“And this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang—but with a whimper.”
You know…I keep trying to think of what life was like before March. I got a text on the bus from Shannon asking me if I would go to Ghana with her, to which my response was something along the lines of:
I vaguely remember hopping over rogue firecrackers and drunken stragglers while holding my first (and most delicious) attempt at a vegan apple crumble to ring in the New Year with friends in Neukölln.
Then I can vaguely remember having a birthday at the spa with Shannon and Jessica. I…think? Wait, did I have a birthday at the spa?? Or was it yet another example of Jennifer inexplicably ending up naked in unusual places?
Didn’t Musa send me a Classical Musa birthday greeting that both filled me with dreaded emotion and made me bust out with uncontrollable laughter? Because I asked him, aaaand…he said he has no idea what I’m talking about. So how did this video end up in my phone?
Wasn’t there a dinner where we gathered to celebrate nothing other than the freedom to congregate in large numbers and accidentally spit on one another while eating? Or did I make that all up in my head?
**hard gulp**…people sharing food. People touching the floor! People touching each other?! Get it out! Get it out! GET IT OUT!
Wasn’t there a Stormzy concert with Musa and some of his footie mates…?
Was that before the racist attack in Hanau…? The one we protested near Hermannstraße?
…or after we decided that we didn’t care about coronavirus, because we were okay with the deaths of countless elderly people?
And this, of course, brings me to the subject of the hour/day/apocalypse:
Ah yes…I remember the beginning of the year as if it were just 5,682 years ago, because it may as well have been.
But let me make something clear. Despite the opening quote of this post, I don’t think the world will end—not in the finite sense, anyway. I do think that the world before coronavirus, and the world after a vaccine is successfully introduced, will and absolutely must look completely different. Because the reason why a novel virus has shut the world down completely, is because the world in which we were functioning before was completely unsustainable. So, whether we like it or not, that old world is gone. 24/7 consumerism may not be. Environmental encroachment may not be. Socio-economic, political, and racial/gender-based inequality may not be. Centering our lives on the idea of non-essential workplace productivity may not be. But the illusion that any of these ideas were functioning for the greater good in any sustainable capacity—is. Kiss that shit the fuck goodbye.
I know this, because it’s a world that wasn’t built with the intention to serve the majority of us—and now, it’s a world that’s not functioning for anyone—except Jeff Bezos.
But I wonder…do other people know that? I’m not so sure. I was in an online literary talk the other day where we were discussing dystopian literature, and in the online chat feature we were problematizing what it would take to see ourselves out of this. But I pointed out that dystopias vary for pretty much every segment of society. How many of us have been living in some form of dystopia for years before coronavirus existed? How many of our dystopias have become exacerbated since? And…how many of us are living in a dystopia for the first time and, therefore, insist on putting countless lives in harm’s way for the sake of returning to a “normal” that no longer exists? Let me give you a hint…
It just goes to show you that “normal” for a very specific group in society, has always come at the expense of the suffering of others—but it was a framework where the same people never factored in being inconvenienced themselves. And if there’s some small, microscopic, near non-existent glimmer of joy I gleam from this, it’s that they’re losing their fucking minds.
A shared global dystopia would be progress in many ways, because at least then, we could all agree on the common threat. And considering that the latest bonehead theory around coronavirus is that it’s a pro-vax conspiracy to introduce mind control, I think it’s safe to say that we’re not even there.
