I hadn’t promised myself to keep any diary of this quarantine so I didn’t even give myself a reason to let myself down. I was going to write about it when I had matured some thoughts, when my brain stumbled into something bigger and bulkier than its normal flow. When a mental gridlock signaled that something was going on there.
I didn’t let myself down. I didn’t betray myself. The problem is that time is all the same and the quarantine method doesn’t help to create divergent elements and surprises: not leaving home, minimizing any social interaction (except for family members) eliminates the possibility of accidents and incidents. Nothing happens or the same sequence of things happens as the day before and tomorrow, presumably. I get up, I have breakfast, I work, I write, I eat, some emails, I listen to some music, I don’t feel like it, I should listen to a podcast, I don’t feel like it either, there’s too much to choose from, I don’t choose anything.
To make us digest this forced quarantine, at the beginning they told us all the wonderful things we could have done, as if we had been passengers on the biggest cruise ship in history: cinema, music, virtual exhibitions. After a few days I had already understood that I didn’t want this cultural bulimia, I didn’t even know how to manage it. The excess of supply does not make you see an end: how many films do I have to see to feel like a citizen who has put this period of imposed asociality to good use? How many books, how many (virtual) museums? I don’t feel like it, I’m not taking part in this game. I’m on a cruise but I’m on deck, I look at the horizon line, I like it when in the evening the color of the sea and the sky blend together, that’s the moment I really love.
I eventually wake up the morning waiting for the evening to come. I’m neither depressed nor in a changing mood. I have this new routine: the most interesting part of the day is in the evening. I exercise before dinner, eat and then read or write. And then after midnight I watch a TV series while I’m drawing. Abstract or figurative drawings, according to a system that my mind imposes to itself: it decides randomly what to do, the important thing is to do it. And then I dream, so going to bed is interesting because the anxiety that I perceive anyway is constant, it’s oppressive and has to vent somewhere and then it comes out in my dreams.
The virus hasn’t yet appeared in my dreams or maybe it did, but dreams are metaphorical, you never see exactly that person, maybe you dream about your father but the mind means another person, in short it’s not easy. I mean, I may have dreamt about the virus but I didn’t recognize it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have very vivid and complex dreams and then they come back to me unexpectedly the next day, maybe towards evening or after dinner. Dreamed dreams that come back to me.
So I’m curious to fall asleep to find out what I will dream tonight. That’s the movie I watch every day: my dream, not what’s on TV.
Since every day is the same as the next, it doesn’t matter anymore to call them by their names. Only weekends are different because you don’t work, or at least that brain function is disabled for 48 hours. For the rest, Tuesday is Friday and Thursday is Monday. This inability of the brain to distinguish between days must be analysed someday, I am afraid it will have consequences, even if it is too early to speculate about them now. The general picture says that the perception of time has changed and distorted, and even though we have much more of it than before (you don’t have to move, you don’t go out anymore, the interferences that generally modify and compress it don’t exist anymore) it is never enough.
Abundance of time translates into scarcity of time, just as abundance of options translates into rejection of choice.
If I have little time I know how to use it, if I have a seemingly infinite time I no longer know how to use it and it never seems enough.
The situation is so surreal (perhaps “surreal” is the most abused attribute lately, I find myself using it dozens of times) that we can no longer measure change by comparing it to before and after (or during). It’s not like being on vacation even if you’re forced not to go to work, so you can’t fool your brain into believing it. What used to be taken for granted (meeting someone, going to dinner in Bologna, even walking) is no longer like that, but the conditions on the margins are so unprecedented that it is difficult to see these as shortcomings. You don’t even really miss them, because everything is suspended and distorted and overwhelmed by events.
How will we tell it in a few years? Maybe by saying that it was like being teleported into a parallel universe: we had no more references even though everything was familiar. Everything is in fact as before, minus our freedom and a good part of the behaviors that were more familiar to us: hugging, kissing, talking sitting in front of each other. We were always ourselves, we recognized each other at the end of the day.
The sense of isolation is also this: being in a box, measuring your own finite limits every day.
Or we’ll show a picture: that one I’m looking at right now, Friday, March 27, 2020. The Pope speaks to a completely empty Saint Peter’s Square. It looks like one of those images in which people have been digitally removed, but it is real. He is there talking and blessing and there is no one to listen to him.
In some ways it is the image that Philip K. Dick could have given birth to to visually define the triumph of digital over analog: the rarefaction of human relationships until the fading of man himself, the communicator who speaks to an invisible and physically non-existent audience, the most dystopian thing that not even the authors of Black Mirror had ever been able to think.
And to say that they had foreseen many crazy things, but reality, once again, overcame fantasy.
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The Quarantine Diaries — 1. The suspended reality
What is like to live under quarantine, that’s is a bit strange and unprecedented
The Quarantine Diaries — 2. The city of men without men
We’ve been isolated for a few days: from everything, from everyone.