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While waiting for the results of my coronavirus test, I’ve noticed the impact the virus has had on the little things we rely on. But it is all not bad.
So, here I am, still waiting for the results of my coronavirus test. The waiting time is now seven days. There is a Chinese curse that says ‘may you live in interesting times’, which tells you exactly how I feel right now.
Being locked inside confronts you with all manner of things that, I now know, are called ‘home-truths’ for a reason. I am lucky, because I’ve got somebody doing my shopping and I make my own work, so I am less put out than most people. Nevertheless, one of the things I miss most is the literal freedom of movement.
On a normal day, I get out of bed for a walk. A brisk up and down the hills around my house, 45 minutes, with coffee, at the same place, with usually the same people. It not only makes me feel physically good, it also sets me up for what I need to do.
I’ve got time to plan, to think about how to structure a story, who to call and what to say. And in the meantime, my eyes, ears and nose register and drink in my surroundings: the ocean, the escarpment, lorikeets, the feeling of my body moving.
When I then sit down at my desk, I am awake and ready. Writing, especially the first few hours of it, is a breeze, because my head is full of oxygen and ideas.
Now it is like I have to wade through treacle. Words come slowly and often they are the wrong ones. I have to push myself to start altogether, which is not helped by the fact that my husband was sent home when I had to get tested. He can go outside still, but is walking around like a bear with a sore head.
Because we are pretending that this is fun and an extra holiday, we are spending too much time together and that is starting to grate. Don’t get me wrong, I think the man is great. I really do.
But our lives, and I think everybody’s lives, are built on structure.
Normality has a certain shape, that we like and thrive on. It dictates that people have their own lives and meet for a few hours a day only. There is privacy there, a certain rhythm, the space to have a conversation with yourself, to pick your nose or listen to awful music. I don’t want an audience while I am going about my normal business.
With an audience there, I have to perform. It is more difficult to just be me, the me who lives in her head and often doesn’t even recognise her reflection in the mirror. I like that person, I have learnt to live with that person, and I miss her now I can’t be her.
I think that this is the biggest problem of this virus crisis: it plays havoc with our normality. There is so much we can’t do anymore, and we have to start contemplating things that we rather don’t confront: our own mortality, the possibility that loved ones may die, the loss of jobs, homes, freedoms. And through all of it we suddenly realise that we aren’t in control of our lives.
Of course, we have always sort-of known that, but so far it was easy to push it aside. Yes, there was a chance that we were going to be hit by a truck when we walked out of the front door, but we ignored that fact. And it was good we did, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to live. But now there are new rules, and a government that tells us what to do and especially what not to do.
We understand the sense of that, but it makes us angry anyway. How dare they mess with our normality, with our choices, with the little bit of control we’ve got left?!
And so we flock to the beaches anyway, try to take our power back by hoarding toilet paper and plant seeds for vegetable gardens that won’t fruit for months. Anything to feel that we are doing something, that we can influence what our future looks like. It is our way to build a weapon against an invisible enemy: ‘Out, damned spot!…Hell is murky’, as Lady Macbeth used to say.
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Because that is another problem now, as far as I can see: guilt. We want to play our part in society, we really do. But we are also, all of us, egocentric individuals. And the tendency to blame others when we feel threatened is in-built. There are people in my own circle who are blaming me for their coughs.
Even before they know whether I’ve got the virus, they are already certain I have infected their family. ‘I’ve got children with pre-existing conditions’, somebody said to me the other day, ‘if they die of the virus, it will be your fault’. This is what we do as humans: when we are scared, we blame Jews for poisoning the waterholes, Chinese for introducing a virus and the Spanish for the flu that started in Kansas.
When there is a finger to point, at least you can point it away from yourself.
In doing that, every rationality goes out of the window. And most of our sense of community and our kindness too. Also, we become even more selective with the facts than we already are. For instance, in looking for historical comparisons of Covid-19 we usually end up with the 1918 Flu Pandemic.
What we forget is a disaster much closer to home: HIV/AIDS, which killed between 25 and 35 million people worldwide. And yet, the planes kept flying then and we weren’t self-isolating. We were pointing lots of fingers, at Them, who were leading scandalous lives and were now being punished. See, we said, this is how God tells us how to behave. Then we went on with our lives. Nothing to do with Us, three cheers for capitalism and the nuclear family.
But through all of this, there are also distinct rays of hope. A friend of my daughter’s, who is a hypochondriac and an agoraphobe, is more cheerful now than ever. She thinks it is fantastic that the rest of the world finally feels the same as she does.
It makes it much easier for her to explain her mental illnesses and get sympathy for her suffering. Now everybody stays inside with masks on, she blends in for the first time in her life. Another good thing is that I have discovered the hidden actor inside. My grandchildren in Holland have not been allowed at kindergarten for the last two weeks. Especially Loek, who is three-and-a-half, is bored out of her brain.
So, I have taken to YouTube, looking up old episodes of Playschool and re-enacting them in Dutch. I have built a hat from a colander and some coloured paper, built a drum kit out of pots, pans, boxes, and pencils, danced on a hit from La La Land and made a painting by tracing my hand, an avocado, a key and a spoon.
From tomorrow, I will make her a dress while she can watch from 15,000 kilometres away. In the meantime, I am looking forward to a theatre show that she is preparing as we speak. And we will be planting bulbs together, her on her balcony, I in my backyard, tonight. ‘Fun eh, omi’, she said yesterday. ‘I wish every day was virus day’.