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The Gift of Corona

2,331 wordsShuttered windows.

I arrived at the gym the other night at 7:50 p.m. only to be told: “By the way, we’re closing in ten minutes.” The governor had ordered all gyms to close at 8:00 that night and to remain closed until further notice. I was the last guy to hear, apparently. This was the climax in a series of events that led to my finally recognizing the gift of Corona.

I had been in a state of denial for a couple of weeks. I am still not convinced that the whole thing isn’t being massively overblown (as I argued here. [1]) But I had thought I might be able to get through this crisis, as I had many other national crises, without being personally inconvenienced. The first clue that I was wrong came when I made the mistake of looking at my stock portfolio. Ouch. Then there was the trip to the grocery store, where half the shelves were empty. No meat, no milk, no eggs, practically no frozen dinners. And, of course, no toilet paper.

Then the conferences I was planning to attend in the next couple of months got canceled. The release of the new James Bond film was delayed until November (not a great disappointment, as I was awaiting this film with some trepidation; the rumor is that it’s “woke”). Then my workplace shut down, and I’m now working from home. My travel plans to Europe are on hold, due to Trump’s ban. My accountant called the other day saying he’s refusing to meet with anyone; I have to fax him all my tax stuff, or deliver it to his office. All the restaurants and bars have closed, and there’s talk the subways and busses could be shut down.

Nevertheless, through it all, I had taken consolation in the thought that I could still go to the gym and work out. I had planned to take hand sanitizer with me (yes, I have some — and I will entertain all reasonable offers). I also considered wearing latex gloves under my weightlifting gloves and wiping down all the equipment with disinfectant napkins (which the gym provides). Yes, I was willing to risk catching the Coronavirus by going to the gym four or five nights a week. Staying healthy is a priority. But a bigger priority is not losing my gains.

And so when I was turned away from the gym that night, I left in a kind of daze. The prospect of not being able to set foot there, conceivably for weeks or months, was a major downer. Yet as I drove home in silence (I didn’t even feel like turning on the radio), the airhead at the desk who had sent me away started to seem like an angel dispatched by the Almighty to deliver the message I needed to hear: You can’t control this. Your life is going to be affected, perhaps radically. You are facing the great unknown, and you have no idea what the future will bring.

Cover of Jef Costello's book, Heidegger in Chicago.

You can buy Jef Costello’s Heidegger in Chicago here [2]

Now, this goes entirely against the grain for me. I like to be in control — and I mean in control of everything. I like my routine, and I do not like surprises. For decades now, I have begun each year with an elaborate plan for improving my life. It has never been an exercise in futility; I did not keep doing this year after year because I failed to keep my promises to myself. In fact, I accomplish the majority of my goals and resolutions. The ones I don’t accomplish “come forward” (as my accountant likes to say) to the next year. This became a kind of addiction: the prospect of not having a “life plan” felt like that scene in Fight Club where Tyler takes his hands off the steering wheel and allows the car to cross into oncoming traffic, then over a barricade and into a ravine. So, despite having promised my readers I was swearing off “life planning” here [3], I continued.

For 2020, I pulled out all the stops. I resolved to make major changes in my life: breaking bad habits, writing more than ever, reading more, gaining more muscle than I’ve ever gained, thoroughly cleaning and re-arranging my apartment, etc. Everything was going swimmingly until a couple of weeks ago. “A couple of weeks ago.” My, how strange that sounds. For it feels like months, maybe years. Everything has changed dramatically in that short time, and nothing may ever be the same again. I sure as hell picked the wrong year to give up drinking. Yes, that actually was one of my resolutions, which I managed to keep until the real Corona hysteria set in two weeks ago and I felt my anxiety level rising to previously unscaled heights.

But another of my habits (one of the better ones) is a radical commitment to making lemonade out of lemons. This is coupled with a deep but admittedly irrational commitment to something like Providence. In other words, I am predisposed to think that things are happening for some reason or purpose, and that apparent crises or calamities may be opportunities dropped deliberately into my lap (by whom or what I do not know). I have a tendency to believe in “signs” and not to believe that there are such things as coincidences. So, on that melancholy drive home after being turned away at the gym, I began to ask myself what opportunities this Corona calamity might present for me. Was there an opportunity here for growth? Should I surrender to this situation and to the fact that I had no control over it? Should I take my hands off the steering wheel?

Arriving home, I mixed myself a Skinny Bitch [4] (my favorite drink) and settled in to watch Tucker Carlson’s coverage of Coronavirus. Boy, was I in for it. Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery [5]. Under normal circumstances, a major black pill. But as I watched and as I drank (sipping slowly) I became strangely exhilarated. All hell really seems to be breaking loose. But it’s kind of exciting, isn’t it? As Greg Johnson has argued, Coronavirus is going to change the world [6]. Could this be the end of globalism and open borders? Could Corona usher in a new era of nationalism, protectionism, and xenophobia? The prospect is thrilling.

Not so thrilling is what Corona could do to me personally. It could wipe out my retirement money. It could seriously affect the industry I work in, and possibly put me out of a job. It could kill my beloved landlady (who is in one of the high-risk groups) and render me homeless. It could kill friends and family. And, lastly, it could kill me — though I’m not too worried about that, since I’m relatively young and healthy. For the first time in my cushy and privileged life, I am facing an uncertain and possibly grim future. I’ve never had it this bad. Everything I’ve ever counted on seems like it may be unraveling. Still, I am excited.

