‘In Terms of Meaning’ by Roswitha Gerlitz (an opera director and writer), on her experience of COVID-19 isolation

May 11 2020

Roswitha Gerlitz

End of March 2020. While I settled into the isolation phase, I noticed that the quantity of my underwear, my slips, had shrunk alarmingly during a fortnight. I negated the conundrum, for the phenomenon of things and objects disappearing is a familiar one to everyone, which is the very reason I procrastinated and postponed action. What I mean is that everything, myself and others included, can disappear at any given moment, something I try not to think about unless confronted. Given that nothing has been taken outside the home, it is at home that the disappearance happens, the rule goes like ‘it’ll reappear, wait a few days, it’ll be found eventually’. Years of struggle have taught me to be patient and take these phenomena light-heartedly.

Things like one’s slips are different however. I need not search every corner of my living quarters. My slips are easily traceable either in the drawer where they belong, on the bedroom floor, in the laundry basket, in the washing machine or drying on the radiator. I braced myself to face the fact that almost half of them had disappeared. They are special things manufactured in Switzerland. That’s where my friend with her family lives. Her surname is the same as the company’s brand, she is an expert on philosophical subjects we share every now and then, and she wears those slips too. Made from the finest mercerised organic cotton with tiny bits of lace at the sides, featherlight hugging the skin. I enjoy wearing them, I don’t mistake them for rubbish or whatever else, I don’t change underwear once I’m out and about and I don’t lose them while wearing.

Neither do I want to elaborate on the pandemic’s progress and cut straight to the one matter that stuck with me from the very beginning of that invisible, phenomenal ‘covid-thing’ that caused the panic shopping. The hoarding of food, cleaning and personal care goods focused on toilet paper right from the start. Mainstream media topic on and off online, I didn’t understand the urgency of stacking up on toilet paper. Most of it is imported from China I was told, nevertheless incomprehensible to me and proved to be ill-informed. First sign of the public’s panic about a shortage, or the possibility of a disappearing paper-pulp was a Damocles sword looming over preBrexit negotiations. UK’s manufacturers are now working full power to fill the emptiness of shelves.

To read the full paper, download the PDF below: