If you’re reading this during the coronavirus pandemic, or at any point in the indeterminate future when all this will have blown over, chances are you are experiencing this “biggest crisis since WWII” first hand, making your own quarantine memoires. Have you realized half the planet or more will end up having this shared experience? Will people one day ask each other “so how did you pass the time during Social Distancing”?
On one level, this is a disturbing situation. Billions of people have been forced to stay inside for what is now weeks and might soon be months (or even more!) Just a few weeks ago, this is something almost no-one would have imagined people would have agreed to do so willingly.
In this day and age, it’s really hard to keep a tab on a viable explanation that actually makes sense and feels real – if, that is, you have a personality type that tends to mistrust authority, as I do. Every chapter in this story is open to alternative explanations and as we’re going into the second month of a deepening crisis, having a good grasp of what is really going seems so difficult it actually feels not even worth attempting.
I find myself believing the official narrative, doubting it, doubting my doubts and then doubting the doubts about the doubts. The early 21st century is not an easy time to have an open predesposition towards new information. I’m sure I must have fallen victim and allowed fake news to sculpt my understanding somewhere along the way (how many times, I wonder) in this eerie, post-truth mediascape.
Only time will tell whether this global reaction will prove to have been the only real way to safeguard society, a devastating overreaction, or whether the present situation is the first sign of something worse brewing underfoot than the pandemic itself. On top of the existing questions about the true origin and nature of the virus, I’m particularly concerned by how governments all over the world will be likely to take advantage of the situation to go all totalitarian on us. Mr. Orban has already made himself a good example of what I’m talking about here, but the Hungarian response is just a few terrifyingly small and easy steps away from what many of us are living through right now.
The worst part is that governments have the perfect alibi: individual freedoms have to be sacrificed for the protection of the greater good. But is this tough-love response a necessary evil or is there something less obvious going on? Gordon White on Rune Soup describes the anger pretty well.
For instance, what will happen when the vaccine comes along? Will we be stuck inside until it is ready? Will it be mandatory for people to be vaccinated to be part of civil society, to go to the cinema, to travel, to work? Are these fears paranoid? What if the crisis is so deep by then that anything that will save us and allow us to go back to “business as usual”, whatever’s left of it, will be welcomed with open arms, no matter the implications?
Can any sacrifice ever be too great?
It’s darkly amusing how Star Wars prequel memes have been making the rounds these days as the perfect descriptors of our situation.
So, how about my life?
Being a “work wherever” freelancer and having been one for several years already works to my advantage in the current climate. I’ll admit it, I’ve had my fair share of grumpy days over the last couple of years when I’ve had to work during every single holiday; in addition, my inability to discipline myself and keep my work life and everything-else-life separate has been a cause of great and enduring frustration. Yes, I can edit articles and new episodes in my pyjamas, but as everyone who leads a lifestyle similar to mine would confirm, working in your pyjamas gets really old really fast.
But. As far as work itself goes, I’m currently one of the lucky ones that can still scrape a living. I’m well aware that far from everyone is in the same boat: there are people close to me whose businesses have already closed and even family members who are blackmailed by their bosses to work for free and have no option but give in. Hell, welfare structures themselves are breaking down. The people that in normal conditions had nothing — the homeless or immigrants, for example — now have even less. No emergency 800€ for them. It’s ugly. So, I’m extra-grateful for my Easy Greek Patreon supporters and for Spotted by Locals, who are still giving me some work despite the nosedive in the tourism industry.
I’m reluctant to say this event “is cataclysmic” when we can still play video games, have pizza delivered to our door and buy expensive organic vegan food at the supermarket, but it can certainly feel like that, and I guess this feels as close to a cataclysm as anything we people who are used to wealth, comfort, and frankly, entitlement, have ever experienced. Still, we’re only at the beginning of this ride, which will leave none of us unchanged.
But on another level, we have so many opportunities to use all this time we didn’t know we had – we can do things.
Despite all the relative doom and gloom above, I still feel like I’m in moderately high spirits. I wonder how much that is because I’m a human and my happiness meter, no matter how good or bad things get, tends to hover around 7/10 (the upside of being stuck on the hedonic treadmill — read about this equally horrifying and peculiarly comforting study here). It could also be that, precisely because I’m an introvert at heart, I have decades of experience in finding ways to use my alone time creatively and productively.
It kind of feels morally wrong to be optimistic when everything looks so hopeless around us. As if it’s inconsiderate towards those people that are truly suffering. The truth is that most of us will not fall sick during this crisis, much less die. However, the vast majority will be left with psychological rather than physical scars, and those of us who are still able to muster some good cheer that can end up motivating other people, well, we should keep doing what we’re doing. We the team at Easy Languages get a lot of messages by people who don’t want us to stop making content because it brings them comfort to watch us. Maybe they even use the content we produce for actual language learning!
Once we unglue ourselves from social media and the post-truth mediascape largely created by other people being bored in front of their own screens, there’s so much life to be had, both inside and -gasp- outside. The minute we find we’ve actually lost track of our own and other countries’ coronavirus case and death tally because we’re not really that scared — wow. It’s like breaking free of a spell.
