Notes from being at home (I, II, III)

First Act

1

Suddenly everything that always happens has been interrupted. Life without the coexistence that we talk about so much, the world organized in function of maximum performance and maximum efficiency, global production, markets, and that crazy idea of living to work and work to consume without rest that we already begun to see as something normal. Everything stopped for who knows how long. Definitely, we are living what is known as a «BIG MOMENT».

2

This rare experience dismantles our strange way of living. In just two or three days, all the parameters that support the daily discipline of our lives have been displaced. Both temporal and spatial: all. In this way, what we are experiencing is the end of the world, because the world as it was for us has ceased to exist. And, for the moment, this end of the world is being phenomenal for me. 

3

I had imagined it once, but never thought I would get to see it through my own eyes. The streets of my city free from the constant flow of cars, the spaces through which we roam, glued to each other trying not to hinder us, completely empty. Barcelona is no longer a subway wagon at rush hour. I open the window, I feel the cold but calm air that runs through the streets filled of the sound of rain and I still don’t fully believe it.

4

Paradoxical as it may sound, this confinement rips me from the perceptual deprivation regime I was in. I begin to distinguish once again day from night and that gives me a slight indication of where I am, of what the situation is in which I find myself in a daily basis when everything works normally. I am locked up, no doubt about that, but locked out of a world that never allowed me to pay the slightest attention to it.

5

I have the feeling of inventing a new psychological space. It is as if it was my mental life that has been quarantined and not me. Before the lockdown, I hardly ever felt my place in the world. What I rather felt was that, wherever I went, I should always carry my own place with me. Now that is changing. Now instead of trying to incorporate the world into me, I feel that I have the urge to incorporate myself into the world.

6

From inside my house, released from a swamp of obligations, I perceive with absolute clarity the theft of time that I suffer every day. Mine is mainly a quarantine of the disease of time, a mental infection that leaves you subordinate to a present and horrifying future. Now, from this place, I can go back to doing things that I could no longer do, and I can also not do them if I don’t want to. Everything is no longer permanently switched on. Before the lockdown the world had a single on button, having found the off button has been quite a discovery.

7

Since there are limits again I rest much better. And my neighbors too. I know this from the silence detached from the building at night and the pleasant murmuring that fills it by day, an unmistakable sign that it is once again aligned with the rotation of the planet and with the variations of the daily light. Loaded with a new growing strength, the old apartment block where I am confined detaches these days the same impulse of life that is in everything else.

8

I had read it in books and now I know it is true. Every catastrophe is accompanied by a tremendous impulse of generosity. I felt it last night when my neighbors began to applaud. That was an unprecedented challenge to our morality. When asked how we are going to react to the pain of others, my neighbors responded like this, and the applause blew up all ideological scaffolding.

The millions of atoms that crowd together in a city rarely manage to meet. Andrea says that is because we are stunted. «Living for so long under a strict and methodical dissociation has stunted us, and now we no longer know what a true shared experience consists of». So she says as she looks out the window to join the applauses. There is something in this lockdown that does not allow us to behave like the neutralized individuals that we were used to be.

10

I don’t think much about the future here. I don’t know what will happen when this collective confinement ends and our emotions stop being synchronized again. When we resume our habitual distant socialization. I suppose that, after having experienced another relationship with time, the return to infinite time of production and consumption will not be easy. We may even notice that the size of the Earth shrinks due to the pressure exerted by that time. It may also be that governments decide to make fear, its media diffusion and its management, their only policy, and try to convince us that we depend on them to preserve our physical security. In addition, I am very afraid that we will have to face again a new economic collapse that will take with it the usual, the poor. But this is nothing more than conjecture, unanswered questions of those that have led to the ruin of thousands of prophets throughout time. So, for now, I will continue for a while to enjoy this deep crack that has been discovered on the face of the Earth. I’m not going to worry about the second act until the first one is over, because life is possible only when we don’t know what’s to come.


Second Act

1

I go out for the first time to buy some groceries. The world out here is very different from the world that I perceive at home through memes. The pigeons fly at ground level and their blue shadows glide over the house facades. There are also shadows in the windows, they are obsessive shadows that go beyond the world of real impressions. At each step I take I understand a little bit more what is happening: now we are all animals beaten down by a disease that we cannot understand, and that breaks us from within.

