March 6, 2020
In a way this is a journal within a journal.
I say this because the immortalartist blog is in many ways me and my way of thinking about creativity. A lot of other people have become involved since I started it 5 years ago, but at its core its me and my own creative journey.
In recent weeks though the world has been turned upside down by a creeping virus that just might reshape the whole world.
I don't discuss it much on this site, but I have almost no immune system. What's left of it does its best to keep me healthy. I never let it get to me. In fact I think it makes me work all the harder as an artist because I am never really sure how much time I will ever have.
So you can understand that I've been paying more than a little attention to the recent Coronavirus epidemic.
We made a few decisions over the last week. Since I know there are other artists who will be at risk from this virus, I thought it might be helpful if I posted my own journey through this as the virus takes its hold on the world.
While trying not to panic yet make certain adjustments to our life while we are still able, we've begun to implement certain precautions into our life built with one goal. Keeping me alive.
I'm no fool and I am under no illusion. I will be 55 in August. I have little to no immune system. I am diabetic and I am prone to pneumonia from even a simple cold. My chances of survival are slim if I am exposed to this.
So let me first tell you some of the things my partner and I have implemented in the past few weeks.
We made the decision that it might be time to take some cautious steps towards survival almost two weeks ago. We purchased the safety items that we might well need such as masks hand sanitizer and lots of Lysol. We made sure they were spaced around our home and we began teaching ourselves to use them often.
We bought a bit of extra basic foods for the house and we arranged for our medications to be delivered to us rather than going to pick them up ourselves. We educated ourselves on what we needed to know and we informed friends and family of the decision that would quietly back out of events and places where there were a lot of people.
We celebrated one last time by going out to the last day of Mardi Gras, which as of the time of this writing was 9 days ago.
Since that time we've gradually pulled back from going out too often. Post office trips which were a daily occurrence were now down to every few days. Food from this point on will be gotten either late at night when the grocery stores are no full of people or better yet through a variety of delivery services.
We are very fortunate. Within the walls of this house I have an indoor studio stalked with the various art supplies I use the most. I have an outdoor studio located in a private backyard and secluded by fences and trees. I have project spaces outdoors where I can create whatever I wish. All of this secured with a private locked gate that keeps everyone out.
In some ways this is a wish come true for an artist who wants to spend all their time creating.
But its funny, the mind can play tricks on you. I've spent many days in the past where I did not go out at all or at the most once every few days. But the concept of not being able to go beyond the walls of my private domain is a strange feeling.
I was seized today with a need to go beyond the walls today. Perhaps one last look around for awhile. I drove, feeling I'm safe within my vehicle and my partner went into various places where we needed things, always returning to quickly sanitize hands first.
I felt in some ways that this was a test run. Could we limit our interactions now before there was a massive threat. I kept thinking "are we ready?".
This doesn't feel real yet. It feels like some sort of silly game we are playing. I think about John Travolta and the Boy in the Plastic Bubble (yes a reference to an ancient crap movie from the past).
We aren't ready as a society to shut ourselves in. Billy and I have so many more advantages than some. We drove past a homeless encampment beneath the expressway. Hundreds of tents clustered together. What happens to these people? Are they even aware of the imminent threat that may be coming their way?
Has the city even considered them? Or will many of them die and not be discovered for days or weeks?
We talk about Stephen King's book "The Stand" as we pass the homeless. Will they be burning bodies if this thing gets out of hand? Will there be bodies in the street? Or is this all just baseless fears.
I think about the terrible days after Hurricane Katrina when there really were bodies in the street and how much it took the city to recover after it was over. And I think about this being multiplied by a whole nation and a whole world. And I am frightened.
As an artist, I try to capture every thought and every picture in my mind. If I do survive, I will want to remember these things. I will not want to forget anymore than I did in the days of the hurricane. I am witness to the chaos and there is a reason for it. I will not squander my ability to watch and learn and teach back to others through my art.
With these thoughts in mind I finally sat down to begin this journal within a journal. To keep a daily reminder of what we are feeling, thinking and fearing as this nightmare approaches us.
There are no cases of the virus here in New Orleans as of the time of this writing, or at least none that we are aware of. When that happens though, it will slam into this city like a giant rock.
This is a tourist city. It is built on the money people spend to visit it. With millions of tourists a year, this may cripple us in a way that we have seen before during Katrina, but perhaps a hundred fold worse.
My biggest problem in this past week has been fighting a lethargy that keeps creeping over me. A need to stay in bed a bit longer and go to bed again much sooner than I usually would. It creeps into my creativity and shatters my ideas and inspiration. Its too early let those feelings overtake me.
I will not shut myself completely off from the world yet. I have several body painting sessions next week and interviews with models and artists. I will not stop until I must because I need those sessions and those models badly. I need them to motivate me to get up. I need them to force me into creative mode. I need them them because I need to forget that there may be a day coming very soon when I must finally close the gate and lock it tightly for my own safety and health.
Its this I dread the most. It won't stop me from creating unless I let it.
Regardless I will keep words in this journal within a journal as long as I can and as long as I am healthy enough to do so.
And the words of a climate scientist come back to me once again. "The world will protect herself". Perhaps she has begun doing so already...
I think the most difficult thing during the transitional state between everything being normal and everything cycling towards chaos. While I stayed put in the compound throughout the day, there was an amazing amount of revelry going on around us. This is festival season in New Orleans. Here in our uptown neighborhood we have Second Line parades almost every weekend. Today saw two of them with a lot of neighborhood house parties all around us.
I remember the night before Hurricane Katrina. We were packing the car and getting ready to go to work for one last shift. We were going to leave at 6am the following morning. As I packed the car and strapped the most important belongings to the roof, there was a big party going on down the street. Revelers in gaudy costumes passed by me while I labored with my packing. They seemed totally oblivious that there was even a reason to leave the city.
It bothered me to the extreme. I wanted to go shouting down the street calling them all morons and telling them to get the hell out of the city while they still could. But there was an apathy in the city. The last major hurricane had been in 1969. And even that hurricane season had seen nothing but false alarms that frustrated the population. The result was that total lack of caring. We aren't going anywhere. This is nothing!.
But today was different. Its hard to take a threat seriously when all you get is conflicting information on the television and a constant message that this is really no big deal. Yes, to those who are healthy, it is nothing worse than a case of the flu. For those who are not healthy, there is something to fear. Death is no laughing matter.
