Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus, Being Home, and New Normal

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Working from home is not a strange idea to me. While I have worked full-time for employers for most of my working life, I have also maintained a pretty consistent (if not always profitable) freelance side-hustle; combining writing, graphic design, laughter yoga, workshops and presentations, and most recently, teaching at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Rutgers University. At several points I was divided into thirds, working retail and other side jobs, at the same time.

So, working from home is something I can do, that I am good at, and actually is more attractive to me for the most part — other than the teaching and speaking engagements, which is my sweet spot. 

This national emergency that has sent so many of us home from work with boxes of stuff we can work on offsite has been caused by a pandemic that is disrupting daily life on a scale perhaps not seen since the years of Plague. That said, at any time, on any day, there is somewhere in the world where "normal" life has been disrupted — by war, famine, disease, or natural disaster — and for many, life will never be "normal" again. In fact, the most horrible thing about the level of suffering currently going on without relief in certain areas of the world, is that it is the "new normal" for those trapped there.

"New Normal" is a term popularized during the financial crisis starting in 2007, although it may have been used before. It's use has grown beyond fiscal situations of "the abnormal becoming normal," to describe any situation in which a clear "before" and "after" line can be drawn between periods of time vastly different from each other. It most often describes the societal change where something, someone, or  some situation previously thought of as unacceptable or unthinkable, becomes commonplace and unremarkable.

It is not clear, but it is possible that this Coronavirus pandemic may be creating a "new normal" globally. Not a resignation to pandemics, but the sense that, no matter where we go from here, life as we knew it will never be the same again. Or at least, not for a very long time. In that regard, it is reminding me of the Kennedy assassination, now generally accepted as the dividing line after which America's "innocence" was lost. The attacks on 9-11 draws a similar line for another generation.

I know that the older you are, the more you have to compare to. My grandchildren will live in the new normal created by this crisis. As is so exquisitely expressed in "The Handmaid's Tale," various episodes of The Twilight Zone and James Clavell's "Children's Story," the first generation living in a new normal suffer the most. Those that follow gradually accept.

Despite so much evidence that a world where things are calm, stress-less, healthy and stable is really an easily upset social system — in fact, that version of the world may actually be the unusual and rare — we still expect it, and cling to the times when we perceived it to be true. 

And perhaps that IS the greatest strength of the human race — the ability to hope, and actually believe, the better times are coming; that "new normals" happen with regularity, some of them terrible, but most of them, are something we can get used to.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Year of the Rat and Thinking Differently About These Rodents

The cover photo from my previous blog, "Roderama"
Having written "Roderama," my blog about rats and other small creatures, I have been concerned about what we do to rats in labs. While I still do not want rats in my house, the things I have learned about them has made me feel a certain respect for their socialness, intelligence, memories — and especially knowing that they actually laugh. In my book, "Treading Water," I dedicate a whole section to those blog stories about them and other "critters" I have encountered in My House of Rhyming Pests.

In this, the Year of the Rat, I was considering writing something about my complicated feelings about rats. I am still working on that.  In the meantime, this writer must have had some of those same feelings, and makes a powerful point about using other sentient beings in laboratory experiments. 

Why Don't Rats Get the Same Ethical Protection as Primates?