COVID-19

"Fed Up," protests at City Hall, San Francisco, CA, 2020. Photo by author.

In Solitude and Solidarity

Who Are You? If we are what we do then who are you? Are you who you say you are? Are you the same when you are sleeping? When the world is sleeping? When the lights are off? In the dark? Are you alive when you are dreaming? When awake? In the light? Who are you when no one watches? Who are you when no one knows? Are you the same? Are you living who you’re meant to be? Or are you living who they say you are? Self and other?  One and another? All or none? All  in  one? Whole Essential Soul Credentials Who Are  You? Pandemic Symptoms and Systems “… for there are times when disobedience heals a very ailing part of the self. It relieves the human spirit’s distress at being forced into narrow boundaries. For the nearly powerless, defying authority is often the only power available.” ―Malidoma Patrice Somé1 “Slow down. Inhale peace. Exhale worry,” I’ve had to remind myself. The more chaotic everything gets, the more peace I try to …

From “The Afro Tarot” deck by Jessi Jumanji

Queering the Archetypes of Tarot

We find ourselves walking down a path that our ancestors laid ____A spiral ________Up or down depending on which way you bend your neck ____________We’re in lockstep ________________Passing the same points of interest again and again ____________________The same but different ________________________Slavery ____________________We loop round ________________Sharecropping ____________We loop again ________The prison industrial complex ____Back again and again until we’re numb, I get dizzy and reach for a way out My hands find my well-worn deck of tarot cards and I pull at them hoping for answers I pull The Emperor  The oppressive chokehold, the knee on our necks, the invisible puppeteer that we fight against Oh how this world would love us if he were gone, or if he were like a redwood instead of a ram The Star The first glance of light after a lifetime of darkness Hope A way out of this dizzying madness 10 of Pentacles A question What will I leave behind and for whom? I walk the path that my Ancestors laid and suddenly I see it fork I see …

From Sheltering in Place to Dancing on Shifting Ground

For days a robin has been flying into the glass doors of my studio, bouncing off and then standing nonplused on the deck, looking back at the glass with, what I take to be utter consternation. Then she goes at it again, hurling herself against the glass, bouncing off and then standing four feet away confused, I suppose gathering resolve for the next, duty-bound attempt. At first, I thought she might be a pregnant female looking for a good nesting site. Worried, I did a bit of robin-nesting research online and built a small bird-house along the lines of what I’d seen on birding sites. I mounted the little house on the exterior wall of the studio, where the robin could see it. I even collected some nesting materials—grasses, sticks, and mud. But the robin took no interest and continued bashing herself against every glass window and door. Alarmed, I sent off emails to various birding sites asking if anyone had seen something similar. In just a few hours I had received a half dozen …

Three Meditations on the Apocalypse

I. ORIGINS 3.23.2020 On the first day I look for origins1: Corona (n): [1] a crown, a garland of laurel bestowed for serving in wartime, in a lifetime; so may we make for each other garlands of tenderest gratitude, coronas of lotus and laurel. [2] a luminous circle left behind dark moon during total eclipse; this darkness remarkable only because of the knowledge of light that exists beyond it. II. GENERATION 3.27.2020 On the fifth day I boil bones to make a stock. My grandmother’s recipe, something passed invisibly from women’s hands— tender, strong, the shape of holding— into my hands, into my bones: a knowing how to hold on. The steam billows out from the stove and clouds the windows. If I had a child, I imagine her hands drawing flowers upon them, play affirming life, a crack in the fog of this uncanny war, through which we could look out on our neighbors and they could look in on us: the humanity of it— a small child and a grown one making something …

Grief in the Time of COVID: Sharing in Compassion and Resilience

When my father went into the hospital on May 6th, there were 76,000 deaths in the US from COVID-19. By the time he passed away eleven days later, there were 90,000. It’s strange when something as deeply and personally felt as the death of a loved one becomes part of a national statistic. Yet it also points to the collective nature of grief related to the pandemic and the systemic injustices that it has revealed and intensified. We are in a time of collective grief. Some of us have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Others have lost jobs or been furloughed due to the lockdown of cities and towns across the country. On top of all that, since the killing of George Floyd on May 25, the streets have been filled with renewed anguish and calls for racial justice and the end of police brutality. The enormity of the crisis affects us all, directly or indirectly. How can we handle the emotional intensity and grief while supporting each other in the process and working for …

