When the Danish idea of hygge (pronounced hue-guh) came into vogue here in the States, I considered myself way ahead of the game. Hygge is the concept of home and hearth and the deep contentment that comes with owning your space in a personal and satisfying way. You can’t shop your way to hygge or demand your friends come over and join you in this new lifestyle you’ve adopted. Properly executed, hygge is an outward projection of your innermost soul. That is, if your innermost soul is already inclined to a state of wellness and coziness.
I truly thought I was there. Me, with my supply of candles squirreled away in my great-grandmother’s cedar chest. Me, ensconced in a soft corner of the sofa, equipped with afghan, reading lamp, and pile of library books. I was so smug. Thinking back on it now, I could slap my own, smug face.
All it took was a little pandemic to upend all notions of myself as part Hobbit, part introvert. Coronavirus has come along and laid bare the depths of my self-deception. I have been forced to face the truth. As my world’s concentric circles have become smaller and smaller as a result of coronavirus and its social distancing dance, I’ve had to admit it — turns out, I was just a hygge hobbyist.
Why did the chickens cross the road?
I never realized what a sociable and exciting existence I once had. I used to spend my whole day be-bopping around town, chatting up this one about the latest School Committee meeting, interviewing that one for a quote on the housing market. Strangers would approach me all the time, just to chat. Now they put on masks and cross the street when they see me coming. I miss their random-stranger chatter. I especially miss the conspiracy theorists. They always had great stories. But even the conspiracy theorists avoid me now. Not a single person has drawn me aside to whisper that coronavirus was cooked up in a lab. I’ve had to hear about that lab-theory on social media, just like everybody else.
I miss the death-defying times, too, which also seemed to find me on the regular. You know, crazy stuff like a car narrowly missing me as its driver roars through a crosswalk I’ve just stepped into. Then I’d swear at the reckless driver and flip the bird for good measure, not caring that I was in the middle of Wellesley Square. The woman on the other side of the street who saw the whole thing would shout out, “You tell ’em!”
And the Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility. Don’t even get me started. I think the inspiration for half my posts can be traced to that gritty corner of town, whether the posts are ostensibly about the dump or not. I really, really miss the Reusables Area. How many times did I find the absolute most perfect treasure there, only to realize it was something I’d dropped off myself three years ago? Between Reusables and the books drop-off area, I could get hung up at the RDF for a solid hour if the pickings were good and the people were chatty. The pickings were always good. The people were always chatty.
As the world turns
By the end of a long day, I had tales to tell. But no longer do I show up at the dinner table, ready to entertain Bob, my husband and co-editor, with what he calls, “Deborah in the world stories.” The world has shut down, and gathered its tales inward.
Oh, I’m still out and about on the mean streets. Governor Charlie Baker wisely has decreed that journalists perform an essential service. But my habits have changed. I used go on walkabout when I knew the maximum number of people would be gathering in groups, creating crowds, flocking together. We were all so subversive back then. Today, my sorties are timed for early morning, when the minimum number of people are about. I take pictures. I read closed signs on doors. I kick cans down the road. That’s it.
Coronavirus has made it all too clear. I’ve been nothing but a homebody poseur. If I was really living the hygge life, when/if my college-age sons spared a thought for me, they might have come up with the following mental image: mom curled up on the sofa after dinner. A reading lamp bathes me in a soft glow, as a fire crackles in the fireplace. They are drawn in by the comfortable scene, eager to draw up a chair and tell me all about their day.
A day in the life
Reality: The family gathers around the table for dinner. Candles are lit, the electric lights are turned low, pleasant background music plays. That much is true.
Bob says, “You know, the Board of Selectmen’s meeting last night was really pretty fascinating. Did you get a chance to listen to it yet?”
I say, “No, I was too busy with the School Committee stuff. Wait till I tell you the latest on Remote Learning 2.0.”
Our sons roll their eyes and burst out laughing. Municipal meeting talk at the table. Their absolute favorite dinner conversation.
This is how I have come to know that my daily actions do not embody the homebody/hygge life. My innermost soul is not inclined to a state of wellness and coziness. It’s inclined to a state of gadabout and wander. If well-being happens along, that’s all very well and good, and the Danes seem to have it all figured out. All their famous happiness sounds like a lot of work, frankly, for someone like me who reflects fondly on the day a car nearly plowed her down in the Square.
Therefore, I hereby renounce for good my lame attempts to self-identify as a homebody. And not a moment too late. Seems I’ll be largely home-bound for the foreseeable future.
Another day in the life
Morning: Eat oatmeal. Drink tea.
Afternoon: Tend houseplants.
Evening: Read from pile of library books. I’m told I can keep them for a really long time.
Next day: Repeat.
Until we meet again, readers, if you happen to spy me out and about, hum a verse from Hamilton, won’t you? The one that goes, “If you see her on the streets, walking to herself, talking to herself have pity…”