Hamlet’s Lesson

I still remember when I first heard about the coronavirus.

2019 was a bittersweet year. I spent the first half of it at Washington College, a not-so-small college in a frozen-in-time conservative-looking Maryland town. I experienced for the first time in my life (I was 22) what snow felt like, I got to talk in a language not my own for more than two weeks straight (the typical length of my previous trips to America), and I met wonderful people (I frequently talk with two of my professors and two of my students, all of them close friends now).

But the second half… Well, it was tough. I couldn’t attend classes in Argentina because the academic year here begins in March and not in August. So I had to stay at home, away from my classmates and the whole university environment that always did me well. It didn’t take too long for my long-forgotten depression to kick in. Without something to entertain itself, my mind went back to its old habits: self-loathing and apathy. 

And that’s how I received 2020: downright melancholic and nostalgic, not being able to get off the bed, without reading nor writing. And that’s when news about this new virus started to stand out here in Argentina. Journalists would report that things were bad in China (and its despotic, authoritarian government was trying to cover it all up), but almost next to nothing was known about it.

“Oh, great,” I thought, “it’s like in 2009, just another swine flu. Give it a month or so, and it will be over.” I’m sure now that God laughed right at that moment. I was naïve enough not to care at all (and politicians here did the same) since my mental health was my top priority. Lithium pills started to do their job and, when one morning I was able to dance to “Club at the End of the Street,” I knew I was (almost) cured. 2020 seemed promising: I would be getting a second chance at life, a redemption. Back to classes, back to seeing my friends, back to being busy. Nothing could go wrong, right?

I moved to a students’ residence in Buenos Aires to become a little less dependent on my family (although they were the ones paying for everything), and there I met my two Ecuadorian roommates, who would become close friends. Everything was great: we watched anime, we listened to Bad Bunny, we smoked cigarettes, and drank so much beer that, the first Friday of classes, in what would be my last physical, face-to-face course in college as of now, I dozed off in my chair due to my massive hungover.

I visited my parents that weekend because I missed my house, and that’s when the president spoke to the nation: quarantine would be mandatory starting next Monday. We didn’t know back then what that entailed; we couldn’t fathom the repercussions. Thinking it couldn’t last more than two weeks (at most), I went back to my residence feeling excited: I would be able to read whatever I wanted since they were probably going to prescribe us a compulsory holiday season. But my college (Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina) must have known something we didn’t because, after their initial silence, they started warning us that classes might go momentarily virtual. 

Wait, what? Is it supposed to last that long? The government (as always) was being completely inefficient and didn’t communicate clearly their plans (I’m guessing because they didn’t have any). So we were at a loss. How did virtual classes work anyway? I didn’t know back then that being a student would become such a chore, such a painful burden. I suffered my education’s virtuality. I wasn’t learning as much; I couldn’t pay attention. I had never had these problems in college; I felt like a high school student again, all frustrated and bored.

So I got really anxious too (I do suffer from anxiety and depression), being trapped in a small room with two strangers. That’s when I started smoking like a chimney: two packs a day, sometimes more, never less. There was a cigarette shortage for a moment, so I had to walk many blocks and go to every store in my neighborhood until I could find decent (if I can say so) cigarettes to smoke. And I drank a lot, too—no alcohol, or not a lot of it, but mainly Coca-Cola. So I always felt bloated and out of breath, my stomach and my chest hurt constantly, and I couldn’t sleep well (which was not good, since I had to get up around seven every morning). 

I studied all day, every day. I don’t know how I put up with so much studying. I didn’t watch any series; I didn’t read the books I wanted to; I didn’t go downstairs to play pool or poker. I was just focusing on my courses. This was probably just a defense mechanism: if not studying and being away from my classmates made me depressed, being trapped in my room, I had to study extra to cling to my sanity. That was not life: for a whole semester, I didn’t live at all. 

I didn’t mention that the residence I was in wasn’t my first pick. I always wanted to go to one in Recoleta, an Opus Dei Hogwarts-like “Center of Studies,” not because I’m a believer (I’m the complete opposite), but because it was the most exclusive, elegant one in Argentina. And when there was finally a place for me there, I moved out, leaving my two loyal Ecuadorian friends behind. Although Ecuador was still bound to haunt me since, when I got to CUDES (the new residence), other Ecuadorians there were cooking autochthonous food, and I helped them out to mingle with them. 

