Shut Up, Carl: A (Non-Exhaustive) Response to Covidiot Claims and Slogans

Oooohhhh boy. Here we go. Aunt Margaret has shared another low-pixel meme on Facebook about how the governor is as bad as Hitler for making her stay indoors and now we should all take up arms. Doesn’t matter that she lives in Woking or that she’s actually too infirm to go outside at the best of times.

It is with great reluctance that I share the responses I have had to keep to hand for people like Aunt Margaret.

I have treated each statement/slogan/meme with the seriousness I believe it deserves and will add to this list as more entries are warranted.

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Works in the Time of Covid

I’m sitting here with a migraine that has lasted weeks. I know it’s caused by stress and there’s very little I can do about it. Writing seems like an almost comically insurmountable task and an exercise in pure vanity while the world around me goes into quarantine, people fight over toilet paper and tins of beans.

Corvid-19 is here and right now writing about anything else results in such block that I cannot even bring my fingers to the keyboard. Red, raw fingers, scrubbed and scratched.

They say that the library staff may be redeployed to complete admin work for the NHS, so that nurses and doctors can get on with the life-saving work their lives will be consumed by in the coming weeks and months.

It’s like a car accident that never ends. New developments by the day, hour, minute. None of us can look away. We turn from one screen to another, peaks of anxiety without any real trough. How high can it go? It’s unprecedented.

Everything in my life until this point feels like preparation and play. The anxiety and PTSD that have plagued me for decades were in fact a prelude for the things to come: checking exits, watching crowds and faces, judging tone and menace.

A woman coughed on me while my work was still open to the public and I didn’t sleep that night. How can any of us sleep? We are all tied to our tickers, slaves to our own anxieties.

It changes so fast. It’s all very well to say “look away” but what if, while my head is turned, some new development emerges? The schools are closed. The libraries are closed. You’re still working. You must get to work without commuting. You must get to work anyway. Avoid the public but work with them. Will we be paid? Will my husband lose his job? It was fine a week ago. Overreacting. Now we’re making preparations. Stockpiling because we just don’t know.

Nobody knows.

Uncertainty is my nemesis. I withdraw. I wallow and yet in my despair I stare, wide-eyed, somehow trying to soak up all of the information and filter out the fear but with one comes the other. That’s just how it is. We’re all in this, now.

People will die. They keep telling us that. How many? Changes by the second. Changes by the speaker. People will die. 2%, 5%, we don’t know.

Hundreds of thousands. More. Less.

People will die. Prepare for that.

Emergency legislation. Emergency powers. Emergency everything. Too slow, too late and what can we do but keep watching and preparing and washing our hands?

Those of us with genocide in our bloodlines know this feeling better than most. We know how quickly a crowd changes, how the world can turn on the head of a pin. We know that neighbourly goodness is highly conditional and the conditions fluctuate erratically. No rhyme. No reason. Same old reasons. Same old rhyme, death at its heels.

Even the old techniques of self-harm seem pointlessly indulgent at this stage. It’s not an internal apocalypse anymore, friends! It’s here! In your house! On your screens! In your streets and shops and parks and neighbours! It’s knocking on your door! Did you paint the lintels? Was it enough?

Even the Egyptians were given options. Were we?

And Boris remained unmoved. And the Tories brought in their court magicians to recreate the global warming trick and the poverty trick and the disability scroungers trick.

And now death creeps but who’s the target this time? The elderly and infirm? Maybe. Seems less discriminate than any angel. Seems less streamlined.

Almost comforting to see the WASPs contemplating their own mortality and their security. Those of us who’ve waited for the jackboots at our door our whole lives almost have an advantage in this. Death has never been too far away, like an old friend.

Still, I have my migraines because how on earth can anyone be creative in a direction except towards the covid, corvid? Great beak full of herbs. An executor. We all see it. You all see my raven now.

Three middle-aged men stood in an alleyway, practising social distancing. Dirty fingers. Grey skin. Heroin cheeks. Six feet apart and sharing the same stub of a cigarette, foul smelling like diesel fumes.

I stepped between a man and a woman. The man was trying to beat the woman for her pack of toilet paper. He tried to beat me instead.

“Get a man,” he said. “Ugly slag,” he said.

Those of us who have been punished for our anatomy have an advantage, in a way. Now you see my raven, pig-man. I see it in your eyes. You’ll beat me but you’ll never escape him. I, at least, am on speaking terms with the beast.

So I drink tea and I write this and I nurse my migraine. I eat nuts and count my blessings. I have toilet paper and beans and rice and tea to drink and nuts to eat.

I have no words for anything else.

Reclaiming

“We’re reclaiming witch.”

He says it while twirling a stick of sage between his pale fingers. I never ask who are we because I know inevitably I will hear about how he’s femming this and queering that.

“We’re reclaiming witch.

I wonder what aspect it is of myself that makes me a “we.” Is it a lack of straightness, I wonder or a shared whiteness? His whiteness being unconditional, of course.

Skinheads do not fantasise about his ancestors’ hands, caked with mud and sweat and blood, digging their own graves and lining up, clutching their children and too malnourished to cry out in the end.

Is it the neurodivergance, I wonder, that makes us kin in this “reclaiming?”

He’s on antidepressants. His depression score calculated to a tee. No scraping of plastic chairs for adults and climbing up on little not-yet-grown legs to cower in the corner of the locked room with cracked glass partition behind which the staff avoid eye-contact with us captives, us inmates. No hand on his thigh and a psychiatrist’s look that says If You Don’t Open For Me You’ll Be Reopened.

No 11pm Community Treatment Team oh yes have you tried a bath have you tried bandages are you sure you’re not pregnant are you sure you’re not just hysterical are you sure it’s not the trauma but the personality, the you, the silly girl who went and got herself all Opened Up

“We’re reclaiming witch.”

He informs me of his Etsy page and I look at it but not through it as I wonder if he’s ever had an arbiter of Disability ask him why he hasn’t killed himself yet and if he tried, why wasn’t he successful? Don’t look at me like that, girl. Zero points.

I look at the prices but all I see is a month’s disability pittance beneath a photograph of a jar with some chicken feathers in it.

“We’re reclaiming witch.”

From whom? His parents don’t understand, he says. Not church-going but still happy to quote the odd verse at him, can you imagine? Organised faith in 2019?

I can imagine but it’s swastikas on tombstones and carefully collecting the scattered rocks and replacing them on my grandfather’s grave. A grave we could barely afford.

“We’re reclaiming witch.

His Etsy props up his studies, you see. Private education means he knows his history and some Latin and he could tell me all about the classics and the stories behind the flowers in his crowns and while he’s explaining Dickens I have the sudden, sharp memory of a character called “the Jew” and a number of faces turning towards me, grinning as a teacher tried to address an overcrowded classroom just as a ceiling tile cracked against a desk somewhere near the back and I remember the thunderous shatter being linked inextricably with The Jew and the eyes on me. A curse, maybe. Call its name and it pulls the walls down.

“We’re reclaiming-”

Oh, fuck off. You can’t reclaim what was never yours.