Isolation Drills: Meaghan Kyle

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Kyle: I have spent these most uncertain times completely avoiding how I truly feel about them. Avoiding people who ask me how I’m doing. And, in the spirit of honesty and vulnerability, avoiding writing articles that would then require me to face said feelings, then present them in a public forum. Seriously, an entire summer spent in front of my laptop, beginning what feels like a very personal introduction to what seems like a completely vulnerable exposure of my pandemic life.

Cut to the next day: And nothing that I wrote the day before feels relevant at all anymore. Things have been, and continue to feel, so dynamically volatile, fragile and unstable, who even cares about what I wrote yesterday? I certainly don’t—why would you? 

The first of several drafts I was going to share with you began by giving a whole detailed picture of what my life looked like “Before COVID,” “Pre-Pandemic,” “IRL”, “insert your preferred reference of times gone by.” I really wanted to detail all that I had going on early in 2020, what I had planned for the year, and all that it took to get there. How do I tell you how I’m surviving, if I don’t detail the loss and change I am experiencing?

But aren’t we all experiencing these things? Is there really anyone among us who hasn’t been hit hard this year? Of course, it looks so different person to person, household to household. It feels like we are all in a collective grief, but in our own stages. I’m fighting to get to acceptance, but depression is hard to get through. And I sure know a whole lot of people hanging out in the anger and denial stages. 

The second draft dives deep into my anxiety, and how that is playing out in the context of gigging now. I had every gig—of what was supposed to be my busiest year yet—wiped clean off my calendar. Now my palms begin to sweat when some start to get added back on.

So many questions circle my mind: How many people will be there? How close will the band be to each other? Will the audience respect our boundaries? What about politics, will that come up? Will I have to navigate politics and my pandemic anxiety on top of my usual social anxiety all at the same time? Will I be judged for feeling this way? Will I be the most cautious person there? Will I do something that makes someone else think I am not being cautious enough? Maybe I shouldn’t leave the house just yet? If I keep saying no, will the gigs still be there when I’m ready? 

My third draft was the most vulnerable and went into detail over all of the conflict I am experiencing in some of my closest relationships. Specific examples and stories of how the divide over COVID, politics, the country, social injustice, etc., has played out in my own life. I have been forced to face the question of what love is to me really. I want to believe that to love someone is to accept a person as they stand in front of me today. Not to judge, control or criticize them.

But 2020 is different right? Is it possible to wholly accept someone who has a different set of values and beliefs than myself? Is it possible that I am so focused on how different I am than someone that I am no longer seeing where we come together? What is my personal threshold? These circumstances are strong-arming me into learning clearly where my boundaries lie and that no one will know what they are unless I can clearly communicate them. Isn’t this where we start to heal? In our own homes, families and communities? I don’t have the answers.

Another draft is all about the gratitude I have for the online music community that is the weekly Fergie’s Pub Quarantined Mic. No matter what has been going on in the world, or in my life, I know I have to show up on Facebook with two songs at 8:30 every Monday night to kick off the weekly virtual open mic. It all started March 23, with kind assistance from (real-life host) Jonas Oesterle, and we’ve been pulling this thing off for every single week since. There is a core group of dedicated regulars, and it seems every week there is someone new trying it out.

It’s really a very different experience to watch people play music in their own home, as opposed to the pub environment. You get a peak into the odds and ends of our day to day. The animals that crawl in the screen, the family members who are now filling out our bands, the crazy ways we rig our livestream performance spaces, the fireworks that went off for weeks exploding in the background.

We’ve been at it so long that there is actually a through line to follow. It’s beginning to feel like a time capsule. I am really glad it is still hanging on, and I hope you all pop in one Monday night to join us. Either to watch or to share your own talents, it is something special for sure. There is a whole lot of joy and support happening, and a safe space for all. 

I suppose in revealing all the variations of this article, I am realizing just how much self-exploration and flexibility is required right now, and dammit, I’m tired! Of everyday questioning if I’m doing the right thing right now? Am I wasting this time? I should be reinventing myself right now! I need to emerge from this like a butterfly! Or maybe I should lower my expectations? Coming out of a big period of my life where I truly felt like I was thriving, and now, somehow my focus has narrowed to surviving.

And I can get pretty depressed about it. And then I feel guilty for being depressed, because I still have so very much to be grateful for. All we ever have is right now, and friends, I hate to say it, but things can always get so much worse. So despite my struggles, I am rejecting all 2020 hate talk, because all roads led to this moment in time. If we are to move forward, then it means we have to go through it. 

And in this right-now moment, I am OK. Sure, my life looks unrecognizable, and I feel paralyzed about what to do next, but I got this, girl. And so do you. And if life is said to have no guarantees, and if nothing ever has been and ever will be certain, then really what’s so special about right now anyway? 

Honorable mention to the drafts of this article that explored cancel culture, grocery stores, therapy, isolation, practicing radical self care, RuPaul’s Drag Race and being addicted to our schedules.