Weird & Güd - A Supposedly Fun Quarantine I'll Never Do Again

The gamut of socialization

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.

The Weird

We don’t know anything about hermitism. (Yes, another edition of the newsletter dedicated to hermits, you know what you signed up for). We’re home, most in densely populated cities where neighbors are within earshot, and completely socially-connected via phones and the internet. When was the last time you spent even one day completely isolated? No human being within walking distance, no on-demand communication — just you. We’re horrible hermits (band name for sale, contact for pricing).

This quarantine isn’t isolating; even our social distancing efforts are pretty weak. Sure, you’re tired of whatever level of hermitism we’re in, whether it’s pseudo or not. But perspective about just how non-hermitical we actually are will make Baby’s First Pandemic a bit more tolerable.

Enter: Russian Hermits. Because if someone’s going to take something weird to the extreme, it’s probably the Russians.

Agafia Lykova will make your quarantine complaints wither on the vine. Our worst quarantine moments are infinitely more comfortable than her best days. To us, at least. Agafia herself believes living in the Siberian wilderness in a shack while eating a daily diet of homegrown potatoes roasted over a flint-started fire in the thick of a -30 degree winter is incomparably better to your life.

As we hide from each other in fear and have our normal lives halted while Agafia contentedly continues on, no doubt completely unaware of and unaffected by our world’s descent into chaos-lite and a new post-pandemic era:

Maybe she’s right?

Much like your average Whole Foods hippie, Agafia won’t eat anything that comes with a barcode. If the hermit thing doesn’t work out, at least she can still start the next diet craze.

Agafia doesn’t just live off-grid — she’s never been on-grid to begin with. She was born in the wilderness as the youngest of four children. Her father fled into the Siberian taiga to escape communist persecution; he watched a patrol execute his brother on their own field in 1936 and disappeared with his family right after. A fair reason to stop participating in civilization.

The Siberian taiga is more far-reaching and unforgiving than any of your childhood traumas.

If you’re sensitive to production values or want a liberal-washed perspective that leaves out all the there-goes-grandma-talking-about-doomsday-and-slandering-gays premium content, Vice has a nice mini-doc on Agafia, but it’s much less interesting than this older, less politically correct Russian doc:

Agafia is part of a religious group called the Old Believers that are basically Super Christians. We’ll just call them the Old-School Believers because it’s more fun. She thinks “TV is a devilish thing” (and probably isn’t wrong), scares off bears by singing hymns and banging pots, and believes a day will come when a microchip/barcode will be implanted into everyone’s arm and forehead. You may have arrived at one of these stages in your own quarantine already.

Agafia has some rough edges; living in isolation so long that you don’t find out about WWII until 3 decades after it ends will do that to a person. True social isolation can do a lot; Agafia tried to join a convent of other Old-School Believers but eventually went back to her forest shack because the religion she knew was now practiced so differently. The geologists that stumbled upon her family in 1978 realized she also spoke a mostly lost language dating back to the 11th century.

The Lykov Family's Taiga Habitation
Agafia’s late sister Natalya (left), Agafia (center), and her father Karp (right) — sometime in the 1980s.

Agafia could join society and has been invited to do so, but she’s lived so far outside it that society has become the equivalent of a new planet for her (and not one she has any space-age enthusiasm for).

An Eastern Orthodox Christian living in hermitude or a leaked film still from the next Ari Aster movie?

As we quarantine in our tick-less homes — as you read the words of another human written only a short while ago and share them, instantly communicating with more humans than can fit in one room — take a moment to laugh at how pleasant it is to be this fragile. Our good fortune has made us intolerant of even the slightest social isolation, an isolation that would still serve as unimaginable, witch-burning levels of connection to our great-great-grandparents.

The Legend of Saint Giles by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale
Back in the day our figures of admiration used to be pious hermits, not vloggers.

A hermit is not simply a shut-in or antisocial. Forgoing society is a choice with huge costs and a payout that most of us instinctually find unappealing — unbridled individualism. That’s not a dig; almost all people trade degrees of freedom for the security and comfort of communal living (the social contract and whatnot).

There’s a reason the Kerouac-types go into the wild to find themselves and it’s not because the real them is in the forest — it’s because everyone else isn’t. Even as we sit home “alone,” the text message you sent 10 minutes ago, the social media post you shared yesterday, the news article you read today — that’s social connection, not isolation.

Although her life is constant labor even at 75 years old, Agafia seems much happier than many of us after only weeks of air conditioned and constantly connected “isolation.”

We might feel worn down and anxious from being stuck at home during a health crisis and losing our routines, but one of the most jarring aspects of quarantine is confronting the degree to which we rely on other people.

You now have the best chance to experience hermitism that you’ll likely ever be given. Is Agafia right? Turn off your phone for a day and see who you are on the other side of true isolation.

A hermit is one who renounces the world of fragments that he may enjoy the world wholly and without interruption. — Khalil Gibran

The Güd

Unless you’re a practiced hermit, we’re all feeling a little off with the interruptions of our normal social patterns. Overdid the social distance?

Let science help.

Alice Willinger

Arthur Aron is the proud owner of a recipe for lab-grown love. Getting total strangers to act naturally while being studied in a lab has been a problem in science since there were labs to study strangers in. Aron developed a 45-minute question game that’s been proven to create just enough of a bond between strangers to make them into not-strangers. Studying not-strangers is still less messy than studying couples, so this was a big deal.

I dug around in the data and excavated the journal where these magic questions were buried. Now you have them for your own pure or malevolent purposes. Whether it’s turning everyone you find into a not-stranger or trying to humanize someone whose face you're getting tired of in quarantine — I don’t judge, I merely deliver:

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.