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My Quarantine: More Time Now?

Despite the assumption, hostile to me, that we have “more time now,” I still prefer television shows under thirty minutes.

Joseph Okpako/WireImage

Headie One performing at O2 Academy Brixton, London, November 10, 2019

My dad is very sick with a cancer that is spreading and spreading and because he asked, because he never asks, I drove 500 miles away from Manhattan, across the northern border, to help care for him (after, of course, my Canadian government-surveilled quarantine). “Don’t judge me, take care of me,” sings FKA twigs on a two-minute interlude I must have listened to on repeat for an hour straight. The song is off of London drill artist Headie One’s 2020 mixtape with producer Fred again.., GANG, which really got me: confessional, silky, short. On a 2019 song called “Nearly Died,” he raps, “I don’t glamorize jail, them lonely nights, they were shit.” Not long after, he was sentenced to six months. He was released in early April, documenting his first day out on Instagram, wearing a protective mask before hopping into a helicopter. He has the kind of post-release support most people don’t (as Rikers Island has one of the highest infection rates on the planet). On GANG’s “Smoke,” Headie One says, “I know how it feels to be forgotten,” gesturing to the uninhabitable conditions under which many black people live.

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Because rap was my only religion, I grew up knowing that strip clubs were a special nexus of society, where race, sex, class, and gender collide. They weren’t without harm, but where was? Not even our homes, as my friends and I knew early on. The Players Club (1998), directed by Ice Cube and starring Jamie Foxx, Terrence Howard, and Bernie Mac alerted me to the strip club’s historical significance when I was being implicitly told by some teachers and feminists we should repudiate sex work entirely. A document of racial capitalism, the film’s force is not in the male stars but in the women actors: LisaRaye McCoy, Adele Givens, and Chrystale Wilson are this film’s auteurs. They are mesmeric, brutal. And their poetic Nineties outfits—bejeweled cowgirl hats, bottle-blond wigs and teeny halter tops—are something like a social practice. I watched The Players Club because I was dreaming of another world beyond my apartment walls.

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Despite the assumption, hostile to me, that we have “more time now,” I still prefer television shows under thirty minutes. I’m just so tired every night and need something short and quick. I’m on the final season of Nurse Jackie but I’m afraid of what comes next. Will Jackie, the pill addict played brilliantly by Edie Falco, ever recover? Will she realize she can’t ever be fully recovered? During the pandemic, many rehabs and detoxes have closed. People’s regular support systems have been disrupted—meetings, therapy, access to harm reduction kits, clean syringes, addiction medication. I can’t help but think of all this, watching TV, sitting on the couch, biting my nails. You see why I can only tolerate a half hour at a time.

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Slim novels, too, give me some relief. Natalie Bakopoulos’s Scorpionfish, out this summer, is a story that has been told a million times: a smart young woman in a chaotic city—in this case, Athens—getting eaten alive by global capitalism, a state that mirrors her inner turmoil. But it is only rarely told in a way that feels as true to being a woman intellectual, as it does in this book. Echo on the Bay by Masatsugu Ono and translated by Angus Turvill was an apt chance companion to the social upheavals playing out in the background of Scorpionfish. Here, an offbeat cast of characters in a small fishing village in Japan grapple with corrupt local politics, domestic violence, indentured workers, and policing. Hellishness is everywhere yet constantly falling through one’s hands like sand, and life itself.

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I gave up meat for Lent—don’t ask me why—and kept going after Easter, but I still eat fish every now and again. I felt extravagant, so I bought a whole red snapper for dinner. Fish shouldn’t smell like fish, I’ve read, but like the water it lives in: oceanic, fresh, perfect. I scored the little cutie, stuffed it with lemon, ginger, garlic, and roasted it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit and served it with the simplest salad. When it was done, moist but crisp on the outside, I spent the next hour picking at it with my hands. As a kid, I was taught to eat the eyeballs. I love the drama of a whole fish. My next red snapper project is escovitch, a Jamaican dish topped with vinegary vegetables and scotch bonnet peppers.

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I often get tired of talking (especially to my mother—sorry mom!!) but three times a week, over FaceTime, my mother and I do a workout she found online, something she calls “Lisa’s Lungetime Special”: twenty squats, ten push-ups, twenty lunges, ten dumbbell rows, a fifteen-second plank, thirty jumping jills. All done three times. It’s a way to be together without relying on conversation, which so often falls flat. I’ve also very occasionally done some strength training videos, and have been attending livestreamed yoga classes near daily. I don’t attach myself to yoga. I’m more comfortable diving into oblivion through the mindlessness of running, but now daily life seems to require confronting an entanglement of mind and body that I have long avoided. After almost fifteen consecutive years of beating my body up, I still have to learn every day anew that exercise really does bolster my will to live, or to at least keep going.

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This is part of “My Quarantine,” a continuing NYR Daily series in which our contributors share how they’re spending their time while social distancing. 

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