The thought occurred to me this morning that COVID-19 is all about the planet fighting back against its most invasive species. Not only does this make it clear that we are not at the top of the food chain, but it is a pretty effective weapon if you think about it. What better way to resuscitate a stressed planet than to shut down air travel, radically curtail people driving and seriously suspend mass production of a whole bunch of consumer goods that we don’t really need? Who knows? If this becomes truly apocalyptic, we may even have to resort to growing our own food.
But seriously, despite the obvious planetary benefits, this all looks pretty dire right now. I thought about writing on death, loss and grievability today, but I think there will be plenty of time to reflect on that in the very near future. Today, let’s be positive. I’m going to go out on a limb here.
Utopia is coming. Soon.
Maybe yours has already arrived. Mine has started to arrive in bits and pieces. Much assembly is still required. As long as there are no full-on apocalyptic events that delay further deliveries, at the rate that things are moving, I expect my utopia to be fully operational in approximately 5-10 business days (or maybe just days, since the whole concept of business days has ceased to mean anything.)
Let me explain.
So many wonderful things are happening right now!
My energy and creativity is soaring under these conditions. I am a deep introvert. I love all of you, but it is so much less draining to manage my social, familial, professional and pedagogical relationships in an electronic space than it is to face you in person. All those social events that I bemoaned the loss of on day one? I didn’t need them. I feel more alive than I have for a long time.
Even for you extroverts out there, I really do know that this is hard on you, but the internet and social media is your friend! I have seen wonderful things happen as we convert our social media spaces from toxic and contentious to playful and beautiful and full of humanity. I’m sure you extroverts are also spending lots of time on the phone too. Just pretend it’s the 1980s and you’re a high school student, and you finally got the private phone line you’d been begging your parents for for years.
For all of us, now that we are so much less harried, we have more time. Time, glorious time! As little as a week ago, before my utopia started arriving, my daily life felt like a race through far too many tasks, things to do and demands for my time. It was a mad dash to get to the end of the day. The goal was simply to complete more tasks than I acquired. I was constantly defending against an onslaught of more to do! Everything was oriented towards ending the day with enough done that I could somehow escape for long enough to get rested and start it all over again tomorrow. Work and home and leisure and social responsibility all blurred together into a swirl of things to do. Now, I am fortunate and I generally love almost everything that fills my day, but it is just so much. Sometimes the weekends are worse than the weekdays. Sometimes I can’t wait for the slow pace of Monday. Sometimes I can’t wait for the weekend.
Having this time without so many pressing demands is completely utopian as far as I’m concerned. I have more time to think about people—to think in specific ways about how students, distant relatives, neighbors, old friends, former classmates, all of you, are faring. I can think of you in a leisurely way, with specificity. The extroverts might even take the extra step and reach out by phone. I might send an email. Or write you all a mass love letter, in the form of a blog post, tell you that I am thinking of you.
Then there is the beauty of the serendipitous personal sighting of someone we really care about, someone we’ve been missing. How exciting is it when you see an actual person who you haven’t seen for a whole four days? Whether it is a neighbor who lives across the street suddenly materializing in front of their house, or a friend you meet at 8 AM in the grocery store parking lot, or when you go to pick up the girl scout cookies that your niece has left perched on top of her mom’s car for you to pick up– how awesome is that conversation yelled out across a safe 10-20 feet of distance? Doesn’t it just make your heart burst out of your chest?
It just gets better: turns out that homeschooling my children, with a lot of structure and a little bit of creativity, is FUN! (OK, we are only two hours in, and apparently I’m writing a blog post, but so far so good!) I have learned so much about them already. Like, yes, my 9 year old really is freakily good at math. And my 13 year old has great leadership and public speaking skills. And they both really, really like schedules. (Who knew? Is that the secret sauce of school?) I now know why their teachers adore them and do not want to kill them on a daily basis! Yay. But, seriously, every year by about mid-August, I start to feel sad because I know that in a few short weeks, I will miss those long days of simply spending good old QT with my children. This time is a gift. (Again, two hours in, check with me around 9 PM tonight…)
This situation is also kind of great for the planet for all the reasons I said above. All the things we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to do because we just couldn’t stop traveling or just couldn’t stop driving or just couldn’t stop shopping or we just couldn’t stop [add your own planet damaging addiction here.] Well, we’ve already been forced to stop so many planet damaging things. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to stock up on rice, beans and flour, than meat. It’s easier to stockpile food to cook than prepared foods. And if this goes on long enough, we’ll have to go further. In addition to figuring out how to grow food, I might have to learn to knit pants for my children for next winter.
