When Your Car Crash Comes, Don’t Be Misled
Convince yourself that everything’s alright. ‘Cause it already is.
Well, since I can’t sleep, might as well jot down some thoughts here. It’s been awhile since I’ve written an “unplugged” entry.
Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding this as much as humanly possible.
COVID-19. Coronavirus. The pandemic. Self-Isolation. Social Distancing. Curbside Delivery. Task Force Press Conferences.
All these keywords and phrases are plastered on every headline, video, hashtag, petition, and opinion piece for the past month. It’s everywhere. Heck, Medium has dedicated an entire category of content to the damn topic. It’s relatively easy to stick your head in the sand when you’re home alone. My roommate hightailed it out of Minneapolis when he had the opportunity. Taking refuge in Cedar Rapids, working greatly reduced hours from home, I only see him through weekly Zoom meetings. Being the only one in my apartment, there’s no one to strike up a conversation, let alone share updates on the pandemic. And honestly, I’m not too bothered by that.
I’ve gotten more writing done in the past two weeks than in the last three months. I’m reading more of the deluge of library books I checked out before the stay-at-home ordinance. When I’m not finishing a book or writing potential entries, I keep busy with cleaning and reciting Shakespeare monologues. Yeah, that’s a thing I’m doing now. And, God help me, I’m on the fourteenth season of South Park. Yes, Max, you heard me. It’s everything I expected it to be. Raunchy, crass, unabashed, and hilarious all at once. I’m slightly bummed I hadn’t indulged in the series in my adolescent years.
Even with the golden opportunities set before me, to read, write, cook, clean, actually take time to hear myself breathe, I still find myself on edge. Grocery shopping and pick up orders have me teetering on my nerves, wondering if people aren’t as compassionate or empathetic as I hope they are. I sense distrust as I walk down the aisles and feel a nasty spike of nausea when I pass any barren shelves, knowing what should be there. I’m more conscientious about my distance when I jog in the morning. I can’t remember the last time I made eye contact with someone let alone hugged them. I dread a friend or family member showing signs of malaise, feeling an itch in the throat, a tightness in the chest. Who might be next? Who might drop dead?
These are mentally-exhausting times. Yet, I’ve had a mantra on loop in my head, thanks to an obscure alternative rock song.
If you haven’t surmised from this entry’s title, I’m referring to a stanza from singer-songwriter Pete Yorn’s 2001 single “For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)”. It’s repeated throughout the single’s four-minute runtime, and it has struck a chord with me on various level’s:
When your car crash comes, don’t be misled/Convince yourself that everything is alright/’Cos it already is.
The first time I heard this song was fresh out of college, the following winter, when I was suspended in this melancholic limbo. I was uncertain where I would I go, what I wanted to do now that I had only myself to answer to. Worse, I feared my acquired skills would go wasted. I feared I wouldn’t amount to my potential, if I had potential. I fretted over each decision I made, how I might waste time pursuing dead ends for my career as a writer, and I cringed at the prospect of failing. Perhaps ending up a pathetic, drunk Hemingway without the Hemingway. College, in a way, became my security blanket more than an opportunity to establish camaraderie between my colleagues. Without that accessible community, I was alone and hundreds of miles from my dear college friends. For a time, I even regressed back into that dreaded Closet. It was in mid-December when I decided to take a break from Hanford, my hometown, for an extended weekend trip to San Francisco. On my shuttle to Market Street, the aforementioned Pete Yorn hit popped up in my Spotify playlist.
I felt recognized. My fear had a creative, catchy manifestation. Since then, it’s one of the few tracks I associate with anxiety. That repetitive stanza reassured me I would be okay. Sometimes the only way to feel better is to make yourself feel better, breathe evenly, and say, “Okay, let’s do this.”
By no means did this eradicate my distrust for the future. I still reserved hesitation for the next couple of years, but at least I had a notion as to how I could retain some shred of dignity.
My “car crash” was imminent; there was little to doubt about that. I was at least slightly prepared for the worst.
With just a little more context on this minor single (released as a single in the UK before hitting US radio waves), I could easily draw parallels to the — ahem — terrorized elephant in the room. Released the same year as 9/11, it’s not surprising the lyrics, at the time, could’ve provided solace for the traumatized masses. Personally, I would’ve preferred this neutral consolation over the ham-fisted, jingoistic bro-country anthems shoveled down my throat in the fall and winter of 2001 (and I was only eight, for crying out loud). But I’ll leave the post 9/11 socio-cultural/economical analyses to well-informed historians or, conversely, Alex Jones; I gratefully lack the mental capacity to sift through that lunacy.
Regardless of Yorn’s authorial intent, this refrain has supported me through these spiritually-tumultuous months. I don’t expect the worst every day, but at this point, I’ve become numb to the dreadful daily pandemic updates. I take partial comfort deluding myself that I will be prepared when the worst comes. The pandemic, falling ill, my financial insecurity, the possibility of another recession, the increasing death toll, it’s my current, impending car crash.
I appreciate the posts circulating social media stories about maintaining your spiritual and physical health, how to not become distracted by others’ quarantine guidelines or logs. We’re barely into a month of quarantine, and there are entries and posts about losing weight during the shutdown, financial shortcuts to maintaining a proper diet, tips on how to stay hygienic in public, reading lists, do’s and don’ts of purchasing cleaning products, and various routines that resemble our lives before the pandemic.
For me, most of these posts embody a desperate attempt to cling onto any shred of normalcy. They seem to unintentionally compound anxiety rather than reassure us masses. Adding to this is the repugnant notion that our administration, specifically our pandemic task force, seems constantly tempted to do its job half-heartedly so the economy can “reopen”. Perhaps that’s emblematic of my issue with certain content. There doesn’t seem to be authenticity in our actions or advice. We’re either preoccupied with comprising a semblance of our former lives or outright rushing through our coping processes.
We’re either doing all we can to avoid the car crashes, or we’re speeding through our recoveries.
“Lean into your emotions,” my friend Zach once advised me. He made it clear I shouldn’t dwell on my negativity, my dour emotional roller-coaster, but examine it. Process why I felt sad, restless, furious, or discontent. Process what exactly I feared. Failing ill? Having minimum health insurance? Having to search for another apartment to rent, another job application? Zach also reminded me of an important distinction in Yorn’s single: when, not if, when your car crash comes.
If this pandemic isn’t my car crash, it’s going to be something else.
Another friend of mine posted a heartfelt plea on Instagram that encouraged everyone not just to focus on being healthy but feeling healthy. Eat, sleep, exercise when you feel like it, and to combine another piece of advice, lean into this time of questioning. Lean into your dismantlement. Take a moment to look yourself in the mirror, feel your skin after showering, enjoy your cup of coffee, and read that damn book you’ve wanted to read but didn’t have the time. This truly is a pause in history we haven’t experienced for quite awhile. Why should we spend every moment in terror and dread?
Dare I say such terror and dread could mislead us when the worst comes?
For my part, I’ll lean into this worrying event. I’ll continue distancing myself, wiping my doorknobs, and washing my hands. I’ll read the headlines, I’ll drink my coffee, jog around the lake in Little Canada, order takeaway from a local eatery, and remind myself to keep breathing. I’ll shower, keep at my books and piles of saved Medium articles I’ve yet to tackle, I might even take another stab at submitting my work for publishing. I’m not worrying about my car crash. It’ll come when it comes, and I refuse to be misled.