Our bodies may belong to us, but we ourselves belong to a greater body composed of many bodies. We are, bodily, both independent and dependent.Eula Biss, On Immunity, pg 132
In her essay ‘Suffering Like Mel Gibson’, Zadie Smith more eloquently argues what I was hacking at in ‘What we’ve lost’. In short, she suggests that the acknowledgement of suffering can be seen as an act of self-care. She writes, ‘suffering has an absolute relation to the suffering individual’ and therefore no-one has the right to judge the severity of another’s discomfort. Extracts pieced together here as a summary.
The misery is very precisely designed, and different for each person, and if you didn’t know better you’d say the gods of comedy and tragedy had a hand in it. The single human, in the city apartment thinks: I have never known such loneliness. The married human, in the country place, with partner and children, dreams of isolation within isolation … The widower enters a second widowhood. The pensioner an early twilight. Everybody learns the irrelevance of these matters next to ‘real suffering’…
Early on in the crisis, I read a news story concerning a young woman of only seventeen, who had killed herself three weeks into lockdown, because she couldn’t ‘go out and see her friends’. She was not a nurse, with inadequate PPE and a long commute, arriving at a ward of terrified people, bracing herself for a long day of death. But her suffering, like all suffering, was an absolute in her own mind, and applied itself to her body and mind as if uniquely shaped for her, and she could not overcome it and so she died…
…when the bad day in your week finally arrives – and it comes to all – by which I mean that particular moment when your sufferings, as puny as they may be in the wider scheme of things, direct themselves absolutely and only to you, as if precisely designed to destroy you and only you, at that point it might be worth allowing yourself the admission of the reality of suffering.Zadie Smith in Intimations, pg 29
Over the last four days I’ve been unusually attached to my phone, regularly refreshing The New York Times to note leads, margins and the percentage of reported votes.
First stats showed strong support for Trump – at face value looking as though the polls had got it all wrong. Again. Cue flashbacks to the 2015 EU referendum and the 2016 US and 2019 UK elections. But pandemic disruption in 2020 has impacted voting methods too, with an unprecedented proportion of ballots being lodged by mail. Those inclined to vote by mail for reasons of social distancing tend to be science-led and Democratic-leaning, located in more densely populated counties which take longer to tally. Hence, the widespread approach of counting in-person votes first and mail-in votes second created a false sense of ‘count manipulation’, or as Trump would call it ‘voter fraud’, as Arizona and Nevada, and more critically Pennsylvania and Georgia slowly turned blue.Read more
God bless America 🇺🇸
While we await the results of the US election, I am proud to learn that Avery Dennison has donated floor graphics to keep voters safely distanced in Ohio – the swing state which is home to our global HQ.
2020 has been an odd year to celebrate momentous occasions. And, ironically, there seems to be more momentous occasions in my immediate realm this year than years past. Thirtieth and sixtieth birthdays, a birth, two weddings, a ten year wedding anniversary, thankfully no funerals…
Major crises like pandemics, wars and environmental disasters demand resilience of individuals and communities: they require adjustment, reconfiguration, compromise and loss, on a massive scale.
Changes made by very ordinary citizens have the capacity to facilitate the preservation of life. In this pandemic, change has meant mask-wearing, social distancing, working from home and limited travel. In wars it has meant curfews, blackouts, food rationing. In my experience, the required modifications have been uncomfortable but entirely doable because the situation is so critical.
Having never previously lived through a global event of this kind – one which completely disrupts ‘normality’ for an extended period of time – I’d never really thought about the continuation of life on these terms. In the context of a pandemic, the civic duty to preserve life significantly suppresses the continuation of life. They are in opposition to each other.
In a post from early August I marvelled at how adaptable humans are, and indeed it is true. But three months further along, the reality of this long-term game is more tangible. It has become more necessary to acknowledge anxiety, disappointment and frustration to safe-guard my endurance – also known as the reliable human need to vent, the need to have ones grievances heard before getting on with things. Reconfiguring birthdays, weddings, anniversaries… a spring, a summer, an autumn… indefinitely postponing a visit to see my mum on the other side of the world… It has all been doable but, like every other crisis bystander in the history of time, we won’t ever get back what we’ve lost during this period of partially suspended liberty. At the same time, we are extremely fortunate to be bystanders and not victims. A pandemic is an extraordinary thing to have lived through.
The other day I started to wonder what shape life will take as the pandemic eases (returning to ‘normal’ is not desirable). I suspect that change will happen slowly. As a consequence, it may be harder to register our increasing freedoms and be grateful for them. An idea: it seems pedantic to log every pandemic policy change as it arises, but I will try it as a way of making myself more aware of the current status and what I have to be grateful for, when it finally arrives.
All of the tube and train advertisements have been pulled.
‘Non-essential’ workers are house-bound, their roaming eyes aloft dark, fleshy pillows no longer held hostage for the duration of the commute by the proposition of hair plugs, a new mattress, dinner on demand.
Marketing budgets have been halted, or diverted from the public to domestic sphere, as the economy tanks and businesses scramble to compress fiscal haemorrhaging.
Monet’s Water Lilies are one of very few works of art that have physically overwhelmed me on viewing. The life-sized canvases are entirely mesmerising, ‘no sky, no horizon, hardly any perspective or stable points of reference enabling the viewer to orient himself…’.
The intimacy is heightened further by their 360 degree installation in the two sequential oval rooms of Musée de l’Orangerie. On entering the second room, we found ourselves entirely alone – due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. The deserted room was an unexpected gift and truer to the artist’s original intent for the viewer:
Those with nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, and, to whoever entered it, the room would provide a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium.Claude Monet, 1909
No single word can accurately capture the strangeness of 2020. MR and I have been extremely fortunate that we have, in the scheme of things, been relatively unaffected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Our jobs – and income – have remained unchanged, and we have a dedicated workspace at home each with a comfortable desk and chair. We have no children that require entertaining or educating, nor any elderly family living locally in need of care. We have had the privilege of access to food, physical space, face masks, hand sanitiser and soap, unlike a large proportion of the developing world.
Despite our privilege, I am weary. In January, scaffolding went up around the Victorian terrace next to ours, ahead of a major reconstruction which gutted the property and added a floor. Aside from two weeks in early April, due to government restrictions on non-essential work, the renovation has charged forward. Hammering, drilling, sanding, sawing, has been the soundtrack of the last six months meaning that almost all of my work video calls have required me muting and briefly unmuting my microphone to contribute to the conversation.Read more
The weekends are slow. The hay fever is oppressive. When evening settles and all but the birds have turned in we watch films in bed – recently, Wadjda (2012) and Big Night (1996).
I didn’t anticipate feeling so upset by Dominic Cummings’ recent cross-country travels.
Do I think his actions were unreasonable? No.
Do I think he exhausted all efforts to comply with government policy or remain accountable to the public he serves? No.
Do I think his actions flouted government policy? Yes.
Do I think any member of the general public would be shown the same grace the incumbent government is showing Cummings? No.
Whether the prevailing logic is rationalism or legalism, the same logic must be applied to every citizen. No exceptions. But this is England, a nation where every citizen is not equal.