A Journal of the Plague Week 3
Monday, April 6th, 2020
Even as I posted my last update, I wondered why I was bothering. I don’t have anything profound to say about the situation, I don’t have any unique insights or interesting takes. I’m a privileged person sitting safely in her house, whining about vegetables. Millions of people around the world could be writing the same exact thing—but why would they?
Alltagsgeschichte. Everyday history. Microhistory. My take on these concepts may not totally align with that of actual historians, but Alltagsgeschichte was the word that popped into my head when I asked myself “why” last week. I’m writing these updates purely for myself, and I’m documenting everyday life from my specific perspective because it’s the only perspective I have access to. And while my little day-to-day trials may not be especially fascinating to me or anyone else right now, I suspect that when I look back on this time in 5 or 10 or 20 years, I’ll appreciate having recorded what I’m doing and feeling, as banal as it is.
So, last week was rough. Nothing happened last week that hadn’t also happened the week before, or the week before that, but I felt a mess nonetheless. I was fine one minute and fuming the next. I cried my way through Wednesday for no apparent reason. I’d had some hopes for a potential book project, but the hopes were dashed towards the end of the week, and even though it had been a long shot, it left me bereft. Our neighbors kept shouting at each other, which put me on edge. Two brief shopping trips left me anxious and angry at all the people who still aren’t keeping a safe distance from anyone else (and don’t even get me started on the runners huffing and puffing all over the place without giving the rest of us a wide berth). I did a lot of online quizzes just to pass the time, and then I berated myself for wasting time on quizzes. I got intense Fernweh and stared out the window for ages, looking at the same bland street I look at every single day, longing to be in Portugal or Greece or Singapore—but not the Portugal or Greece or Singapore of now, obviously. The Portugal or Greece or Singapore of before. The world of before.
When all of this is over (for some definition of “over”), I think it’s going to take me a long time to get back to something resembling that before. I think about the simple pleasure of sitting in a cafe, and then I think about all the other people around me in this hypothetical cafe, and I think of them breathing and laughing and touching things and maybe sneezing or coughing, and I wonder when I will ever feel comfortable with that again. We had to have a plumber come around today to clear a blocked drain, and while I tried to keep a reasonable distance from him (and the blocked drain was outside, so he was mostly outside too), I was a wreck the whole time he was here, and I cleaned like a fiend the minute he left. I’ve reverted to some type of medieval brain, repelled by the miasma that I imagine surrounding everyone but Jeremy and me. Our flat is our bubble of safety. I don’t want anyone else inside it, and I don’t want to leave it.
But I do want to leave it. I’m a homebody by nature, but even this homebody has its limits. These same four walls, this same small neighborhood, these same neighbors, all of them here at the same time, all the time—and they’re fine, really, and we’re fine, and it’s all fine, but also, we’re three weeks in with no real end in sight. “Inside” feels claustrophobic and “outside” feels dangerous, so there’s no escape. No exit. Huis Clos. Hell is other people indeed.
Perhaps it’s worth noting that, as I write this, our downstairs neighbor’s son appears to be messing around with—a drum machine? GarageBand? Something that produces irritating snippets of percussion that aren’t loud enough for me to pound on the floor and tell him to shut up, but are just loud enough for me to want to pound on the floor and tell him to shut up. But then, I sit here and play (muted!) fiddle, and Jeremy plays a lot of mandolin, and even though I obviously don’t jump around when I do ballet in the kitchen, I’m sure I still sound like an elephant downstairs, so I know that we are also the annoying neighbors in this scenario. We are probably someone else’s hell. And I understand that we’re all just trying to make it through a really crummy time, so I’m working on my compassion. But it is very much a work in progress.
This whole thing is a work in progress, I guess. Eh bien, continuons…
Please do continue these updates. I’ve had to stop reading the news as it’s far too stressful, and I no longer use social media; but I appreciate these sorts of accounts of how people in similar situations to me are managing. The newsletters and blog posts I read are wonderful, calm sources of information about other people’s experiences.
Thank you for your comment, James, and for the encouragement! I’ll certainly try to keep writing updates, even if they’re nothing more than “this week was just like last week”. I find that it helps me too, actually, both to maintain a sense of perspective and to put my otherwise scattered thoughts in order.
I hope you’re doing well - take care…
Add a comment