If you can’t live normally, why not find little harebrained ways to warp reality? writes
Like characters in an Edgar Allan Poe story, every person I know is suddenly confined to a small space and forced to meditate on existence, death and his or her own satanic impulses.
The physical manifestations of my own dread have included insomnia, a bumper crop of grey hairs and an absence of self-control around any form of alcohol or drug. At some point my ribs became countable. I daydream about which elected officials most deserve to get Covid-19.
Being an inessential worker in every sense of the word, there has been no obvious way for me to channel my bad feelings into civically productive activities. If I can’t be productive, I have three choices: Do nothing, do destructive things or do neutral things.
He has sinuous muscles and four children and does not believe in normal furniture, especially chairs, which he considers unnatural and expendable. His home contains none.
Instead, he recommends “ground living”: banishing furniture in favour squatting and kneeling. This, according to him, helps nourish a person’s ankles, knees and hips, as well as “rewilding” her feet.
I watched a video of Riddle, serene and barefoot, as he moved through 10 positions designed to help support my “ancestral movement system.” Was he a maniac? A genius? Only one way to find out.
If lacking something as fundamental as furniture did not impair my life, perhaps the same could be true of recently banned fundamentals, like social contact or walking outdoors without a muzzle. When people talk about fasting, this is what they talk about: the surge of power that arises from realising you don’t need what you thought you did.
I ate a meal without using my hands or any utensils, like a dog, just to see what it was like. (Sloppy, as I expected.)
I coaxed a group of wild turkeys out of the woods with a trail of sunflower seeds that I placed in a circle, which they obediently traced. I tried to attract other birds by sitting quietly on the porch cloaked in seeds but had to go back inside after being menaced by a squirrel.
None of these “hobbies” were fascinating or impressive — and they’re even less so when I type them out — but they were placating, free and legal. I couldn’t stop finding harebrained new ways to warp reality. I spent hours sitting on the carpet against a wall, doing nothing except considering.
I considered investigating the stain under the boiler. I considered making banana bread, cleaning the gutters. The word “consider” implies, correctly, that these thoughts at no point turned into actions. During one morning of considering I felt my head entering the wall, or sort of dipping in and out of it.
This went on for a minute before the sensation faded and was replaced with a moment of alarm at the banality of the hallucination, which was like being on the world’s lamest drug: Instead of experiencing ego death, I momentarily penetrated a sheet of drywall. What was the life-altering lesson in that? “Sleep more,” maybe.
Members are pacifists who renounce private property, live simply, dress modestly and — to judge by the official Bruderhof website — have a distinctive sense of humor. (Among the questions in the site’s FAQ section: “Sorry, what’s Anabaptism?” and “Do you ever have fun at the Bruderhof?”) “Amish-adjacent” is probably the easiest way to describe them, but they’re allowed to have smartphones, drive cars and upload (utterly delightful!) YouTube videos.
The day after the couple returned, a busload of men and women from a neighbouring settlement showed up to take over daily operations. For 10 days this fleet of visitors cooked, cleaned and performed whatever tasks needed doing while the home community paused.
“It felt like something from,” my friend told me. “All of a sudden this ancillary battalion shows up over the hill, and you feel like you might win the battle.”
I can’t claim to understand the exact meaning of this protocol, but it makes sense on its face. A grieving period is marked by altering outer reality to mimic the state of the bereaved’s inner world: absolute inertia, total cessation of routine. The ratification might not be curative, but at least it would feel cosmically sensical.
Yielding, waiting, submitting to God, abandoning the self, surrendering pride, subordinating the individual to the community — this is the English word cloud around gelassenheit. One blogger described it as “an antidote to the sheer pompous weariness of the world”.
When you pre-emptively dismiss whatever rules of living are within your control, like using furniture or wearing clothes, you’re injecting yourself with a tolerable portion of insanity, which works like a vaccine.
I’m childless, but I’ve watched friends who are isolating with children slip immediately into a less-extreme version of the same state: losing their grip, abandoning routines, witnessing their selves mutate.
If you believe that identity is behaviour — that you are how you act, not what you think or how you feel — then you understand that adjectives like “normal” or “functional” require constant tending.
If you change your conduct, you can change your life: how simple, and how daunting. All it took for me to become unrecognizable was to start acting like a different person. In theory, this should work in reverse too.
When this is all over, I can return to chairs and forks and sleep. In the meantime, there are plenty of individuals who haven’t spiralled, either because they don’t have the luxury or do have a stronger constitution. In these people I find an inspiring path back to normalcy.
It doesn’t help the marsh smells powerfully of sulphur. It’s like a Gary Larson sketch of hell.
During one of my customary shuffles between home and dumpsters I looked up and saw, on the embankment opposite the fetid marsh, a guy in work boots with his hands on his hips, gazing down at me.
I lurched to a halt, embarrassed to be caught scurrying back and forth like a creepy little rodent. He lifted a hand and waved.