Last night I read a Stephen King novella about a man, an English professor, who could whip out witty, insightful short stories without fuss, but when he sat down to write a novel, he froze. The words whirled and scrambled and stuck in his head until he panicked and shut down. Not content with his career as a short-story writer, the man spent tortured days trying to write his novel, mumbling into his laptop, over-thinking metaphors, lying to his wife, gradually losing his grip on his sanity. Eventually, he puts every page he’s written into a pan on the stove and lights them on fire. His house catches fire, too. He spends time in a mental institution, then his wife takes him back home for another chance at family life.
Anyway, we’re in Iceland, on our first family trip since the pandemic started.
I like to blog more than I like to pack suitcases, or keep track of my passport or convert foreign currency in my head. I like to blog more than I like going through security at airports, or trying to read a map or using public restrooms. And yet, this week I’ve done all of these activities and more, without blogging a syllable.
(I told you the story about the Stephen King man because I don’t want to lie about why I haven’t been writing. It’s the Stephen King parable technique, a highly regarded literary tool.)
I wonder if I’m having trouble writing because I feel conflicted about traveling right now. I have a great talent for guilt, and the current pandemic has honed this ability to Olympian levels. Now I’m Simone Biles flexing this skill by questioning the motivations and ramifications of our vacation choice.
Sure I’m enjoying Iceland but…Am I an asshole? Am I screwing up the world for my own pleasure? Does visiting Iceland during a pandemic mean I am an anti-masking, conspiracy-theorizing, science-denying dick? Will I have to throw away my ACLU membership card?
I don’t know.
Throughout the pandemic, I battled the rampant uncertainty by following the rules, whatever they were on that particular day. If the rules were to stay home: I stayed home. If the rules were to wear a mask: I’d wear a mask. If Dr. Faucci said I should keep my fingers off my face: I kept my fingers off my face.
I was lucky enough to be able to work from home this year, and to shop online and to pay hardworking people to take care of my horse and deliver our groceries. I decided the best way to honor the sacrifices that other people were making was to stay home and stay out of their way. By making myself as unobtrusive as possible, I tried really really hard not to be an asshole.
And yet, after all that staying home, here we are. Out in the world again.
This spring, after everyone in our little family was completely vaccinated, Scott’s Cheap Flights emailed and told us that we could buy tickets for a non-stop flight from Portland to Reykjavik for a mere $450. Guy suggested we take a vacation together before our freshly graduated boys leave for college in August/September.
How could a family vacation be wrong? My God. My children are growing up and leaving and I don’t know what my days will look like without them. My life as I know it is ending anyway. Can’t I have a vacation first? (Remind me to edit this paragraph out before making this post public.)
Iceland was one of the first countries to welcome vaccinated travelers. This island with a population of 364,000 has had only 30 deaths from Coronavirus so far—less than the number of deaths we have had in Hood River County. As of July 14, 66.6% of the Iceland’s population has been fully vaccinated. When the Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted last March, the Icelandic government was excited to use it like a lava-carrot to lure tourists in and jumpstart their tepid economy. Iceland WANTS tourists to visit.
Obviously, no one knows what is going to happen next in terms of the virus. Requirements for entry into Iceland have varied since the first re-opening—for example, the border closed for a while in May, then reopened again in June. When my family arrived last week, we were only required to show proof of vaccination, and now that requirement has changed so that everyone, vaccinated or not, has to show a negative PCR or antigen test to enter.
Masks requirements have also changed frequently—when we arrived July 22, masks were optional and hardly anyone was wearing them. Starting today, masks are once again required in indoor spaces, although when we went to the grocery store this morning only about half the customers were wearing them. We weren’t wearing our masks in the store because we didn’t know about the new mandate. Did the people in the grocery store this morning think we were assholes? We didn’t mean to be! We just didn’t know!
We’re trying really hard to not be assholes. Truly we are.
Thanks for listening.
Now that I’ve gotten this confession off my chest, maybe I can cook the arctic cod in the fridge and my family can eat dinner together, and afterwards maybe I can blog about how we, the worst fisherpeople in the world, managed to catch a couple of big ol’ fish, then didn’t have any place to cook them, so we begged a woman at an rv park for some tin foil, then wrapped the fillets up like a chicken and hid it in the hostel’s refrigerator.
Oh also, remember the man from the first paragraph who lit his novel on fire? After he got out of the hospital and moved back in with his forgiving family, he met a magical rat who promised to help him complete his novel in exchange for the death of someone he cared about. Of course, the man agreed because he wanted to write a novel and because he didn’t believe in magical rats, even though one was standing right in front of him.
You can probably guess that what happened next wasn’t all peaches and cream.
And maybe that man’s life would have turned out better if he had told the rat to shut up and then taken a vacation to Iceland with his family, instead of trying to be a writer at any cost. Or maybe his wife should have never let him come back home after that fire. But we’ll never know, because that’s how both fiction AND real life works. We just never know.