BURNED OUT & TUNED IN
Around this time last year I began to reflect rather callously on 2019. Tired of relocating my small family and all the stress that each process involved, I resigned myself to the idea that the new year would be different. It had to be. And as like any resignation prior to this one, I began to mentally check out. My eyes has become glazed when confronted with the immediate day to day stressors, while simultaneously hyper focused on the riveting potential that I had assumed all of 2020 had to offer. Looking back, I realise that this latent procrastination may have actually been a coping mechanism, a means of giving myself something to look forward to when I clearly felt immersed in a great deal of responsibility, deadlines and chaos.
As the new year started, I think the world began to watch itself unravel, often struggling to exist outside of the binary of alert and panic. The idea of stocking one’s pantry, clinically sanitizing every laundry load and enthusiastically refreshing COVID-19 update pages would have seemed outrageous months earlier, and yet such activities quickly underpinned a great number of my encounters with the public. By March, I had decided that 2020 was the metaphorical train crash that my generation narrowly missed during bird flu, swine flu, ebola and other possible zoonotic pandemics. As my amateur-like passion for research of dangerous viruses grew, I began to experience a shift in my perception of self and Blackness.
As so many in my circle raged and grieved for the loss and despicable murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and Ahmaud Arbery, I found myself slowly withdrawing from the endless news cycles. My fingers slowly stopped stabbing the F5/ refresh key, in favour of emphatically scrolling through journals, short pieces and even online interviews in the desperate hope of finding something, anything to cling to that resembled unthreatened Black excellence.
Though my Victorian comrades endured significant hardship during their Covid-19 lockdowns I was always inspired by one friend in particular, who vowed that as long as her local bookshop could deliver books, she would continue to invest in them and enrich her days in what felt like an eternal house arrest. While we have different tastes in literature, I found this commitment to be very useful and decided that I too would fill my bookshelves with the likes of Baldwin, Hurston, Lorde, Evaristo and of course, Morisson. Slowly but surely quotes and research pioneered by the Congolese epidemiological giant Jean Jacque Muyembe-Tamfum covered my desk. Whenever the news or google alerts confronted me, I would wander quickly to the study and focus on the work of minds whose genius defied the often institutionally racist parameters of their respective industries. I cradled books in between my palms if only just to feel some tangible proof that in the brink of such violence, the intellect, productivity and essence of the Black diaspora near and far could never be silenced, for it was documented and in my presence. As the world begins to settle into the new normal, where the presence of Covid19 is somewhat accommodated and Black Lives Matter still remains to somehow be debatable, I find myself making useless comparisons between this year and last. Somehow my study is teeming with life even though I’m the only one who ever occupies the room. I still have so many books to enjoy, annotate and reflect upon and that is a privilege which shielded me through a year that demanded so many of us to embrace our own fragility. My coping mechanism relied on the timeless achievements, insights and discoveries of the very community I worried for the most. The only gift of burn out, was the determination to finally tune in. By Chloe Nelson