Since the covid pandemic broke out of Wuhan this year, we have seen how the world was shaken and was caught unprepared for a life-threatening viral infection. We have seen in equal measure how countries devised ways to contain the spread of the controversial diease. The scientific community on the other hand is faced with an enemy that has shape-shifted into more than a dozen forms to a point that it is no longer recognizable. Many of the newest forms of covid infections blur the line between pathology and expected symptoms, thus further throwing medical research into deeper limbo.
Barely a month after social (or physical ) distancing has become a universal rule more than millennial lingo, different sorts of time-killing online events popped out of the internet. There were free online tutorials, online conferences, online talk therapy, art, Spanish, animation, classes. Name it and there’s probably one free online session about it. The one online tutorial that I’ve been wanting to join is on reading to keep one’s sanity during the quarantine.
Perhaps because I live in the Philippines, our version of physical distancing and quarantine takes on a Filipino flavour: Filipino flavour in the sense that it could either get more elaborate than the original or get watered down at the expense of the original. When we talk about physical distance and quarantine in the Philippines it is one that comes with a heady mix of politics and populism, the high brow and the mundane. It is both moot and academic.
What’s clear is that millions of Filipinos aren’t cut out to stay at home and do nothing. Staying at home is equivalent to staying in jail. I initially detested the idea myself, thinking it would deprive me of my precious morning walks under the sun. To me this is second only to breathing. But I was no match to the Philippine government. So, I took the Extreme Community Quarantine (ECQ) policy in bad taste. I was moored (and still am) at home, could only see the same part of the sky through my window all the time, heard or almost didn’t hear anything but faint running car sounds. It didn’t take two nights however before I awoke to the reality that I have a big bag full of books waiting to be read. This bag has been with me since last summer, and I haven’t really gotten hold of most of the books in there. I remember putting inside of it some of the books I have read such as The Celtic Reader: complied and edited by Peter Mathews; The Man who Mistook His Wife For A Hat ( a compilation of psychiatric case studies), by Olive Sacks; Other Inquisitions by Jorge Luis Borges; and The Theatre and Its Double by Antonin Artaud.
I had read these books at one time in the past. But faced with a state of rut on long quarantine days, I have to keep myself sane and make sure my brain stays active (and my body stay healthy as well). The Celtic Reader is a thick book at 317 pages including bibliography; The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (it has been made a movie) is 243 pages including annotations; Other Inquisitions by Jorge Luis Borges is 189 pages. The Theatre And Its Double is paperback size at 108 pages.
To the uninitiated these are just words and author names. However, when I say I read to keep my sanity I mean that literally. Oliver Sacks ‘s book delves into astounding cases of people such as the twins who can calendar an event 80 thousand years into the future and into the past—just ask what time of day would it happen/did it happen. Antonin Artaud is known as the enemy of the theatre and real madman himself, and so reading his The Theater and Its Double is a field trip through a head stock full of fantasy and hallucination.
As it is, the lifting of the ECQ has been moved twice, at least where I live, so that it happily it leaves me more time to read the other books inside the bag. This time I’m going for the heavy weights. I have a biography of poet Robert Lowell called Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania and Character at 532 pages including annotations; Half-Light Collected Poems by Frank Bidart 1965-2016 (which I just finished) at 715 pages; and finally, Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas at 1133 pages!
When things get back to normal (granting they would), I would come out of all this a much-mentally souped up person, and perhaps a little less sun-tanned.