When you have a generalized anxiety disorder and a daily existential crisis, you end up self-isolating long before the city of Los Angeles mandates it.
My coronavirus co-quarantine result is an apartment-turned-shared-home-office between a graduate student (my boyfriend) and a social media editor (me) who attempt romance from six feet apart without leaving their loungewear. My boyfriend is my soulmate (Hi John), but by last Thursday we were already experiencing too much togetherness, and I was desperate for distraction and other peoples’ innermost secrets. I’m an indoors kid and the internet is my babysitter, pacifier and sedative. I was wondering how other couples were faring in shared quarantine and tweeted “if u live with a significant other and think all the co-quarantining will cause u to break up, email me at megzukin at gmail dot com. i’m not writing a story im just messy and love drama.”
The tweet was offhanded; I thought it would get some traction and that would be the end of it. Then, the stories started rolling in. I asked submitters if they would be comfortable with me posting their stories on an anonymous google doc in an effort to raise money for those affected by COVID-19. Access to the doc for the general public would be granted at a bargain price — $1. By Monday, I had raised over $6,000.
Twitter is evil and chaotic, but it has added more to my timelines than election hysteria and a laundry list of deranged memes that rot my brain. I thrive on internet drama and know how to finesse it into something of substance. Just ask Chrissy Teigen’s mom who literally showed up at my house in 2017. Teigen wanted to make banana bread and I had old bananas. In exchange, I received a pair of John Legend’s underwear, a “Cravings” cookbook, and my first job at E! News. What started as a tweet for help from the Twitter queen, ended up uniting two L.A. transplants all in the name of banana bread, just as a quick joke about co-habitating resulted in over $6,000 (and counting) in donations for those affected by coronavirus, all for the love of sharing tea.
This micro-fundraiser quickly turned into an entire weekend undertaking and then transformed into full-fledged website. The site isn’t a personal pet project, but a community forum made possible by shared stories and donations, one dollar at a time: Bernie Sanders, but make it philanthropic. As humans we are hardwired for connection, and social distancing is challenging us to build substantial communities in unorthodox ways. Like paying $1 to read about a stranger’s fight with her husband in order to crowdsource mutual aid for those most affected by coronavirus.
I wasn’t convinced that this would turn into anything, even after the few first emails. It wasn’t until my friends and co-workers texted me for gossip that I even considered publishing these stories en masse. And even then, I assumed the most we’d make would be in the ballpark of $1,000, not six times that, and certainly not after just a few days.
But, as it turns out, we all want to know what goes on behind closed doors and these glimpses into peoples’ personal lives. When else do we have a chance to hear raw, unbridled confessionals? It’s an intriguing premise — one largely inspired by PostSecret, the community mail art project created by Frank Warren.
From a wedding guest getting cold feet (“My friend’s wedding is this weekend. She’s freaking out trying to make arrangements to still have it.”), to a mother, stuck at home with her “hormonal 12-year-old daughter” (“Not sure we will survive another three weeks of this. Thank God she has an iPad to communicate with the new boyfriend. At least that gives us a few hours a day with some peace.”)
These vignettes shine a light on the typically clandestine household tensions that have not been the focus of recent headlines. Post self-isolation, divorce rates in China reportedly spiked. A divorce, albeit not a global pandemic, is a serious shake up, and people are in search of a place where they can gather, share, and confide about the micro effects coronavirus has on their personal lives. In lieu of lost happy hours, water cooler chatter, and girls’ nights out (and in), there are online forums with the goal of raising money all in the name of suburban scandal.
On a larger scale, this pandemic is giving us all pause about the effectiveness of individualism and is forcing us all to confront questions about our social fabric. How do we relate to one another in a time of crisis? How do we tend to our communities when we cannot stand in physical solidarity with them? We also critique the shortcomings of our current system, from the failures of capitalism to how platforms can afford celebrities certain privileges. Like, I don’t know, access to testing when it seems like we’re in a nationwide shortage.
In the midst of COVID-19, I have also witnessed beautiful instances of humanity as people overcome incredible barriers to connection creatively and compassionately in a way that fills me with hope in an otherwise bleak time. Google doc activism is hitting new heights with the general public. Teachers and advocates have long relied on this kind of resource dissemination to avoid capitalism pay walls, but it is now entering the general lexicon. Moms are streaming yoga on Twitch and the definition of community is evolving.
So far, this internet experiment has helped Hollywood assistants, food banks nationwide, bartenders across the country, Planned Parenthood, domestic violence shelters, moms at risk and movie theater employees — and this is in addition to the tens of people to whom we’ve sent micro-donations. Mister Rogers said to look for the helpers. Well I see them, $1 at a time. Amid coronavirus, we are adopting new normals, further apart from one another as we’ve ever been.