The Quarantine Diaries, Week Seven

Saturday 25 April – Friday 1 May

Watching:

Normal People; Not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Lots of big emotions to grapple with. Beautiful, painful and horny was how I described it to a friend, and I stick by that. I wasn’t that enamoured of the book, a good read, but I can’t say I could recall much of it when it came to binge the series and actually I enjoyed the adaptation much more for that. I wasn’t beholden to any notions of what I thought it should be. I was just rooting for these two people to figure themselves out and figure out how they could be together.

Devs; I started off liking it so much and then it did what Alex Garland’s Annihilation did too, which is let itself be swallowed or drowned out by the science of it all. The ambition began to outweigh my actual enjoyment of the thing itself and whilst I remained awed by it – the production and sound design and the cinematography especially – I stopped being emotionally invested.

The Assistant; Kitty Green’s film, starring the increasingly ubiquitous Julia Garner (no bad thing), about the day in the life of a big, important film producer’s assistant and the menacing minutiae that permeates it. Ostensibly it’s about HW, but it’s about the complicity in anyone corporate environment that allows the abuse of power to go unchecked. The fascinating thing to me was how Green portrays the well-oiled machine of collusion. It’s not that it goes unremarked upon, in fact many of her colleagues do remark on it. “Don’t worry, you’re not his type” says Matthew McFayden’s HR Manager in a moment at once disturbing and incredibly offhand. About halfway through, my Dad’s eyes started glazing over. “It’s like having a boring day at the office” he complained. “Exactly!” I proclaimed. The whole point is how normal it’s allowed to become. Reactions that might have emerged as outrage – Garner does low-key balking very well – have crystallised into light office banter. No wonder the women who spoke out about HW were so disillusioned or reluctant to; Green’s film (beautiful seems like the wrong adjective, perhaps cunningly?) cunningly illustrates how a day of quiet indignation from a lowly assistant can be shrewdly shrugged off; how a woman’s silence – next to her appearance – is thought to be her most valuable asset.

The RSA’s ‘Bridges to the Future’ event series. Lots of big ideas to grapple with.

This live-cam of above-water manatees in Florida. Really, really calming.

Reading:

Plodded slowly through The Shipping News. Proulx’s behemoth of a novel Barkskins was infinitely more propulsive than this much slimmer volume. Great characterisations, great descriptions, just wasn’t that bowled over by it.

Very excited to start The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai tomorrow.

A brilliant essay in The New Yorker on how coronavirus is rewriting our imaginations

“We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling…As a society, we’re watching the statistics, following the recommendations, listening to the scientists…We’re learning to trust our science as a society. That’s another part of the new structure of feeling.”

This long-form piece on a woman’s memory loss in Man Repeller.

“Her life these days is one of calm precision. It’s also one of constant adjustment and renegotiation, not just of her time and energy, but of her life story. It can be hard to fathom the loss of one’s narrative arc, or the kind of self-mythologizing implicit to looking back. Early on though, she learned the challenges were not her enemy; her own resistance to them was. “Change is difficult for people, period,” she says. “But resistance is what stops people from embracing the strategies they need to make or build change.” Bruley no longer resists. Instead, she’s soft with herself, and she believes this is the difference between knowing one needs to grow and actually doing it… We could spend our time sifting through the particulars, assigning blame or regretting things didn’t turn out differently, but Bruley thinks we’d do better to look ahead. Be soft. Write new stories.”

Also Haley Nahman, who wrote the article, has lovely newsletters which I’d recommend you sign up for. Her latest one particularly struck a chord and resonated with some of what I was feeling last week…

“I’d ask how you’re doing but I’m finding that question increasingly difficult to answer, so I won’t burden you. It’s so strange that my life has never been simpler (in a practical sense) and yet harder to parse (in every other).

Haley also quotes from Jenny Odell’s book How To Do Nothing which I read back in January (that feels like a bygone era) and has been doing the rounds again recently, what with her focus on care and sustenance over productivity, or perhaps redefining the former in the context of the latter.

“In the context of health and ecology, things that grow unchecked are often considered parasitic or cancerous. Yet we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and the regenerative…. We do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way [as expansion]. But we should.” 

Haley also linked to this piece in The New Republic, about resisting productivity during a pandemic. Something I’ve been doing with great alacrity.

The work of care, of real meaning, is what we should be concerning ourselves with now. It is not optimized, or “disrupting,” or any of that. It is just essential…You don’t have to write your novel. You don’t have to reorganize your closet. Burying yourself in mindless busywork is not the solution. So, go ahead, turn the video function off when your boss calls.” [OH MY GOD THIS. HAVE BEEN DOING THIS QUITE A BIT. SORRY, BUT NO-ONE NEEDS TO SEE MY PANDEMIC FACE/UNBRUSHED HAIR/PYJAMA T-SHIRT].

Cooking:

Not really cooking, but I’ve been perfecting the art of the sandwich over the past few weeks and today I produced not just a sandwich, but art: two slices of toasted brown sourdough with basil pesto, melted vegan cheese, avocado and sun dried tomatoes. Garnished with a side order of Kettle chips.

Doing:

I made my best friend Becky a zine and sent it to her in the post. Possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever done.

Marbling. Here’s a series I did with black ink (trying to make it sound more artistic and deliberate than wafting paper through a bowl of black-blobbed water). I like the bottom left one of the bottom row because it looks like a mountain. I hadn’t noticed that before.

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