updates from underneath

(the duvet)


One night last week, I went for an extremely purposeful march for what I deem to be essentials and discovered that Leeds now closes at like 7pm. It was here, outside closed storefronts, in an impermeable quiet, that I first experienced the heavy deadness of an abandoned city. So I went home, washed my hands for two rounds of happy birthday and buried myself underneath my duvet like a small worm in warm soil. It has been, for me, three weeks of life mostly spent underneath this duvet, which I drag back and forth from the bed to the couch — which is only like, double the distance of the recommended social distancing distance. And also has become the most tangible set of metrics for many of us these days, when space and time and timelines and memes and drinks and breakfast and every daily briefing and the bad kind of numbers are all just blurring, blurring, blurring, tornado-style upward. Two metres, two rounds of happy birthday; just keep going, by going nowhere at all, and — according to world leaders — it should, maybe, no guarantees though!, all be ok.

I’ve been doing my part by doing almost nothing; spending too much time on the internet and being horribly self-congratulatory when I go for a run, or whatever.

Being on lockdown alone is a crazy-making privilege; I’ve become haunted by my isolated self and therefore feel compelled to exorcise my own presence. So here are some thoughts & feels from underneath the duvet.

The unbearable lightness of routine

According to a cosmetic surgeon called Maxwell Maltz, it takes approximately 21 days for a patient who had undergone an operation to become psychologically acclimatised to their new face. This was the basis for another theory he had, which is that it takes three weeks to form a habit. It’s a hypothesis which I have clung to when everything has gone to shit in my life, but, as I’ve just come to know thanks to Google, has actually been disproven by many scientists since. There are habits that can never be formed, situations too inconceivable to become normal and can one ever truly be accustomed to a forever-changing face?

Anyway, even with the whole-three-weeks-till-this-feels-more-ok-theory being a total lie that I’ve used to comfort MANY a friend over the years, there’s always the ‘try and create a routine’ thing, that many of us who have experienced depression are already pretty familiar with thanks to therapy and Instagram. It gives me no pleasure to agree that — for me at least — routine works. Which is why, when I realised this reality was not, in fact, a daytime hallucination, I immediately began clocking goals, rituals and checkbox lists into my brain. It’s what I know to do when things get weird.

It turns out that routine, in the isolationary confines of a global pandemic, leaves me feeling just as untethered as without it. Completing daily midweek activities like online gym classes and word counts, and daily weekend activities like, I don’t know, drinking red wine at 3PM and playing the entirety of Lorde’s Melodrama, are just all one and the same. I can’t tell you if this is the Tuesday of last week, or this is the toast of yesterday or tomorrow. The routine of lockdown is as grounding as helium balloons tied to an outdoor bannister. We are anchored, but only just.

New reasons to be resentful

Why are you standing so close to me? Why are you doing laps of the grocery store aisles when there are clearly demarcated arrows made from duct tape? Why are you smoking on the step outside my door and refusing to move out of the way so now I’m holding my breath (not how it works) and stress fumbling my keys? Why are you making out in the middle of the sidewalk and at the exact moment that I pass choose to part ways with the words ‘enjoy your weekend’ and ‘I love you!’ trailing behind you making it obvious to the whole street that your slimy, sappy germs are being passed into different homes? Why are you all like this?

Contactless delivery as a comedy of errors

At the beginning, it seemed like it would all be fine. The apps convinced me it would be fine. Want some normalcy in the form of hot food, cooked by someone else, delivered right to your door? No problem. Want to maintain social distancing because now you sort-of-legally have to? We got you.

My first attempt at contactless delivery was pretty well planned. I’m in a city centre block of flats, with a gate separating the door to my building and the road. The best option, I decided, would be to leave the gate unlocked for the driver. I could then wait on the other side of the door, follow the driver’s journey on the map and pick up the food once he’s arrived. It felt weirdly staged, and sort of creepy. But I was optimistic and put it down in the delivery notes.

