I’ve been working from home since 18 March. How long is that? I’ve lost track of time.
Mostly I’m enjoying the peace, the lack of interruption, the opportunity to crack on with some pieces of work that, back in the days of normality, kept being pushed to the bottom of the pile. This week, things have started to drag.
My body is cricked, as well. I’m not moving around enough. During the week I get up, make breakfast and eat it sitting on the sofa, make my 10-second commute to the dining table, do my morning work, make lunch and eat that on the sofa, too, then back to my dining table desk for the afternoon. My laptop is elevated above a pile of cookery books. I squint a little at the screen. I have a posture improving wedge cushion on my inadequately supportive dining chair to minimise strain on my back and shoulders. I try not to hunch. I try to remember to get up and move. If I’m good, at the end of the day, I go for a short walk or row for a kilometre on the rowing machine. If I’m bad, I slump back onto the sofa and watch tv or scroll through social media until it’s time to eat again. I’m mostly bad. By which I mean lazy and disinterested. Fatigued without exertion. I miss my short daily walk through the city between the bus stop and the museum. I miss having reasons to get up from my desk and go somewhere else on the museum site.
At the weekend, breakfast is in bed, and working at the dining table is swapped for slumping on the sofa.
My lower back nags. My shoulders needle. My sciatic nerve is pinched. My neck crunches. My arthritic knees are dull with sitting in the same bent position.
I sleep badly, through a combination of not enough physical exercise to make me actually properly tired and my body’s aches in response to my lack of movement. Our bodies are not evolved to be sedentary.
Initially, my poor sleep also had an element of anxiety, anchored in the unknown quantity of this pandemic. I’m glad that this has passed, now. Anxiety about something I can’t control seems pointless.
I feel a form of tiredness. Sleepy is the best description for it. I nod off easily during the day, if I’m not focused on work, uncomfortable at my dining table desk. Beyond the focus of work, my mind drifts, unable to latch onto anything much for any great period of time. I do jigsaws in an app. I scroll through Twitter, not really registering anything. I play with the cat. I look at pictures of my friends’ lockdown lives on Instagram. I’ve overcome my anathema to Instagram stories, because letting images flick past my eyes involves no effort. I watch tv. I enjoyed the distraction of Quiz. I’m caught up on The Trip to Greece, on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Kingdom, and am almost there with Deutschland 86. I’ve started Upright, Devs, Year of the Rabbit. I scroll through the headlines on The Guardian app, rarely clicking through, trying not to be overwhelmed by all the bad news, the accusation, the politicisation of this terrible situation. I read. Sometimes I read.
I’d slowed down my reading anyway this year. I’m at crawling pace now. I miss the commute that bookended my working day, that chance to lose myself in another world for 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back. I miss immersing myself on my lunch break, blocking out the extroverts around me, with their need for constant conversation. During the week, I barely read at all, save for the 10 minutes or so in bed before I fall asleep. I do better at the weekend. There’s little else to do, restricted as we are in our movements. I can’t run frivolous errands or meet up with friends. I had a week or two of not being able to concentrate on reading when lockdown started, although that was also affected by the book I was reading. When I got to The Good People, I devoured it, remembering what it was to want to read a book above any other activity. I’m a little slumped again lately, thanks to my disinclination towards Zadie Smith.
In my mooches across media both social and mainstream, I see that plenty of people who define themselves as readers are also having difficulty maintaining that self definition. The Guardian has asked authors to recommend books to get us through the weirdness of social distancing, in case we’re struggling. I was half curious but lost interest part way through reading the article. My brain wanted to know why it should care. The Women’s Prize for Fiction asked recently on Instagram whether people were reading more or less in lockdown. I found myself wondering if it mattered. Tracey Thorn ruminated on Twitter about being unable to read like she normally reads, unleashing fellow sentiment from her followers alongside unwanted book recommendations. It made me want to tell her that her brain needs to do what her brain needs to do, for these – as the saying goes – are unprecedented times. If reading, so often our escape from the quotidian, is no longer so because the quotidian is so different, then it’s okay to turn to something else. It’s okay to binge on tv. We’re not interacting superficially with as many people during the day. Our social selves need an approximation of that. It’s okay to switch off from the world by doing flow activities like jigsaws, colouring, baking, craft. Our minds are experiencing something unusual and stressful. They need a break before they break. It’s okay not to read as much as we usually would. We’re not letting anyone down by shifting away from reading towards other things that distract us, least of all ourselves. For many of us who read a lot and who write bookish blogs or read other people’s bookish blogs, reading has become our brand. But we’re not commodities. We’re not a brand. We’re humans, rich and varied in our engagement with the world.
It’s okay to just stare into space. I’ve done a lot of that, lately. It goes well with silence.