This may sound strange to you, but I am surviving the rigors of self-quarantine because I am good at lying to myself.
I have on occasion taken some longish flights to Europe and South America. The ones to Europe are particularly problematical because I arrive early in the morning after a night that has lasted for only a few hours. I know that if I drop into bed upon check-in at my hotel, I will awake while it is still light; and I won’t be able to go to sleep until the next morning.
So what do I do?
- First of all, I pretend to myself during the flight that I am somehow outside of time, and that during the flight, time has no meaning.
- Most important, I set my watch to the time zone of my destination. Nobody else I know does this: They insist on holding on to the time zone of their city of origin.
- When I arrive, I stay awake until it is a reasonable bedtime in my destination.
When I went to Iceland, for example, I arrived in June—when the sun doesn’t set until the wee hours of the morning. I ate extra meals, went on a walking tour of Reykjavík, and finally collapsed in bed while the sun was still up around midnight. I woke up refreshed at an acceptable time the next morning.
So what does all this have to do with the coronavirus? Fortunately, Martine and I are retired, so I could pretend that this whole period of the outbreak is like a long flight to nowhere.
I have in my apartment several thousand books as well as hundreds of films on DVD. With my subscription to Spectrum Cable, I have access to hundreds of films for no additional cost using their On Demand service. Plus: As a member of Amazon Prime, I have access to thousands of other films.
So on my “flight” to nowhere during this seemingly endless quarantine, I am reading 12-18 books a month as well as seeing 25 or more feature films a month. (And in between reading and film viewing, I do all the cooking and go out for walks.)
I realize I would be in a radically different situation if I had to worry about a job, but fortunately I don’t. I have to worry that that madman in the White House may decide to cancel Social Security or destroy the value of the American dollar, but other than that I am not dependent on the workplace—though I am affected when restaurants are shuttered, museums and libraries closed, and so on.
There is an 1884 novel by a French writer named Joris-Karl Huysmans called Against Nature (in French À Rebours) about a dilettante names Jean des Esseintes who, instead of actually going on a vacation, does an armchair traveler “staycation” and is happy about it. The epigraph to the novel is a quote from the 14th century Flemish mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck:
“I must rejoice beyond the bounds of time…though the world may shudder at my joy, and in its coarseness know not what I mean.”