Thursday, April 2, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis XI

Online Hashtag


Art of all kinds is especially prevalent on social media as an antidote to the ugliness of the crisis we're experiencing. Poetry as well. In fact, we're all using new hashtags — #ArtCanHelp #ShelterInPoems are just two — when posting poems and images. So, too, are photo-essays like this beautiful one by Newsha Tavakolian from Thomas Erben Gallery; new blog columns, online journals, and daily virtual diaries that are recording our lives as we live them. They're all welcome, so long as they help the individuals maintaining them. And, as during 9/11, they are apt to become, if archived, the documents that historians of the future might use to understand how all of us were coping, what we turned to (e.g., humorous memes, such as recreating famous works of art; funny videos of cats and dogs) to relieve anxiety and stress and sadness and stay connected to each other, the extent of our losses, the changes in society and culture, and so on. The New York Times on March 30 already has taken note of these "histor[ies] of our present moment" in its feature "The Quarantine Diaries" (part of its crisis coverage that is available to those who register to create a free account).


Practicing one's faith can be a great source of comfort. At my little parish in Arlington, Virginia, our priest is a source of strength, delivering services masterfully during one of the most important periods of the church (Lent and Easter) and staying in touch in so many different ways: updating our Website and uploading services to YouTube, writing a weekly article for our newsletter, making arrangements for those of us unable to go out to shop for food, finding resources for home-schooling parents, keeping the prayer list updated, continuing pastoral care, praying with us individually over the phone, and arranging for prayer partners. She is a force against defeatism and pessimism.


I have to laugh, too. There have been such wonderful memes, such as The Getty and other museum challenges to re-stage famous paintings, and funny articles on the Web, including the "Special Edition" that Hyperallergic posted for April Fools Day. And then there's this story, a treat from Bloomberg: "Newest Shortage in New York: The City Is Running Out of Dogs to Foster". Apparently, there's also been a run on Chewy Inc. stock, which the article says has been "soaring".


The pandemic as experienced in the United States is revealing the huge gap between those who have and those who don't have. Two group of workers, such as warehouse employees, grocery store cashiers and nursing home caregivers (see these video interviews with nursing home workers), who have been deemed "essential services employees", are among those most poorly compensated for the risks they must take on our behalf. The have/have-not dichotomy is one issue that clearly needs to be examined in post-crisis evaluation and rectified.


The media, especially our news sources, take a lot of hits, many justified, some not. But we can't ignore the fact that they also, in an emergency such as we're now facing, bring us undeniable inspiration by sharing examples of courage, hope, and resilience. One story about two women, one 101 and the other 95, survivors of three horrific historical events, I find particularly moving. It was published in The New York Times on March 28: "They Survived the Spanish Flu, the Depression and the Holocaust". May we all heed these two women's advice. (Note: One of the women, Naomi Replansky is a poet whose debut collection was nominated for a National Book Award. Some of her poetry can be found at the Poetry Foundation and The Academy of American Poets; also see the Naomi Replansky blog. Her partner, the second interviewee, is Eva Kollisch, a writer and former professor at Sarah Lawrence College.)


This: it perfectly articulates my concerns that we document and heed what the coronavirus crisis is teaching us.

[W]e Americans . . . tend to register perceptions without codifying
them in any political, historical, or social way. There's no sense of
 what creates or contributes to and who benefits from a situation. 
And I'm not talking about a prescriptive political ideology
 now . . . [but] a process of understanding.
~ Carolyn Forche*

* Interview with Jonathan Cott in Visions and Voices (1987). Quoted from Hinton Als, "Carolyn Forche's Education in Looking" in The New Yorker, March 30, 2020. The article in the print edition of the magazine is titled "Voices Carry" (April 6, 2020).

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