By Lauren Lee-Lewis
A couple of months ago, I shared an article on Facebook about the upcoming gaslighting that we are likely to endure as the country attempts to return to “normal” while continuing to face the realities of a global pandemic. The author, Julio Vincent Gambuto, argued that we will be inundated with media and other images attempting to convince us that the Great Pause wasn’t so bad. In May, the author offered another piece in which he asked us to question how, and with whom, we use our time, energy, and money as the New Normal takes shape. And in June, he discussed recent protests, where America goes from here, and how we have become consumers above all else.
The gaslighting Gambuto referred to is, indeed, in full effect. My hometown of Norman, Oklahoma swung the proverbial barn doors open recently since local cases of COVID-19 had been on the decline. Restaurants are operating at full capacity, events are taking place, and a bunch of people are milling about as if nothing happened. Friends are starting to post about how they just cannot wait to get back to the office. Others are taking this opportunity to go on their regular summer vacations. And I get the desire to find certainty and comfort in doing the things you were used to. But what scares me is how so many individuals going about their business for their own personal reasons will affect our collective mindset and expectations.
Personally, I’m in pretty much the same headspace that I was three months ago. Eating in a restaurant? Nope. Going to a concert or the movies or any other event on a mass scale? No way. And it hurts! It hurts so much! Concerts have been my life for as long as I can remember. I was supposed to be on stage with Steven Tyler on June 4th, a moment I had dreamed of for years. My son and I were planning to see Janet Jackson in August. BUT, I will miss these events and so many more because we are still in a period of uncertainty. What will happen next month when thousands of college students from around the nation (I would say “world,” but international travel still seems highly unlikely) descend on my college town? How on earth do we prepare for that? We saw what happened back in March when Americans started returning home from abroad. The mass chaos, coupled with the complete lack of a cohesive plan, had thousands of people crammed into airport terminals. Many said they had no screening whatsoever – there was no temperature check, no questionnaire about their travel history, nothing.
Let’s not even get started on how we are going to enforce social distancing, the use of PPE, and other safety measures on a college campus. There are protocols in place, but I sense backlash around the corner. If I show up in my office wearing a mask and someone else refuses to follow protocol, what’s the plan? Am I supposed to get into an argument with someone over these protocols? Am I supposed to risk my safety and health for the sake of enforcement? I have so many questions!!
Working from home has its challenges, obviously. Working remotely because there is a worldwide pandemic is not something I ever imagined or wanted. However, this model of work-from-home is providing me and so many others the things we were sorely lacking in the “old days” – specifically, time and control. Sure, there are plenty of places trying like hell to micromanage their employees at a distance – tracker apps, the expectation that your hours not vary from what they would have been if you’d physically gone to your desk, etc. My favorite example of this so far: a person who normally works 7:30am-4:30pm clocks in at 7:20am one day and, having completed all of their tasks, clocks out at 4:22pm only to receive an email from their employer at 4:26pm to say, “You need to work your scheduled hours.” Are you f*$!ing kidding me? Thankfully, I’m not working for such an employer (and if I had been, maybe I wouldn’t be any more). My group of managers and supervisors have all been amazing. And no, no one is yelling at me to get back to my desk – yet.
So, if I’m not being micromanaged and I’m not having to show up in person (yet), why am I so enraged about going back to work? And what the hell does all of this have to do with the 3rd article in Julio’s series?
First and foremost, it’s about the fear of what is already so painfully obvious: a second wave is happening. Second, it’s about the power of collective action. It’s about trying to take back control of our lives. I have been employed, with a few breaks here and there for various reasons, since I was 14 years old. Some jobs offered nothing in the way of healthcare, time off, flexible scheduling, and other humane employee practices. But other jobs I’ve loved, such as working as a Walt Disney World intern (although I’ve never worked harder) and the job I have now. My job now has pretty good benefits, I can generally manage my workload how I like, and I’m fortunate to work with a lot of smart and caring people. However, what none of those benefits or any of those people can offer me is the sense that my life belongs to me.
For years, I’ve woken up in a panic and started my daily game of “beat the clock.” I’ve tried getting up early so I can drink a quiet cup of coffee, but I am simply not an early morning person. I’ve tried going to bed at 9pm so I get a full night of rest, but that doesn’t work for me either. I’ve tried cramming my life into the nooks and crannies of after 5pm and weekends, but I despise the limitations. I’ve spent years taking a day off here, a couple of days there, and running through a “vacation” like I’m on fire because I’ve got to get back to that brick and mortar. I sit and I question over and over again, “What is it all for?” I believe my job has purpose. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have hung around so long. I just don’t understand why I have to sacrifice myself to the idea that my physical body in an office chair M-F is The Way. I love my friends, I love our chats, I love that my work is my own. But I can love my friends and we can still chat without occupying the same physical space. I can still be efficient, present, and productive from right here – right here in the home I pay for, with the animals and people I love, with the ability to take a break and do some mundane thing I either would’ve had to do after work or for which I would’ve had to justify leaving the office.
What all of this boils down to, basically, is that these few months of working at home, even under the difficult circumstances of a global pandemic, have been the first time I’ve felt like I have control over my own life in… ever? And that’s saying something, given that one of the few certainties we have right now is our total lack of control over what happens next. Ultimately, it’s time to re-think how we work, where we work, and why we work. If we don’t do it now, when faced with a deadly virus that knows no bounds, then when will we?