Love in the Time of Coronavirus
Episode 1: Sitting Together in the Dark
However we found ourselves here, we’re now in this strange space - the space of social distancing, quarantines, news alerts, stockpiling of supplies, nihilistic musings, playlists to soothe our frayed nerves - in this alone, together business. This semi-regular missive is intended to serve as a ‘check-in’ with friends and dear ones, with ramblings about mutual aid, questions about space-making and transformation, and sources of beauty and hope during times of stress. The writing will be unrefined, the ideas will be fluid, and the editing will be light. Despite my limitations as a writer, and this format’s overall constraints, I ask you: read with me, think with me, and if you’re compelled, write back to me.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the decades-long unrequited and parodic passion between Florentino and Fermina in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera, or the humor of Shebani Rao’s initial illustration - a few sources of inspiration that spurred me think about the phrase “love in the time of coronavirus” as an invocation. I’m also heartened by the generosity behind Cassandra Beth’s invitation. These, and other random analog and digital gestures have led me to the briefest, necessary, yet most cliche of interventions for these days: an e-newsletter.
A little bit about me before I get too far: for my day job, I design, plan, and evaluate experiences in which people, mainly adults, get to learn and share with one another in a public space. I work with teams of other colleagues, our ideas meshing and stretching and contrasting into a cyclical hum of free events, year-round, all for free. Sometimes, I teach others, too. In ordinary times, I would be consumed with the details and implementation of these multiple experiences, a mundane and necessary process that must take place with precision. Instead, the very thing I am typically consumed with (gather people together to create and connect, share resources, experience joy) is momentarily suspended. And now, in light of what’s happened, here are some of the questions currently circling my brain: what happens when our precarious existence is made apparent? What opportunities do we have for grace under duress, and where does that grace makes itself known? Where do we find beauty now that so much is obscured by circumstances beyond our control? What gorgeousness might be lying around while we wait, ringed by history, obscured by our average forgetting?
A little over a year ago, writer/photographer/polymath Teju Cole sat down for a conversation with On Being’s Krista Tippett, which I reference in this episode’s title. The current moment feels like we’re sitting in the dark, together, waiting. We do ourselves a disservice, as we now know so keenly, when we separate ourselves into buckets of kin. The mutuality of our position is flashing in neon right now, all alerts compelling us to realize that none of us are superhuman.
Speaking of superb humans: let’s congratulate, reward, and express gratitude for the (extra)ordinary carework we’re tasked with, at this very moment, together. Time is compressed and elongated, perhaps more so when we realize we’re responsible for the lives of others. We listen differently, our artifices crumbling in the face of what is needed right this minute, a mutuality that can’t be denied:
For what is poetry but close attention, but primordial love, hesitations and silences and lines askance and enjambment that, once in a while, slow or even suspend my breath off the page—amidst a torrent of words and errands and auto-paid bills and news headlines. To aestheticize, in this case, is not to objectify, but to combat the anesthetic derision of care work as unintellectual, as immigrant, as gendered—to emotionally respond to, to sensitize ourselves to whatever we typically dismiss and inure ourselves to. I’m trying to look at these words and errands and moments anew, to give each its proper scaffolding of negative space and weight.
This snippet is from poet and scholar Celina Su, whose blog post in the form of a letter is a gift in these times. How many times have we stopped and contemplated the futility of repetitions, of time circling without surprise? Does it feel any less futile when time is a seemingly long stretch of desert? What kind of vision is needed to peer at what’s ahead? And how do we help each other contemplate the world while tending to our most basic needs in this surreal isolation?
I leave you with the last bit of beauty I’ve gleaned for today. I won’t quote it in pieces. It’s worth reading and mulling over in full. Feel its quiet sorrow and calmness in the face of what we don’t and won’t know. Tomas Tranströmer, as translated by Robin Robertson, in Face to Face:
In February existence stood still. Birds didn't fly willingly and the soul chafed against the landscape the way a boat chafes against the dock it lies moored to. The trees stood with their backs to us. Snow-depth was measured with dead straw. Footprints grew old out on the crust. Under a tarp, language withered. One day something appeared at the window. Work came to a halt, I looked up. The colors burned. Everything turned around. The land and I sprang toward each other.
Until next time, save a seat for me alongside you in this chaotic darkness.