Weird Little Quarantine Girl
by: Ashley Dashdorj-Escobar , October 5, 2020
by: Ashley Dashdorj-Escobar , October 5, 2020
I am nineteen, and I am in quarantine. We have all been in quarantine, though some red states have begun to open up. Their malls and beaches are packed. California has become a shut-in. It has not gone up in flames. We have become a ghost town. I am not a doctor; I am not an essential worker. I have done what I have been doing for most of my life—staying indoors, reading, and occasionally writing a letter to a friend. I do not understand what this pandemic means to me—a first-generation college student studying a major entirely of my creation. A major so specific it is called a ‘Plan.’ My Plan is titled Human Connection and Solitude, but this year has mainly been spent exploring the latter. My friends take it as a time to trade turnips on Animal Crossing. They’ll all be comfortably back in school in the fall, but I cannot afford to be sent home again. I already had to flee Berlin in the spring. I reread Edie Parker’s memoir You’ll Be Okay, about her life with Jack Kerouac, as I sit in isolation instead of wandering outdoors like I used to.
Parker writes, ‘They filled their days with drink, music, and philosophical conversation, and I barely managed to subsist on mayonnaise sandwiches. In the end, I had to eat or be eaten’ (2007: 21). The ‘they’ she refers to are the men—the Beatniks, the ones who drove across America in search of their personal freedom. They couldn’t be bothered with day-to-day needs and household chores. Their spiritual truth lay in uncleaned motel rooms and roadside diners. They still expected there to be food on the table when they made the rare visit home. It is odd to me that a voice from the forties, writing about the very youth she lost to tradition, is now what young people on Tumblr would like to become. There is a dangerous line between the Cottagecore aesthetic and being a Tradwife. One is embracing so-called femininity through embroidery and gardening in long dresses, while the latter is concerned with saving conventional gender roles and complete submission to one’s husband. Even Edie Parker was liberated from a homemaker to breadwinner, though the limitations at the time did not allow her to go ‘on the road’ like Jack. I do not want to imagine why there is a rise in domestic violence. They call it a double pandemic.
I have stopped counting days. I know it has been at least a couple of months. I am beginning to forget what I look like, how others perceive me. I am gaining fewer and fewer likes on Instagram. People are getting bored with social media. Everything looks the same yet different, because the tiny squares are all we have to go off. It seems like time is slipping through my fingertips. I mark the weeks by which songs I listened to the most. This week it is ‘Kick the Tragedy’ by Drop Nineteens. There is a line at the end of the song, after the seemingly endless shoegaze, where the singer says, ‘It’s even funny when you stop to realize / I’m just nineteen, and how serious can anything be anyway? / Not very.’ But there is something serious about COVID-19. As serious as having to call the Employment Development Department eighty-three times to get on a line with an actual person. A living human being. We are beginning to forget what that is like.
The numbers become meaningless. We succumb to an online reality where people share photos of their banana bread. There is still a demand to be seen. I live stream clubs in Berlin, remembering the confidence I once had waiting in a long line to get the bouncer’s approval. Now that anyone can join the party, it seems less special. Berger writes, ‘The spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others, an envy which will then justify her loving herself’ (1974: 134). Without the approval and clout of a bouncer liking the image I give off or want to create, the product becomes less sellable. Now I turn off my video setting on Zoom. Most of the girls in my class do. Perception becomes our reality.
I have not interacted with a man in days, yet the male gaze persists. I am determined to remind others of my existence, that I am still alive, but I cannot seem to find anything to post. My mother tells me not to wear a ruffled crop top outside when we go on one of our weekly walks. I’ll attract unwanted attention. Even in the empty streets of San Francisco, I am reminded of the gaze as strange cars honk at me, or a man across the street shouts at me as if he knows me, though he does not. I am an object of desire. I am the passive female passer-by in an objectifying world. Berger writes, ‘Women are depicted in quite a different way from men—not because the feminine is different from the masculine—but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him’ (1974: 64). Is this why I am never satisfied when a female user comments on my Instagram posts?
Masks have become a fashion statement. The new status symbols are overpriced Rag & Bone and Anti Social Social Club face masks. I wear a mask outside for solidarity. I wear a mask as I pass by picnickers on the lawn, nowhere close to six feet apart.
I go on Tinder for recognition, but it feels uncanny swiping right on people I will probably never meet anytime soon. Each swipe is a pipe dream. A hope for something real, something normal. Though in real life, there are consequences. In the preface of Parker’s memoir, Bill Morgan states, ‘but the women paid the price of sexual liberation. They were the ones who became pregnant, had abortions or raised children alone and without support, while the men moved on to other experienced unfettered’ (Kerouac-Parker 2007: 19). The men who ask for nudes on Snapchat without anything in exchange, or to pass onto their friends, have the privilege of simply logging off and moving on to their next target. If this were a simulation, then the deaths wouldn’t make this large an impact. Dr Lorna M. Breen would not have committed suicide, and we would all be living in an online world where everyone is consistently friendly and happy. We would not be as worried about our appearance and social media presence. I would still like to live in the country without any photographic proof of the bread I bake or the foxgloves I grow. Have you made your avatar on Facebook yet?
Berger, John (1972), Ways of Seeing, London: BBC Enterprises.
Drop Nineteens (1992), ‘Kick the Tragedy’, Delaware, Caroline Records Inc, 2016.
Kerouac, Edie Parker (2007), You’ll Be Okay: My Life with Jack Kerouac, San Franciso: City Lights Books.
McNamara, Shannon (2020), ‘Tradlife versus Cottagecore: Similar Aesthetics with Very Different Values’, Fluently Forward, 7 April 2020, www.fluentlyforward.com/home4/tradlife-versus-cottagecore-similar-aesthetics-with-very-different-values (last accessed 6 August 2020).
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