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24 March 2021updated 25 Mar 2021 4:12pm

Deborah Levy’s Diary: Floating saunas in Oslo, outsourcing emotions, and a very good month for the patriarchy

The idea is that you can swelter in a log-fired cabin and then dive into the freezing sea. Something to look forward to.

By Deborah Levy

In this phase of the pandemic I am trying to be less emotional and more emojinal. So, I have been making new emojis from the palette of old emojis on my phone. I think the point of an emoji is to express or amplify emotion with a digital icon. To sum up the uncertainty of this time, my favourite is the thumbs up icon with an egg hovering above the tip of the thumb. I usually send it to convey that it is useless making plans.

What would Charles Darwin, author of The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, make of an emoji doing all the ­crying and all the laughing out loud for me?

Global citizen of Zoom

Towards the end of last year, two of my books won a big prize in France. This meant a great deal to me because I have never won a literary prize, though I have been shortlisted for many. No, actually, that’s not entirely true. Myself and the sculptor, Richard Wentworth, were garlanded with the Félix Fénéon award by the impressive visual arts and literature magazine, the White Review. You will have to look up Fénéon to enjoy this award as much as we did. Anyway, the pandemic scuppered my travelling to France for the prize giving ceremony and my diary is full of cancelled literary events for these books in real life.

I suppose Zoom life is a way of having an international life without having to negotiate a new traffic system. I have been invited by the Literature House in Oslo to be interviewed for their author podcast series by the magnificent writer, Linn Ullmann.  There were problems with the sound and these problems went on for some time. At first, I begged my younger daughter to help me out. She is holed up with her mother in her graduation year at university. All her seminars and tutorials are on Zoom too.  Obviously, the emoji that would best suit her attitude to becoming the IT expert in residence in Covid times is unprintable.

In the end the problems were resolved by very skilled and charming Norwegian sound engineers. Linn and I ended our two hour conversation by agreeing that when I was next in Oslo, we would rent a floating sauna on the harbour. The idea is that you can swelter in the heat of a log-fired cabin and then dive  into the freezing sea. That evening, when I felt vaguely excited about something, I thought it was because of the floating sauna, but then I realised it was ­because I was booked in for my vaccination the next morning. Looking forward to a ­vaccine is a first in my life so far.

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[see also: Howard Jacobson’s Diary: Clashes with Joe the Jogger, forgiving William Cobbett, and a slip into humiliation]

Vaccine nation

My jab. What an uplifting experience. The efficiency of the NHS staff and volunteers. The friendliness, care and attention all round. There is no pay rise that would be too generous for our health workers. I was asked to wait for 15 minutes afterwards to be sure I had no side effects, and then I cycled home to attend my first ever funeral on Zoom. It was for an elderly family friend.

At a virtual distance it seemed a calm and loving service for Julian, but it was peculiar to be sitting on the sofa in my trainers and not be able to put an arm round the shoulders of Joan, his distinguished wife.

That Oprah interview

In family relations everywhere, it seems that the pain of feeling things is often delegated by some family members to others. No emotion. Too much emotion. With this in mind, I make a cheese and Branston sandwich and settle in to watch that ­Oprah interview. The most important subject, among many, was the connecting conversation between racism and mental health.

The national conversation after this broadcast then swerved to the former guy at Good Morning Britain, who was putting a lot of energy into disenfranchising the authenticity of suicidal thoughts, under the guise of having a rational debate.

[see also: Oprah with Meghan and Harry is a masterclass in show business]

After Clapham Common

Yes, it’s been a very good month for patriarchy. The film footage and photographs in every newspaper the day after the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham ­Common in south London are truly shameful. History will forever have on record the sad ­spectacle of women at a vigil against male violence being pulled to the ground by men in ­uniform, knees pressed into their bodies as they are handcuffed amongst the flowers and candles.

The solution put forward to make ­women feel safer on the streets (never mind at a ­vigil) is apparently more CCTV. The ­problem is that girls and women everywhere in the world know that these cameras are not going to dismantle misogyny. Nor can they gaze inside the mindset of those individuals and institutions who benefit from suppressing and silencing us.

Mutant strains

Three parcels have been left outside my door. Inside one of them is a bath plug, as for some reason two plugs have disappeared from the bathroom. The other parcels ­contain a jar of honey and a book for possible review. I set about reading the book throughout the day but can’t stand it. Instead, I pick up Diary of a Film, the new novel by Niven Govinden. What a pleasure it is to read this love letter to art and to human connection (fragile, powerful, transforming), at a time when we’re masked and lonesome and can’t kiss our own hand without washing it afterwards.

On the subject of the novel, given that I am currently writing one, I have been thinking about how language keeps mutating. With all the variants of language ­swirling around in the fake news and conspiracy theory genre, I wonder if a writer is now obliged to pull at the ropes of the novel and bring it down to earth? If so, I don’t know where that leaves me. It used to be writers who had imaginative reach. I’m upset about everything at the moment. Maybe I’ll stick with an emoji and let it do all the feeling for me. 

“Real Estate”, part three of Deborah Levy’s “living autobiography” series, is published by Hamish Hamilton on 13 May

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