We are more than a year into COVID, or put another way, we are slowly starting to climb out of the underground bunker that COVID-19 drove many of us into more than a year ago. Like a mole, blinking into the harsh sunlight of its first morning above ground, I find myself looking around with some near-blind confusion. After being in the dark for so long, the back to back zoom meetings where I have attempted (mostly) to look professional from the waist up, I am observing my new surroundings with some bewilderment and more than a hint of distrust at the safety of the environment and those who inhabit it with me.
I didn’t realize it until things started to open up in earnest quite recently, but I have gotten incredibly comfortable with my little underground hole (this is literally true for me since I work in our basement). And while it’s hardly a dark hole thanks to the giant egress window very near my desk, it is still partially below ground.
I’ve gotten used to the gray sweatpants that I have worn day in and day out, too. If someone had told me two years ago that I would become a prolific sweatpants wearer, I would have laughed and said, “Yeah, right!” But as Chelsey Ewen, our former communications coordinator said on Twitter in November…
Unfortunately, the sweatpants are just the physical manifestation of a mental slide into “casual wear” as well.
As things are starting to open up, even safely, I am consistently straddling the line between being so ready to be “in person” at live events, performances and openings and not wanting to leave my safe little mole hole of a life. I’ve gotten comfortable only talking to Lilly (see above), my constant companion, for hours at a time. I like heading upstairs to start a loaf of homemade bread or to make another mug of tea or to take a quick afternoon walk to break up my schedule.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t miss wearing heels and pencil skirts; I like the minimal makeup I’ve been using. I love knowing that around 5pm, my workday is basically over and there’s little to nothing happening to demand my presence in the evenings.
And I’m wondering if you are feeling the same way, too?
Are you struggling with these mixed emotions of getting back to “normal” and continuing what, by now, has become our accepted life?
I was talking with some of the area’s arts leaders earlier this week about how safe they feel in their environments and with the limited programming they are doing.
Turns out, the Metro’s arts organizations are doing a great job of practicing social distancing and being as careful as they can be–both for their staffs and for the general public. According to research done by two German scientists, museums, operas and theatres are among the safer venues to be spending time in, as long as safety precautions are in place. And in the FM arts organizations, they are definitely in place.
Many of our arts institutions have been open at limited capacity or putting on hybrid performances for much of the past year, and there have not been any outbreaks associated with those activities (cue the prolific knocking on wood).
So that begs the question, if it’s more-than-relatively safe to be in these environments – what’s holding me up?
I go back to the sweatpants.
There has always been a certain unspoken dress code around the arts. People can say that that isn’t true, but we all know that it’s like church.Sure, you can wear jeans to church, but there’s a pretty “judgey” faction that will quietly (or not) look down their nose at the jeans wearers. The same is relatively true for the arts as well.
As a professional leader (or better yet, as an adult) in the community, sweatpants hardly seem appropriate for me to show up at the grocery store in, much less a performance or opening. So I might be using the ongoing uncertainty around COVID as my rationale – although I absolutely believe there is still validity to that – but truthfully, my reluctance to go back to the before-times has more to do with the fact that I’ve gotten incredibly comfortable dressing for comfort.
I like my new, much slower rhythm to my days and particularly my nights. I’m afraid that if I open the scheduling door even the tiniest crack, the tidal wave of my previous life will come crashing in on me, and I’ll find myself working all day and being gone 2-5 evenings a week at arts events…all things I love, but all things that demand so much my time.
Part of coming out of our individual and collective mole holes and looking around at the new world is to determine what we want to pick up again, what we want to leave behind and what new we want to adopt. I’m not advocating for sweatpants at the opera, symphony, theatre or museum, although I believe I safely speak for the arts leaders in the Metro when I say if coming in sweatpants will get you in the door, welcome to you and your sweatpants — enjoy the show!
I am advocating for acknowledging that there is a very real anxiety about moving back into the world and losing sight of all that we have gained and learned in this painful year. There is legitimate fear around all the unknowns of the longterm effects of COVID and the efficacy of the vaccinations.
As we come up from underground, my fondest hope is that we are welcoming to everyone, that we let go of our old perceptions of how things have to be done, what you have to wear to the arts, who belongs in the space, etc and that we offer grace and patience to wherever we all are on the path to our “new normal.”
I promise you won’t see me in sweatpants outside of walking our dog anytime soon, but I can also promise that I am going to continue to straddle the line of the past year and the future. And when I see some of you out and about in these next weeks and months, I know that I will be reminded of what I have most missed about being in spaces where art is being made and showcased: the people and the joy of experiencing it together. And that has absolutely nothing to do with what any of us are wearing.
Continue to stay safe–I hope to see you in person soon!