Welcome to the movie that is real life

A flower practicing social distancing

his is like a film,” your boyfriend said last night, watching Boris address the nation to announce a lockdown. You were half-listening and distracted by the jigsaw on the table in front of you. Yup. You do jigsaws now.

So far, 2020 feels like walking into a bar and thinking ‘oh this could be fun’ then getting bitch-slapped really hard by a random drunk girl. Huh? What? Suddenly everyone’s locked in their homes, and some say this could be karmic payback from the environment (maybe Mother Nature is the drunk girl?) for all the shit from the past few decades.

After all, the canals in Venice are clearing; carbon dioxide emissions are down in China; the list goes on. You’re not sure what to think. Everyone has an opinion. Sometimes it’s nice to pass on having one.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Everyone also has a coping style. Every organisation does too. Nearly every CEO from every corporation you’ve ever given your email address to has been in touch — it feels like the same email written 300 times.

In a way the new daily rhythm feels like living in more analog times, with time for more baking and reading. On the other hand it feels like hyper-digital times with information from everywhere: Italian balconies, the White House, Boris, Jacinda, Wuhan, New York, you name it. If you want to find out what’s going on in any corner of the kaleidoscope your wifi can lead you there.

You try not to panic-scroll but just like the stress-snacking, it’s hard not to. It’s grating that those who should be reading stories like this are collectively shrugging. While they party in Miami and catch the tube in London, people are losing their loved ones and having to say goodbye via video link.

The Italian city of Bergamo is having to transport its dead out of the city by army vehicles, as its crematorium is struggling to cope. Meanwhile the mayor of Bergamo “has flown his daughters out of the UK because he says the British government’s response to the pandemic has been too slow”. Fantastic.

You watch Contagion. It’s an eerily accurate prediction.

It definitely brings to life the government advice around washing hands and social distancing. All those idiots still pretending everything’s fine should watch it.

Some people are doing home workouts and face masks and ‘making the most’ of these ‘extraordinary times’. You’ve gotten rounder, as you can’t stop scoffing Ben & Jerry’s even though you know you should be reducing your sugar levels. You debated ordering a Peloton bike but they’re now taking up to four weeks to deliver.

Others are using this time to get productive and to reorganise their pantry, and in fact, that’s what you did at first: your boyfriend invented a new fridge organisation system, you cleaned and tidied every inch of the flat to make yourselves feel better (“something within control”), he bought a puzzle.

But now the edges of the puzzle are done and the middle is getting harder to complete. There is no more of the flat left to Kondo, and you can’t help but feel sort of useless and scared.

What to do with this? This time, this gap, this glitch in the Matrix?

You read Sarah Nöckel write this in her Femstreet newsletter and it sticks:

“What most of us are experiencing right now isn’t ‘remote work.’ It’s working from home during a pandemic which is stressful, for your mental and physical health but also for your relationships and job situation. Please don’t forget that most remote workers can share their tips on how to work from home, but they are likely as lost as you are about being locked in their homes.”

It feels wrong to be so physically far away from family — what if the global airline industry collapses? — and equally it feels so privileged and ridiculous to think like that, a question that belongs to Life Before. Just like, “Should I get a manicure this weekend?” “Which movie should we go see?” “Meet you there at 8?” Silly questions.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

You’re grateful for a roof over your head, enough food (*Ben and Jerry’s), a healthy family. You’re looking forward to life after the storm but scared of the economic aftermath. A lot of businesses won’t make it through this. It will be like speedboats trying to battle a huge tidal wave that no one saw coming.

In this transition period, there will be good days and bad days. This is what you tell yourself. Some mornings you wake up and life looks the same: you get dressed, put on makeup and earrings, do your job, go for a walk, speak to friends, cook dinner. Other mornings, you need a pep talk just to get yourself to the shower, and that’s okay.

Writing stories (www.adelebarlow.com) and helping companies tell theirs (www.copyand.co)