As Duke Leto says to Paul in Dune [7],  “A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.” It looks like I needed a killer virus to wake me up to the fact that I’m bored with my routine and with my complex plans for improving my life. The future does frighten me, but suddenly I feel more alive.

I’ve always had a good bit of difficulty justifying the having of “fun.” If it doesn’t somehow serve some important purpose, you’re not likely to convince me it’s a good use of my time. Yet suddenly now I find myself taking more pleasure in little things, like how food tastes. I haven’t actually sat down and just watched a movie for pleasure in a long time. Now I want to use my time in Corona isolation to do precisely that. I find myself thinking more about my friends, and appreciating them more. I want to get in touch with people I haven’t talked to in a long time. I think about the older folks I know, and worry about them. Oddly, I also feel cheerful. When out stocking up on groceries and toilet paper, I’ve been friendlier to people, smiling at them from behind my surgical mask. The mild depression I had been experiencing for several weeks seems to have abated. It was brought on by a few minor bad things that were just getting me down. I guess it took something really bad to snap me out of it. I am an odd duck, there is no question about it.

“Social distancing” isn’t that much of a problem for me; I’ve been practicing it for years. In fact, I could teach a master class on social distancing (though I would have to teach it remotely). You see, I don’t need that much of a social life, and I don’t mind staying home. Nevertheless, the idea that I must stay home rankles me. And now that the threat of Corona seems to have made me feel more alive, suddenly I’m itching to get out. Oddly enough, I want to go to the beach on a sunny day. This is very much out of character for me, and it’s still too cold here to go to the beach. I can now understand why some people in the Middle Ages responded to the Black Death by going on multi-day benders. When facing death, life tastes a lot sweeter. But you may rest assured that I am far too prudent to act on these impulses: for the foreseeable future, I am staying home, alone.

A part of me very different from the part that wants to go to the beach keeps saying “turn inward, turn inward”: use this isolation as a time for introspection and self-development. One of my new year’s resolutions was to “devote as much time and effort to the care of my soul as I do to the care of my body.” And with the gift of Corona, I can do that. My commute time has been completely eliminated. I can, therefore, do both a morning and an evening meditation. I can finally go through and practice all the spiritual exercises in Evola’s Introduction to Magic. Perhaps I’ll even have time for the exercises in Mastering Astral Projection, which I bought in 2018 and still haven’t read. I may be astrally visiting you in the wee hours, at some point in the near future. Perhaps you should do some tidying up.

Cover of Jef Costello's book, The Importance of James Bond.

You can buy Jef Costello’s The Importance of James Bond here [8]

I can use Corona isolation to return to things I have neglected in life, and even to work on some of my other ambitious resolutions. I can get to work on cleaning my apartment, for example, and get back to studying Old Norse. The closure of my gym is still bothering me, but I can work out at home. I’ve got some dumbbells and kettlebells. I’ve got P90X, Rushfit, You Are Your Own Gym, etc. I used to do bodyweight exercises: pushups, situps, pullups. I can go back to all that. Maybe I won’t lose my gains (“just do more reps,” a friend full of bro wisdom advised me). But why think small? Maybe I could use this as an opportunity to get in even better shape. I could do a.m. cardio workouts and p.m. weight workouts. I could finally go through the program in that book that’s been gathering dust on my shelf for years, 7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups.

Now, don’t misunderstand me: I am by no means making light of the present crisis. I am well aware that I am one of the luckier ones. I am not in one of the high-risk groups, and I know there are many people with far more to worry about than shuttered gyms and ruined European vacation plans. Nevertheless, I have to confront this crisis from my own position in life, as the kind of person I am, for better or worse. And I have to find some way to deal with it and all the inconveniences, uncertainties, and fears that it produces. My way is to use it as an opportunity for personal growth — for self-overcoming.

For the last year or so, I thought about writing an essay called “Anarchy with Full Benefits.” I love the title, and the essay itself would have been a discussion of my desire to see the present system collapse, but without being personally inconvenienced when it does. It’s not an attitude I can defend rationally, but I also think that it is quite natural. I know I cannot have anarchy with full benefits. I know that if what we have all hoped for actually came to pass, it would mean the radical upheaval of every area of life, and every single person, myself included, would be dramatically affected. Over the years I have entertained many scenarios for how the globalist, multi-culturalist, open borders, PC hegemony might be mortally wounded. I just never thought a virus might do it. Then again, as I discussed in my last essay [1], history teaches us that often completely unexpected events are the ones that prove decisive for change.

But what would I do if the unthinkable happened? If I got sick or my friends started getting sick and dying? If I lost everything? If our society collapsed into lawlessness? Could I cope with this, or would I lose my grip? I haven’t a clue. But I may very well find out. I honestly don’t want to find out — but, on the other hand, never being tested isn’t a good thing either. And I know that that strange exhilaration I am feeling lately must be some deeper part of myself welcoming this terrible uncertainty — and both the political and personal opportunities it brings.