Dan O'Heirity

Today I have it in mind to describe the current state of my Covid-19 days. The prompt to engage in this sort of thinking has its source in an unsettling feeling that I am somehow wasting the opportunity that has been presented to me by this pandemic, where that opportunity might be defined as being able to indulge in the greatest degree of freedom that has been available to me in the 25 years since I graduated with PhD and had to leave the life of being a student behind me. Others may find my musings useful to the extent that they will almost certainly focus upon the importance of having an “existential awareness” of the significance of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Measured Indifference to the Possibility of a Serious Medical Condition

Before I dwell upon what I am doing – or indeed not doing – with my freedom, I need to note that today was different from many of my other Covid-19 days because I had to go for a renal ultrasound. The reasons for having to go for the ultrasound do not really matter but the possible outcomes of the test do matter, at least in an abstract sort of way. The outcomes of the ultrasound range from the relatively benign possibility of a urinary tract infection through to cancer of the prostate, bladder or kidneys. These cancers are more prevalent in people over 40. I am 53 years of age and so I obviously fall into that bracket.

I have mentioned on a number of occasions that one astute psychologist identified that I may have a sub-clinical condition known as alexithymia, a fact which means that I am essentially divorced from any feelings that I might have about myself or the very few people with whom I am obliged to interact. I am detached in the extreme, a fact which likely provides a partial explanation for why I am able to simply observe my current state as opposed to having an emotional reaction to the possible outcomes of the test. This means that I shall simply wait for the test results whilst reflecting in a reasoned kind of way about what the different outcomes might mean for me.

Should the results indicate that I have one of the forms of cancer, I would hope that I would react with equanimity and poise because reacting in this way would represent further confirmation that my life’s work to cultivate a personality directed by my will and my intellect has been successful. This point is important to me because whilst there is the fact of my alexithymia, it is also true that I have cultivated myself and nurtured myself in order to make a virtue out of necessity. In other words, I have taken the fact of my unfeeling life I have found meaning in exercising my will and intellect in order to transcend what I might have been had I allowed my life to be defined by happenstance.

I could state matters in an alternate way. I am not completely devoid of emotions and feelings. However, allowing an emotional reaction to a serious diagnosis would be anathema to me because such a reaction would speak to a failure of my life’s work to develop a personality driven by my intellect and will. In this context, an emotional reaction would be indicative of not having mastered myself to a sufficient degree. For now, however, all is well on that front as I direct myself to dwelling upon this existential opportunity to further my self-becoming. My knowledge of myself will be greater after this experience, no matter what the outcome.

Covid-19 Has Enabled Me to Live a Life Defined by Relative Freedom

With my health out of the way, I can return to the question of freedom. I am not referring to freedom in an deep philosophical sense. By freedom I just mean having the time and space to do as one wishes. Prior to the Easter holidays, a time when I started working from home, my work was keeping me more than fully busy because a significant part of my University position has always had to do with supporting the delivery of online learning. As a result of Covid-19 my University shifted all 465 units of study in Trimester 1 to an online mode in a space of less than two weeks and I had to review all the forms detailing changes made to the units as a result of the shift to online.

My point here is that I did not have the time and space during my first few weeks of working from home to live my life in the way in which I wanted to live my life. However, with the advent of the Easter holidays I had five full days to myself. During these five days, I fell into roughly the same routine that I indulged in when I was on holiday in Thailand in February. I got up around 9 AM and sat in my garden drinking coffee, smoking and reading Covid-19 news stories. I then went out to exercise for around an hour and a half. This was an extremely important part of the day because it enabled me to shake off what I would refer to as feelings of intellectual and physical torpor.

With my exercise over I spent each afternoon writing for around 2-3 hours, a fact which accounts for all of my journal entries on the Covid-19 virus. After the writing session, I ate dinner and watched Netflix for around 2 hours. I finished watching Netflix around 10 PM and I then I spent around 3-4 hours writing whatever I wanted to write. Roughly an hour or so into my writing, I took the medications that ensure that I sleep. Not long afterwards, the mild sedative effect of the drugs would wash over me and I would drift into a period of unsurpassed peace and relaxation ahead of finally going to be around 2 AM. Sleep came almost instantly thanks to the effectiveness of the drugs.

Such have been my days, days that I would describe as peaceful and fulfilling and purposeful. Indeed, as I have written on a couple of previous occasions, if I were asked to describe my perfect life, I would point to the current Covid-19 lock down conditions as pretty much ideal. My hope is that the lockdown will continue for many months to come and that I will, during this time, be able to carve out periods of time that will see me following my ideal daily pattern. I know. I know. People are dying. Businesses are going bankrupt. Millions of people are unemployed. The world economy has collapsed. There is no vaccine in sight. However, these facts concern me not.

Some Reflections on What My Days Might Look Like Moving Forwards

It is now 12.45 AM and another idoneous day has passed. Tomorrow is Wednesday, the end of our Easter Holiday period, and I shall have to engage in work once again. This work will involve replying to 40 or so discussion posts in the unit that I am currently teaching. In the not too distant future I shall have to mark 60 or so assignment for the same unit. If I give the assignments the attention that they deserve, and I will, then each assignment will take around an hour to mark meaning around 60 hours of marking time which will have to be fitted in at night and over the weekends. This fact will annoy me intensely because the freedom that I have talked about will not be a reality. Rather, my days will, once again, be hijacked by work life

Looking ahead to the next couple of years I might continue in my very well paid job – I earn 6 figures – particularly as this job does not usually demand too much of me. In favour of this option is the fact that I would have a very healthy and ongoing income along with a relative degree of freedom that would enable me to spend a reasonably significant proportion of my time in writing. However, being something of an absolutist, I find this option to be somewhat unsatisfactory, a compromise perhaps that would see me only partially realizing the way in which I would like my days to be defined. I might refer to a lack of commitment to my realizing my preferred lifestyle of living a life defined wholly by the act of writing.

Secondly, I could seek an alternative lifestyle such as retreating to a remote country cottage whilst pursuing other means to make money. If I were to do this then I might also take a look at a very middle class “survivalist” plan because given Bird Flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, Swine Flu and the Covid-19 virus we would have to be mad to think that there will not be another pandemic. Such a pandemic could see much higher contagion rates and much higher death rates. This middle class survivalist plan would basically mean being able to survive for a year without ever needing to shop. So, enough food, water, personal hygiene products, medical supplies and energy resources to be able to live in splendid isolation for a period of 12 months.

Third I could conceive of my life in terms of a five year project to transition to a different lifestyle which would ultimately see me realizing the core components of scenarios one and two viz. living a remote life defined by a pure dedication to writing. This is probably the most practicable of the three possibilities as I still have pretty limited savings meaning that purchasing a remote property as a living option is not really feasible right now. Bachelard pejoratively described a project as a “short term oneirism” that does not speak to the soul. However, I would tend to disagree with Bachelard in this respect. If I were to follow my core inclinations then I would be realizing the my deepest desires, desires which would ultimately see me living a wholly creative life.

A Conclusion That Has to Do With the Importance of Reflecting Upon the Future

It is certainly true that I have, to some degree, simply allowed my thoughts to wander in this piece of writing. However, indulging myself in the freedom to reflect was the point of this piece of writing. I wanted to take the time and the space to have a think about the significance of Covid-19 in my life. My broader point has been that the existential import of the Covid-19 virus should not be lost upon us. Rather, this pandemic really ought to be a moment in history that leads people to make life changing decisions. To put it a different way, the existential import of the virus will have been entirely missed should peoples’ lies remain unchanged once the pandemic is over.

First Published April 14th, 2020

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