During that long year that has been a decade ago, most of us have spent an afternoon dreaming about what we will do when it is over. Many people have elaborate itineraries or plans to turn a year of lost parties into a truly scandalous weekend. Even those of us who never cared about going outside or seeing people likely had cravings for socialization that turned into dreams of the kind of human contact that a responsible person in a pandemic does not pursue.
Now that the US vaccine rollout is going strong (and those of us in places like Canada look longingly with a hand pressed against the glass), those fantasies are starting to look like things that have real data tied to them. Outside of the western world, of course, many countries do not have a clear timetable for when they can get vaccines, so they remain in limbo. In the coming months, the gap between the experiences of the global rich with the pandemic and those of the global poor will widen.
Types of players, especially in the US, are already booking flights based on projections. (We’re not talking about the people who have been traveling for pleasure all the time. I choose not to acknowledge their existence.) But despite being inside for more than a year, I remain a simple, inside, literal guy. As I count the months to my first vaccine (hopefully July?), My post-pandemic fantasies are small … but they are consuming me.
Lately, I’ve dreamed of alphabetizing books at Value Village over and over again. I know this is … worrying. Especially as my post-pandemic fantasy. But let me explain! For one thing, it’s understandable that at this point our collective nerves are shot. We have all sought solace in our own way. I watch literal bullet journal videos because they give me the illusion of order. In the same way, my brain has something very satisfying about the idea of putting books worth an aisle of unordered books into neat alphabetical order.
Besides, this is not a new phenomenon for me. In fact, it’s a pattern that has been there all my life. When I was a little kid, my mom warned me to pull all the books off the shelves in a thrift store and make a mess. I looked at her in horror. “But mom! I’ll organize it!” Far from causing a mess, I couldn’t let this bookcase get messed up, even if it was in a dusty back corner of a thrift store, even if it meant all the books to start over.
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As a teenager, it was my second time working in a bookstore. (My first job was baking dog treats, but that’s a different story.) I worked in bookstores for ten years, most of them in a used bookstore. When employees complained about the boredom of the bookshelves and I looked at them crookedly. This is the job! I thought angrily. Why work in a bookstore if you didn’t want to store books? In reality, I’ve spent most of this decade hoping for a slow day to avoid all of those annoying customer interactions and to focus on what’s important: shelving. (Short messages on Danika: Why would you work in a bookstore if you didn’t want to help customers?)
In the last few months of my work in the business, before continuing my teaching (hoping to become a school librarian), we were just about to relocate – thankfully to a building with a lot more space. Meanwhile, the fiction room was piled with knee-deep books that didn’t fit on the shelf. I spent this summer walking around the entire room, alphabetizing stacks, comparing them to the titles on the shelves, and making neat stacks. As the stacks started disappearing as the supply was shipped, I drove another lap filling in any gaps on the shelves I could find. I think I reset the entire room three times before leaving. To be clear: Nobody asked me to. I just wanted … really.
The urge to organize bookshelves is well known. And the idea of slowly and steadily fixing the chaos until I can step back and admire the finished product soothes my frayed nerves immensely. But there’s another reason this is a post-pandemic dream: I miss being out in public. I miss playing around aimlessly. Let’s face it – I never got out much. But I miss lazily browsing the aisles, be it a bookstore or a new grocery store. I miss not having a countdown clock in my head every time I leave the house to help calculate whether the extra time is worth the risk.
Part of that fantasy is the idea of spending time frivolously in public. Waste of time surrounded by people for the idle enjoyment of it. No purpose, no reason, just … on a whim. In this dream I do not feel any threat or fear to be with people. I also don’t make direct contact with anyone. People are a pleasant background hum – neither threat nor characteristic. I miss this comforting anonymity almost as much as the closeness to the people I love – maybe even more because I was able to meet friends and family at a distance outdoors, but I was never able to drop that guard.
That’s why I dream of alphabetizing books in a thrift store while some people are making great vacation plans (and others are not near the planning stage). What are your post-pandemic book fantasies, whether or not they get close to reality? Do you visit the best bookstores in the world? Go on an international treasure hunt? Or just being able to read carefree in the park or in a café?