No one talks about the real advantages of masks, do they? Sure, there are the airborne droplets, but there is also the fact that for months now no random bloke has told me: “Cheer up, love. It may never happen.” It has happened. And, no, I am not smiling with my eyes as I have not cleaned my glasses for 18 months.
As you can see, I am looking for small signs of light amid the daily onslaught of doom. Not in some Pollyanna-ish way, but just to get out of bed. And because I learned some years back that going round telling young people that their life is kaput – there are no jobs, they cannot afford to live in the city they were born in, the revolution will not be Instagrammed, the ice caps are melting, and yes, that polar bear really did starve to death – is all a bit of a downer.
Which doesn’t mean I believe in all the false optimism that is being peddled – a sudden vaccine (or even a “cocktail of antibodies”) or that people actively want to be heroes while doing their everyday jobs. But it does mean that I think there is a fine line between admitting vulnerability and fear, and getting through the coming winter.
As another lockdown beckons, my youngest is in Ireland, excited despite the restrictions around the first year of her university course. Even the students, miserable and disillusioned as they may be, cannot help manifesting the glimmer of exciting new lives that you can have at that age. And, yes, I am very well aware that mental health issues are on the rise; after all, a pessimist is only an optimist with more information.
And, jeez Louise, the information! Contradictory, ever-changing; an onslaught of infections, deaths, intensive care unit beds, bickering scientists, crazed libertarians and rogue hacks cockily sure of their own invincibility. (When a massive meteor is about to hit the planet, rest assured some former TV critic and a bloke down the pub will be blithely warning us that it’s all a scam by the nanny state.)
Of course no one is more convinced of their own invincibility, and yet so obviously petrified, as Trump. To him, illness is weakness. In her book about her uncle, Mary Trump told us that he and his monstrous father thought illness was “unacceptable”. His trip out in the SUV to wave at “the patriots” (how did you die for your country? I got coughed on) felt so delirious it could have been shot by David Lynch.
As I have said before, the Democrats have got to “go low” and run attack ads. Trying to play fair with a narcissist is a fool’s game. This man, who would kill his closest allies, would not pay you that courtesy if you were in his place. All attention is a drug to him; and one stronger than any steroid. But a similar denial of weakness abounds in the UK. Johnson is as fit as several butchers’ dogs, apparently. I don’t know any butchers’ dogs of course, I am too liberal elite – I am vaguely vegetarian. There is the planet-saving thing you can do by eating Quorn nuggets, I believe. I have not yet been served them at a dinner party because dinner parties are still in rehab (thank God), but I have found a pub where you can sit outside with heaters and talk about the climate emergency and antibiotic resistance. It’s quite a relief it closes at 10.
So should I get a sandwich board and walk up and down, saying the end of the world is nigh? No. I will be careful to get a flu jab and continue to be bemused by the endless well-meaning advice about our “lifestyles”. Hygge was so last year. Now we must “think like a Norwegian” in a bid to feel better about the cold and dark nights ahead. But what the hell does that mean? Become a smug, bourgeois alcoholic who lives in the dark and wears one of those horrible duvet coats?
Some of us already know what to do. At least a bit, anyway. Or, let’s just say, it is at least blindingly clear what we should not do: deny vulnerability. We are all vulnerable, some more than others of course, but our political leaders with their self-destructive, hard-man, macho personae and warrior language are just deluded. Fido Harding – I refuse to call her Dido – is doing a terrible job. Who coulda guessed? Not only are these unqualified people in charge, they are too emotionally dumb to admit their ignorance and susceptibility.
There are times when it gets darker and Covid may do its worst but I will still try to hope so that our children can dream without being told it’s unrealistic. I read my bible (James Baldwin), which says: “I can’t be a pessimist because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter. So, I am forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive, whatever we must survive.”
Contrary to the fake imperviousness of the authorities, I say the exact opposite: Admitting vulnerability takes strength, not weakness. This is the place from which we derive not false optimism, but possibility. Even as the nights draw in, there is a smidgeon of hope.