ATTENTION, 2020

April 6th, 2020

by Madeline Keyes-Levine

Now, more than ever, I am sitting with my own fear and thoughts and exhaustion and trying to figure out what is truly important.

Two days into self-isolation I read The Seep by Chana Porter. Eight pages in and there’s a dinner party thrown because aliens have just landed on Earth and a toast is given - “I can finally, safely say that I have no idea what’s coming! I don’t know if this is the end of life as we know it, or the beginning of a grand adventure, or perhaps both. All I have is my uncertainty. And really, that’s all I’ve ever had. Everything else was a lie.”

 

A global pandemic with a large death toll is not a grand adventure, but it truthfully does feel like any certainty we previously had was a lie. It was a lie every time capitalism felt at all sustainable; every time it felt like my own well-being had nothing to do with everyone else's. All these things that I knew and that capitalism tried to make me forget are made so obvious right now, like a puzzle we’ve all been working on, pretending the pieces fit even when they clearly don’t. I am trying to pay attention to it all. In paying attention, in a true and undivided way, not a ‘how many crushing news stories can I read in the hour I wake up’ way, it is possible to see how connected everything really is.

 

Now, more than ever, I am sitting with my own fear and exhaustion and trying to figure out what is truly important. So far it’s the recognition that every human is inextricably tied to every other human and plant and animal and rock and germ. That to not care for all of these things the best you can is to ultimately not care for yourself; there is no selfishness that won’t end up hurting you. I am working towards a practical application of this right now, one unassociated with productivity, that involves the practice of paying attention to the things around me and using the space this creates in me to read about and work with mutual aid networks and tenants rights organizations. Learning about my ecosystem in all the ways it manifests, as a neighborhood, as a bioregion, as a community. Much of this has been informed and expanded by the book How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell which I recommend so strongly as a map for how to individually build a foundation of attention that is essential for collective action.No one knows what comes next but what we can do is accept that we all depend on each other and work towards building a world that honors that reality.

This is a photo of me and my dog, Spooky Mulder, in my room that I love that I can’t afford to pay rent for soon, in a city that I love full of other people who can’t pay rent soon. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. If you’re in Los Angeles, consider joining the LA Tenants Union to help protect yourself and your fellow humans. Consider joining a rent strike in solidarity with so many people for whom it’s not a choice. Pay attention to your surroundings because at the end that’s all we have: one essential connected web of people and plants and animals. 

Madeline Keyes-Levine is a photographer, human craft-project and soccer jock. They live in Los Angeles right now and you can see more @madeline.kl

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