Survival Will Always Be Insufficient, but It’s a Good Place to Start

Rereading Emily St. John Mandel’s speculative fiction novel Station Eleven at the start of the pandemic was strangely reassuring. The book toggles between the onset of a future global flu pandemic and the lives of people living twenty years later. I often find post-apocalyptic fiction helpful for affirming the possibility of going on past disaster. Station Eleven is explicitly organized around the proposition that “survival is insufficient.” This phrase—tattooed on a character’s arm and written on the side of the traveling theatre and musical troupe’s vehicle in the twenty-years-from-pandemic plotline—comes from a Star Trek episode. In the book, the phrase, “survival is insufficient,” asserts that people deserve art, and music, and other seemingly useless things that are apparently secondary to basic biological survival. To reprise the 1912 labor slogan, we need not only bread but also roses: Beauty is integral to surviving and thriving. What does it mean for us to fight for roses—for more than survival—when so many people are not even surviving? Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production …

Interdependent During a Pandemic

Last summer, my partner and I worked on a research project about wildlife trafficking in southern Africa. While trafficking in elephant ivory and rhino horn tends to dominate the headlines, we also examined smaller species such as the pangolin—which is both the most trafficked mammal on earth and one possible source of the novel coronavirus. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one lesson from our research stands out as particularly crucial: Wildlife trafficking is not a problem of protecting a single species in a single place. Rather, it is a global problem, composed of unaddressed poverty in rural communities, middlemen profiting from illegal trade, and indulgent demand for exotic food and art. It is a problem from roots to leaves, which unfurl thousands of miles away. The same is true of the virus now ravaging human society. It knows no boundary. It reaches my aging parents in a small mountain town, my anxious students scattered across the United States, and my friends in rural Botswana with limited access to healthcare. In a recent letter …

The Stowaway Seeds

The Stowaway Seeds I am afraid to touch the shopping cart, the bright cool hide of the fragrant orange, the wet sand on the beach. This pandemic virus spreads RNA where people pass too close to one another and gather to buy food, or crowd the ocean’s edge. “It cannot be killed because it isn’t alive,” my scientist brother says. But something unknown has always contained our death, which is why we are respectful and delicate as we lift teacups and snow salt crystals on grilled asparagus and touch one another and spoons and books and the surfaces of the earth we will one day be pressed gently between, like book pages on the fat stems of large leaves. Such abundant offerings – these tiny crowns and multiplying stars, the resplendent small burrs I found in the rough striped blanket we took to the woods before everything shut down. They came home with me, to seed a new world, in which we aren’t the most important thing. Mushim Patricia Ikeda is a socially engaged Buddhist …

Photograph by Trudi Lynn Smith

Toilet Paper as Terror Management

The toilet paper aisle at my local grocery store was the first to go barren. Similar scenes of scatalogical scarcity are now the norm across North America as consumers prepare for months of physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. You can find footage online of shoppers fighting over the last roll, and The New York Times recently reported on a toilet paper shipment requiring police escort. It is peculiar that in the early days of this crisis, a pooping accessory took priority over food. Survival instincts appear low in late capitalism. Fortunately, there is a body of social psychology that helps explain the collective impulse to put our heads in our asses in this moment of genuine crisis, and it’s called “Terror Management Theory (or TMT). TMT is rooted in the work of Ernest Becker, who won a Pulitzer for his 1973 book The Denial of Death. According to Becker, the intense existential fear caused by the reality of death compels us to psychologically buffer ourselves with fantasies of supremacy that compensate for …

Illustration by K.T. Tierney

Facing Pandemic, Finding Ground

I’m writing this in the still-early days of the pandemic. Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal governments are requiring self-distancing and closing non-essential services. Increases in coronavirus deaths are in store, though the curve may have been flattened. Much of the predicted economic carnage lies ahead. It feels like the calm before the storm. How do we work with our minds in this situation? What meaning can we make of what’s happening? Ayahuasca My core spiritual practice these days is ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a psychoactive plant mixture and traditional medicine long used in Indigenous ceremonies in the Amazon basin. Within a well-crafted ritual container and led by someone deeply trained in ayahuasca chants and healing, twelve or so of us drink ayahuasca and experience a night of insight and sometimes visions.1 I’ve drunk sixteen times and almost every time experienced a connection with the sacred; from the point of view of the profound interconnectedness of all phenomena, I’ve worked with my patterns, my root traumas, and how I show up in the world. The experience …