Musings on Change in The Time of COVID-19

In the last year or so since the COVID-19 pandemic began, so much has changed in the world as well as in the lives of our SixByEight community — including our editorial team. We want to take this moment and check-in with our editors, who will share some of their thoughts about reinvention and how it relates to the change in their lives since then.

SixByEight Press Editors 2018

It’s been more than a year since the pandemic began.

What has changed the most since then in your life?

Natalie Gallagher

COVID has occupied my final year of graduate school. In many ways, the final year is isolating anyway, as you work on your dissertation. Doing this during COVID has been a radical shift away from the community I had built during the first five years, and that has been the biggest change.

Nora Rosengarten

A lot has changed for me due to the pandemic and also in spite of it; the last year has been one of tremendous change. Perhaps the biggest change has been around my social habits and emotions. I have been spending so much time at home and unable to see loved ones, and then when I do find myself in social situations, I am much more nervous and anxious than before. As a self-proclaimed extrovert (the subtitle to my autobiography could be “enthusiasm is a form of social courage”) this has been alienating.

Alexandra Reale

My relationship with myself and my loved ones. The strange new boundaries of quarantine helped me evaluate what boundaries I had set or let be set on me in the years before, and I learned a lot about who I am and what’s most important to me. Turns out I am just as I suspected: a homebody who loves time with family and friends. Also, I kept several plants alive.

Joe Madsen

The line between work and personal life has become much less pronounced. Which feels like a natural consequence of having my desk, refrigerator, and bed located in the same 30-foot radius. I also travel a lot less, and I didn’t realize just how much I enjoyed the variety it provides — even on work trips.

Swedian Lie

My idea or conception of what “control” is — and how it manifests in both my physical and mental well-being. Before COVID, I always lived under the assumption that I could, if I wanted to, control most things in my life by simply adjusting and adapting either physically or mentally, but when the pandemic hit and things spiraled out of people’s control, my body and mind reacted so differently from what I was used to, and there was quite a difficult “realignment” period.

What has changed the least?

Joe Madsen

The amount of emails I send, and calls I attend. I don’t think that ever lets up in consulting.

Alexandra Reale

I’m still into comedies about terrible people, unfortunately. Not a lot of growth there.

Nora Rosengarten

My work has been a steady source of pleasure throughout this time. The ability to sit down and lose myself in a book or rework a piece of writing still transports me to a place of presentness that is pleasure-based and healing for me.

Natalie Gallagher

The deepest truest things about my life are the same — the people I love, the joy I get from being outside, the value I place in morning coffee. There have been surface changes (bars converted to Zoom calls, walking my neighborhood instead of hiking, home coffee instead of a coffeeshop), but the most basic foundations are the same, and for that I am grateful.

Swedian Lie

The amount of coffee I drink; it has always been a lot, and continues to be a lot. At least I still have control over this.

Has there been a new routine that you’ve incorporated into your life since the pandemic started?

Nora Rosengarten

The pandemic has seen me attempt so many “routines” — especially in the early days. I think the new routine I’ve embraced has been listening to my body and myself and not trying to force a certain idea of what I should be doing. Of course, my life has many things that are non-negotiable, about which I don’t get a say, but I am trying to carve spaces in the time I do control for rest, calm, and listening to myself. Paying attention is its own routine.

Swedian Lie

I started regularly working out again, but focusing much more on rejuvenating my mental health as much as my physical health, and really learning to listen to my body.

Alexandra Reale

A gratitude practice. Every day I try to tear myself away from the doomscroll and write about five things that are happy and good in my life. And I can never keep it to just five, which is a great source of joy to me.

Joe Madsen

Taking breaks during the day to sprawl out on the couch and read for fun. I never felt comfortable doing that in an office, but taking the time to do that provides much needed mental relief.

Natalie Gallagher

There’s a cemetery near my house, and I always knew it was pretty, but now I walk there twice or more every week. I’ve gotten to see it in every season, and it’s also sort of a haven for wildlife inside of Chicago. I’ve met (from a distance) coyote, doe, bucks in all stages of antler-ing, owl, kingfisher, woodpecker, and many other small fluttering birds.

What does “normal” mean to you now?

Joe Madsen

Normal means understanding how much the the smallest choices can bring so much happiness to my day. For example, getting up and walking outside first thing in the morning, getting takeout tacos from my favorite place on Friday nights, enjoying a couple drinks on the stoop with my neighbor, or watching old 1980’s and 1990’s action films with my boyfriend. Normal means taking stock of these small pleasures and sharing them with people I’m closest with. My scale of understanding what makes me happy is much more detailed now, which I’m learning to appreciate as I get older.

