Thursday, 25 June 2020

Lockdown blues

Remember the days before 'social distancing'?

2019 was a funny old year. For much of that year I lost the ability to map the female onto my irredeemably male body, and out went the story I’d been telling myself about who my female self is. A spirit had left the building. It was like a partner left me: for the first time in years I felt ‘alone’.

Then, early in 2020, the pandemic arrived. Necessarily turned in on myself during the coronavirus lockdown, I found I was locked down with Her. I’d describe the experience as ‘pleasurable pain’ or ‘painful pleasure’, depending whether my wine glass that day was half-empty or half-full.

Prior to this, hoping to keep her in check, I’d tried to restrict her visits to weekends. On the advice of a therapist, I’d attempted to set visiting hours. She could have half the day, from 9 pm to 9 am the following morning, on condition she left me undisturbed in the other half (the predominantly daylight half, the time when things get done). Now it became harder to restrict her to weekend visiting hours. Her wish was always to come and go as she pleases. With me locked down, she had her wish fulfilled: I had no excuse for closing the door on her.

I live between two worlds: let’s call them First World (1W) and Second World (2W). The First World is the realm of the actual, the Second that of the possible. These alternative realities exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium. There has to be enough correspondence between 2W and 1W to make 2W realistic: the time is the present, same day, same time of year, though not necessarily the same time of day. However, since I am someone else in 2W, other details of the present can be changed. In April 2020 in 2W the pandemic never happened, so her life continues uninterrupted, at locations flexible as in a dream: we move between her flat, a restaurant or coffee bar and a late-night cabaret.

Every fixed point in 1W is a variable in 2W. It’s like sitting at a giant control console with banks of knobs to twiddle. Are there fixed parameters in 2W? There are necessary correspondences (see above). “The time is the present, the place England” may be the only invariable stage direction. 2W can never be historical, for urgency dissipates as you move away from the nearly-here-and-now. 

Is it fatal for worlds to collide? There has to be a portal, a mental ‘door in the wall’, to pass from one to the other - a provision that presupposes the worlds connect and intersect. I know that 2W is threatened by any unplanned irruption from 1W into 2W, be it a phone call or a knock at the door. The thin membrane between 1W and 2W can be easily rent. Control-freakery is needed to protect 2W’s integrity. To stay in 2W I have to clear my mind of 1W concerns; it’s like the ‘no-mind’ state required for meditation. Once I’ve entered 2W, I want to be able to stay there for as long as I choose, and even scheduled interruptions from 1W can discourage me from entering 2W: for example, knowing I have to take a Zoom call from family at 5 pm makes me reluctant to leave 1W in the hours before.

I decide to cast all this in terms of the ‘multiverse’ theories of the physicists. It’s a way of lending respectability to what might otherwise be dismissed as a grubby little ‘fantasy’. If you recalibrate fantasy as ‘alternate reality’, you can justify any amount of time spent day-dreaming as excursions, powered by mind alone, into the ‘multiverse’.

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