:: Buzzwords

08/04/20: 3:AM in Lockdown 27: Geert Lovink

This Level of Metaphysics Ain’t no Shit
Geert Lovink interviewed by Bram Ieven.

BI: In the last couple of weeks we have all sequestered ourselves into self- or state-imposed quarantine. Most of our social interactions now run exclusively through social media platforms. In Organization After Social Media, the book you co-authored with Ned Rossiter, you lamented that “media turned out to be empty containers, individualizing people rather than imagining collective agendas”. What does it mean that we are now restricted to using individualized and individualizing media that seem singularly unable to construct any form of collective political imagination? What’s your take on that? What’s going to happen over the next few weeks or even months?

GL: What we’ve seen in the first weeks of the corona lockdown is the mass introduction of streaming and video conferencing platforms; not just in education, but also at work and with one’s family, friends, and lovers. In short, our entire social life has been moved online in a way that is quite unprecedented. I think this is going to be beneficial for online organization and for the critique of social media platforms. Ordinary users finally have time to explore what else is going on beyond Facebook and Netflix. There’s currently an oversupply of online apps, and Instagram will definitely lose its lustre.

But after an initial period of enthusiasm and exploration there usually follows boredom and conflict. We need to make a distinction here between internal and external responses. Distraction, feelings of indifference, clicking and surfing and swiping without a cause might easily lead to a search for the extreme; a search for a virtual experience that borders on the physical. This is why experts warn for domestic violence.

In this situation, the online is a virtual realm where we, collectively, hide against this deadly virus. How long this will last is unknown at the moment. In a few more weeks, as state repression against those who defy the rules increases, social anger and desire might burst out onto the streets; not in the orderly suburbs and gentrified inner cities, but in those places where the infected masses will have nothing to lose.

BI: What kind of politics does this leave us with? What are the challenges of post-platform social organizing in times of social distancing? What can we do now to counteract that individualizing tendency?

GL: We need to distinguish between the quarantine period itself and what comes after. These two periods will be very different.

Right now, biopower speaks to us in a most intimate way. You can get infected, and you could die a horrible death. The enemy we fight is invisible, much like radiation and today’s air pollution, which is the topic of our first Adilkno book, Het beeldenrijk: over Stralingsangst en ruimteverlangen (1985, in Dutch). What we do to overcome this fear is to radically isolate ourselves and no longer move (Paul Virilio’s polar inertia). You can see this happening everywhere. Self-organisation in neighbourhoods, mutual aid, care systems that pop up out of nowhere. We are reaching out to others.

Social interaction doesn’t stop just because the economy has come to a halt. Let’s not believe in the myth that we are all isolated. If we all declare ourselves victims we cannot focus on those in real need. In terms of fighting the monopoly platforms, let’s see how things play out. This is a time of shock. Things can change radically overnight. Needless to say we will not have solid European alternatives up and running overnight. However, what we can do is act swiftly when we see possibilities, such as in the Zoom spectre, Houseparty for activists etc.

Generally, we will need collaborative virtual environments that are safe, peer-to-peer, and where we can get things done. We need to reclaim the internet as a public peer-to-peer infrastructure. We have said this time and again over the past decade, but now the general public might be more open to these ideas — let’s see.

BI: One of the opening lines of your latest book Sad by Design: On Platform Nihilism (Pluto, 2019), reads: “Social media is reformatting our interior lives”. That internal life, you further suggest, now mostly consists of micro-concerns that make our conception of self increasingly more fragile. How do you think that vulnerability and fragmentation already induced by social media are going to play out now that it is teaming up with a very real and practical sense of social isolation?

