How are you doing? Well, I hope.
These words, which once represented such dilute concern, now carry such weight. There is no way to start an email that feels right anymore. Diving straight in has the potential to be blunt and uncaring (although, honestly, it remains my preferred option: when I'm reading, I just blah through the first paragraph anyway), but too much care feels a bit sticky and intrusive to me. I yearn for our communications to go back to neutral, and specifically for correspondents to not have to explore the possibility that you might have just lost a loved one before they say what they have to say.
I think, at least, we've now abandoned the grandiose 'In these unprecedented times...' which always feels like the opening of an address to the nation rather than the beginning of a message about supermarket delivery slots. I just want to go back to a time when faceless corporations failed to acknowledge my human frailty. Is that too much to ask?
In any case, I'm having an unexpectedly cheery pandemic, all told. Like many people who are anxious in everyday life, Covid has offered me a delightful truce from the machinations of my own mind. This is exactly the kind of thing I've been worrying about all along, and now it's arrived, I feel like I was born ready. Is it the comfort of finally being aligned with the rest of the world, and seeing risk and instability in everything? Is it the relief of life being stripped back to basics, falling back on our instincts to support the fundaments of survival - food, shelter, good hand hygiene? Is it the sense of preparedness, the way that all my hypervigilant thoughts now have a utility? Either way, my anxiety is feels pretty smug right now. It is finally having its day.
I think a huge factor, for me, is the way that the social world has fallen slack for a while. I have always been bad at turning up to physical events anyway, but this period of quarantine means that I don't even have to feel guilty about it for a while. I am not supposed to be anywhere, other than home, or out for a walk. It's true that I'm now obliged to buy my groceries in person rather than ordering them online, but supermarkets are a delight now that social distancing is in place. I don't know whether I'll ever see plain flour or yeast again, but I am at least now free of the horror of loud jingles over the tannoy and the menace of clashing trolleys. In the absence of anything else, going to the supermarket now feels like a leisure activity.
I've noticed that even some of my more sociable friends have now stopped clamouring for contact. The first weeks of the crisis were made more enervating by constant demands for Zooms and Skypes, which initially made me feel like I had less time alone than usual. But even that's gone quiet now. I wonder how many people are letting go of the ropes in some relief: we are allowed to hide for a while. We are allowed to quietly disappear. This has all happened without our permission, but our minds are choosing to find a reflective space. Quietude is surging into us like rain into a desert. It won't heal everything, but it will send up some new shoots.
I do wake up in the night, though, wondering what on earth I'd do if this terrible virus left me alone in this world. I do spend days in grinding anger and frustration at being kept from the work I cherish so much. I do fear that this could tip us over the financial edge that has loomed so large for so long. So perhaps it is not that my anxiety has disappeared. Perhaps it is that it finally feels proportionate. Here we are in the worst case scenario. It is appropriate to worry. It is apt to contemplate life and death.
Stay well. I mean it.
P.S. You can reply to this email just like a normal one (and I love it when you do!); share it by simply forwarding it on; read my previous letters; or subscribe to my future letters here.