This is probably about as far as I can go with you. At least, in the form of these guides.
The reasons are pretty simple. There is no real guide for where you go next. At least, I don’t think there is. You’re in uncharted waters. What’s that thing maps used to say about those waters? Here’s a shitload of dragons? Something like that? Well, you’re about to meet some dragons. But your dragons will be an entirely different species from mine. These different dragons have evolved in different environments. Some of them may still be able to hump each other and maybe their little dragon babies can have babies too and whatnot, but they’re different creatures. Things are now all about to get very different for everyone.
There’s some divergence built into this experience. Consider this – America and South Korea both recorded their first case on the same day. The Daegu outbreak occurred around the same time as the Italian outbreak. Right now we are all in very different positions. The universality of this experience is a bit limited. Honestly, it always was. It always is. But, in early days at least, there was maybe more similarities than difference. It might be this way again at the end. We’ll have to try to make it through and see.
Now, even as our interests intersect more than ever, this crisis produces and magnifies difference. It creates a gulf between us that renders all advice, guides, and maps obsolete. In other words, Dragon ate our homework.
There are some things that I think will be common to some people now. A few dragons that I think you can expect to encounter, though even these will be different dragons for everyone. And, as usual, I’m sure you can find better writing by smarter people than me on these subjects –and I encourage you to do so– but, for now, here’s The Grumpy Owl Guide to Some of What I Think You Can Maybe Expect in the Next Few Weeks. I hope it helps.
It’s a Marathon
By now, you probably realize this. And because now everyone is apparently an avid jogger, you can probably understand what this means.
Part of the reason, I think, for The Peculiar Gloom of Week Two is that you run Week One like a sprint. In some ways, you had to. And you hit the consequences of that speed. It exhausts you. It fucks you up. You just stand there, hands on knees, wanting to throw up. And you are nowhere closer to the end of the thing. You feel this bad and it’s only been a week? So you’re also demoralized. How will you ever do this?
The answer is slowly. You’ve learned –the hard way, probably– that you can’t just sprint this thing. The faster you run, the further away the end gets. You now know that you have to pace yourself. Keep something in the tank. Leave something for tomorrow.
This can mean a lot of things. It can mean limiting your news, varying your entertainments, not beating yourself up if you get nothing done, and working on manageable tasks. It also, hopefully, means that you’re learning what trips you can do without. Do without those trips.
The good news is that it’s a marathon and there is a learning curve to this thing. As you continue to stock up (without panic buying, for fuck’s sake) you’re going to get a much better idea of how to stock up. You’re going to understand what you use, how much of it, and how to stretch it so that you can stay indoors for even longer periods. Fun, huh?
You’re going to get a better idea of how to stay indoors. You’re going to be capable of longer stretches of doing so. The whole idea is to stay indoors and you’re going to get a lot better at doing that as you learn how. You’re already a lot better at it than you were last week. And all that shit from the first week that you never want to do again? Give it time. You might.
The bad news: It’s a fucking marathon.
As smart as you get, no one ever outsmarted a fucking marathon. You’re going to have to draw on some will power. If there’s a pebble in your shoe, you can’t just ignore it, you have to deal with it. Pebbles become blisters. It’s going to hurt. You’re going to get tired. So very tired.
Pray to Satan. He will command you!
Because this thing exerts a constant stress, you can also expect some strange things. Things related to endurance and to pushing yourself further than you usually do. Things that, until this whole mess, only ever really happened to me deep into a workout, often on a treadmill. You might suddenly start crying. Not even a bad crying. For me, it really feels similar to runner’s high. It happens to me about once a day.
I mean, the other day, some commercial set me off, and I was standing in the center of the room hands on hips crying. My wife sees me. Lovely woman she is, she does what any compassionate and caring spouse would do. She bursts out laughing. But she starts laughing so hard, she starts crying. And I start laughing at her. And this keeps going back and forth. This goes on for way longer than it should. And there we both are, in the kitchen, holding the counter, bent over, making these fucked up noises, not even sure if we’re laughing or crying, and whatever we’re doing, what we’re doing it at or why. And this sort of thing happens. It may happen to you. It’s ridiculous, really.
And, I mean, if that’s not bad enough, I even went and told everyone on facebook I liked them. I even almost sent one of those emoji things to a close friend. Shit gets strained and it gets strange. You may find yourself wanting to pat a friend on the back.
There are dancing manias. Don’t be surprised if this happens to you.
I mean, fucking hell, some days I’m hopping around like some leprechaun cursed my shoes. But Satan has always been very pro-dancing. Even the dirty kind, if you can believe it.
