My food cupboards are full. My fridge and freezer are packed to the gills. I could open a liquor store with the amount of wine and spirits I have purchased. And it’s the same in all three places I currently split my time between – Manhattan and Beacon in New York, and Valencia in Spain. I have enough to see me through at least the next three pandemics.
During the first lockdown, when everyone was emptying supermarket shelves of toilet paper, I counted 47 rolls in my Manhattan storage cupboard. It’s just the way I am. I have a pathological fear of running out of everything. Some years ago, when I was living in Cardiff, I had a call a little after 3.30am from friends who had arrived at a late-night Indian restaurant to find that the kitchen had just closed. My friend Leisha said to her husband, Richard: “Who do we know who will definitely be up and have a ton load of food in the freezer?” She was right. Half an hour later, we were tucking into spaghetti Bolognese and downing Chianti.
I occupied myself perfectly well during the relative silence (Zoom aside) of lockdown. I worked on my website that my old friend Jayne Gould set up for me, cooked on the YouTube channel I formed, Jaci’s Box, started to learn Spanish, and did some other things I’m not going to reveal just yet. Suffice it to say: nobody died, and nobody got pregnant.
As life gradually returned to some form of normality, albeit still with restrictions, I found it harder to cope – largely because it was normality, but not as we once knew it. Travel became an ongoing stress, with airlines in particular canceling flights at short notice and providing passengers with little or no opportunity to discuss changes or receive recompense. If you think I’ve been moaning a lot on here and Twitter, type British Airways britishairways.com into the latter; it’s the wailing wall of social networking.
When I recently returned to Wales, I was stunned at how few were adhering to the compulsory mask-wearing on public transport. I woke with severe anxiety and sometimes panic attacks, daily, fearful of venturing out among crowds who were behaving as if Covid had never happened. In New York, we have had to show Covid passports to enter bars and restaurants for months now, and nobody bats an eyelid; even the very suggestion in the UK induces the kind of rage more associated with having one’s newborn snatched the second the umbilical cord is cut.
There is a kind of relief with the rise of the Omicron variant; I don’t mean in terms of people getting sick or dying – nobody wants that – but the imposition of rules that once again give a structure to one’s day to day existence (obviously, I am not talking about the UK, where chaos continues to reign). Having spent weeks feeling in limbo (not helped by traveling too much), I am again sitting at my computer after a long period of writer’s block (outside of writing my newspaper columns) and planning my days in a more organized way.
I know how lucky I am in this. I work from home and always have, so it’s no great sacrifice, but I realize, for many, it is a strain on mental and emotional health, not to mention the financial difficulties that any new lockdown might bring about. Of course, we all want this pesky virus to go away, but the one thing that will guarantee it won’t, is people putting their so-called personal freedom above the value of life.
I saw red upon seeing the poster comparing people going for vaccinations with a woman and child walking into Auschwitz, where millions died not because they were given life-saving drugs but because hideous experiments were conducted upon them, or they were, simply, annihilated. I’ve been to Auschwitz and seen the claw marks of human nails on the walls as victims struggled to find a way out; I’ve seen the piles of human hair and children’s shoes; I’ve heard the silence that still haunts the birdless sky. To compare the Holocaust with life-saving treatments administered by dedicated professionals putting their own lives on the line every day, is more than offensive; it’s disgusting.
So yes, I am grateful that I am in a better position than most, and I am still trying to analyze the slight relief, that at times borders on exhilaration, that the world may slow to a near standstill again very soon, because the stress of the new normality was becoming unbearable.
Did we really used to live at this pace? Was stress embedded into our every waking moment? I am not the only person who took stock of life and started to reassess what it was like BC (Before Covid) and what it might be after. I still do.
I know, for example, that I move around too much, although the rentals I took in Beacon and Valencia have been lifesavers during this difficult time: the former for the relative freedom it delivered outside the City (we had 50% indoor dining in upstate NY, long before Manhattan), and the latter mainly for the weather (although the mega cheap prices help).
I’m always trying to analyze why I move around so much – I was even like it as a child, when I was forever rearranging my bedroom, or Mum and Dad would come home to find I had switched the living room and dining room over. On one occasion, they came back to discover I had painted one wall of the living room, having found a tin of olive-green paint and some brushes in the garage. Looking back, it is astonishing they took all this in their stride.
So, I’ve been reading Atomic Habits by James Clear jamesclear.com, and this was the lightbulb moment I recently mentioned on Facebook. The book is about getting rid of bad habits and instilling new ones, but this, for me, was The Moment: “Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself….Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to be merely planning. You want to be practicing.”
There is so much of value in this book (you can read it in a couple of hours), and I am usually very wary of self-help gurus. But this really was it: all my moving around isn’t actually getting anything done; it just gives me the feeling of taking action. “And that’s the reason you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.” At the risk of going all Carrie Bradshaw on you: do I keep moving because if I stay still, I’ll have to face the possibility that what I’m staying for might not work out? My movement is actually procrastination?
I’m currently putting it into practise and staying put in Valencia for the moment (and I’ve out up my first Christmas tree in five years), having canceled four plane tickets, two hotels, and resisting the temptaion to check every travel site to see if there’s somewhere I need to be going. That’s the other thing about Covid: the panic that suddenly comes about, thinking: “What if I’ll never get the chance to do X, Y or Z again?”
Anyway, that’s my Monday morning off to a flying start.
You see? There I go again.
I’m off to a great sitting start.