GL: During a state of exception like the 2020 corona virus crisis, we witness radical shortcuts, leaks, and breakdowns in the techno-social psyche. See how celebrity culture responded: we should not think that the current isolation is particularly bad for everyone. Quite the opposite: life before was horrible, it was already unbearable and depressing for millions. As Jamie Friedlander explained in Vice, “I have generalized anxiety disorder, but in times of true crisis, my anxiety seems to disappear”. This can be an initial response. While Slavoj Žižek, in his DIEM25 TV interview, rightly stressed that hiding at home is a possibility for the privileged (because they are neither homeless, refugees, or working in vital professions), long-term isolation can indeed have devastating consequences for our mental health. The corona crisis didn’t make us poorer; we were already on the edge. In danger here are those who already suffer from depression, burnout, and stress — in short, a substantial part of the current Western workforce. Some of them will be pushed over the cliff, resulting in even ùore income inequality.

The never-ending repeating news flows — which are designed like that on purpose — only make matters worse. We scroll and swipe but there is no end to it… if only we could have a break from the never-ending updates. Those who are single, kids in vulnerable domestic positions, the elderly… the list of vulnerable groups is steadily growing. I am not a doctor or social worker.

Over the past years I have only looked at one specific detail: technology-induced mental states, and ‘programmable’ sadness in particular. Over the next period, many will experience first-hand that the way dominant social media have been designed is to maximize profits by isolating users, exploiting their feelings such as sadness, anger, and loneliness. Community tools have been dismantled and neglected, regardless of PR talk. These are uncertain times for Silicon Valley. Officially, they embrace ‘disruption’. Well, now they have it — the greatest disruption of social life since World War II. In their war rooms they will certainly discuss that things can go both ways: if they further fuck up and make this worse, nationalization and break-up is imminent. If they play the game in a clever way, they will have to choose: either bet on geopolitics and side with Trump, or speculate on a return of the interventionist globalist regime as under Clinton and Obama.

BI: In Sad by Design you address this and call it platform nihilism. One of the concerns, it seems, is the absence of the social outside of social media. Contrary to what one might think, this could be catastrophic in times of social distancing.

GL: Unless we turn the tables and reinvent social networks as tools for the wider good, we are indeed caught in an information cage that makes it hard, if not impossible, for us to unfold new forms of social interaction. Societies have been digitized and turned into vast personalized information machines. Social media keep us inside our bubble — for a purpose. This critique is now more than a decade old but it remains valid.

The thesis of my book is that we can no longer distinguish between telephone and society. This may sound like a nice, higher-level Hegelian synthesis but this takes the regressive stagnation we’re in out of the picture. Under luxury communism this may be ideal. But we’re in an ugly phase of world history, in which a neoliberal global regime without legitimacy and popular support has to compete, or merge, with rising nationalist agendas, dark forces that only accept particular parts of the neoliberal agenda. These new rulers would still like to have precarious workers on zero-hours contracts and the possibility to move their assets offshore.

We need to analyse this from the perspective of global capital that has become deeply entangled with drugs and real-estate mafia. Silicon Valley is no different. They are experts in moving around their profits and should for that reason alone be classified as corporate criminals and be punished accordingly. The role of the Netherlands in this is a particularly dark one, as it actively facilitates tax evasion and money laundering.

BI: At the centre of Organization after Social Media is the idea of organized networks (also known as orgnet). Simply put, an organized network is somewhere in between the self-organized, non-hierarchical networks set up by activists (you reserve the name “tactical media” for this) and thoroughly institutionalized and hierarchical networks. Organized networks are trying to provide an organisational structure that takes the networking of social media — that is to say their inability to facilitate any form of consensus or community and their tendency to produce disagreement — in a productive, indeed even constructive way. “Networks are ‘precarious’ and this vulnerability should be seen as both their strength and weakness.” How could this play out now?

GL: If we approach this mechanically, like Benjamin Bratton’s grandiose category of ‘the stack’ and other, more Marxist constructs from the accelerationist faction, we simply say: your cute networks are out, our robust platforms have taken over — deal with it. Monopoly platforms are the New Normal. You decentralist anarchists lost out with all your rhizomatic dreaming. In times of a state of exception, there are more serious players. It is time for World History. Our critique comes too late. Technology is only now revealing itself as a real planetary force and this level of metaphysics ain’t no shit. The world has finally caught up with the philosophy of technology of 70 or more years ago.