But as I listened to the bands around me today, I silently applauded them. Celebrate and take joy today, because tomorrow you my cry at the loss of family and friends not so fortunate enough to be as healthy as you.
Morbid thoughts I realize, but very hard to steer away from them.
That lethargy continues for me that just wants me to go to sleep and not wake up for a very long time. Its more than just the virus. Its a constant feeling of being beaten down by the racists and hateful in our society right now and a president who leads them. Its about a climate that perhaps has passed the point of no return. Its about so much more that I could stand up against before the virus came and put the cherry on the top of a pretty fucked up world.
But even with this lethargy, when I did sleep last night I had bad disjointed dreams that woke me over and over again. At 5:30 I finally got up and padded silently to my studio with the intention of creating some art that would at least lighten my spirit. This was the result.
I am not really sure why I chose Jayne Mansfield as the subject other than she was a great candidate in the Deaths Head series. But then I remembered she died here in New Orleans in a terrible car accident. Maybe that is why I chose her without even consciously realizing it.
Have you ever been in a situation where for whatever irrational reasons, your brain starts tallying up all the things you should do that you haven't gotten to? This is something that I know a lot of cancer patients go through. Some call it a bucket list, but I am talking about something far simpler. A need to make sure your affairs are in order, just in case and a need to make every minute count before they run out.
When I was diagnosed with AIDS 6 years ago, I ran into this feeling constantly. My immediate thought then was to panic that I hadn't accomplished enough to leave behind me when I was gone.
In fact, this blog is a direct result of those times. I felt then that it was not enough to just leave some good art behind, but that I needed to leave some kind of record of my creative journey and what I learned along the way. It wasn't easy. I was near death at that time. I could barely even get out of bed for awhile. To me AIDS was like a sleeping sickness, where each day got a little slower and a little more tiring until I would have just gone to sleep one day and never woken back up.
Thankfully with the love and support of my partner who cared for me during those times I was able to resume my life as an artist with far more vigor than before.
I began this blog and started what I call a conversation with the future. Everything in here is I hope helpful to today's artists, but honestly most of it was written to leave some sort of passing legacy behind me that the artists and creatives of the future could learn from.
Now five years later, thousands of words later and a million plus visitors to the site, I can at least say that that part of me will remain, or so I hope. In the past years I've tried very hard to live each day as it is, accomplish all I can and try to help others along the way.
That feeling never really went away though of wondering when the last day might be. Now things have come full circle. The illness that originally destroyed my immune system has come to mean my possible destruction once again. But this time I'm not spending most of my time asleep. I'm awake, I'm healthier than I was then and I've accomplished a hell of a lot in the time given me. While I am not afraid of death, I am afraid I haven't yet done enough though.
I was outside this afternoon working on the Imaginarium and I caught myself calculating the best way to accomplish as much as I could on it before I got sick again. This is a poisonous thought process I am well aware. When I realized I was doing it, I tried to stop thinking that way. But is hard. We are all on the cusp of something pretty damned frightening and while I am not letting it freeze me in my tracks, its so very difficult to not think in terms of days rather than years once more.
What else do I need to do? How do I wrap up my small legacy in a way that will let me rest in peace? I am not sure there is a way to quantify that.
But if it makes me a stronger person and a better artist then its worth going through it even if all is well in the end.
Trust me, I have no death wish. But every day I see the news reports repeating the same over and over again. This will pass but its deadly for those with compromised immune systems, who are prone to pneumonia and who are diabetic. I'd be a fool if I didn't feel like there was a bulls eye on my back right now.
But for the moment, I must rise to the occasion, keep working as hard as I can and smile a lot. If anything I owe that to Billy, who does not deserve or need me moping around and dwelling on fears of the coming weeks and months. I owe it to myself to do nothing to stifle my own creative journey.
Around 3pm we got the word that the first infected person had been identified in New Orleans. Its funny. We've been expecting it for days that it should have come as no shock. But I admit it did.
I wasn't really sure if I should be angry or not. Instead I just felt sad inside and a bit numb.
The first thing I did was to cancel what activities I still had scheduled. A body painting that was supposed to be done tonight was the first thing I cancelled. Interviews with prospective models came next. And last I pulled ads for some upcoming classes I wanted to teach in the new studio. I emailed those who were waiting for me to schedule appointments and let them know there would be no further appointments for the near future.
It was a strange feeling doing so. I felt like I was making some excuse or something. That none of it was real. Everyone took it well and with great understanding. But it left me feeling even more numb.
Billy and I both knew that this was not the time to just sit and be depressed. He went out to do some gardening. I went out to work on the enclosure for a bit. But there was a sense of almost being a third party, the body was doing something, the mind was elsewhere.
I kept thinking "Am I an alarmist?" I seem very healthy. I work hard, I create harder, I don't let physical illness get me down anymore than I can manage.
Then I think about my immune system. For those who don't know, the immune system is measured by something called a CD4 count. A healthy immune system is between 500 - 1,500. When I was originally diagnosed with AIDS my CD4 was at 94. Basically there was no immune system. Now after 6 years, my CD4 is at 295. I am not in the AIDS category anymore, but I am still seriously compromised. For this reason alone, I am not being an alarmist. But when you add my problem of pneumonia from even the simplest cold and that I am diabetic, I think I have a right to be an alarmist. I'm one of those people that the news keeps saying, stay in your home!
So I am effectively in isolation now.
It won't stop me. Not much does. But I think I might need a day or so to adjust to this and realize I'm at least one step closer to and ending I would prefer not to have.
So life goes on.....
As expected today brought several more cases of the virus to New Orleans and a closure of most public events at least through this weekend. Heaven forbid the city should say that this will be long term. We all know it will be, but we don't want to create a panic do we???
We were out this morning for me to get my every three month blood work done. I was hesitant to enter the clinic in the first place. But having my blood work done is equally important for the other medical risks in my life. So I didn't skip it.
There was a table set up at the entry door with several people behind it and a woman standing near the door who immediately stopped us.
She began immediately asking us if we knew what the Coronavirus was. My response was to tell her that we were late for my lab appointment and that I'd already been in semi-quarantine for several weeks and yes we knew what it was. She instantly got upset at my words and then stepped into our personal space. I stepped back, appalled that she was getting in my face. She said "So your sick???" I replied that no I was not sick, but I was taking precautions and was here for blood work. That made her step even closer and asked if I was getting blood work for the virus?
