I I wrote recently that I would commit to a “cheer strategy” – I’m here to confess that I haven’t done it at all and, in fact, I willingly refuse to enjoy it at all. You may know that “dressing in hatred” is a pandemic phenomenon.
“A garment of hate,” says the New York Times, where I first read, “it’s when you put your clothes on even though – why? – It makes you feel bad. “I felt a great relief. I was not the only one who chose the opposite way my worst clothes every day of confinement: the cardigan with the sex appeal of a used kitchen towel or pants so unflattering that inexplicably I was forced to buy a second pair. I can’t admit in a public forum how long I’ve been wearing the sweater today or someone will alert social services. I look like a dog handler going through a bad divorce, after a hard day at the canine Friends are also indulging in what one calls “a furious but lazy fabric protest,” citing alternate pairs of ugly tights, a predilection for “weird synthetics” and misshapen shirts.
The problem is that I have not limited myself to dressing myself with hatred: I believe that now I hate life. I take great satisfaction in making lunches of hate with whatever is older and less attractive: fizzy hummus, a hunk of stale bread, and some silage-like salad drawer junk are my favorites; my signature “punishment soup” (slimy with an intimidating note of turmeric) is another.
My two main leisure activities are the hateful ones: scratching my toe until it bleeds and ironing. Even yesterday I ironed a fitted sheet, surely the least rewarding human endeavor. Disregarding the riches of the golden age of television, I’ve spent weeks watching an endless 2011 Australian cooking contest – I’ve even managed to pamper myself for the winner, so there’s not even suspense. My insistence on wearing hateful glasses (dirty and scratched glasses, eight-year-old prescription) has become the bone of contention in our home. Every time my husband walks in and finds me squinting two inches from my computer screen, we have the same exchange: “The opticians are open, you know your prescription, you can buy new glasses,” he says, exasperated. “I just like these glasses,” I reply grumpily. “They’re fine, it doesn’t matter.”
Why? It is a partly perverse protest: this winter is horrible and I am determined to really feel how horrible it is; Self-denial rather than self-care. I know Nora Ephron exhorted, “Always use good bath oils,” but right now, even the Radox 99p feels too forgiving. I’m saving the best until things get better.
But there’s more than that. It’s scary, I think. I am afraid of hope, prey to the superstitious belief that optimism is dangerous. Because, as I clean the always muddy hall floor, a ray of light slips under the door. February is finally here, bringing with it the prospect of the worst pullback. Every 10 minute increment of additional daylight is a gift; every shot is a pinch of hope, a much safer parent, friend or sibling. On Saturday alone he got close to the 600,000 jab mark. Many of the people who go for the jab, apparently, don’t hate dressing for V-Day – there are many stories of lipstick worn under masks and Better to wear Sunday for the first day of an era. Meanwhile, the first executive orders and appointments of President Biden have put the perspective of progress in racial justice, the fight against discrimination and the climate catastrophe in the United States.
I’m not used to optimism, I don’t like how it feels. Author Nina Stibbe has written beautifully about indulging in hope, with the natural pessimist asserting that “the brief joy of hope is sometimes all you get.” I tell myself this regularly, but still can’t risk feeling hopeful. Don’t you risk attracting the evil eye by looking directly at any of these reasons to believe? With my glasses, at least there is no danger of that.
• Emma Beddington is a columnist for The Guardian
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism