I launched this blog at the start of March, only a week or two before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in the tangible form of a plethora of restrictions. At the time, I made a conscious decision not to write pandemic-related articles. It looms over everyone’s lives, after all, and I wanted my writing to be an escape to those who read it, not just one more downer to add to the list of that day’s news stories and stats.
Should’ve guessed I couldn’t hold out forever.
As things go, though, in the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty frivolous look at the world today. It all stems from two seemingly unconnected events: my re-reading James S.A. Corey’s brilliant Expanse book series, and today’s trip to the grocery store.
When it comes to interactions with people in the service industry, I’ve always been a bit of a smiler. I know what it’s like to deal with grim-faced customer after grim-faced customer. It can really bring one down. So I try to be a break in the monotony.
This is proving to be a challenge in a mask.
I’ve found my smile, which used to be quite subdued, has grown since face masks became mandatory, which seems counterintuitive, considering that no matter how big it is, nobody can see it. But what I’m trying to do is to extend it to the visible parts of my face. This translates to: my eyes get all squinty.
I’ve been going to the same grocery store for forever, so I recognize the vast majority of the staff. I’ve dealt with today’s cashier many, many times before. As I left the cash, I squint-smiled and thanked him. And my smile turned to a grin as the normally subdued young man squint-smiled at me in return and wished me a nice day.
I guess I’m not the only one.
It put me in mind of the Belters in the Expanse series. Belters are people who were born in the asteroid belt. Due to the amount of time they spend in evac suits on spacewalks, their body language is different from people born on earth. They don’t shrug their shoulders, for example, because that movement can’t be seen in a spacesuit. Instead, they shrug with an up-and-down motion of their hands. The same applies to a head shake. They’ve adapted their body language to work with their clothing.
Which is essentially what I’m doing when I smile hugely behind my mask.
The first time I read The Expanse, I noticed the bit about Belter body language. (It’s hard not to, as it’s brought up repeatedly over the course of the entire series.) But I didn’t put much thought into it. It was a character quirk.
Now it’s a fully relatable detail.
It just goes to show how ubiquitous the pandemic is. Not only does it assault our news feeds. Not only has it changed how we perform the simplest of tasks. It even affects the way in which we experience pop culture.
It is, truly, a new normal.