This grace period is almost over; the frightening specter of normalcy looms. Unlike many people, I was never terrified of going bankrupt or being kicked out – the two fragile pillars of my existence were government loans and a friend’s apartment (far more prosperous) . I was also inessential, so I have been sitting in the same room for a year. After so much time spent doing nothing, the prospect of having to start over is daunting. My newfound tolerance for human interaction peaks at around two hours, after which I start to secretly get anxious to be alone on the couch watching TV again. It reminds me of a movie I once saw of a captive gorilla released into the wild, huddled away from the open door, afraid to leave the safety of its cage.
Before the pandemic shattered my attention span, I was about halfway through Thomas Mann’s journey The magic mountain, which would have made the quarantine reading oddly apt. It’s a novel about a young man, just graduated from college and about to start his career, who goes to visit a cousin with tuberculosis in a sanatorium in the Alps for a few weeks. He ended up staying for seven years. (We learn that in the first few pages, so it’s not a spoiler, Mannboys.) One of the reasons he remains, clearly, is that he prefers life in the sanatorium to life “downstairs”; it is, as its title suggests, a kingdom from another world, outside of normal time.
I’ve always loved weekends and summers, those officially sanctioned breaks from productivity. This year has been like a long Sunday afternoon: society on hold, life on hiatus. I felt like I was off the stage or hanging out in the kitchen at a party. My circadian cycle has gone wild; I stayed awake long after midnight when the world was not looking, and tried to sleep in the morning when I was writing. I loved listening to the warm, amniotic thrill of the dishwasher, like the sound of the car engine when you were a kid, sleeping in the backseat, knowing that the adults would bring you safely home. I was grateful for the debilitating blizzards and cold snap, when no sane person would venture outside. Recently it was awfully beautiful, 75 years old and sunny, and I never left my apartment. I have come to love the darkness, nestled in my cocoon.
Part of this, I know, is symptomatic of depression, currently a secondary pandemic, a societal sequel to COVID-19. I have had episodes of depression before, and although I now have a cushion of experience to deal with them – I know they are fleeting; I know how to put up with them and crawl again – it’s harder to come back every time. Not because of their perversity or their tenacity, but because of their attractiveness. It is increasingly difficult to resist the sirens of loneliness, idleness and nihilism.
Once, years before the pandemic, when I had the flu and was lying in my bed, watching movies and drinking Theraflu, it took me a few weeks to realize I wasn’t more ill; I had just gotten used to the flu lifestyle. I had an excuse to indulge in the pleasures of careless indolence in good conscience. “I understand there’s a guy in me who wants to lie in bed, smoke weed all day and watch cartoons and old movies,” wrote Anthony Bourdain. “My whole life has been a series of schemes to outsmart this guy.”