I resist such cosmo-realist gestures. It may be good to think in ‘Gaia’ terms when it comes to climate change, but when it comes to technology this is a bad idea, with devastating consequences. When analysing a situation it may be good to think in those terms, but its politics are disastrous. Scaling up may be nice, but who will be in charge of the code, the protocols? There is no United Nations at that level. Maybe on a very broad regulatory level there might be such a thing, but technology will always be embedded, local, material, dirty.

Let’s stay alert and see that technologies, no matter how ‘good’ and ‘global’, are always owned and controlled by particular companies, nation states, and mafia structures. There may be planetary protocols but no global infrastructure, owned and run by altruistic engineers that work for the common good. Perhaps I am not reading enough science fiction! Let’s see who the winners will be of the Covid-19 crisis (to use the politically correct Anglo-scientific term).

This all reminds me of the late John-Perry Barlow, bohemian cowboy, EFF co-founder and lyricist of the Grateful Dead. He staged an unannounced appearance at Amsterdam’s hippie-temple Paradiso during the second Next Five Minutes in January 1996. He not only talked to Richard Barbrook about the ‘Californian Ideology’ but also gave an interview there for VPRO television in which he, in his own very poetic way, described how cyberspace was connecting each and every synapse of all citizens on the planet. Apart from the so-called last billion we’re there now. This is what we can all agree on. The corona crisis is the first Event in World History where the internet doesn’t merely play ‘a role’ — the Event coincides with the Net. There’s a deep irony to this. The virus and the network… sigh, that’s an old trope, right?

@glovink and @bramieven

: 3:AM in Lockdown 25: Andrew Hodgson & Temmuz S. Gürbüz

Confinement.
By Andrew Hodgson & Temmuz S. Gürbüz.

@andhodgson & @temmuzsr

: 3:AM in Lockdown 24: Rupert Thomson

Rupert Thomson writing his new novel in London under lockdown:
“Really getting through the biros”.

@RupertThomson1

07/04/20: 3:AM in Lockdown 23: Hugh Fulham-McQuillan

Meaning and Covid-19
By Hugh Fulham-McQuillan.

 

 

When humanity last experienced an explicit crisis of meaning in the years following World War II, existentialism enjoyed a resurgence. In a recent tweet I suggested that it was due a revival. This was partly due to the succour I was finding in the work of Ingmar Bergman at the time but also because finding and making meaning is, in my opinion, one of the more significant ways of coping with our existence and our eventual death. Up until about two months ago, the majority of people have had little need to think about their existence and understandably prefer to continue in this way, until illness — mental or physical — or increasing age draws their attention toward the end. But all of us now are continually reminded whether through media, our living restrictions, our vulnerability or that of those we love, that our continued existence is no longer certain because a virus is spreading through our communities.

My ability to concentrate on anything other than the coronavirus for any sustained time has meant that I have had to put reading and writing aside for now. To be anxious in the face of a diffuse and largely unknown threat to your survival and that of society is to be expected. It is a rational appraisal of the situation. I am sure that my worries are not unique:

What are the latest findings on its transmission?
How are potential vaccines coming along?
Does anyone I know, or their relatives or friends, have it?
Do I, or does anyone I live with, have it?
Again, I survey my body for signs of its presence.

Each night I wait for the release of the latest case numbers despite knowing that these are far from accurate representations of its spread. They are constrained by the criteria for testing, the backlog of tests, the 10 day average delay in the onset of the virus’s symptoms, and knowing that these cases are unlikely to include those whose bodies silently receive and shed the virus. The numbers remain important in the way that the hint of a coastline obscured by fog provides some indication of shelter for a boat and its crew lost in strange waters.

While I have not been able to read, I have recently been watching the films of Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Pierre Melville. It is in Bergman, and artists like him, who have looked past social mores and the norms that make up our day to day realities to focus on the matter of our existence that I find a sense of solidarity. For these artists, our existence has never not been a source of crisis. It is when we are plunged into crisis ourselves that we can fully appreciate the seriousness with which they treat our precarious existence, and the humour that comes from this seriousness. I believe that it is in the work of existentialist writers and therapists that we can find ways to cope with our anxiety because the anxiety that so many people are currently experiencing is existential in nature. It is not surprising that Albert Camus’ The Plague, with its obvious topicality and Camus’ existentialism, is experiencing renewed popularity.

