The email from my massage therapist was brief. Their two woman massage clinic would be closing for two weeks during the Covid-19 outbreak. Massage, she pointed out, wasn’t compatible with “social distancing.” I can imagine them thinking as they made this decision “two weeks? four? two months?” because who can tell when, if ever, their clinic will reopen.
My musician friend who spends six or eight hours almost every day practicing for a few gigs a week in the best of times, kept checking her emails last time I saw her, looking for messages from her bookings telling her they were canceling: not enough customers to justify even the small amount she’d be paid, not enough customers to fill her tip jar when she wasn’t.
And I’m a medical exercise specialist–what one of my clients calls a “fancy personal trainer”–certified to work with exactly those people most at risk from the virus: older people or those with chronic health issues. A number of my clients have already chosen to go into self-isolation and while I am able to offer to “meet” with them remotely, not all are willing or able to do that.
All of us are part of a diverse group of people who don’t fall neatly into the usual definition of “gig workers”: independent professionals. Our ranks include massage therapists and personal trainers; yoga teachers and dance instructors; math tutors and freelance writers; artists and musicians. We are not salaried so will not qualify for unemployment. We don’t have status as employees so will not benefit from sick leave or family leave. We are small business owners but we work alone so even if payroll tax cuts were involved, we’d see no help there.
And while all who fall into this category have specialized talent, skill, or education, while all of us continue to hone those skills and advance our knowledge, we admittedly aren’t essential to anyone’s lives. Very few people physically need a massage regularly. Most people feel they can keep themselves active and healthy. None will suffer major loss if they can’t go out to a restaurant or bar and listen to music for some time.
We weave ourselves into the community on such a thin thread while trying to bring measurable good every day we put our energy, education and attention to the professions we practice and the people who benefit from our skills and talents. And when crisis hits as it has now, our thread is often the first cut, leaving us floating away like tiny spiders cut from their webbing.
We are irreplaceable. Yet we are dispensable. And when the world rights on its axis, we may be gone.