In fact, after reading the latest piece from Deutsche Welle about groups all over Germany who have decided to emulate the US and protest in masse against the lockdown restrictions, I have no idea where or who we are. It’s like White people need something to destroy, otherwise they don’t know what to do with themselves. The same people out in the streets angry about social distancing are the same people who don’t contribute anything to society except hatred for people of different races and ethnicities while framing immigrants as feckless leeches. The same people who are doing everything in their power to invalidate the suffering of anyone who isn’t white are also trying to justify their reckless behaviour as (false) victim narratives. And for what? So that they can continue to center themselves in a, a…a global pandemic?? An international campaign to stop MASS LOSS OF LIFE?! I mean—
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it too. We all have, all over social media. All over Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Over the past two months, my feeds have been consumed with posts from people who are too terrified of the new abnormal (and it’s nothing less than that) to think clearly. People who think that gurgling vinegar or eating weeds from their gardens will stop them from getting sick. People who think that wearing masks is an infringement on their God given right (to die from stupidity, I guess?) People who think that Co-VID19 is a conspiracy concocted by Bill Gates, Big-Pharma, and the Tooth Fairy. And sure, I get that some people are just scared. People don’t make rational decisions when they’re terrified.
The thing is, social media is real life—it always was, but now it’s more real than it ever has been, because it’s also the primary way in which we’re communicating with one another because of the potential danger posed by physical spaces. And social media is particularly hazardous, because it’s not a place for actual discussions—where we sit down and you say something, and I say something, and we quickly realize that there’s no way we’re gonna see eye to eye and so we change the subject. It’s the place where people attach a brand value to your name, and if they like you, or respect you, then they share what you share under the proviso that it must be something worthwhile. The past two months, I’ve been constantly reminded of the importance of teaching critical thinking in schools, because what we are all witnessing right now—this collective, global clusterfuck—is the widespread detrimental effect of not having it.
I’m more scared of people, than I am of the virus. Case and point—Berlin.
I know, I know. Everyone has this idea that Germans follow rules. But allow me to disabuse you of that illusion right the hell now. As my friends and I say to each other all the time, the last time that Germans were “efficient” about anything was 1945. As I keep telling pretty much everyone I’ve Skyped with abroad over the past two months: Berlin is not Germany. Berlin is Berlin. And Berliners take exception with the idea of being told what to do. Dress up for work? Fuck you. Respect your personal space? Fuck you. Acknowledge that Neo-Nazism is alive and well in pretty much all areas of government?
And when it comes to wearing a mask to *protect yourself* they’ve never been more committed to demonstrating what they don’t stand for: self-preservation. And it’s been like this since coronavirus first came to Berlin. When Merkel first instituted lockdown procedures, large swathes of people were in the park playing volleyball, and throwing picnics. When social distancing guidelines were introduced (as mandatory, by the way) people began to hold barbecues in the park instead. It got so bad that the Ordnungsamt (think of it as a gang of mall cops with more power, but no guns) began patrolling the parks to make sure that people from different households were standing 1.5 meters a part. For some reason, bucking authority is more important than surviving, and not wearing a mask in public spaces where you’re supposed to is the latest sign of anarchist comeraderie. It’s like virtue signalling, but if “virtue” was replaced a death wish.
I live a little further out of the city center, thankfully, and I’m able to take daily walks at a nearby park that’s pretty spread out. But sometimes I take my mask, depending on whether or not I anticipate more people outside than usual (also depending on whether or not I feel like putting on a bunch of sunblock and makeup). And the last two times I did that, I was berated. Once by an old man who said, “Du Brauchst Keine Maske!” (you don’t need a mask!)
…And once more by two men my age who proceeded to mock me from a bench. I mean…WHAT.
These are the same people who wash their hands for 3 seconds in cold water, then wipe their hands on their jeans. Who are still hooking up with people they’re meeting online and putting entire communities at risk because it’s all a 5G conspiracy anyway. Personally, I don’t think you should get to pick and choose which science you follow. If you’re going to reject science on one level, you should reject it on all levels. Don’t wanna wear a mask in the grocery store? Fine. You get to eat raw chicken—it has all those good microbes, right? Forget the comprehensive bloodwork—if leeches were good enough to treat hysterical housewives in Victorian England, then they’re good enough for you. Oh, you want access to STI testing? Sounds like something a card-carrying member of the Illuminati would say, don’tcha think?