While health services such as Ireland’s The Health Service Executive provide immediate and practical adaptive strategies (I recommend that you look up these up if you are finding the current situation overly stressful) finding and making meaning in your life is particularly relevant to situations where we have a low amount of control such as the current pandemic.

One of the findings from my recent PhD on older adult mental health is relevant here. Loss is unfortunately a common experience in late life. I found that this may play an important role in the development of depression in this age group. I identified three types: loss of relationships from partners, friends and family members dying; loss of good physical health due to illness; and loss of career. These losses have now gained a greater significance to each age group, so I feel I should illustrate an important aspect of my findings. It was not the loss itself that led to the development of depression, but it was the way in which the older adults coped with these losses that appeared to be most relevant to their mental health. Adaptive coping strategies helped, whereas maladaptive strategies exacerbated their feelings of depression. Adaptive coping begins with acknowledging and appraising the source of your stress. In the same way, existentialists believe that the way to overcome anxiety is to face it.

Rollo May in The Meaning of Anxiety writes of soldiers in World War II whose sense of responsibility to those around them was greater than the threat they faced in the battle ahead. It was this sense of responsibility that motivated them to continue to fight. May suggests that we can confront anxiety-creating experiences and move through them when those values we associate with our existence are greater than the threat to our existence. Nietzsche puts it succinctly “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”.

@HughFMcQ

: 3:AM in Lockdown 22: Owen Booth

We’re Teaching Our Sons About History
By Owen Booth.

 

Owen Booth on his morning run.

 

 

We’re teaching our sons about history

Its meaning. Its uses. Its relevance, or otherwise, to current events.

We are living, we tell our sons – as other people keep telling us – in interesting times.

We’re teaching our sons about wars, and disasters, and tragedy. We’re teaching them about the indomitable human spirit, about people surviving terrible sieges that went on for years, about how everyday life can still continue under constant bombardment and the ever present threat of death.

We’re hoping some of it might help.

“During the siege of Leningrad, people ate sawdust,” we tell our sons. “They ate cats. They ate the glue out of books. In the Second World War no one in the United Kingdom even saw a banana for five years. At the end of the 3-year siege of Carthage all fifty thousand Carthaginian survivors were sold into slavery, including the women who had cut off their hair to use as rope for catapults.”

We’re trying to put some fun stuff in there too.

Every morning we exercise together in front of the TV, cheered on by the handsome young fitness instructor who has accidentally become the embodiment of all our hopes for the future. We can get through this, is what the handsome young fitness instructor is telling us, if we all keep active and maintain a positive mental attitude.

We realise we’d be proud to call the handsome young fitness instructor our son. We hope he gets to a million viewers soon. We hope to God he doesn’t get ill.

To distract our sons, and ourselves, from being stuck at home all day we invent ridiculous games for them and challenge them to solve maths problems and draw pictures and make films and learn to play musical instruments and speak foreign languages. We make ambitious study timetables, and watch videos of other people doing much better jobs of entertaining their children than us. We tell our sons that living through historical events sometimes means just getting on with your life as best you can.

“We could spend more time on the Playstation,” our sons tell us.

“Did they have Playstations in Leningrad?” we ask our sons. “Did they have Playstations during The Blitz?”

We’re teaching our sons that history is mostly made up of the mundane stuff, like eating your dinner, and brushing your teeth, and remembering to wash your hands. The big stuff, we tell them, tends to take care of itself.

And this is mostly how we cope.

This and all the drinking.

Our sons, of course, are managing the whole thing better than we are. They’re not burdened, not as long as we can help it, by all the knowledge that keeps us awake at night – or wakes us up after we’ve drunk ourselves to sleep. They have no real understanding, thank God, of the range of possible outcomes that we’ve already envisaged, and what can go wrong, and how quickly.

