Well, we didn’t see that one coming. For all the build up, the conjecture, the awareness that something was going on, somewhere a long way from here, it now seems impossible to recall a time when this virus, this lockdown wasn’t a thing. Now, for eternity it seems, I remain in our rural bubble. When I venture into town for a run or to get food am I reminded that the whole country is at home (or should be). I worry about the NHS, I worry about their staff who don’t have a choice, I worry that they will think we are all killing time baking, playing board games, watching Netflix and complaining, whilst they do what is grim and necessary.
Latterly, I consider myself adept at managing sweeping life changes, well-versed in that unique sense of disquiet that comes from knowing that nothing will ever be the same again. It revisits daily – actually hourly – now, even when I have a moment when my thoughts turn to something normal, routine, standard, they are whipped back to reality. It’s a peculiar time, and we talk of nothing else. My children and I wander around the house making exclamations of things we might do in this enforced time at home. Or at least my daughter does. Presently she’s considering how well-conditioned our hair will be, or whether there will be time to learn to do the splits, or perfect Beyoncé’s dances in ‘Homecoming’. My son says less and makes fewer productive plans; for a fourteen year old boy, being stuck at home with his mother and sister is about as bad as it gets.
The reality of our family circumstance has been starkly illuminated, made glaringly bright, and looking at that truth is a bit like staring at the sun. There is no escape, not that there ever was, but now we know.
I am listening to Joan Didion’s essay collection ‘The White Album‘ on Audible, and she writes of the late 1960’s when Sharon Tate was murdered, the Black Panthers agitated, and society shifted. She writes of that defining moment of time, of it being ’emblematic’ to an era. I realise that this virus will be the emblematic to our era, a thing we didn’t take seriously enough, can’t see, and don’t really understand.
Ashamedly, I find myself idly fretting about beauty, and the outward regime. Hair roots, bare nails, face and body as nature intended, and I suspect many feel the same, but don’t really want to say. It’s not important right now, but then, actually these smaller rituals had formed the punctuation marks to life, and we must all examine what our rituals were. What propped us up. That might be freshly coloured hair, or the ‘right’ clothes, or the knowledge, when you fall into bed at night, that you have ‘achieved’ something in any given day. Achievement has become something different overnight. I wonder about FOMO, and find that I have surprising moments of contentment in lockdown, I’m sure because I know everyone else is in lockdown too. How messed up is that? How telling.
What we are to others is changing. There’s a fresh sense, don’t you think, of refined social appropriateness? What was OK, tolerated, subject to a blind eye, is no longer, and there’s a new method of being courteous when in public, of giving space and denoting respect. So many curious outcomes will develop in coming weeks and months; I wonder who and what will herald a ‘return to normal’? I think of all the lockdown books that will be written during this time, and it propels a fresh wave of panic that I might not use the time wisely enough. Productively. And there is that FOMO again, rearing its head as reliable as envy or guilt.
Before this, there had been a quickness to my life, which I was enjoying I’ll admit, but which I was secretly wondering about. I felt as if something was coming, or at least that something had to give. I sensed it, but couldn’t place it. A friend of mine calls this a ‘fuckening’, rather than a reckoning. The cosmic universe toying with me. Now, there is a necessary pause. A slowing down which many of us could have taken beforehand, but were in fact incapable of.
Instead, a sudden proliferation of FaceTime calls, ones which I historically would not have chosen to pick up, as I was never ready for a full frontal with anyone, unplanned. Now I do pick up, and we smile and laugh and feel self-conscious and I wonder why they designed it so that you are never gazing directly into the camera, but always in a shifty downcast way. For most of us too, there is the shocking realisation that selfies are brutal, regardless, and it makes me want to shy away and return to the old fashioned method of speaking on the phone. I walked on the beach at sunset and it was so empty and so beautiful that it felt like a privilege I had never experienced before. To be in nature but without all the people. Yet it is the people that I miss. Emblematic of an era.