So there I was, waiting at the door, watching the car icon on the map inch closer. Then my driver called. He can’t find me. I tried to explain; he tried to explain. We’re both not getting it. Finally, I go outside through the gate out onto the street. I see his parked car and wave. He waves back, at which point I realise — I’m not socially equipped to handle what’s going to happen next. Going back inside seems wrong, but staying on the street is wrong too. I decide to go with the worst choice and stand between the door and the gate. Now he is approaching, and I’ve locked myself in what can only be a non-contactless cage. Out of the sheer stress of the moment I forget how to unlock the gate; the driver has to pass my food over the top, the whole thing is ruined and I submerge my hands in hot soap water for like, two whole minutes.

You could say that things improved. One driver even thanked me for how clear my instructions were (I proceeded to tip him extra for validating me). Another placed the food on the street and stepped two metres back so I could come two metres forward to retrieve it. This worked, but then out of sheer social desperation we got talking, which is when he explained to me how this whole contactless thing was really pointless because, did I know that the virus is spreading across nations through the air like a violent fog? I just stood there nodding, becoming increasingly anxious about his (unsubstantiated and dangerous) theory, and straight up suffocating at the thought of it.

I did manage one, almost perfect, contactless delivery. The driver placed my food just outside the gate, called me, and then waited across the street, watching from his car like a guardian angel for chana aloo. I went out to retrieve it and waved. Except that at the very moment I burst open the door and waved, joyful from finally getting it right, a woman was walking past. She thought I was waving at her, so she stopped and stared me dead in the eyes in a really friendly but confused way, so of course I recoiled from the awkwardness which probably looked like I was having some kind of convulsion because she asked if I was alright. As an inappropriate response I made a strange noise and shut the door. What I’m saying is this will never, ever be fine or normal and why can’t this one thing be fine and normal?

The Backstreet Boys are back to save me from myself

Last week, iconic ‘90s boyband Backstreet Boys released a video rendition of their 1999 hit “I Want It That Way”. The video featured its members — AJ, Howie, Nick, Kevin and Brian — singing from their respective homes via video chat; a performance that was part of the iHeart Living Room Concert for America music event hosted by Elton John. I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this video and now you have to read them.

  1. KEVIN IS STILL A KEVIN

    Kevin is the oldest Backstreet Boy and therefore the ‘big brother’ of the group. He was the kind of high school drama kid that was good looking enough to be voted ‘Most Popular’, ‘Best Dancer’, ‘Best Look’ and ‘Best Looking’ (this is true and seems excessive) while also being a member of the chess club. I was not surprised to learn that he is a certified Latin and ballroom dance instructor. That’s just the kind of guy that Kevin is.

    After watching the new version of “I Want It That Way” I’ve come to the conclusion that Kevin will always be a Kevin. Kevin opens his performance by making peace signs with his fingers. To emphasise this point, he has decided to perform in front of a large photograph depicting a bunch of people congregating in the shape of the other kind of peace sign. Kevin points to the photograph. He dances in front of the photograph making more peace signs. He sings in front of the photograph. He really loves that photograph because, I can only assume, he believes in world peace and wants to get that message across. As many of us do, but not as much as Kevin.

    Kevin loves that photograph and world peace and he also loves his kids. He decides to include his kids in the video. His kids really love “I Want It That Way”. They sing along to it with Kevin — one is drumming. I wonder if this is a common occurrence in the house of Kevin. From now on, when I think of Kevin, I will think of peace signs and salsa dancing and nice dads and strangely, that makes me really happy.

  2. WAS BRIAN ALWAYS THE HOT GUY FROM A SMALL TOWN?

    Brian was born in the not-small town of Lexington, Kentucky to a religious Baptist family. He played Little League and was once voted President of the Youth Chorus. He had dreams of being a basketball player but at 5 foot 7 inches, didn’t have much of a shot (haha) — bless him. Outside of BSB, Brian released a contemporary Christian solo album called Welcome Home. Brian is Kevin’s cousin. He’s also the teen country singer Baylee Littrell’s dad. I’m not shocked.

    I don’t remember thinking much of Brian although he was like, the strong second for friends who weren’t obsessed with Nick (or if someone had already ‘claimed’ Nick as their favourite, because that is NOT OK). Looking at him now, performing in front of his Elvis-themed pinball machine in pyjama pants and a slim cut top, being the all blonde all American dad that he is, I have to wonder: did Brian always have the hot guy from a small town aesthetic? Has he always looked like the male lead of a Hallmark film? I think the answer to both, is a resounding yes.