I’d be okay with being surrounded by so much pervasive idiocy if history didn’t tell us time and again that it’s the people who do know better who end up paying for the mistakes of everyone else. As the old adage goes, “When you die, it’s the people around you who suffer. When you’re stupid, it’s the same thing.” And I am determined to survive, because I am just (bad pun alert) dying to see what the world looks like after coronavirus. The optimist in me knows that a lot of societies will adapt—because they must. But I’m also incredibly sad, because I know, just as I know that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, that The United States won’t be one of them.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite my frustrations with Germany (and there are so many) I, on a daily basis, stop and think to myself, “How lucky am I to be here right now?” How lucky am I to be living in a country with widespread healthcare access? How fortunate am I to have a social safety net? How lucky am I to be here during a time when a competent politician is running the country? Who’s also a woman. Who’s also a scientist. I remember how I agonized over whether to move to London or Berlin back in 2016. But if I could go back in time and hoard all of my lucky stars, I’d say I’m cashing in on them right now.
I say this with some trepidation, hoping that whoever reads this understands the importance of relativism when we talk about how different countries are handling the pandemic. And, understanding how we compartmentalize in times of crisis. I’ve read so much commentary, from the thought-provoking to the reckless, that I’m honestly (and perhaps for the first time in my life) hesitant to wade into the conversation. This is something that affects me, and the people I love, in every way—and I don’t know enough to form an articulate argument. I’ve seen posts praising Merkel over Trump (which isn’t difficult to do) and pieces praising Trump over Merkel (which is flat out irresponsible) and I feel like, in the end, what’s lost in this journalistic pissing contest, is that we haven’t even begun to understand coronavirus. We’re not even close, ya’ll. The information changes every day. The most recent update is that coronavirus is causing Kawasaki disease-like symptoms in children, and how do governments (including Germany’s) respond to that? By re-opening schools…
The truth is, most of the West has failed. Dramatically. Spectacularly. But not everyone has failed equally…and while I’m literally chewing my lip at the rate of infection number jumping in Germany, and fuming at the decision to gradually reopen society—when I say, “At least it’s not the US,” I.mean.that.shit.
(Meanwhile, South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam [which shares a BORDER with China] are staring at us like:)
On that note—how am I doing? You know—really? First off, can we all agree that we should temporarily table this question for the time being?
I think it’s fairly obvious by now that none of us are doing well—unless you’re Jeff Bezos, I guess. I live by myself, and I miss my people. I never wished more in my life to have a dog. I miss going to the movie theater late at night. I miss dinner parties. I miss gatherings in the park. I miss hiking! I can’t believe it’s been a year since I climbed Kjerag in Norway and spent 50 euros on a burger and 20 euros on an ice pack for my knees (Do I know how to live or what?) I miss concerts and exhibitions and spoken word poetry and standup comedy and the sheer array of possibilities that leaving your flat on a Saturday night represented. I miss hugs—really, really delicious hugs—the kind where my kidneys get a small cuddle. I miss laughter that’s uninterrupted by a dodgy wireless signal. I miss holding hands. I miss making out. I can’t believe I didn’t do more of that with complete strangers before it was a death wish. What was I thinking? Who was I trying to impress?!
I’m not okay. You’re not okay. We’re surviving. We’re looking after each other. And for the rest of this year, it looks like that’s gonna have to be enough.
My friend Natalie says something that I really love. She asks, “How are you taking care of your heart today?” And I think that’s such a thoughtful, compassionate way to acknowledge the collective fragility that we’re all feeling right now. So, I’ve been taking care of heart by doing. Not feeling. I understand that’s not a healthy strategy for a lot of people (maybe it isn’t for me either) but it’s all I know. I read books, and I write, and I draw, and I play music, and I completely gave up on wearing wire bras, because I just woke up one morning and realized—a door knob could kill me! Fuck this restrictive, double-metal noose around my tits!