Now anyone that knows me knows that if you get in my face and start asking questions I AM going to react and not in a good way. I stepped away again towards the door and said I'm not sick and I'm late! She reached for me, but one of the other women at the table said "let him through" and looked disgusted at the whole interaction.
It was not until I got upstairs that I realized that they were screening people at the door who might be there because they were already sick and wanted them to wear masks if they were going in. Mind you the signs for this were in the lobby, NOT where the women were at. Rather than simply saying "we are checking for symptoms at the door, she just launched into the whole question and answer thing without any explanation of why.
It was a learning experience and I admit I could have handled it better, but so could they. They are the professionals, not me. In fact I felt more like a professional, armed with better information.
We got through the rest of the lab tests without incident and beat a hasty retreat out.
We all have a lot to learn in this new environment.
Listening to the Mayors press conference later in the day I noted how much more concerned they were about the economics of the city rather than the threat to life. Yes it was all couched in terms of "we are there for you" language. But it kept coming back to the warnings to keep spending money and go about your life normally, UNLESS you were in a high risk category.
What seems missing is that going out and leading a normal life will inevitably return the virus to those trying to stay away from it. Its only logical that if a family member is at risk and you go out for a night on the town to support the bars and clubs and you come in contact with the virus, you WILL bring it back to the person at risk.
When we got home from blood work we were both so exhausted that we ended up going back to sleep for several hours. Its not even that being out was physically tiring, but the concerns, fears, changes in how we do things is exhausting. Its impossible to get away from it. And even more difficult to find my creative energy. It seems to be sapped out of me.
Its raining right now. If it stops I will try to work on the enclosure tonight. But we'll see what happens. Sometimes I feel like I am building my own tomb out there. Morbid ain't it?
We are going to be a whole different people when we come out the other side of this. Its inevitable.
6 now have the virus in New Orleans. It seemed like an endless series of press conferences and doctors advice saying the same thing over and over again. Wash your hands, but don't stop spending money.
The ineptitude of the trumps White House is beyond anything I've ever thought could happen. In the end he may be responsible for more deaths than any other leader in our history because of the fucked up way they've managed this whole pandemic. For every person that gets up on the podium and says "there are lots of tests available", there are twice as many saying they can't get tested.
Billy and I talked a little about it last night of what he should do in the event I get sick. I was honest with him, its not the dying that scares me. Its being locked away in a hospital away from any comfort until I die thats frightens me the most. He promised me that if I do get sick, he would not force me to go to the hospital even if it meant him keeping me comfortable in my final hours. What a morbid and sad conversation to have. I am sure it won't be the last of its kind.
I woke determined to find my creative balance today. Once I was awake enough I started work on several parts of the enclosure. The first was to begin building a border wall around the Buddha grotto. Using pages from a Buddhist prayer book that I got at one of the estate sales and augmenting it with glyphs, I began slowly working down one side of the grotto with intricate raised glyphs. I didn't get as far as I wanted to, but its a start.
I also began creating the rock wall called the Oracle Wall. When this is done the surface will mimic a cave wall and have cave art painted on it around the various heads embedded in the wall. This wall was created not from a single panel of styrofoam but from 12 smaller panels. As a result there are seams that can be seen. The solution was to seal the wall under clay and foaming glue to create a cave like surface. This one will take several days to completely cover.
I wish I'd gotten further, but at least its something. I woke with a bad headache this morning that's clung around all day, so I sort of felt like I was creating from within a bubble. Bad dreams and waking up every few minutes does that to me.
At one point I stopped while I was working and just watched the birds playing above me in the Devil Tree. It was so beautiful with the sun cascading through the branches and the birds singing that for a moment I couldn't believe there was so much trouble in the world at the moment. It seemed unreal in so many ways.
Tonight I will light the candles in the enclosure and perhaps just sit outside in the candlelight for a time and try to find a bit of balance. Too much information flooding in today from every corner of the world and so many people that seem so totally oblivious to it all.
Keep creating......keep creating......keep creating. Its all I have.
For a change I woke up to a small piece of good news. During the night my bloodwork came back from the lab. To my surprise my CD4 which measures the strength of my immune system had made a major jump from from 295 three months ago to 372 as of this past Tuesday. Thats a pretty major jump. When I look back at bloodwork over the past few years my CD4 never jumped more than 10-25 points and in some cases went back down. Its nowhere near normal but its a sight better than it was and a pleasant surprise.
The mornings have been rough the past few weeks. Bad sleep, worse dreams, little in the way of good news, all make for feeling pretty low both mentally and physically when I first wake up.
But something Billy said to me yesterday stuck in my mind during the night and into waking. We were both feeling pretty low yesterday evening. There was little positive news and the news conference by the fool in the White House had left us both feeling sick. Then my husband in his wisdom said "You know if these are our last days together, lets not live them unhappily".
He was absolutely right. Taking joy each other and in lives well lived should always be the point anyway. I'm in a fantastic relationship with someone who I care deeply about and who treats me like king (although I rarely deserve it). We may be trapped, but we have a beautiful house filled with art and color and sunshine. For the moment (unless the delivery services fail), we have food and the most important things in life. If we worry about whats going to happen tomorrow then we are destined for unhappiness.
We will have our bad moments. That's only human nature. But we can take some joy also when its presented to us.
Today we have a beautiful day out. I will spend it outside, enjoying the sunshine through the trees as I continue to work on the towering enclosure in the backyard, better known as Grey's Imaginarium. Its a place to dream in.
This is a truly odd isolation that we and others are finding ourselves in. We can go out on the porch and enjoy the day. Billy can work on his gardening and I on my outside art. I can go anyplace in the car as long as I don't get out of it or if I do, only where there are no others around. We can take a few hours to drive out of the city and take a walk in the woods, or along the river. But if we see others, we steer clear.
This is isolation on a mental level as much as a physical. We find ourselves to be physical islands amongst humanity now and not one community with common purpose.
We can talk to friends online. We can hear about what colleagues 10,000 miles are experiencing. We know all the news of the world. We can fret over it, debate it, gripe about the things our governments are not doing. Yet we cannot do something as simple as go out to lunch with a friend.
