It’s not the usual practice these days but this post is public as I think it may resonate in these times. —AEM
Afterwards 1 by Peter Kennard and Jamie Reid
It’s up to you to break the old circuits. —Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”
Last Friday I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. It was supposed to be more than a month after that but things are finally speeding up in Ontario. I didn’t feel the nerves or excitement I felt in the lead up to the first dose; I sort of felt nothing.
We take a car there and walk through check in, switch out our masks for the standard blue ones they give us, down the escalator and around the corner to sign in with someone with a tablet. They ask me if I want to have my results included with research studies about those of us living with autoimmune illness and I agree—something should come from the way my genes have decided to express themselves.
We enter the huge room with long rows of stations set up alongside opposing walls for nurses to give you your dose. I’m waved down to one about halfway down and I walk quickly so no one has to wait for me. I sit down and immediately pull up my dress’s sleeve but the nurse has to ask me some questions first. I confirm my name, address, health card number, allergies, my high risk status, whether I’ll be getting Pfizer or Moderna. The nurse has a beautiful smile; at 11:30 am she finally injects me directly in the middle of the rose tattoo that is covering a different tattoo from a different life. I hadn’t noticed music before but the song that comes into focus over the loud speakers is The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”. The nurse gives me a one-sheet on vaccine side effects and I get up.
There’s a sea of socially distanced chairs in the center of this room, this ballroom or hall really, and I find a seat near Ian who was vaccinated two minutes after me. He talks to me but my ears are half focused on The Buggles. A few days before, I got into a loop of listening to “Video Killed The Radio Star” and thinking about Mark Fisher. I tweeted something quippy about how the 1979 hit was the saddest song ever written about the idea of lost futures but it wasn’t just a quip, I really meant it. Now the song I had turned over and over in my brain was playing and I finally felt the emotion of getting this second dose. I am not the person who walked into this pandemic almost 16 months ago. I am not the person who was bummed that her Saturday morning pilates class was cancelled as everything began shutting down. I have a lot of empathy for that person but I’m not her anymore.
In Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, Mark Fisher describes the slow cancellation of the future as a “deflation of expectations”, of “living after the gold rush” or in a state of “belatedness”. Which is not to say nothing has happened in the past 30 or so years; things have happened but also nothing has happened. History continues but it feels like it’s happening at a distance. The future we were promised as kids is nowhere to be found and now the future we anticipated even two years ago is lost to whatever we just went through and are still going through. Fisher was writing in reference to culture but I think the idea of lost futures applies to most human experiences. We are living in an age of nostalgia, of our reference points growing their own reference points at hyperspeed. There is so much power in memory and we have created technologies that mean memory doesn’t necessarily get lost to time. We are overwhelmed by memory and nostalgia; there isn’t space or time to even imagine creating something from nothing.
When we were first getting to know each other, Ian told me about hauntology and the example he used still makes me shiver. Think about the fact that until well into the 19th century, there was no recorded music. If you heard music you liked, you would have to buy the sheet music or figure it out somehow. You would have to have instruments to play it on. You would have to play it and adjust till it sounded like what you heard somewhere. Every time you played the same piece of music would be a little different. I think of the fact that I can open a single app and find the majority of recorded music in less than a minute. If I wanted to, I could listen to something new every day and never run out of stuff to listen to. I can listen to the same song on repeat, an endless loop that never seems to end so much as ease right back into the feelings I’m putting into that song. I feel lucky to have recorded music, I feel lucky to have the internet—I just wonder what it would be like to create without the past as a shadow.
Capitalist structures have isolated us over the past century as we have moved into new industries. Technological advancements have only accelerated those divergences. This has a flattening effect on the possibilities of culture, on all of us in general, as we are more isolated than ever and can’t fathom what another future would look like; to be clear, there is another world, another future, possible but it can’t exist under capitalism. The people we have lost, the people we have watched become so sick that we don’t know if they have a future—we lost and are losing them because of capitalism as much as the pandemic itself. We are exhausted by life itself, by the every day things we have to do just to feed and clothe and house ourselves. For many of us (lucky in this one sense), the pandemic has meant that our homes have become our workplaces. There is no separation whether it be our space or even just our time and energy; there is no escaping the machine when your home has become the factory.
What does this have to do with the vaccine? What does it have to do with the idea of the world opening up again? What does it mean that we can’t acknowledge that just because something is over for us doesn’t mean it’s just over? What does it mean when we can’t acknowledge that sometimes just because something is actually over, that doesn’t mean it feels over? We can’t go back to the world before COVID because we are not the people before it. We have lived through a pandemic and we owe it to every single person who wasn’t that lucky to dismantle the old systems, everything that wasn’t and isn’t working. The accessibility, the possibilities we had been told again and again weren’t possible were very much in fact possible when it would help capital. We have spent over a year lifting the mask capitalism wears and we can see it for what it is: a black hole of greed that will never be satisfied. The ways we have survived this is through each other, through community—there is not one corporation or government that has put us ahead of profit and self interest. You can’t come back from that if you’re paying attention. There is nothing normal to go back to but maybe there will be something worth building.
I waited the 15 required minutes after my vaccine and followed the signs to the exit. Other friends had gotten a sticker or button after their second dose to celebrate being fully vaccinated but there was no one handing anything out when we were leaving. I walked outside to a beautiful day, the sun in my eyes, and nothing is different except for me–that’s enough today.