I had gained much weight during the last year (I hit triple digits, in kilograms), so now people would call me “Gordo” (literally “fat”); it was the first time in my life that someone had appealed to my weight to characterize me. It bothered me initially, but then I got used to it (as people usually do). 

There I met the most interesting people. I already knew an Uruguayan living there, but I got to know a Honduran filmmaker that blew my mind. We became closer as time went by, and now he’s got a place in my heart. I also established strong relationships with the numeraries there (people devoted to Christ and their work). They tried more than once to convert me to Catholicism, but every time I politely declined. However, I went to mass once and confessed to a Korean priest (a great friend of mine) all of my sins.

I gave a couple of final exams, but not as many as I would like to. My GPA went down a bit, but it didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would. I skipped many classes, mainly because I was getting really bored, and because I wasn’t able to stay more than an hour in front of a screen without smoking a cigarette (that problem didn’t go away, sadly). I didn’t like what we were studying the second semester: too many bizarrely and painfully marginal authors and none of the classics. Professors seemed duller too, more annoying than ever, excruciatingly plain and silly. 

My insomnia worsened. I would stay up until 4:00 in the morning, not able to fall asleep. My Honduran friend would play LoL while I studied right beside him, and that would go on for hours until night became day. Most days, I didn’t sleep at all before my courses, so I ended up falling asleep before lunch, which I missed more than once. 

2020 was a rocky year, but it had its highlights. I made great new friends (the Honduran one); I was able to write again (poems, basically), something that’s of the utmost importance to me; I reorganized my priorities (being happy is at the top, along with being both physically and mentally healthy); I became a better friend, a better son.

Being trapped in a bedroom was hard, but it gave me much time to think. So I thought and thought long and hard. And I realized that what we most value in life, freedom, is mainly a state of mind. I finally understood, after a year of being a prisoner, what Hamlet meant when he said: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”


Submitted by Felipe Rodolfo Hendriksen

Felipe Rodolfo Hendriksen studies Literature at Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina. He currently lives in Quilmes.

No one asked: Pandemic Edition

So, we’re in the middle of a pandemic.  What now?

I’m not going to pretend to have any answers.  I’m a 20-year-old third-year college student.  I don’t have a real medical background.  Sure, I was pre-med for five semesters, which my mother seems to think makes me a doctor, but I certainly don’t know the first thing about highly transmittable viruses.  All I know is what I’m told so, for now, I’m staying at home and doing my due diligence. 

In the middle of a global crisis, it’s difficult to see the distinction between self-care and sloth.  According to entrepreneurial Instagram, we should all be starting workout plans and founding online businesses and learning new skills.  But let’s be real, that’s not realistic (at least, not for all of us).  Also, using productivity as a basis of worth is a tool of capitalism!  The machine we are supposed to be raging against!

I’m not saying that lying in bed all day is the ultimate “fuck you” to capitalism.  Certainly, you are not sticking it to The Man™ by shirking all responsibilities in lieu of binging Tiger King on Netflix.  But I think there’s a balance to be struck between capitalism-driven productivity and self-exploration for the sake of enjoying existence.  Now is time as ever to delve into a new hobby, to do something regardless of whether or not you’ll be good at it.  Three weeks ago, when this all began, I ventured to Michaels (the craft store) for the first time since elementary school, probably, and bought a sketchpad, Micron pens, and watercolors.  As it turns out, I’m not as bad of an artist as I thought. 

The purpose of this essay isn’t to stand atop my soapbox and tell you that you have to start crafting or gardening or writing or whatever it is you might feel slightly compelled to do.  I don’t think that picking up a hobby will magically transform this literal pandemic into an inspirational era of growth.  It’s okay to acknowledge that this sucks.  It’s okay to be disappointed about missing a concert or a vacation or your college graduation.  You can feel those things while still being sensitive to the gravity of the situation and recognizing the privilege that you might be experiencing within it. 