We can order food online, buy groceries, or even art supplies for delivery. We can even have them delivered same day. But we cannot browse the shelves of the store down the street. Support our local grocers, or grab a soft drink.
I've thought to myself several times that if the delivery systems begin to go down, we are all fucked. But I try not to dwell on the "what may be's". Its useless and tiring.
Around lunchtime I was outside and five military jets flew low over the city. This is not a unique circumstance. There is a military base not far away and jets are often seen in the air on training maneuvers. I'd usually ignore them.
But this time it angered me.
There were multiple stories this morning about whether it would be necessary to call a state of emergency for the country or even declare martial law. Where was the common sense in sending military jets over the center of a populated city when people are frightened? Are there not enough things to worry about? I'm a very logical person. But there are a hell of a lot of people out there who let fear move them first.
It seems that common sense is something very lacking right now and that just boggles my mind. The jet thing was not a very big thing in relationship to the larger problems facing us. But lets start somewhere and apply some common sense to the small things we can control and work up to the big things. At least its a start.
We were out today to run a few errands. Well Billy was running the errands, I just stayed in the van and kept the windows up.
We have a pretty good system worked out for when we absolutely have to go out for something. We keep a can of lysol in the back of the van. Billy wears gloves if he has to go in somewhere. When he comes out, whatever he's bought goes in the back and gets a thorough spraying down and then left for awhile before we take it out again. Billy uses hand sanitizer on the gloves and then again on himself when he takes them off.
We are trying to minimize trips out but our first delivery from one of those grocery delivery services botched the order and we were forced to go out for cat food. While out, we went to the post office to pick up some packages and we stopped for ice (which the delivery service also forgot). All the places were literally within 5 minutes of home, but we came home exhausted emotionally. The most commonplace errands have turned into major productions where we must plan out each move ahead of time to minimize contact with others.
The cases of the virus doubled here during the night yet people are still wandering around like nothing is going on. The schools close as of Monday. That will put a dent in the traffic patterns.
I've heard younger people say "well its not hurting us too much so why bother?". They are right but how many of them have family that could be harmed? I guess it comes back to common sense again. Not that anyone ever accused New Orleans of having too much common sense. In honesty its one of the things that makes this city unique. But now is the time to think about these kinds of things.
Overall it wasn't a bad day. We both go through moments of utter clarity and moments of absolute sadness. It kills me seeing Billy break down, but I know its part of the process of life right now.
The stories about mass graves being dug in Iran today bothered me a lot. I have visions of bodies piling up in my dreams, then the visions become reality when I see video coming out of places overseas. For us in the states, this is just beginning.
77 Cases in Louisiana (most in New Orleans)
1 Dead in New Orleans
210 People Tested
We've had the first death in New Orleans. It occurred just down the street at Touro hospital. I was there just prior to Mardi Gras for a cold which went into my lungs. It was an interesting visit because unlike previous visits they secluded me in a closed off room and made me keep a mask on the whole time. In retrospect the virus had already begun to move at that time and they knew it. They were taking no chances with me. Thankfully it was nothing more severe than bronchitis. But even that tiny window into the beginning of a pandemic about to happen was enough to put a scare in me.
Its very quiet today. Very little is moving in the neighborhood. I've not even heard a street car go rumbling past today. I have no idea if the public transit system has been shut down yet. I do know that we sit beneath one of the main flight paths for incoming and outgoing flights and I've only heard a single jet today.
I've spent most of my afternoon out in the enclosure working on the cave wall. I'm determined to get it ready for painting by tonight. I've only a few more sections to do to get it where it needs to be. I've set up a work table out there along with a drying fan and of course music playing. The silence bothers me.
Its not a small wall section. Standing almost 10 feet high and 8 across its taken some time to go from a simple styrofoam surface to a rock wall. Its a good task to keep me busy. When I need to let things dry, I move to one of the other walls that are being developed.
Billy said something to me earlier today that I really took to heart. He said "it gives him hope and strength to see me creating". I told him that I felt the same way about him. When he is sitting there on the bed, computer open and a dozen Stephen King books open for research. It fills my heart. He's been working for months on a book about the spirituality of the novels of Stephen King. An appropriate subject in many ways for this moment in time.
It seems to me that the first thing you see in a civilization in decline is the decline of its art. The art is always the first to go and the artists with it. To a desperate people, we serve little purpose. Why aren't we out making usable things that the world needs to survive?
But we do need art. We do need creativity. We lead to innovation. We lead to new ideas. We bring forth art that makes people look at the world in a different way, and that is something we desperately need at all times, both good and bad.
I've often said that I'd rather be a poor artist doing what I do best, than a fat and rich businessman miserable in my existence. Money is the last thing it takes to make most people truly happy to the deepest parts of their soul.
I will keep creating until I am unable to do so. At that point I hope my life is gone quickly because its purpose will be gone for sure.
91 Cases in Louisiana (most in New Orleans)
2 Dead in New Orleans
247 People Tested
We woke this morning to the sounds of gospel music being piped across the neighborhood.
Often in the spring and fall, we keep our front doors open and the screen door locked. This is particularly nice waking up to the fresh morning air. For this day one of the neighbors down the street at turned their music up loudly and the almost eerie sounds of gospel voices filled the air. Nothing else was moving out there.
So we went for a short ride last night into the French Quarter. We were both curious as to how this was effecting life in one of the most famous tourist areas in the country. I wanted to go out and make sure the gas tank was full in the van, just in case there was a need to flee the area at any point.
So we decided to take a cautious windows up/doors locked drive to Bourbon Street.
Bourbon is foot traffic only at night, so I cut across the quarter so that I would cross Bourbon rather than run parallel to it.
We approached a scene of mayhem. The street I was on was on came to a complete standstill two blocks from Bourbon Street. Even through the closed windows we could hear dozens of sirens and police lights and a blaring bullhorn in which we could not make out the words. We could see a half dozen police cars moving slowly down Bourbon.
As the police passed by, the traffic moved again slowly and we crept closer to Bourbon crossing. Closer now, the traffic halted again and more police cars with lights flashing made their way past us.
Then I realized what was happening.
Once a year this same thing occurs. At midnight on Fat Tuesday, the last day of Mardi Gras. The police form a cordon that moves from Canal Street to St Anne pushing the tourists back from the street and into the various bars. This is the symbolic way the city says "Its over! Go away now!". It doesn't really work. The tourists keep the party up until dawn.
