There’s fear in the air, pulsing through the fiberoptic veins of cyberspace. Uncertainty clings to every interaction, as restaurants, bars, cinemas and schools are shuttered in cities around the world and commerce comes to a grinding halt. On one hand, there are legitimate concerns about how families will feed their children and pay their rent. On the other, people are stockpiling toilet paper, milk and guns.
A friend in my neighborhood in Queens tells me he’s worried that as daily life is impacted that there is likely to be violence. “We know under Trump so far, people of color are fair game for white supremacists and we have Chinatowns all over the country. It’s a matter of time till some people re-direct their anger at ‘bat eaters,’ which is what they are calling them on Fox News.”
He and his girlfriend canceled a visit to my apartment last night because I had a couple friends over, citing “stranger danger.” Justifiable concerns given a reported increase in hate crimes against people of East Asian descent since the outset, while the president himself has referred to COVID-19 as a “foreign” or specifically “China virus.”
Walking home from the corner store yesterday the entire street smelled like it had been washed with Lysol. Discarded face masks have become a staple of NYC’s catalogue of litter (the irony is that in order to prevent coronavirus from spreading used masks must be sterilized and incinerated).
More concerning than the threat of infection is the infectiousness of spatial and temporal social regression. Safety precautions are of paramount importance in the face of a pandemic, and we could all benefit from being forced to slow down and reprioritize. Still the practical application of quarantine and social distancing has been obscured by mass hysteria cast in a xenophobic mold that seeks to vilify the foreign, the Other, the alien from the borders of nations to the welcome mats of our homes. We forget that in the United States, it is our government, not some foreign invader or derelict neighbor, that has compromised the well-being of the American people, again.
It’s hard to admit or reconcile when you realize you’re being played by feeble-minded financiers and family members of the “president” cashing in on your dread and pathos. So instead, perhaps we can use this time “off” to hold our “leaders” accountable for their rank and file stupidity, their criminal lies and their collective dereliction of duty.
And while we’re stuck at home in states of anxiety or relief, perhaps instead of obsessively watching the news and tweeting, we can create responsively. There’s much we haven’t gotten around to for too long: fixing things around the house, reading a book that has sat waiting on the shelf too long, that painting, poem, song or sculpture that never got finished, the collaboration no one ended up making time for. All those things we love to do, that make us more whole, that we place to the side and forget, and replace with more practical obligations.
Talking to friends over the past week, many of whom are freelance artists, writers and cultural producers, the grave financial uncertainty and strain around the world is palpable. Yet, there’s a common sense that the COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented opportunity for deepening human connections as we revert back to a (temporarily) uninterrupted creative space.
Illustration by German Andino (Bilbao, Spain)