A Paradise Built in Hell: Creative Re-imagining in the Time of COVID

Paradise Built in Hell
High School Park, March 18, 2020
My last post was ten days ago, but it feels like another planet. The cancellation of one information session for my project became part of a global tidal wave of cancellations, lock-downs, shut-offs. Now we’re adapting to social distancing (which would be better described as physical distancing) and everything requires a completely different way of seeing. And, despite the grave situation that we’re in, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Part of the motivation to do this project was to engage more of my community in a dialogue about how to build a sustainable world, even in the face of long odds. I have long believed that humanity is in need of a re-set: something that will wake us up from our technology-induced stupor and remind us of our true nature and purpose. I understand how bad this is going to be, both from a public health and economic standpoint, but I also am seeing acts of selflessness and care, and many people taking the time to reflect on their lives—whether they are really well-lived, or just muddled through in service of productivity and profit.

I just started reading the Rebecca Solnit book A Paradise Built in Hell, which provides a multitude of examples of how disasters bring out the best in human nature, rather than reducing us to chaos and violence. I’m reading about the incredible acts of solidarity of ordinary people in extraordinary times. We are in such times.

What is clear to me, only ten days in, is that nature is solace and human connection is critical—more than even before. In the last few days, I have spent time both at High School Park, the place where this performance is supposed to take place, and Wissahickon Valley Park. Allowing myself the time to sit and witness the first signs of spring growth, and to see other people finding peace and comfort in nature, has helped diminish my anxiety and remind me of the beautiful transformation that’s happening all around, despite the terrifying headlines. In some ways, nature is benefiting from the sharp reduction in human activity, from dolphins swimming in the now-clear Venice canals to the countless plants and animals that are flourishing with the clearing of skies over China. I often wonder if Earth wouldn’t be better off without humans. I want to believe that we’re not just an invasive species, but clearly our footprint is way too heavy.

So what does this all mean for “Women’s Responses to the Ecological Crisis?” It’s an opportunity for a radical rethink in a rapidly changing situation. I am thinking about new ways for members of the community to reflect on their relationship with nature, and each other, and share their reflections in ways that respect the physical distance we are compelled to maintain. And hopefully, when we have gotten to the other side of this, we will be able to celebrate together with a ritual in our beautiful neighborhood park.

I will be sharing information about the re-imagining of this project in the coming days…stay tuned. And please take care of yourselves, and of each other.