coronadiary | 22 March

I’m listening to Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children’s Archive. Listening, because I somehow can’t bring myself to read. I first thought it was because the book I was reading (Eimear McBride’s Strange Hotel) experimented too much with sentences; because it was the kind of book that makes thoughts explode rather than inspires them to regroup, but Luiselli’s book is just as explosive. If I could, I would tell you what it’s about but I’ve always been a lousy reproducer of plots. And it’s not just the plot. Yes, the book focuses on remembering and inventorying and of course I’m already thinking about how we’ll remember this (by writing I’m flashforwarding to a future flashback), but for me the book is now very much about the voice who’s reading it to me.  

Am I suffering from a lack of voices? I wonder. At home, as usual, there’s a surplus of them. My youngest is an indefatigable voice-over to the documentary of his own life and that of his brother, describing everything he thinks, sees and does in detail, as though whatever isn’t said is untrue, or unreal. There’s my husband’s voice, of course, and all the voices coming in over Skype and Messenger. I’m not suffering from a lack of voices tout court, I realize, but I am suffering from a lack of unfamiliar voices. What I miss is overhearing conversations out of context, short unexpected exchanges with strangers, mutual laughter over something meaningless.

I’m no good a cappella.

My lack should be easy enough to solve. We’re still allowed to go for walks and these days everybody seems to be going out for walks. In the street, we invariably cross fewer people we know than people we’ve never seen before, but who all, we realize, must live within walking distance. We say hi or nod, or the kids say something silly like hello baloney the sun is shining but it rarely results in something that could go down as an acknowledgment, let alone an exchange. The same goes for the grocery store. It’s as if we’re all afraid that by opening our mouths we’ll infect each other, or get infected, I said when I got home. It was only when I said it that I grasped that what we’re afraid of is maybe not so much contracting the virus by talking but contracting or passing on fear itself.

So maybe that’s why I’m listening to Valeria Luiselli. Each time I put my headphones on, I think of the cartoon image I’ve always had of myself listening to recorded voices: that of a brightly colored girl with an imaginary lightning bolt connecting her left ear to her right. The bolt perhaps doesn’t jumpstart but at least temporarily resets her brain.  

Text and photo by Sofie De Smyter |photo taken @Gijzelbrechtegem, Belgium – what it should show but doesn’t are the remnants of a tree that was a tree until it died and was turned into a totem pole by the local school, which decorated it with decorated CD’s, whose only decoration used to be songs. The shadows are the kids’ and mine. I could start and argue about how it shows that everything is reinterpreted until it disappears but the truth is I had forgotten about the tree/pole. It was my youngest, our master voice-over, who remembered it. It made me realize that my earlier judgment of his continual talking (as though whatever’s not said is not real) applies maybe more to my not talking.

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