A Beginning Before
The idea of when it begins is fairly subjective and paradoxical. Yes, we could go by medical standards and look for the patient zero, or cases of first community spread, but the word pandemic immediately triggers [especially now] memories of an extended period of time where daily actions retracted from being normal. Normal, we will remember that word. Take it, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 [our current pandemic] was on January 20, 2020 in Washington State. Confirmed. I was in New York State; the coronavirus was not affecting me, I don’t think, yet. A pandemic hits different countries, different states, different cities, different communities, and different people at different times.
I work in the film industry, just to give this some context. I had a job interview to be a department head in a hotel bar, over beers and water, on February 8th, 2020. On February 14th plans were made for me to take the short two-hour drive across the border into Canada to see the work and truck setup for another job that I had previously lined up. This dream job was a week-long second unit shoot, for a big-time film director, where I lived. The plans for that day-long work trip to Canada were made for February 18th. Said plans got foiled until the very last day of that week, February 21st, because of a ‘severe cold’ that I got with coughing, nausea, headache, body ache, head fog, sweats and chills, and trouble breathing. The drive just wouldn’t be bearable, or safe, and I didn’t want to get people in the main unit up in Canada sick with my flu. I was not about to be a liability to a multi-million dollar project. However, once I felt better, to my account, I took the two-hour drive to Toronto to see the trucks. “For the job,” I urged myself. It was, in fact, a huge deal for me; largest opportunity yet in my life. That job went on as planned, February 24th through the 28th, with crews from two countries convening to shoot some architecturally, and historically, gorgeous frames, all the while the cases seemed to climb outside of the mass’ sights.
After that wrapped, I just stayed tight to my house to see if my interview from earlier in the month landed me a position for a next job. I got settled in with a few personal projects: a short story, a painting series, tidying a website. An email came inviting the crewmembers to see a private screening of another film that I worked on for five months the previous year. Of course, I swiped up my tickets for that on March 16th. Finally after weeks of hearing no response from the next film I was to be on, I decided to email again with more directives. This job was not going to slip through my fingers. I guess that I was just getting buggy because my lover had already jimmied his way into the office in a set decoration role.
I continued to write and do small work, taking new photos of my prop kit, and props to rent, in order to revamp the website, and dreaming of a freer world [as I most often did]. I was taking pictures of some beautiful green pitcher vases that I recently bought at the shop when I received an email back:
We will email you once we figure out what we are doing with our prop team.
Thanks for reaching out!
It was less than four weeks until the production was to start. Something was fishy, especially taking the level of the job and the absence of a prop team with such short a span of preparation time. Well, I thought, maybe this one isn’t the one. I hit the back button on my email, ready to get back to work taking more photos for, now, the money maker. I took a few photos before the vibrating started. I went to my phone with an alert that the director postponed the release of the blockbuster, that was two weeks away, that I had tickets to see the crew prescreen of because of the virus. Oh, I said. I wonder if they are going to cancel the screening then. Strange. I went to my email and saw a new one.
This one was from the state’s economic development office:
We regret to inform you that the screening of —————– scheduled for ———– March 16 ——– must be postponed to comply with recommended safety precautions being taken for the coronavirus pandemic.
We would like to share with you a message from our partners ———————–:
“After much consideration, and in light of the ongoing and developing situation concerning coronavirus and restrictions on global travel and public gatherings, ————————- will be moving the worldwide release —————————. We believe in and support the theatrical experience, and we look forward to bringing this film to audiences this year once we have a better understanding of the impact of this pandemic on the global theatrical marketplace.”
Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to seeing ——————- movie with you at a future date.
**redactions for privacy and/or contractual reasons
Immediately, I went to text my lover who was in the office of the new film. I had a missed message from him:
——– ——– thinks that they are going to shut down production on the movie.
Get your taxes done. Haha.
I’m going Monday.
Any word from producers on postponing? They are pushing the ——– premiere.
