It rarely passes a day, after almost a month in quarantine, that I don’t feel driven to tears: a quiet moment of grief, a rupture in normalcy, a break in my emotional status quo. I’m moved by a lot of things at the moment; the death of another doctor or nurse fighting to save lives, the passing of an artist or writer killed off by the virus, the simple humanity of those going that extra mile to care for their community, help those in need, and find ways round the seemingly impossible situation in which we live. It’s not impossible for all of us, of course. We are not all doctors, or supermarket clerks risking contamination. We are many of us fortunate to have enough money in the bank to pay bills, buy food, and order trivial distractions to make quarantine more comfortable, knowing that it will pass at some point, and a relative state of normal awaits us. For others, the dead will accompany them into a longer phase of grief, some will be jobless, others wondering what happened to their year of studies, projects began and destroyed by an invisible companion, enemy, rogue, wake up call, or other label given to this thing labelled COVID-19.
It’s easy to forget the normal that we have left behind in the deeper phases of quarantine, which for many will seem like an odd, extended, and even unexpected holiday. Yet we must remember what was before, because the desire to return to normal in order to feed the economic beast that was seemingly inevitable, and forever demanding to be fed by our money, our blood, sweat, tears, our thoughts, feelings, desires, and life force, will be strong, very strong indeed. If we were all honest for a moment, we would recognise it for what it is; a psychopathic, jealous demigod with flesh made of hyper-capitalism, bones crafted form hyper-globalisation, skin built from hyper-social media connection and its distracting pull, and ligaments crafted from hyper-individualism, and its companion, hyper-alienation; alienation from the world, from ourselves, from nature, from slower, simpler tides. This toxic beast had led to an all-too-normal state of inhumanity that we had all begrudgingly accepted as normal as we struggled on in order to keep up with hyper-normal, which seemed to be accelerating at ever faster speed, and increasing our inhumanity as it did. Sacrifice it screamed out, sacrifice whatever you must, for I must live on.
We live in an age in which the need to distinguish between what is real, and what is fantasy is paramount. Perceiving the veil of the imaginary in times of great intensity can be tough. The need to glance and gaze for sustained periods at what is real is true in all spheres of human practice and imagination, from politics to religion, from philosophy to entertainment, as well as in education, human relationships, family dynamics, sexual relations. And it is true of the hyper-frenetic world that has been put on pause for a moment, by that tiny little virus from Wuhan. An invisible, apparently unconscious creature of pure desire that was passed on from a bat, or a Pangolin, or some other innocent little beast wandering around in its own little world before ending up in some filthy market, under the gaze of a desirous consumer, who should have known better.
As many of us as possible need to remember what came before, and imagine a non-utopian and non-dystopian after where alternatives are actually possible, and preferably our collective human right. Crises change the rules at the macro level. We can live in a connected world in which the systems we are part of work for the benefit of the many, and not just the few; but we must be insistent, and we must imagine it as possible. We can be connected globally, but not robbed of our commitment to the local, regional and national levels of being and becoming. We can have work-life balance that is not a luxury, or just a lucky possibility for some, but a norm of healthy societies that know how to function. But we have to think it, feel it, imagine it, and start to call it forth into our lives, and into our world in this hyper-world on pause; through our imagination, and through our actions. To do so, we have to see quarantine, and this odd and quite incredible moment in our lives, as a call to remember, experience, and imagine, and not forget, just how dysfunctional that world which we put on pause was.