Natalie Gallagher

Working from my desk that’s right next to my partner’s desk. At-home date nights every Saturday, with two-person games. Chicago shrunk to the size of my neighborhood. Seeing the people dear to me as tiny squares in a Zoom screen. Toggling wildly between hope for the end and resignation at how far into the future that could be. Missing planes, trains, automobiles, and their sense of adventure.

Alexandra Reale

I guess “normal” is more about striving for awe, for me. It was always amazing that we could look people in the eye and tell them that we care about them and we’re happy they’re here, but now it feels more urgent to me. And more sacred. I really want to hang on to this feeling and incorporate it into my new normal.

Nora Rosengarten

I think I’ve never felt connected to the word “normal” or seen it as something to aspire to, to be honest. Normalcy feels disconnected from what I know is connected to growth (both my personal growth and societal growth), which is to say: disagreement, conflict, accountability, self-awareness. I see what is “normal” as what has been “normativized” actively; to me, it’s something that is constructed rather than innate.

Swedian Lie

Being able to wake up and feel excited about the little things that make up one’s day — the smell of freshly brewed coffee; a funny emoji response on Slack; the quiet of a no-meeting day.

If you could go back to “pre-pandemic you,” what would you tell yourself in anticipation of what’s ahead?

Natalie Gallagher

Spend time on the relationships and projects that nourish you, and trust your instincts. During COVID, you will have less energy. You will learn not to pour it into black holes.

Nora Rosengarten

I’d probably remind myself to show up for others as much as possible, because, in the words of a dear friend, “No one is okay right now.” I’d ask myself to give others grace and try to extend that grace inward, too. I’d give myself a list of good books to read, and tell myself Instagram is not a real place. I’d tell myself to give a lot more hugs.

Joe Madsen

I would tell myself that isolation is more mentally fatiguing than you think it will be. Don’t compare your quarantined life to a normal one — or to anyone else’s, for that matter. Don’t get down and out for not doing all that you said you would. You’re going to go through an ordeal, and so is everyone around you. Just embrace what this time means, and be happy with small personal victories.

Alexandra Reale

It would be nice if you were less impulsive and spent more time considering the consequences of moving to a whole different city during a pandemic, but then again — a lot of good things happened because of this questionable choice, so I guess just go with it? Oh, and don’t assume that you’re equipped for backpacking just because you play sports. You’re so not.

Swedian Lie

You don’t have to run at 100% all the time. Be kind to yourself, and trust in others.

Any parting words or thoughts to share with our lovely readers?

Joe Madsen

I’ve learned that moving in with a partner is one thing, and moving in during a pandemic is quite another. Spending that much time together has taught us how to let our guard down about our emotional states — even with the feelings that are more embarrassing. Witnessing each other move up and down the emotional spectrum throughout the work day is nothing short of comical. For example, when I find myself in imaginary argument with a coworker or friend, my boyfriend politely asks, “So who you talking to? How’s everyone doing today?” And I tell him, “Oh, just my 12 other boyfriends. They want me to tell you that this is a private conversation, but thanks for asking.”

Nora Rosengarten

I wonder about reinvention as routine. Because change can’t be a singular moment, like in a movie montage where the heroine makes all these big changes and is suddenly a whole new person. I wonder what would happen if we all treated every day and every moment as a reinvention, a taking on, a taking off, a gathering and a letting go. The places I am the most rigid and brittle are the places I need to find softness; that hardness is like a sign saying, “Look here, something’s off.” How can we soften to one another, care for one another? How can we listen closely, with attention? How can we create spaces for this softening and listening work to happen?

Swedian Lie

My idea of reinvention seems pretty “small-scale” as it focused primarily on myself and how I operated in the world — but I think our inner worlds are the ones most affected by the past year or so. If we don’t have control or we don’t know how to operate best within these inner spaces (wink wink, Wanda Maximoff), then aren’t we just singularities waiting for our final collapse? Even if your world might seem small to others, it’s still the universe to you.

Natalie Gallagher

In some ways, “emerging” from the pandemic feels more upsetting than going in. At the start, we were all in trouble because of a random act of nature. For all that we may quibble about how and when and where the virus arose, it is a virus, propagating itself as nature demands. Now, I wonder if it has taught us anything. There has never been a better argument to make radical human change — to move towards equity, to stop incinerating our planet, to remove patents on vaccines. Are we ready to be our better selves? If this hasn’t pushed us to reinvention, what could?

Alexandra Reale

We’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the pain of the past, and feeling sorrowful about the trials of the present, and rightfully so. It’s been an enormously difficult year. I’m looking forward to looking forward!


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