Friday Letter // 00086
2020.03.15 // BROOKLYN //
We’re inside. How are you doing?
This is Friday Letters, on Sunday.
I was already home, making increasingly more elaborate breakfasts*, when the Harvey Weinstein sentence came down. That was last week? I felt like I was already broken into this whole new routine: becoming someone who buys groceries weeks ahead of time (like I have space for that, which I don’t, but like I can afford to, which still feels new, still half the time I buy groceries I notice that I no longer internally weigh each item against a budget with no room in it for mistakes), someone who knows how to disinfect a sink (not without thinking about my grandmother, apparently—but I’m already someone who wears rubber gloves to do the dishes), someone who can actually do an okay job providing comfort.
I’m writing this now for the people who feel weird about feeling okay. I’m already someone who is calm in crisis, eerie calm. It might be why I write about what I do and why I’m interested in the people I am drawn to write about: I lock into a kind of groove when things threaten to feel overwhelming, I can actually focus on my breath. I’ve noticed over the last few months that when I’m interviewing someone about something upsetting or traumatic, when they begin to answer a question, I plant my feet harder on the floor, and I tense and flex the muscles in my legs. Now if another writer tells me they are drowning in a tough project, I ask them what they are doing for themselves. I worked in public health just long enough to not feel invasive asking near strangers about these things, and now have been a journalist even longer, so diving into the heavy stuff is where I go first and maybe most easily. And I worked in the sex trade long enough that it doesn’t feel strange at all to demonstrate care for myself and others while trying to maintain a sterile field— black latex gloves, Madacide, paper towels, a dedicated trash bin with a cover on it.
It’s okay to lock into that calm right now, if you can find it. It’s not cold to feel okay.
Information overload is also my calm. Here’s some of what has helped:
This twitter list, “Epidemic Science & Health,” by Josh Marshall, is a solid reading room, with “epidemiologists, researchers, public health experts & journalists tracking COVID-19” hanging out and sharing what they’re seeing and at times venting. They are frustrated, too.
“The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready?”—a 2018 story by Ed Yong at The Atlantic—is re-circulating, understandably. “Despite the relative difficulty of transmission, Ebola still shut down health systems, crushed economies, and fomented fear. With each outbreak, it reveals the vulnerabilities in our infrastructure and our psyches that a more contagious pathogen might one day exploit. These include forgetfulness.”
“Our guests of honor were as disappointed as we were at the idea of canceling but said that if we couldn’t be 100 percent on board, then we should. They used the language of sexual consent — and said that only if ours was ‘full and enthusiastic’ would they feel comfortable allowing us to host. That felt sort of impossible. I mean, if we had the party and the virus did not spread in my community, I would feel happy, lucky, relieved. But if it did, I would not be able to say I had done everything in my power to stop it. This decision wasn’t about being 100 percent stoked, to me. It was about considering the risks and then deciding if those risks were worth taking. A conversation about risks would have been nice; it would have made me feel like I was actually part of a community.” (Sarah Miller, at The Cut)
I mean, yes: “The Coronavirus Puts the Class War Into Stark Relief,” by Sarah Jones at New York magazine.
Yes again: “America is A Sham,” by Dan Kois at Slate.
“Congressional testimony earlier this week featured an illuminating exchange between Representative Andy Harris, a Republican and medical doctor, and Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention… Here were two men wondering aloud why reality had failed to conform to their ideology. Where was the private sector, exactly, during these eight weeks? How odd that these companies, whose only responsibility is to their shareholders, had failed to make up for the incompetence of this administration.” (“The Dismantled State Takes on a Pandemic,” by Alex Pareene at The New Republic)
You’ve seen it already, but it’s being updated often: Flatten The Curve.
If you have watched Contagion? “Border Promiscuity, Illicit Intimacies, and Origin Stories: Or what Contagion’s Bookends Tell us About New Infectious Diseases and a Racialized Geography of Blame” by Adia Benton.
Steven W. Thrasher: “After @louise_seamster pointed out their college suggested using software called PANOPTO to teach online I re-read the first page of Michel Foucault's essay "Panopticon" and, HOO BOY.” Click through, or:
On public health in prison: “When Purell is Contraband, How Do You Contain Coronavirus?” by Keri Blakinger and Beth Schwartzapfel at The Marshall Project. People who are incarcerated may also have to buy their own soap. Here’s a fundraiser from Survived and Punished to help send soap to people inside.
And a mutual aid fund for groceries, which has raised $12,000 in just a few days so far.