This is what we were seeing happening now. There were so many people in the street that the police were vainly trying to get people off to go home!
It was like watching a boat cut through the water. The crowds merely parted for a moment and let the cops go through and then merged back out into the street.
Finally able to cross Bourbon, it was a sea of humanity in either direction. Thousands of people crammed in together, in reckless abandoned. I told Billy later that it reminded me of Prince's song 1999. They were partying like it was the end of the world.
They were dancing in the streets, mind wiped of the potential harm they were causing themselves and others. There were people passed out everywhere, piled in heaps along curbs and in doorways. There was an almost glazed expression on most peoples faces that seemed zombie like. Ghosts who hadn't yet died.
I admit we were both shaken by the time we worked ourselves out of the madness.
I took a few photos through the closed windows while we moved slowly down the street. We drove home in silence, with a sick feeling that had nothing and everything to do with the virus all around us.
136 Cases in Louisiana (Most in New Orleans)
3 Dead in New Orleans
374 People Tested
I see it as important to take a step back from being directly affected by the virus and look at the whole thing through a bystanders eyes. Doing this has leads me to some odd and unusual ideas.
One of those is my Time Traveler theory.
So say that everything they claim about time travel is true. First and foremost is the paradox concept. So consider for a moment that a person from the future traveling into the past would have to choose their destinations very carefully so they would not change anything. So where does that lead the time traveler? First he/she would want to take a closer look at events that changed the world. Wars, natural disasters, plagues, would all be fertile ground for a time traveler that wants to understand history better.
I doubt that just Larry, Moe and Manny would have access to time travel. It would be scientists, historians, biologists, etc who would.
So this leads me to think that if there ever was the possibility of time travel, that NOW, would be the moment to spot them because now, in the midst of a world wide disaster would be the most appealing time for them to visit.
Solitary persons who seem slightly out of place would basically have free reign to visit places that they would otherwise never have access to at normal times. Most of our city centers are empty. Our great monuments, museums and cultural institutions are people-less.
You would not want to visit a disaster just when it was over. You would want to get into the midst of it and see what was really happening. You could do so without any risk because in the future this virus will have cures. You would have less of a chance of screwing up the timeline because things are already in chaos. You'd have less of a chance of being caught because the local populous have their hands full already.
So this leads me to believe that if we were ever going to spot a time traveler, that now is the perfect time. That odd fellow walking down a street that is otherwise devoid of people might just be some nut job, but he might not. That woman over their taking photos is not necessarily a disaster junkie, but a future historian.
"Well Grey, what good is this? Not like I'm going to go out and catch a time traveler like a leprechaun!"
But you miss my point. Regardless of whether this theory is pure rubbish, the point is to make you think. The idea is to make you take a step back from worrying about how your going to get to work or provide for your family and just let your mind wander for a bit.
If we don't, we risk imploding from the pressures building around us and within us. We must take these times to step away from our base instincts and look at a broader picture or else we are all truly doomed...
196 Cases in Louisiana (Most in New Orleans)
531 People Tested
"Another Strange Day in Paradise"
We made the decision last night that we needed to risk at least one large shopping trip to make sure the basics are here with us. We'd relied on delivery services for smaller grocery runs, but it was important to make sure we had stuff on hand in case it got hard to buy anything at all.
So we set an early alarm, figuring that early morning would the best time to go with the most items on the shelves. We braced ourselves for a rough time. Or I should Billy did because I was only allowed to drive and stay in the van.
We geared him up with a good face mask, disposable gloves and even slathered his arms with sanitizer before he went in.
To our surprise, it wasn't a mad house. In fact it was quite sedate. People came and went like any other normal day. There were no cart-fulls of stuff going out the door. We saw a few people wearing a masks and some wearing gloves. But it was eerily normal.
He told me that the selection wasn't the greatest and some items like toilet paper, hamburger and chicken were wiped out. But he managed to get in and out within an hours time.
All the bags were put in the back of the van and blasted with Lysol before we took them back out.
For all the normalcy we still came home exhausted. But now its done and we'll worry about it again the next time we must go out.
The afternoon was made up of working hard to get the new Oracle Wall in the Enclosure base painted. Took me until this evening to get it done, but I completed it. Now on to the fun part.
I'm trying not to notice that the cases in New Orleans jumped by 50+ over night.
Keep creating. I keep telling myself that and everyone around me. Keep creating! Here are some images of the 10' x 8 foot Oracle Wall
281 Cases in Louisiana (Most in New Orleans)
704 People Tested
No entry today. Its been a bad day and my energy level crapped out on me. Too much to worry about and woke up with a splitting headache. Took most of the day off from everything. The stats speak for themselves.
Moments of vision and moments of mist laden thoughts...
347 Cases in Louisiana
805 People Tested
I woke up determined to get my act together. For a change I woke up with a clear vision of what I needed to do with my day.
We had a bad day yesterday. It just seemed like the weight of it all was pulling both Billy and I down. I spent most of my day outside in the Enclosure working on the cave wall drawings.
For the first time in literally months, I took time off from my evening posting schedule. I just needed to step away for awhile. Most don't know that I spend the hours of 6pm to 11pm posting the work of other artists, the content of the blog and my own work. I do this every single night. The result is a thriving blog where artists (and myself) get to talk about their work and share their creations.
But I just couldn't manage it last night. I felt like there was a tremendous weight on my chest (figuratively not physically). So I truncated my usual posting schedule and even bypassed writing a journal entry, in the hopes that it would regenerate me a bit.
I think it it did because I woke up determined to get a few things done today.
The first task was a rewrite of the Deaths Head project. Its a morbid project but it is something I need to do right now. We can analyze the psychology of it later. I wrote up a new introduction for it to try and get people participating in it. And I finished the next postcard for the series.
Coincidentally there are now 13 cards in the series. Oooh creepy.
After finishing that, I tackled the Pandemic Archive Project. I've not talked about this in the journal yet, so let me explain.
I've noted over the past week that a lot of artists are beginning to create work related to the coronavirus. Most of this work will be lost over time. Artists without a name for themselves will post it a few times and then it will be forgotten. I suddenly had a very large desire to save these works before they are lost. I admit I also fear that a lot of artists may lose their lives in the coming months. If I can save a bit of who they were then I needed to do it.
