As if things weren’t strange enough these days, there’s a new rhythm to my week that I’m still struggling to get used to, on a number of levels. Thanks to the economic calamity caused by COVID, THR has cut my rate by 20%, which had the effect of essentially furloughing me one day every week, to the distress of everyone involved. (Me especially, as you might imagine.) The upshot of it all is, every Wednesday, I sit down from THR. It’s been harder than I’d expected, and I’m not entirely sure why.
I mean, there are the obvious reasons: I’m working less, and earning less money as a result — although, in this case, it’s actually the reverse: I was told I’d be earning less money, so the conversation pivoted to, “Well, clearly I have to work less,” a deduction thankfully shared by my wonderful editor Aaron — which is going to be a stressful situation at the best of times. It’s one not helped by the fact that, earlier in the month, Wired laid me off entirely, again because of COVID-related cutbacks; through no fault of my own, I’ve ended up with roughly 60% less income on a monthly basis, which has been an entirely unwelcome cause of extra stress and worry.
But the Wednesday thing is somehow odd beyond that. I find it curiously difficult to not work, if that makes sense. The rhythm of my weekdays is thrown off — I don’t have breakfast with everyone then head upstairs at 9am to get started, because there’s nothing to start; the muscle memory kicks in and I have to consciously go, not today, body, internally. I’m also oddly, distractingly aware of the fact that, if news breaks on a Wednesday, I’ll miss it, and that’s proven to be hard to come to terms with, mentally… as has the fact that, by Thursday, my inbox is a mountain of unread messages to catch up on.
Despite all this, I know that this isn’t a bad thing — well, aside from the financial aspect, of course. The break means I feel more energized on Thursday and Friday, and it lets off stress steam that would otherwise smother me. I get to spend more time with Chloe, which feels like a sneaky gift in the middle of everything else.
I’m trying to look at this as a potential benefit in disguise, a blessing in the form of a shit sandwich. Maybe it is! But it’d be easier if I wasn’t worrying about money, my email, or the possibility that the biggest story in the world will break in the middle of the week for unknown reasons. I’ll get there eventually — just in time for THR to restore my salary and everything to return to normal, most likely.
In these plague days, it’s occasionally shocking to me to realize how alien just last year feels already.
I don’t mean the small everyday things, as much as I miss those — even just the feeling of, I’ll just go to the corner store to pick up a Twix because I want to treat myself, as small and formerly insignificant as that is — but instead, how open to possibilities and potential 2019 felt when compared with today.
Last year, I was in Chicago, San Diego, New York, and São Paulo, Brazil. Each was a work trip, and some were more fun than others, sure — sorry, Chicago — but each felt like an adventure in and of themselves, with the world getting bigger as a result, especially in the case of the Brazil trip, which continually felt surreal and entirely outside my experience in all the best ways. Even just waking in the morning and wandering the alien streets, as the city around me woke up; there was something magical, unreal, about it.
Now, it feels unreal in a different way. Weeks into lockdown — I’ve genuinely lost track of how many weeks at this point, which might be a mercy? — who can imagine existing outside of their homes in anything other than an abstract manner? Socializing with strangers, exploring new locales, surely those are things that just happen in fiction, right…? We only talk to the people in our homes face-to-face without masks, and it’s always been that way.
I think back, with only a small bitterness, to how I felt after I returned from São Paulo, my head turned by the experience and the possibility of world travel; the excitement and enthusiasm I felt about getting out there and seeing new places again. Internally, I was making plans to get back to the UK for the first time in years and thinking beyond that: Where else could I go? Where else was waiting to surprise me like Brazil had?
The surprise, of course, was the coronavirus and the way it closed the entire planet off just as it was opening back up. It’s a cruel trick on the part of fate, but it’s nonetheless true: even thinking back just months feels like dispatches from a different time, a different world.
I have a terrible memory at times.
That’s clearly not always true; there are people, places, events that I’ve lived through that live on inside my head in, at times, shocking fidelity despite happening decades earlier, things that I can see with such clarity right now even though it’s been years since I last thought of them. On some things, my memory is amazing. On others, though…?
I don’t mean this in the sense of not remembering people’s names when they’re introduced —although, yes, that, too — or misremembering the details of a story when retelling it. That’s just an everyday, shared experience, I think, the mistakes all of us make because our brains work the way they work. Yes, that’s a memory thing, but everyone has this version of memory, surely…? This isn’t the failure of my memory I’m talking about.
No, I’m talking about my constant surprise at things that not only happen on a recurring basis, but which I know enough to be able to predict. I’m talking about forgetting about the weather.
We had the first full flush of heat this year, recently. It had been teased for weeks, it felt like; the sun vanquishing the clouds in the sky, the temperature going to a level I’ll call “nice enough to ditch the sweater” but no further. It was clear that it was only a matter of time before things actually got hot. The weather forecast was checked over and over, and eventually the big day arrived… and I was surprised.
I wasn’t surprised by the heat per se; I was surprised by how it felt. Despite the fact that every single year this happens, I was surprised by how tired I feel when it’s hot, how the very air feels just that little bit thicker and more difficult to exist it, that little bit more draining. (This sounds particularly dramatic, I know; I’m overstating it to a degree, but I do wilt in warm weather for some reason. I blame my Scottish DNA.)
Like I said, this happens every year, and I know this. Every single year, summer is going to arrive and in a manner more literal than the Rock catchphrase that it sounds like, it’s going to bring the heat. Yet, each year when it does happen, it’s a surprise, somehow. I’m unprepared, and ultimately, unhappy for the crossover.
As I seem to remember saying, I really do have a terrible memory at times.