“Most of the public conversation to date about pandemic response has been about coercive measures – the travel bans and quarantines that policymakers fixate on. (With a nod to Cedric Robinson, racism and the carceral state precede pandemics, and infect them from the beginning.). But the most urgent need is for a new politics of care in this pandemic, one that embodies the same vision that animates Medicare for All, our revived and increasingly feminized labor movement, and other claims for new universal care programs.” (“Coronavirus and the Politics of Care,” by Amy Kapczynski)
January 31, 2020: “Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response” (Laurie Garrett at Foreign Policy)
Valerie, gazing into the social distance
An email came through—well, from everyone, everywhere I’ve ever bought anything, or been—from the Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles. Regular readers will know that it has an outsize place in the geography of my work. I don’t know who it still there, waiting this out. Or maybe staying in their room all day and only coming down late at night to sit by the pool alone. I hope they are just temporarily stranded. I hope they would pass the room on if someone needed shelter more than they did. I hope they are tipping a lot.
I can’t think about living in a pandemic without thinking about money. Isn’t that why anyone is suffering, anyway? Regular readers will also know that I’ve mostly done what I do as a freelancer—and it’s only been two years that I have had a salary, and paid leave, and (now) a union. That’s why I can stay home and can write this between writing with a few people in jail and prison and doing the dishes and making a hot cocoa and hopping on a Zoom call which was so much better than any Zoom call should be, getting to see the faces of people I hear most from, even not in a pandemic, in a Signal thread and waiting for someone in California to call me about how they are doing while I… what’s left to do? Some more overly ambitious cooking? Anything but putting on the TV for a few more hours.
Something shifted again today in New York. The first shift was last Monday, when we first talked in the office about people going home. Then it was sometime shortly before the Oval Office address, when pressuring people to just stay home felt okay to do. Friday, the reality of not seeing people on the street (but there’s still too many), stopping in a sandwich shop where they’re still getting bread but everything feels weird. And today, it’s the feeling that it’s too late, and we didn’t do enough in time.
Eerie calm might not work much longer. But I’m gonna go with whatever works, so long as I can still write and eat.
* It was just a bowl of steel cut oats and what I decided to throw on top (smoke salmon, an egg I fried too long because I was reading the news, scallions, cilantro, paprika, smoked salt, some old seaweed flakes). The inspiration was this (now) completely untrustworthy lifestyle blogger-business couple who moved from LA out to the desert, and who I wanted to like because they somehow decided to use imagery from Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point to market their olive oil. Anyway, given the stakes of our situation, maybe it feels minor and mean now to say any of this, but consider: they sent out a weekly newsletter promoting “supplements” to treat COVID-19. No, they do not!!
Here’s the real Zabriskie Point, in November 2018:
“No Justice for Harvey Weinstein’s Victims” / The New Republic, 2020.03.10
“For many feminist activists, including those whose activism was propelled by what’s been shorthanded as the #MeToo movement, a carceral response to violence does not deliver justice. Because what condition of Weinstein’s incarceration—after decades of abuse and success, each enabled equally by those around him—would be equivalent to robbing a woman of her livelihood and sense of safety? Of multiple women, over several decades? How many years in a prison cell does accountability for that kind of harm require?”
And if you have some time to really read, here’s everything I’ve done at TNR since I came on staff last summer.
This is is the best one, though:
The court was made to understand in Obergefell that it was not only considering the borders of marriage and who belonged within its charmed circle, but also determining who belonged, period. Opponents understood these stakes quite clearly. They were not merely out to defend the sanctity of one veil and one tux only on each buttercream cake top, but the broader, embattled ideal of men’s dominion over women—and with it, decent, law-abiding white Christendom. They were not going to get lost in the thickets of arguments over the original meaning of a Reconstruction-era constitutional amendment when they could opine on the allegedly natural order of things. Yet these things are never about the law, but rather an ongoing battle over everything that can’t fit on the page. Both defenders of equal rights and their opponents know this, even if it cannot be voiced directly in a court of law.
The Title VII cases raise another contested site of critical social and legal recognition—the world of work. No matter how many more LGBTQ people stood to gain from the present set of employment discrimination cases than from marriage equality, the category of workplace discrimination did not fall as easily into a simple narrative. Workers were the protagonists here, not hopeful husbands and wives. The #LoveIsLove frame would not cross this particular threshold; straight allies did not wash their social media avatars in rainbows with the banner #WorkIsWork. While not everyone needs city hall to give them a marriage license, almost all of us have to work for a living.
COMING UP //
I was supposed to be in Columbus. Instead I’m home teaching myself how to use Premiere. (With a book, even.) We’ll see.
STATION IDENTIFICATION //
This is Friday Letters, by Melissa Gira Grant (me), the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work and a staff writer at The New Republic.
But it’s Sunday. So maybe we’ll keeping doing this on Sundays, until this thing is over.