All these are examples of what I think of as the fundamental and-ness of life, the way it requires us to experience so many contradictory or unrelated things all at once. There’s no getting away from this and-ness, because it is built into the basic facts of our existence. The world we inhabit is full of splendor and misery, our fellow humans are brilliant and inspiring and selfish and vicious, and we ourselves are hopelessly motley, full of mixed motives and mixed feelings.
I wish I were on the road right now, visiting some of my favorite bookstores, meeting readers, and catching up, after a long dry spell, on conversation and community. And I am also unimaginably happy to be at home with my partner and our 5-month-old daughter, keeping both of them safe, keeping both of them company. I am worried about the fate of the independent bookstores that are hosting my virtual tour without the benefit of in-person audiences and impulse purchases. And I am glad that my widowed mother, at home in Ohio, can attend every single one of my events from her living room.
I began writing my new book before the emergence of the coronavirus, then watched as some of its central themes came to dominate the era: not only the omnipresence of loss and the persistence of joy, but also this experience of and. It is easy to feel that good moments in bad times, like bad moments in good times, are anomalous, even traitorous. But that’s not true.
There’s no pure form of any significant event in our lives, no single emotion that solely and accurately represents love, or grief, or pandemic. Even at the extremity of experience, life is always busy being many things at once — exhausting and restorative, tedious and exciting, solemn and comic, devastating and fulfilling.
The trick lies not in sorting out the “real” or “relevant” feelings from the alleged distractions and obfuscations, but in accepting that this constant flux of feeling is not only inevitable, but essential: It is what prevents our happiness from becoming complacent, our anguish from entirely undoing us. The world we live in is infinitely variegated, infinitely complex. To feel that same way, then, is not to be compromised; it is to be complete.
Kathryn Schulz, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author of the memoir “Lost & Found.”