We had a whole bunch of links queued up in here about other things that were happening in the world. But fuck it. Let’s not pretend these times are normal.
Before we get into it, just spend some time with this beautiful photo essay on the piano movers of New York, won’t you? It’s from before, sure, and confined spaces might feel stressful, but just stop for a moment to appreciate some careful, beautiful effort. It’ll be worth it. Collaboration on impossible problems. How do you get an 800-pound grand up an impossibly narrow Harlem staircase? Little by little. And by protecting the piano, not the walls.
Wherever you are, we’d imagine your week was broadly similar to ours. There was Rudy Gobert on Sunday evening, touching up the microphones, threat still abstract but looming, and then the escalating parade of notifications. Sport cancelled. Borders cancelled. Don’t leave. Come home. Stay inside. Are you ok? Where are you? Why am I on a train? Will I ever get off this train? Is this my Snowpiercer now? Should I reread Station Eleven? The Great Lakes didn’t seem so bad when all was said and done, right? There was still Shakespeare! Who’s got toilet paper? Who can spare a square? Is not going to the cinema still a rule when there’s a new Kelly Reichardt out? Surely nobody else will be there anyway? Why are you loading your cart up with water bottles? Google: homebrew hand sanitiser. Please stop shouting at each other please? Stop shouting at the checkout person, maybe just for a minute? What if I get cut off from the people I love? Did I really just bake 48 scones? Why did I buy this dumb flavour of chips?
This is Patrick, switching to writing in the first person because, well, I’m a little bit scared, tbh? And I don’t want to hide that behind the third person. Not scared in a panicked way, but in that way that I imagine most of you are—not knowing what comes next. Redefining my understanding of what it is to live through pandemic, moment by moment. No playbook or certainty, other than knowing that this will come (is already here), and if we do this as best as possible, it will be bad for a while, and boring for a while, and people will die, people we know, even, and then it will slowly start to get better, and life will be a little less boring again, and we’ll re-emerge, punch drunk and woozy, into an outside that will be different from before, in ways we don’t yet understand. And insecure in new ways, too. The people I care about most in the world are mostly very far away now, behind borders that are essentially closed, or on an island with a fragile healthcare system that’ll likely have to quarantine itself from the rest of the country (though at least, still, not the American healthcare system). I’m quietly isolated in my Toronto apartment, living in group chats and Facetimes and working in Hangouts and Slack calls. Going to go for a hike after I send this. The trees are still safe. This thing ain’t airborne. Practically, it’s easy enough. It’ll get harder when the clients on the other end of those calls are struggling to pay their bills, sure, but I suppose we deal with that as it comes? When has it ever not been precarious, this work we do?
So what’s a letter like this for, in a time like this? Same as it ever was, I suppose—to try to weave some kind of sense with the chaos threads. To be honest, after 134 issues, we’ve been thinking a lot about what we need this thing to be from here regardless. And we don’t have good answers yet. But look, here we are right now. I am here and you are there. I figure you don’t need explainers about why soap works (even really good ones!) or visualizations about curve flattening and the power of social distancing (even really good ones!), or guides on how best to get food right now (even really good ones!). You might be struggling to convince those around you too arrogant or proud or naive (or, sure, dumb, or reckless) to start responsibly distancing. But you have the right resources for that. You don’t need more from us. We’re not scientists, though we do love to read their studies. Listen to them, not us.
You probably, like us, are shaking your head at the smug and/or wilfully ignorant denizens of your neighbourhood brunch spots, who don’t seem to want to listen. Who think they’re smarter. Who say things like “the flu kills more people” or “wouldn’t it be great if climate change had this kind of PR?”. You probably, like us, are simultaneously feeling terrible for the staff of those brunch spots, and every other little local small business, about to be devastated.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve been sharing examples from China and elsewhere of the spontaneous online communities that emerged in isolation, not because they were some exotic cyberpunk other, but because it was coming for all of us. There was something to learn from that.
New ways of making, watching, doing. And, maybe sorta kinda, a reversion to some of the hopes we had for the internet back in the old days? For this next little while, until things get back to a new normal?
So maybe, if we’re going to add anything to the noise of your inbox, doubtless full as it is right now of reassurances that your local office supply store is increasing its already rigorous cleaning protocols and making more hand sanitiser stations available so everybody may share in the company’s vision of an office supply-filled future, we should focus instead on what it is to live through this. What community becomes as we rebuild it on the fly. How we get through together. How we keep having fun as we tackle the most monumental test of collective action and altruism most of us still living have yet faced? Is that too much? Am I being too earnest? I don’t know, you tell me. I need something to hang onto. And something to thread in between the good tweets.
So anyway, here’s a few good things for a start. Let’s take it week by week, eh? Check in with each other and see how we’re doing?
A list of some of the best online experimental art and film resources for when you’ve got nothing left on Netflix other than that new Mark Wahlberg/Peter Berg one (trust us, don’t do it).
“How do you remain yourself in another place? How do you take what is deeply important to yourself in a place where you have basically no contact with the outside world?” The Berliner Philharmoniker playing some of the wilder, tenser works of Bartók and Berio to an empty hall. An easy scene for your subsequent dystopia, sure, but actually complex, beautiful, and I dunno, it was good tense company for this fraught brain? They’ve closed the hall, but opened up their digital archives for the month for free.
Alex Ross has put together an evolving list of other classical live streams performed to empty rooms. Anyone want to point us to a similar one for the less institutional? We’ve seen a bunch of friends’ bands pop up live streams on Facebook, but haven’t yet come across a good hub for gigs.
“Landlords of the world: now would be a time to ascertain if your tenants are musicians, artists, gig workers, restaurants, venues, small businesses, etc, and give a break on rent. Now.”
Some of our favourite voices spraying a whole can of WD40 onto the rusty lid of Blogspot and cracking it open again, for a hydra-headed collaborative blog of “Indoor Voices”. Is there any greater comfort blanket than collaborative blogging? I think not.
Isolated Magazine, “for and by people who keep their distance”, taking shape slowly in a Google doc.
Jedediah Britton-Purdy, wise as ever, on solidarity in isolation when the ability to withdraw is itself a privilege not available to most: “The hands and minds that built up this order are not powerless to make one that puts health first, at every level: of individuals, communities, the land, and the globe. That is a different, deeper resilience, though to get there requires a political fight over the value of life itself, whether we are here to make profits or to help one another live.”
There’s only one goal in Kind Words: to be nice to other people.
And look, we know this photo from Xinjiang is mostly just pure propaganda, but still, just, goddamn:
What’s keeping you steady? Are you co-inventing new communities with your friends on the fly? Or just stroking the cat that won’t leave your lap? Or just thinking it’s finally time to actually get said cat? Whatever, let us know. We’re here. Also pondering cats.
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