I joined a volunteer collective to deliver food and medicine to some of the neighborhood elderly (there are a lot where I Iive). Most of them have been kind and grateful. Some of them give searing looks that make me wonder exactly how old they are. I work out daily to stay sane. I started an Instagram cooking show, and spent hours answering all kinds of fun questions about chickpeas, polenta, and ice cream. But the best part isn’t cooking myself. It’s when people make videos of the food they’re making with my suggestions, and I, I—
But even I…the woman with 22 different kinds of sugar in her cupboard, hot sauces from six different continents, a black Sardinian sea salt that I reserve for seasoning on “special occasions,” and who has tofu meatballs in homemade pomodoro cooling on a wooden cutting board RIGHT NOW…had to take a step back. What good is elaborate cooking if I can’t put it in a Tupperware container and take it to a friend’s place? What good is that thoughtful gesture if it means exposing someone I love to a potentially fatal pathogen?
I’ve been writing. I’ve been learning French. I’ve been taking long walks in the same park where I’m being abused by kamikaze old men, listening to arias and jazz and lengthy Blues improvisations that have become akin to spiritual meditations. Sometimes Shannon joins me and we have distanced strolls in the park, or she brings her son and we play soccer. I talk to my friends regularly.
I’ve been making imaginative memes to troll one particular humble shy poet, and then getting phone calls from him laughing his ass off late at night, which end up lasting for hours.
I’ve been staring at the various cloud formations from my balcony. I’ve been taking CBD oil to help me sleep. I’ve been frantically applying for grants and fellowships to makeup for the uncertain financial times coming up for who knows how long. I’ve been thanking God every day that I’m an atheist. I’ve been thanking myself for being “okay” alone.
Y’all. I tried making a gluten free sourdough starter, and I got so angry that it couldn’t take care of itself that I threw it out after a day. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why it’s a great idea for me to be single (and childless) right now.
And then…out of nowhere…
Not for any particular reason. It just comes at snap moments—out of nowhere. I look right through the book I’m holding, or the TV show I’m watching, and I’m gone. Not forever. Just long enough to feel comfortable returning, and picking up where I left off. Sometimes it’s seconds. Sometimes it’s hours. Disassociation gets a bad rep, because we learn to do it as a defense mechanism that develops from childhood trauma. But, if I’m being honest, I find it pretty useful as an adult.
Having said all that, I feel a little unsettled by how (and I use this word very, VERY loosely) equipped for long-term isolation I feel. I can’t help but think that writing speculative fiction has provided a necessary emotional toolkit for handling extraordinary circumstances. I read a fantastic cultural critique in The New Yorker , that talks about how science fiction traces the ramifications of a single postulated change, which readers co-create while reading the story. I do that often in my writing, so I feel somehow more oriented in the history that we’re making presently. All it takes is for one thing to go completely wrong, and you’re living in a dystopian storyline. A novel virus. A rogue cancer treatment. A *cough* racist, misogynist megalomaniac in high office…
Normally, I enjoy speculating on alternative realities as a form of creative process—and it’s an even more interesting process when you’re living in one. Then again, maybe my state of acceptance has nothing to do with my writing, and everything to do with, as Shannon pointed out, having an anxiety disorder. Playing out worst-case scenarios is kind’ve a regular gig for me, after all.
Oh, I’m sorry. Is this *your* first anxiety rodeo? Cuz I was born riding this bitch.
I wish I had more exciting things to talk about. I wish I could tell you about my residency at the MacDowell Colony, but it was cancelled. I wish I could give you an update on my book publication, but you’ll just have to wait a little bit longer, because all industries have been thrown for a loop—even publishing. I don’t even have many photos to share, because I haven’t been anywhere. So, no—it’s not the end of the world. But as some of us are mourning loved ones, opportunities, and even time…putting our lives, careers, plans, hopes, and dreams on hold for the indefinite future, and are forced to reckon with the inevitability of a very uncomfortable, very uncertain path ahead…it does feel like a death of sorts…doesn’t it?
Which brings us to the age-old question: What happens after death?
This is my very atheist answer:
We’ll all have find out for ourselves. I just hope it’s not any time soon.
…unless it’s Jeff Bezos.
Or Trump. Obviously.
…and to everyone who voted for him—this Bud’s for you.