We are not used to slowing down, are we? It feels bad, feels wrong, feels unproductive. We are so dependent on the official word and too eager to wait and see. We try to test our limits. But it is really important that we do slow down, wash our hands often for at least 20 seconds, don’t touch our faces, don’t go out as much, sneeze and cough into a tissue or a bent elbow, and don’t panic (although as my therapist reminded me yesterday, anxiety and panic are actually pretty rational responses to a pandemic for which the country you live in has no real plan). We must abide by these guidelines especially to protect people who are more vulnerable to illness.
Even before the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, a pandemic, we’ve been seeing local institutions respond: They say they are monitoring the situation and following CDC guidelines, some are canceling events, many universities are moving classes online. The cancellation of national events—such as SXSW, the Los Angeles Art Book Fair, and others—has a local reverberation for the Baltimore-based artists expecting to show their work, make connections, and hopefully get paid at these events. And although this news release doesn’t specifically mention the pandemic, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and New York Foundation for the Arts have partnered to provide $5,000 grants to cover emergency medical aid for visual and media artists and choreographers who are citizens or permanent residents of the US or its territories. Applications are open now, and will be reviewed by a panel starting in late May of this year.
All of these cancellations are, of course, in the best interest of everybody’s health, but especially those of us whose immune systems are less resilient or suppressed. In a recent newsletter, the poet Anne Boyer—one of the best writers on the emotional and material effects of illness, care, work and such—encourages us to organize, today, around the most vulnerable:
“In the meantime, the world’s eugenicists-in-chiefs appear to lick their lips at the prospect of the deaths of the elderly, sick, and poor. The vicious denialism of Trump, Johnson, and Bolsanaro is the logic that also governed yesterday’s every day misery, made grand to fit today’s catastrophe. […]
These are the same types who say the only thing to fear is fear, which of course is not true, because fear educates our care for each other — we fear a sick person might be made sicker, or that a poor person’s life might be made even more miserable, and we do whatever we can to protect them because we fear a version of human life in which everyone lives for themselves only. I am not the least bit afraid of this kind of fear, for fear is a vital and necessary part of love. And this fear, which I love, is right now particularly justified, because we have a pernicious virus that travels inside the healthy to sicken and kill the already fragile, and therefore requires that the healthy and strong deepen their moral commitments for the benefit of the sick and weak. We must learn to do good for the good of the stranger now.”