Monday, 30 March 2020

It's all blinking cancelled.

The lead up.  Before.

Well, everything is cancelled.  My house and garden has become my world, and all plans for life and work outside my garden gate, deleted.  It is the same for all of us, we have all been put under a polite but firm house arrest for the foreseeable future and our calendars wiped clean.  Stay there! Says not only our government, but the whole world.  Stay there, and save lives.  Possibly even your own. 

At the beginning, there was the fuss and excitement of hunkering down and barricading ourselves in.  I will only talk about my own hunkering, because I have not seen anyone else's.  Before the iron fist of Covid 19 Pandemic Containment quite rightly crashed onto the tables of our lives (oh yes), I had been ill and self isolating with suspected symptoms of the virus.  Seven days ran into fourteen because my son is staying here, and I thought that may be the end of my sanity.  Fourteen days locked in my home with my son, pull the other one!  Can't go near anyone, anyone at all.  To begin with, I felt so poorly that it was no matter if I isolated or not, and staying in bed away from all pressures from the world - as I knew it then - was such a relief.  On about day five I thought, I could get used to this, I am feeling so rotten.  But day six saw me feeling better and having a small insight into what isolation meant.  No, I couldn't see my little grandchildren.  I couldn't pop out to see friends.  Actually, I couldn't go to the shop and, more, I couldn't even take the parcel from the post man.  By day seven, I knew I had another seven days to go, and I began to  resent it.  How simple it all seems now, how naive! 

Frolicking on the Downs
Oh how I frolicked on the South Downs once I was out of quarantine.  Then suddenly, everyone was painted in woad, shaking their spears at each other and ram raiding Sainsbury's.  We had been told that we were probably going into lockdown, and it sounded bad.  People climbed over the bodies of unsuccessful shoppers, snatching the last tray of pizzas from their dying hands, in order to fill their cars, vans and lorries with things that would see them through the Apocalypse which, if the government was right, was going to start about now.   All life was threatened, the very air tainted, each person an enemy and so, the things that were to get us through this new end of the world, if we had been lucky enough to prevent anyone else getting anything so that we could carry off eighty times more than we needed, were mainly loo roll, beer, pasta, rice, oats, eggs, frozen foods, tea and biscuits.  

At this point I was still frolicking on the Downs.  I missed it all, only realising I could have very restricted suppers when I did go into a supermarket, and then all supermarkets, to try and buy something for my household to eat.  They were all stripped bare.

Not how supermarkets actually are.  
No matter.  Leaving aside the anger and madness that grip people when they are truly frightened, we all survived here, and any of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook stories, knows that nobody lost even an ounce of weight, no one starved, and the worst that happened for me was that I did not get any chocolate one afternoon when I really needed some.  There was food already in my house, and I have a delivery of fruit and vegetables every week.  As the news of the social isolating, the social distancing, was updated, I could not quite grasp how I would be affected - and for how long.  In these early days ( all of a week and a half ago)  all my exhibition plans, my Macmillan sponsored hike, my clients, all my stuff  felt suddenly unsafe.  How could they all be cancelled?  And yet, they all were.  One by one, everything that I do and have planned to do, was stopped, cancelled, postponed and removed.  Within a week, my whole year had been dissolved.  No work, no physical contacts, no big opening for the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition.  No One Woman Show in Southampton.  No A Graceful Death exhibition for the Dead Good Day festival.  No supporting my clients. No tea with friends, no picking up my fat little baby grandchildren and kissing their fluffy heads.  No training for a sponsored twenty six mile hike for Macmillan.  No hike.  I have been made redundant, put out to pasture, told to stop, go indoors, and stay there till further notice. Blimey.

When the lock down came, there were six people living in my home.  It meant that we were eased into the feelings of isolation more gradually.  Eileen had to be repatriated from Ghana with only twenty four hours notice, leaving everything there, and so she came to here for a week of isolation before returning to London.  She works for the government, and so has to be in London where she is now, until she goes back to Africa.  My son Costya was here briefly too, and has gone back to his place in London and so my home is down to four.  Me, Dimitri, and my lodgers in the Annex, Mark and Kate.  It is this set up now that will continue until further notice.  

And now - During

I define myself by what I do with and for people.  I am always talking about it.  I find ways to connect with the people who come my way, and I like to feel connected, I like to have a narrative so that I know who I am.  Painting and writing are solitary but beautifully balanced by seeing my clients, going to meetings, seeing friends and kissing the grand babies.  Chatting with my daughter over tea, being able to go anywhere I wanted with not a thought about it.  

My exhibition has been postponed, and the wind taken out of my sails.  I don't feel like painting any more.  I don't feel like achieving.   I was going to perform a one woman show in Southampton and show the A Graceful Death exhibition, at the Dead Good Festival run by my friends Deb and Chris.  Can't do that now, can't even see Deb and Chris on their fancy boat.  My client went into hospital and I couldn't help.  My father is lying in his bed in his nursing home, and I cannot go there to see him.  What must he think, in his sleepy, lovely old Alzheimer mind?  Where are we all?  

