Apocalypse: Now What? Pandemic fatigue and the future

A reader asks: How do I cope with *all of this* as the pandemic continues?

A sign reads "COVID-19. Go home."

A sign in North Bend on March 23, 2020. (Jen Dev/Crosscut)

Coronavirus has changed our reality for the foreseeable future, prompting questions from you about how to navigate our strange new normal. In this weekly column, we hope to answer them with practical advice, ideas and solutions. Ask your question at the bottom of this story.


Question: How can I get over pandemic fatigue and stay vigilant as we head into another spike?

Booze. That’s it.

Never let it be said that I don’t answer Dear Readers with the unvarnished, simple truth when it’s so close at hand. But perhaps you don’t drink, or you already drink too much, or you are between drinks, or the children are complaining that you use the dinosaur-shaped Popsicle maker to make Adult T-Rex pops before you make the kid-friendly ones. 

As our collective lost summer lurches into a fall of dread and uncertainty, we must be blunt: We are all suffering from skyrocketing levels of anxiety and mental stress, functionally stewing in our own cortisol and intestinal distress.

And yet soldier on we must to the end of the pandemic (and for the love of Daddy Fauci, they do end), be it to preserve our crumbling society, extend our selfish genetic lineage or simply to watch it all burn.

Experts from credentialed psychologists to kooky neighbors have prescribed every activity known to man to occupy the time: read all the books you’ve never read; learn Portugese; indulge in laziness; get outside and stay there; protest against rampant racial inequality; sew masks; Zoom elderly relatives; start an Etsy store to sell homemade jewelry made from pine cones and dental floss.

I’d argue that getting into the headspace to successfully pursue any of those methods toward sanity requires a mindfulness and calm that comes in increasingly short supply (for you parents out there looking toward the school year: yeeesh). But there’s no way I’m about to suggest you blow your scant remaining pennies on HeadCalm or MindSpace or online transcendental meditation classes.

It’s important for each of us to go on our own quest for an activity that leads us to a place where we can become calm and resilient, and see the potential for growth through the fog of panic we now inhabit. It needs to act as balm and mantra; it should feel restorative and familiar, an act you can repeat and yet still find new layers of meaning each time. It's so personal that I can only recommend my source for serenity and mindfulness, which will perhaps inspire your own.

For me, it can come from two things and two things alone: a deep knowledge and respect for the interconnected caprices of time, and sufficient lubrication to understand it all. 

In short: Back to the Future AND booze. Here's a pairing for each film: Start with these humble folktales from the '80s and finger-numbing cocktails. Then invent your method, tweaking as needed.

Past 

Emmett “Doc” Brown’s appraisal of history in the original Back To the Future is the correct one: that if we properly appreciate the lessons of the true past, we can implement them into our present to bend the arc of justice, tame a pandemic and even bulletproof ourselves against future ones. And we don’t even need 1.21 GW of lightning to do it — Knute Berger’s recent oeuvre is a font of this kind of thinking, shot through with local resonance and delivered with optimism and “this-too-shall-pass” sagacity. 

Transport yourself to another time and place, where things were even worse, and take a deep breath and contemplate how you personally might make different choices to prevent it from happening again. All while sipping ... 

Drink: The Doc Brown Liquor*

The past is best served mostly straight, no chaser: Choose a favorite whisk(e)y, bourbon or scotch; add a few drops of water to open up the flavors, or drop in a single boulder of ice if you must. History stings — it’s supposed to — but if it’s all too much, consider the ginger-and-gin-spiked Suffering Bastard, and note that while you might be one, it was worse in 1918.  

Present 

And so we return to a dystopian present day ruled by a corrupt, narcissistic bully who blundered into an accidental fortune, seeded the world with garish buildings and casinos, and infiltrated the Republican Party to crush norms despite being a sexual predator, all while being wracked by bone-deep insecurity. I’m talking, of course, about Back to the Future: Part II, the most prescient movie of our time. This is all to remind us of how screwed up things can get when materialism and greed overwhelm our inner McFlys, and how no one will give us a hoverboard unless we fight for one. Not even Jeff Bezos. The bitter present is best enjoyed with ... 

Drink: The Biff Tannin

You could just glug a box of mouth-parching cheap cabernet, but if you want the medicine to go down easier, we suggest a blood orange sangria with a dash of Fee Brothers or Angostura bitters. 

Future 

The myth of an American future informed by the Old West values of rugged individualism, pointless gunfights and dubious railroad travel is best forgotten — just like this sad third entry in the franchise. Instead, let us remember that throughout, Back to the Future is guided by Marty McFly’s best qualities: his optimism and self-doubt; his willingness to keep on going through immense challenges; his poor grasp of science, yet unyielding faith in its potential. Though I will never personally forgive him for believing he inspired Chuck Berry with some Guitar Center-quality E.V.H. licks, let us toast him with ... 

Drink: The Martini McFly

Nothing Marty does or we do is ever completely clean, so let’s keep our martini dirty — but add a dash of citrus to keep its future bright.

 

*Teetotalers, do not despair! I suggest making a shrub and adding to soda water. The options are as varied as any pre-Prohibition mixology haunt, and just as delicious.

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