside.
I’ll just say it: Zoom and all its digital counterparts have been poor replacements for the real world, though we’re giving it our best shot. Virtual happy hours, meetings, weddings, Easter dinners and egg hunts.
Look, kids, it’s Zoom Santa!
I joined a virtual meeting of mothers of homicide victims recently where the women got in some much-needed laughs as they talked over one another. Before that, the members of the paralyzed gunshot survivors support group, who’ve also moved their meetings online, sang a virtual “Happy Birthday” to one of the regulars.
It was bittersweet.
It’s all bittersweet, isn’t it? All of us trying to make the best of it.
We had created our own little communities, our little universes, which now seem to be slipping away. The homicide moms and the paralyzed survivors had their very specific space that meant so much to them, and now they’re scrambling to retain some of that connection.
For other people, it’s a trip to the Shore, a wedding, a graduation party — all the events we’re now scratching off our calendars, one after the other, as we wonder week after week, month after month, when this will be over.
The growing, reluctant acceptance is that no one’s going to flip a light switch on May 1 or June 1 or — sweet baby Jesus — probably July 1 and say: OK! Everyone come out! All clear.
This sense of being out of sorts, of not knowing where we quite fit in, it’s something we’re going to have to grapple with for a long time.
Who are we? Without our routines, our offices, our coffee shops, happy hours, and hangout spots?
Who are we when the world we were part of is suddenly ripped from us?
When I threw a digital lifeline on Twitter, and asked friends and followers if anyone else was struggling, many admitted they were in the same space.
“Feeling pretty hollow,” said Chuck Bonfig. “I’m a small biz owner who can’t operate. A beer guide who can’t take people out for a beer. I’m a father with no income. I’m a Pop-Pop who can’t play with my grandson. And I’m a zoo member who’ll never go again bc now I know how they feel.”
After catching my breath, I scrolled on.
Someone else chimed in: “Was already trying to figure out next steps and now I’m just questioning everything and can’t seem to come up with answers.”
Maybe the only answer is that at the end of this, we will all be different. And this might be of microscopic comfort right now, but we won’t be alone.