This is one of the advantages of being young, and not having studied history.

We know that we are drinking too much. We know that, statistically, a good number of us might not come out of the other side of this (we make quiet bets on which of us we think will be the unlucky ones). We know that the odds for our potentially fatherless sons are much better.

But still but still but still.

When they come to write the history of what it was like to live through these strange weeks and months, no-one will really understand. Just like we didn’t. They’ll think “why didn’t they do something?” and “if it had been me” and “how could you just wait, like that, with the news getting worse every day, for whatever was or wasn’t going to happen?” and so on and so on.

But look at us all, still getting out of bed every morning, doing our best to be sufficient to another day, and to keep our sons safe, and make them laugh, and not to hold on to them too tightly.

And wondering what the useful lesson is in all of this, and what we’re supposed do with it, and when it will stop.

@owenbooth

06/04/20: 3:AM in Lockdown 21: Tomoé Hill

By Tomoé Hill.

tomoé

36.5, 36.1, 36.4: these numbers are my mornings now. Before I do anything else, I take my temperature. It’s a new routine that reminds me that any old one may well be obsolete. Looking out of the window, it seems almost paranoid to think anything has changed — things appear as they always had been, almost. Almost is control but not quite. Not quite is the same as nothing, sometimes.

Isolation, or what most people would have considered it until now, has been a way of life for over fifteen years. I only went from home to work, or to buy groceries most of the time. Socially, well … I wasn’t. As an asthmatic child, I spent such extended periods confined or not allowed to be with other children, that it shaped how I functioned — or didn’t need to — with others, or very few. The child grew up to be a woman who enjoyed silence more than voices, but still learned to care from a distance.

You would think I would be in my element now. But I’m not. The chorus of art/literature will save us rings false to me. Distance might save us. Competence and cooperation might save us. Empathy might save us — or at least help us reshape our concept of what it means to function in a normal capacity. There was a line in an old spy show — I think it was Danger Man with Patrick McGoohan — where a character says something like cynics are secretly the most romantic. I’ve always remembered it because as an undeniable one of the former, I’ve wondered about the excess of empathy I also seem to hold. Why it seems so contradictory, yet natural. Why people who are the most vocal about it seem to be the ones who have the least.

I can’t write — or maybe I just don’t feel it’s necessary. I haven’t been able to for a month or so, bar some very minor edits. Nor can I read, at least in the way the literary community regards reading. Agatha Christie and the collected Raffles stories are about my mental speed. I don’t want to read Camus or Tsvetayeva, Orwell or Woolf. That’s not to belittle others who can do one, the other or both, but what there is of my concentration is mostly distributed between carefully disinfecting incoming parcels, cleaning, making sure that our weekly source of groceries is still open, worrying about finding toilet paper online for my 70-something mother in another country, and how I can help the people I care about and others who are being forgotten. It’s only early days, but it already feels like forever.

The other week I laughed, remembering I’ve been in contention for a writing prize since January, when I was told I was a finalist. I’d forgotten until I received an email updating status: still going forward, just waiting on the judge. Two months ago, I was thrilled. I’d never stuck out submitting to anything like that, you see. Lack of self-confidence meant I pulled everything I entered. Now it seems less than minor — a lot of things do, but perspective always seems to come along when it’s no longer of use. I’m cynical enough to find this funny. I suppose that’s a sign I’m still functioning in the right way.

I realise I’m writing this. I almost said no — not sure why I said yes, other than I thought it was important to show that feeling useless and helpless and not having anything faux-spiritual or strong to say right now is as valid as anything else. There’ll be time for creative productivity later, or maybe there won’t. Either way, I refuse to pretend turning out a pretty sentence is the pinnacle of importance for me right now. I’ve been trying to parse why, if the isolation doesn’t bother me, I’m reacting the way I am these days. The best I can come up with is the people immediately around me: neighbours, people outside the window, for the most part are treating this as a joke. For someone always made fun of as too sensitive, observing lack of empathy in others at a time when it is vital to wellbeing — if not life itself — has the effect of paralysing loneliness.

