24 April, 2020

From the Plague House

Albert Camus wrote his novel The Plague in the aftermath of his native Algeria's occupation by Nazis in World War Two. It's a parable of wartime occupation that reads like a contagion drama. The COVID-19 pandemic has probably changed the way that most people see the world, so of course people are reading The Plague literally — as a straightforward account of a nasty viral outbreak. There's no reason for the book not to work both ways.

"And then we realized that the separation was destined to continue, we had no choice but to come to terms with the days ahead," reports the narrator of The Plague, regarding his fellow townspeople's response to quarantine. "In short, we returned to our prison-house, we had nothing left us but the past, and even if some were tempted to live in the future, they had speedily to abandon the idea — anyhow, as soon as could be — once they felt the wounds that the imagination inflicts on those who yield themselves to it."

It's tricky, getting by, making do, not succumbing to the pitfalls of WITBO (Wishing It To Be Otherwise). The very real prison of ERDCC has been closed to visitors for over a month, and we're two weeks into the not-lockdown I blogged about last week. Aside from meals and my eight-hour-a-week janitorial job, the time I spend out of my cell adds up to fifty-five minutes a day — for showering, using the phone, and taking care of miscellaneous wing matters, such as syncing my tablet, placing canteen orders, or checking the balance of my prison account. Fifty-five minutes, even if I chose not to clean my body, doesn't meet the needs of a person's social health, especially if one has, like me, connections to the outside. I feel out of touch. It's very unfamiliar and very unpleasant.

A little creativity, then: I write when the words come. E-mails get more attention than this blog, which gets more attention than tweets, which get — it shames me to say — more attention than my novel. Inspiration enough to break out pencils and draw would be nice, but visually satisfying marks on paper, or even unsatisfying ones, have yet to manifest. Stealth-mode bodyweight workouts, in the mornings after work, lift my mood while my cellmate sleeps deeply. Otherwise I do a lot of reading (Camus, literature's King of the Absurd, being just this week). I meditate. I try to let go of the ache of missing those who are most important to me.

Shortly after this period of isolation began, I thought a lot about the future, about how nice returning to what passes here for normal would be. But the wounds made by the imagination, as Camus wrote, were too deep. Without even willing it, I recoiled from such fantasies and stuck myself in a here-and-now mindset. It's dull and it's tedious, but it beats the pain of wishing for something more. We all deal as best we can.

1 comment:

  1. "And then we realized that the separation was destined to continue, we had no choice but to come to terms with the days ahead," Americans, and probably others, haven't come to terms yet, and that's going to cost more lives. Beaches that opened recently are jammed. No hint of social distancing according to reports and some photos. What will it take to convince people, including our so-called leaders, that this is probably going to be a long-term thing, and every loosening of the lockdown will guarantee it will be that much longer?

    Stay well.


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