2

The bakery and the vegetable store have become strange. In their interior, yellow and black demarcation lines tell me how I should behave. In the midst of the confusion of times, these places host the inscription of new social relationships. There is now a real disciplinary enclave in the back corner where the fruits used to be. On the television screen hanging from the ceiling, an older man with a bunch of medals hanging on his jacket lapel barely moves his lips as he speaks. «We are at war», –he says–, «the ultimate goal of all this is to force the enemy into absolute submission» War? War against whom? Who is the enemy? A virus is an enemy? Waiting for my turn in a single one person line, with my hands clad in plastic gloves and keeping the regulatory two meters apart, I do not have the impression of being involved in a war, but rather in a galley. A great galley where we all row in unison with all our strength.

3

We have not even been in alarm status for a week and our daily life has become completely militarized. Towns and cities besieged, fenced, amputated from the world. It seems that in the collapse wars the consequences in order to achieve the objectives have no importance. I put the oranges in my backpack while wondering if this warfare against life and death that we wage against the Coronavirus will not end up crowning fear as the supreme king of our way of life. I leave the market with a fixed idea in my head: if I have to go to war, may it only be to prevent fear from engraving its destiny as a seal on my soul.

4

On my way home I meet María in the middle of the street. Without thinking twice, both of us activate immediately the social distancing program that the media talk show hosts speak so much about these days. We greet each other from a distance, we don’t touch, we don’t hug, we don’t kiss. How little attention I paid before to the meaning of these little gestures and how much I miss them now! «This had to happen just now», –says my friend in a humorous tone–, «and just when I’m in most need of human contact». We both burst out laughing at the same time, imagining the movement of our mouths underneath our masks. My friend is right: as if it wasn’t enough how isolated we already lived, now we have to isolate ourselves even more. The only relief that remains for me with all this social distancing, is knowing that the fate of those around me depend on my actions and that I depend on them as well. It is not a great consolation; in fact, it is so small that I have to repeat it continuously to myself so that I don’t forget it.

5

Before entering the house, where my whole kingdom is a speck of dust in space, I take a last look outside. The last winter colds have already faded away, the garden of my street is completely exposed. It seems that the first rays of spring sun have warmed it up until revealing the hidden message inside. I fear that all this calm that reigns everywhere is really nothing more than a tense calm about to explode. At home I am received by the same silence that I left when leaving. «Human nature does not only harbor generous feelings», –I think as I lock the door–, «and even less so in dark times». I turn on the TV with the feeling that this idea reveals a truth so profound that even life itself finds it hard to accept.

6

On TV they show the death toll. They are many, every day more. It is strange to see those numbers floating in the infinite blue of the screen. They are like personified shadows, they scare me: «You’ll float too». A doctor with a mask and glassy eyes warns us that very soon they will have to make the sad decision of who enters the ICU and who does not, «because there will not be enough for everyone». I wonder how such a decision is made. Who has the power to decide who is important enough to stay alive and who is not? Where is the sovereignty that determines who deserves to stay alive and who is entirely expendable?

7

The company where my sister Alba works has done an ERTE* (the first time I heard this word it seemed to me they said muerte (death)). At the moment they are paying her salary for a month, but my sister is worried because «later on nobody knows what will happen». My friends are worried too. These days phone calls, video conferences, and wassap groups are an authentic mosaic of desperate voices. The money has stopped circulating and where this break is most noticeable is in our small realities. «I have savings to spend for another month; then I don’t know what I’m going to do». The virus has opened a major fault on Earth that threatens to swallow us all, my sister, my friends, and me with them too. Before the pandemic our lives were an obstacle course; now nobody runs anymore; now we just avoid falling into the hole; and the force of gravity of fear is so strong that it keeps us all stuck to the computer, busy all day in the incessant and lonely task of avoiding our own fall.

