December 5, 2020

It’s Okay to Not Know What to Feel. There’s no Playbook for How to Ride out a Pandemic.

How is it December already? Seriously.

I swear it feels like just a few weeks ago, it was (last) December. I was performing in a holiday show out in California, and then heading to Arizona to enjoy some time off with my boyfriend’s family. January rolled around, and I returned to my home base in New York City to dive back into that New York hustle.

Then there was February—the last real month before COVID-19. The month kicked off with a closing party for the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera—a show that had been a huge part of my life and career since 2013. It was also the first night I remember talking about the Coronavirus.

My dad had come into New York City for a college reunion and to visit his mother (my grandmother). A family visit, to the depths of Queens, coincided with the same night as my Phantom closing party, so my dad drove me into Manhattan to make my party on time and save me the New York nightmare that can, sometimes, feel like planes, trains, and automobiles. Driving west across midtown Manhattan, while stuck in traffic, was when the Coronavirus came up. Summed up, the conversation went something like this:

“There’s a strange new virus in China that’s really serious. People are dying. The virus itself isn’t new, but the strain is. Life in Wuhan has come to a standstill. It seems terrifying. But China is so far away. We’ll be fine. How lucky to be here, and not there.”

And then I went to my party.

Later, that month, talks of a far-off forgotten virus, I went upstate to Buffalo to see my parents and attend a big gallery opening featuring a work by my (other) grandmother. The gallery was filled to the brim with attendees mingling while celebrating the works of female artists. The evening was a joyous one and full of culture. Not one of the hundred or so attendees, I assume, had any idea that an event like this might be the last one of its kind, for a long time to come.

My February, once back in New York City, concluded with a visit from my long-distance, LA-based, boyfriend. By this time, the first Coronavirus case in New York State had been reported, yet the city was as busy and normal as ever. We took a bit more caution in our travels, yet the visit was filled with seeing friends and doing typical New York things. The virus still seemed contained. It read as a cautionary tale, but one without a warning that it was about to bring the world to a standstill.

By the beginning of March, my boyfriend was back in LA. I’d see him in about six weeks or so—our typical time between visits. I began to gear up for two new gigs I was starting mid-month.

Then New Rochelle happened. Not far from New York City, the first major Coronavirus outbreak in the United States was raging. The virus was now incredibly close to the center of the universe, but life still continued on. Conversations centered on this strange new virus, speculations about what to do or what would happen were abounding. But none of us could actually fathom what was about to happen.

On March 16th, 2020, New York State went “on pause.” The many months that followed are mostly a blur.

Sometimes, it feels like the past nine months have gone by in an instant, and yet every 24-hour-day can seem to span a lifetime. Sometimes, I’m oddly grateful for the pause, and other times, I’m beyond desperate to return to my old life and all that it entailed. Sometimes, I feel at peace with my current (lack of) livelihood (the performing arts industry has been shuttered since the shutdown), and other times, I’m stressed to the max about paying my bills.

I worry about getting sick, about my family getting sick, but I’m also grateful we’ve managed to stay healthy so far. I know so many who have not been so lucky. Some days, I feel on top of the world. I’m learning new things, setting new goals, and taking on new challenges. Some days, I don’t want to get out of bed.

So many of us are dealing with this strange ping-pong of emotions. What I’m realizing is that it’s okay to both mourn and celebrate at the same time. It’s okay to be happy and sad in adjacent moments and to feel relieved as well as stressed about the same situation. There is no playbook for the proper way to emotionally ride out a pandemic.

It’s okay to acknowledge and even honor the duality of what this unprecedented time has brought upon us all. This pandemic shuttered my industry, but it also opened me up to pursue another dream—one I may not have had the time or the courage to pursue otherwise.

There’s no do-over for the past nine months; they happened, like it or not. But there’s also no right or wrong way to have gone through them; there’s only forward. Whatever that means to you, on that given day.

I no longer seem to be capable of giving an accurate measurement of time. Tuesday versus Saturday makes no difference in a world on pause. Did that conversation happen two months ago, or was it yesterday?

It really doesn’t matter, and that’s the beauty in it all. If yesterday was lost to the couch because the world was a little too much, that’s okay. If tomorrow brings the biggest personal or professional win, that’s okay too. If next week winds up entirely forgotten in a month’s time, that’s definitely okay.

This has been, and will continue to be, a strange and difficult time to have lived through. Somewhere between the lost months of 2020 and the slow-moving pace of the everyday, there are lives that are still lived (albeit in a different way than before the pandemic).

Decades from now, this year will become a blip in the history of humanity; simply a chapter in a history book much like the Great Depression or any other historical event.

I spent the better part of six years on tour with The Phantom of the Opera, and yet, those six years boil down to one line on my resume—no more, no less than any other line. Those six years hold the same visual weight as a show I only worked on for six months. It has always perplexed me that these periods of my life, these jobs that have held such meaning, all get reduced to the same thing. One line.

When history looks back on the “Great Pause,” it will reduce this time to paragraphs, books, TV shows, and movies. Months will be condensed into minutes, pulling only the memorable moments out of the blur. The thing is, isn’t that life, anyway? It all fades into the background, minus the standout memories, both good and bad.

And so, I’m okay that 2020 has fallen off a cliff into a time warp. There are days I don’t care to relive, just like in “normal” times (whatever that means). There are days I wish I could get back, and there are days I will savor forever despite being set against the backdrop of pandemic times.

Only time will tell how we all come out of the “Great Pause,” but does time matter, anyway? Time is just a construct we invented to measure the passing of our existence on this planet. To hell with time, just keep moving forward.



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