What ‘back to normal’ teaches me during Corona

BY PUCK DE BOER

Whenever I visit my social media, I read posts of people claiming that this Corona virus enables all kinds of creative inventions and solutions. I see how people decide to broaden their skillset, take crash courses to cope with the online meetings and buy equipment to finally finish their kitchen garden. But most importantly, some people largely celebrate the flexibility that they have gained and imagine how this period will transform the way we live in a post-Corona era.

Let’s be honest, I am one of those people. I finally bought Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, expanded my property of skin-care products and took up my lessons in Italian (again). I spent an entire evening writing out and drawing my core values and plans for the future. These are all things I would normally be too busy for.

I know people that get extremely upset whenever I claim to be ‘busy’. They argue that being busy is not quite how we should describe it. Rather, we make priorities that are not always in our favour. This line of thought might be reductionist in one way, but it also helps me to reflect on the decisions that I make. After all, ‘making something a priority’ seems like there is an active choice in how people organise their life. It makes me reflect on the things I do. Was it really necessary to be in that evaluation committee? Did I really have to respond to that e-mail right away?

Making priorities is a talent that I stopped training during this Corona pandemic. Now that I stay at home, I have gained approximately two flexible hours per day. This is what I normally spend on mobility, preparing food and mundane things like cleaning-up my workspace or leaving ten minutes early to be on time for the next appointment.
Not only did I stop training priority-making, I have also forgotten how mentally exhausting it can be to continuously move between different spheres of work and axes of identity. These small things together would give me that feeling of being completely burned-up in the evening. I would go to bed with the intention to do better tomorrow, only to make the exact same intention for the day after that. The extra two hours enable me to finish all my tasks and have free time to invest in myself. (Funny how we see those as two separate spheres, don’t we?)

I recently went back to my student dorm in Amstelveen to pick up some essential items (priority, right?). My mother had to work in Amsterdam that day and was so kind to take me along. In Amstelveen, I forgot that the walk from my mother’s work to my home is always longer than expected. When I made it home, I realised that I had left my desk in an unsuitable state for work and had to clean it up first. At the end of the day, I had not finished all my tasks and left my room in a mess again. I rushed back to my mother’s car while simultaneously having a phone call with my study advisor.

Back at my mother’s place, I realised that I had not learned anything from the freedom that Corona has given me. As soon as conditions (mobility requirements, expectations) go back to ‘normal’, so does my chaotic behaviour. I underestimate the time and emotion that small mundane practices appear to consume.

To conclude my point: These times give us a glimpse of how we could change our lives in a post-Corona era. But the only reason that we can experiment with this life, is because Covid-19 forced us into doing so. As long as we do not radically change our intrinsic motivations or dare to stand up for more flexibility in our lives, the utopian post-Corona period might not be as revolutionary as we imagine it to be. This is the time for some deep reflection on what is really important on the long run. It is a key element into fundamentally changing your life. Something to which I will completely dedicate myself. Only after I have started reading Piketty.

Puck de Boer is Bachelor student at the VU Social and Cultural Anthropology Department.

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