This is an opportunity to be ourselves

(@brianblessed via Twitter.)

It’s not insensitive to find moments of positivity within a horrible situation. In fact, it should be encouraged — especially if you’re feeling down.

If you are struggling for a silver lining during the pandemic, here’s a suggestion: use this time of minor reclusion to be freely, unashamedly, unconcernedly yourself.

I don’t mean: you should be using your free time to better yourself. This isn’t a competition. Don’t worry about becoming your best self. Just be your-self. And don’t feel guilty if that includes a streak of happiness at aspects of our new normal.

Many people are feeling worse than they ever have, and right when the net level of suffering and loss in the country is off the charts, it can be confusing to realize you’re sort-of enjoying lockdown life.

For once, a large number of us are able to step out of negative work and social loops, to quit molding our square pegs for round holes. If home is somewhere that you can enjoy being in at the moment, then enjoy it?

Here’s some encouragement. Beloved British actor and explorer Brian Blessed O.B.E is what you might call an epigrammatist. Of all his quotes, I like the short and explicit, ‘Follow your dream. And don’t let the bastards grind you down!’

I remember him signing-off with the line while hosting primetime UK satire show, Have I Got News For You. It received an uproarious reaction, and I understand why.

Especially in Blessed’s booming, carefree voice, it’s a cheer for those forever trying, climbing, appeasing, endeavoring, and aiming to fit in. It’s a pep talk — rallying crying in the age of insta-judgment.

Resistance to the assumed or expected state of mind occupies many an album, comedy special, or angry young novel. Deliberately unselfconscious characters roam freely across pages from DH Lawrence, Jack Kerouac, and Zadie Smith.

The rising up of the non-conformist brings to mind Office Space and Ferris Beuller — while Trainspotting’s famous monologue expresses a more aggressive interpretation. For the less confrontational, Kris Kristofferson and Neil Young sing songs whose titles are versions of Blessed’s advice.

In lockdown, more of us are coming to realize how ground-down we actually feel. Sheltering in place has provided a refuge to build ourselves back up after years of living inside a mortar and pestle.

Removal from ‘public life’ has made me appreciate the sheer energy it takes to have a moderately successful day. As a bright young corporate entity, it’s unthinkable that I wouldn’t be always on, always professional, always ready, open, agreeable, polite, mindful, available, and aligned with every person I meet.

For the saints among us, this may well be the neutral state of being. Less an aspiration than a given upon waking to the 6.30 a.m. alarm. But I don’t mind saying I find navigating office and social politics to be exhausting, and the career tightrope — with its immense consequences of a wrong step — to be vertigo-inducing.

So, a chance to exhale and know that everyone has far more important things to worry about than my tripping-over-my-own-feet at the office is welcome. Working without micromanagement is a release; keeping a routine that prioritizes my family’s needs — a privilege — free as a child bunking school, eating packed lunch from the refrigerator and watching daytime TV (perhaps Blessed in Flash Gordon).

As for Blessed’s reaction to COVID-19? He’s been busy co-opting his slogan for a range of charity merchandise. If you’d like a Tshirt emblazoned with Brian’s face and the shout Don’t let COVID grind you down, you can buy one here (all proceeds to the NHS).

It’s a bizarre, contrapuntal, yet pleasant side effect of the global shutdown. As if, for the first time, Sauron’s all-seeing eye has agreed to take a nap, and given us the permission, at least temporarily, to look after ourselves.

Reports from a number of us who suffer some form of day-to-day anxiety have described a reduction in symptoms since the lockdown, even a newly found sense of calm — raising the question of whether ‘normal life’ is making people ill in other, less overt ways.

At home, away from the office, we’re encouraged to stop — to reduce our scope and let down our guard. Because of this, beyond the obvious worries for the health of family, friends, and communities, I’d like to propose that we’ve fallen upon a golden opportunity — to take advantage of home life, remember the childhood feeling of being at the center of a quiet universe, and revel in the chance to simply be yourself.

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