Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 2

We are three days deep into the working week and I am happy to report that morale in this Vienna office remains good. There has been no passive-aggression between myself and my new co-worker, nor for that matter any non-passive aggression (my wife has on more than one occasion when discussing someone who has rubbed her the wrong way stated that she would like to “stab them with a fork”, so this is no idle concern. Why this particular piece of cutlery, I don’t know. I’m too afraid to ask). Perhaps the secret to our co-habitational bliss is the deep river of communication and understanding that my wife and I share. Perhaps it is my retreating to the balcony when eating my lunch today to avoid irritating her with the sounds of my mechanical digestion. We may never know.

I do believe that during this period of government-enforced agoraphobia, one of the devices that should be used to avoid being stabbed by your spouse with a piece of cutlery is the enjoyment of extra-curricular activities. When your office, your living room, your dining area, and your kitchen are all the same 6 metre x 4 metre space, it’s important to introduce some variety to keep the magic alive.

As mentioned in yesterday’s chapter, Alex and I now begin each day with a yoga session. The assortment of aches and pains in my muscles and joints lets me know this is working well and, by the time we are freed to resume normal life, I am confident that I will have the flexibility of a prima ballerina. For now, I would be satisfied with being able to tap the ground with my fingertips during stretches where the instructor is effortlessly resting her entire palm on the mat, but we must walk before we can run.

Alex has taken on a collection of rather useful hobbies. One is that each evening she prepares our breakfast for the next morning, two bowls of overnight oats, which, as the name suggests, are oats that are prepared one night in advance. But these are not your grandma’s oats, no, hers are an assortment of flavours that ensure the day is started with a grinning face and a full belly (I don’t know your grandma, maybe these are her oats, who am I to comment of the quality of your grandmother’s breakfast preparation).

Alex starts with some dried oats and then adds puffed spelt, chia seeds, a handful of fresh and frozen fruit, natural vanilla yogurt, and a dash of milk. After being given the necessary twelve hours to reach its full potential, this combination equals a bowl that is not only tasty, but healthy and aiding in digestion. And, going by the sounds heard through the shared wall of our office and toilet, I’d say it’s working.

I have taken a different approach to my free-time activities and, much like children all over Austria penned indoors, I went straight for the pencils and paper. Drawing is a discipline that feels akin to meditation. Through focus, I am able to empty my head and let go of whatever unwanted thoughts are plaguing my brain. The repetition of the pencil strokes occupies the stimulant-driven portion of my consciousness while the rest is free to sit back and take a load off. 

(click to see a larger version)

This activity also provides my wife with, much like parents all over Austria penned indoors with their children when they dig into the art supplies, a moment of peace and quiet to read a book.

Books are vital when living in the time of COVID. Of course, I would argue that books are always vital, but they become doubly so when used as compensation for social interaction. And I don’t want to brag, but I’ve been using books to replace social interaction since I was a teenager. 

Mostly I do my reading while simultaneously drawing. No, sadly, I am not some ambidextrous prodigy, rather I use the medium of audiobooks to get the narrative into my head. I could go on at length about the merits of audiobooks, like a rabid missionary desperate to snag his next convert, but I will try and restrain myself and say only that the act of listening to an audiobook has the ability to transform any domestic task, be it the washing up, vacuuming the house, or going for a run, into an experience wherein your mind enjoys the exploration of characters and story while your hands slave away at the dirty work.

My brother and I love audiobooks to the extent that we have created a club around this topic, and have even gone one step further in that Damian also created an emblem for our club, as pictured below.

Audiobook Club 2

Granted, our club presently only has two members, but that doesn’t get in the way of our overwhelming pride in it.

So far, this combination of routine and hobbies has kept Alex and I on the right side of sane during the COVID purgatory, and has ensured that my baby-soft skin remains fork free.

Tomorrow: Communication.

AUDILE

Before I gained the ability to tackle novels, back when I was still mastering picture books like “The Strongest Baby In The World,” my father used to read novels to me and my siblings. I can remember my dad seated on a sofa in the corner of the living room and us kids sprawled around him, the semi-shag carpet cushioning my head as I lay listening to his narration, letting his voice weave stories in my mind.

I loved these nights, and loved the ability of someone else’s words creating worlds and characters that I could envisage from the comfort of my living room floor.

Having outgrown the age when it is socially acceptable for my father to read me stories before bed, I still enjoy spoken prose through the art of audiobooks. Working as a district nurse inherently involves a lot of driving, and to pass the time commuting from patient to patient I have my iPod playing in the car, and stories playing in my head.

There is a power in having a novel read to you, in having the sensory elements of sound and tone help build the details of the story. Character’s voices flesh out personalities, pauses create suspense, and you can close your eyes, block out any distractions, and picture the world that’s being described to you.

But like any art form you are reliant on the artist to dictate the perspective you take when perceiving the piece. For someone reading a novel, they are building on top of a pre-existing piece of art, adding another layer of texture with a new medium. This new layer, this alternative perspective, can make or break a story. It can enhance what was already there and bring new body to the work, or it can cheapen it and detract from the power of the piece, dependant on the reader’s skill. I have listened to some readers that have made characters come alive, and others that have only succeeded in making them annoying. Realising the importance of the verbal narrator’s skill has made me admire the former and their vocal abilities.

With all this in mind, for today’s post I have attempted a reading of my short story Remembering The Mimi. The process of recording this only increased my admiration for quality readers as I mumbled and stumbled my way through multiple takes. It also gave me a newfound respect for people who use audio-editing software, as I had to learn how to remove my numerous errors.

So put in some headphones, close your eyes, if it’s available lay down on some semi-shag carpet, and let me tell you a story…