So two days ago I created the Pandemic Archive Project. Its evolved in the past 48 hours from simply showing artists work to becoming a collection of all things creative related to the pandemic. I am sure it will continue to evolve. I've already received work from several artists, so I am heartened that its going in the right direction.
I'd like to set up multiple archive sites where the work can be stored, but I'll see how the coming weeks go first.
So that's been the first part of my day. Its 3:30 right now. I'm trying to steer clear of a lot of virus news today. Its really tearing me down to watch whats happening. We'll see what the evening brings about.
03-19-20 (Late Evening)
"There is no more time to plan. If it comes, it comes..."
392 Cases in Louisiana
899 People Tested
So I've made a decision. Billy and I talked about it a little but need to sit down tomorrow and discuss it in depth. I've decided not to go to the hospital if I get sick. I will stay here isolated among my art, in our beautiful home surrounded by our seven cats.
I think if If I'd gotten sick early on I might feel differently about it, but I absolutely do not want to be isolated from the world in a tiny room stuck on a ventilator when I only have such a small chance of surviving this. If it was a matter of keeping Billy safe from it, I'd do it in a split second. But face it, if I get it, he's probably got it also. He's a lot stronger than me and will survive this. I won't.
There is nothing else to say tonight. I'll do as much as I can in the coming days.
537 Cases in Louisiana
1084 People Tested
"I've spent a lot of the day contemplating death..."
I have to face the truth that I am most likely not going to survive this. I can kid myself that I can remain in isolation, but you know, eventually the virus will find its way to me. Either on a box from a delivery person, or a delivered meal. My chances of avoiding it are slim to none.
With that in mind I woke today knowing that I probably needed to begin to take some steps in case it does happen. I made a list of crucial passwords to computers and files. I spoke with several friends about the situation and I attempted to be a realist for the day.
Taking the logical steps I needed to take in case the worst case scenario happens. Because when it does, there won't be time to plan or take care of things. It will sweep over me like a storm.
I can't but wonder how many people out there are thinking this way. I can't help but think we will start to see a rise in the suicide rate in the coming weeks. That's not a choice for me. I'll stick with it as long as I can. I have too much to live for.
I'm surprised how quickly the Pandemic Archive project is coming together. We got our 4th set of submissions tonight and a lot of queries about the project. My hope is that I can get a good start on it no matter what.
In the meantime I felt that I needed to include some of my own work in the archive. So I began a new series last night called "The Dust Devil Portraits". I won't explain the concept because its just as easy to read the page I set up for it. But I found it cathartic adding my own voice to the images being collected.
There really isn't much more I want to say tonight except that I am not a pessimist. While it seems that I've never really lived completely in this universe, I am a realist where it comes to taking care of business. I don't see my tasks today and in the coming days as the inevitability of death. But I also want to make sure I preserve whatever small legacy I have had in life.
763 Cases in Louisiana
1294 People Tested
"It sometimes takes devastation to bring enlightenment to those who will not listen..."
This was a very long day. Some are longer than others, this was definitely one of them. We try to keep busy and I try to wake with a purpose each day. A direction to take things where I feel like I'm getting something done.
I tried to put the thoughts of doom out of my mind, but I admit I would hear something, a song, or a news commentary and begin to tear up.
The worst was a YouTube video of the opening number from the Broadway version of The Lion King. My best friend Jess and I saw this at the Goodman Theater in Chicago many years before. I thought it was one of the most beautiful openings of a show ever. The way the various singers were staged around the theater, in the balconies. And when the animals came down the aisles it took my breath away. Here you can see it for yourself (Circle of Life).
When I stumbled on the video today, I tried very hard to stay in control, but I just broke down sobbing. Why? I am not even sure. Perhaps it was for the instability that may not allow for such beautiful things again for a very long time. Perhaps it was worry for Jess. Perhaps it was a fear that I may never see such things again. Who knows for sure.
Billy held me for a bit until I could calm myself. Thank god for his arms and his love.
I can't help but wonder at the mental health of so many thousands in similar situations. Are people even taking it seriously? I know some are, but how many are denying the inevitable outcome of all this?
We had one other piece of rough news today. The clinic that keeps me healthy had one of their staff die from the virus last night. Billy heard it first and it was his turn to cry and he begged me not to go to my every three month appointment that I was scheduled for next week.
I'd already been having doubts about going but I'd not received any word that appointments were cancelled and felt it was important to go because if this gets worse I may not see my doctor again for quite sometime.
But I conceded and told Billy I would not go next week. Instead I'll send my doctor a message through the patient portal at the clinic and ask him his advice. I don't think he'll blame me for cancelling.
But it leads to another issue. How do all of us who have other problems besides the virus keep our health up if we cannot even safely travel to our doctors? There is no answer to it I suppose. We just wait, and hope for the best.
Here is today's Virus related art. Also we now have seven artists who have submitted to the Pandemic Archive. I hope for more in the coming days. It gives me a purpose.
837 Cases in Louisiana
3498 People Tested
"Are we sure this isn't some movie we are living through?"
Sometimes it just doesn't feel real. It really feels like we entered the twilight zone. Someplace we made a wrong turn and ended up here.
In today's news, it looks like Billy's dad is sick. He's 78 and while he's very healthy we are definitely edgy about him overcoming this. They don't know for sure thats what is, but it sure sounds like it right now.
They said today that its expanding so quickly here in New Orleans that the hospitals will be overwhelmed within the next week. There just doesn't seem to be any way to stop this thing. Its a freight train that none of us can get off at this point.
I made one big mistake tonight with my big mouth. Billy was joking about the Stand and said he could bury me in the garden like Frannie did for her father, but he'd have to cut me up in pieces. And of course what comes out of my mouth?
"I already prepared a space in the back", meaning the Art Enclosure. And of course Billy got this horrified look on his face and burst into tears.
I did get some productive things done today. The Pandemic Archive is really starting to take shape. We now have ten artists with work archived in it and several more already committed to add to it in the next few days. I also got my second volunteer who would like to help with it. That's good because its time consuming inviting artists and putting it together for each one.
Its interesting to me that a lot of people are just not thinking about the potential consequences of this. I spoke to one artist who asked me about my motivations. She seemed horrified when I replied that a lot of these artists may be dead in the coming months and that I wanted be able to save at least a small part of each one.
