COVID-19 Diary: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

 

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

 

20th March 2020:

 

Empathy! Solidarity! Togetherness!

We are shouting from our balconies in between the intervals of clapping. Buzzwords of the brink. But do we really care beyond the growing walls of our personal void? Have you got the energy to give a shit about everyone else – in a practical and meaningful way? Most of us are too busy constructing our individual coping routines.

 

8AM: Wake up, thanks to my alarm in the adjacent room. I’m trying to break up with my phone at this time. It’s sort of working, when I don’t get up in the night to listen to a podcast.

8:15AM: New yoga routine. Just fifteen minutes a day but it seems to set up the morning well.

8:30AM Shower. Breakfast. Radio.

 

I was on a train from Hamburg to Zurich when I had to make a quick decision on whether to abort mission and head back to Amsterdam or not. In 10 minutes I would be in Hannover where I could change onto a train to my current city of abode. A few years ago I immigrated from New Zealand to the Netherlands, where I met my now-boyfriend (a Colombian Swede) who has since moved to Switzerland. When I left Hamburg at 8:30am, I had word from the boyfriend that he had been sent home from the office as a colleague was possibly a positive case. Fuck. This is the closest we have come. Should I stay (on the train Zurich-bound) or should I go (back to Amsterdam, in case a lockdown occurs)? I stayed.

Now I wake each day in a city I do not though. Although that doesn’t matter. We could be anywhere.

 

‘It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.
Here we are now.’

– John Cage

 

It’s Day Three in Zurich. The day rolls on in an oscillation between knowing exactly what I am going to do, and not being sure due to an overabundance of options. In a moment, everything can be possible and everything can matter – and in the next, nothing matters at all.

 

I’m bored

I’m the chairman of the bored
I’m a lengthy monologue
I’m livin’ like a dog

– I’m Bored, Iggy Pop (1979)

 

Now in the life of ‘lock down’ (for now, ours is self-imposed and not monitored by an external military presence) all the long-lost friends climb out of the woodwork suggesting we do a Skype call. Is a Skype call solidarity?

I miraculously got a new freelance job during this time. It’s writing copy for building development company. Unsurprisingly, they are in fact not in the business of real estate, but are forming spaces that shape our lives. So, buildings. Unironically, the company is called LIFE. It’s an acronym for ‘Living In Funky Environments’. You can’t make this shit up.

 

‘To be & be the present. Would it be a repetition?
Only if we thought we owned it, but since we don’t,
it is free & so are we.’

– John Cage

 

It takes about a day to get the job done and feels good to know there will be some income coming in. In between the ‘crafting’ of the About Us and Our People pieces, I sit in the sunshine, vape, listen to music, and avoid looking at my phone. De-depending on my phone has been on the agenda for a while and now seems like the perfect time. It’s pretty easily actually. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Once you get it out of the room and remove the automatic habitual checking of it, there’s not much more to be done. The overload of messages is annoying anyway. What are all these people doing with their time? Just low-level chatting? Boring.

 

I bore myself to sleep at night
I bore myself in broad daylight

‘Cause I’m bored

Just another slimy bore

I’m free to bore my well-bought friends
And spend my cash until the end

‘Cause I’m bored

I’m bored

– I’m Bored, Iggy Pop (1979)

 

By just Day Four, this is starting to feel like the simple staycation we always wanted to have. Staying indoors with all the books we’ve intended to read, the ideas for drawing projects we’ve wanted to start, the lovely recipes we’ve collected and wanted to make. Entire days emptied of obligation and latent with potential. What could be done! Let’s make a start while the caffeine is still buzzing the ever-present despair has wandered away somewhere.

This is quite cool. Never under other circumstances would somebody give me the unverbalized but implicit permission to live like this for a while. And by implicit, I mean enforced. Still non-military, but enforced nevertheless. This delight has a certain bad taste about it though. It certainly is not of public acceptance to turn something enjoyable from the situation amongst the global suffering. Empathy, remember. Public compassion please.

So now I am busy falling in love again with what I have. This is all I have, and all I will have for a while. I don’t have money to buy things, nor do I want to. Isn’t it interesting how consumerist desires have fallen away? I’m far more interested in what’s lying in the cupboard. All these random objects that were surmounted over the past years have regained a purpose and a value. There was a reason I kept those rubber bands from the broccoli! And thank goodness I stole a bunch of shampoos and conditioners from various accommodations. Strangely my soft kleptomania ramped up in the months running up to this. Now I have plenty of well-designed theatre programmes, stylish paperclips, free postcards and a stash of green teabags to get amongst. The wardrobe has gained renewed interest too. I love getting dressed in the morning! Everything that was previously saved “for special” is allowed to be worn every day. Silk jumpsuits to sit at home in. Great bandanas and I can finally be bothered to wear jewellery again. What is happening to me?

 

Back to bad taste. We had better enjoy dressing in colour while it’s still okay to do so. Once we are released, it will be time to enter a period of Victorian mourning. That means public pleasure will be awkward; don’t forget what everyone went through. That lives were lost. That we used to live in disgusting excess, and now we make do with the surplus we already had. First we can wear black for a while (exact period TBD) then grey, mauve, and finally white – called ‘half-mourning.’

 

Information On Victorian Mourning: The length of mourning depended on your relationship to the deceased. The different periods of mourning dictated by society were expected to reflect your natural period of grief.

