What was most fucked up was how normal everything was. Even though everyone agreed that nothing was normal, and in fact the world was Changed and might never be normal again, from another angle — for me at least — things were more normal than ever before.
I woke up and drank the half cup of coffee my roommate left in the pot for me. I watched the bees go at the lemon-orange tree in the backyard. I read a best-selling mystery novel or watched dumb Youtube videos or listened to a podcast or binged a show I’d seen before, migrating from patio to hammock to couch over the course of the day. I picked away at administrative tasks and writing projects. I called my parents to see how they were, and tried, from afar, to soothe their bickering or inspire a little pride. I told my girlfriend I loved her. I focused a lot on what to make for dinner. Cooking dinner — what could be more normal than that? And everything that attended dinner: putting leftovers in tupperware in the fridge, loading the dishwasher, unloading the dishwasher after it had finished running, dealing with the dishes in the sink, disinfecting high-touch surfaces.
It wasn’t so much that I did more of these normal things; it was more that everything else had fallen away. I had stopped having so many experiences or ideas that distracted from the normal, that filled my mind in a way that made me forget all the unremarkable moments and details of daily life. I no longer thought as much about the far future or the distant past. How could I, when the next week seemed unknowable and the week previous haplessly naive? I no longer dwelled on alternative ways of being; we were experiencing one right now and look how boring it all felt. And worst of all, this contraction of my mind, though there was an abnormal reason for it, felt normal too, like how everyone probably lives, like a great and energetic sloshing in my life had finally stilled, and getting it churning again would be so much effort, so much exhausting energy misspent. Energy better spent making dinner.
So while there were moments when sharp fear and bitter despair rolled through my psyche like lightning and thunder, what I felt most was the rising floodwaters of the banal, swamping over all the pretty little nonsense that had once made the world interesting.
Yes, people were sick, people were dying, people were not getting the care they needed, people were out of jobs and unable to make rent, and the politicians and businesses and institutions that ran the country were all failing in various ways. But that was all normal. Such suffering was the most normal thing in the world. People were always dying, always losing their jobs, always struggling to pay rent. Politicians were always failing to do much about it. These things might be happening more than usual, to more people, but the differences were of degree, not of kind. The catastrophe had simply organized the diffuse, accepted suffering of everyday life into something easier to see — like a nebula, congealing out of cosmic dust.
So to the extent that anyone cried out for justice and relief, those calls were tinged with hypocrisy, or perhaps performativity, and that was normal too. We all live our lives in a world we shouldn’t tolerate. Everything was Changed, but nothing, really, had changed.
The normalcy was terrible, but it was also a comfort, the thing to hold on to, a blanket to wrap around shoulders or toes. It was the sensation — or maybe the mindset, deliberately chosen — that made it possible to get out of bed and have coffee and entertain oneself and make dinner and go back to bed, even when I knew that Something Should Be Done. I held that mindset knowing that it was both comforting and terrible at the same time, both liberating and confining, both the root of the problem and the only way through. And the knowledge of that contradiction, and knowing that it was no contradiction, that it was just how things were and always would be, and knowing it was wrong and fucked up and living in it anyway, on and on in fractal infinity that flickered each moment from crystal brilliance into dirt — that was the most terrible and normal thing of all.