- Sleeping. A lot!
- Doing yoga almost every afternoon with Nefeli over Skype. I can’t believe how much this is helping me.
- Going on long runs (now it’s still permitted?). The Sunday before last, I ran up to Theatro Vrachon (around 11km there and back) and a couple of days ago I ran along Ilissos to the waterfront. At this rate, I’ll be running half-marathons before I know it. Running is something you can do for free and you can start today even if you’ve never run before in your life. You can be running 5 kilometers non-stop before summer — try C25k.
- I also got a 10kg dumbell and pull-up bar and try to use them as often as possible to try to at least keep some of the progress I made at the gym the 4 months before all this started.
- Pushing yourself to get sweaty and not just sit around really, really helps. They do say that physical exercise is the cheapest anti-depressant. EVERYONE should exercise as much as possible in the present condition. No wonder Ring Fit Adventure now lists for more than $200 on eBay!
- Meditating. Trying to start off at 20 minutes every day, focusing on my breath, emptying the mind. As always, not making a lot of progress, nut I’ll get there eventually. It’s a matter of making it into a habit that sticks. I just started The Science of Enlightenment by Shinzen Young which is apparently a masterwork on taking your meditation to the next level. Let’s see! What I can say is that even when I don’t manage to keep the thoughts at bay, the thoughts that do arise during meditation are usually very creative and feel qualitatively different than the usual inner dialogue.
- Cooking every day. 50/50 vegan/vegetarian. Good thing Marilena doesn’t mind and even enjoys me experimenting in the kitchen.
- Keeping my immune system strong. Exercise and sleep help. So do lemons, ginger, kefir and propolis (WTF? This is called bee-glue in English. Sounds much nastier than the positively LOTResque “Propolis”). Remember: fear is an immunosuppressant.
- Drinking. Raki & rum cocktails mostly, but today I also got a fresh bottle of whiskey. It goes well with life itself. Also, mixing stuff with Holy Ginger. This stuff is EXPENSIVE, but I LOVE IT!
- Taking care of other living beings in the apartment: Marilena, Maalouf, the worms in the compost bin, the kefir grains, and plants I’ve been trying to do my best to not have die on me.
- Maalouf just by himself takes up a lot of our time with his constant nagging and always playful mood but how can you even say no to this beautiful, stupid face? Just the other day we were playing fetch and “football”. He’s a dog reincarnate in more ways than one…
- Going for walks (including with Maalouf). I actually thought people would act weird around a cat on a leash but most of them are actually delighted to see an animal that is not a dog so thoroughly and obviously enjoys going for walks.
- Spring is here and the lack of people around means usually timid birds are growing braver. Yesterday I heard a cuckoo in the big park right next to my place for the first time and then I saw a hoopoe fly outside my window! Today (April 5th) we saw the first flocks of swallows arrive back from Africa and they’re already swooping very close in their search for ideal places to build nests. Observing nature reminds me that life goes on and most other animals not only couldn’t give a fuck about us, they’re happy we’re finally giving them a breather and some space back. I hope the pendulum doesn’t swing back with a vengeance once 5G is inevitably rolled out — the requisite totality of geographical coverage with countless high-powered antennae beaming out interlocking EM radiation at extremely high, virtually untested frequencies, might deeply disturb not just the human world but the non-human one as well, especially in the long run. But that’s another topic for another day…
- Writing. It’s been so long since I took the time to sit down and write on my blog. I feel so rusty.
- Reading! Namely: The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, Everything is Fucked, Το 10, re-reading Real Magic, Ιστορία (κωμικοτραγική) του νεοελληνικού κράτους, 1830-1974.
- Gaming. Nier Automata (just finished Route A — not sure I’m getting the hype yet), Hyper Light Drifter (buttery smooth action), GRIS (beautiful), A Short Hike (directly inspired by Breath of the Wild — what a delightful surprise!) and Disco Elysium (balancing between “am I playing this right?” and “this is cool!”)
- Listening to a lot of Easy German! I love these people, and it’s not just because we work together.
- Shows: The Man in the High Castle (picked it up after a year of having abandoned it — it’s better than I remembered, however I do find annoying how often the plot seems to revolve around every main character taking rash decisions that magically work out because support characters with no agendas of their own help them carry out their crazy ideas against their own interests — just an impression); La Casa De Papel (4th season already! This show is the ultimate junk-food series: devoid of nutrition, artificial flavors, larger-than-life marketing to cover the complete absense of meaning… but you can’t stop watching!)
Before finally publishing this post, I found out that Fusion Festival 2020 would be cancelled. I was really looking forward to it, and until just a few days was still hoping that maybe, just maybe, it would still be possible for them to squeeze through the hoops. That would mean at least some previous plan would survive the crisis. No such luck.
Maybe there’s no big surprise there, but it just drove the point further how really really different the world already is. So, brace yourselves, buckle up, enjoy the ride. You can’t control any of it anyway, and we’re still gonna die eventually no matter what.