Monday, November 30, 2020

It's Fine

Claire North is an absolutely brilliant science fiction writer. 

Today, she posted something on her website called 2020 Fine, It's beautiful and poignant, and it's worth discussing. 

A few excerpts (I highly recommend you go read it, but not everyone will):
It is a 2020 truth that if you’re not currently a) unemployed b) grieving a loved one or c) ill then what you are… is fine.

“How are you?” asks a friend over a pixellated video line or down a dodgy telephone connection.

“I’m fine,” you say.  “It’s fine.”

This is of course, the correct response.  The world is going through an unprecedented crisis, and to be anything other than grateful or acknowledging of the safety that you have by being none of the above, is fair and apt.  It reflects paying attention, settling in, being a grown-up – just fine, through gritted teeth.  You’re plodding on, looking after yourself, doing your best.  Some things are good, some things are bad.  It’s an extraordinary time – but extraordinary times will pass.  All this is true.

And also of course, very few people are fine.

Good writers encapsulate complex feelings very quickly, and that's what she does in that excerpt. There's been a kind of corrosion for everyone that started in March and is still ongoing. There are no carefree moments, at least not many. Every moment around anyone else is a risk calculation, and the consequences of doing that calculation incorrectly could be, in the worst case, fatal. 

Yet our ability to perform these calculations erodes over time as we miss places and people more deeply. We put ourselves in situations that we would never have considered in March. 

Every day drains our reservoirs just a little more. 

It's going to end. There are vaccines, and they're highly effective. But there are going to be people who lose their lives because they just couldn't handle the strain of isolation any longer, who go into situations where they know better and catch COVID. That may be the clearest explanation of the toll the last eight months have taken on all of us.

Here's another excerpt:
When I see the people I love looking after themselves and each other, dealing with all this crap with a cry of “well, it’s not like there’s any other choice, is there?” (and there isn’t) I am blown away by their excellence.  I am reminded time and time again just how lucky I am to not be dealing with this stuff, to be safe and well.  I am perpetually grateful and perpetually awed.  The way people are fine – people who have lost so much – is genuinely incredible.  They make hope possible.

And at the same time, there is a part of my soul – of the souls of many I’ve talked to – who cannot help but compare pains.  Who do not feel that it is acceptable for someone with the luck to not be [ill/unemployed/grieving] to be anything other than fine.  We are not mourning a loved one.  We are not in dire straits.  Therefore the loneliness, the constant grinding of it all, the anger and the fear are somehow… indulgent.

This is of course, bullshit.  Comparing pain always is.  But it is difficult to be ok with the human brain’s capacity to hold two seemingly contradictory truths simultaneously.  It is true that I am hopeful, grateful, lucky and fine.  It is true that I am sad, that this year has been pants, that I miss human contact and the normal functioning of the world.  It is true that we all need to be kind to ourselves.  It is true that we just need to get our heads down and get on with things.  

Like I said, Claire North is brilliant. If you want to know which books of hers you should read, that's an easy answer: all of them. However, if you want a place to start, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an excellent choice. 

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