My relationship with money was always pretty healthy. I know what I earn, I know what I can spend and I don’t live beyond my means. I did not have a job in 2019 and just started to work in January 2020. I survived with writing gigs, and help from friends and family. There were those times when I bought my son the food he wanted/needed and sometimes I ate nothing for dinner. Same for clothing. I just made sure he had everything he needed. I came second – holding everything together.
Before quarantine time, I would say I did spend quite some money. We needed furniture after the big move to Vienna. And we explored. Museums, bookstores, you name it. Since I have a very minimalistic approach to clothes, this is never an issue. Books are a different story. I used to buy a lot of books but actually read them all.
Since Corona, budgeting has been an act of self-care, as well as an act of will. It has taken me weeks to unlearn that I cannot browse through a bookstore. And the impulse book-free-fall from “add to cart” to “purchase” was never my thing. In some cases, I have stumbled, yet I have learned to flex my willpower like a muscle, propelled by the conversation around sustainability and excess. But, interestingly, it has never felt easier than now. This is my personal experience, so I will make that very clear before I say the following: I have never wanted “stuff” in my life less than I do right now. I cleaned my entire apartment, got rid of clothes (items I haven’t worn in a long time and won’t wear again), and stuff I wanted to sort through for a long time to realize how little I actually need. Maybe this is also because a global disaster has made me realize what is most important to me is not the things in my closet, my books and anything materialistic, but the connections I have with the people I love.
Is this feeling going to last? If I have learned anything about this time period, it is that these sentiments are subject to change. In a few weeks, when the temperature climbs up even more and warm breezes fill my apartment, maybe I will start having the itch to really buy that dress I saw window shopping yesterday, as opposed to thinking, hey, I already have something in my closet that can fit that need. Deep inside, I know myself so well. I will buy a book instead.
Since quarantine has started (Friday, March 13th in Austria), I have bought for my son and I: two puzzles, Lego, a basketball, a scooter, and food. He desperately needs sneakers that I won’t order online because he has to try them on. The puzzles and Lego were a joint decision because we both love it. It brings us joy, madness, and everything in between. It felt strange to be much more excited by these small purchases than I might normally be. We don’t need anything else, really. Which is an awesome feeling!
Everything else feels oddly like play. The “homeschooling”, gathering groceries for the week, rationing out new books while marking time with beverage habits.
Staying home feels like playing house. It is still strange, that in this time, my home suddenly feels full of charades. It might be also that we are slowly losing our minds. My son and I dressed up for dinner a couple of days ago saying we are taking each other out. Oh, he even prepared dinner – a pizza from scratch all by himself. There are half-finished Lego and maze-projects everywhere. My son moves from game to game to game, seemingly less and less interested in the “real world” and more and more in his imagined one. He does not want to go back to school. He loves it at home. He just misses his friends. “Mommy, you can be my teacher”, he said while I sighed and rolled my eyes.
I am the same. I really miss my friends and family. Fiction is absorbing me in a way it hasn’t in years. I find myself thinking about the characters the way I think about my friends, imagining their responses to things. I am interested in my appetite for play in the face of this lockdown and the unfolding dread that has caused it. Is this how children feel all the time? Is their capacity for fantasy partly derived from their limited freedom and the giant unknown? Are games a sort of response to fear and absurdity? Is it just simply that imagination is a lifeline or more complicated than that? All I know is that the ridiculousness in this time is fueling me, and I am climbing to it. In my experience, where adults dismay and panic, children often adapt and accept, which leaves room for frivolity. And this frivolity, unlike its adult counterparts, does not attempt to make what is awful into what is good. Children are surprised by neither joy nor pain. There are sad things and there are happy things. They don’t rule each other out or even overcome one another. They both simply exist. In a New York Times article a couple of weeks ago, Alain De Botton wrote about the coronavirus through the lens of Camus’s The Plague. He wrote: “recognize the absurd should lead us not to despair, but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.” I think I am watching my child do precisely this. He is currently playing a game in which he is running from something scary and terrible. He expresses true fear and hides in his cave he built with huge cartons, blankets, and couch cushions. But then, he is laughing. After fear, he knows, comes a certain release.