This is not a competition.  We all feel this way.  We are only at the beginning and we must find
Dims soon
resources to get through.  I am finding the reality of this lock down hard to comprehend and even that, the fact that I do not understand all the implications in one go, even that is not normal for me, and makes me feel I am not in control.  And I am not in control, not really, of this bigger picture.  Everything that has given me purpose is now removed.  All the things that I can say I do, and that I am, have evaporated.  Small things that are fairly insignificant, take on more meaning.  I will not get my hair cut.  My son won't get his hair cut.  Oh no!  We will look like cave people!  Unless I cut our hair and that could be worse.  And, I am sixty this year.  That birthday will drift by in the Summer, and I will dance here alone with Dims, who won't want to do that at all,
Me soon
and life will drift on.  Of course we may have less lock down then, but that disturbs this sad lonely narrative.  There feels nothing to work for, right now.  I am very weary, and some of that is still recovery from the virus, some of it is the getting used to no pressure, and some of it is the growing acceptance that there is no longer a need for me to rush about, no one to see, no plans to make, no idea of the future and no point in even thinking about it.  I am not ill, not depressed, not defeated, just slowly adjusting to a new way of living, and finding it hard, sad and exhausting to let all my plans and hopes for this year go - which was to have been brilliant, by the way.  Just saying.  

But - some insights -

I am still here.  That is a good start.  And I did get some chocolate.
  1. I have time.  I have time!  I do not have to be in a hurry, and it does not matter.  If I am not in a hurry, I do not die, and nothing collapses into a heap.  Once I let go of the feeling that all my time is accountable, I can enjoy sitting and watching the birds.  I can enjoy saying to myself, do I really need to wash the lemon tree today?  If I don't do it today, can I do it another day? And if I don't do it, does it matter? This is an experience of time that I have forgotten about.  I am becoming less willing to make my time into work.  I am enjoying sitting in the garden in the morning and feeling the cold air on my face while I have my tea. 
  2. My clients, my friends and all the people who were to see the exhibitions, do not need me.  Oh no!  But they do not need me.  They are all managing fine without me, and I am realising that though I understand that I am not indispensable, a teeny part of me hoped that perhaps I am.  Just a bit.  It would make me feel so good.  However, not being indispensable means I am freer than I thought, and if everyone is fine without me, I have less responsibility, less to think about and more time.
  3. There is something deeper in all of this.  I am not in control.  I could never have seen this coming.  Everything is changed and my certainties gone.  I do not know where this is going, or how it will end.  I may die.  I may not.  But I have had to relinquish everything, and come back to myself, with whom I will be spending a lot of time.  If I do not have the comfort of taking my identity from what I do, who I say I am, how I project myself, then who am I?  What or who is left?  And yet I am still here, not hungry, not forgotten, still able to write and paint should I want to, still a grandmother, still healthy and still comfortable.  None of my friends have used the lock down to tell me they never liked me anyway.  With this free time, this looking beyond the identity the outside world gives me, this feeling vulnerable and free floating, without the proof that I am, perhaps, an artist only because I put on an exhibition and everyone agrees that I am, perhaps there is a space for something a little more profound.  There is time not to think, but to feel, to respond to small things - plants growing, the sun through the window, the comfort of a chair with a cushion that had become so familiar it was invisible - there is time to be thankful.  Perhaps it is fine that we do not understand what is happening, that we are not in control, that we feel we have lost so much.  Perhaps, that is just the way things are right now, and if we can't do anything about it, if we have done all we can and cannot do any more, perhaps it is time to let go, focus on the right now, and ask ourselves what lovely thing can we do for ourselves in the next five minutes, and just do that.  
  4. Reading and YouTube this is a quick one.  I seem to have forgotten how to read.  I watch YouTube instead.  I am trying to sit down and focus on a book.  It feels like a waste of time - what does that say about my concept of time? I could spend more time than is possible watching FBI Files on YouTube and think nothing of it.  Time to get a grip.
Sometimes, once or twice, I have had the stirrings of a feeling that I do not know if I am allowed in this pandemic and lock down.  It is joy, and if I let it stay, it makes me smile and feel love.  In the beginning, I thought I should not have it.  But quickly, I thought, joy had never hurt anyone.  Joy is a gift and comes like light, when we need it. Of course it must stay.  Joy is a gift of the spirit and is quite simple.  Not having joy is bleak, and that does no good to anyone.  I hope you find yours and you welcome it too, though it may be only fleeting. Even fleeting is good. 


Once I was very, very upset, and walked into a chapel somewhere in the countryside.  I stood by the altar rail, crying, when I felt a hand on my arm.  A very old man was standing next to me, watching me with gentle eyes.  "You know," he said, "all things are taken care of." He gave me a small booklet and walked away.  The booklet was Thirteen Visionary Poems. Here is one of the poems. He was an angel.

Breathe the air of silence,
fill my lungs with quiet,
open up to the pain:
the ache and soreness
of silence

In such quiet, 
the spirit speaks:
my heart is quiet, 
the clutter of constant distraction
is gone.

Sitting in silence,
there is no escape:
I sit before
I know not what,
and wonder. 

1 comment: