she could keep living like this
a queen in her own right
painting a vulgar picture of the world
alone in her corner full of records
recordings of the mind
early morning is now but a dream
let sleep be my only vice
as she holds her head high now
pulsating with life
and threading hope from sound to sound
it’s you and you alone inside her head
green tea scent she will recollect
for when the good days have passed
apple and cinnamon fill up the kitchen
and the rain comes down shyly from a wide grey sky
to a ground ready to receive it with affection
at 8.37 am
her cortex becomes the clock machine
menacing, ticking into folly
leaking the passage of time
but she carelessly lets her washed hair down
and glances at the nude painting of her muse
hanging right above the turntable
a black and white magnum opus that would make a whore blush
with stories of loss to turn a man’s hair grey
smoke finds its way to your undying lips
but you remain still, lifeless and as beautiful as ever
she takes another drag on her cigarette
and pours more tea from the kettle
to keep her awake for when you come alive
like Pinocchio turned to boy
B side A side B side A side
the record is relentless
it knows nothing of the suffering
outside its tunes
like celestial bodies in a lovelorn universe
to give her what she wants: mourning music
thus she becomes the boy
all inside a song
that never ends
“I paint flowers so they will not die.” Frida Kahlo
Whatever you do, ‘water’ your artistic impulses as often as you can and don’t let them wither. They’re yours and need to be validated. This is essential especially in times of crisis as art can soothe the human spirit above all else.
Here I am at my writing table again, after a long, long, yes, long hiatus. I let months slip me by because I was either too paralyzed at the thought of having nothing to say or because I never really had the time to (due to other priorities). So what happened? This new lifestyle I like to call quarantine. Now, for the most population of this wonderful strange ball we call Earth that sounds more than catastrophic. And in many ways, it is. These are desperate times almost no matter how you look at it. But I must admit I find it rather difficult to empathize these days with those who think staying home, spending time with their families or having so much free time on their hands is rightfully atrocious. I am ready to be judged.
But for those of us who wanted a break from the hectic, modern, and cliché lives we all led, who needed just a little push in the direction of their artistic and creative endeavors they could never catch up with because of, well…reasons, staying home feels like a safe harbor. Like the madness ceased for a bit, like I am now aware of birds tweeting outside my window because I finally pay attention – because I am home, I’ve slowed down, I’m more aware and I can appreciate the very small things. And all of this happened in only about three weeks of quarantine.
I’ve stopped eating meat, I cook every two or three days now and enjoy more balanced meals, I take care of myself, my face is cleaner (goodbye, acne breakouts, thanks, home environment), I practice more often for my Conservatory admission, I’m exercising again, I enjoy better, dare I say more in-depth (phone) conversations with my parents (social distancing can sometimes work wonders), I’ve started listening to music every day again (more on that later), I’m about to resume painting and I’m here, WRITING. I’m not usually the one to see the bright side in everything, but even our planet is cleaner now. If that’s not a good reason for hope, I don’t know what is.
Under no circumstances do I intend to minimize the horror and grief some people are going through right now – the collective grief is there. There is colossal change and chaos (often an agent of change) and we are here to witness it. I wish all of us were still here to witness this, survive it and tell quarantine stories to our grandchildren and children.
From my experience, this virus not only spreads, but surfaces so many things that are wrong within our society, naturally starting with the healthcare system, and ending with, well, people. I’m sure you’ve already read somewhere that the people are really the virus and so on. Must be why I don’t miss socializing. Not. One. Bit. Except for the occasional hug from a couple of dear friends and spending time with family, there is little I miss about human contact. What so many people around the world are now realizing for the first time – that humans need each other, they need touch and connection and cannot possibly live isolated, as insular beings – I’ve realized the hard way, long time ago, on my own.
On the other hand, I do feel like bonding more with animals lately – birds, pigeons, the wandering cat, a cute dog, trees even. They come alive. Of course, they’ve always been part of our lives, but while we were having a smoke and a drink with our friends in hipster clubs, we forgot about all that, somehow. Must have slipped our minds that the natural world exists. And things are still green, greener in fact because spring. What I do awfully regret is that spring only comes once a year and we’re entrapped in concrete (that sounds more tragic than was meant to).
If you realize that once you’ve been quarantined and left your unhealthily fast-paced life behind, you suddenly feel empty on the inside and don’t know what to do with your time, then you were probably empty to begin with. If you can’t slow down and spend some time with yourself (staying in the comfort of your home and saving lives while at it), something tells me you needed this pandemic thing to come along and strip your life of all meaninglessness. You have been left in silence, alone. How is your life now?
To be rudely honest, I miss nothing from the outside world. Except maybe for long walks in the park (which I barely took anyway since I was caught in a home-work-work-home routine). So yeah, I miss that. And the sun, air. You know, all the essential ingredients of wellness. As for the silence, it’s infectious (very bad pun, I know). I’m saying it’s … what we needed and didn’t know we needed.
