For the last six months, I feel as if my vision has shifted into the gallery view of a Zoom call: each part of my life squared off, sometimes muted. The very last thing I expected in March as I sat in front of my laptop and contorted the cables of my broadband box, was to still be sat in front of my laptop in September, none the wiser if turning my WiFi on and off even helps with better connection.
There are moments where I trick myself into thinking that this is normality—working, studying, sleeping all in the same one room, shouting through fabric as you order a coffee with a mask on, searching for the stickers that mark 2 metres on the shop floor. It makes everything more disconcerting when you’re reminded that this is a global pandemic… like an actual, world-wide, highly-contagious, incredibly ‘unprecedented’ outbreak of a virus there is no vaccination for. I never returned my library books to Boole. I gave our time off-campus two weeks, before it bled into “how did I ever think we would be back?”
I think about all the words which now sit so comfortably in our everyday conversations, how at the start I kept forgetting what the word for ‘social distancing’ was, how ‘cocooning’ was the kindest word for isolation I’ve ever heard. I have a preferred type of hand sanitiser now—more foam than gel, not too watery, the smell can’t remind me of nail polish remover or shots on a night out, it has to dry quickly, does that make sense to you? It does, and you probably hate that it does (I do)—this ‘new normal’ is weird.
Making friends with the uncertainty is difficult. September has always been my New Year, everything a new beginning of uncomfortable adjustments, of mapping out the ORB in my mind and working out the fastest way to WGB (there is none). I think it’s the first September since I was five and sitting in a yellow crayon-scented classroom on my first day of school that I have no plan. No idea what the next year is going to look like, aside from the ever-present dread of another Zoom call.
The weekly notification of hours of screen-time is going to scare me, and reconciling most parts of my life into an overheating laptop will feel claustrophobic and mildly painful. Near the beginning of lockdown, when Zoom calls felt more exhausting than they did fulfilling, failing their intention as a substitute for in-person interaction instead only highlighting how little a screen can really do to replace each other, I found an explanation for why. “It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence,” Gianpiero Petriglieri said on Twitter (take my phone away). All it really does is remind us what we still have to hope for.