 

Does this mean our mourning period will depend on how closely we knew someone who was effected (infected)? Out of solidarity, we should probably all opt for the long-term black.

 

I’m sick

I’m sick of all my kicks
I’m sick of all the stiffs
I’m sick of all the dips

I’m bored.

– I’m Bored, Iggy Pop (1979)

 

The good news about quarantine times is that you can always be working on content to add to your portfolio. So, once you’re done with self-care, thinking about those worse off than you, and falling in love again with what you already have, you can interview friends on their current situation, and write articles about your personal experience. There will be plenty of pandemic accounts, sure. But, yours can be another angle to add to the pile. It will be worth it, I promise. So just make notes, take photos, and assemble some kind of documentation of the moment that can be used later to demonstrate your productive use of time and individual take on the epoch. There is no need to feel bored. Really.

 

21st March 2020

 

Thinking about Genesis P-Orridge with their passing. I remember a quote I’ve used from their interview on the Team Human podcast years ago;

…the whole selfie, internet narcissism trip – they’re training people to stay inside.”
– Genesis Breyer P-Orridge[1]

 

That takes on a whole new meaning now doesn’t it. My generation is well-trained. My grandparent’s is not. Mum wrote to me yesterday asking if I can post a letter to Nana because she is depressed. ‘These are our final days and we have to spend them stuck inside!’ she lamented (so my mother tells me). I’ll get around to writing the letter once I finish my tax return. And by finish my tax return, I mean finished doctoring the past three retroactively so I can be eligible for this so-called allowance that freelancers can receive.

Everything can be seen as prophetic now. I’m reminded of the film Demolition Man (2015) where Jake Gyllenhaal’s investment banker character Davis loses his wife in a car accident and finds solace in destroying appliances, and eventually his own home. ‘Everything has become a metaphor’, Davis’ internal dialogue narrates, reflecting on his post-loss world and writing while riding his commuter train, ‘… Metaphor… I am the uprooted tree. No, wait… I am the storm that uprooted the tree. I am the cold front that collided with the low-pressure system. Hmmm. Too much.’

Everything is a metaphor now. When the rain pours and we are stuck indoors – metaphor. When the sun shines and we remain house bound – metaphor. When I am sitting by myself in this room and my boyfriend is in the bedroom talking loudly on his office’s ‘Beer O’clock’ social call – metaphor. When we are together discussing where we will holiday ‘afterwards’ – metaphor.

Anything anybody ever said before. Metaphor.

 

“What is important now is to recover our senses.”
– Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation (1966)

“It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.”
– Joan Didion, Goodbye To All That (1967)

“I’m lookin’ for one new value
I’m lookin’ for one new value
but nothing comes my way.

We live in the same world.
We were young in the 20th century…

Ahh, but nothin’ comes my way.”
– Iggy Pop, New Values (1979)

“You are the one I want to be stuck with
Ayo ayo ayo ayo big fight”
– Red Hot Chili Peppers, Goodbye Angel (2016)

 

See? Metaphors.

Back to old people. They’re less trained than us for all this. Their social knows only physical. My grandparents have people drop by to the house nearly every single day. There is always somebody driving through and popping in. Always a neighbour walking in the backdoor unannounced to give some beans they had too many of in the garden. Always somebody known to chat too across trolleys at the supermarket. Always a library book to be returned. Always a church group to attend. Always a card game to be played.

We can handle this virtual synthetic substitute shit. They can’t.

A forgotten word returned to my mind today. Duress. “Living under duress”. Duress is akin to captivity. The boyfriend is still in the next room socialising and now they are talking about gaming their way through the quarantine. I hear them excite over Age of Empire. Metaphor.

 

 

22nd March

I’m quite tired of getting messages from woodwork friends wondering ‘how I’m doing’ and ‘where I am’. Is this mean? ‘How are you?’ was already the most boring txt one could receive on any given day. Part courtesy, part true enquiry. Part pre-empt to ask for something.

“When someone casually asks me “How are you doing?”, I sometimes find myself hesitating, as if caught in a micro-catatonia. The question is both petty and cosmic at the same time. Then I remember: just say “Fine.”
― Eugene Thacker

Why do so many people want to interview? I’m not that interesting on the best of days. In the normalist of times. Now I fill days with mundane tasks of catching up on life admin and potentially futile tasks like applying for Masters degrees and writing things.

 

‘I’m just a boy with a new haircut’

– Pavement

The rest of the time is me naming all the plants in the room and drawing them when I can be bothered. See? Boring.

Monomania. Defined as;

1 : mental illness especially when limited in expression to one idea or area of thought
2 : excessive concentration on a single object or idea.

Mass monomania.

 

23rd March

The writing’s on the wall.

I walk the now-empty streets of Zurich reading the stickers on (closed) store windows and posters by social movements possibly now over. The messages infused with capitalism read as equally passé: ‘Buy Now or Cry Later!’ pressures a window on the same street a small square sticker says ‘We are fucking angry’.

 

[1] Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. “Weaponized Pleasure.” Team Human. Podcast audio. December 20, 2017. https://teamhuman.fm/2017/12/.

 

Ruth Les

Ruth Les, fka Jess from Outsider, is an independent writer and research based in Zurich and Amsterdam. Their book Offline Matters: Radical Strategies for the Creative Worker (BIS Publishers, Amsterdam) comes out in Sept 2020.