And what about the economy? This component of utopia may take a bit longer to arrive than the other components and will require some assembly, but I’m optimistic. There is, however, a slight possibility that the coming apocalypse will disrupting utopian supply chains, strip away potential revenue and delay delivery of this component indefinitely.
First, there is the everyday economy that we all live in. The money that comes in to our household and the money that goes out. The savings and debts we have. In this realm, we are kind of stripped down to the basics. We literally cannot spend money on all the extras that we usually waste so much money on for no good reason. In theory, this should free up more cash to spend on things that matter, but this means thinking ahead, thinking about what we value, and not what we want or need to have now. This means aligning consumption with love, not stuff.
Hourly workers and those who work in the so-called “gig” economy (including artists of all kinds, healers, freelancers, those like of uber drivers and others) are suffering. A lot. I am deeply, deeply worried about the economy in our broader community. For artists, entrepreneurs and very small businesses, with astonishing speed revenue has dried up, clients and customers (for good reason) have decided to stay home. For hourly workers if they don’t go to work, there is simply no paycheck.
But there is a lot of love and solidarity and concern. Communities are owning and embracing the importance of local businesses, coming together to figure out how to keep these essential social institutions of healing and health and love and beauty open and solvent. People are making donations and buying up gift certificates for future use in businesses they cannot frequent right now. We all also need to stay political and keep telling our representatives that they are on the right track, but they have to do so much more to help people. I hope we all dig deep and keep doing this. I hope this works.
Then there is The Economy, you know, the big one, the one we are constantly told is the only one that matters. Those of us who are fortunate to have retirement accounts and investments are super worried about them. The stock market is plunging, whatever that means to us. It is bad, I guess. But have we thought that this might be the big push we need to right size and reorient the economy around values rather than value? Have we thought about how this might reorient our own consumption habits in order to shift the axis around which the economy revolves?
OK, I am being truly dreamy and utopian here. This part is what still needs some assembly. We need all brains on deck here. Is it possible that new, more moderating, configurations of capitalism might be emerging? Configurations of capitalism that better align economic value with what we value? Might we be able to imagine an economy that allows us to prioritize community and the arts and education in a way that is environmentally and humanly sustainable? What would it look like if we had a more corona-like economy long-term?
I also think we may be at the beginnings of seeing healthier alignments of government and market forces. When I wake up in the morning, the lights still turn on. I have heat. Drinkable water comes out of the tap. Utility shut offs in many areas have been stopped for those who cannot pay. (This should be the norm always.) In the grocery store, there is still food. (It may not be my food choice- why doesn’t anyone want the frozen, mashed cauliflower? But at least there’s food.) As schools shut down services to make sure kids eat are launching into place. I am thankful for whatever configuration of government and free market make all of this possible.
We’ve all had deep anxiety about the woefully inadequate governmental response to this crisis. We are deeply worried that no one is doing enough to help the groups I mentioned above. There are very, very few of us who will escape the bite of what this is doing to the economy. It is just a matter of whether we feel it now, or in six months, or a year. But both government and private sector, are slowly, slowly, slowly starting to realize that they need us, that they can’t generate their wealth without us. For the first time in a long time, they have to think seriously about social safety nets. I thought it would take a revolution, but maybe it just needed a pandemic. I honestly have no idea when this particular piece of utopia might arrive, but I am hopeful that it is in the mail.
In the meantime, I feel really, viscerally clear about what matters. Hoping that today you all have found abundant creativity, surprising love, beauty, and serendipitous community at a 6-10 foot distance, of course.
*Utopia should arrive in 3-14 business days unless the pending apocalypse delays delivery indefinitely.