Blog / 2022 / COVID’s Effect on Thinking (Even When You Haven’t Had It)

January 20, 2022

It’s a bizarre experience looking for a new place to live and work in a pandemic. Rolling up to an apartment to meet an owner and seeing them unmasked, you don’t want to make a bad impression. You don’t want to instantly disqualify yourself from a housing opportunity, especially when you and your partner are both self-employed and therefore already considered a risk by owners.

At the same time, with delta and omicron hanging over every one of our heads, the owner’s uncovered face isn’t just a red flag. I mean, yes, it indicates that this person has a tenuous relationship with reality, and, when you’ll need to depend on that person for the all-day-every-day kind of service that is housing, that’s scary. And of course the immediate safety concern of interacting indoors with a person whose COVID-carefreeness makes them an obvious plague vector is also worrisome.

But, more than that, I resent the way that other people’s masklessness makes it impossible for me to think properly. Part of thinking is listening to my body. My heartbeat is as much a barometer of my feelings about a space and its owner as my priority lists and my logic. But my body’s more nuanced reactions to a housing situation are automatically drowned out by having to share way too much air with a walking virus mutation site.

As we enter COVID Year 3, that’s what I miss the most: the ability to think without interference from a deadly airborne disease.

These days, I find myself remembering the subtle distinctions of the Before Times fondly, wondering if I’ll be able to feel my body’s smaller reactions to the world around me ever again.

[no audio]

This porcupine with soap bubbles full of COVID floating above is as close as I can get to painting the loss I’m experiencing. It is pandemic anxiety made into an image.

soap bubbles filled with COVID floating over a porcupine, a representation of pandemic anxiety
Gwenn Seemel
Surrounded by a Deadly Airborne Virus
acrylic on panel
10 x 8 inches
(Buy prints and arty items in my print shop.)

This time last year, I was theorizing that time soup would be COVID’s art theme—much like skeletons were the black plague’s. But, as Year 3 dawns, the fuzziness of our time spent riding this pandoomerang* feels less important than the white noise in our minds. Because one thing I do know for certain is that I’m not alone in my struggle with pandemic anxiety.

porcupine face, detail of a larger painting by Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Surrounded by a Deadly Airborne Virus

Surrounded by a Deadly Airborne Virus is part of Everything’s Fine, a series that’s all about mental health. Specifically, the project is a response to the divisions caused by the virus. People are physically separated by social distancing and lockdowns, and they’re also emotionally disconnected by ideological boundaries—those who acknowledge science, wear masks, and get vaccinated versus those who don’t. Amidst all the divisions, art is a necessity on par with air, water, food, shelter, and health care. It’s the love of other humans made tangible across space and time. When a person can’t get a hug from a friend, art is there to make them feel seen and understood.

Over the next few months, I’ll continue to create new paintings, and the project will eventually become postcards and posters that will be distributed for free via schools, public libraries, and mental health clinics.

To get updates about Everything’s Fine as it evolves, sign up for my monthly mailing list or my weekly one!

* Term first seen on the excellent blog Dear Pandemic.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


To receive an email every time I publish a new article or video, sign up for my special mailing list.


If you enjoyed this post, Ko-fi allows you to donate. Every dollar you give is worth a bajillion to me!