Remember the Quarantine, Remember the Recumbent World and Never Be Fooled Again
We Cannot, Should Not Return to Same World, Precariously Placed On The Edge of “Reality”
I do not stand alongside those that claim we romanticize this time of solitude when the world seems locked-down and we are alone at one with our thoughts, nor do I herald a call from the marketers of our day — among them a woman that wistfully giggled at the foolishness and profit from her company of convincing women of the “benefits” of shoving polished stones into their vaginas — to fiddle while the rest of the world wrestles with now ineffectual opiates that once distracted them from the deep unfairness of the systems we’ve created. However, I cannot help but think that this massive global experience, this stillness that is presented now with or without illness, has lessons to teach each and every one among us. I think of Woolf’s call to remember the “supine world”; I recall the Tarot’s Hanged Man and his allusion to Odin’s sacrifice upon the world tree for knowledge. Let us take the latter first.
The much-maligned Hanged Man, is not, in fact, hanged by his neck. In truth, he’s hanged by his foot. He did this himself to get a different view of the world, a completely new perspective. As foolish as this may seem, he is successful. This is, actually, an allusion (as I’ve mentioned before) to the myth of Odin, the mightiest of Norse gods, who chose to nail himself to the world tree, Yggdrasill. Like Odin and the Hanged Man, we are living in a world turned upside-down. Grocery store clerks and garbage collectors are “essential” now and bankers and hedge fund managers are remade into beggars on the government dole. Nurses and doctors are made warriors battling a ferocious enemy while warriors scatter not knowing how to defeat a bulletproof adversary. But how will we make use of this new perspective?
Woolf, too, tells us of the insight offered by the supine way of life, the sort of stillness that occurs when we are ill. “Now, lying recumbent, staring straight up, the sky is discovered to be something so different from this that it is a little shocking. This then has been going on all the time without our knowing it!” writes Woolf in “On Being Ill.” This strange, divine experience, this wisdom that occurs only when we stay still, quarantined from the rest of the world, is something to be savored for Woolf; however, Woolf acknowledges that we too often allow our insights from this quietness to slip away into the static and noise of daily life. What might occur, asks Woolf-as-Hanged-Man, should we actively recall but a shadow, a shape of this time, of this upside-down world?
We are now locked in and distanced from one another, and we have been for some time. On this, a High Holy Day and adapted pagan fertility celebration. Many of us cannot, should not touch the ones we love, and we interact instead from behind a computer screen. My own apartment complex, too, seems asleep during this day. The sun shines through the trees in a glorious way, yet the people seem even more cloistered than before. This makes me wonder: of course, we will miss and savor that which we are missing during this time, but will we miss this still world we have created by necessity? Will we remember the lessons of this lockdown? We’ve turned our world upside-down, but can we remember what made more sense in this suspended world when the Earth turns around and sky is no longer ground again?
It’s my contention that we must learn the lessons of this experience. We’ve had our priorities out of order when we’ve glorified gilded “influencers” living a carefully curated play they’ve call “reality,” and we denigrate those that make the influencer’s sets, as it were. We tell the planet and all it produces (good and bad), the Nature cherished by Woolf and her poets, that our politicians can remake reality according to their whims, except of course when we cannot. We confuse ourselves with spreadsheets and timecards that our management of people and figures can be anything but meaningless in the face of real life — a life that has no choice but to acknowledge death, no matter how unmarketable, no matter how unpalatable.
Do not, my friends, forget this time. Tie yourselves to the world tree. Take heed of what you observe there, and re-prioritize as necessary. What you’ve been told is reality is too expensive a fiction to maintain. The “experts” — those false friends that claim titles based on more opinion and consumption of fiction than evidence and critical thought — are but the foolish interlocutors in Plato’s dialogues. Heed the real experts and maintain your distance until it’s safe again. Call your exs — if they were not abusive and you were merely indecisive. Mend relationships you’ve brushed aside because you’ve made unjust assumptions or based on decisions influenced by the aforementioned false friends.
Use this time to cherish life. Make amends with those you’ve wronged, and make plans to live with them once the world is right-side up again. Rethink your job and if what you’re doing still makes sense. Be kind to your neighbors and to your “essential works” who rich men have demanded as sacrifice to the god of the economy. Engage in fights you have no skin in, for we are all apart of the human family. We are truly in this, this life, together. Return to school and study warm humanity, not cold technology —it’s the arts that are giving us hope, it’s biology that is keeping us safe, and it’s the use of technology to serve humanity that is the only way forward rather than technology for its own sake. Mark this time pondering if you wish to return to the world as it was and not as it should be. Make sure you mark which side of the world is up so that no one can fool you again.