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These are a few of my favourite pre-pandemic things
"Thus each of us had to be content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky. This sense of being abandoned, which might in time have given characters a finer temper, began, however, by sapping them to the point of futility. For instance, some of our fellow citizens became subject to a curious kind of servitude, which put them at the mercy of the sun and the rain."
- Albert Camus, The Plague
FOR a taste of most things acerbic, we only need to turn to Twitter.
And there it was, a biting tweet on the devastation on the economy caused by the novel coronavirus: so the economy is tanking because we're now buying only what we need?
It is a sharp comment on the state of consumerism, and as capitalist economies contract and consumers nurse a sharp loss of income, there is some truth behind that snappy retort.
Still, as with things compacted into 140 characters go, that view could do with more perspective. And I found another point of view as I dug into ice-cream while working from home one sweltering afternoon.
Holding my perspiring dollops of dessert was a cheery-coloured bowl I had bought some years back from the Guggenheim Museum in New York. And as I stared at the ceramic crockery, the memories flooded back on the exhibitions I had gone through that year, and had learnt from.
I'm hardly an art critic, but the privilege of commerce allows me to spend on things that are meaningful to me right there and then. And I turned to the corner of my latest self-ordained home office and stared at a print of an artwork by Swedish abstract artist Hilma af Klint, one of the many artworks that I had stared at as a tourist at the Guggenheim just a few years ago. I was transported to the time I felt an awe for Klint's progressiveness in the early 1900s, ahead of so-dubbed fathers of abstract art such as Kandinsky.
And as I read Dave Grohl's essay last week lamenting the loss of "live" music with lockdowns around the world, I have a small regret of having so few concert t-shirts. My rationale was always that the music from the likes of the Foo Fighters was good enough without the concert merchandise.
Now, in the quieter life without concerts, I wish I had just one more memento. One more to thrust me back to the days when crowds were acceptable. When we'd joke about being allergic to human beings as a way to bear the trade-off of being in close confines for good music vibes.
Confronting me daily on my desk is a notebook signed by Tom Hanks from 2013, when he played a journalist in Nora Ephron's play Lucky Guy on Broadway. I have in the living room a marble clock that has printed as its face the front page of The New York Times on August 9, 1974. That day, Nixon resigned over Watergate. Those decorative emblems are blatant in their nod to my profession. I'm reminded that I'm clichéd like that, and I realise I feel no shame in this.
In these times, I'm aware these are indulgences, and I am hardly advocating a wild spending spree to arrest the feelings of loss and anxiety amid lockdowns. (And yes, consumerism is a problem given the environmental disrepair, among other things. I've read the books that I have also hoarded.)
But the uncertainty over the economic impact of a devastating health crisis - and travel - has made certain things precious in these moments.
Many of these pre-pandemic memorabilia bring us back to a time of global mobility, where we could hop on a plane and tumble out of a massive aluminium transporter hours later to define and refine what's important to us amid new scenery.
The Internet is a few clicks away from giving away the same lessons on Klint, livestream concerts, and journalistic history, but then we have these souvenirs that freeze a time when there was some tangible surety of symbolism and importance.
There is also this thing about capitalism. A year ago, while sitting in a modern mall in Kenya and watching monies exchanged for local coffee, chocolate, and cheese, I felt a sense of happiness bubble up in my chest.
It was startling for me to feel such joy for complete strangers engaging in straight-up commerce, but I realised then what I felt was a celebration for the freedom that business and enterprise offer.
Unbridled capitalism assuredly has its problems. But there is beauty in commerce because it can open doors to opportunity and choice. It allows us to test the benefits of spending a dollar of capital, to enjoy its returns, or to learn from the losses.
I'd like to think that the choice to put dollars on the table is meaningful. At considered times, we use it to acquire a piece of something at an accepted cost. Sometimes, we stash that money away for a looming crisis. It is in the decisions that is liberating, and that freedom goes beyond a price.
So I hold on to my hoard of things, of memories, for they now spark a new kind of joy - a joy of my own self-discovery. In these hollowing-out times, to have some of the things I want is also to have what I need.