*(record of temporary employment regulations)

8

The interior of the pandemic is a divided territory. In here there is no equality. For some there is remote working and for others not; some can stay protected at home, minimizing their personal stability and others are permanently exposed to contagion. Akif, the young Pakistani man who runs the corner grocery store, is one of the latter. Every morning at eight sharp he opens his shop to the public. He doesn´t do it because he is braver than me (in a pandemic it is impossible to be brave); he does it simply because he belongs to a social category in which surviving means taking risks and sacrificing himself. Whenever I stop by to buy a loaf of bread, we talk for a while about what is happening. Without ever losing the kindness that characterizes him, he is usually oblivious to all politics. Akif is an orphan of any social utopia. There is no belief left in his head but confidence in miracles. «In front of this threatening environment there is nothing to do» –he says with his hand on his chest–. «Only a miracle can get us out of this». As I lean out my window with the late March red moon reflecting over the parked cars, Akif’s words return to my head and a powerful feeling of helplessness takes over me. Within this pandemic, society is once again divided into classes. Now there are only two: the class that still has the time and necessary resources to wait until everything returns to normal, and the class that only has to wait for a miracle.

9

I know we are at great risk that this blow will be too hard and leave too many people behind. As the death toll increases, so does the concern about the economic recession and its devastating consequences. But even so, I still refuse to understand all of this solely as a social disaster. It’s weird, but somehow this confinement keeps me awake and encouraged. As the days pass I have gradually entered in a time zone that is beyond the measurable clock time. It is a time that has ceased to be just gold and has passed to become life too. This new time of life awakens great curiosity in me. I am like a sailor who in the middle of the voyage does not care much about what happens on land. I am not interested in clinging to the mere phenomenal aspect of the pandemic; I have the impression that this would be a lost unrepeatable opportunity. We have to try to get to the core of this event and see what is there. I have the impression that what is happening to us these days is very similar to those impossible things that we read of in books and that never happen in life. I am convinced that such an experience hides within it a different world, one that does not exclusively attend to our idea of ​​how things should be. So, no matter how much horror this pandemic brings, there is also something charming about it. The city that I see leaning out my window, that great luminous plane in silence, is the irrational affirmation that we have touched a limit. The irrefutable proof that not everything is money. And that’s not bad.

10

So I don’t think we should try to regain the lost world at all costs and as soon as possible. There is no need to be in a hurry to rejoin the gray laws of a world that forced us to confront each other. Before that, before each one returns to their war, I would like to take a moment to try to understand what this universal break means to us. I want to take advantage of this time now that there is less noise to reconcile my conscience with the nature of life, because life lives on life and I am life, we are life; Coronavirus is also, but there are many other things that we think are life and are not, absolutely not. It is on this journey that leads us to the darkest door that we must prove the power of our imagination. We have to grease it’s gears and put it to work until the fact of being part of the world fancies us as something positive again. I do not know if this strange ritual that we are experiencing together will be strong enough to modify our way of being in the world, but I sense that it hides an opportunity for it to be so and I am not willing to miss it. Perhaps this duel (twilight and blazing at the same time) will help us to see clearly the correct relationship between a miserable existence, adjusted to the narrow legislation of money, and the catastrophic laws of a mistreated world. Lying in my bed with the lights off, I do not perceive any sound, not from the streets, nor from the houses, nor from entire neighborhoods. Nothing; just darkness and emptiness. It is as if the city has spread out in the middle of the night. When I shut my eyes, one last quick idea crosses my head: I hope this silence is the threshold of a path where we can walk together with the world again. Intertwined.


Third Act

1

These days the informative stimulation have been intensified to the extreme. However, they fail to fill even half the void left by the people. The words on the small screen hardly gives off warmth. They burn for a second and go out without a trace. Thousands of memes spread everywhere without stopping, some amuse me, but in others I only perceive the anguish they are trying to hide. Every day I spend a while adrift exposing my brain to endless jokes, data, news, virtual representations of the most varied and the only thing I manage to make clear are two things: that my ability to discern between truth and false is wearing out increasingly, and that this crisis exceeds me. Constantly driven by this informational, instantaneous, participatory, implosive movement, I find it increasingly difficult to manage the insecurities and uncertainties caused by the quarantine. This extremely fast communicative dynamic makes it very difficult for me to emotionally elaborate the stimulus that I perceive. I feel like I have pulled out my nervous system and now I am unable to control it. Deep in this context where information overload is the rule, I wonder what is underneath the news: what is beyond the constant commotion of information? Silence? And underneath the images? What is underneath all those images that don’t stop colliding with each other? These days, my computer screen is an extension of me where I am starting to unrecognize myself.

