“I say to my mate, “Pretty cool, right?” ‘Check this out,’ I slowly rub a mild abrasive called the “Bar Keeper’s Friend” into our kitchenette’s white countertop and remove an almost invisible stain. “It’s a mild abrasive, I think,” I go on, when she doesn’t say anything. “Remember the coffee ring?” Silence. Seven weeks after the first lockdown, my girlfriend and I had nothing to say to each other anymore. It has talked, interpreted, and wrung out every imaginable human encounter that has arisen in this apartment during the past two and a half months. She begged, “Tell me something!” one night before bed, and in desperation I began talking about a podcast I had heard earlier that day but couldn’t quite recall, so I spent 20 minutes roughly explaining Nikola Tesla’s idea to her before I fell asleep.
By contrast, it is a huge improvement to lead her into the kitchen to watch me almost remove a coffee stain. I need to go over it again, probably, but…”I probably need to go over it again, but …” “How much was it?” she asks.
The ability to have something new to say makes me electrified. It was two pounds and ninety-nine pence. “It was two pounds and ninety-nine pence. ” For three energetic weeks, I became an uptight cleaning demon, vibrating at an odd frequency consisting of vacuuming baseboards every few days, in a complete 180-degree change from my normal attitude towards dust, clutter, and stains.
I would wake up my friend by asking, “Can you put those jeans away. Those jeans have been sitting there for two days. You have to put those jeans away or I’m going to get crazier than I already am.” And then, happily, softly, that particular kind of mania moved away from the sea. I didn’t get much done in Lockdown 1.0.
I kept working, which was good, and I managed to read about 25 books, which were also helpful, but I didn’t do anything; I didn’t advance in any way.
I did little even in the second freeze, except to throw away three jackets (a “big sort-out” long-promised, never-really-realized) and eventually admit that this would take long enough to justify buying a desk. Ask most people what they plan to do at the start of a new year, and they will dive down a few well-trodden paths-adopting a healthy lifestyle, learning a language or instrument, cooking more-but time constraints are the biggest thing working against them.
Almost overnight, the reason was removed by the lockdown. We had nothing left but time with our commutes cancelled, our social lives doomed to Zoom, and nothing to fill the hours between “working in the front room” and “The Sopranos in the front room,” and I did nothing with mine. I twice made sourdough and then watched my starter die.
I borrowed a keyboard and just figured out where the middle C was. Was that a missed chance? By playing video games for half a month, drinking ‘craft beer,’ and cleaning the bathroom a little too much, did I waste one of the great starting hobby stages of my life? Well, yeah, but not in such a way as to make me feel especially bad.
My theory is that somewhere between 28 and 31, as your 20s are coming to an end, there is a peak age for acquiring hobbies and it feels important to have a Sunday morning where it doesn’t feel like someone has tarred a driveway in your head. That’s why the climbing centers and pottery classes are there. However, if you are fundamentally lazy, like I am, this law does not apply, which is why I never rubbed chalk in my hands or begged anyone to just buy me a big bag of clay this year instead of Christmas presents. There are also stellar moments in life: a heartbreaking breakup; the slippery waters of financial stability in the late-thirties; giving up smoking and discovering that scaling stairs is not nat nat nat
Lockdown 1.0 was just such a moment: a once-in-a-lifetime chance (a 33-year-old guy who can’t stop cooking sous vide steaks with an app) to get into gardening or write a novel or become what I’ve always been doomed to be.
But for me, it didn’t happen. I’m glad I discovered something about myself in a way: the limits of my own ambition.
Because secretly, all my life, I believed I was capable of great ambition, inspiration, and self-improvement; it must have been