Living back home has been a weird experience. I’m incredibly privileged in where I’m at—I left the day NYU went online, & went home with my parents before things went downhill. I have a family that can support me, a house with space for me, my parents & I are still employed, & we have great relationships. A lot could be worse right now.
But it’s not like being home is usually. We ostensibly had spring break last week, but I worked around the clock & felt really stressed the whole time. I started a new job (remotely). My family is cleaning our house systematically & very thoroughly, from 6 hours in the kitchen pantry to the storage closet in the basement. We’re thinking about gardening—the grocery supply chain is pretty resilient, but what if this pandemic isn’t over by fall? What if it only continues to worsen, & critical infrastructure goes down? What if there’s no water, no power, no internet, or no gasoline? It probably won’t happen, but it also no longer feels out of the question.
The frightening part is, we’re very, very far from the bad part. I made this website a few days ago, visualizing countries in relation to one another. The U.S.’s outbreak was 10 days behind Italy’s last Wednesday, but as of today it’s 5 days behind Italy. This week is going to be excruitiating compared to last, & next week will be far worse. We’re weeks & weeks, at the earliest, from the growth rate of cases in the U.S. not continuing exponentially. We’re not living in a world of bodies on the streets, & I sure hope we don’t get there, but there’s real potential for a scenario where a lot of people don’t make it through this. It’s overwhelming. Living right now is, no way around it, really stressful. Wealth will protect some people for now, but if doctors can’t get masks, we’re rapidly heading somewhere very dark. Hearing elected politicians in this country treat entire generations as expendable is terrifying, & we’re only at week one.
I’ve leave you with an excerpt from a great piece the blogger Jason Kottke wrote called “Some People” this week:
Some people can’t sleep.
Some people are watching free opera online.
Some people have been quarantined for weeks.
Some people can’t work remotely.
Some people have contracted COVID-19 and don’t know it yet.
We’re living here on this planet now because a direct string of thousands of our ancestors made it through whatever incredible hardships they faced & were able to acquire enough security to raise a kid, who did the same, until eventually we showed up. The world is more uncertain than ever, & this pandemic is a new challenge humanity has never faced something exactly like. But there’s some comfort to be had in knowing thousands of people right before us figured out how to take their situation one day at a time until some kind of success. We can figure out this challenge & we’ll get there too. Probably.
It feels like in a world drowning in media & social media & so much news, I find it surprisingly difficult to find easy-to-understand information about what’s going on.
Launched another new website today. It’s a live visualization of the wide gap in access to COVID testing across the country.
At midnight, one of my favorite bands, Oh Wonder, released “Lonely Star,” the first song in their “Home Tapes” series for COVID. It opens with a vocal sample:
Literally at this second
Like in everything that’s happening in the world
Being a human is pretty much the hardest thing to be
In its quiet pondering, its isolated echo, it feels like an anthem for living through COVID. “I’m a lonely star / Is there anybody out there?” they sing in the chorus, over & over again. “Words are there but they don’t come out / Not my best at singing loud.” I need to keep listening to this.
“I guess I’ll be a somebody that nobody knows / Guess I’ll never find the one that I can call home.”
There’s so much judgement right now, of folks who are trying to protect themselves or protect others or who are doing their best or who aren’t. The NYT ran a graphic short story about leaving NYC for the pandemic many found judgemental. It has many issues for sure, but there’s also been a lot of rhetoric around anyone leaving NYC/a city being “weak.” However, the majority of universities evicted 99% of their students around/after the date the author of that story left, & those students drove/flew home with no other option. Trying to just be quiet inside. We (or most of us) are just doing our best.
“Roughly 5 percent of residents — or about 420,000 people — left the city between March 1 and May 1.”
—“The Richest Neighborhoods Emptied Out Most as Coronavirus Hit New York City” (2020-05-15)
Back in 2018, I met—imagine! meeting someone!—Scott Fried, one of the most fascinating public speakers I’ve ever encountered. He lived through the AIDS epidemic as a young gay man in Manhattan, watching dozens of people around him die over the course of a few years. He’s started a series of weekly Zoom calls, almost like non-religious sermons of humanity for COVID. As the sun set, I headed out for a long walk in the misty cool. It felt like such a relief, hearing an introspective voice of peace & quiet. “When life hurts, let it,” he started, “bless you.” He fused them: “When life hurts, let it bless you.”Sometimes learning is actually being told things you already know.
- We have the right to think what we think.
- We have the right to feel what we feel.
- We have the right to want what we want.
Every story of epidemic is a story of illiteracy, language made powerless, man made brute…But, then, the existence of books, no matter how grim the tale, is itself a sign, evidence that humanity endures, in the very contagion of reading…And yet [reading] is also—in its bidden intimacy, an intimacy in all other ways banned in times of plague—an antidote, proven, unfailing, and exquisite.
—“What Our Contagion Fables Are Really About”
Through the darkest hours, humans are able not only to survive, but to continue unendingly recording the world and making creative interpretations of it.
This crisis feels very different than previous pandemics must have, though. When we’re not all running around going to one thing after another all day, we’re discovering, we’re slowing down. For some people, that’s spending time with their families or doing deep work. For others, there’s grieving, there’s abusive relationships, there’s homelessness. For everyone, there’s deep uncertainty and so many questions about so many futures. But the planes aren’t flying, the cars aren’t driving. And so we turn our attention to the internet, where it feels like a type of world “town square” that could only exist in 2020: musicians and authors and drag queens and actors doing free shows from home, an overabundance of Netflix & Apple Music & reality TV & news to consume, the flourishing of grassroots media in TikToks & tweets & memes, even accompanied by astroturf white COVID truthers screaming in the corner. Ignoring that last category, it feels like we’re all in this together, somehow more connected than we ever were in our former age. At the same time, the amount of (entirely preventable) suffering & pain in the world right now is difficult to fathom. And crises like climate collapse loom in the background, continuing even when we’re not paying attention to them. The world, when we return to it, will be in a drastically different state. There’s no question an enormous slew of small businesses and restaurants will be gone forever, an enormous number of friends and colleagues and family members will be too. We’ll try to jump back into the previous world, but it won’t work.