There’s a vintage Twilight Zone episode called ‘Time Enough at Last’, where a meek, browbeaten man who only wants to read finds himself the last person on earth. Briefly ecstatic at the future holding nothing but time for himself and books, he accidentally breaks his glasses — destroying his opportunity. Now feels like a proverb in the making: put in the position of each of us being a ‘last person’ of sorts in our isolation, do we use this time for ourselves or for others as much as we are able, so that we might all come out of this with enough at last?

This morning I was 36.1 again. As I sat on the ledge of the bath, waiting for the electronic thermometer to beep, I forgot myself for a moment and thought that it might make a good story opener: a world where salutations are our daily temperatures. But we’re pretty much there, and besides, the agents and editors are going to be inundated with terrible Ballardian variations for a very long time. Advice? I’ve never been the type to provide sound bites. I find them pretty cheap, and we’ve got enough between the cut-rate, Flannery O’Connoresque digital preachers holding panic revivals and the blue-tick platform writers with their self-indulgent plague diaries and armchair diagnoses right now. About the only thing I know from all those years of solitude is that it prioritises what’s needed — important — at that point in your life. That’s probably worth remembering, and more useful, in the days to come.

@CuriosoTheGreat

: 3:AM in Lockdown 20: Julian Hanna

Santa Luzia
By Julian Hanna.

‘Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.’
– Albert Camus, The Plague

This is a serious time, and I am taking it very seriously, reading all the recommended articles and having all the concerns about family and friends and people more vulnerable than myself and what the future might hold for us all. Still the absurdity of the situation cannot be ignored. I think (vainly) of Samuel Beckett and Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil hiding from the Nazis in Roussillon. But when I pass the police checkpoint for groceries they only smile.

Some of us are locked down with others, some of us are alone. Some are with friends or roommates or lovers, some with family. If you are locked down with others, you have probably seen more of them than at any point in your entire lives. This may be a good or bad thing. You may see so much of them that it seems disingenuous to leave them out of the picture. From this unprecedented state of things might arise a new honesty — about how we do things and with whom, how we fail or fall short, what it really feels like to be us.

I am locked down on a quinta in Madeira. The archipelago, normally connected by air to the mainland, is now all but cut off from the outside world. Admittedly things could be worse. After more than two weeks of isolation from other people we are going a bit feral, but we know we are fortunate. Confirmed cases here are still in the dozens. We are a bookish and misanthropic crew, happy in our solitary pursuits; rarely bored or restless, though occasionally anxious or moody. Time has become elastic; the Zone has the power to alter time and space, dragging a minute out for days and then jumping to next week in the blink of an eye. By the second day we were cutting each other’s hair. Am I washing too much, or not enough? It is hard to tell.

I wish I could say I was reading or writing in heroic quantities, but that has not happened (yet). If I write anything these days it is only a sparsely kept diary tapped into my phone. I find some books resonate deeply with the times, while others are unbearably out of tune. Humour must be as broad as Trump’s wall or as dry as toast. Tragedy had better be properly grim. The act of making content feels ambivalent at best.

My diary begins on March 7th in biblical fashion, with an earthquake that shook the island and let loose a lot of plaster dust. During those unsettling seconds something changed; will it ever return to normal? (Was 2019 normal?) The cynics are saying everything will snap back as before, or might even get worse. They are probably right. Nevertheless I hold onto a sliver of hope that we will come out of this wiser, at least for a time. The ebb and flow.

All the cruise ships have vanished from the bay. Planes have stopped flying overhead. Rather than steady traffic at certain times of day there is now just the occasional roar of a revving engine down our empty street. Hotels are being used for quarantine or prepared as makeshift hospitals.

Sometimes I talk to my mother on her island halfway across the world. We compare tallies of new cases, new restrictive measures, the weather and what we can see from our windows. I listen for a cough.

