corona diary | 4 June 2020

You’ve been reading a lot, these past couple of weeks, so much even that you’ve started to wonder whether reading, too, isn’t a form of adultery. A very one-directional form of adultery, tiresomely platonic, but adultery nonetheless. You’ve not been asked to explain your absences yet but you wonder how you would. You spend a lot of the time that you’re awake and not working in different landscapes than your own, and with different people than your own. And you’re doing so in plain sight. Your husband is sitting next to you. Your children are at your feet, in the grass, singing, shouting.

You’re there but you’re not.

Shameless.

That’s what you are.

You’ve been reading so much that you feel you know the thoughts of those different people better than those of the people physically, actually close. The ones singing, at your feet.

And then you read a book called The Rediscovery of the Body. On Burn-out by Dutch writer Bregje Hofstede. You arrive at a passage where she quotes from Schopenhauer’s essay ‘To Think for Oneself’:

So it is, that much reading deprives the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping a spring continually under pressure. The safest way of having no thoughts of one’s own is to take up a book every moment one has nothing else to do.

The first thing you do is laugh, because, well, you are reading Schopenhauer’s sentences, aren’t you? But you don’t have to laugh out loud to know you sound awkward. You feel caught out, in the same way you’d feel caught out when stumbling upon an expert sex passage while your husband and kids are in the room. You don’t need a mirror to know that your face looks like you’ve been out in the wind for too long. You are ablaze. Your mind is no longer in the moment. It has scattered itself over all the afternoons and all the evenings, the couches and the chairs, the roads you walked while listening to different people reading about different people in different places. You even smell all the smells – the grass, the chicken shit, the old asphalt, and feel the muscles by your left ankle twitch: you’ve walked too many ill-maintained roads while listening to other people’s thoughts.

But, you are you, which is on the defensive.

Those audiobookwalks were. Well, no words to describe. And all the books, yes, you’ve been telling people, bragging, about how many you’ve read since the start of the pandemic, but the books were about the books, about the thoughts. About.

You’re 37.

Each year, you’ve got less time left to kid yourself.

You started reading more/too much when all the news and all the Zoom sessions and all the online signals to be empathetic and sympathetic and communicative at all times made you want to crawl under a rock – a very nice rock, the sort that doesn’t hide woodlice or millipedes or worms – but definitely a rock. You know.

You started reading more/too much to not have to think for yourself. To shut up your mind. To release your tongue from its inability to keep up with your thoughts. To unclench your hands in your sleep.

You make a decision. You will take up Bregje Hofstede’s advice to walk, run, wander and saunter in the company of your own thoughts by walking, running, wandering and sauntering in the company of your own thoughts and your own thoughts only.

The very thought of which scares the shit out of you.

There, you’ve said it.

And now, you, you know it too.

© Sofie De Smyter | photograph of your shadow on daisies. By your I mean mine. As far as I know, Bregje Hofstede’s book De herontdekking van het lichaam hasn’t been translated into English yet. It should be. It contains the truest words on burnout I’ve read so far.