I find there is something disturbingly odd about people now telling you to constantly wash your hands and clean surfaces and such and even come up to your door with soap and antibacterial wipes when you’ve been obsessed with germs and washing your hands for the most part of your life. It’s almost comical, in a tragic way, of course, for OCD people everywhere. When they were once ridiculed for living with this anxiety of getting contaminated, now they’re being told that obsessing about cleanliness is the right thing to do, it’s what they should do day in, day out. It’s like suddenly it’s ok to be ill and paranoid about germs, more than ok, it’s become the default.
It is somewhat ironic that the whole planet is now going through minute rituals of disinfecting and washing and disinfecting (hopefully, they do) only to realize how consuming that can be. So to whoever’s doubted the mental clutches of this exhausting illness, welcome to our lives. I hope that whoever you are, if you’re dealing with this, you have found healthy ways to put your anxiety at rest.
I hope you now know that somehow, you should befriend your anxiety because often times it’s only meant to keep you safe and sound. So befriend anything or anyone you can these days, your pet, that bird outside your window who won’t keep their mouth shut (you know which one I’m talking about). And most importantly, befriend your soap. Do not discriminate. They all, and I mean all, come in handy (pun absolutely intended).
On the Economy
It seems like this virus sheds a distinctive light on our healthcare systems around the world, as much as on capitalism. How many times how you heard the word economy lately? It’s because, in the midst of mortality rates going higher, the last thought we have at night is probably linked to financial anxiety. Will I get to keep my job? Is there enough money to do another week’s shopping? Are we really supposed to care, as a species who is slowly but surely losing some of our loved ones, about the fucking economy? Is it primordial to think about monetary losses? It is if we remind ourselves that the super wealthy will barely be affected by this (unless they catch the virus and die).
Economically, absolutely nothing will change in the pockets, let me rephrase that, multiple bank accounts of those who stole and continue to steal and then comment on how the economy matters. When an economic system fails to address and attend the needs of those in health crises (physical as much as mental), it’s flawed to begin with. See how there’s a leitmotif here? Think about what other issues the virus has surfaced. Planetary, we were already doomed even if this pandemic didn’t happen. And that’s not bleak at all.
It doesn’t take an economist to see where we’re headed economically. There is recent discourse about implementing UBI (Universal Basic Income) on a wide scale. There is absolutely no reason why proponents of UBI shouldn’t push their “agenda” during these times. In fact, this seemed to me like the sanest idea way before this disease came along. No one could argue that a UBI wouldn’t help the people who are most financially vulnerable right now and even prevent a massive economic fallout. But do we learn from past mistakes? Did we learn anything from the 2008 economic crisis? Did we learn anything from the Spanish flu of the SARS epidemic? I’ll let you answer that. Here’s what executive director of British think tank Positive Money, Fran Boait has to say on the topic:
Nonetheless, if this microscopic thing won’t manage to put some things under a macroscopic lens, then we really are fucked. Take some time, clear your head (and clean your hands) and think about what really matters. You have no excuse now to not take the time to figure things out, to examine your life, and I’m not talking about making plans for the future necessarily (that is almost inconceivable for many), but just take life in. Literally. Just leave the germs out, if you can.
On Music and the Blues
An economic fallout isn’t probably the only kind of fallout we could experience in the upcoming months. Let’s just say that isolation and mental well-being don’t exactly go together. Some of us might come to develop quarantine blues. If that’s not a term already, it should be. And just take ordinary people who were already getting through life with a blues and you’ll get lonely souls who are now crooning to the lyrics of The Smiths like their life depends on them (oh, wait):
Take me out tonight Where there’s music and there’s people And they’re young and alive Take me out tonight Take me anywhere, I don’t care I don’t care, I don’t care
(Lyrics from “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”)
If you’re so funny Then why are you on your own tonight? And if you’re so clever Then why are you on your own tonight?
(Lyrics from “I Know It’s Over”)
So above all else, I spend my melancholic nights listening to melancholic new music – which is another way of saying I’ve become utterly obsessed with The Smiths.
And let us not forget The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”:
Every day I look at the world from my window…
The song also implies “I don’t need no friends” but that’s another story. Might as well be true, who knows? What environment is more comfortable, the least toxic and most inspiring that home alone, with your art, sipping green tea while gazing at the sunset or a sunrise and listening to this marvelous classic (or maybe even Ethan Hawke’s version of it)? What?
Just whatever you do, keep crooning. Imagine yourself at a live concert again, where people are young and free, and the air is cleaner. And where the hipster as well as the virus are but remnants of the past. A future where our undying love for music, or art or each other will keep us afloat, lingering for emotion, as painful as emotions can be. I am happy to say that I was lucky enough to further discover The Smiths’ music during this time, which has given me a world when this one is seemingly falling apart…Once again, music saves the day for me. Quite literally.
It saves it, enriches it, it sometimes does away with the blues and keeps depression at bay. I suggest you find your own friend in these mourning times and let that something or someone permeate your being to the core. We are reminded, almost against our own will, what makes us human and what will still be here with us, for us, day after day. And in that sense, life goes on.