Quarantine Diaries – Day 24
April 7th, 2020
Well, here’s another day, which means I’m back at the computer again; it’s becoming increasingly harder to distinguish between what happened the day before, what’s happening now, and what’ll happen tomorrow. I really am in full quarantine mode now; everything feels so peaceful—like sitting in a plane that’s headed for a mountain and you don’t even know it. What I feared would happen, has happened—even going out no longer helps.
Just to clarify: I neither feel bad nor am I worried about something. No, a feeling of complete indifference has come over me and it’s so strong that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to resume my previous the same way again; to reiterate, this has nothing to do with being inside; the same sensation occurs when I’m out shopping or when I’m in the woods with my brother.
It’s that strange comfort which comes with being on vacation for too long—you relax too much; feelings of incredible exhaustion along with sensations of utter restlessness have taken hold and won’t let go. In other words, I had my first sleepless night yesterday, despite going to bed at almost 2 am. I did nothing radically different that day, but still it was impossible to get any shuteye.
I’ve got no doubts that this experience is changing us, maybe for the better and maybe for the worse—I can’t tell in what way and I’m not arrogant enough to declare that I know so much about myself to understand how.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like it now, but coronavirus will end up being no more than a footnote among the historical events which have captured the world’s attention (positively or negatively); with enough time, it’ll become even less than that, perhaps. Why? Because in the future there’ll be more plagues, more disasters, more tragedies—and people dealing with their own tragedies rarely care about the disasters of someone else, especially when they’ve occurred in the past.
Who’s even heard of the Antonine Plague, which killed five million people? People are more likely to know the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (the Roman emperor to which the plague’s moniker is attached) but strangely not the plague itself. Okay, a little far in the past, I admit, but five million people are five million people in the end; I highly doubt the coronavirus will take that many. How about the Plague of Justinian? That motherfucker (I mean the plague—not Justinian) killed twenty-five million; if you travel back in time and tell those individuals that your suffering will largely be forgotten by the everyday Joe, they wouldn’t believe you.
No, this isn’t Rome or the Middle Ages. We’ll have a vaccine for this sucker very soon; it’ll be cured; the hysteria will die down and that’ll be the end of it. The next goddamn pandemic will erase every memory of this one, just like this one has erased every memory of the last pandemics and no one will really give a shit.
Yes, people talk about Caesar and Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, but the coronavirus isn’t the Caesar of plagues—it’s more like a foot soldier in his great army that died in an important battle and has since been completely forgotten. The Black Death, on the other hand, is the Genghis Khan of pandemics but only because it did kill over 130 million people.
Forgive me for being so crude, but I’m not saying this strictly to be insensitive; on the contrary, I want this pathetic virus to change us, but when I really look at the past, I don’t think it will. If, according to some people, tragedies really do bring about greater solidarity (and change the world permanently)—not just for a short time—why did the greatest man-made tragedies happen after it? Why does no one remember that Jews were blamed for the Black Death just like Asians are now being blamed for this virus? Despite Pope Clement VI’s attempt to protect the population, 900 Jews were still killed in Strasbourg and such incidents were common. Who speaks of this today?
No, we expect too much from this minor outbreak—in classic human fashion, we want the pandemic to change the world while we ourselves sit back and do nothing. In the famous words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what coronavirus can do for you; ask what you can do for coronavirus.” The real credit for this line, however, must go to Kahlil Gibran, who said the following: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?” Now that we know who said what, let’s move right along.
Where were we? Ah, yes. People’s desire to see change without being the ones to cause it; if that’s what you want, wait for a natural disaster, or better yet, a meteorite; that’ll get the job done quickly and efficiently. Coronavirus will take a long time and so will Trump, but only if you sit on your ass and do nothing.
No, but seriously. So many amazing things have happened throughout human history. Why has the world never changed? After Yuri Gagarin had achieved the first human spaceflight, there were incredible outpourings of solidarity from the international community—even Japan welcomed him warmly despite territorial disputes between both countries.
It didn’t take long for the Cold War to continue, however. Things didn’t improve much for the opposite sex either, when the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, went to space. Indeed, this feat probably did change people’s perception of what women were really capable of, but society nevertheless continued denying them that very capability of realizing their own potential. Women are still paid 82 cents to every dollar earned by men; to this day, there’s neither been a woman vice president in the US nor even a female Chief Justice in the US Supreme Court. Incidentally, it was only 1993 that we saw the first female fighter pilot in the US.
