Paul Diamond, Author
By Paul Diamond
What would you say are symbols of your current situation or the current situation in your country?
The Companion Guide to Berlin, by Brian Ladd, has been my anchoring object. I was halfway through an 11-month writing residency in Berlin when I returned to New Zealand on 23 March. Constant change and renewal defines Berlin, where the past is constantly being overwritten. Guidebooks usually focus on what visitors see now, unlike Ladd’s book, which also unlocks stories in the landscape. Even though I’m in Wellington, I can explore Berlin, maintaining a connection until I can return.
How will the pandemic change the world? What do you see as long-term consequences of the crisis?
Ideas of globalisation which became commonplace in my lifetime, will change, especially in New Zealand, where we’ve always had to travel to be in the wider world. The pandemic feels like a version of what our ancestors experienced in the Second World War – different for everyone but life wasn’t the same afterwards. The range of technologies we have to be connected with each other give us options, but we always need to be asking whether the technology is serving us or the other way around – especially if it’s ‘free’.
Living in Germany has made me appreciate Sunday as a day of rest, like it used to be here. After a month of enforced rest from rampant consumerism, will New Zealanders keep doing the things they did while they weren’t shopping? More broadly, the pandemic will force a rethink of the whole basis of our economy. International tourism might take a long time to recover for example, but what else might emerge in its place? I’ve always thought Helena Christensen’s comment about Denmark ('We're a small country, but we make great stuff,') could equally apply to New Zealand. The potential here is huge, particularly if we can work in partnership with Māori, who control significant resources including land and forests, but have a much higher youth unemployment rate than non-Māori. I’d love to see new opportunities for young Māori come out of this.
What gives you hope?
At secondary school in the 1980s, my first German teacher talked about her visit to the Dachau concentration camp. Human nature, she argued, hadn’t improved one bit since then. On my pessimistic days, I can see what she meant, and fear that the upset we’re going through will mean things will be worse for more of us. But then I remember George Monbiot’s advice about not living your life in fear and become curious about the creative potential in the pandemic. My hope is that people will be more deliberate about the sort of world they want to live in and reconsider their ideas about value. It’s not enough, for example, to cheer public health workers. We need to be engaged in electing people who believe in good health for all. This crisis has highlighted our interdependence and hopefully signals a shift away from the meanspirited ideas of neoliberalism and selfish individualism. I hope we can prove my German teacher was wrong.
What is your personal strategy for dealing with this situation?
Language learning is another way I’m staying connected to Germany. My Langenscheidt Deutsch als Fremdsprache Sprachkalender came back with me from Berlin, as a daily prompt to keep up my practice.
Berlin made me into an urban cyclist, and here in self-isolation, daily rides have kept anxiety at bay. I’ve also been walking, giving me a space to listen to podcasts. Current favourite pandemic distraction: Dolly Parton’s America.