Time Will Change
Yesterday, I think it was yesterday, my wife asked me what month it was. And, you know what? I had to think about it. And not just what month is was but like what a month was. Now, that’s actually pretty normal for me but she’s usually much more aware of little details like the month and the year. For my part, I’m very big on punctuality. I’m not saying she isn’t punctual, just that she’s a Californian. They have a very different view on these things in California. A totally different standard. It’s not what I would call punctuality but what do I know? I’m not from California. I tend to be on time for things. Sometimes on the wrong day, but always at the right time.
The days of the week have less meaning than they once did. They do have some meaning. Weekends are a bad time to do our grocery shopping. Some people, who cannot avoid weekends, have to do their shopping then. We can avoid it so we do. Crowds are clocks.
The other thing you can probably expect is some strangeness in your sleeping schedule. I tend to view this as an adaptation. One of the first things that happened here was the big companies broke up their schedules to destroy rush hour. Should we get to any sort of sustainable social distancing (don’t even worry about that one yet, North America – you have other problems and priorities and are nowhere near even starting to entertain that idea) I suspect it will involve genuine 24 hour cities and night people will be in demand.
Satan says your flaws are mutations for the future!
The reason I mentioned that Americans should not worry about things like “sustainable social distancing” yet –and probably not until they’ve at least nationalized the health service, have level cases, and have contact tracing on every single new case– is because thinking about these brighter futures can encourage complacency.
One wants a thing to be true. This want doesn’t make it so. But that want can make you act in optimistic ways and irresponsible optimism is remarkably dangerous.
Complacency is a real concern. It happens here in about two week cycles. It is especially dangerous when things look to be improving. When the cases level, when there is good news, then the problems start. When social distancing starts to work is also the exact moment people think they can give it up, cheat, or just get a little sloppy. It’s at that moment when they start thinking that there must, surely, be some better and more normal way.
It is HARD to keep focus.
It is hard here and I suspect that in North America it is going to be a lot harder. Speaking broadly, Americans are used to ending a crisis by changing the channel. Many people, for example, believe that changing the president makes history disappear. I worry that America will get bored. And I worry that America will demand dumb shit because it is bored. I worry that certain powerful political actors are going to try to capitalize on this boredom. The more clever of them will cloak this act of mass murder in some pretty reasonable sounding ideas. They might use temptations like “sustainable social distancing.” This worries me.
So let me be a bit fucking bleak for a moment. You remember those cruise ships? You remember when those were quarantined. You saw the damage those cruise ships did — how complicated it was to move people off them and get them treatment. Those cruise ships are now the size of New York City. They are the size of Italy, Spain, and the UK. The center of this thing is going to keep changing and when it does change people are going to move around and then it is all going to change again. This is going to be like that whole kitchen incident with my wife, one person crying, the other laughing, then trade places, and it’s going to go on like that for a lot longer than it should. That’s just the mess we’re in.
There is no reason to be complacent. Vigilance is what this situation demands. Constant fucking vigilance and exhausting cooperation. These are hard duties in hard times. You’re going to make mistakes. So make your mistakes. Admit them. Then get back on track stronger than before. You have no choice. This is the only track. Nothing else works.
Not even Satan and Satan works for us all!
Worries Turn Real
Worries can be all sorts of things. They can be big, small, realistic, or fanciful. But one thing that worries all have in common is that a worry is a little theoretical. They’re imaginary. You often worry about something that might happen or is happening to someone else. They’re a type of anticipation of bad things. And I don’t want to add to your worries but you should know, some of these horrible things you’re anticipating are really going to happen. Not all, but some, and some things are going to happen that you didn’t even think to worry about.
This will get personal. You or someone you love is probably going to catch this thing. Or they are going to need an unrelated trip to hospital and be shit out of luck. Suicides. Domestic abuse. A variety of crack-ups and meltdowns. Attempts at evictions. All sorts of shit is going to happen. And not just in the news. Most of it will never be on the news. These things are going to happen to you or to people you love. If you’re in danger of these things, if someone you know is in danger, you need to start seriously thinking about plans and what you can do to help. You also need to anticipate distress and avoid it or fix it before it festers.
This is a marathon. You know this now. At some point, you may need to be carried part of the way and you may need to carry someone else. Help each other. Quite possibly, you will not be able to help the people you want to help. So help someone else. Even if it is just yourself. Help that person.
We need you too!
Keep an eye on each other. Help each other. The goal is staying indoors. But you know why that’s the goal? Because we’re trying to save lives. Because we care. So don’t be afraid to care about each other. That’s why we’re doing this miserable shit in the first place.
And know this – even if you can do nothing else– just by staying home you have done a lot. This shit is not easy. You didn’t go out today? You saved some lives. You’re doing good work just by doing nothing. It’s important and you matter.
Sharing Hearts While Apart
This is something that is really emphasized here in Korea and it’s something that I really think is worth passing along. Give each other caring words. Reach out to each other. Our combined strength is immense! Try to get into the habit of doing this as soon as you can.
