Pandemic Diary 28: Focus, People, Focus

Whatever the opposite of a laser is, that is my unfocused brain in quarantine some days.

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Anecdotal evidence is evidence only of an anecdote, so I report this not with statistical accuracy but only as something noticed: there has been an uptick in the number of posts on my social media feeds of individuals who describe themselves as “TIs” or “targeted individuals.”

“Targeted individuals” labor under the belief that each one is the focus of intense electromagnetic energy pulses sent to torment them; now, these individuals indeed appear to be tormented, to judge from what they write and how they write it (ALL CAPS and no punctuation), so it is no surprise that they need something on which to blame their depression and suffering.

I am one of those readers who always takes a moment to report these accounts to the Twitter or Facebook offices as “someone in danger of self-harm.” As a more-than-casual consumer of content from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I have my own sense of how often I encounter posts from self-proclaimed targeted individuals: about twice a year. There have been more than that number this month alone.

Is this an effect of quarantine? Our national and global economies are in a free-fall brought on by a mandatory lock down (in many communities) made necessary by a fast-moving virus that mostly kills the infirm and elderly but also kills the young, middle-aged, and healthy (in New York City, more than twenty-five percent of the dead were younger than sixty-four and the greatest number dead of COVID-19 with no underlying condition are those between forty-five and sixty-four; not young but still employable); which ended almost all in-person commercial activity; which led to businesses shut down and employees furloughed or laid off.

Many people do not know what tomorrow will bring, but they do know it will not bring an income. That is a terrible reality.

When one is confronted with uncertainty, a circumstance freighted with confusion, or a doom-filled future that is not around the corner but is straight ahead, it is a natural reaction to feel anger, even rage, and to look for a something or someone on whom to assign the cause of that rage. A person who considers himself peaceful at heart feels anger boil over, and there must be a reason for the anger to have appeared in their peaceable heart. Many people feel unheard and invisible in moments of national crisis and here we are in a global crisis.

This is the not-funny thing about crisis: for an individual in crisis, there is sometimes no peace to be had to know that the neighbors are also in the same crisis and faced with the same uncertainties. For most people, there is a rueful succor (if there is such a thing) in the knowledge that “We are all in this together.” For me, I know, or believe that I know, that my community will build our future together. I hope to be a part of it.

For some, the problems must be declared as more pronounced, more individualized, more extreme than anyone else’s problems to match the intensity of the emotional state that the crisis can help foster. “My neighbor lost his restaurant? Well, that’s too bad for him, but I can not work because the CIA started to prevent companies from hiring me and now they have installed a new cell phone tower across the street from my house …”

It is an extreme example, but the uncertainty we face together remains uncertain for a full twenty-four hours each day right now, and for those of us in quarantine, those twenty-four hours can feel longer than twenty-four hours, which can feel quite extreme. I have watched extraordinarily fear-filled thoughts play out in my mind during this quarantine, but I have been aware that they are extreme, that they bear no relation to reality, that they can be dismissed. Nothing in this crisis has anything to do with me, so I can watch it play out, budget my finances, read more books, write more than I have written in two years or so.

I am unhappy about all of this, but I have empathy for my neighbors—personal friends will close restaurants and stores here in my community, other friends do not know what the future holds (one friend gave birth last month and wrote, joking, “I had a baby just as the world is ending!”)—and empathy is the chief tool we will use to build or re-build our communities. I am not the bullseye on any government entity’s target list, and I am grateful for that; further, the knowledge that I am not anyone’s target does not make me feel forgotten.

If anything, I have found that with more time on my hands than is usual, even in my life as a retired person, I have had difficulty with my ability to focus. I know that I am not unique in this. Rather than write for a job I have been asked to work on, there is all that social media I mentioned at top: one of the most useful yet annoying pieces of information that Instagram provides each user is one’s daily usage. I spend an average of an hour and ten minutes a day on Instagram. Twitter? More than that probably. Facebook? About the same.

And these are disorganized hours, too. Not an hour spent fighting racists on Twitter, and then an hour bragging about fighting racists on Twitter on Facebook, then an hour giving red-heart approvals to friends’ kitchen accomplishments on Instagram; all that would feel like WORK, after all. Minute by minute, my attention flits from one to the other, sometimes on the cell phone, and sometimes on the laptop. Whatever the opposite of a laser is, that is my unfocused brain in quarantine some days. And of course there are the depression naps each afternoon.

All of the above is likely my way of feeling emotionally like I possess a control that I can exert over a situation freighted with uncertainty: I am the one who chooses with Tweet to respond to, which square photo to “like,” which bit of news to lament. I can blame the president for my anger—and almost everything (no, everything) he does and says earns my anger to a degree that I could almost think he wants my anger specifically more than anyone else’s—but that is a cheap use of my emotions.

Thus, my empty hours can sometimes be spent in a fruitless search for something to earn the amount of anger that I probably already feel in response to the uncertainty that day after day of sameness somehow engenders. The anger is already there, because the fear of the future has been there longer. The fact is that the future has been unknowable for the entire time we have had a past, but it is in a crisis that most of us notice this.

For many, anger feels like action. Anger expressed is an action. Part of me, the part that laments my social media addiction, almost envies the ability to focus demonstrated by the angry among us. I do not know that they are more focused because I do not want to approach angry people, but a life in which the “Deep State” is to be blamed for one’s sleeplessness, or the cell phone tower is doing whatever it is that cell phone towers do besides convey signals, or the depression caused by trauma from continuous stress about financial worries can instead be blamed on a chip that a doctor implanted illegally, well, that life can appear to be filled with answers. Answers often represent relief of a sort, or a direction to head towards. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but those individuals who appear to have all the answers but none of the correct questions often appear the most angry.

I wouldn’t be. If I could blame the CIA for my insomnia—rather than my afternoon depression-naps—maybe I would sleep better at night!

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 28 asks us to reflect on the word, “Focus.”

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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