Yes, I said it.  The P word.  Privilege.

I know it gets thrown around like a football in the hands of frat dudes, inexplicably shirtless on a college quad.  You might be tempted to roll your eyes and shove me aside as another liberal SJW, desperate to blame my plight on somebody, anybody.  But I’ll be the first to admit that I have privilege, too.  Exceptionally so.  Honestly, I consider myself incredibly lucky in this present situation.  For the first time in my life, I have relative financial stability (meaning that I know I can afford rent for at least one more month).  I have my own place in New Orleans, meaning I don’t have to fly home and live with my family for an indefinite length of time.  I’m babysitting a friend’s car, I have food for groceries, and I inadvertently stocked up on toilet paper long before the shortages began because I unintentionally kept buying more than I needed, forgetting that I had some hidden up on a shelf at home. 

The next time you go to the store and complain about the lack of produce or toilet paper or cleaning supplies, I implore you to take a second to think about the fact that you could have bought whatever you needed, had it been stocked.  Yes, it is exceedingly frustrating that we cannot purchase the resources that we need.  But I imagine that it would be even more frustrating to be unable to access those resources at all, to have running water and a hot meal be something that only exists in your dreams.  I’m not here to tell you that “someone has it worse” because, well, of course they do.  If you’re reading this, you at least have access to the Internet, an invisible privilege that most of us mindlessly overlook, distracted by the endless scrolling that consumes us.  But again, it’s okay to have the things you have; you aren’t a bad person for having more resources than someone else.  Unless you’re a billionaire, in which case, you are a bad person.

My point is, there is much to think about.  I hope to use this disruption from regular programming to reflect on myself and on the state of society; I hope to educate myself as much as I can.  I know I’m not going to be the person to cure any of our great downfalls, but I pray that things don’t simply return to normal at the end of this, whenever that may be.  Now is the time to radicalize.  Now is the time to learn.  Now is the time to come into yourself.  Now is the time to read those books and listen to those podcasts and watch those documentaries you’ve been putting off.  Now is the time to learn how to crochet or draw or paint or whatever it is you’ve always told yourself you could never do.  You’ve got nothing better to do, do you?

I certainly don’t intend to tout myself as an exemplary model of self-motivation or radicalization, but I do hope that I’ve said enough to get you thinking.  These are unprecedented times, as far as our lifetimes go, and the world can be a scary place.  But in knowledge and in the arts, we might find some solace.


If you need some resources, check out this massive reading list, put together by @queersocialism on Twitter.

COVID-19 Resources

During this global pandemic, fear and chaos run rampant.  In an age where personal anecdotes shared through social media often reveal the realities that those in power withhold, it can be difficult to ascertain an empirical truth that isn’t muddied by hysteria.  For this reason, The Dilettante team has collected a list of articles to hopefully provide you with sound advice and reliable information during these trying times.  Stay inside, wash your hands, and stay safe!

How to safely sanitize the things you’re bringing home

REALITY CHECKS

This piece of video-journalism about the state of the hospital system (NYC)

Another piece about the state of the hospital system (NOLA)

A projection of how the COVID-19 outbreak will play out in the United States

An eerie look at quarantined San Francisco

RESOURCES FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY EMPLOYMENT LOSS

Expanded unemployment benefits for COVID-19

How to apply for unemployment benefits (California)

Applying for unemployment insurance benefits (Louisiana)

A state-by-state resource guide for musicians affected by COVID-19

FAQ about the Senate relief bill


As an aside: As we sit at home and scroll through an abundance of tweets that play on the gradual loss of sanity that results from isolation, I encourage you to reflect on the psychology of incarceration.  Some literature to consider regarding this topic:

Incarceration nation

How prison changes people

Quarantine and Chill

Out of movies to watch? Check out this list of recommendations from our staff film connoisseur.

Suspiria (2018)
dir. Luca Guadagnino
City of God (2002)
dir. Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund
Moon (2009)
dir. Duncan Jones
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
dir. Spike Lee
American Ultra (2015)
dir. Nima Nourizadeh
The Family I Had (2017)
dir. Katie Green and Carlye Rubin
The Birds (1963)
dir. Alfred Hitchcock