2

Ever since the lockdown started I have noticed some kind of erotica of the images. They call me, attract me, seduce me until they manage to fix my eyes on the shiny surface of the screen and, then, completely surrendered, they become my main relationship with the world. It is as if while looking at them I delegate them the arduous task of understanding what is happening. I don’t do it consciously. I sit at the desk and let myself drop down the walls of social networks waiting for the images to explain to me what I cannot understand. I started doing it when I stopped going outside, that’s when the images gave themselves the role of truth. From that moment, they try to reveal to me the reality of this phenomenon and I try to believe them. But when the sun goes down and I turn off the screen, all they have managed to do is make me aware of my own absence and of everything that they represent.

3

A friend tells me that these days he cannot read. «The world has been interrupted enough It doesn’t need me to interrupt it even more». But reading doesn’t have to be an interruption. Reading is helping me to stay linked to the world much more than watching the news. Beyond the plot of each book, beyond the argument confined in its pages, the books I read these days all develop around one same conflict: the terrible things we have done to the world and the repercussion this has on us. Through its pages the same character sticks out all the time. It is a being lost in time that tries by all means to reconcile with the world. But it costs him, because at every step he takes he puts both his past and his future into jeopardy. There are no affirmations or truths revealed in the books I read these days. Except for one: that everything I knew until now has died. Lying on the sofa in the living room with a book in hand, I look out every evening at the void of extinction, that convincing and radical idea of ​​a future without us. Definitely, these days, reading is not synonymous of interruption of the world, much less evasion. Reading today is rather a way to cut through the permanent evasion in which I live when everything works normally. It is recovering the lost attention. It is to feel the impregnable strength of a world that is threatened by our sinister and absurdly lack of attention. The books that I read confined in my house are the guarantee of my worth for the future, and the memory of that the human remains in me needs humanity. They all leave me the same teaching when I close them. One single lesson. Yesterday I sent it to my friend via WhatsApp: The present must know from the past what should not come in the future.

4

The third floor neighbor, leaning out the window, tells off the girl who lives in the mezzanine: «You sure go out a lot to buy». The girl replies to leave her alone and mind his own business. But I am very much afraid that the man is already fully involved in her business and that his life is reduced to watching what others do. The world around my neighbor’s staircase is gradually closing in on itself and the result is the same as when a person does it: stop loving others. Confined to our homes, my neighbors and I have gradually been left without an outside (at least in the way we conceived it before) and now we are all in a room similar to those described by Kafka in his stories. A cold, gloomy place, where surveillance is a forced consequence of isolation. «If we don’t start taking care of each other, no one will be safe here», I think as I get into the shower. It is only in situations of gratitude, of friendship, that life intensifies. I plan to tell that to my neighbor the next time I see him. «With extended friendship», I will tell him, «You live longer and better» (let’s see what he answers). It seems foolish for me to continue to insist on protecting ourselves from others. If this quarantine is teaching me anything, it’s that it is time to inaugurate new forms of relationship with those who live by my side. The fact that we are now confined does not mean that we don’t have to continue relating. I will also tell him that when I see him looking out the window, and I will suggest that we start doing it starting from the frailty. How else could we do it, if not now that we are all facing our own death.

5

In the newspapers they talk about several more weeks, maybe months. More than a confinement this begins to be an endlessness. I try to keep myself busy, I prepare new classes, I fix the shower faucet that won’t stop leaking, but no matter how much I do I can’t remove the image of the coffins on the Madrid ice skating rink. Distributed like this, in single lines, they seem the result of a cruel sentence. Non-revocable life sentence for the entire human species group. «An intruder has gotten inside us», I think as I tighten the seal on the shower faucet-; and from the deepest within us this nosy little being holds us accountable. Counts for having believed us superior to all the non-human, to nature, to the cosmos, and for having done to the world what we have done to it. Accountability for something like that is not easy. It never is when doing so involves losing a position of power. Accepting our arrogance in having believed ourselves to be the center of the universe forces us to become aware of our own vulnerability. And in vulnerability we are all equal. The gray coffins planted on the ice rink are the irrefutable proof.

