Too Many Images Too Little Touch
April 2020 exists as a haze in my mind. One of my few clear memories is looking out the window at two squirrels running and playing in the newly green yard. Even then I knew it was absurd to envy wild squirrels with as little as a one-year lifespan. Yet I felt enormous envy that, while humanity locked down, life in the wild roared back with the season.
Last Spring we faced an absolute lockdown and a paucity of choice. Now in Spring 2021 we are faced with too many choices and too little information about how to make them. At first, some experienced vaccination euphoria, a moment when it seemed like being an older person put us at the top of the heap. Newly vaccinated, we were the cool kids at the party.
And initial data seems to indicate that vaccinated people are unlikely to transmit the disease. But then we learned that even fully vaccinated people can, rarely, experience breakthrough COVID.
So, where does all that leave us? Can we travel? See vaccinated friends? Get a haircut from a vaccinated stylist? Every decision is fraught.
And every Zoom call seems like one too many. Too much screen time, too little reality. Too many images too little touch. No wonder that weary people are jumping the gun. The number of Americans who visited friends last week far exceeds the number who are vaccinated. And this despite warnings that some new variants are deadlier and more infectious than original COVID.
The business of crawling out from under the pandemic rock is complicated. We balance the slow grind of isolation against a thousand small steps back into society, each one with its own risks. All these choices can lead to analysis paralysis, the fear of making any decision; or to its opposite, extinction by instinct, the impulse to make any decision, no matter how harmful.
There is evidence of both in the current conduct of our fellow Americans.
Some epidemiologists and virologists tell us COVID may be with us for the long haul, in various evolutionary incarnations. On the other hand, the rapid design of mRNA vaccines may lead to a pan-COVID vaccination, one that will protect against the entire family of corona viruses—including ones that do not yet exist. The fact that several epidemics over the past ten years have been caused by this same family of viruses adds urgency to this scientific endeavor, as researchers believe it is only a matter of time until the next corona pandemic. These visionary scientists claim the era of “one bug, one drug” is ending; it is time for a bigger solution.
The insight and scientific creativity required to sustain this vision and turn it into action is breathtaking. Rather than being paralyzed by choice, these researchers have been spurred by the pandemic to do their best work, targeting a vaccine by the end of the year that will stop all corona viruses, including the common cold.
And while we cannot all work to create the next generation of vaccines, the example these scientists set for us is that creativity can bridge the gap between where we are now and where we want to be. Using our creativity, we can imagine an alternate version of pandemic reality.
Using our creativity, we can look at how this year has changed us and envision what we want our lives to become. Lacking touch, we tell stories of touch.
As Lewis Carroll once said, “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”
Many of us have found solace in reading during this year, and many will continue to do so. It’s no surprise that book sales to locked down readers hit their highest levels in a decade.
And it’s also no surprise that increasing numbers of people are finding strength in writing.
As Anushka Bose reminds us in a fine article for TEDx, every one of us can use imagination to improve our lives. As we take baby steps away from pandemic lockdown, what a perfect time to construct story, to build new worlds where we move from hardship into joy: Stories where we explore new places, embrace one another, flirt with strangers, launch bold ventures, solve great problems, make new friends.
Our stories remind us that we emerge from this crisis still owning our inner vitality and erotic natures.
As an advocate for older women’s empowerment, I’m exploring how best to support each of us to use imagination to claim a new reality post-COVID. What should that support look like? Will it take the form of more email classes? Or Saturday writing workshops through the now-weary online forum? Should we launch a new magazine to share older women’s juicy stories? More to come on upcoming ventures, and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions at Stella [at] stellafosse [dot] com. What I am sure of is that we need play now more than ever, as relief from this long stressful time, and as the wellspring of joy as we move into the next phase.
For too long, we have had too much screen time and too little reality. Hang on a little longer, the public service announcements exhort us. Be careful. Don’t take chances. It’s great advice. But there are just too many images and too little touch. To bridge the gap between now and next, we need stories to remind us of what will be possible, when the day arrives to take off our masks at last and turn our full faces to the sun.