Saturday, 2 May 2020

Competition - the Pandemic Way

In my recent blog about finding myself in charge of an online college I confessed to never having had a pandemic plan up my sleeve on the off chance that one day the world would suddenly be in lockdown. Of course, hindsight is everything. It's easy to regret decisions made before a global event. Strange to think that from now on a couple of generations probably will eh?

Suddenly we all wished that we had really taken in the Bill Gates prediction that this was bound to happen, or questioned how we had missed the now oft posted speech when Obama told us that this was almost definitely going to happen.

Heigh-ho - we're here now and I guess we just have to get on with it.

It's a strange situation though when literally nobody was ready for something, and within the space of a few days, we were all forced into an environment that we didn't want to be in. We've always assumed that living in the UK we'd be able to leave our houses, nip to the shops, see our friends. All things that we now perceive to be luxuries.

However, everybody being in the same boat has its own inherent problems. Where do we go to moan about our lot, when it's clear that we all have it better than somebody else? The lone person in lockdown yearns for some 'real' company, the family and friends in lockdown yearn to be alone. We have lockdown envy - the 'virtual' grass is indeed greener in everybody else's zoom garden.

With everybody in a forced situation though even a slight social media moan results in a Pythonesque thread of 'how lucky we are compared to Mr/Mrs/Ms/Mx whoever'.

The bottom line though of course is that we all have to just get through this the best that we can, whilst working really hard to see every journey as personal, not an affront to how 'you're' needing to get through this period.

Some people really took to heart the initial social media messages of this is your chance to do everything that you've been putting off for years, though why people felt the need to keep telling us that Shakespeare had supposedly written King Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra whilst in quarantine during the plague I don't know. Talk about a high bar! Then seemingly within days completed DIY projects and baking posts started to pop up on my timeline at regular intervals, each of them more impressive than the one before. In our industry some people really needed (or indeed just chose) to keep being creative, that was to be their own road map through these uncharted waters (talk about a mixed traveling metaphor). Editors and sound engineers have never been in such demand as we attempt to reproduce that most basic of rights - to produce music with other people. Then there are the people who are genuinely using the lockdown to take some downtime, with a constant stream of requests for the next best programme to watch, or recommendations for their next book. At regular intervals, somebody will remind us that we don't all have to do the same thing to get through this. Freedom of choice is still ours (within our own four walls). We are reminded that just surviving this time is actually winning.

Of course, it wouldn't be social media without some conflict, so we have the posts from those people that feel really strongly about how 'the others' are coping during this time, either applauding from the (virtual) wings with a degree of envy or angry that their way of coping has been made to feel the 'lesser' somehow.

So what is the right way to cope during a pandemic and who actually has the right to judge others? Who's right and who's wrong? Who is having the 'worse' time surviving the lockdown? Is it the parents frantically attempting to homeschool whilst juggling all the other demands too? Is it the shielded who feel like they would rather take their chances with COVID, the families, the lonely?  In our industry is it the so-called Corona grads who have had the rug pulled from under their feet at the start of the most amazing adventure, or is it the seasoned pros, who have been sideswiped as they've seen our industry magically disappear overnight?

Which industry has suffered the most? Surely that one is a no brainer - it's 'our' industry. Overnight everybody was out of work with no idea when we could possibly restart again, but then that's true of the bar owners, the restaurant owners, tour operators, airlines, etc The house of cards that we had thought was so safe suddenly crumbled for so many people. Then as if that wasn't bad enough we're all trumped by the people that are literally putting their lives on the line every day when they go to work or the families that have lost loved ones due to COVID?

Of course, the answer is really quite simple - none of us are having it easy. We are all attempting to stay emotionally grounded. It's not a competition.  The safest way through the Pandemic for each and every one of us is to just 'be', to 'be' however we need to be. If you've seen the Pixar movie Inside Out the control console in our brain is literally being controlled by the full range of emotions - seemingly all at once. One day it's OK, it's doable, we know that it's only a moment and moments pass, the next day the affront to our liberty is exasperating, we can't see how this can possibly end well, the world will never be the same again.

Somebody said to me today that they were struggling right now, but they shouldn't be. Compared to others they actually had it easy. The difficulty with this self-imposed scale of entitlement is that we're not giving ourselves the time and space to grieve what's going on right now. It's like there's some pivot that we're all straddling - we can maintain the equilibrium if we deny ourselves the right to be ecstatic or pissed off or scared or whatever.

The pandemic isn't a competition. I put the college online because I had no choice, not because I wanted to look back in a few years' time and be proud of my achievement during a lockdown. If I had to choose the perfect lockdown scenario, without a shadow of a doubt I'd choose the sit in front of the TV and veg out for a few months' approach*. However I have 2 young children to homeschool, a business to run and an encroaching deadline for a new show which I still have to meet in case the theatres open this year, so I don't have the luxury of choice - but then again I don't think that any of us have a choice right now. We just have to get through it.

So let's not make handling this situation a competition. We're all stuck in our own peculiar circumstances, and within those, we all have the right to feel however we need to feel, whenever we need to feel it and get through it however we can. We don't have to diminish our own difficulties just because we can see what we perceive to be something harder going on elsewhere. Let's all try our best to survive eh? It's not a competition.

Stay safe.

*In the interest of full disclosure I should add that this is forever my 'dream scenario', however, were I ever to have the free time to do this my secret suspicion is that I'm not actually that sort of person as my wife reminds me every time I state it. We all have dreams though right?

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