And two short weeks after my gentle, it’ll be grand, soothing column about the Coronavirus was published on a Friday night here at The Gloss, we are not in the least bit grand, at all. At the time of writing, the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, the pubs and restaurants are closed, the festival cancelled, the supermarkets – ravaged. Things are strange, not least because I had been gradually teaching myself to get out of the house more, to work with other people more – to log off – and now, in self-elected isolation, being logged on feels more like a lifeline than it ever did. I miss crouching in a pub corner with my friends, solving the problems of the world. I miss the office full of gals and Scout the dog, though it’s been just around a week since I saw them. I miss walking slowly and methodically through Penneys on a Monday morning, after therapy, almost alone. I miss how my hands felt before antibacterial soap – and the fancy exfoliating one with granite in it from Aesop that I still feel like a bad person for buying – changed the consistency of my skin. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see my parents in person again – my dad is immunocompromised and taking no risks. At the time of writing I’ve been social distancing, indoors with my husband, for almost a week, having not encountered anyone but him other than people I awkwardly rush by in the supermarket. A week feels tiny, in the grand scheme of things, as I watch tiny videos of quarantined Italians on their balconies, singing in solidarity with one another, as the death toll rises. They stay afloat alone, together.
I am self-isolating, frankly, because I don’t want to be a vector for the illness and accidentally harm somebody else. In writing about all of this in advance, I feel as though I am blind-spotted to the future. The world is changing rapidly every single day. Yesterday’s rules don’t stick today in all of this: I’m not sure I ever really understood what taking each day as it comes meant before now. But I remain hopeful: and am taking solace in the house, rather than melting my optimism in the fires of the internet. It’s a pokey rental with little natural light, but we’ve been here for five years, and now that we’re not going to be leaving it much, I’ve decided to do something I’ve avoided doing for a long time. Nest.
CB and I have lived in three places together, two flats and one small house. All different, but with this in common: I’ve always felt hesitant to make any of them feel like they belonged to me. It takes me forever to hang anything on the walls: prints sit in tubes, or lean against the wall in IKEA frames, because those walls aren’t mine. Hanging things up always feels like that one transgression against the contract that has no plausible deniability, or something. It’s a superstition, almost. Part of the worry about nesting is that the wrong move could disappear the house from around us, and part of it is an unshakable sense of impermanence. I never felt like owning a house was something I would want to do: partially out of a sense of blankness around my own future, and partially because I was unmoored myself for so long that chaining myself to brick and mortar felt outrageous. Lately I’ve been feeling more anchored, craving a bigger, brighter space. Walls I can paint white. A garden. Wanting anything at all feels dangerous, but it is something I want. And I don’t know how we’ll get there in the world as we know it, but I hope we do. Still, since the start of this self-isolation period, I’ve been wandering around the house voluntarily cleaning things. This is not naturally in my nature, trust me.
Since the start of this self-isolation period, I’ve been wandering around the house voluntarily cleaning things. This is not naturally in my nature, trust me.
I have sorted reams of clothing, cleared my desk, organised my make-up. Sorted out the zine-factory I developed that lives under the coffee tables so that it now largely only occupies one shoebox. I am taking it one tiny patch of the house at a time: a corner, a shelf. Just, sorting things. I am making sure it feels manageable, though my instinct is to don armour and blitz the house in one fell swoop, transforming it into a smug, selfie-haven. I don’t want the house to feel like a prison to two adults who are working full-time from within the walls: I want it to feel like a place that we can be, alone together, without feeling claustrophobic. I make sure to open the back door and the bedroom window wide to let the cat out, the cool spring air in. My husband hoovers, does dishes. I cook meals ritualistically, making sure to put everything away extra-neatly in the fridge: something I was never that bothered with before, given that I always felt I was eating in a rush before some outside presence demanded my attention. New pressures and stresses have quickly grown in where that social pressure has evaporated, don’t get me wrong, but now that we’re meant to stay in here rather than go out there, I feel like I can attend to the place with more love, or something.
The internet is a paramount tool during this strange period – it keeps us updated on new information, and to be informed during a pandemic is to be empowered. But there is, as always, a strange tightrope to be walked with that quantity of information to access: how quickly I can sink my head under the cold, frightening water of it. In the bleak news scroll, there are bright beacons – an all-Ireland nightly movie watching session hosted on Twitter by Alison Spittle to encourage people to stay in, and make each other laugh while they’re doing it. Charity drives organised and pushed through to help health service workers who are leading the front line. Musicians taking their gigs digital, writers broadcasting creative writing workshops. While I am building this house into somewhere I can live instead of just sleep and pass through, I am warmed by their glow. Perhaps right now the internet can keep us afloat even when it feels like we are barely treading water.
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