These are all examples of what I consider to be the fundamental and-ness of life, the way it requires us to experience so many contradictory or unrelated things at once. There is no escaping this and-ness, because it is built into the basic facts of our existence. The world we inhabit is full of splendor and misery, our fellow human beings are brilliant and inspiring and selfish and mean, and we ourselves are hopelessly motley, full of mixed motives and mixed feelings.
I wish I was on the road right now, visiting some of my favorite bookstores, meeting readers and catching up on conversation and community after a long dry spell. And I am also incredibly happy to be home with my partner and our 5 month old daughter, to keep them both safe and keep them both company. I worry about the fate of the independent bookstores hosting my virtual tour without the benefit of personal audiences and impulse buying. And I’m glad that my widowed mother, back home in Ohio, can attend all my events from her living room.
I have started writing my new book before the emergence of the coronavirus, and then watched some of its central themes dominated the era: not only the ubiquity of loss and the lingering joy, but also this experience of and. It’s easy to feel that good times in bad times, just like bad times in good times, are deviant and even insidious. But that is not true.
There is no pure form of any major event in our lives, no single emotion that alone and accurately represents love, or mourning, or pandemic. Even at the extreme of the experience, life is always busy with many things at once – exhausting and restorative, tedious and exciting, solemn and comical, devastating and satisfying.
The trick lies not in separating the “real” or “relevant” feelings from the perceived distraction and obscuration, but in accepting that this constant flow of feelings is not only inevitable, but essential: it is what prevents our happiness from becoming complacent. becomes, our fear of completely undoing ourselves. The world we live in is infinitely varied, infinitely complex. So to feel the same way shouldn’t be compromised; it must be complete.
Kathryn Schulz, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author of the memoir Lost & Found.