It’s crazy. I heard of the virus becoming a bit of an issue in Washington, and I have been loosely watching the growth of spread after the disembarking of passengers on a cruise ship in early February, but it was just another blip in the news cycle with presidential elections taking precedent on primetime. I knew that the US was closing borders to a few countries, but our president was too filled with narcissism that I did not really listen, or take breadth in anything that he said. It is crazy that real life is being impacted by the news that I heard in mumbles over the months. It was so close to home, or so I thought then. I switched the vases and went to take another photo, but I was interrupted by another buzz.
It’s official. We are shut down.
I’m packing up.
There it was; the first shockwave, the first moment where the ground became quicksand and roared beneath my feet. In effect, the precise second that I would denote the beginning. The pandemic was already spreading, people were already dying, and thousands all over the world were on breathing assists in the hopes of survival from this terrible lung terminating cough. This was, in fact, March 12th, so what I considered the change had not yet begun, but the process of coping and processing had started.
I still, however, went on with my life using the proven systems of understanding, for that moment being at least. I went home and kissed my lover as he walked through the door after his job went on hiatus. Postponed, they called it. Six weeks, they said. I have gone weeks between jobs before, but this time it just seemed different. The air was a different thickness, and the mind seemed to be a little lost.
It wasn’t long before I heard that my whole work industry had shut down, every single film production across the continent, followed by gatherings of 500 or more all over the country being canceled. Then it was 200, then 100, then 50, then 10. I saw the tangential industries start to close down slowly. Gallery openings cancelled, still showing the exhibit during the week to invite people in less amounts to view the art. The next day, exhibitions cancelled. Concerts of all creeds pushed. Broadway, and all plays in every single independently run theatre across the nation, were forced to cancel. I saw all of my friends, musicians and actors, film crew and gallerists, artists and gig workers of all types lose every single one of their upcoming jobs, local, national and international, union and nonunion, as the future quickly became unknown. Calendars were cleared because there was no certainty of if, or when, things would return to normal. Safe, and normal.
Press conferences started streaming constantly through the channels shortly after. Nine o’clock state, eleven o’clock local, five o’clock national. It became quickly overwhelming as the amount of fear and unknown from every angle penetrated and reverberated through the mind. Nine o’clock state, eleven o’clock local, five o’clock national. Nine o’clock state, eleven o’clock local, five o’clock national. Social distance equals six feet. Nine o’clock state, eleven o’clock local, five o’clock national. Then the bars and the restaurants closed. Then it all started closing: 75%, 50%, 0%. Only essential. Only essential.
After hearing about the restaurant and bar shutdown, shortly before the full closing of the system, I felt it necessary to order takeout from a cafe down the street to support them. I drove there and walked in. It was empty. A barista, a cook, and me. It felt as though I was the only person that they have seen all day. Very friendly, they gave me my takeout cartons. The barista goes to the back to look for a paper bag to make it easier for me to carry everything. I looked at the cook, and he looked at me. I took a deep breath, and he nodded.
When I got out to my car, it all came out. I cried. It finally hit me that the places that serve as community gathering places are closed. We are being asked to not be close to each other. Interactions are scarce. We are all neighbors, and this is hard on us all. Everything that we knew was changing, and it was scary. The unknown is very scary, and we wouldn’t be able to be at each other’s shoulders to collectively cry.
This is the moment that I remove myself from the equation. The world was no longer about I, or of me, but of we: of the world, of the country, of the state, of the county, of the city, of the neighborhood, of the community. We were all there to support one another in differing ways and means in order to defeat a common enemy: an enemy in human interaction, in healthcare, the economy, of love, in fundamental systems of understanding. These are the stories of the people, the ones in the midst of love, angst, and global crisis; dealing with the ultimate question of who am I, and who will I be, or will I be, on the other side.
Remember that we are a community, as we will all still be there at the back end of this period of time to hug each other, share stories, and exchange moments of peace and love, stronger and wiser. However, for the moment, let us not let the enemy win. Let us find ways to truly interact more as humans, over distance, in the interim.
Seth Tyler Black is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and union film production crew worker based in Upstate NY.