“Between the intense mood swings, exhaustion, compulsion to clean and impending sense of dread, I would say I pretty much feel like I did when I was pregnant.”
This has become my answer to the question, “How are you?”
I don’t think anything I just described is exclusive to me right now. It’s profound how in a mere 56 hours our worlds shifted due to the virus outbreak, altering American life as we know it. Like many small business owners, I am running a daily gauntlet that includes shock, awe, fear, frustration, gratitude, joy, tears—the whole range of human emotions. Not to mention, isolation can feel overwhelming.
My bookstore is usually humming with activity and life. My staff are a mishmash of parents, college students and young adults with multiple jobs, and we all have creative projects. Usually, there are myriad guests at the loft and the bed and breakfast that cycle through our lives. Right now, it’s very quiet.
Hell, I miss complaining about the Azalea Festival, which normally would be taking place right now [Ed. note: See page 21 for the virtual experience festival staff have put together for 2020.]
There are two things I have learned are the best antidotes when I feel depressed or unhappy: to learn something new or help someone else. So my days begin with a cup of coffee with Jock and the dogs, then an email or a phone call to someone I care about, a check-in to see how they are doing. I know I can’t really wave a magic wand and make it all go away, but I can reach out and chat with those I care about. More importantly, I get a chance to share how much I love them.
Did I mention isolation can feel overwhelming? Perhaps one of the silver linings to this whole thing is how many people I have gotten a chance to reconnect with, to chat with.
We lead increasingly busy lives. Juggling multiple aspects of my business to try and keep payroll rolling means I socialize less and less these days. If anything, this has given me a chance to hear voices from friends and loved ones I haven’t spoken to in months.
As the day progresses, and I hit each new snag, once I work through it—whether it is trying to figure out the paperwork the staff needs for unemployment or mining the next step in a loan request, or going through the triage of bill-paying—it’s time for another phone call or email to see how someone else is doing.
Another thing that has historically made me feel better is learning something new. I like learning new skills; I like having an increased sense of confidence as I start to grasp a new concept. Of course, part of this goes back to the way we each see ourselves. I am keenly aware I lack charm, grace, beauty and a host of other fine qualities, but I could usually excel as a kid intellectually. I could teach myself pretty much anything from a book, and was happiest when I could show that off. (Yep, totally did not have the social grace to understand no one likes a braggart; it took a lot longer to learn that lesson than it should have.) But, now, I have embarked on a learning curve for which I have no hope of ever excelling: I am trying to learn to use social media. I am making an epic fool of myself in the process. (So much for feeling better. Sigh.)
Anyone who actually knows me or spends any time with me knows I really embrace my Luddite status. I have regarded social media as a scourge upon humanity, but I must admit, in this time of isolation, I am starting to see the potential for connecting with people and there is value in that.
Nearly nine years ago, my friend Mandy took a day to help create a Facebook page for the bookstore and give me a crash course on how to do a post. I tried not to cry. As soon as I could figure out how to make someone else an administrator, I handed it off to the staff at the bookstore. Now the staff are at home and I have to figure out how to do this. And Instagram. I can conjugate verbs, build a spread sheet, and settle an estate with the clerk of court, but Instagram and Facebook might be my Waterloo.
Jock chuckled one day at me and murmured, “Faint heart ne’er won the day fair lady.”
“Great. Call my courage into question and now I really have to do this.”
In the midst of everything, Matt Keen of Gravity Records, a man I always have respected and admired, is rapidly becoming one of my heroes. Now, Matt and his record store (staff and patrons) are far more media and social-media savvy than I will ever be. Matt flipped the switch on this situation pretty quickly, and went to curbside pick-up and drop-off delivery and mailing out phone orders early on. He’s figured out how to keep the staff on for as long as possible. When I called last week, he chuckled into the phone commenting he didn’t even hear it ring; he was so busy wiping it down with alcohol he was startled to hear my voice from the receiver.
Matt talked me through some basics of Instagram, and we chatted about the precautions he is taking for the health of the patrons and the staff. He’s been heading over to Good Shepherd Kitchen to volunteer, too. Just then his attention was called away to deal with a pressing matter in the record store. As we hung up, I could only marvel at the wonder that is Matt Keen and how lucky we are to have him in our community.
My next-door neighbor at home is Jacob Motsinger—of the brothers Jake and Ben Motsinger who own Memory Lane Comics. Watching Jacob head into work everyday to maintain store hours and keep life rolling at the comic-book shop is inspiring. They are limiting the number of people in the store, and offering curbside pickup. Even more inspiring, they have migrated to an online point-of-sale system that has made their inventory searchable online. They are going to get through this; I couldn’t be more proud by their determination and dedication.
Across town, my cousin, Austin, works at Two Wheeler Dealer, and is facing a similar but not identical scenario. Every morning starts with him wiping down all the surfaces of the store with cleaner—that’s for the staff. Currently, customers are not coming in the building. The sales staff will meet them at the door, talk through what they might be looking for, and then wheel out potential bikes for them to consider. Folks needing to drop off a bike for a mechanic to look at will be met with a, “May I take your name and number, then call you with an estimate?” I was surprised Two Wheeler was open, let alone doing business. I mean, race season is pretty much on hold. Well, apparently, spring fever has hit and bicycle transportation is more social distancing-friendly than airplanes, buses or even car-pooling. So there you go. (Make sure, dear readers, if you head over, to ask for Gwenyfar’s favorite cousin, Austin.)
We are all stretched to the limit right now. We are stressed, tired of trying to entertain our relatives, and not sure if and when our jobs will resume. A phone call or an email (or even a text message) can go a long way toward reinforcing basic human connection—the reason we are all here.
Our small, local businesses are the reason Wilmington is a vibrant place to live. They are doing their best to weather this crisis with you and would love to hear from you right now more than ever. Spread the love. But wash your hands first!