And, if I may, I’d like to ask the ladies to excuse me for moment, while I have a quiet word with the, gentlemen here. Pick it up again after the italics and at the bold.
Ladies? Gone? Thank you.
Gentlemen, I want you to re-read the first paragraph of this section. And, now, please, read it again. I’ll wait. You’re done? Good.
Did you notice that I did not tell you to send pictures of your penis to anyone? Not unless you are asked to. (If you’re asked to, use your judgement.) Did you notice that? There is a reason for this. It’s because some of you really need to STOP SENDING PICTURES OF YOUR DICKS to people. Have a conversation with someone you know, no one minds. Talking to a human like human? That’s what humans do. But being a sleazy bastard? Everyone knows and everyone minds. It’s not the thing to do. So reign it the fuck in in. For once in your goddamn lives, just please, reign it the fuck in. Try to keep it together and act like a decent fucking human being for once in your life. For the love of Satan! This whole crisis is not set up to give you permission to harass people. So stop it! Before you even start it! Stop it!
Ladies, sorry about that and thank you for your indulgence.
It’s really important that we reach out to each other and talk to each other. The WHO is even recommending that we stop using the term “social distancing” and start using “physical distancing” instead. The reason is that we really need to be social now. It’s terrible, I know.
And you have to keep in mind, there is a diminishing universality here. What might help one person may hurt another. You may think it’s safe to put up pictures of cute animals. What is safer than that? There are, however, people out there who have been separated from their beloved animals and having a really hard time with that. Those pictures may help them. They might hurt them. Essentially, nothing is really safe. Safe spaces have shrunk.
(Gentlemen, do not even start – I don’t know what you think I mean but it’s probably not that.)
This means we have to make some allowance for each other. We have to understand that not all things are for all people. We have to make some allowance about the things we see and have some understanding when we hurt others. We’re in a world of magnified difference, where decisions made last week are going to have serious consequences next week. But we share vulnerability. Any one of us could wake up as some sort of Typhoid Mary. We can go to bed as humans as wake up as vermin. This is our world now. I heard a rumor that people are crying during commercials. We need to be gentle and we need to be forgiving. We need to go easy on each other. Especially on the hurt and the hurting.
But none of this gentle forgiveness extends to racist or xenophobic bullshit of any type. Because, seriously, there are limits. I mean, keep an open mind but not so open your brain falls out. Keep an open heart, but not so open than you lose it in some dumpster.
Satan needs your brain and your heart! Keep it with you!
If you were to ask me what is really holding Korea together right now, you know what I’d answer? I’d say yes, the mass tests are important, the adherence to science is vital, and the healthcare system is irreplaceable. But there’s something else which is so important and, without which, we would all be totally fucked. It’s the million small acts of kindness that happen every single day. Something that has shocked and delighted me since my arrival.
I could give you examples but, instead, I’ll just come straight to the point. My wife and I are strangers in this land. That’s not really an easy position at the best of times and, not sure if you’ve noticed, but there is a pandemic going on. In spite of this, people have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. There are times when some small kindness has been done for me, and it has just made my day, if not my week. There are times when even a small cruelty can wreck a person, and times when just the smallest thing can fill you with love and good cheer. You can’t expect kindness from others but you can be kind to people.
And I know social media rewards a certain sort of snark. Especially when it is aimed at deserving targets. I would like to ask that everyone just be careful of the influence of that medium. Kindness may not be popular but it is more valuable than whatever cartoon currency we’re trading in these days. And snark is alright, just be careful.
Be kind to each other. Be kind to your friends and be kind to strangers. I’m telling you, when this thing is done, I am ride or die for some of the people who have done relatively small things for me. My sense of gratitude may be disproportionate to their acts but it is in proportion to my feels about them. We need each other. We have to get along.
Satan prizes The Strangers and kindness to them more!
Well, these might carry on in some form and as circumstances dictate, and I’ll probably keep blogging, but that’s about it for these things. Y’all now know as much as I ever did and probably a lot more. I hope these entries were of some small help. Writing them helped me. Even feeling like some small help is a help. So thank you for your time. There’s few things that make anyone feel better than helping.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I want you to remember all that when I need your help.
Because, here’s the thing. Where I am looks okay right now. Where you are looks like it’s about to go right fucking through it. That can change. It can go bad anywhere and, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that things move fast. When that happens, if that happens, here, to me, you will probably know something about The New Situation that I don’t. You might just know something that I just need to hear. If it’s not me that needs your help, it’s going to be someone else. I hope when that happens, when someone needs your help, that, even if all you have to give is your voice, you know your voice matters, and that you use it to help. If you got anything at all out of these guides, any help at all, you owe that little bit.
It’s due to the devil.
Thank you again and