Imagining Place: Self-Quarantine Edition

I moved to Seattle, WA on February 9th of 2020. Within 3 weeks the COVID-19 virus had struck the hometown to which I had repatriated. The whole point of moving home had been to stop isolating myself, to move from the suburbs of NJ where I was living in a sort of social quarantine, to a place where I had friends and community that would support me.

Well, it was a nice idea while I had it.

The world started to shrink. First Amazon sent all their employees home, then the synagogue down the street went to virtual services, as did many other synagogues in the area (I have no idea about the churches, it’s not my scene). I watched as the bastion of social hope that I had come to slowly receded away, as the place that I had hoped would be a refuge became a small and isolating prison.

When the world grows small, what can we do? What should we do?

I’ve lived through an apocalypse before, lived through the horrors of the AIDS crisis and learned from it. I wandered out of my childhood through the valley of the shadow of death.

I am not unaccustomed to isolation. I have watched my father dying by degrees through hospital windows, worn plastic gloves and paper masks.

The smell of ammonia still haunts my nightmares (to this day, using hand sanitizer makes me feel like a small child, powerless in the face of an illness I cannot control.)

So let me tell you how to survive when the world grows small, when diseases fly ’round like bullets, when your fear of a cough is the difference between life and death for a loved one.

Read books.

When we cannot escape the confines of our homes, either because of fear of infection, or because of fear of infecting others, we need to find ways to escape for ourselves. We need to find solace.

For me, for my father, for many, the words of fiction are often the way to freedom. A way out of the doldrums (but be careful when you drive through them), a way into space.

Escape through story is one of the most magical methods of surviving an apocalypse that I know of.

I thought I might make a few suggestions, though. See, it’s not just that you need to escape, but you need to escape the right way. Don’t go looking for your copy of Station Eleven or The Doomsday Book. Don’t go digging out a copy of RENT to sing along to.

Find yourself in the comforts of To Say Nothing Of the Dog, or perhaps in the middle of a Wodehouse book. Give yourself permission to revel in laughter and joy, to tell stories with your friends and families that bring light from the darkness.

Sometimes, the place that you need to be isn’t where you are. Sometimes you need to envision a world that can be better, that can be different.

Sometimes the best cure for fear is to escape into another realm.


Elsa Sjunneson

Elsa Sjunneson is a Deafblind author and editor living in Seattle, Washington. Her fiction and nonfiction writing has been praised as “eloquence and activism in lockstep” and has been published in dozens of venues around the world. She has been a Hugo Award finalist seven times, and has won Hugo, Aurora, and BFA awards for her editorial work. When she isn’t writing, Sjunneson works to dismantle structural ableism and rebuild community support for disabled people everywhere. Her work includes her debut memoir Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, her Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla novel Sword of the White Horse, and her episode for Radiolab “The Helen Keller Exorcism.”

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