You’re not sure what day it is but it doesn’t matter because all the days are the same.
There is work and school and meals and laundry, always laundry. There is nothing to do at weekends, no holiday to look forward to, unless it’s just days off work that you’ll spend in the house like all the other days, going nowhere other than the park or the common for 40,000th time.
There is no dinner with friends, no drinks after work, there is no “work” – there is the actual pure work itself, the thing you stare all day, but “work”- it’s people, it’s tea and coffee, it’s commuting, it’s work clothes, it’s cubicles, it’s hot desking, it’s drinks on Friday, it’s lunch at the desk, it’s meetings, it’s rituals, it’s friendships, it’s knowing people intimately in a way their families don’t know them – for many people, it’s gone.
And you know you’re lucky, privileged, that you’ve been allowed to stay safe at home, but you mourn its loss, along with all the other things we’ve all lost.
So how to escape this conveyor belt, get away from the tedium of our lives being on constant pause?
And if you’re at home caring for a family and all the constant needs of its constituents, how can you possibly get away?
How do you make space when all of the space is literally gone and there’s nowhere else to go?
I think the thing we want to escape to, more than we want that sun-soaked holiday or shopping trip in a glamorous Italian city, is to our old selves, our old lives, the ones we took for granted.
We want to flip the switch on the time machine that will take us back to who we were before all of this.
And I think there are little everyday acts that can be portals into that world and take us back to that place.
I’m not going to suggest that every day you take ten minutes for yourself in a room where you can close the door and light a scented candle because for many of us, even that small amount of time alone is impossible to find in the tornado of work and remote school and food prep that occupies every hour between 8 and 6, and all the hours after that and before that for catching up on the rest of life’s chores.
But I do suggest you find the lipstick you haven’t worn for ten months and put it on even if you haven’t washed your hair and you’re wearing week old sweatpants, not because it will make you look better. It won’t. You will just look like a woman in need of shower wearing lipstick. But when you see the lipstick mark left behind on the rim of your coffee cup, you’ll remember the countless cups you have drunk at work, and you will see a glimpse of yourself from before, in your smart clothes, saying smart things, to the smart people around you that you respect and who respect you in turn.
I suggest you take out your favourite pair of going out shoes from the back of the closet and put them under the desk, or table, or countertop, or couch cushion, or whatever corner of the house you have been shoved into to do your work, and just look at them from time to time when you look away from the screen, or slide a foot in during the zoom team meeting and just feel what they feel like and let them take you back to laughing with friends, at night, somewhere grown up and beautiful.
I suggest keeping a magazine next to your bed, not so you can read it, because you’re too tired, but just so you can feel the smooth gloss of the pages under your fingers and see yourself for a second, sitting in the airport, with that flutter in your stomach you only get in airports, on your way to somewhere wonderful.
Use the good plates, drink water out of wine glasses, put up the Christmas lights, drink full fat Coke with ice like you would on a hot summer day on a beach.
Have you tried roasting marshmallows over a tea light? That one’s for the kids.
And of course, it goes without saying, if all else fails, there is always the reliable screaming into a pillow and then sitting in your car without telling anyone. That works too.
- Ilona Bannister’s first novel, When I Ran Away, can be ordered here