Art and Life and Coronavirus: What Does it Mean?
So many folks are thoughtfully and often with great introspection finding meaning in the human experience of the pandemic. I have been doing my habitual undisciplined musing on that and almost anything/everything else, without creating the mental space necessary to really focus on the issue. All of the reminders to value what we have are lovely now as before, but I feel that there is something more here.
I know that any train of thought that I might develop matters little in this giant sea of change and pain. But one of the reasons that I started writing a blog about ten years ago was to bring a little form to my musings, teasing out something resembling conclusions from the mishmash.
I have been considering the twin truths of life being brutal and life being magnificent.
“Life is nasty, brutish, and short.”
I looked up this quote in Writing Explained to make sure that I had it right, and lo, look what I found in the explanation:
“This expression comes from the author Thomas Hobbes, in his work Leviathan, from the year 1651.
He believed that without a central government, there would be no culture, no society, and it would seem like all men were at war with one another.
- In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
If this does not hit home in our present circumstances, I don’t know what does. As the federal government has been working for 3+ years to dismantle our government itself in favor of an oligarchy run by big money, it has also undermined the response to the virus, making life much, much nastier and shorter for many.
What is the antidote, on a personal level?
The question of what is magnificent is is almost self-evident, so let’s shift that to—what is meaningful?
For me, family, studio practice, yoga, nature, close friends, wider arts community. Now as before. I am incredibly fortunate that much of that is as accessible now as always, maybe more so.
The creative practice is huge, almost a living, breathing thing.
In person and physical contact with family, friends, and the wider community is where we feel our loss most keenly. In our far-flung life-style, many friendships were already carried forward through social media, phone, email, and/or some form of live streaming; but in those cases, we also often lamented the distance. Here, we can look to appreciate all of those forms of communication—just imagine if we didn’t have them!—and also soften into the anticipation of being unselfconsciously with others again.
For a discussion of living in the Catskills during the pandemic and on avoiding the grass-is-greener trap, follow this link to a recent short phone interview with Brett Barry or Silver Hollow Audio, who is producing a new podcast platform, Kaatscast (you may recognize him from WAMC’s Soundbeat).
As the virus has doubled down on our resources, we can only double down on what we love, exploring new possibilities and cherishing the ongoing ones that are possible, albeit sometimes in an altered fashion, in these times.
I started this post before the murder-by-cop of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have erupted around the nation in the past few days. Is it possible that we have finally had enough, that this is a defining moment in our nation? And is it possible that the pandemic has played some part in our determination to change the culture and address racism head-on, after seeing the larger number of deaths from Covid-19 in black and brown communities? Are we in fact stronger, having gained fresh perspective on what is important?
I am sharing a painful yet brilliant drawing by my friend Veronica Lawlor.
You can view her blog here:
Building on what we have that we value most, this can be a moment of desperately needed change. If finally moving to reform the culture of a racist and violent police force comes out of this period, we will have significantly moved the dial forward in America.