Journal of the Plague Year

Since I last posted here, the world has utterly changed.

I travel a lot. I used to travel a lot. For years I’ve joked that being Canadian is great when you don’t have to deal with winter. Winter, for me in these years, was a few scattered weeks at home, between trips to warmer places: sometimes holiday places, sometimes my routine business trips to London, Knoxville, New York, none of which experience much snow.

My last trip was to a beach town, for a writing retreat. The town’s season hadn’t yet begun and we felt mostly alone on this expanse of sand. We knew about the virus, enough to bring sanitizer and wash our hands a lot, but we hadn’t even heard the phrase “social distancing” yet, flights were still operating normally and a gathering of friends was still a perfectly fine thing to do. It seems like forever ago. But it was the beginning of March.

My original plan had been to fly home from this retreat, unpack, repack, and fly out again the next day for London, where I’d be attending London Book Fair: five days, thirty meetings, countless handshakes and cheek kisses in a normal time. But when I checked my work email, I saw that some of my meetings were being cancelled as publishers began to pull out of the fair. My boss expressed reservations about whether the risk of this trip was going to end up being worth the benefit. I agreed, and cancelled my flight. The next day, the cancellation of the entire fair was announced.

A week after my return to Canada, our office implemented work from home procedures. I bought a couple of extra pounds of coffee and said goodbye to the baristas at the coffee shop.

Schools closed. Shops closed. We stopped going out to visit friends, going out for a pint, going out.

And I began reading A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.

It describes the plague in London, in 1664, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, growing from vague rumours of deaths among the poor to an overwhelming spectre stalking every house. It describes falsehood and negligence from the leaders of the people; the rich fleeing town, bringing their households and the disease with them to other towns; the people clinging to superstitions and dying anyway.

It’s a frightening read, and it’s fascinating perspective on what we’re facing now. We haven’t changed very much! And yet we’ve built ourselves a world of advancement and resilience in these last centuries.

I don’t know how the book ends yet. I don’t know how any of this ends.

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