(Also available as a podcast here)
It rained late this afternoon. In the silence that followed the birdsong was almost deafening. What do they notice, I wondered. A change in the air? Fewer people? Less noise? Finely attuned to their surroundings as they are, the birds must surely register something.
I register something, but it’s very hard to put my finger on what it is. Here in our village it’s quiet. There are few people about and little traffic. We walk by the river, through the woods or up the glen, stepping respectfully aside as we pass. Sometimes we stop and chat. ‘How’re you doing?’ ‘Fine thanks, and you?’ The village shop is open, the post office too. It’s tempting to say there’s an air of calm, but that wouldn’t be quite true.
Last weekend, on a cloudless day with not a breath of wind, so still we could hear the plovers’ wingbeats as they swooped us away from their nests, we walked eight miles through the hills to the next village. From the highest point on the walk we could see the full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, snowy hills to the north and west, a tumble of hazy farmland to south and east, the only movement a solitary tractor trundling back and forth in a field. An almost indescribably perfect April day. And yet …
Once a month the dozen of us who make up the Dark Angels team check in by email. We’ve been doing it since the start of the year. We write a few sentences each about what we’ve been up to. It’s a lovely way of staying connected with one another.
Last week I wrote about the pleasures of lockdown, of spending time outdoors repairing an old garden bench as displacement activity for almost everything, of having time to closely observe the arrival of spring. ‘And then,’ I wrote, ‘out there there’s death and grief and fear and bravery and kindness and lies and incompetence … and there are moments when I feel, How the hell do I join all this up? And the ground beneath my feet feels very shaky.’
For the first two or three weeks of lockdown I went into a kind of overdrive, a frenzy of rearranging, learning about Zoom, creating meetings and rewriting courses to work online. It was a furious need to stay connected. Then the energy began to dissipate. Since, I have had days of feeling exhausted and almost tearful. I find it hard to focus on anything for very long, as if I’m constantly distracted by something just out of my field of vision.
I can do the things I absolutely have to, the things that demand total concentration. I’ve run some Zoom sessions. I play the piano a lot and look forward to recording a new Randy Newman song every weekend to post on Facebook. But I can’t seem to concentrate on the big writing project I have on hand, or any of the other creative activities I’ve been storing up for just such a moment as this.
I know of a few people who’ve had the virus, though not of anyone who’s died. We’re as far from any of the hotspots as we could be. We’re fortunate to have plenty of space and more than enough to eat and drink. While we’re being cautious, neither of us is afraid. The thing we notice most is that we miss the children and grandchildren.
And yet … it seems that we are not immune from this thing. However shielded we might appear to be, it’s affecting us on some deep, existential level. Uncertainty, limbo? That’s part of it, but I think there’s something more elemental, more atavistic, more unfathomable at play than that. I’m not sure what it is. Some kind of Jungian monster perhaps.
Whatever it may be, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to deal with it is to roll with it, to acknowledge the days when one feels troubled or sad or unsettled, and accept that this is both something that is too big to resist, and something that in time will pass.
I put down these thoughts here because for many years now I’ve come to understand myself better through writing this blog. But I’ve also written because I wonder whether my experience of this extraordinary time has echoes for anyone else?
You can listen to my weekly recordings of Randy Newman songs on YouTube, here.
We (The Stories We Tell) are running a short one-day online workshop on Living With Lockdown on May 12 and 16. Details here.