We are back!

But what does being “back” actually mean?

Nearly two and a half years after Covid lockdowns, we are finally back! But what does being “back” actually mean?

Rain/Bow is an artwork I made this year, which may just sum up for me what it is to be ‘back’

Let’s first take stock of where we’ve been. In early 2020 we all sheltered in place. As we settled into an indefinite lockdown, everyone started to get a little weird. In the absence of daily IRL social interaction (save for the collective moment from the global rededication to fighting racism and marching in the streets for Black Lives), many of us became a little feral. Many of us started looking pretty haggard– eyes bloodshot with anxiety, hair growing out in wild cow-licks, and it seemed like everyone was forever wearing sweatpants in those timeless days.

People started doing deep introspection about what it means to work. Productivity soared, but moods plummeted. Now in this global recession, we are learning what is left, what we live for, and what our collective dreams hold. We are thinking about what the monarchy means, protesting dictatorships, and why we have one of the highest concentrations of wealth amongst the fewest people in the world.

But with all of the doom scrolling we did since the first lockdown in 2020, when I am out in the streets of NYC or my current hometown of Gainesville Florida (it’s quite windy out right now from Hurricane Ian) I do not feel gloom, I do not feel doom. I feel like we are back baby!

But what is the meaning of this feeling? It does not mean moving backward, to some idealized historic moment before the pandemic, as the reactionary “RETVRN” fantasy would have it. That’s impossible. You can never step in the same river twice. For those of us who lived through it, the pandemic will be with us until we die. When I say we’re back, I mean it the way Thin Lizzy meant it– “The boys are back in town!”

And we back, and we back, and we back, and we…

Lately, I’ve started saying to every one of my friends, “Are you back?” We have to get back, back as in we need to arrive, fully present into this moment. The joy, the sensory experience, the voluptuous panic of the crowd, the love, and the connection that communal experiences provide.

An example: I was in New York this past weekend. As soon as I got off the plane, I could feel the energy coursing through my veins like electricity in a third rail. Before I knew it I was singing improvised jazz and trance music with strangers on the roof of the Sultan Room. Down below on the street, playing hand drums for some beautiful strangers who were twerking in the street. Some other strangers invited me to dinner. Everyone around me seemed poised to help me find where I needed to go or just sit and have a conversation.

The next day I went with my sister Martha Bearskin and our good friend Nour Batyne to Pioneer Works to drop off a new item of mine they are selling in their gift shop. We went to a local restaurant, where we were promptly trapped by the rain. Myself, my sister, Nour, and the chef were the only ones there. We shared our hearts, our dreams, food, and drinks together in a space. That’s what it feels like to be back. Being back is knowing a home is waiting for you in the hearts of the people around you, in the conversations you have with random strangers, or the gifts we give that are generous of our time, our spirit, and our talents.

Being back for me is remembering– remembering that I’m alive, that I’m connected to others via deep friendships that last a lifetime, and to the family who got me through. Being back means recognizing the gratitude and love for those that I barely know. It means writing people I’ve had maybe one or two powerful conversations with in my life and just saying, “Hey I remember you and I missed seeing you for these last 3 years.”

It means allowing myself to feel grief for the world that no longer is. Out of the grim, gray, nothing of early Covid, I can now feel with clarity. I miss the smile from a barista I used to tip in a fishbowl off the Lorimer stop, or maybe I miss the babysitter who practices Mandarin with my son, or maybe I just missed everyone so much that I crumpled my heart like a wad of aluminum foil rather than experience the pain of being separated from them.

Being back means being brave when confronting the mess and frenzy of other people. No one in this life is an NPC. We are all deepening our empathetic responses to each other. Sure we were awkward at first. We were out of practice, not quite cool yet.

The first few times you see me out in the world, you may not recognize me. You may not recognize yourself. But the wheel is turning over, and there’s no use resisting. We are back.

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Amelia Winger-Bearskin

Banks Endowed Chair AI and the Arts, Digital Worlds Institute, University of Florida | USDAC: Honor Native Land | studioamelia.com | She/Her | Artist