Issue 4, Volume 17
My bedroom window looks out onto a stretch of Sydney Rd at the south end of Brunswick, not exactly the centre of the CBD but still a fairly busy hub of shopping and nightlife. When I first moved in two years ago, it was difficult to sleep with the late-night sounds of a restless suburb. Over time I acclimated - the sounds of traffic, bars and restaurants simply turned into white-noise. This past weekend however, people have stopped coming out, the bars have closed, and the streets have emptied. Now it’s been the silence that’s keeping me awake.
I hadn’t planned on publishing anything for a while, at least not under my own name. Even on Tuesday morning this still feels mildly embarrassing and self-important to write; despite a pandemic sweeping the globe, a rising death toll, and hundreds of thousands becoming unemployed, the residual English-Protestant sensibilities I inherited from my parents are scolding me for making a fuss. But these last few weeks have been surreal. In the last few days, De Minimis has cancelled or postponed about a half dozen stories we had in the works - somehow, given everything that’s going on, running a story about the budget for law ball this year now seems distinctly trivial. It just seems appropriate to mark the occasion somehow – what the hell should we all be thinking right now?
As a lot of people have noted, one of the biggest challenges of the Coronavirus outbreak has been keeping our internal firmware up to date as to what the appropriate reaction should be. Around late-February I was pretty happy to join the ranks of armchair epidemiologists growing on social media, even as I scoffed at my parents who started telling me to stock up on canned goods. In mid-March, going into self-isolation at home was annoying, but also felt kind of fun in a childlike ‘build-a-pillow-fort-adventurism’ kind of way. It wasn’t until 5:00am this morning when I was out jogging (now that I’m trying to do my exercise when the streets are empty), and I saw a line of people camped outside the local Centrelink office, stretching around the block, that things began feeling scary.
Looking back at myself over the past month, it is comedic how misaligned my priorities seem in retrospect. At the start of semester, I was worried about whether I’d get to sit next to my friends in class, I was psyching myself up to buy a new coffee machine, and was going to the gym in preparation to take some updated photos for my Bumble account. This week I’m worried about a friend being stranded overseas by a rapidly closing web of international borders; I’m wondering when the next time I’m going to be able to physically touch another human being will be; and like many of my peers I’m anxious about whether I’ll have a job next month and looking at the approaching prospect of graduating into a global economic recession that’s being predicted to overshadow the first half-decade of our working lives. At the same time, I’ve become crueller in my attitudes toward others than I thought I was. Watching people sitting down in cafes together, crowding onto trams, and an invite I received to attend a ‘lockdown party’ has awoken not just a revulsion at moral negligence, but indeed an atavistic loathing for human inadequacy which I didn’t know I possessed.
Despite all of this, it’s still hard to properly calibrate an emotive response. Part of my problem, which I suspect some of you may also feel, is that there’s something about a global pandemic which in the abstract, almost seems kind of cool. Yes – I have terrestrial concerns about my friends, my finances or my elderly parents, but at the same time the prospect of cities shutting down and hospitals being overwhelmed cuts too close to the zombie-apocalypse fanboyism of my high school self. When I find myself checking for updates on the number of cases in the United States, I almost feel a pang of disappointment when I see that the numbers haven’t been updated from that morning. There’s a grotesque voyeurism at play, brought about by the feeling of detachment as our bedrooms are rapidly turning into our classrooms, offices and social spaces for the indefinable future.
I wish I had a segue to conclude this self-therapy session masquerading as an editorial that wasn’t cliched, but it turns out I don’t. So, I will say, that although humans may not always be smart, I do think that we can at least be kind. The past week I’ve seen an explosion in the feeling of communal solidarity online. Our meme pages are working overtime, I’m playing virtual chess with classmates who I’ve never spoken to outside of the lecture hall, and I’ve been receiving check-ins from old friends whom I haven’t spoken with in years. I’ve always been interested in the sociology of MLS - the distinct culture that arose from our quasi-isolation on campus. I used to think that there was something focal about the building itself, good old ‘185’, as an indefinable centre of the law school. Now that we’re transitioning into a digital community, rendered incorporeal by physical separation but connected through a thousand laptop and phone screens across the city – I’m glad to see that I was wrong. Our culture, our interactions, the things we care about all seem destined to change but they will persist. Three weeks ago, I wrote that the role of De Minimis was in part to collect the stories of our community. I don’t know what our stories are going to look like in the future, but I hope that you’ll keep telling them.