The Story of COVID
Every story of epidemic is a story of illiteracy, language made powerless, man made brute…But, then, the existence of books, no matter how grim the tale, is itself a sign, evidence that humanity endures, in the very contagion of reading…And yet [reading] is also—in its bidden intimacy, an intimacy in all other ways banned in times of plague—an antidote, proven, unfailing, and exquisite.
—“What Our Contagion Fables Are Really About”
Through the darkest hours, humans are able not only to survive, but to continue unendingly recording the world and making creative interpretations of it.
This crisis feels very different than previous pandemics must have, though. When we’re not all running around going to one thing after another all day, we’re discovering, we’re slowing down. For some people, that’s spending time with their families or doing deep work. For others, there’s grieving, there’s abusive relationships, there’s homelessness. For everyone, there’s deep uncertainty and so many questions about so many futures. But the planes aren’t flying, the cars aren’t driving. And so we turn our attention to the internet, where it feels like a type of world “town square” that could only exist in 2020: musicians and authors and drag queens and actors doing free shows from home, an overabundance of Netflix & Apple Music & reality TV & news to consume, the flourishing of grassroots media in TikToks & tweets & memes, even accompanied by astroturf white COVID truthers screaming in the corner. Ignoring that last category, it feels like we’re all in this together, somehow more connected than we ever were in our former age. At the same time, the amount of (entirely preventable) suffering & pain in the world right now is difficult to fathom. And crises like climate collapse loom in the background, continuing even when we’re not paying attention to them. The world, when we return to it, will be in a drastically different state.
There will undoubtedly be many books published about this crisis—but this time, it feels almost like the books won’t be the definitive record of what happened. The memories will fade, and ultimately everything on the internet is fleeting & temporary, but the music we made & YouTube videos we uploaded & the desperate tweets & the absolute flood of media of all kinds will be this collective trail of how we got through everything. Right now, we’re just trying to get through this chaotic, stressful time. But the question is emerging: How will we tell our story this time? Whose quarantine video diary will make the documentary in 2040? Which album of bedroom-produced pop music will feel like our collective exhale? What blog posts will live on as the zeitgeist of 2020?
I think the moment calls—to the privileged among us who are safe—us to get out our keyboards and pencils and guitars and paint palettes and drum machines and poetry notebooks and cameras, and record how we’re feeling, what we’re doing, how the world is handling this crisis. To capture, but also to create, to synthesize, to understand what’s going on. In the past, books have unfailingly been humans’ records. Now, let’s make our own for the internet age.