  3. THIS VIDEO IS JUST ONE BIG FLEX FOR NICK CARTER

    Nick Carter was to the Backstreet Boys what Justin Timberlake was to NSYNC —  the purest form of ‘90s teen heart throb and unofficial frontman. Fun facts about Nick Carter: his childhood dance teacher, Sandy, created his first group. It was called Nick and the Angels. He was asked to join The Mickey Mouse Club, the pop idol manufacturing plant of the era which produced pop icons like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Nick Carter turned down TMMC to join BSB at age 13. He’s the youngest member, and thus in boy & girl band world, considered the ‘baby’ of the group.

    Both Nick and JT released solo albums. While JT (thanks to Timberland probs) launched banger after banger, Nick had much more — let’s say, moderate — success. He did, however, defeat JT in an arm wrestling match on the set of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and won the title of “Sexiest Man in the World” in 2002 as voted by readers of Cosmogirl magazine. The leading male blonde heartthrob has never been my thing (more on that later).

    Weird then, that when watching this video I cannot stop staring at Nick. This is for two reasons.

    First: does Nick have an ageing portrait of himself locked in his attic? Has he made a divine contract with a sordid creature from the underworld? I’ve not paid close attention to Nick, like ever, but I’m sure he’s gone backwards in time. What skincare routine you got going bb? Tell me your secrets.

    Second: I’m not fully convinced that the other members of BSB were informed that Nick was going to perform this song from various locations in his fuck off level back garden including a lounge area and massive pool. Why does he have a professional cameraman panning slowly over his sun-kissed face while Brian, Howie and AJ have set up their iPhones on stands and Kevin’s wife is probably filming? Is this video just one big flex for Nick Carter? Something isn’t right here and I need answers.

  4. WHO IS HOWIE?

    I sort of feel bad that I’ve never paid any attention to Howie. Honestly, had I not seen this video, I never would have thought of him again. Except, that while doing some *research* for this essay I read a really funny story; which is that AJ totally grassed Howie up for farting in the booth while recording their 2000 hit “The Call”, and because it was both on beat and on key, producer Max Martin mixed it into the song as a bass sound. This guy can fart in tune! His fart has been immortalised in an iconic early 2000’s boyband anthem! I’ve got a lot of time for that Howie, and I will from this day forward remember you for always.

    That being said, I’m not sure why, out of all his options, Howie chose a massive cinema-style screen as his backdrop. I had to look closely to realise it wasn’t just a big whiteboard. Very online-seminar-at-university vibes. And that’s all I’ve got to say about him, sorry.

  5. WILL I EVER GET OVER AJ?

    It turns out that AJ McLean has consistently remained ‘my type’ since 2001. That was the year of Black and Blue — BSB’s worldwide tour which included a one night appearance at the SkyDome in Toronto. I went with my mom*, my cousin, my best friend and her mom, because of course, we were 11 and needed like, parental supervision to go to a concert in the big city. I wasn’t really into boys — or anyone for that matter — because I was, you know, 11. But I really liked AJ; for whatever reason, he was my favourite. I don’t remember anything about that concert except AJ’s performative opening monologue to “The Call”, which I thought may have been a happy-fever-dream-made-memory but actually did happen.

    I didn’t think much about AJ post-Black and Blue. A few years later I was into Ja Rule and Nelly and Avril Lavigne and Evanescence But watching this video made me reminisce about his faux bad boy swag of 2001 (bandanas, tattoos, great facial hair) and also made me realise in a self-loathing way that AJ, with his faux bad boy swag of 2020 (beanie, tattoos, great facial hair) performing in front of a piano (ok cool guy) and in a room full of sneakers is still a total dream boat. And now I’m wondering if I started dating my first serious-post-high-school-boyfriend because of his AJ-like labret piercing and if everyone I’ve ever dated since had some kind of AJ-ness to them, and will I ever get over AJ? The answer is: no. I will never get over AJ, not ever.

* shout out to my mom for being a COOL MOM and buying me BSB concert tickets. Also, mom, I know you’re reading this and I know you didn’t think to click the link above to the video and after you’ve read this you’ll ask me to send you the video so you can get all the references. Instead, click here. <— click where it says ‘click here’ with the line underneath.


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