New Silences: Writing for Coronavirus

First, I am angry, stupidly angry. What is the object of anger? I don’t know… just the-way-things-work-out, I guess. I have become quite inconsolably unproductive. I reread the same lines from Julian of Norwich,

ANd so I saw mOst sureLy thaT it IS quicKEr for us ANd easier To cOMe to tHe kNowleDGe oF GoD tHan it is to knOW our own soUl.

until my eyes were dry from their unblinking inability to lasso meaning. Instead I think about the body, how my hand keeps inching closer to my face, all the old people in Pankow crossing the streets with their walkers, and birds I used to hear until I started leaving the radio on all day. I understand German enough to get the numbers, and that’s all I want, that’s all we want. Something concrete. 30 days and 48 cases and 2 weeks and countries and flights and hours and minutes that meant something, it all means something. But the numbers aren’t the strange interactions I’ve had, talking to my mother about insanity, the friend who packs Ovid and The Kamasutra but leaves all her clothes behind, the backyard stargazing with hesitant goodbyes. I wander around the grocery store on the phone with a friend back in the States and walk out with beet juice and 12 bananas. I look down at a scaly hand holding so much yellow fruit, automatic doors closing behind me. What’s going on?

 And indeed, I have noticed a biological metamorphosis; change my class to Reptilia, my superorder to Lepidosauria and so forth because washing has made my hands so damn dry. You become a reptile and the numbers start sounding reasonable and holy and something to worship. By the next day they mean nothing and we praise anew.

 Unfortunately, this is how my negative emotions present themselves, outrage at the invisible, fury at the birds I don’t see any more, and lizard-hands. I’m hurling an unproductive emotion at an unsolvable problem. I’ve been seeing everyone’s version of this in some way, sadness, confusion, fear, feigned indifference. Maybe a panic draws back some curtain, reveals the cracks of the mind that give it shape. Every frantic piece of information restimulating the motion of people’s nature, opening and closing like singing clams… or something else absurd, the times dictate I be precise about what’s going on, be accurate and true in my telling of events… so clams I think works just fine. Maybe this isn’t our nature at all, maybe this is the limit, the piece of ourselves that lays around but never expects to be picked up. We’re all throwing them at each other now. But for me, I think of the word rage and 

Sing, Goddess, sing of the RAGE of Achilles, son of Peleus

I’m comparing flight options for dormmates and simultaneously looking for my copy of the Iliad because I want to quote this first line. This is no Trojan war, nor is it a time to think about crows, I’ve forgotten them for now. I began an article on crows which, upon the news of the school’s new path, the departure of friends, the sudden middle-of-the-night flee to America… I quickly classified as intensely unimportant. 

Outside after the news of online-courses, I walk in a circle with a friend and we talk about methods of keeping sane. 

– Yoga? 

– I don’t like doing yoga with other people. A book group?

– Is that reading outside of class…? Make a new language?

–eh…maybe I’ll read all the books on my shelf

–You can have all my books too. 

We had been preparing to make a spectacular ramen soup, taking great care to perfect every element, going to the right markets for the specific ingredients, trying to find the best butcher. We very much looked forward to the broth which we hoped would last us many bowls. It was a big project. 

– We could throw ourselves into our soup

But that friend would be on a plane before the night was up. And soup unmade is tasteless and quite sad and just about all that’s left… along with all the debris. I’ve been boxing people’s things for days now, and it really doesn’t matter that the gyms are closed, my whole body is sore. Although maybe I’m too negative, succumbing to the woe is me camp. Confusion might be better than pity. Nowadays I’m not angry, I’m just tired. Back to the wall, I talk lethargically to a pixely screen about Platonic Dialogues, hear my voice echo back, hardly leave the room. Education of the cave. This is all a shame really, but also so absurd I have to laugh. I’m searching my newly reorganized room for my Julian of Norwich notes and saying to myself By George, where are my Jesus notes?! I have to sit down after that. 

At midnight we sang folksongs in the dorm kitchen thinking a week from now it’ll be empty and it’ll be strange. But we did not have to wait that long. At 4 am I was imploring an Uber driver to wait, “Mein Freund kommt.” In the midst of it all I record some voice-memo interviews with the travellers.

–What was your method for packing?

–Panic.

 In the background you can hear a frantic demonstration of this very tactic:

–Should I take ALL of my pencils? Is that valuable…? I don’t need this many socks.

Socks to pencils in one breath, coin flips between New York, Toronto, and Los Angeles as the prices rose by 5€ a minute. The overarching sentiment is perhaps reflected in the joking yet earnest if I don’t leave now, I’ll never leave Europe, and I’m not prone to hysteria so there was never a doubt what my plans were. But I felt their helpless reach for home, the parents and their fear, could see people craving familiarity in all this uncertainty. 

Every Sunday my dad and I tune in to a Cleveland college radio station to listen to the classical show. Noon for him, 6 pm for me, I listen during dinner as we exchange texts. We try to guess which Sibelius is playing, agree that Beethoven’s odd-numbered symphonies are the best ones, comment on the poppiness of the vinyl recording. This first Sunday of coronavirus-world, I hardly saw anyone in my dorm, so at dinner I had to be social and talk with my remaining peers and the music went on without me.    

And I wonder what I’m supposed to do about all of this, what I should do with myself after zipping bags and feeling the dorms get lighter and lighter, people leaving me their milk, their plates, and their instruments because they knew I’d be here. I care for the abandoned plants now, alone in my room trying to find the best furniture arrangement so I don’t feel the void left by my roommate. At 5am when the dorm is finally quieting down I still have to read for class. Pretending that the world is aright, I start The Song of Songs, making notes in the margin like, 

This is a lovely line

What does this mean? 

How is love reliant on the senese? (5am for senses). 

This makes me think of something from G of J


And into the morning I make loud stiff-course-reader page flips looking for that passage in The Gospel of John. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” says Jesus. But that wasn’t the passage. I never found it. Maybe I will when the campus spaces are all empty, and there’s silence, and nothing to do but squint at the Bible. Outside I hear people getting in taxis. It was a noble trick I was trying to play, not one that really worked though. I stopped reading and started writing, that’s all I can really do for a while I think, the only productive thing. Awake that night, I thought of all the iterations of this same story playing out across campus and across the globe. It’s not just me-here-now, it’s everyone. What I wrote isn’t good, it’s not particularly artful, but it’s true and that’s something I can hold onto for a while and look back to as a window into some unbelievable moment, one whose bitterness I’m far too tired to feel right now. I close my computer, sleep for 2 hours, awake, and write again in new silence.

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