By Thomas Leonard Shaw
To define a sense of “new normal”, at least from the perspective of one stuck in Quezon City, is to reconsider normalcy through a prism of three things; anxiety, loathing, and non-possibility. While others are able to navigate the uncharted nature of this pandemic –one that has caused major socio-political upheavals – with various levels of success, this crisis has only revealed the many fractures of a social space fraught with contradictions. Commuters are struggling to get back to work and earn with no transportation in sight, small businesses are on the verge of collapse, and countless others are suffering from the socioeconomic and emotional devastations of this crisis.
As far as I could be concerned, to assume any kind of new “normal” when everything remains uncharted waters is to overlook the dangers of this enterprise.
This is not to say I have been unlucky, on the contraire. I have a job that allows me to work from home, friends I am still able to meet and socialize with, and I am safe in the knowledge that I have the comfort of my condo unit and a space to isolate myself from the world. But the world looms terrifying ahead of us. No amount of hoping changes the fact that my future plans have burned up, my friends and peers have scattered all over the country, and I am kept from the main reason I find myself in this city – teaching. What this means to me going forward is that my position of privilege has only allowed me to recognize just how so many others have it much worse than I do.
People remain without jobs, many who relied on the informal sector have had to lose their main source of income. Even with the impending reality that is the new “normal”, one recognizes that the weak foundations upon which their survival has played out has been effectively shattered, destroyed by a combination of an apolitical virus and political incompetence. The anxiety and loathing I feel draws not only from a sense of individual devastation but from the empathy we draw from – recognizing that lives have not only been destabilized but taken in the process. To claim a sense of “new normal” is to undermine the precarious structures that have haunted the working class and much of Philippine society. In building for the future we must recognize that the “old normal” cannot be simply replaced by a similar system which has not only disenfranchised millions of people but has laid the groundwork for their own destruction in times of crisis.
My anxiety and loathing is simultaneously weaved from a sense of helplessness, that I have been caught up in a system that I have been complicit in working through and making sense of. The haunting of non-possibility lies in the fact that for many of the dead or marginalized, there doesn’t remain much room for socioeconomic mobility or even survival. If we are to continue life after COVID, with the desire to live better and more fulfilling lives, we must be able to navigate and create a system in which basic needs are addressed, government services are not bogged down by red tape and corruption, and people are offered a stronger set of tools to carve out their own destinies. What COVID has revealed is not simply the dangers of a contagious virus but the weaknesses of an unfair world, one in which we are always on the brink of returning to, of falling back to the same traps that have taken so many of us already.
I do not like the direction this “new normal” is going in because I don’t ever want things to be similar to the normalcy we’ve had. Normalcy equals neither justice nor equity. We have to be better. We cannot afford to be anything less than better. ∎
Thomas Leonard Shaw was a graduate of Comparative Literature (European Literatuure) at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and poetry fellow at the 1st Philippine National LGBTQ Writers’ Workshop, the 1st Cebu Young Writers Studio, and the 26th Iligan National Writers’ Workshop. Thomas is also an awardee at the 2019 Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio Literary Awards and has been published in several different countries.