The new normal

Nothing’s ‘normal’ any more. For all of us, what’s happening now can, to put it plainly, mess with your head.

The first human response to a crisis is to aim for something productive, something which reflects what was normal. That, well, that’s normal.

The world of arts in which I work saw knee jerk responses to the meme of isolation – most of which were just awful. Mercifully that’s all disappeared. And I’m glad it has.

We seem to have recognised, finally, that we need to process the new normal rather than respond to shore up the ‘old way of doing things’.

Whatever happens as a result of the Coronavirus, we know deep down that nothing will be the same again. Nothing.

Consumer capitalism has been tested to the limits – and it is broken and found wanting. We cannot provide or manufacture the very things we need to sustain life, because our systems of production are geared towards a model of consumerism which has, in some way, made us ill.

Governments across the globe have been found to be in thrall to money men gambling against illusory stock markets.

And we’re on the brink of war, with clime change forcing migration and increasing instability the world over.

If we’re honest with each other, we’ve seen this coming you and I.

Get me out of this mess!

Let go. Let go of what you should be doing now.
Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
maslow's hierarchy of needs

Start with the bottom two layers.

Focus on your foundations; your physical and psychological security.

Deep down we all know this. It’s why we’re stocking the kitchen cupboards and freezers and cleaning our houses. Are you also making plans for emergencies? Dare I ask, have you made a will?

One of my loved ones is defined as an essential worker running front-line care services. I’m obviously redirecting my energies and support to him. Yes, we have wills, and emergency plans of a sort, they’re evolving.

All this is part of building our team, a life raft of connections. And how that grows and builds is what comes next.

We’re all going to need a team in the coming months.

This will get a lot worse before it gets better.

I’ve been there.

I was born and grew up in Kenya which, in the 1970s experienced huge influxes of displaced populations from neighbouring Uganda, then Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. 

Systems in Uganda had broken down so completely the country fell to swarms of locusts – I’m talking thick black, biblical clouds of beating wings and threshing legs making a horrific noise, feeding on field and flesh, respecting no borders.

Kenya experienced famine as a result.

We were OK because we could afford to be, but in consequence the capital experienced lockdown. We practiced isolation, even barricading ourselves in as crime and looting rose across the city.

People were hungry, dying in ditches by the roadside as food was exported out of the country. Profit seemed to count for more than people.

Meanwhile, our household grew in size as household staff brought in their loved ones into our home. Family connections and friendships became even more important. That’s how my parents knew when which shipment had just landed at the airport; who had what and at what price.

Telephone calls took place at pace, the brevity in case the line gave out as it so often did. This was a pre-internet age. Yet, the lessons of the past are a guide to the future.

Our household staff grew – here was food, clean water, light and power generators, security, income, high walls and sturdy gates. Cars and drivers were pressed into service ferrying goods and supplies across the city to friends of friends or distant relatives in need.

The house was run on less martial lines than before, the rhythm changed.

A kind of peripatetic, autodidactic homeschooling took over – perhaps why I have such broad and random passions for food, flora, art, history, literature, music, photography and theatre.

There were many more parties than before. An almost feverish delight took hold at these events, safe spaces where people could relax a little, dance, talk, exchange and start to process what was happening.

That’s what we humans do, we develop strategies for social connection, we develop social pressure valves.

We’re doing it now.

I’ve worked with others in my community to develop my idea of a Disco Hour. That may sound ridiculous. But it isn’t.  Others have organised the food drops and they’re doing it brilliantly.

So, I turned my mind to the third tier in that Maslow diagram – belonging and connection.

Disco Hour achieves just that. It’s about living defiantly, it’s about survival.
We dance each Thursday for an hour. Family, friends, and neighbours join in dancing in kitchens and front gardens, while maintaining physical distancing in accordance with health guidelines. The playlist is broadcast through a local online radio station. 

The best way to ensure we get through this is to have a psychological infrastructure in place which helps us cope with the necessary but counter-intuitive physical-distancing measures we need to survive. Disco Hour helps with that. It gives us permission to take over our newly empty streets.

We can and will reset to these new conditions, but we need to let go first. 

It’s going to be just fine.

When our foundations are strong, we can build again. Whether a weekly schedule that prioritises the security of our home team, alongside work, do the easy bits first and work your way back into the heavy lifting. Wake up early. Make lists. And if one day all you manage is one item on that list, that’s OK. Tomorrow will be different again.

I’ve experienced what’s commonly referred to as ‘depression’ – such a mild, innocent term, as though one were a slightly deflated tyre – but I’ve learned from that horror too.

Accept that good enough is just that, it’s good enough, nothing has to be perfect.

Things will start to feel more natural with time.

Your brain, like a battered body, takes time to heal from the 50 rounds of cognitive battering it’s just had. With time, and with self-care, life and work will start to make more sense in this new reality and changing or undoing things won’t seem scary.

New ideas and new ways of doing old things will emerge.

Have faith in the process.

Support your team – and you – for the long haul. This isn’t ‘going away’ as politicians seem to glibly suggest. It will be with us for years.

We are just at the beginning of that journey. The contagion will return and rebound, and distancing or lockdown may have to happen again. Denying that delays acceptance, which is what we need to allow us to imagine our new reality.

We need to imagine that new reality as something very different to the ‘normal’ that passed before, just as we question the endurance of draconian control and be mindful of not replicating it under another guise.

Best of all, through all of this we will learn. We will make new connections. We’ll learn to cook better, or in some cases even just learn to cook, or garden, we’ll read more, we’ll debate better and in a less angry fashion, we will be creative and responsive, less wasteful, more aware of our privileges and less likely to abuse them. And we will help each other.

There are silver linings to those biblical black clouds. You just need to find them. And for that, you need time.

My parents weren’t so bad. They prepared me well for this life.
Now, wash your hands!