In order to maintain equilibrium in your weekly grind, it can help to have a vacation planned. Nothing fancy. Just a change of scenery.
Me, I’m going to Paris and London in the fall.
Why? No special reason.
What if they aren’t flying there? I’ll row.
What happens if I haven’t got the vaccine yet? I will invent my own.
I don’t really think I’m going to Paris and London in fall, but I’m not telling my brain that yet. It needs something to believe in.
Unless you are an influencer or a member of provincial parliament, fun trips are one of several things you have given up for COVID-19. And as much as I’m sure you take pride in doing your duty as a citizen, you are probably feeling that life now owes you a solid.
It owes you trips, boys’ weekends, Las Vegas all-nighters, making passionate love on a train as it goes through the Alps, being showered in money, the abrogation of all responsibility, etc.
The deeper you go into this fantasy, the closer you get to the Roaring Twenties.
The Roaring Twenties is all over the place these days, being sold as an eventual repayment for the sense of doom pervading the current moment.
Just yesterday, you found yourself standing in a Shoppers Drug Mart in your bedroom – only trackpants, elbows up, ready to fight your neighbours for toilet paper and lentils. But tomorrow – ah, tomorrow – you’ll be back in adult clothes, drunk as a loon, complaining bitterly about the crap service in that restaurant you’ve spent a year telling people you’ve been dying to get back to.
Right now, the Roaring Twenties is QAnon for the middle-class – a collective delusion about what’s headed our way based more on wish fulfilment than reality.
The idea began popping up in the mainstream press last April. April! We were still in the teeth of this thing, vaccines were years off as far as anyone knew and people had started talking about the big party they were planning for 2025.
A Yale professor glanced at the topic in a quickie book, and it was quoted around the internet as though he were making a promise rather than taking a guess.
“If the Roaring Twenties following the 1918 pandemic are a guide, the increased religiosity and abstemiousness of the immediate and intermediate periods could give way to increased expressions of risk-taking, intemperance and joie de vivre in the post-pandemic period,” Nicholas Christakis wrote.
You were probably only hoping for drug-addled debauchery, but “joie de vivre” sounds more sophisticated. Very F. Scott and Zelda. Yes, more of that, please.
Let’s overlook the “if” and “could” in that sentence, two words that are doing a lot of heavy lifting, but don’t quite capture your fuzzy lockdown brain quite like “intemperance.” (Stay away from the basement. That’s where the wine is. Yeah, sure, it’s Saturday, but it’s also 9 a.m., for God’s sake. Try pretending you don’t have a basement.)
Let’s also overlook the fact that all those people now convinced that history is repeating itself on a 100-year cycle were not calling for a world war in 2010s. When the United States invaded Iraq, no one wrote an op-ed suggesting we “could” jump start a dreary century “if” we shot someone royal in Austria.
There is also the matter of pretending the Roaring Twenties were nothing but barrels of fun. They certainly were for some people in the United States – because when we talk about this subject, we are picturing a Harlem jazz club or a West Village booze can in our minds – but far from most.
The U.S. was smack in the middle of a fitful 50-year project converting itself from an agrarian society into an urban one. All that change did not exactly endear people to one another. Around the same time that Duke Ellington was rewiring the way music is written, thousands of members of the Ku Klux Klan were doing an annual picnic in the streets of Washington.
That part of it – political gridlock, grinding poverty, division and strife, nativism, the fall into a devastating global depression – doesn’t get mentioned as much as the pretty dresses. Nor the fact that the eventual way out of it was a much worse war. Right now, people talk about that period as though The Great Gatsby was non-fiction.
But this is not my objection to the Roaring Twenties as a concept. Rather, it is that we have already lived them for the past three decades. The party has occasionally dulled to a low roar when global events began banging on the ceiling with a broom handle.
But for the most part, since the Wall came down, North American culture has deified the twin avatars of the Roaring Twenties – individual freedom and frivolity.
Many of us continue to do so in the midst of the pandemic. This isn’t about age. It’s about station. People with resources take it as not just a right, but a responsibility, to “decompress” on a regular basis. That decompression usually requires a passport. How else are you going to make it through your 35-hour lie-on-the-couch work week?
Yeah, okay, your great-grandparents were farmers, and had to chew rocks from time to time, but man, they didn’t have to do four Zoom meetings a day. Zooming, that’s the real hell.
When people talk about a new age of libertinism just around the corner, I think, ‘Exactly how much more libertine can we get? Will I still be allowed to wear clothes?’
I’ll take a guess at what’s coming – more of the same. The 2020s will roar for some people, the same people it’s roared for all their lives. And everyone else will have to clean up the mess. That’s how history actually works.
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