I write this from my desk in New York City on the 36th Day of Quarantine. It is Tuesday, but that seems irrelevant. At some point soon, some authoritative body will declare that there are now officially three days to the week – yesterday, today and tomorrow. Within a few days, I’ll likely forget how to apply liquid eyeliner.
It seems certain that at some point, global leaders or the UN or a scholarly association will have to formally bestow a name on our new normal. If I may offer some input, I suggest rendering the BC and AD eras one and the same, and christening the time after stay-at-home orders are lifted ‘MITH’ (Made It Through. Hallelujah.) Or for the sake of simplicity, perhaps just ‘AP’ (After Pandemic) will do. I might also suggest that these days of quarantine be referred to as ‘Days of Awe, 2.0’ (that’s an Old Testament dig). Atheists will have the option to call it OSD (Our Sourdough Days). Or perhaps we’ll just end up referring to them in the way that newscasters and omniscient voices of commercials do: as ‘These Challenging Times’.
With only the internet, our sourdough starters and Netflix to distract us, TCT gives us time to sit with nothing but our thoughts and untapped passions for long stretches. I would like to believe that people are taking time to plan their futures, but the grim reality is that on this day, 36 OSD, exactly zero people on Earth know what shape the future will take or when it will take it. And that makes planning very, very hard. I am a planner – a short term one at least. By ‘short term’ I mean planning what I’ll do tomorrow. As a freelance journalist who lives assignment-to-assignment, developing a five-year plan, let alone a 10-year plan, is as complicated as devising a one-month plan. Regardless of whether a short-term or long-term course of action is your game, you don’t have to listen hard to hear the voice of the poets rise above the pandemic pundits’ chatter. The voice of one lyricist rises in particular: the poet laureate of Scotch whisky, Robert Burns. Recall his words in ‘To a Mouse’: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” Translation: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” So why bother?
For the moment, the chilling silence outside my apartment is suffused with bliss
After I do my daily check-ins on friends and family, it’s tempting to dedicate some time each day to freaking out about our collective future and worrying about all the public school children around the world without food or adequate home-schooling direction. If this pandemic has solidified anything, it’s knowing that worry is not just useless, it’s damaging without action. So instead, I’m signing up to read to public school children online and edit high-school students’ papers.
And as far as maintaining my own balance, instead of worrying about my own future, I’m finding relief and solace by keeping my eyes trained on the past. I recently wrote an essay for the Travel section of the Washington Post about the glories and delights of collecting souvenirs. True to its French roots, souvenir as a verb means ‘to remember.’ I do not buy whisky at distilleries for the sake of trading it or reselling it. I do not catalogue my bottles or brag about the rarities I own. I collect to remember.
The bottles that line my shelves are arranged like pictures in frames and evoke warm memories the same way photographs do. There’s the bottle the late, great, Maker’s Mark distiller Dave Pickerell signed when I first met him in 2006. I have no interest in drinking it. It’s a memento that makes me cherish the many cocktails and chats shared over the years. There are the sample bottles of rum and wine-finished single malts that Bruichladdich distiller Jim McEwan filled for me years ago while he led me on a tour of the warehouse. There’s the bottle of single malt from the Cotswolds Distillery, which puts my mind square in the middle of the lavender fields a few miles away, and the Laphroaig 18 Years Old gifted to me by my friend Arthur Holyoake, a maltman at the distillery. I glance at it and can almost hear the sounds of the waves crashing against the southeast shores of Islay, sea-spray in the air. And for a moment, the chilling silence outside my apartment is suffused with bliss.