Image © Kasia Szenajch 2020
|by Ola Kamińska
|May 19, 2020
PART ONE: PANDEMIC POETICS
Week four of staying inside: I exchange flowers with my friend Ania. She borrowed our car yesterday and I was able to finally make my childhood dream come true, giving her the keys by slowly lowering them on a very thin rope. I must have read that in one of Astrid Lindgren’s Bullerbyn stories or some other book from primary school: kids exchanging gifts in a basket traveling between windows on a ribbon. Today, she brings the keys back. I don’t want to lower an empty rope, so I tie a small yellow flower to it. It’s windy and I live on the second floor. The keys come back after a minute, with a red tulip attached, almost as if we had agreed to this exchange earlier.
During the first week, we were still allowed to go to the parks. Kasia, my girlfriend, came back to Warsaw from Brussels one day before they closed the borders and decided to stay in an Airbnb apartment for two weeks, “just in case.” So we met in a park, keeping the 2 meters distance. We pet our dog in gloves and wearing masks. We pretended to hug each other by each hugging the tree closest to oneself. It felt romantic and kind of cute. When I was a kid my grandmother would tell me to hug a tree to calm myself down – supposedly birch works best.
After being reunited with Kasia, we play this board game called Carcassonne and on the first evening, each of us finishes with exactly the same number of points. We both win! I teach her to dance, trying to remember anything from the ballroom dancing lessons I took 20 years ago. My legs remember more than I would have thought. I bake bread and make us pancakes for breakfast. She cooks, makes sure we actually have fun, not just scroll the internet for half a day, and drives us to her parents’ summer house one hour outside Warsaw. We spend an afternoon drawing and listening to the new Fiona Apple album. I haven’t done the majority of those things in a really long time. We fight too, but rarely. We watch birds – they are building a nest just outside our kitchen window! – and play with our dog for hours.
I don’t see the purpose of live streams, but I decided to check out those Instagram live gigs. So I watch Palehound’s Instagram concert and end up almost crying. I watch it in my kitchen at 2:30 am – time doesn’t exist anyway. The sound is very bad, the connection breaks every few minutes, but it feels so intimate that it doesn’t really matter. She’s streaming from her mother’s house, playing only on her guitar, and I cannot believe how beautiful it is. Somebody writes in the comment, “the bartender is rude tonight,” and the others pick it up immediately: “does anyone wants to go for a smoke?” and “there is a lot of blue-haired baby queers at this venue.”
PART TWO: FUCK THIS
This year I miss my favorite day ever: the first really warm day. The one when the air smells different, you can feel the sun on your face, and you take off your winter jacket because you just don’t need it anymore. An unexpected holiday: we made it through winter! Things will be okay after all! My therapist asks me on Skype whether I think I will learn something valuable from staying inside, the lockdown, the isolation, the pandemic. I tell her no, I think that the majority of us will end up traumatized by the experience. I’m safe at home and my girlfriend is still making good money working remotely. I recognize my privilege, but it only makes me feel like an asshole for not being more productive — or more useful — during this time. My main reason for going to therapy is general anxiety disorder and occasional panic attacks. Basically, I worry too much; I’ve been going to therapy for the last 10 years, on and off, to stop preparing for a catastrophe. And yet, here we are: a catastrophe.
I’m not a prepper – I do not have a basement filled with stable-shelf food, water filtration system, and a gas mask (I do not have any basement at all, I cannot really afford to rent anything by myself). I just think about the worst and do nothing. It works like a superpower: I can immediately see how any event ends up as a disaster. You can imagine how much fun my brain is having during this pandemic, just envisioning what will happen. I don’t even have to get very creative. I’ve read that some people with depression and anxiety are weirdly calm right now, but unfortunately, I’m just paralyzed with fear and uncertainty.
For that reason, I cannot really work, cannot read more than ten sentences – I’m just too busy worrying: about the future, the world, Poland, the democracy, the drought, my friends, my girlfriend, myself. I simultaneously worry about people dying and about not being able to fly to meet with my friends in another country (I know, the privilege). I’m in the middle of a treatment and I was supposed to have minor surgery this spring and it won’t happen, so I worry about that too. Finally, I worry about all those things I was worrying before the pandemic. From time to time my brain gets so tired from worrying that it just turns numb and I cannot feel anything for 2 or 3 days. It’s some sort of a coping mechanism, but a really shitty one.
It feels wrong to romanticize any part of this and narrate the pandemic focusing on exchanging flowers. If I wasn’t so tired from the constant worrying, I would scream at every person who urges others to think about this as “an opportunity.”
Ola Kamińska is a co-founder of Girls to the Front (https://www.facebook.com/allgirlstothefront/), a feminist queer DIY initiative featuring concerts, workshops, radio show, and a zine. She lives in Warsaw, where she is trying to finish her Ph.D.