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Diary of a quarantine sociologist - day 2
By Sarah Burrage
Posted on 9/14/2020 3:24 PM

Yesterday in my care package there was an old bottle of wine from my house that was delivered by my partner that conveniently needed to be drank. What timing. I took to my task of tackling an aged cork with a dated corkscrew fervently while chatting to a friend on Messenger video in Brisbane. She told the story of her and her partner's experience getting stuck for just over 3 weeks in a hotel room in India during the initial outbreak in March and their experience trying to return to Brisbane, followed by another 2 weeks in isolation. The crowded planes, the long fueling with no rest in Indonesia, followed by the disorganized chaos upon her return gave a stark comparison to the experience I have had. While being able to laugh about it now, her experience was genuinely horrifying and I felt terrible at the sense of relief I felt that I didn’t have to go through it myself. Dinner was a rather average affair, but within our packs of food we were given adult coloring sheets that asked us to write or sketch things that we were grateful for. I can only assume that this is part of the mental health support being provided to hotel guests on top of the daily phone call check-ins. I put this aside at the time but returned to it today to give it a go. My drawing is something to be desired. However, it did prove to be a rather nice exercise in creativity following a few hours transcription. Despite it being a ‘Friday night’, my jet lag overtook me and I fell asleep to the sounds of the free bar goers and revelers.

Heading to the balcony at 6am the next morning, I found myself entertained by those few youthful party goers who were just now heading home after an all-night bender. As one young woman swayed and danced (?) at the cross walk, after what appeared to be a large night, I found myself feeling like James Stewart’s character L.B Jeff Jeffries in Rear Window. With the reflection of my hotel shining off the building across the street, I was also given a partial view into many of the windows and balconies of the other quarantine goers…including my own room horrifyingly enough. I never noticed this yesterday because the building was occupied by people in their offices whose lights and activities prevented our own windows to be reflected. Before claims of voyeurism come hurling at me, hear me out. I never found myself sitting out on the balcony with a telescope like Mr. Jefferies (or even Bart Simpson in the parody version), but I couldn’t help but see some things reflected off the building that gave signs of who the other people were that I shared my quarantine with. One blond women coming out for a long cigarette in the corner building and another chatting to friends visiting her from across the street. If I already didn’t feel more like Jeff already, then I also witnessed some moderately unnerving behavior coming from a balcony above me that forced me to ring down to the front desk to mention it in case it could be handled. While I won’t go into detail about the particulars, the response call back was that what I had seen had been denied and didn’t actually occur. Was I sure about what floor and room I saw this on? Well. Was I? Has my decent into Jefferies style iso-paranoia already taken its toll or was what I saw real?

In any case, while the day was spent doing lots of other kinds of activities, such as yoga videos, texting, emails, letter writing, and the ‘I am grateful’ activity, most of it was spent thinking about Rear Window and stories of people ‘seeing’ things in isolation that affected their own confidence in what was real and imaginary. Movies like Cast Away, Shutter island and even The Aviator. Books like The Woman in the Window, The Girl on the Train and The Life of Pi. How our minds play tricks on us in times of great fear and exile, but at the same time give off images of pure truth. I am not so far gone to admit that what I saw wasn’t real (I am quite certain the person was trying to just not get in trouble or purely didn’t know it happened themselves), but the mental health calls, the creative activities and the Facebook group created by the hotel are all there for a reason. Some people may shrug it them off, but social and physical isolation has demonstrated to have significant effects on the human mind and people’s own mental health. I will appreciate the hotel’s attempts to support people through these programs that they have offered more now and may chat a few minutes longer on the phone to my friends this evening than I otherwise would have.