Life in the time of COVID-19 is different than anything we’ve ever experienced as a collective before. At the Department of Imaginary Affairs, we believe that the stories we tell ourselves about this moment will shape our individual and collective realities for years to come. We are creating a time capsule of letters, stories, and, and artifacts from this moment for our future selves, and we invite you to participate in co-creating it with us.
If you would prefer to be guided through this invitation and exercise via an audio meditation/visualization, press play. Otherwise, feel free to read our written invitation in the transcript below.
We are creating a time capsule because we believe we are in a moment, and that the stories that we tell about this moment will shape our individual and collective futures for years to come.
At a time like this, when our schools are shut down, community spaces are closed, restaurants are closed, many people are out of jobs, those that are working may have to put themselves at risk, and we are fighting a virus that we don’t yet completely understand – it can feel like we don’t have a choice. It can feel like things are happening to us. It can feel like the world’s problems are too big for us to solve. It can be anxiety-inducing and overwhelming. It can feel easier to look for escapes and distract ourselves entirely from what is happening around us. And yet, it is in these moments when there is the most opportunity for change. For new ideas to surface. For new leaders and leadership to emerge. It is only in moments like these, when our normal is disrupted so significantly, that we can see how broken things really are. Moments like these reveal the kind of change we need in the world. This moment has revealed the need for paid sick days so people don’t have to choose between their health and paying their rent. It has revealed the need to think collectively, rather than individually. That no one is safe unless everyone is safe. This moment has revealed that borders are man-made constructs and mean nothing to the diseases that spread across them. This moment has revealed how much we depend on schools and teachers to keep kids safe and occupied. This moment has revealed how much we crave social connection, but also how much of that we can achieve virtually. This moment has revealed how drastically air pollution decreases when everyone stays at home. This moment has revealed that our health systems cannot handle the worst case scenario.
This moment has changed so much of how we think, feel, and behave. And when it passes, we will have a choice. Will we go back to the way things used to be, or will we use it as an opportunity to do things differently? What has been your experience over the past few days? What has been the most challenging? What has been the most surprising? What are you doing or thinking about now that you never did or thought about before? What have you learned – about yourself and about the world around you – over the past few days?
The stories that we tell ourselves about this moment matter and will matter. This is because more often than not, we don’t remember experiences themselves, but rather the stories we tell ourselves and others about them. And as humans, we have a tendency to tell stories based on the peak moments and the end results of an experience. We forget how long something took. We forget the nuanced feelings that we felt at each moment. We forget the micro-decisions that we made that led to those peak moments or those end results, either positive or negative. Perhaps this is part of why history repeats itself. Because we forget how we got here. We forget the journey and the lessons learned along it, and end up falling into the same or similar cycles, rabbit holes, and ways of thinking or doing.
As an antidote to this, we invite you to co-create with us an artifact that will honour and memorialize the everyday experiences – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – of life in the times of COVID-19. A time capsule of sorts. A collection of stories that honour the spectrum of experiences – grief, joy, frustration, reflection, anger, hope, fear, exhaustion, renewal, scarcity, abundance, clarity, uncertainty, community, loneliness, purpose, confusion – that this moment has evoked in us. We invite you to capture these stories in a letter to your future self. How far into the future is up to you. A month from now? A year from now? A decade from now? It’s up to you. Write for yourself first. If you decide you don’t want to end up sharing, or would prefer to share anonymously instead, that’s totally fine. Write for yourself first.
What about this moment – what ways of thinking, doing, and being – do you want to preserve moving forward? What do you wish we will hold on to? What are the reflections and lessons you want to remember? What are the anecdotes from these past few weeks that you want to capture? What has felt the most unexpected or surprising for you? What part of this didn’t you see coming? And looking back, what part of this makes a lot of sense?
And then, once you’ve given yourself space to reflect on the parts of this moment you want to hold on to, take some time to think about what you want to let go of. What are the ways of thinking, doing, and being you want to shed?
Paint a picture for your future self. Tell them where you are, what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, how you’re spending your days, and what you think is yet to come. That last piece, imagining the future, may feel tricky right now, when so much is uncertain. But what better time to imagine a new world than when so much of the current world is falling apart and falling away? Think of the world today as a computer that we’ve denied updates for far too long. It has now become overwhelmed and has shut down. The good news is, it’s in the process of restarting and installing updates and we get to decide what those updates are. Channel your favourite fiction author, flex your imagination, aka your world-building muscle, and let yourself tease out the details of our potential future.
