Issue 22.5 Bacchanalia in Isolation

Flood, fires and plague. Confronted with the task of turning outside events into activities for isolation during the coronavirus epidemic, we approached a few favourite contributors to help with our Bacchanalia page, our loose diary of gigs, clubbing, theatre and film. But with everyone fighting devastations and emergencies, from dying parents to blocked drains, it looked, at first like we’d be lucky to get, maybe, a recipe.

What bubbled forth was a miniature font of life, too splashy to corral into a single page of listings. So we decided to spurt what we liked best, immediately.

Author Sophie Lewis, doing a bunk in Philadelphia

What other people call real life has never convinced me. My postman asks me if I’m bored; regular media contacts mail me, asking how I’m liking Groundhog Day. But the last time I can remember feeling so painfully, wildly and calmly alert was giving birth to my little boy. It helps that I was in hospital before the New Year, going through a personal evisceration. Also, that I live on top of a glacial hill in the Welsh Marches and have to make my own entertainment. Given my Kolkatan roots and a 65+ mother in India, I have a global and non-metropolitan outlook, so I had a headstart on seeing what might happen to us. I got scared for the world, rather than myself, in January. There’s no escaping a virus that proliferates in London, New York, or in Indian, African or South American shanty slums where there’s no hot running water. For the first time since the flu epidemic of 1917-1920 (with the highest number of deaths in its ‘second wave’ of 1918), rich Westerners have met a conqueror against whom our medical systems are helpless.

In my tiny intimate circle, over a dozen people have had this virus, recovered, been intubated, or died. In my own home, The Consort was exposed. We’ve just ended 14 days quarantine. Fear is useless. I’m posting letters and chocolates to friends in hospitals and care homes, making phone calls, culling wild garlic and chives in the woods to send to locked-up city folk, writing pallid notes of condolences. And doing Dolley Trolley’s Wednesday night live aerobics on Insta.

Quietly waiting for @dolleytrolley’s drag aerobics on a Wednesday night.

People talk about getting back to reality. But this is not a shadowy inversion of reality. This is what life, precarious and uncontrollable, is like, for most people in the less privileged lands of this Earth. In these depths, we discover who we are – and the true characters of the communities in which we live. Actually, I’ve never been a big fan of community either; it’s too prone to a tribalism that wishes death upon those not in the tribe. Death can be wreaked by neglect. An obvious  comparison is with the State-murdered AIDS patients in the late 80s, when AIDS was sold as a debauched gay disease that wouldn’t come for the straights.

When Death comes, we will be alone inside our hallucinating skulls and failing organs – but now we are alone, together. Most of us impoverished artists, buoyed by fancy education, find ourselves financially derelict. That’s nothing new – but, for the first time, our options have been shut down.  The love and energy shown by creative buggers online, as well as those volunteering for the NHS here in the UK, has been heart-warming. Cynics say that once the virus has run its course in the wealthier countries we will abandon our utopian hopes for a new collectivism.

Meanwhile, some eco-zealots suggest this is the earth’s way of ‘cleansing’ herself. I read on Instagram a self-appointed wise woman quoting a 4 year old saying, “some old people have to die so we can think”. When that old person is you, or your lover, sister, mother, you may feel less sanguine.

Normal life, in my view, is a hectic illusion. An identity that feeds on the validation of the tribe will disembowel itself, when that tribe disappears. Meaning is what we create, for ourselves. It’s something we learn from thinkers who are stronger than us; or radically different. We have options on how we use our vulnerability and our riches. Sometimes, to paraphrase the Bible, we’re strongest when we’re weak.

In this mini-DG, we’re delighted to share with you tiny, easily digestible nuggets of mild deviance, rare queer/polysexual art and joy to support you through isolation. Ever heard of Paul Preciado’s An Apartment on Uranus? Or Last Words from Montmartre  by Qiu Miaojin, a Taiwanese lesbians letters to her lovers, before she committed suicide her apartment in Paris? We hadn’t, until our contributors suggested them, in isolation.

In this issue, you’ll find happiness but also the ambiguity of this remarkable time. Read about taking acid, fake foraging, and being in the now.

Emma Alexander, book, art and sex fetishist, currently unwell in London, writes on how being sick teaches you to be alone.  Electronic artist Li Yilei, in China, suggests rare queer films, meditative electronica and sipping water. Sophie Lewis, British author of feminist manifesto Full Surrogacy Now, is making vulva prints with her wife in the U.S. New Yorker yogi and artist Katie Cercone is sewing with her little boy. Indian-Welsh lead singer of Islet, Emma Daman Thomas, attempts to hypnotise her babies with music. Resident DJ Caoimhe Lavelle, alternating between drawing in her pajamas and hooping in her courtyard, sends us into a fearless cosmic thrum with her isolation mix from Dublin.

Here is where we are, alone, together.

Love on ya,

Soma x

Soma Ghosh


Twitter @calcourtesan

Main image, by Marne Lucas, previously appeared in an article on Lucas’ art on menopause.

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