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Covidtined!

The things keeping me sane through an endless Covid quarantine
Covidtined!

Hi grownups :)

Last week, I managed to produce the most Covidy Covid test line that anyone has ever produced. Like I'm almost... proud?

So I have been stuck in isolation for over a week now, and I am    b  o  r  e  d   . Luckily my symptoms haven't been too bad, except that I've had awful brain frog, which is like brain fog except you're also cold and clammy. Getting better slowly though! I hope to be able to re-enter the world soon and once again enjoy thrilling activities like breathing through my nostrils and swallowing.

In the meantime, here are five things that have been bringing me joy in my covid-quarantine.

Jungle Beat season 8

1. Jungle Beat Season 8 on YouTube

One of the most fun projects I worked on last year was season 8 of Jungle Beat, a family-friendly comedy series by Sunrise Productions and directed by comic genius/madman and dear friend Sam Wilson. It's about the adventures of a goofy elephant called Trunk and her fun-loving best friend Munki, who spend a lot of the season outfoxing a group of human explorers who've invaded their jungle. The episodes are being posted onto YouTube week by week. So far, you can watch two episodes I wrote: "Costume Party" and "Lost and Found". I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoyed working on them :)

2. Your brain is a story engine

Ah man, I recently came upon the most delightful 1944 psychology experiment.

Psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel showed participants short animated films featuring shapes, like this one:

Short animation of two triangles and a dot
A clip from one of Heider and Simmel's 2-minute animated films

They showed these films to 114 participants, and asked them to write down what happened in the film.

Only three people, out of 114, stuck to geometric terms in their description (e.g. "A large solid triangle is shown entering a rectangle"). The other 111 automatically told a story about what was going on. These stories were often rich and satisfying tales:

A man has planned to meet a girl and the girl comes along with another man. The first man tells the second to go; the second tells the first, and he shakes his head. Then the two men have a fight, and the girl starts to go into the room to get out of the way and hesitates and finally goes in. She apparently does not want to be with the first man. The first man follows her into the room after having left the second in a rather weakened condition leaning on the wall outside the room. The girl gets worried and races from one corner to the other in the far part of the room. Man number one, after being rather silent for a while, makes several approaches at her; but she gets to the corner across from the door, just as man number two is trying to open it. He evidently got banged around and is still weak from his efforts to open the door. The girl gets out of the room in a sudden dash just as man number two gets the door open. The two chase around the outside of the room together, followed by man number one. But they finally elude him and get away. The first man goes back and tries to open his door, but he is so blinded by rage and frustration that he cannot open it. So he butts it open and in a really mad dash around the room he breaks in first one wall and then another.

Heroes and villains! Battles! Love and humour! It's all right here, folks, in these descriptions of animated shapes.

It's not even that our minds can turn chaos into stories, it's that they have to. Seeing a story is automatic. It's human. It's what our minds are wired to do.

Stories are the operating system that our minds run on. It's my favourite thing about humans.

3. Book feast!

On that note, what I've mostly been doing in my isolation is gorging on books (and the Channel4 game show Taskmaster).

I adored My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones, which Lauren Beukes was raving about. It's about an angry teenage outcast named Jade who's obsessed with slasher movies, and is increasingly convinced there's one unfolding in her town. It's really gutsy and wild and the plot swerves in all sorts of ways you don't expect it to.

Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky is about a witch and a mad scientist who become best friends as teenagers, whose lives keep entwining as they grow up, despite their different worldviews. It's beautifully written and heartfelt, and it explores a lot of stuff about ecological grief, fury at an unjust world, and the mistakes we make in trying to fix it. Loved it.

I also finally read Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, approximately sixteen years after I was SUPPOSED to read it for an English assignment (whoops lol). And damn, it SLAPS. It was first published in 1895 but it's still shocking. It's about a working class man who dreams of going to university, but instead things just get... um... worse and worse for him. It's bleak. And brilliant. Not a beach read.

(Sidenote: I recently learned that Hardy originated the term "cliffhanger" in his serialised story A Pair of Blue Eyes where he ended one instalment with his protagonist literally hanging off a cliff, what a dick!)

Speaking of things that really hold up, I've been rereading all the Terry Pratchetts I loved as a teenager and am pleased to report that they're still amazing. They might have even gotten better with time? Witches Abroad, particularly, is much funnier now that I live in England and have more first-hand experience of how absurd English small-town mindsets are.

Holland House Library damaged in the Blitz (Harrison for Fox Photos Ltd)
Holland House Library damaged in the Blitz (Harrison for Fox Photos Ltd). Regardless of the circumstances, we keep reading.

4. Martha Nussbaum on mercy

Okay is it just my Covid-brain, or is this 2016 New Yorker profile of philosopher Martha Nussbaum not the wildest thing you've ever read? It paints a portrait of a woman whose work is all about honouring human vulnerability, while she is personally oddly harsh on herself. It makes for a fascinating character study, and includes some careful thoughts about rage and mercy.

We become merciful, she wrote, when we behave as the “concerned reader of a novel,” understanding each person’s life as a “complex narrative of human effort in a world full of obstacles.”

There's a part where she describes how she couldn't stop working while her mother was dying, and she wonders if her ability to be productive at such times reflects a cruelty or coldness in her ("I thought, It's inhuman – I shouldn't be able to do this."). And in the lecture she prepares while not being at her mother's deathbed, she describes how the Roman philosopher Seneca, at the end of each day, reflected on his misdeeds before saying to himself, “This time I pardon you.”

The whole piece is amazing. I can't stop thinking about it.

5. Edward Lloyd

I have kind of a soft spot for brazen charlatans. So I was delighted to learn that the park near my house is named after an utter cad: Edward Lloyd. There are just so many amazing things about this dude.

  • He made a fortune from blatantly plagiarising Charles Dickens, producing shoddy rip-offs like Oliver Twiss (not Oliver Twist) and Nickelas Nicklebery (not Nicholas Nickleby). Dickens took him to court and they had to invent new laws to get Lloyd to stop (the 1842 Copyright Act).
  • Although, and I love this detail, the judge in the case said that the ripoffs were so shitty that no-one would ever confuse them for the real thing, “No person who had ever seen the original could imagine the other to be anything else than a counterfeit, bearing no resemblance to the thing it was intended to imitate.” Kekekekeke.
  • Lloyd later grew a publishing empire of "penny dreadfuls", and was the first person to publish a novel featuring "the demon barber of Fleet Street" Sweeney Todd.
  • He launched a newspaper called Lloyd's Weekly, and to market it, stamped the paper's name into the copper coins he'd pay his staff with (which would then circulate through the economy... free advertising!). Once again, England had to invent new laws just to stop him doing this.

I think I just love the idea that you can chart your impact on the world by the number of laws invented specifically to stop your nonsense. By that measure, Edward Lloyd is a hero.

Wishing you a lack of frogs in your brain,

Sam