Yes, things change slowly and maybe they don’t change at all. When the Apollo 8 mission took the most famous photo in the world, Earthrise, there was for a time a huge outpouring of concern about the environment and the need to end war; the event triggered an unprecedented wave of unity among the world’s entire population. We have one planet; we’re one people on a pale blue dot and we must save it; however, such sentimentality didn’t last for too long either. Wars didn’t stop and the environmental destruction continued. I doubt this picture will do much at this point, but here it is anyway.
Go ahead, call me cynical, depressive, or pessimistic, but this tiny pandemic is no moon landing. We’ve endured worse and come out worse before. Likewise, we’ll make it through this and come out no differently. Why? Because it’s highly unlikely that we’ll give up our obsession with cleanliness, order, and progress; the three greatest evils. I’ve talked plenty about the latter two, so let me discuss that first all too relevant evil.
On this trip to the supermarket, I was unable to go in without dousing my hands in sanitizer, putting on disposable gloves, and donning a mask. My right to walk inside a supermarket as I goddamn please has now been taken away as well. Indeed, you must be a clean, upstanding citizen; otherwise, you’ll neither get respect (which was true before), but now you’ll also get no groceries—I did what I had to do as a free citizen.
At first it was only the homeless, now society in general is no longer clean enough. Indeed, as Plato said in Laws, it’s simply impossible for a well-run state to have beggars and homeless people: “Let there be no beggars in our state; and if anybody begs, seeking to pick up a livelihood by unavailing prayers, let the wardens of the agora turn him out of the agora, and the wardens of the city out of the city, and the wardens of the country send him out of any other parts of the land across the border, in order that the land may be cleared of this sort of animal.” Ah, yes, that’s what social distancing looked like in Ancient Greece, which contradicts what Plato said later in the text: “He would prohibit beggars, because in a well-ordered state no good man would be left to starve.” At first, it seems like Plato doesn’t want beggars and now a well-ordered state can’t have beggars—in the sense that’s it’s impossible for “well-ordered” states to have poverty, which begs the question: Well-ordered for whom? The US is well-ordered; however, this what Skid Row looks like.
From Plato, we move to a more extreme form of “cleanliness” and on to Seneca the Younger. Indeed, imperfect societies don’t just have one problem—beggars—they’ve got tons, and we need to fix them all because every imperfect and dirty thing is a threat to the integrity of an efficient society, at least that’s what our aforementioned philosopher thought: “We put down mad dogs; we kill the wild, untamed ox; we use the knife on sick sheep to stop their infecting the flock; we destroy abnormal offspring at birth; children, too, if they are born weak or deformed, we drown. Yet this is not the work of anger, but of reason—to separate the sound from the worthless.” Ah, yes, now we’re not just kicking out beggars—we’re killing children now.
The Spartans, too, in their attempt to build the most perfect military society, had to ensure that the majority of the male population could endure the agoge’s intensity. Thus, according to the Twelve Tables: “A notably deformed child shall be killed immediately.” It’s all in the name of building the perfect society.
In the interest of time, I won’t even touch upon the subject of what such beliefs led to in the modern day—I think we all know. The difference is that, unlike some people we know, the ancients didn’t have the technology (or what I like to call progress) to realize their wildest dreams, so to say. In any case, what I’m more interested in is our obsession with cleanliness, order, and progress, which I detest.
In its most extreme form, that triple-crown of evil would’ve killed Stephen Hawking at the young age of 21. Stevie Wonder, who was not only born blind but also six weeks early, wouldn’t have lived at all. And how about Frida Kahlo’s polio and spine problems? What’s to happen with her? Also, John Nash is a schizophrenic. Where do we “put” him? What do we say about FDR or Helen Keller? And these are just the most recognizable names.
As I wrote in a previous entry, I’m not so much fascinated by people that have been blessed with strength and find it easy to succeed; no, it’s the so-called imperfect people who’ve achieved a little less with a lot more work who really fascinate me. As amazing as it is to watch, the God-given talent of Michael Jordan or LeBron James isn’t really that interesting.
If you’ve seen Gattaca, you know what I’m talking about. Vincent always beats his brother despite being genetically inferior. The movie really does show what kind of discrimination we’re heading towards. In the future, we won’t care about race, income, or education; the world will make a full circle to Plato, and everything will come right back down to genetics again—the way we’ve bred animals for thousands of years, so we’ll breed people—all in the name of purity: “The chief division of the latter was the art of managing pedestrian animals which are without horns; this again has a part which can only be comprehended under one term by joining together three names-shepherding pure-bred animals. The only further subdivision is the art of man herding-this has to do with bipeds, and is what we were seeking after, and have now found, being at once the royal and political.” Don’t say the world changes or that it doesn’t repeat itself because it does neither.
All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.
Until next time.
About David Garyan
David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.