In our new series The Lockdown Letters, some of New Zealand’s best writers tell us what they’ve been up to in the days of Covid-19 alert level four. Today, political commentator and essayist Morgan Godfery.
I’M TWEETING AT 2AM.
The responsible part of my brain is sending sleep signals. Inconvenient yawns. The first. The second half a minute after. The third arrives faster. But my primal brain, somewhere in the inner reaches of my grey matter, is working with the kidneys to send sweet, sweet dopamine hits through my nervous system. I can’t stop. Keep posting. Keep consuming content. My frontal lobe is its own memetic economy.
I mean, Baneposting is back. How could I possibly sleep? I rewatch the scene from The Dark Knight where Bane’s black suits hijack a CIA plane. Why is “Littlefinger” in this scene? How is Tom Hardy so jacked? “You’re a big guy,” says Littlefinger, who’s Aidan Gillen in real life but always Littlefinger online. “For you,” Hardy who is also Bane replies. Is this deliberately homoerotic or is it just 2am? I add the scene to my frontal lobe and attach it with moderate memetic value.
It’s 2.10am and I suspect I’m a snob. I look down on people who think their devotion to superhero franchises is a radical act. I support your quiet fandom, sure. If you’re absorbing the minutia and miscellany from the Avengers universe, packing it into neat compartments in your brain, I’m the last person who could judge. My only line is people who say things like “I’m a Ravenclaw”. It’s 2.30am and I think about reminding people JK Rowling is a TERF. Or maybe memeing it might get the message across better. The money printer meme pops up on my feed.
I’M NEVER SLEEPING.
I suppose it’s an indication as to how abnormal the times are, and how beta cucks in real life are type A tastemakers online, that a meme about quantitative easing can shape the political discourse in a country as remote and tiny as New Zealand. Memes are bottom-up destruction, taking culture and politics from up high – whether Batman or the Federal Reserve – and through in-built ambiguity and sheer repetition and reposting they can corrupt or clarify the moment. Money printer go brrrr is exceedingly stupid, and thus very funny, but also its call for unprecedented government intervention makes a certain sense. At 3am.
UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME RIGHT.
I’m out of bed and on the job at 9am. The world is still spinning, even if it is off tilt. I’m meant to update the hazard identification list and redo the risk register for our social service agency. I should record my lectures and upload reading material for my university class. I plan on checking my media deadlines. None of that happens, of course. I find out my cousin has ’rona. My sister might have it too. That seems wildly improbable – two people in one family with ’rona? The necessary karakia are said.
It’s day one and I’m locking down with my nan. I thought about locking down with my parents but Dad’s a Libra diva (sorry Dad!). I make vague attempts at usefulness around the house. I stack the wood. I do the dishes. I vacuum. I wholly commit to this domesticity. I’m a Cancer and I need to secure this home, you see. But there’s so much background noise I find it impossible to function. What if my sister does have ’rona? Shouldn’t I do some work? People depend on me for so many things professionally and personally, from delivering social services for the most vulnerable people in our community to meeting my teaching commitments to our bright, keen young students.
Pre-rona I found an indescribable value and purpose in this. Today it all seems a little less urgent.
It’s lunchtime and I tell Nan under capitalism wealth doesn’t trickle down. It bubbles up. She agrees so I take the opportunity to launch. “Only culture trickles down.” The world’s largest listed companies focus-group, market-test and endlessly refine their cultural products for mass consumption. Devoting yourself to, say, Star Wars fandom isn’t an act of resistance against the critics and the elites – it’s the most mundane and complicit thing you could possibly do. Moana isn’t a cultural product for Polynesia. It takes Polynesian stories to make money from the rest of the world.
Nan is in the kitchen while I’m still at the table.
It’s 3pm and I ring my niece and nephew. They’ve been gardening with their parents (my other sister and my brother-in-law). I look up and out the back window and Nan is in the garden too.
I’m turning the soil and it’s therapeutic. I have no technique or background knowledge in gardening, but I’m very good at caring for things (#cancer). In that is the secret – care and attention – and the form it takes is usually secondary. Gardening connects you to the earth and to other living things, and you can find meanings in that in these dangerous times. Everyone should care for a plant at one time or another in their lives.
Nan is planting the celery and I’m planting the leafy greens. The neighbours are pottering around in their garden too. I get sentimental imagining people across the country sharing in this ordinary act in extraordinary times. We’re mostly confined to our spaces, whether our quarter acres or our four studio apartment walls, and I understand that’s maddening for most, but it seems like there’s a humanity in the shared experience and mundanity that’s hard to pin down.
4pm and I realise that was the sentimentality talking. The cliché is half right – we really are “all in this together” – yet it obscures so much. The people on their quarter acres are doing much better than the people in their studio apartments. In other words people with means are going to come out of this better than people without. Working in social services I know that deeply. That thought – of ’rona’s burdens falling disproportionately on some people – urges me into work, which is a good thing.