Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Question of Semantics

In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths. Our limitations and joys begin in our hearts. We can always replace negative with positive. --Betty Eadie
I've been enjoying seeing how everything is blooming right now here on Vancouver Island. I am constantly stopping to admire flowers in other people's yards. Annoyingly, I never know the names of plants, like these pretty things I saw the other day. And I'm not sure how I am going to know the names of things unless I start knocking on people's doors and asking them... which is something I'm not sure would be entirely welcome at the moment:

At home, I am enjoying seeing our Japanese Maple in full spring glory with its vibrant bright green leaves which simply glow, even on a cloudy day. It's like a cool fresh breeze each time I look at it. I have a few tomato and pepper plans below it, taking advantage of the sunniest corner in the yard:

Indoors, I have a few bean plants sprouting. I'm going to start taking them outside to harden them off in the cool air before I plant them in a box. Last year's beans didn't work out, so I have a lot of hopes and dreams stored in these wee beauties:

Meanwhile, a little present for myself arrived a few days ago. It's a colour pack of cotton in pretty much every colour of the rainbow. I have plans to combine it with the neutral ecru yarn on the right to make a little quilt-style blanket. In the meantime, I regard it in the same way as a new set of pencil crayons on the first day of school: something to pull out and admire before finally breaking down and using them. I've already rearranged them in colour groups from darkest to lightest. You might say I have a lot of time on my hands:

I've been thinking a lot about words recently, and more specifically the choice of words. We're all in this strange situation of having to stay away from each other, and listening to the way people talk about it has been particularly striking to me from the start. Maybe it's because I'm particularly sensitive these days.

I notice that there are three different terms people are using to refer to the orders to stay at home and each of these terms invokes different responses in me. Perhaps it is because I use words so often to express myself, but I can't help but notice the effect of these terms on me.

Lockdown - When people say they are in lockdown, to me it feels like a sharp snap on the hand. It feels like a state of captivity, where someone is waiting outside your door to shout at you to go back in each time you open it. It evokes a state of scarcity and deprivation. People who say they are in lockdown are usually the angriest about our situation.

Quarantine - When people say they are in quarantine, it makes me hold my breath. It's a word that makes me look at people furtively, as potential threats, as disease-carriers... like zombies with no hearts or minds. People who say they are in quarantine seem lonely and wistful.

Self-Isolation - When people say they are self-isolating, it makes me feel like I am part of a caring community. They are staying away, not just to protect themselves, but to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable of us: the aged, the immunosuppressed, the weakest of us. People who say they are self-isolating seem like people who are looking after you and me and everyone else around us. And they seem the calmest.

I realize that I am in a privileged situation to be able to choose the terms I am using to describe my situation, but I think that is also the case for so many of us, particularly here in Canada. And I really feel that it makes a difference to think carefully about the words we use because I think we can see that words matter. For example, people that call this a "Chinese disease" have created a situation where Asian people are discriminated against.

People who look like me. And I am not ok with that.

"Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed." -Abraham Joshua Herschel

"Don't ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs." -Hamza Yusuf

"All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down." -Friedrich Nietzsche

And so on.

In the meantime, I am going to keep self-isolating. And I'm going to continue to wash my hands and practice social distancing and work on this crumpled-up bit of lace:

The details are lovely... or least they will be once I can stretch it all out and block it:

So that's all I have to say. Here's my ubiquitous Seymour photo. He knows the power of words as well. He's waiting for someone to say K-I-B-B-L-E-S. And then there's gonna be some action here, for sure:

Have a good, safe week!

1 comment:

Marsha said...

It is interesting for me to read about the meanings that each of those terms evokes for you. I think about them differently—which I'm sure has some connection to our own social/geographic/political contexts.

Where I live (Pennsylvania, USA), some variation on "stay at home" is most commonly used, especially by government and health officials. My area has been under stay-at-home orders from the governor for six weeks, and pretty much all "nonessential" businesses are closed. (Someone recently posted to YouTube a video of what my town looks like from the air these days, and the empty streets and empty parking lots look rather post-apocalyptic.)

A close second for most people here either "lockdown" or "quarantine." I don't hear a lot of people talk about "self-isolation" here. I've gravitated toward "lockdown" myself—subconsciously, I think, because it's short and easy to say.

Thinking about this more after reading your post, I'm fine with "self-isolation" not being the top term where I live, because that term connotes choice. Honestly, given how the "reopen the economy" drumbeats are getting louder and louder in the USA (there was a big demonstration at my state capitol last week, complete with heavily-armed participants toting anti-immigration signs, Confederate and Nazi imagery, and "I want to get a haircut" signs), as much as I think that most people would choose the course of action that doesn't endanger others, there are many people who wouldn't—so I don't want them to be presented with anything resembling the option of a choice in this matter. 

I'm not feeling angry about having to stay at home. I'm sad for everyone who's suffering (health-wise, socially, financially) during this crisis. I'm frustrated by how things are being handled/bungled by various decision makers. I'm sad that my daughter won't get to celebrate her birthday with friends early next month. During my biweekly run to the grocery store, I'm terrified I will encounter either the coronavirus or racists who will react to my Chinese-Americanness. It's exhausting and stressful, and I will be glad when this is over and it's safe to be with other people again.

Until then, I'll just take things day by day. And do lots of knitting: I've completed one pandemic sweater and already have another on the needles. :)