The Quarantine Diaries, Week Five & Six

Saturday 11 – Friday 24 April

Have we really been doing this for six weeks?!

Had an off week, hence the doubling up. I returned to my parents house in Surrey on Easter Monday and despite the pastoral haven (read: hayfever trigger), abundantly stocked store cupboard (miso paste! blueberry jam! self-raising flour! vegan mayo!) and cat cuddles (consensual or no), it threw me off my routine a bit.

I’ve been feeling lethargic and leaden, both in body and brain. Like I’m trapped in a sourdough starter of my own making. All my pet projects and lists have been tragically unattended to and instead I’m devoting the surplus time to scrutinising the breakouts on my cheeks and making collages from old magazines. I think I have a case of stasis.

I had a conversation with Michael from work and finally articulated this ‘bleurgh’ feeling that has been lingering like a bad smell for the past couple of days, and I think it is this…

‘How are you?’ has become a difficult question to answer, particularly during an empathy-conscious time when people are asking (interrogating?) it more than usual. Because normally you can deflect. You’re like Jan Vertonghen.

‘How are you?’

‘Good! I saw this amazing play the other day / smashed a spin class / had a really nice dinner with uni friends / took myself to a classical music concert / got to do this cool interview for work.’

All of these are answers I could’ve given to that question the month before the outbreak of coronavirus. None of which really answer the question levelled at me. But as conversational segues, they hold up pretty well.

Now, with these indicators of productivity and wellness having been subtracted from our existence, the conversational buffers have gone. We’re all sitting ducks and the question ‘how are you?’ penetrates to our very core.

And the answer means admitting ‘not great’ more often than I’d like to admit. Or just fine. Like my synapses have glazed over. I feel like a fire in my belly has been extinguished. It’s just fine in my belly now. How long can you make a conversation about flower-pressing or marbling last? When I’m in London I yearn for sylvan space and quieted thoughts and now that I’m here, it’s too quiet. I want my big city back (running down a tube escalator with disco tunes blaring from my headphones, squeezing past patrons in a packed pub with a dribbling pint in hand, queuing outside of the Prince Charles Cinema amid the lantern-lacquered streets of Chinatown) and with it my deferred dreams.

That being said, today was better, and I felt more renewed and also thoroughly seen by this tweet.

Watching:

Films

Had a run of mediocrity and have been prioritising TV. On my must-watch soon list: Wanda, The Assistant, Mickey and the Bear.

TV

  • Quiz; obviously. Matthew MacFayden’s delivery of the line “I believe he was making love by Wednesday” is a perfect film.
  • Little Fires Everywhere; Reese Witherspoon is essentially playing the same rich bitch character she nailed in Big Little Lies, but as with the novel there is a lot of depth to all the women characters; their foibles, their motivations, their manipulations and it makes for riveting viewing. Except the finale, which felt like a victim of contrivance. Arson is a really hard crime to justify the motive for, and ultimately I’m not sure the series sold it.
  • Middleditch & Schwartz; fuck me did I cackle when a There Will Be Blood reference / impression came up in episode two after all that Twitter chat; also I love how self-referential they are even mid-sketch (breaking character to remember characters, calling each other out on their choices of names and inability to do accents), it’s improbably good improv.
  • Devs; early days, but intrigued so far – kudos to the production designer Mark Digby and composer Geoff Barrow who struck me as the MVPs in episode one. Episode two confirmed that I am fully into it.
  • Insecure; every time this comes back I wonder how I’ve survived without it.
  • Run; Merritt Weaver and Domnhall Gleeson are fun to watch, but I wonder how far this premise will stretch. I imagine thinly, but we’ll see.

YouTube

Something else I comfort-watch all the time are Vogue’s beauty routine videos. There’s something both hilarious and soothing about watching women wash their faces and apply serums.

I’d never seen Greta Lee’s before and now I idolise her and want her haircut. To be honest I’m envious of everyone’s haircuts ever since I went at mine with a pair of scissors like Norman Mailer rebutting feminists (with explosive relish). Also it made me want to invest in a silk turban.

I’ve also been thinking lots about space and vacillating between gratefulness for a relative capaciousness, and yearning for something even more upscale. The two poles of which can be illustrated by these apartment tour videos. Seriously, that book case in David Harbour’s home is my sexual orientation at this point.

Reading:

Speaking of books, I read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss which I wasn’t that enamoured by. If anyone’s read any more of hers I’d been keen for recommendations.

Currently working my way through The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, whose prose is always flint-sharp and faultless.

Yuval Noah Hariri on our attitudes to death in The Guardian.

That big Covid insight report in The Sunday Times.

I’ve been doing a bit of collaging and this column in the NY Review of Books perfectly encapsulates why it’s such a calming quarantine activity.

Listening to:

Podcasts:

Zoe Kazan on Fresh Air. This was a weird one. I absolutely adore Zoe Kazan; I think she’s eloquent, thoughtful, a great writer and brilliant on Twitter. I applaud her choice in life partner. But Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, seemed really intent on focusing on negative conversation starters. I’m sure Kazan greenlit their being spoken about, but it almost seemed as if Gross was pummelling Kazan with questions. How did she feel about her grandfather giving up names in the HUAC trial? What are her experiences of sexism? Of anorexia? Of depression? Important topics yes, but where were the questions about Kazan’s writing process, or how she decides between writing a play or a screenplay? Or how she gets ideas. They touch on her acting work in HBO’s Plot Against America and the Coens film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, but I couldn’t help but think there were other avenues to be explored. Still, I’m always ready to listen to Kazan, no matter the topic. She has a fierce intelligence which shines through.

Lucy Prebble on When Harry Met Sally for ‘Rule of Three’. a.k.a. one of my favourite writers on one of my favourite films. Contains lots of good preamble about writing Succession and how she has become less precious about her work, valuing alternate lines and trying to disentangle criticism from change. She also had this great phrase that stuck with me about writing dialogue which is that you’re looking for your characters to respond to things in a way that rings “surprisingly but truthfully.” Then when she starts discussing what makes WHMS tick, click, sing, e.t.c , well, you can see why she’s so good at what she does.

Still Processing ‘How to Learn From a Plague’; in which they talk about the documentary How To Survive a Plague. I got quite into learning about Act-Up around the release of 120 BPM and read the book / watched the film by David France, so it was interesting to hear it refracted through the lens of our current pandemic.

Lots of The Daily and The Guardian Long Reads which are my preferred access points to the current affairs.

Music;

SAWAYAMA which is a thrilling blend of Britney Spears meets Limp Bizkit. In fact it’s what I imagine Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden’s relationship sounds like, with added edge or griminess. Or even Grimes-y-ness.

Can you tell I don’t know how to write about music?

Cooking:

This vegan paella from Matt Pritchard’s book Dirty Vegan. Thank you Jake for the gift.

Doing:

Flower-pressing. Zine-making. Eating lunch in the sun and relishing my school packed-lunch vibe – cheese sandwiches, crisps, pots of grapes. NOTHING VERY MUCH.

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