Notes From IsolationApr 13, 2020
It is possible that over the years I have become less truthful than I once was. Less willing to spill my woes on to the virtual page for fear of not fulfilling my imaginary duty as purveyor of floral, dotty dreams. As If I have now convinced myself that you want nothing more from me than inspiration, where once there was a kind of female mutilation of self that was cathartic for us all.
In pandemic, as in wartime, I have convinced myself that if I haven’t got anything inspiring to say, I mustn’t say anything at all, because purposeful propaganda is the only responsible way to use my platform here. That otherwise I am contributing to hysteria, when deep inside I know myself that it is the relentless outpouring of positivity in my own social media that is driving me a bit batty. That as always, I want to scratch away the surface, and insist that people tell their own truth, let it out, worry out loud, and set aside the need to be dementedly productive or endlessly painting a picture of lock-down joy that isn’t and cannot be a true image of the myriad of new feelings we are all navigating like so many invading ships.
I am in fact experiencing a kind of paralysis. Suspended in berserk animation, The cessation of creativity as hopefully temporary as the closing down of the shops. I stare into space a lot. I read a lot. Eating words like vitamins destined to bolster my immune system. Whole books in a few hours, seeking the reassurance of tales that describe life just as it was a few weeks ago and not this, that we are experiencing in the great pause. I wish isolation away so that I can get to the library and find even more of myself in the dusty bookshelves, then bewilder myself by dreaming that we can stay isolated for always: baking cakes and sitting in the sun, laughing together. No longer harnessed by the timetables of real life. No longer obliged to make the kind of small talk that may not cost lives, but certainly requires the sacrifice of soul for women like me, who find the exchange of platitudes excruciating. Even on social media.
This is simply my own response to trauma. For we are all enduring it in our own way: my sister who has a book commissioned, cannot write and instead does jigsaws. My Dad who finds solace at the easel, can’t paint and is instead gardening his way to paradise. Finley is no longer tapping out endless songs and instead plays Minecraft and watches endless videos in a way his own (slightly wacky) self-discipline has never quite permitted before. The pause applies not just to normal life, but to our ability to allow our most creative selves ordinary expression and it is necessary not to rage against it, but to become part of the slipstream of temporary change and allow ourselves to exist within its flow. But oh how hard it is to be so alienated from ourselves!
Flow then. Here it looks like taking a paint-brush to an ugly old cabinet and tidying up a lot. Re-arranging the conservatory and marking the setting of the sun with candlelight. It looks like sitting still: meditating and hearing my own fright, recognising the consolations of isolation and journalling until my hands hurt. Words not for public consumption but for navel-gazing and analysis: Where am I now? How am I feeling? Is the black dog being held at bay, or has he slipped under the covers with me? If he comes can I give myself the grace of allowing myself to be uncomfortable? Staying up and sleeping in. Or getting up silly early to hear the astonishing dawn chorus of liberated birds with a coffee in my hand as I wander around the garden. Experiencing deep torment about not being one of those contributing so significantly. Suddenly so aware of my privilege. Feeling conflicted by the pull of appreciation for what hasn’t happened and at once terrified by anticipatory grief. Eating better than I probably ever have done, doing weights as the kettle boils, napping when I feel like it. Flow.
My truth? I could live like this forever. It isn’t so far removed from the solace and sanctuary of the home-based life I have always cultivated. But when I say that, I am denying the reasons why we are sheltering in place. Pretending that all is well and that this is merely a holiday from myself. I am suppressing any sense of grief, or trauma and denying that I wouldn’t be happier if I knew when this would end, even knowing that an endpoint cannot be specified, no matter how relentless the media may be in pursuing one. For an endpoint allows for blanket appreciation of our domestic freedom rather than a tingling sense of uncertainty bound to keep us all suspended in discombobulation at our imprisonment.
My truth? I worry that we are all changed forever. That our children will never again experience what it is to trust human interaction. That our own little villages and big cities will strike me as dangerous. That my creativity has shrivelled up in fright. And yet, I know this not to be true: that after the Spanish Flu came the roaring twenties and after the Asian flu the wild, liberated freedom of the seventies. Fear does not shrivel humanity, it inspires it and once the need to simply survive passes we thrive in ways we have never done before. There is always, always hope, even when the doomsayers mutter darkly about the impact of the virus on the economy. Or worriers like me fall oddly silent.
My truth? I am trying to go gently, but I am not a saint and the need to curtail my inner critic is huge when I am merely processing grief and panic in the same way we all are: one day at a time. I worry about the ridiculous. Am I making my family laugh enough? (You didn’t know they employed me as resident comedian did you? As if their joy is solely my responsibility!). If the virus trackers came a calling would they find it lurking on the doorknobs I am religiously disinfecting? Should I hose Ste down in the lane, before I allow him to traipse his weary self back into this sanitised box? Was yesterday’s upset stomach an early indicator of the lurgy? Am I making too many dark chocolate cornflake cakes? All of it preposterous and true and indicative of our human instinct to trivialise worry so we can avoid staring trauma directly in its contaminating face.
Today then. More painting, and an hour or two in the company of a thought-provocking and timely book. My daily call to my dad, a lifeline of sorts to normality, a hug in words and laughter. Another episode of Thirteen Reasons Why with Finn. Wearing a clay face mask. More pulling of these relentless weeds in the patch we are clearing for the terribly middle class response to the pandemic: the growing of our own food. The simmering of lemons on the stove. A root vegetable soup spiced with curry powder. Thirty minutes of sitting in the sun with Ste trying not to assess his mood too closely on the eve of the anniversary of Hillsborough. A twinkly bath in nasal clearing eucalyptus. A quick survey of the freezer. Smoothies. The briefing. Disinfectant. And tonight the latest series of Killing Eve in the company of my men and a Bournville Easter egg.
Not sinking. Not swimming. But floating. Hoping. and believing.
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