Note : The below content is not to be taken seriously. It contains some truth, and a lot of exaggerations. Hopefully it’s distracting to read.
Benjamin is writing from Taipei, Taiwan where he is living since Asia Pacific countries have closed their borders. Taipei is not in full lockdown but meetings are avoided and it’s recommended to avoid crowded places.
"I love you.” I whisper, before kissing her cheek and getting out of bed. Golden hour has just begun.
My name is Benjamin Pavanetto. I'm 30 years old. I believe in taking care of myself, eating a balanced diet and following a rigorous exercise routine. In the morning, after greeting my wife and if my face is a little puffy, I'll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now.
“Invisible Touch” by Genesis is my favourite morning alarm, closely followed by Mastodon’s “Blood And Thunder”. I take a shower, brush my teeth with ‘Crest Glamorous White’ toothpaste because it contains enough potassium nitrate to help fight dentin hypersensitivity, apply a cleanser and moisturiser, then prepare a black coffee and kick off work. Sometimes, I allow myself the luxury of breakfast, in which case a battle takes place between a thick slab of bread with a generous dollop of ‘Skippy’ peanut butter and ‘Lurpak’ semi-salted butter, or a bowl of ‘Special K’ cereal. The first option usually wins.
My wife and I live in a 500-square-foot apartment, so I climb down the mezzanine and find myself in my home office. The display is simple: a rectangular black wooden desk in the center, accompanied by one lucky bamboo plant and a light grey table lamp that brings a sleek, understated look to the space. The shape of the room is a perfect square, which is reassuring. One of the walls is pure white, immaculate, ornamented only by our marriage certificate, still fresh. The other walls are for our wardrobe and a library. You will find French literature classics such as Stendhal’s “La Chartreuse de Parme” or Bernanos’ “Journal d’Un Curé de Campagne”, as well as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Poems” or Houellebecq “Sérotonine”. I’ve not read all the books displayed, but I like to showcase cultural enlightenment relics; it keeps me sane, intellectually connected. The desk faces a window, which opens up to the city and the horizon.
My morning rituals almost have not changed since the pandemic was announced; I typically work from home anyway. The media announces a different form of Armageddon and the end of the world pretty much every day, and so I make a conscious effort not to watch the news and get swept up in the negativity. Instead, I follow a few journalists who I trust to deliver objective factual information, and leave it at that.
Every morning I enter this room I think to myself, “Grandiose”.
I work in pin-drop silence until noon. I am alone, in my inner sanctum, and usually enjoy four or five hours of peak productivity.
There is something comforting about working in isolation, something encouraging. You get to free yourself from the yoke of modern society and phony hyper-connectivity. It’s only you and yourself, with a chance to reignite the fire within.
I ease up for a break before lunch at one of the vegetarian-friendly restaurants near me. In normal times, I’d usually go to the gym during lunch and run on the treadmill for thirty minutes, followed by a rigorous routine of resistance training and end with a series of core exercises. But these are not normal times, everything is closed. So I will have to choose between running outdoors at the nearby stadium, which I hate, or terrorising - virtually - a neighborhood of innocent farmers in an online video game that puts you somewhere in between Westworld and Once Upon A Time In The West, on Xbox. It’s fantastic what game developers are able to create these days. You can slaughter an entire pigsty, help a Civil War union soldier survivor who’s now homeless, or deliver packages of moonshine if that’s your thing. The virtual world is a great remedy to release periodic frustrations, frequent in the life of an advertising professional in the 2020’s.
Someone has already taken the last piece of tofu and I asked for kimchi fried rice instead but apparently they’ve run out of it too. There’s only crispy fried pork bowls left and I’m suddenly seized by a minor anxiety attack because it’s one of my favourite dishes and I know I’m on the verge of failing the vegetarian diet I started only 48 hours ago. But why?
The afternoon is dedicated to external stimulation. I do things that help me stay in touch with the outside world and lend a humane aspect to a routine that is somewhat robotic and cold blooded, but bloody effective. I do calls, mostly video conferences, and maintain frequent catch ups with clients, partners and my colleagues. I occasionally include a call or two with family members and best friends.
“Can everyone see my screen?” en?”, I repeat.
“You cut out, can you repeat that?”, I mutter.
Conference calls give me nausea, but I’m smiling because I’m happy to be connected for a brief moment with other human beings. “They must be happy too”, I think out loud. Though it sometimes feels like an unproductive use of time at that moment, there are always tidbits of information or insights to collect during these calls that can change the course of the next quarter.
One must understand that these calls can also save extroverts from insanity. After four weeks they must feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. Isolation must be one of the worst, most powerful feelings of oppression they have ever experienced besides dating an introvert. They are a prey to anxiety and it costs nothing to get on a call and help them pull themselves together and preserve their dignity while they overcome the blues of loneliness.
After the calls, I usually get back to work - there’s always work to be done - but this time with music. In order to stay focused and keep away from distractions, I usually pick a playlist made of repetitive and atmospheric works that can range from electronic music - think Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Abul Mogard, Boards of Canada - to contemporary classical minimalist music from Steve Reich and Terry Riley.
But it often quickly gets out of control. When Jo-El Sonnier’s “Angeline Special” starts playing on Spotify, I know I’m in trouble. It’s time to stop and disconnect, usually around the evening’s golden hour in Taipei. At that point in time, you can see the sunset from the window, the light slowly disappears, and the vivid red hues give place a black sky. Tomorrow I will be reborn, repeat the routine, improve the little things, life goes on.
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