Nobody is enjoying this. While it can be therapeutic to lock yourself away the world for a weekend, day-drink with the shades down and reject all invitations to commune with the living, this is not actually what you want, for any sustained amount of time. You feed your misanthropy and laziness until they puke in your soul, and then you decide that, okay, it is time to be a person again. That’s not really an option these days. Our sympathies belong primarily with blue collar workers, the furloughed and fired, the underemployed, nurses and doctors suddenly designated as heroes—here is your sash; don’t expect a pay raise—in a fight they didn’t sign up for. But we’re all hurting, routines warped and melting, days running together, a shared isolatory despondency vibrating through living rooms we’d like to leave behind. Even if you’re a friend being responsible, showering and putting on pants, keeping a strict schedule and eating well, you’re not getting anything out of it except some false, fragile sense of order. If you iron a shirt to look nice for other people, ironing a shirt now qualifies as a kind of disorder—a vestigial reflex, self-delusion, a sonnet chucked into the fireplace. There’s no way to feel normal, until things get back to normal.
So I get why Jürgen Klopp is pulling any lever at hand trying to get he and his team back to work, recently claiming that his players “all started playing football without supporters, and we loved this game not because of the atmosphere in a stadium.” He wants to wrap up the EPL season Liverpool have already won, and to return to the job around which his life is organized. It’s understandable to want this, but he also knows exactly how strange and specific his argument is and probably doesn’t fully believe it. Of course the game is the elemental thing and most professional athletes like playing it even more than they like the money, recognition, and spectacle that comes with it, but at the level Klopp’s operating on, football is synechdoche—it stands in for a million tangential elements, chief among them the chanting throngs that lend matches their emotional heft. The same ones, by the way, that every nine-year-old kicking a ball around in their backyard imagines themselves scoring in front of one day.
What returned this past weekend in Germany was not the Bundesliga in all its glory so much as the ghost of a sport. Here is Robert Lewandowski stutter-stepping into a penalty and celebrating as if he’s won ten bucks on a scratch-off. There’s no audience to play to; he’s noticeably wary of even touching his teammates. The whole thing feels more obligatory than fun. It’s better than nothing, certainly, but to risk anybody’s health or burn through a single test for the sake of staging zombified matches in the middle of a global pandemic feels irresponsible. This is what Klopp wants because he’s cooped up and competitive, but it’s not anything like what society needs.
We’re all making daily cost-benefit analyses, trying not to let our discontent govern our decisions. I don’t need to go to the grocery store to pick up like three apples, some toothpaste, and a package of tortillas, or walk to a liquor store that’s two miles from my apartment, but I do it kind of often because I work from home and need an excuse to leave the house. That species of inessential errand is off the menu now, and its absence is eroding my morale. I can’t visit the lakefront because it’s closed. I could easily just go for a walk to nowhere in particular but for some reason that depresses me. This is my own stupid, picayune struggle. Oh, and half my friends are on unemployment, and the market for the clever little phrases I peddle is basically nonexistent.
I know a few people who have put out books in the middle of this pandemic. and while they didn’t write the things out of pure vanity, they’re disappointed to have spent all the effort a book takes only to promote it through podcast appearances, Zoom Q&As, and gameshow-y Twitter contests. Book tours are their own wearying work, but they are at least a chance to convert all those lonely hours hunched over a laptop into gratifying human interaction. You get to feel heard in a tangible way, shake hands and field a few compliments. Craft is craft, and the always failing perfection of it sustains you, but that’s a haunting thing. It keeps you going the way being ashamed of your body gets you on the exercise bike. You like to think you write for more than the melioration of your own self-hatred. Ideally, because many people enjoy reading it. It’s nice to meet some of those people. Anyway, published authors aren’t being afforded that privilege right now. It sucks, and it’s not unimportant to your reclusive neighborhood novelist, but there’s simply not anything to be done about it, or anything that we could do that wouldn’t endanger public health just so a writer could feel better for a night or two.
It’s hard to maintain perspective while pacing your kitchen and not knowing what to do with yourself for months at a time. Hard like maintaining your posture, hard like hour eight of a road trip. Which is to say it’s a light psychological load compared to what many other folks are carrying at the moment. It’s pink unpleasantness against a backdrop of fire engine red misery. We’ll get to it when we get to it, and anybody trying to cut the line—to have their concerns addressed before those truly in need—is worthy of scorn. Jürgen Klopp’s got a great career and a lot of money. Sports are an entertainment. If the EPL isn’t returning to action as quickly as he’d like, that’s his stupid, picayune struggle. He’s too smart not to understand this, but we are all, each stir-crazy day, constantly on the brink of letting our selfishness overtake our intelligence. It’s hard, but that’s a relative term.