Too much world. Too much, too fast, too loud.

From my window, I can see a white mulberry, a tree I’m fascinated by—one of the reasons I decided to live where I live. The mulberry is a generous plant—all spring and all summer it offers dozens of avian families its sweet and healthful fruits. Right now, the mulberry hasn’t got back its leaves, and so I see a stretch of quiet street, rarely traversed by people on their way to the park. The weather in Wrocław is almost summery: a blinding sun, blue sky, clean air. Today, as I was walking my dog, I saw two magpies chasing an owl from their nest. At a remove of just a couple of feet, the owl and I gazed into each other’s eyes. Animals, too, seem to be waiting expectantly, wondering what’s going to happen next.

For the longest time, I have felt that there’s been too much world. Too much, too fast, too loud. So I’m not experiencing any “isolation trauma,” and it isn’t hard on me at all to not see people. I’m not sorry that the cinemas have closed; I am completely indifferent to the fact that shopping centers have shuttered. I do worry, of course, when I think of all the people who have lost their jobs. But, when I learned of the impending quarantine, I felt something like relief. I know many people felt similarly, even if they also felt ashamed of it. My introversion, long strangled and abused by hyperactive extroverts, has brushed itself off and come out of the closet.

I watch our neighbor through the window, an overworked lawyer I just recently saw heading to work in the morning with his courtroom robe slung over his shoulder. Now in a baggy tracksuit, he battles a branch in the yard; he seems to be putting things in order. I see a couple of young people taking out an older dog that’s been barely able to walk since last winter. The dog staggers while they patiently accompany him, walking at the slowest pace. Making a great racket, the garbage truck picks up the trash.

Life goes on, and how, but at a completely different rhythm. I tidied up my closet and took out the newspapers we had read and placed them in the recycling bin. I repotted the flowers. I picked up my bicycle from the shop where it had been repaired. I have been enjoying cooking.

Images from my childhood keep coming back to me. There was so much more time then, and it was possible to “waste” it and “kill” it, spending hours just staring out the window, observing the ants, or lying under the table and imagining it to be the ark. Reading the encyclopedia.

Might it not be the case that we have returned to a normal rhythm of life? That it isn’t that the virus is a disruption of the norm, but rather exactly the reverse—that the hectic world before the virus arrived was abnormal? …

The virus has reminded us, after all, of the thing we have been denying so passionately: that we are delicate creatures, composed of the most fragile material. That we die—that we are mortal. That we are not separated from the rest of the world by our “humanity,” by any exceptionality, but that the world is instead a kind of great network in which we are enmeshed, connected with other beings by invisible threads of dependence and influence. That without any regard to how far apart the countries we come from are, or what languages we speak, or what color our skin is, we come down with the same illness, we share the same fears; we die the same death.

It has made us realize that no matter how weak and vulnerable we feel in the face of danger, we are also surrounded by people who are more vulnerable, to whom our help is essential. It has reminded us of how fragile our older parents and grandparents are, and how very much they need our care. It has shown us that our frenetic movements imperil the world. And it has raised a question we have rarely had the courage to ask ourselves: what is it, exactly, that we keep going off in search of?

~ Olga Tokarczuk, from “A New World Through My Window” (The New Yorker, April 8, 2020)


Notes:

  • Thank you for sharing Sawsan (@  Last Tambourine).
  • Portrait of Olga Tokarczuk: Quillette. Poland’s Nobel Prize Winner in Literature (2018)

This morning. This moment is close by. Today it will arrive.

Many people believe that there exists in the world’s coordinate system a perfect point where time and space reach an agreement. This may even be why these people travel, leaving their homes behind, hoping that even by moving around in a chaotic fashion they will increase their likelihood of happening upon this point. Landing at the right time in the right place—seizing the opportunity, grabbing the moment and not letting go—would mean the code to the safe had been cracked, the combination revealed, the truth exposed. No more being passed by, no more surfing coincidences, accidents, and turns of fate. You don’t have to do anything—you just have to show up, sign in at that one single configuration of time and place. There you will find your great love, happiness, a winning lottery ticket… Sometimes in the morning one even has the impression that this moment is close by, that today might be the day it will arrive.

~ Olga Tokarczuk, from “The Right Time and Place” in Flights (Penguin Publishing Group. August 13, 2018)


Photo: Monica dofa (via Mennyfox55)

unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them

I’ve learned to write on trains and in hotels and waiting rooms. On the tray tables on planes. I take notes at lunch, under the table, or in the bathroom. I write in museum stairwells, in cafés, in the car on the shoulder of the motorway. I jot things down on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on postcards, on my other hand, on napkins, in the margins of books. Usually they’re short sentences, little images, but sometimes I copy out quotes from the papers. Sometimes a figure carves itself out of the crowd, and then I deviate from my itinerary to follow it for a moment, start on its story. It’s a good method; I excel at it. With the years, time has become my ally, as it does for every woman—I’ve become invisible, see-through. I am able to move around like a ghost, look over people’s shoulders, listen in on their arguments and watch them sleep with their heads on their backpacks or talking to themselves, unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them.

~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights (August 13, 2018)


Olga Tokarczuk, 56, is one of Poland’s best and most beloved authors. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, becoming the first Polish writer to do so.  Tobias Grey wrote a profile of Tokarczuk in the NY Times on August 8, 2018 titled: Olga Tokarczuk’s Book ‘Flights’ Is Taking Off.” Here’s an excerpt from the profile:

“Ms. Tokarczuk likened herself to a tailor making a dress. ‘The dress is beautiful and comfortable to wear,’ she said. ‘But like the reader, the person who wears it is not expected to know precisely how all the materials that make it are connected.’ When Ms. Tokarczuk finished writing ‘Flights’ she gathered all her pages and spent a week studying them spread out on the floor of her living room. ‘It was funny because I had to climb onto a table to see how they looked from a high vantage point,’ she said. ‘I trusted my intuition to find the book’s order, and I wouldn’t change anything now.'”


Portrait of Olga Tokarczuk from Los Angeles Review of Books

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