6

I wash my hands again. See the water, put my hand in the water, wanting to fuse myself into the current of a river, get to the bottom and lung dive down there, where trout live oblivious to everything that happens on land. Today is the third week of quarantine. Life before it is already far away. Seen from a distance, that was actually a strange life. It was based exclusively on calculation and we intended to live it without putting anything at risk. We tried to know everything before it even happened. The pre-Coronavirus living was a life with life insurance that expired at the time the Covid-19 entered. The Covid-19 has brought us “an unknown space” and now nobody knows what is happening or what will happen. This doesn’t seem totally bad to me. It was worse trying to know everything in advance. That, in addition to being an illusion, made us a bit dead. What we are experiencing now we do not know and that is indeed scary (the unknown is always frightening). We are afraid of illness and fear of what will come after the disease; fear of being locked up at home and fear of what we will find when we go out on the streets again. But I insist, it’s not so bad. Fear can guide us more and better than calculation. A therapist friend always says that fear, when properly focused, can be the main driver of change. And if we needed anything, it was to change. Keep on doing what we used to do in the way we did is what should really be horrifying. Let’s take advantage of the fact that the quarantine has left behind us that neurotic way of life full of certainties and insurances that we lived before, and let’s open ourselves to the fragility of a life without guarantees of anything, but in harmony with everything.

7

Among the noise of the night wind I hear the steps of a man. It’s my neighbor Alfredo accompanied by his Pyrenean mastiff. They both walk slowly, counting in their heads each step they take. Right now the smallest gesture encloses a whole universe. On the radio politicians don’t stop talking. I listen to them and I have the impression that their mouth, brain and heart circulate in separate paths. Those of the Government say that at the moment the institutional logic demands trust, but their hearts do not accompany their words, since they very well know that trust (starting with their own) is one of the rarest human resources. Those of the opposition answer yes with the head, but inside they know perfectly well that no. «We could all fall to the ground dead, all the houses in Spain collapse at once, and these guys would go about their business without noticing anything», –I think as I search for some good music on the radio–. This catastrophe cannot be a new opportunity to relaunch the capitalist economy with even more violence. The end of the quarantine cannot give a new beginning of management for the same extractive and polluting economy that has brought us here. To prevent this experience from taking another step towards an unsustainable society, we need something more than the famous social shock plan that the government is quietly proposing. We have to start by helping each other find other hidden possibilities in this pandemic. And it must be done soon. Before my neighbor and his dog get home.

8

In the sky the moon shines unperturbed. It is full again. Down here on Earth, however, we are experiencing an eclipse of unpredictable consequences. It is a rare eclipse, an eclipse that mainly affects people’s time. Since it began, past and future have dissolved into a volatile temporality. The past is now little more than an image stored in a dusty drawer and the future is simply unimaginable. I remember speaking in one of my classes about the loss of historicity (both existential and collective) and saying that every work of art is, in some way, a breakup with the continuum of linear time. But saying it is very different from living it. Physically going through this crisis of temporal functioning of the world places me in front of an absolute. I look at myself all mornings in the bathroom mirror and feel that I am someone different from what I was just a month ago when all this began. But I don’t know in what way. It is as if all those thoughts that were then spinning through my brain at vertiginous speed had suddenly been replaced by a final doubt: does this world shutdown reflect, as my mirror does, the inverted image of an exhausted way of life? Or is it simply a reset what we are experiencing? Have we turned the machine off and will we turn it on again after a while? And if so, will it be the same machine that we will start or will it be a different one, one more similar to a work of art? The truth is that I do not have answers to the questions set out by this crisis. And maybe it’s better this way. The worst thing that could happen to me after being confined at home is to be locked into my own certainties. When I get out of here, I want to stay in the open.

9

It dawns. The sun slips through the gap in the white curtains and wakes me up with its spring warmth. Still lost in dreams, the first ideas of the day slowly begin to tangle around my head like tropical vegetation. We came piloting a ramshackle plane from faraway that ended up crashing into the world. Now we are black boxes scattered around, recording inside of ourselves each detail of this strange planetary event. The cause of the accident is already clear: a serious inability to imagine. When businessmen, economists, appropriated destiny, we were unable to see beyond a dystopic future. So we rushed towards it. I get out of bed slowly and put my clothes on as if I’m going to go outside. The quarantine is less and less an event and more everyday life. «We must be able to foresee a future form other than that before of the accident», –I say to myself as I make orange juice–. The old normality that led us to the accident is not of use for us anymore. It is time to accept its loss. Let us leave behind that which attacks us from within our own civilization and let’s get together to write new rules of coexistence. Let’s take advantage now that we have stopped the laborious building of nothing to invent everything again. We are not lacking of time.

10

It seems that to continue together we had to know the separation first. Well, we’ve already encountered it. Now it’s time to move on.