Its like people want to deny the inevitable. But its beyond the point that it could change. Its a fact that these very talented people, both young and old are not immune to this. Some will get sick. Some will die. Its a fact we'd all better get used to.
I will cut off all my hair tomorrow. I think this will be more hygienic than the long shoulder length hair I have now. And it will save on shampoo. We have to think about austerity now, even in small things like hair care. I'll also be stringing lines in the alley to dry clothes on so we can wash things here without going to a laundromat. I so wish we had a washer and dryer.
Nothing else to say tonight. I'm tired and feel like I pushed myself a little too far today. Sleep will be welcomed. I did get out into the Imaginarium tonight to work on the cave drawings. Here a few shots to close with.
5,948 People Tested
"There is just sadness as we watch the world wither around us and hope for better days in the future..."
A major jump in our local numbers today. Its like a fire burning out of control. I fear what they might use next as a fire block to keep it from spreading further.
Its now to the point where I fear for Billy every time he has to go out for something.
I had a nightmare last night that the virus was all around us, slowly seeping into the house like some viscous fluid. Its only a matter of time.
I've worked my ass of this afternoon and evening on the Imaginarium. I also began tearing down the St Andrews Cross body painting set. There is no use keeping it up for the next body painting when we all very well know this will take months if not years to clear. When we come out the other side the world won't be the same place we remember it to be. Maybe that is a good thing. I just don't know.
So the Cross is down for now. I'll store it in the back and hope a day comes when I continue the body painting project. It will give me more room to work out there. I so want to get as much done to it as I can before I can't go any further.
I think I may have pushed myself a little too hard today. My body hurts and my head throbs.
There are so many things I wish to do in the coming days, but I'll do what I can with each moment I'm given. No regrets. Ever.
No more for today. Our titanic is sinking and each day we draw one step closer to its sinking beneath the waves.
1,795 Cases in Louisiana
11.451 People Tested
"The days are slow, each moment a million years and the nights are filled with dreams of death"
Each day now is almost like living a whole lifetime. Time seems to come to a stop, yet pass so quickly as we move through this disaster.
In today's world we are used to fitting a disaster into the span of 2 hours on a movie screen. Seeing the reality play out is rather like watching those movies on slow motion. We wait each day for the next piece of bad news so that by the time the day ends we are exhausted and filled with such dread that we almost hope the sun never rises again so we don't have to repeat the same cycle again.
And we think to ourselves, this is just the beginning.
How do we weave purpose into our lives now? This is where I separate myself from the masses. My purpose is still all around me. But for those who placed their total purpose in their jobs are now finding themselves bereft. This is the difference between living each moment with a direction that brings you joy, and living each moment just plodding through life because you must make that extra buck so you can buy that new car or go on that trip.
I've never thought this way. As an artist my whole life has been woven around the joy my path brings me. My creativity is not just my work. Its my whole life. If you rob me of that by placing me in a hospital, then and only then will I lose total hope.
But its not the same for so many others. They stay enclosed in their homes totally at a loss because they no longer have the purpose that forced them to get up each day and go to work.
I am seeing something though. Many are turning to the things that they set aside in youth in order to just focus on making money. Some are rediscovering lost creativity that meant so much to them once. Not just the arts, but music, writing and so many other creative fields are there for the taking if they just reached out and tried to grasp them.
This could very well bring about a renaissance down the line in people finding purpose again in their lives. Then again I could be wrong and this will truly spell the doom we've been moving towards for many years now.
I am too tired tonight to try and puzzle it out. All I can say is that I hope some find their true purpose and live however many days they have left within that purpose. Its time to find what truly has meaning to us now. Without that we may as well be dead anyway.
2,305 Cases in Louisiana
15,775 People Tested
676 in Hospital
"Death stalks us all"
I remember a scene from one of my favorite fantasy novels where a race of people knew that death was coming and rather than fight it, they placed their homes in order and waited peacefully for it to kill them all. This is what life feels like right now.
We huddle in our homes, setting things in order and making contingency plans. If this happens, then we must do this. If that happens then we will do the other.
Its all so tiring and seems so useless.
For those who remain after this disaster passes, they will find a truly different existence from what it was before the virus came. Many will have the equivalent of PTSD. Some will fear going out. Some will fear staying inside. We will never be the same people we were no matter what.
Today was a bad day for me. I felt little purpose and even less energy. My mind kept saying to me "why bother?".
I plodded through the day without focus, listening to one bad tale after another. When I would go outside to the Imaginarium, I'd just end up staring at the walls rather than doing anything.
There is a part of me that says there will indeed be a world after this and whether I am in it or not physically, I still need to leave as much behind as I can in ideas, words, art and concepts. But its so damned hard to keep that in focus.
Today I failed at it. Tomorrow will be another day for me to try again.
I see creativity as an added barrier of protection around me. Over the years its protected me from all manner of things that would have been much worse without it. I can't help but think that the more I can do now, the less the virus can harm me.
If I someone expressed the same idea about prayer, or gods or eating spam to keep me protected, I'd say it was hogwash. But we all have our gods. I don't pray to mine, but I do believe that creativity is the essence of life, Without it we are just another form of animal in the wilds of the world. With it we transcend.
I've said it before and will say it again. We are all gods when we use our creativity. We pass beyond the barriers of life to higher purpose.
I truly believe the statement below. These are my words and I try to live by them every day knowing that this may be my last day to create that I have. So when I waste a day like today, I feel like I've taken one step backwards. There is little more that can be said.
2,746 Cases in Louisiana
18,883 People Tested
773 in Hospital
"Though I walk in the shadow of death, I shall embrace it when it comes..."
I'm not feeling well tonight. It may only be allergies, but I'm stuffed up and have a terrible tickle in my throat, i'm coughing more than I like and my body aches. Its a frightening feeling. The logical part of me says "its allergies", the irrational side of me says "what if its not?"
How many others are experiencing this? I can only imagine. I'll go to bed a bit early tonight and hope I wake feeling better. If I don't then a countdown will begin towards what I need to accomplish...just in case.
When I became so sick years ago with AIDS, I felt like doing nothing more than going to sleep and just not wake up again. I just grew more and more tired.
It would have been an easier death than this could be.
3,540 Cases in Louisiana
1,127 in Hospital
"I exist within my own fantasy now..."
