A new anthology collects lockdown diaries from writers all over the world—and shows the small benefits of recording things down in real timeby Marina Benjamin / July 7, 2020 / Leave a comment
Lockdown happens so fast. One moment we’re rushing about stockpiling toilet roll and tinned foods, the next we are vanished, scurrying indoors like terrified mice, party to a silent consensus to disappear.
I think of Italo Calvino’s Baucis in Invisible Cities—a city raised high above the Earth on stilts and home to the planet’s evacuated humans. Its inhabitants, grown entranced by their own absence, spend all day peering through spyglasses to examine every untouched leaf and stone. I think of Marx, observing how on the snap of a revolutionary turn everything changes in an instant and “All that is solid melts into air.” Which begs the question of how solid everything is to begin with. Covid-19 raises an additional question; namely, if we ourselves can simply evaporate at will, disappearing from civic space and social contract as if by some wave of the wand, then, ultimately, how solid are we?
In these early days it is difficult not to feel floaty and insubstantial, mistaking the dream-like quality of the world outside for the unreality of one’s corporeal self. To guard against melting away into air, I cast about for anchors. Family meals, now reinvested with proper ritual significance, help. Daily routines help. Sleep helps.
I set up a pop-up blog (“Pop-up”, because I never intend it to go on) as a space where I can think aloud about the pandemic and the oddities. I write an initial post the day Britain goes into lockdown, then issue an open invitation to other writers to respond in whatever form beckons: poems, reflections, observations, provocations, fancies, elegies, dream diaries. It quickly takes off. It turns out what I longed for was a shared space to make up for the one we’d lost.
Contributions begin arriving immediately. Poems and prose from Portugal, Australia, Italy, India, Ireland, Germany and France, offering comparative snapshots of lockdown life elsewhere. Essays from award-winning writers and newly graduated writers; white writers, black writers and brown writers. More than 40 in all. Suddenly it is an inclusive, collaborative, one-pointed but many-pronged project. And curating it feels like a lockdown privilege, rare as having a…