Blog / 2022 / Catching a Cold (and a Clue) during a Pandemic

April 15, 2022

Even though I wear a mask whenever I’m indoors anywhere but home, I caught a cold last month. Here are three reasons that makes me happy:

  1. It was a cold, not COVID.
  2. Colds suck and I was 100% useless for anything but generating mucus and misery for three days straight, but at least I wasn’t worried that I could be one of the 15% to 50% of people who suffer from fatigue and brain fog after getting over COVID.

  3. I visited my in-laws while I was almost certainly contagious and they didn’t get my cold.
  4. My partner got sick first. We’re thinking that his beard, which both he and I love, makes the seal on his mask less than perfect. I somehow avoided catching the cold for a week, and I’d convinced myself I was going to fight it off completely. That’s how I ended up at my in-laws’ in what I’d later realize was a contagious phase. But since I wore a mask, they were safe.

  5. It reminded me that I’m lucky and that I want to keep being as lucky as possible.
  6. These little reminders are important, especially in Year 3 of the Pandemic when lots of people are giving up and resigning themselves to getting the virus again and again.

[no audio]

Early on in COVID times, I really struggled with those who refused to wear a mask. Throughout my life, I’ve had a tendency towards what’s called “black-and-white thinking” or “splitting,” which is seeing people, their actions, and their motivations as being all good or all bad. When someone wasn’t wearing a mask, they went directly on my naughty list, and I wasn’t interested in learning anything else about them.

Splitting is often described as a defense mechanism, because it can come into play when someone’s been hurt and they’ve decided that the person who hurt them won’t ever be allowed to do it again. But, in my experience—as both a wielder and receiver of splitting—it’s got less to do with self-protection and more to do with needing to simplify. Black-and-white thinking is appealing when the nuances of life have become overwhelming, when the idea of crediting others with the same kind of complexity as we feel in ourselves overloads our minds, and when it seems impossible that we’ll ever really understand each other.

The pandemic supercharged my need to simplify, so my splitting tendency, which, as a 38 year old at the beginning of 2020, I’d finally gotten a handle on, resurfaced with a vengeance. Thus this image from Everything’s Fine, a series of paintings that’s meant to help us all talk about just how not fine everything is. This panda is what I feel like when I’m splitting: complicated, contrasty, and entirely unwilling to let a scene unfold naturally, which is where the upside down clapper board comes in.

a black-and-white panda that’s half white-and-black holding a clapperboard upside, art about all-or-nothing thinking
Gwenn Seemel
Black-and-white Thinking
acrylic on panel
12 x 9 inches

Over the last few months, I’ve had to learn to stop dismissing those who don’t wear masks indoors. I’m allowed to have opinions about their decision and how it impacts them and their community, but I also need to acknowledge that they are more than their choice not to mask.

It’s not easy. The clarity of splitting is a kind of siren’s call on endless loop in the back of my mind. That said, catching a cold even though I’m masked up to the max has also reminded me how vulnerable we all are, both to airborne viruses and to less-than-compassionate ways of thinking.

panda split in two
detail image of Black-and-white Thinking

Black-and-white Thinking is for sale for $1100 plus shipping—see all currently available artworks. There are prints and pretty things with this image here in my print shop.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


To receive an email every time I publish a new article or video, sign up for my special mailing list.


If you enjoyed this post, Ko-fi allows you to donate. Every dollar you give is worth a bajillion to me!