Forgive my not writing yesterday. I have to admit, its almost like time stops around here. I've lost track of the days and the nights in the past week so many times that I am sometimes unsure whether I did a thing or not. This was the case with the journal. I was sure that I'd written in it yesterday and then saw tonight that I had not.
I felt better yesterday. It must have been a very bad allergy attack. I don't usually suffer from them in the spring, but this is also the first time in many years that I've spent a lot of time outside again working on the Imaginarium.
I've distanced myself a bit from the constant barrage of news. I still check but I find myself more often shutting it off half way through whatever I was watching and retreating back into my fantasy world outside.
Yes it is a fantasy world. One I've built myself from nothing and surrounded myself with the strange and unusual.
Billy says that when he comes into the space it feels almost overwhelming and that he can only handle the input of mental and physical emotions for so long before he must retreat. He's not telling me its bad. He's telling me that its sacred. I believe his words were "Its like entering a giant cathedral and feeling overwhelmed within it and only being able to stand it for a short time before retreating". The best compliment he could ever pay me.
Its getting warmer though. A time will come in the next month or so before we will all have to retreat not only from the virus but from the onslaught of the summer heat. This frightens me a bit because being able to get outside even if its to the Imaginarium is important to me and keeping me from going out of my mind. But I'll deal with that when the time comes.
Here are a few images to close with including a friendly neighborhood possum who came to sit and watch me work tonight.
10,297 Cases in Louisiana
1,707 in Hospital
"We spell our own doom for our lack of foresight..."
You will notice I've not written for several days. This has not been due to illness. Its from malaise which frightens me nearly as much. The blending of the days to the point where we lose track of them is an advancing threat on all of us who are trapped in our homes. If it can effect me when I have so many things to keep me busy, then I can't imagine what it is like for those who don't.
I've always had a general rule where it comes to personal journals. Don't write in them if all your going to do is regurgitate the same words over and over again. Its one reason that unlike my mother, who kept a journal every day of her life, that I never did the same. Write if you feel you have something to say, but why bother if your saying the same thing as the day before?
In the past week that is what its felt like. One day merging into night, merging into day and so on without any advancement of enlightenment on the situation one is in.
The end of the world in slow motion.
Is there a solution? Not individually. I try my damnedest to keep a creative web around as many artists as I can. To offer hope, to offer love, to offer ideas for challenging the interminable days. But sometimes it just seems an impossible task.
For me its now been 36 days in isolation. We went out for a short period yesterday to get much needed groceries. As always I stayed locked in the van while Billy risked his life inside. Even with mask and gloves on and spraying down all the bags before they even come into the house, I fear for his safety when he is out there.
He said it was a far different scene than the last time he did this a week or so back. This time the store was packed. There was more of a panic to the movements of the customers in the store and there was an angry undercurrent to everyone. He said the clerk that checked him out snapped at him when he offered a nice word to her and thanked her for risking her life to be there. There was nothing in the way of safety gear for these people. While masks and gloves were present in the customers. The clerks were left without.
I've gotten several emails about emergency grants for artists in the past few days. But when I consider submitting applications my mind says "whats the use, you'll be dead soon anyway. Leave it for those who may survive." Is this healthy? No of course not, but it is our present reality, my present reality. All I can think is that its just a matter of time now.
Where is the hope?
16,284 Cases in Louisiana
1,996 in Hospital
"Ignorance is no longer just an irritation, now it can kill..."
So we went out to the grocery store for some much needed supplies. The few times we've gone has been stressful to say the least. Not that I am allowed to participate. I drive and I wait in the van and worry about Billy the whole time he's in there.
But this time was different. While I was sitting there, I watched an old homeless fellow with a squirt bottle and a rag who was going up to everyone in the parking lot and asking if he could clean their windows. He was not observing any distance, but would walk right up to them. I could tell people were uncomfortable when he did so. I was uncomfortable just watching from within the vehicle.
We were not parked far from the entrance to the store, so when Billy finally came out I beckoned to him to come to the window first and warned him and of course the old fellow immediately zoned in on Billy and started to approach.
But then from a different direction comes this guy maybe in his 50's, heading right for Billy and wants to help him unload the cart. Billy says no he's ok, but as Billy is opening the back of the van the guy starts handling the stuff in the cart, literally less than a foot from where Billy was.
This of course was too much for me. I couldn't risk getting out of the van but this guy needed to cease and desist immediately. I rolled down the window and in a very loud and angry voice, I told him to step back immediately. I couldn't hear what he said, but he mumbled something and proceeded to touch the bags again. So this time I roared and told him to back away now. He knew I was angry, but instead of doing what I said he started to approach the open window. Again I roared back away from the van now! And I started to move towards getting out of the van. At this point, not only did he back away but about a dozen other people coming in and out of the store froze like rabbits in the headlights.
Billy completed loading. I knew he was mad at me for causing a scene and not letting him handle it. But as I told him after. If I was a dog in the car and not a human and someone approached who wasn't supposed to, I'd snap first and bite second and there wouldn't be any way to stop me.
But as Billy is closing the van door, this idiot comes back up to him to "help" him with the cart. At this point I am literally yelling so loudly that I saw red for a moment and the guy scurried away with the cart telling Billy he shouldn't be with that big asshole. In Billy's defense he replied "yeah but I love him anyway" and got into the van.
The point of this whole story is, that as many precautions as we take to stay safe right now, one idiot in a parking lot who decides to be a good Samaritan in the hopes the person will toss him a buck or two could literally kill someone. If he'd been allowed to continue what he was doing, he would have touched many of the bags, some of the groceries, Billy and the van. If he's been doing this all day in hopes of a handout, then there is absolutely no way that he hasn't come in contact with others who are sick and asymptomatic.
I'm saddened to see the homeless in need. Believe me under any other circumstance I would have understood if Billy had him help then gave him a couple dollars for it. But this is not the time or the place for it.
If it happens again I will go off again. I can't help myself. Billy is the most important thing in the world to me and I feel guilty as hell that he has to put himself in harms way just to keep me fed.
I would like to not have to get that angry. But if stupidity rules, I will. We should not have to fear the approach of a stranger when we go out. We will never flatten the curve if people remain ignorant and stupid. Not just the homeless but the dozens of people I saw coming in and out of the store without any protection and not observing any kind of distance between them and others.