Isolation blogging: it's &@%#ed out there

Isolation blogging: it's &@%#ed out there

Jenna Simeonov

Readers, what the %$&# just happened?!

The world is closed. Like, check-your-place-in-the-world, do-you-really-need-to-do-that-thing, what-does-your-mask-say-about-your-personality, closed. It’s freaky how fast it happened, at least for me. I went to the office some day early last month, haven’t been back since. Somewhere between March 10-13, my inbox became littered with press releases announcing cancellations from the Met on downwards, and I was blinking like an idiot who couldn’t grasp that maybe sometimes mass gatherings are dangerous.

Have you all started thinking about how small your personal worlds were, pre-COVID? Because I have. I’m a bit disappointed in myself that it took cancelled operas, of all things, for me to appreciate the gravity of the situation. But I imagine that happened for everyone with their respective little worlds. Sports, travel, farmer’s markets, patio season, all of it is off the table - and here in Canada, the end is not yet in sight.

The performing arts are certainly a staple of human society…but opera?

All of a sudden my singer friends were throwing their lives into suitcases and scrambling to come home - wherever that is, or could feasibly be - before they found themselves income-less in a hub like Germany or Italy. They’re scattered in a new way, now, squatting with friends, quarantining in parents’ basements, frozen in place like a gross version of musical chairs. The news became a flurry of statistics and updates and rising curves, mixed with the tough optics of opera companies announcing that they probably couldn’t pay their artists after all. “Force majeure” landed fresh into our vernacular, as did “unprecedented” and “virtual opera”.

It’s all so effing confusing. Is there enough money to help all these artists and the companies who could potentially hire them in the future? If we have to choose between one or the other, which is it? Do we let artists starve while preserving organizations, in the hopes that whenever this thing gets behind us, they can be the kindling to restart a stalled industry? Or do we make sure the actual people are alright, keeping them financially secure amid the worst of it, and kick down the road the problem of whether there will be a place for them to work when things get safe again?

How long before companies fold? We’re about to find out plenty about the difference between a company with a big budget and a company with a solid cash flow. And how long can freelance artists realistically stay afloat? Some have already started taking work elsewhere - bakeries, grocery stores - because even when the show doesn’t go on, our damn bills do.

I’ll admit this to you, readers. I freaked the eff out.

I’ve had a few moments of curiosity in all of this, where I look at the pandemic and its massive ripple effect like a weird social experiment we didn’t ask for. Part of me always secretly wondered if I’d fare well in a world where you couldn’t grab a latte on every street corner; part of me has wondered who the hell I am without my thing, this opera thing that I have in common with you, readers. If I’m not out and about at the next live show, socializing with the artsy types and airing my opinions in written form, what do I have to offer the world?

In my case, I’m lucky. My actual thing isn’t really opera - it’s my two-year-old son, Alex. My mom-identity certainly hasn’t changed since COVID-19; really, it’s more hardcore than ever. No daycare, no babysitting from grandparents, no playgroup, no gym, no library, no swings, no slide, not even a low-key playdate. This is real, y’all. And it’s part of why Schmopera was basically silent after everything hit. I was dealing with the to-do list that hit most media outlets - pivot, PIVOT! - and since I’m a diverse lady with a few jobs to fill my time, I had to play favourites in those first weeks. (The Globe and Mail and Opera Canada, to be specific.)

Are we icing?

But I’ll admit this to you, readers. I freaked the eff out. Turns out, I don’t like my routine upended, my autonomy squashed, my little pleasures denied. I recharge with alone time - like during the days when I’m on mom-duty and Alex is napping and my husband is at his office - and I’m mourning the loss of that. I like random outings with my son where we go to Bulk Barn and get us unnecessary snacks and then to some cafe and I get myself a stupid latte and then we go to the playground and Alex has a blast on the seesaw or whatever and I sip my stupid latte. I miss wearing blazers and jewellery. Sure, I could be like our fabulous Greg, but sweatpants are seductive.

And look - I don’t hate it all enough to be one of these morons, but dammit, it sucks.

I did give myself a little haircut, though.

I guess the most humbling thing about this is realizing how utterly in love I am with something that the rest of the world just might deem unessential. Like, in the big-scheme, unessential; the line-up for government aid is already enormous, and priorities have already become clear. The performing arts are certainly a staple of human society…but opera? When we have to make a crazy case for it? When money is tighter than ever before? When donors can’t donate, when audiences are scared of crowds, when government funding is effing busy at the moment, what then? Are we icing?

Simpler times: Alex, when I took him to a family performance of Hansel and Gretel at the Canadian Opera Company.

A last bit of news: I’m starting a podcast! It’s called The Everything Will Be Okay Podcast. It’s not released yet, but I’m sitting on a handful of pretty great interviews, if I do say so myself. I’ll let you all know when it’s ready for listening, no doubt about it.

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