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Nº 65 – So if you were paid to stay…?

Saturday, the 12th of December 2020

How about we prepare a little field trial? Let’s think this experimental setup through theoretically? Let’s assume we stay within our own four walls, or on the plot of land that we own. So we move as little as possible, don’t meet anyone, don’t go to school, nor to university. Life goes on, but a little differently. The Internet has been switched off. There is no Facebook, no Instagram and no WhatsApp. The TV screen is set to freeze frame. All we have available is the landline, in case we break a leg or something. Today is our last chance for a proper shop, to get everything we need to survive the next four weeks: soap, tooth paste and deodorant, bread, cheese and vegetables, fruit and so forth. The shopping list is on the table. Anything missing? Toilet roll? Electricity and water have been paid. The field experiment could in fact start now.

But hang on a sec, have we really thought of everything? Don’t we have to think once more about what we’re going to do with our time every day? How do we continue to prepare for this adventure? We’ve packed a good book for each week and are already visualising in our mind’s eye all the comforts of our home. From now on, it’s us deciding whether we want to get up or stay in bed. We are no longer the driven company staff reporting to a supervisor. We are taking over. We boil up some coffee without pressure, take our breakfast without watching the clock. If you’ve ever spent a week in a silent monastic retreat, with the right to your own cell and a view of the white wall you’ll have already had a flavour of what can happen while you’re cloistered off.

At 4.30am we hear the slight tinkling of little bells. We get dressed, leave the cell for the sacristy and move on to our hymn-singing session. The chanting lasts for one hour. No talking in the breaks. Next stop breakfast; one of our brothers-in-song, who isn’t trying out this day-to-day experience of monastic life as we are, but rather has been calling the monastery home for the past 30 years already, is leading short morning prayers, reading from a book. We drink hot tea and eat a bread roll. Or we start the day a little differently.

Those lucky enough to have spent a week in jail, just to try it out, will have an idea of what will happen now. Those who don’t want to wear prison garb are placed in a locked single cell and allowed out once a day, for a single hour’s wander round the prison yard. On the table you’ll find a pencil and a notepad with unlined paper. Once a week you are entitled to a pack shower.

Let’s be honest, we are kind of curious, jump into any filming session going, show off in every photo and tell everybody and their wife online what we are doing right now. We place ourselves, virtually, in a Big Brother container somewhere in Australia and take part in a show called Getmeouttahere. Now, here we are staying in the container for four weeks, showing our true, real and authentic side. This is called authenticity. Instead of a psychologist watching a rat in a cage, we watch ourselves pleasuring ourselves.

Right. So now we enter our cage on the eighth floor of our high-rise, to experience our life as a family, with one child or several, or on our own, the single life, every day from morning to evening, the whole thing for 28 days on end. We flush the loo a few times a day, take copious showers, alternating between warm and cold water and start our quarantine in a good mood. We are after all optimists. In the evenings we keep a diary, writing down what we’ve been up to all the livelong day. Even if we haven’t done anything really because we’ve been thinking about ourselves, we write down our thoughts,   we’re bound to have mulled over something we’ve been neglecting for too long. And all of this turns into a story, a true story or an invented one, and then, after the first week has passed, then the second week, and the third – we’ve now arrived at our deepest core – we start thinking about our future. We could of course bang our head against the white wall to draw blood. Everyone is the maker of their own fortune. What will we change for the better in our life? What will we throw overboard? We are enjoying the peace and quiet, even the noise of the neighbours who are arguing loudly and can’t get to grips with who they really are. We are laughing about ourselves. We are looking forward to our lunch, because cooking once more means doing something good for yourself. Up to now, Slow Food was nothing but a buzzword, now for the first time we are living it. What are we doing with our life, with our time, what are we doing with ourselves? Let’s just imagine what it would be like to switch ourselves off for 28 days. Thoughts are free.

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123.
Translations : Dina Adão, John Elliot, Kathleen Becker, João Medronho

Photos:dpa

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