Book Review

Dark Days by James Baldwin

the strangeness of lockdown becomes the new normal

written march 22

These are dark days, aren’t they?

i mean that not literally, the empty evenings seem to stretch endlessly ahead of the Springtime sun.

///

Reading James Baldwin is always a pleasure, and one that I regret having failed to discover until so late in life.

This little Penguin book contains three essays, maybe I’ve read them before, I don’t know, who knows?

One essay is about the “burden” of white guilt, and how white people in most “western” nations argue themselves into self-importance as a way of avoiding the acceptance of their country’s racist history/ies.

Another of the essays is about a close friend of Baldwin’s who committed suicide when they were both in their twenties, and how this same need to feel like one was “escaping” the increasingly segregated post-war America was the same urge that led Baldwin to emigrate to France. It’s about poverty and education, and about how ambition and education are discernible and different things. Baldwin, of course, is one of the 20th century’s best thinkers and writers (I don’t think that’s a particularly niche opinion to hold) and he didn’t receive any education more “serious” than high school.

The first, and eponymous, essay deals with these same topics, but more directly. ‘Dark Days’ is about why racist institutions exist and who benefits from them; it is about the methodologies behind these structures and why and how institutional racism and the civil liberties movements came to prominence at the time they did.

The writing here is personal and open and engaging, as Baldwin’s work usually is.

I enjoyed reading this, of course I did, but these dark days of quarantine – and the fact that I’ve done so before – mean that this isn’t really the time or the place for Scott Manley Hadley whitesplaining racism again.

///

It is later the same day as I splurged some thoughts about Ernaux, the 22nd of March, and I’m still in a strange mood.

I don’t think my comments from a few hours ago were quite accurate: I am not more psychologically prepared for the coronavirus pandemic than I would be were I not to have had a long term history of poor mental health.

It is true, yes, that I don’t mind spending all my time indoors reading books, watching movies, playing Game Boy (“2DS”), trying to record high concept synth covers of Wham! songs and taking photos of my dog, but what I’ve never been very good at is going outside.

This, I suppose, has always been my weakness: not wanting to be in “the real world”.

Usually, the things that I’m scared of in “the real world” aren’t actually real, but now they fucking are.

I feel saner than I did before, but I don’t feel safer or more relaxed.

My fears of people, of outside, of crowds, are all of a sudden justified, which is fucking frustrating as I’ve spent years of my life trying to train myself to know that they aren’t.

I recently changed medication and though that caused a lot more suicide ideation than I’ve been used to during the transition, it meant that, after that point, I was in a decidedly good mood for a few days as the lockdown began to kick in.

I still have one paycheque coming to me before I’m laid off, I think I’ll be able to get some extra casual teaching work lined up, too, so I know I’ll be fine if this lockdown is only a month or two long. My partner’s family live in the city, my own family exists, I won’t end up destitute if the lockdown is longer than two months, it’s only if creeps up to a year that I’ll be in trouble. It’ll be a different world if that does happen, and I won’t be the only person at financial risk.

I can’t see myself ending up transient again, like I was in 2017, but I think I’ll be in a much better state (certainly a better medicated state) to deal with middle class homelessness again now than I was then. Also I won’t end up losing thousands of pounds in a botched attempt to live on a structurally unsound canalboat.

Anyway, it’s Westworld time in 90 minutes. I’ll eat some borscht and potato lol, maybe even have a shave.

More blogging, more reading, more working from home tomorrow!

YOU SHOULD ALL READ JAMES BALDWIN.


Download my weird live album via Bandcamp.

Order my raucous poetry collection via Open Pen.

Order my sad prose chapbook via Selcouth Station Press.


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