Stay@home, Wochen 2 & 3: Jenny

The last two weeks were difficult, and Corona had nothing to do with that. A lot has happened, some of it sad, some of it good, some of it funny, some of it stressful, and frankly more than should be able to happen in your life when you barely leave the house or interact with the world outside. But it served as a good reminder: life didn’t stop, or pause. It’s still happening, differently, and in some ways less visibly, but definitely still there. And it will continue to be around, regardless of how long the current shutdown lasts.

On some days I got everything done: I finished something for uni, cleaned the apartment, fixed the WLAN and got the scanner to work, went for a walk, cooked, baked, replied to mails, did the dishes and laundry… the day went past in a twelve-hour blur of productivity. Other days just sort of happened, without me doing much of anything. My activities started to get a bit restless and haphazard, with me prowling around the place looking for distraction. Which is how I ended up listening to some comedy Christmas music, and playing ping-pong against the wall for an hour while contemplating life, and ducks, and hyphenation. But that’s ok.

As an act of self-care I started making it a point after that to do more stuff without a clear purpose, without high expectations. Because now seemed like the time to combat my perfectionism. I started writing passages from Harry Potter into the shape of a four-leaf clover, but if I’m honest I’m still pedantic about that. So I got out an old Strickliesel I was given as a child. Every few years I pick this up and add a few centimetres. It’s still the same ball of wool I used originally, and that doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller. Just as well really, because I have no idea what to do with the final product. I make no plans for it. I don’t need it. I also practised juggling while hula hooping. And in spite of some slight improvements I continue to be bad at it. In fact I don’t mean to be good at it, much less perfect. I have no intention of jump-starting a belated career in the circus. I just want to be able to do it. Acquire a skill, be ok at it, and move on.

While focusing on such little things helps me, I still worry. About the state of the world at large, about the germs potentially around me, and about everything in between. I’ve started to avoid most of the news, I rarely turn on the radio or other news media. Instead I’ve made significant progress down my list of things to watch and read. I’ve seen some great movies, and some bad ones, and I’ve started (and stopped) watching about six or seven different shows. But I’m a bit more careful about what I watch in what mood. I normally don’t deviate much from my plans, but I don’t have to watch Les Misérables when I’m feeling melancholy and depressed. It’s perfectly ok to discard my plan – made in the morning when I was still cheerful – and instead rewatch Toy Story.

But it doesn’t quite distract me from sometimes missing things. I miss not having this thing to worry about in addition to everything else. I miss not being worried about encountering people on my walks. I miss not seeing people sewing masks for themselves. And even though I text with my friends, talk to them on the phone or via video chat, I miss actually being in the same room with them, face to face without being dependent on technology as an erratic and wilful mediator. I miss making eye contact without glances flicking in between someone’s eyes on the screen and the camera lens. But maybe that’s also a good thing, to notice what you miss I mean, even when it hurts. It can show us what we want to prioritise in the future, and it keeps us from getting too used to this new normal, from normalising the current state of exception, because much like the hectic buzz and the wastefulness of the world that was ‘normal’ before, this has to be temporary. It can’t go on indefinitely, something’s gotta give.

The plug in my sink has said ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ for years I think, but this week was the first time I actually really noticed and read it. It’s normally rather more encouragement than I need while brushing my teeth or washing my hands, but right now it seems more fitting than ever. And there’s an obvious metaphor about things going down the drain, but I choose not to read it that way. 🙂

So carry on staying healthy and safe and @home,

Jenny

Stay@home, Woche 1: Jenny

I see so many posts about activities for the quarantine life. People finally read and watch the books and series that have been piling up, they clean, tidy up and organise their stuff, declutter their wardrobes, cook and bake, start artsy projects… I look around my apartment. I can’t find anything in urgent need of cleaning. I’ve just tidied up, and there isn’t a single item left I could get rid of. I’ve already made significant progress with my lists of things to read and watch.

Lego Hogwarts has just been entirely assembled and disassembled again. A number of my recent drawings now decorate the wall. Beep – the apple muffins are ready. Wherever I look, it’s ‘been there, done that’. But wait… it’s only been a few days of Corona. I realise I’ve already been living like this for the last couple of months, and not for the first time. I’m entirely used to this. This feels familiar. Structuring my day, being left to my own devices, a bit cut off from the world outside, carefully regulating how much news and external panic I consume, getting things done or just killing time, daydreaming, wondering about the meaning of life, keeping myself busy with few or no appointments. This is what I know, what I have already learned. This is something I can handle.

But people are afraid. People are dying, suffering, grieving, worrying. The news and social media are in overdrive, there is panic everywhere. And like most of us, I worry about friends and family who are at risk. I worry about myself. I worry about the future. I worry about the availability of water, food, and other necessities. So this doesn’t seem like a good environment for me and my anxiety disorder. Except in some way, it is. I worry, all the time, and about most things. I am often afraid. Sometimes there are weeks at a time where every appointment feels like an exam, every day like the world – my world – might end. But normally, the world is normal, disconnected from me in its carefree buzz of existence, with people going about their daily lives and routines while I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of exception, trying but unable to keep up with the world around me. Now the world finally matches my mental state. I hate this situation, but I also find it strangely comforting. I notice that I really needed the world to stand still for a bit, to not even have those few appointments I still managed for the last couple of months during which I struggled with physical health issues on top of my anxiety. Now I have time to breathe, to recover properly rather than just try to hang on, squeezing the experiments of what food my body might still tolerate in between days at uni. I even managed to get some work done at home for what feels like the first time in a while.

I am aware that I am relatively privileged with regard to this pandemic. I have the resources that I need and I can rely on the people around me, both in person and via electronic channels of communication. I don’t feel isolated. My existence is not threatened, nor does it feel threatened more than usual. The pandemic has had a reasonably small effect on my daily life, even forced upon me some much needed quiet. In the same way that this feels like a chance for me, it might also be one for the world at large. The daily lives of so many have been impacted by one thing, the habits of so many are forced to change at the same time, in small and in not-so-small ways. This can be a huge chance to establish healthier, more mindful ways of living, personal and public practices of care and social responsibility among all sorts of different people. A chance to improve health care systems, establish new measures that safeguard everyone’s livelihoods, foster global cooperation without capitalist interests. Being forced to pause and reconsider, being faced with the consequences of our way of life, we might realise that we want to change what we prioritise in the future – human connection, the environment, sustainability, equality, things that might be beneficial for all of us in the long run.

I realise that this is incredibly (and, for me, uncharacteristically) optimistic. The only thing safe to say right now is that there will be effects, multiple and varied, on most areas of life. Think about how 9/11 influenced our world – from international politics to travel and safety regulations to academic thought to what we personally expect the world and the future to be like. It makes sense to distinguish between pre- and post-9/11 in many fields and genres. We will be researching this, thinking, talking, reading, and writing about this for years to come. But while this crisis has made global catastrophes and apocalyptic scenarios imaginable, it has also made a variety of positive responses imaginable – in fact it has made some of them real already. And the mere fact that I am sitting at home right now, thinking about the possible positive outcomes and the productive potential of this, gives me hope. Because actively guiding my thought processes and imagining the future in positive, hopeful terms – be it in my head or in conversation, in a journal or on our blog – is certainly a new habit for me, one that I value, that contributes to my well-being, that motivates me to act, and that I intend to continue to practise and keep alive beyond this virus.

Jenny