There will undoubtedly be many books published about this crisis—they’re being written as I write this—but this time, it feels almost like the books won’t really be the definitive record of what happened. The memories will fade, and ultimately everything on the internet is fleeting & temporary, but the music we made & YouTube videos we uploaded & the desperate tweets & the absolute flood of media of all kinds will be this collective trail of how we got through everything. “Reading may be an infection, the mind of the writer seeping, unstoppable, into the mind of the reader…and yet it is also…an antidote, proven, unfailing, and exquisite,” the article says. Right now, we’re just trying to get through this chaotic, stressful time. But the question is emerging: How will we tell our story this time? Whose quarantine video diary will make the documentary they’ll all watch in 2040? Which album of bedroom-produced pop music will feel like our collective exhale? What blog posts will live on as the zeitgeist of 2020?
I think the moment calls—to the privileged among us who are safe—us to get out our keyboards and pencils and guitars and paint palettes and drum machines and poetry notebooks and cameras, and record how we’re feeling, what we’re doing, how the world is handling this crisis. To capture, but also to create, to synthesize, to understand what’s going on. In the past, books have unfailingly been humans’ records. Now, let’s make our own for the internet age.
“We were never promised tomorrow. We’re just expecting it,” Scott Fried started this week with this tidbit, & I can’t get it out of my brain. One thing he said that particularly stood out: The quality of your life, & the quality of the life you seek, does not depend on your circumstances.
The flip side: we don’t need to be guilty if we’re happy right now. It’s valid. If we were all only greiving for a year, we’d have nothing else left to do afterwards.
Especially in New York City, the AIDS epidemic is a natural comparison to draw to COVID—the last time people were going to their friends’ funerals every week, complete with an acronym to which there will be memorials & uncaring politicians & scars & memories to last a lifetime. Last fall, I read a story about the magnificent artist David Wojnarowicz from during the crisis, & wrote about it:
When a fellow artist expressed her anxiety that her photographs were not contributing to the AIDS resistance, Wojnarowicz told her: “These are so beautiful, and that’s what we’re fighting for. We’re being angry and complaining because we have to, but where we want to go is back to beauty. If you let go of that, we don’t have anywhere to go.”
It can feel overwhelming & paralyzing that there’s so little we can do to actually help people heal. It’s easy to wonder why we continue to make art during a time of crisis, to feel hopeless & dejected about it. Aren’t there more important things to be doing?
But if we let go of beauty, we don’t have anywhere to go back to. We can’t let go of beauty. We can’t slip, lose control of our grasp, our attention to our consciousness & our reality. We must keep producing, creating, recording, synthesizing, sharing. Because…
If we solved the pandemic but came back to a wasteland, would we be better off?
“Initially set to the same time, these identical battery-powered clocks will eventually fall out of sync, or may stop entirely. Conceived shortly after Gonzalez-Torres’s partner was diagnosed with AIDS, this work uses everyday objects to track and measure the inevitable flow of time…In 1991, Gonzalez-Torres reflected, “Time is something that scares me… or used to. This piece I made with the two clocks was the scariest thing I have ever done. I wanted to face it. I wanted those two clocks right in front of me, ticking.”
—“Untitled” (Perfect Lovers), MoMA
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, another artist from the AIDS epidemic, made this piece. Though created for a very different era, it resonates deeply right now. One of the most profound aspects of this piece is the uncertainty: when will they stop? When will they fall out of sync? And now, here we are again wondering: when will it stop? How long does each one have?
At the beginning, when the world seemed to be crashing downhill so fast, I was wondering if we’d run out of food, and that’s clearly not the situation anymore. But the uncertainty has shifted: what’s safe? What’s safe enough? When will our clocks run out?
In recent weeks, every night, after the sun sets, I walk about 4 miles in the dark, like a lunatic.
Sometimes I walk in the daylight, though. I’ve been collecting photos of trees in bloom. It’s nice, and we could all use something nice.
I’ve found myself unexpectedly happy during this time. I miss my friends, & not being able to visit my boyfriend has been disappointing, but just turning inwards, this has been one of the most productive periods of my life—as well as least stressful, and I don’t think those two have ever gone together for me.
This pandemic—such a drastic event in the lived experience of my generation—will undoubtedly have ripple effects for decades. I am definitely not alone in realizing having fewer things to do, places to go, people to meet—doesn’t mean I’m bad or lazy, it allows me to breathe & be creative & feel fulfilled. Though I still waste plenty of time, I feel like I spend my time more consciously now—I’m either working hard on something, or I’m relaxing/spending time with my friends/family. Before, it felt like there was so much filler, going places, doing things I didn’t really want to do. Some of these effects will be events continuing to happen online after this, or companies not having offices or not requiring going to them. But some of them will be people prioritizing themselves better, I hope.
Charli XCX has released her new studio album, produced in 39 days of COVID isolation—our collective exhale.
I’m so bored
Wake up late, eat some cereal
Try my best to be physical
Lose myself in a TV show
Staring out to oblivion
All my friends are invisible
I got pictures in my mind
I can see it so clearly, see it all so bright
I got pictures in my mind
I can see it so clearly, see it all the time
Visions comin’ every night