Hello again. My name is Mathura Mahendren and I work at a national nonprofit called the Department of Imaginary Affairs. You might remember 7 weeks ago, we launched a time capsule. We had this sense that the stories we told about this moment would matter and would ultimately shape our individual and collective futures for years to come. We invited you to write a letter to your future self. A letter that unpacked your experiences of life in the time of COVID-19, and held your visions for what might come in the future. You might remember my voice from the guided meditation that accompanied this invitation. Here we are, 7 weeks later, we continue to float in this in-between space. And yet, something feels different.
Before I share, I invite you to take a couple of deep breaths with me. I think it’ll help.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Like I said, something feels different than it did 7 weeks ago.
I sense a sense of surrender. An acknowledgement of the illusion of control that we never really had. A yielding to the grief that demands to be felt. An evolving ability to say “I, I don’t know.” A bowing down to 2020 – the year that broke us, humbled us, revealed us to ourselves in ways we could not have anticipated on New Years Eve. A willingness to examine the wreckage before we rush to clean it up. An acceptance that we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. A welcoming of the parts of ourselves that we’ve repressed for far too long under the guise of “I’m too busy” or “That’s inconvenient” or “urrrgh that’s dark”.
I sense a collective courage in examining the stories that have held together the fragile fabric of our social and economic systems. And what powerful stories they are. The story that humans are selfish and self-serving. The story that there aren’t enough resources to keep us all afloat. The story that some lives are more valuable than others. The story that we must earn a living, that our worth is tied to our ability to produce. The story that we can’t grow our own food. That we can’t work from home. That the work that typically happens within a home, the work of care, is not real work. And perhaps, the most powerful story of them all, the story that we can go back to normal.
As these stories come undone, there’s a sense of curiosity that emerges. When something that we thought was impossible happens, there’s a sense of well-then-what-else-is-possible? When we survive something that we didn’t think we would survive, we start to question what it is that we truly need to survive? What is it that we truly need to thrive? When we spend more time with ourselves than anyone else, we start to wonder, who am I when no one’s looking? When we realize that so much of what governs the way we define, produce, consume, relate, and connect is arbitrary, we start to wonder what it would be like to make up our own rules.
I also sense some hesitation. 7 weeks ago, we couldn’t wait to re-open. Now, as plans for re-opening are afoot, we hesitate. Quarantine has become the devil we know, and what-happens-when-we-go-back-out-there is the devil we don’t know. There’s the risk of a second outbreak if we re-open too quickly. A fear of irreversible economic damage if we wait too long. There’s talk of needing to have 70% of the population contract the virus for herd immunity to develop. These are the fears that we see reflected in our headlines. But I think our hesitation is seeded in something deeper – a deep knowing in our bodies that things will never be the same even as they re-open. What if we are truly changed? What if the things that once brought us joy and comfort no longer do? Or no longer do in the same way? What if we no longer believe or subscribe to the stories that have held our systems together for so long? What if re-opening marks the start of a revolution, rather than the end of a pandemic? What if re-opening is our first trial, the first test of whether we will actually embody the lessons learned in quarantine? What if we hesitate because we fear that we’re not yet ready or equipped to rebuild in a sustainable way? What if we want to linger in the cocoon of quarantine a little bit longer, cook a little bit more, before we emerge? And what if re-opening is the ultimate confrontation of the world that was, but no longer is?
And it is at this intersection – of surrender, courage, curiosity, and hesitation – that we find ourselves today. And it is from this threshold that we invite you to contribute a second artifact to our time capsule. It can be a letter, a poem, a photo series, a video, an audio recording, a painting – whatever it is that carries this message to your future self.
Write about what it is that you have surrendered to in the last couple of weeks. Where have you noticed your resistance dissolve? How did that dissolution feel? What was waiting on the other side?
Tell us about the moments of courage. Where you allowed yourself to go there – and be present with a thought, a belief, a feeling, a person, a conversation, a relationship, an opportunity, or a situation that frightened you? Where did that courage come from? How did it feel in your body?
Tell us about the places your curiosity has taken you. The new worlds you’ve dared to imagine and possibly even embody. Tell us about the rules you’ve taken pleasure in breaking. The wild ideas that have been born in the rubble. Share with us the parts of yourself you’ve discovered, or re-discovered.
And last but not least, name the hesitation that you feel in this moment. Remember that hesitation is not inherently good or bad. Rather, it is a signal. It brings attention to something we need to consider. And as we’ve seen, there is power in making the invisible visible.
Write this letter to your future self as if they were reading it on the threshold of a similar trial. Be generous with the details. Be honest with where you’re at. And embody the voice that you would have wanted to hear at this threshold.
And know that reflection is where learning becomes wisdom. Give your future self the gift of that wisdom.
If you feel comfortable sharing the following information, we would love to better understand who is contributing to the collection of stories we are gathering. This will also help us think about how we might make participation more accessible to those who aren’t yet represented in our time capsule.