So we freelancers are no longer the only ones wondering how to get through the other side of the pandemic without our lives self-destructing? This brings me scant comfort. The truth us that many of us depend on you — the people with the staff jobs in industries more generous than ours — to hold our world together.
And if you go down and join our ranks, do not expect us to reveal the secrets of how we’ve already been surviving like this for a while. There are none; desperation is motivation, inspiration, and ambition all rolled into one. Broke folks aren’t financial geniuses, we’re just good at making do with what we have and getting creative with solutions. It’s not something you can teach, there are no formulas, it’s an experience one has to endure to understand.
Life humbles us all; anyone who offers to guide us safely through to the other side of the pandemic against a fee is attempting to turn human disempowerment into personal profit. Cracks may be showing in the armor of unchecked capitalism but profiteering has intensified, too. Scarcity mindset messes us up in different ways; some of us get greedy and grabby, some of us pool resources because we’re all in this together.
If you’re new to this reality, welcome to the precariat but don’t get comfy, it’s hell down here and our ladder has just gone up in flames.
But if you were already broke, forget the overnight financial advisors. Anyone who’s telling you to take a look at where your money goes still has some to watch. And they’re expecting us to pay them for selling us an illusion of control over a thing no one has even begun to reckon with yet. Already elusive money left us when the coronavirus arrived and we have no idea when it’ll return, if ever. And yes, even the precariat has money but it goes by different names. What some call assets and savings, we call overdrafts, credit cards, pay day loans, or the pawn shop.
Perhaps our job broke up with us for good, it’s too early to say so we’re doing our best to keep calm and carry on. In our quest for practical enlightenment, let’s remember it’s not just businesses hitting the wall but people and entire families as livelihoods vanish from one day to the next.
Spending the entire day ruminating isn’t an option. And no, you certainly don’t need to grieve for your old life unless someone has actually died, which some people do when they contract COVID-19.
Can we please use language thoughtfully for once?
For all our technological advances, we’re still afraid of the dark because atavistic fears are encoded in our DNA. Although we take it for granted the sun will rise again, we can never be quite sure and so we hope we’ll get the opportunity to see this for ourselves. In short, we’re all afraid to die but some of us dwell on it more than others.
Even when the walls are closing in on us because we have no idea what it feels like when they don’t, really, but as long as we’re not squished into a pulp, we’ve chosen to live. Living is something broke people tend to do in the present rather than in the future and the reason why we sometimes behave in ways that make little sense to people with money.
Our daily cup of takeout coffee might seem self-indulgent to you but what if it were the one treat we allowed ourselves? What if that daily cup of takeout coffee was the one reliable nugget of joy in our otherwise difficult and overcommitted life? What if it were our only source of anticipation, pleasure, and relaxation?
There’s only so much people can sacrifice before they lose the will to keep moving forward against all odds. One of the lingering side effects of this pandemic will be on our mental health as countless humans turn into trauma lasagnas. And end up as splattered despair everywhere, unable to get up again after life dropped them to the floor one too many times.
But to the precariat? The pandemic is yet another crisis among many. Despite what self-marketers are selling us, we humans favor the path of least resistance and don’t embrace change unless we need to. We’re no longer the center of attention and we can’t bear it so we continue to demand validation for all our sob stories at a time when it can do more harm than good to go from the universal to the personal. It should only ever have been the other way round but schadenfreude took hold.
The only folks who get to be heroes are the ones who saves lives with their skills this time around, not those who simply save their own.
Survival is basic and innate to us all, saving someone else is on another level. Delusions of self-importance aren’t helpful to anyone, not even to those who have them. Whatever our opinion of our good self is, it’s not showing others how to get through this, only how we’re getting through this, or not as the case may be.
Why not think of the pandemic as a communal experience of sorts?
None of us know where we’re going, not really, but that doesn’t mean we should forget to live even if the parameters have changed.
If you’re tempted to hold your breath and put your life on hold, take some time to regroup but make sure it isn’t open-ended else we’ll all turn into depressives. There are far better social clubs. Hanging out in your head can lead to weirdness after a while and it is seldom life-affirming.
If you don’t corral your thoughts into something tangible, the longer this lasts, the more you may struggle to keep going. Letting anxiety run wild is the kind of self-indulgent luxury none of us can afford right now as it’s where paralysis comes from, not practical solutions. Desperation is real but it doesn’t mean we should give it free rein otherwise it’ll snowball and engulf us all. Our lives have become or are becoming unsustainable so change is inevitable and now is a good time to embrace our vulnerability, together.
We need to raise a new barn because the one we sought shelter under has just collapsed.
Have you noticed how those who stand the best chances of weathering the pandemic have been too busy helping others to gloat? And how those who gloat have nothing of import to contribute, no signal, only noise? As always, the first ones to report for duty were those who know firsthand what it’s like to have little and to depend on the generosity of random strangers to survive. The UK has Jack Monroe, the US has Linda Tirado, both fierce and formidable cooks from the poverty frontlines because food is very much something everyone needs, regardless of means.
Comfort, gentleness, hope.
And no, pandemic isn’t a personal brand anymore than basic human decency is so why are self-help charlatans still trying to market our every emotion and our shared humanness? We’ve always shared a duty of care toward one another but capitalism made us forget. Now that nature has reminded us, we must search for our lives and find new ways to do and be humans, together. Spoiler alert: It’s very unlikely to be personal branding.
Due to social distancing, online collaboration is how we’re having to incubate a different reality: solidarity.
That’s why we need the right words, that’s why we need heart, not another phony tagline.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.