I try to put work and news aside sometimes and remember that there are still birds in the sky and that nature, heedless of our trials, carries on around us. Emotions pass swiftly like clouds, sadness and fear followed by irrepressible joy.

Let us take a walk outside!

‘The only hope was that the outbreak would die a natural death.’

@julianisland

05/04/20: 3:AM in Lockdown 19: Donari Braxton

An image of images covering Donari Braxton‘s quarantine over the past three weeks.
@donaribraxton

04/04/20: 3:AM in Lockdown 18: Gerard Evans

By Gerard Evans.

28 March 2020

6.30am

I feel like I’ve woken up in some dark Philip K Dick story. And part of that story is that I feel like that morning after morning. The bad dream that doesn’t end when you wake up. ‘The Seventh Seal’ by Scott Walker keeps playing in my head, particularly the 2nd verse.

And this is how it feels, like the Middle Ages. So I consciously replace it with ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua, which only feels last century.

The dark clouds of coronavirus persist but I’m not playing. I can’t change the cards I’ve been dealt, but I sure as hell can control how I play them. Victor Frankl knew, in the most desperate of circumstances; an inspiration to us all.

Friends pontificate online and on the phone about whether this might finally change the world and give us, at least, a far more compassionate version of capitalism. That this is the wake-up call.

I’m burnt out on that front — a lifetime of dashed optimisms, the waves throwing them onto the seashore rocks until the tank finally reads empty. I’m not holding my breath. But I am gloriously still: deep under the surface, there are no waves, just the calm water and the fish going about their business.

Truthfully I’m in a reasonably high-risk group, as is my wife. So survival is taking up all our attention. Trying to find that delicate line between paranoia and awareness. Meditating for longer every day in the knowledge that my mental health is also under attack. I got called a snowflake recently and realised, to my initial surprise, that deep down that’s just what I am. Not ready to melt yet though.

Lockdown itself isn’t much of a disruption — I’ve been (happily) self-isolating to some extent for the last 10 years. Realising that I’m uncomfortable in groups of more than 3 was the most liberating and calming change I ever made.

Mindflash back to when I was a teenager and I was going to live forever — I even painted that on the back of my leather jacket, inspired by the Kids From Fame theme tune. I wonder if Noel Gallagher liked that song too. Coughing up a ball of blood when I was on tour and nonchalantly simply laughing about it. Seems a universe away now.

Superstition knocking on the door. That writing this is like tempting fate. Like the Scottish Play or the (now ‘other’) C word.

New vocabularies grow out of nowhere. Social-distancing, self-isolating, furloughed. Fucking furloughed! I mean…

Binge-watching TV will surely take over now. It’s also a weird barometer of how much of a downhill trajectory TV drama has been on over the past few decades. Even The Bill seems pretty good these days.

Or maybe I’m just getting old. Which is OK. Getting old is something I gently treasure right now.

Gerard Evans used to be George Berger but has transitioned.

03/04/20: 3:AM in Lockdown 17: Toby Litt

By Toby Litt.

 

 

Just about the worst thing for a writer is to believe that someone else has written the thing you want to write.

Worse than this, though, is the belief that another, better writer is — right now, at this very moment, somewhere in the world — writing the only thing that you can write, right now.

This feeling of being ousted or ghosted by another absent writer is, I think, particularly common when you know something big is happening.

Something big is happening, and it’s partly happening online — which means that it’s possible for a writer (just like any other person) to spend many hours checking up on it, and checking what’s already been written about it.

To tell the paranoid writer — to tell you or me — not to be paranoid, or to stop checking up, or to head in what they estimate to be the opposite direction to everyone else is not helpful.

What may be helpful (I hope) is to suggest they reread stories from other bad times; and to realise these stories were probably written by ousted-ghosted writers — or writers who felt ousted-ghosted.

For example, Lorrie Moore’s story in which, during tragedy, alongside mortality, she’s advised, ‘Take notes’ – and which story ends,

There are the notes.
Now, where is the money?

@tobylitt
While you’re quarantined, read Toby Litt’s masterpiece, Patience.