“Strike nothing, and stir nothing, but lash everything.”
—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian word quarantina, meaning “forty days.” Why did Venetians keep the boats at bay for 40 days? Who knows. Maybe it’s the Bible. Before Noah’s Flood, it rains for 40 days and nights. Moses goes up on Mount Sinah for 40 days. Jesus spends 40 days in the desert.
We’re coming up on 40 days in this house. I keep thinking of Dougal Robertson and his castaway memoir, Survive the Savage Sea. He and his family got picked up on their 38th day at sea. By the time they were rescued, they had hit a kind of groove: they had meat and water stored, and they’d seemed to have moved beyond survival mode.
Our 38th day was yesterday. We’ve hit a kind of groove, too. (“We no longer thought of rescue as one of the main objectives of our existence; we were no longer subject to the daily disappointment of a lonely vigil, to the idea that help might be at hand or was necessary.”)
Not that we don’t have our doubts. (“‘Of course, we’ll make it!’ The answer came from my heart but my head was telling me a different story.”)
“If any single civilized factor in a castaway’s character helps survival, it is a well-developed sense of the ridiculous,” Robertson writes. “It helps the castaway to laugh in the face of impossible situations and allows him, or her, to overcome the assassination of all civilized codes and characteristics which hitherto had been the guidelines of life.”
I read that book last January. My family and I had moved ourselves somewhere we didn’t belong, and we were waiting for the time when we’d journey back to where we belonged. I thought I was reading it to have some help surviving that moment in time.
As it turns out, the book speaks even more to me now.
The making of a zine about coming up on 40 days of quarantine. (Music by my son, Owen.)
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) April 18, 2020