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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 30)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 30 April 13th, 2020

Trento, Italy

Change


This is the thirtieth entry in this diary and it’s my intention to head in a different direction next time. From the beginning, I purposely called this project “Quarantine Diaries” in the plural sense, meaning that my intention was always to switch focus at some point. When I began these endeavors on March 15th, the nature of the virus had already more or less made it obvious that we were in this for the long haul; therefore, if I truly wanted to do one entry per day, I would need to diversify the approach.


Sitting here now and writing this, it never seemed to me that I could do thirty substantial entries in such a consecutive fashion: Besides simply talking about my day, I also discussed politics, philosophy, movies, poetry, and current events, among other things.


Thirty is a nice round number and it’s the perfect place for a transition to the “creative” side of this journal. I now plan to write one poem per day about different things, such as my state of mind, what happened, about the future, about what I saw, about what I ate, about what I want to eat but can’t cook—anything that comes to mind, really. Having said that, I do plan on interjecting some prose here and there when the right moment presents itself; for example, April 24th, is one occasion where I plan on doing a prose piece on the Armenian Genocide, along with the 25th, which is Italy’s Liberation Day in WWII.


Ultimately, however, I believe poetry is the primal art for self-expression and I intend on doing the majority of entries in this form to truly embody the name “Quarantine Diaries.” While prose is a powerful tool, for me it leans a little too heavily in the direction of philosophy—it’s too logical, if I may. I’ve enjoyed discussing various things using the essay form and opening myself up in that way, but besides keeping me sane, it lacked the fulfilling aspect of poetry.


Novels, likewise, which are constructed with creative prose, are a relatively new art form when compared to poetry, even if we make this judgment with less Eurocentric standards, taking into account Eastern novels, such as The Tale of Genji.


On the European continent also, there were novels being written as early as the second century AD. The Golden Ass by Apuleius is the only work in this form to survive in its entirety, but it shows that contrary to popular belief, Don Quixote isn’t really the first novel if we consider the Roman Empire a part of the European legacy, which I think is safe to do.


Nevertheless, these Roman novels are still quite new compared to the Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, which was composed around 2000 years before those works. Poetry also had a major role in Ancient Greece, where plays thrived as well, but novels didn’t really exist at that time; the main modes of expression revolved around performance, which poetry and theater, by their very nature, have no problem with; however, the solitary pursuit of reading in the spirit of aristocratic leisure wasn’t a common activity in those days. Likewise, the evidence that novels did exist much earlier than people realize still doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t actually become a popular art form until the 18th century.


Well, that’s enough history. Let’s move on to more personal matters. My brother and I are on Easter break, so we decided to take a walk in the woods again. It’s a privilege that’s become more worthy than gold. Taking the same route today, we noticed how strange it is for people to miss things which are right in front of their eyes. For example, this oddity so far away from the road—how did it get here?

If this is a stolen hubcap that someone has hidden in plain sight, it would, in the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, best be called “The Purloined Hubcap.” However, I don’t think there’s any incriminating evidence or even significance attached to this particular piece; all in all, I do readily admit that it’s hidden very well in plain sight because in all this time we passed it, the thing never made itself noticeable. Truly, the Prefect in Poe’s story makes a big mistake when he infers that “all poets are fools.”


Moving along our walk, my brother noticed a beautiful stretch of forest. Again, something which was hidden in plain sight before, now opened itself to us when we looked at it from a different “perspective.” Experiences like this have happened to me so many times that it’s not far-fetched to believe that I’m a different person on any given day; everyone must feel like that, I guess.

After we reached our usual stopping point, we ironically reflected upon society—among the silence and the creek’s gentle sound, which really is a part of that stillness. The world is meaningless and full of significance at the same time; people are free to be what they want, but every single one of society’s categories has very little freedom within it. In his book, Being and Nothingness, Jean Paul-Sartre talked about his concept of bad faith—a phenomenon which describes how social pressure causes people to put on a persona, embrace false values, and thus give up their own freedom by acting inauthentically to meet the demands of society. Essentially, the world gives you the freedom to become anyone; however, there’s very little freedom in the way you can execute the chosen role—your own liberty, thus, isn’t in fact your own but merely the extension of the public’s will. Sartre himself describes the concept like this:


“The public demands of them that they realize it as ceremony; there is the dance of the grocer, of the tailor, of the auctioneer, by which they endeavor to persuade their clientele that they are nothing but a grocer, an auctioneer, a tailor. A grocer who dreams is offensive to the buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer. Society demands that he limit himself to his function as a grocer, just as the soldier at attention makes himself into a soldier-thing with a direct regard which does not see at all, which is no longer meant to see….”


The only thing I really wish for is to see like a poet; my ideal job description, then, would be to notice things that nobody else notices. I want to be both like and unlike the minister in Poe’s play; with regard to the former, I want the courage to hide my secrets in plain sight, and with regard to the latter, I’d rather not have the secrets he has to begin with.


I think Sartre is right: We won’t find freedom in work; however, I think we can find it in nature precisely because there’s no society there—no public to limit the definition of your role. The Japanese are strong believers in using the healing powers of the forest; the practice is called shinrin-yoku, which literally means “forest bath.” If people let the forest enter through all their five senses, they can walk back out into society with a renewed sense of energy—to feel refreshed, so to say. The majority of people living in the city, however, have a very limited connection to nature; they’ve left the “woods” almost completely, not just in the physical sense but also in the psychological.


Indeed, on our way back, we went down to the river and I thought about renewal. As I looked at the water, I remembered that everything is changing all the time. I thought about opposites and how civilization has become both destructive to humanity and at the same time the only mechanism for its survival. At the bank of the river, I thought about Heraclitus, and his doctrine of constant flux. Could it be true that the polluted and pure are the same thing? That drinkable and undrinkable water are identical substances?

I looked at the river and thought about that good philosopher’s words: “Sea is the most pure and the most polluted water; for fishes it is drinkable and salutary, but for men it is undrinkable and deleterious.” What would Heraclitus think of our cities? I don’t know and maybe I don’t want to know; if, according to his theory, we can’t step into the same river twice, maybe we can’t walk back into the same city either. I hope so.


All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.


Until next time with poetry.


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