I accidentally dyed my hair pink this weekend. I bought some colour-enhanced conditioner thinking it would be a clever way to conceal greys and now I look like a drama-teacher having a mid-life crisis.
I also ordered a new table to work at and congratulated myself on building it myself – with only one mistake. Turned out that one mistake meant I’d drilled holes into the table top. I am now avoiding the table. And work.
This isolation period is really sorting the wheat from the chaff. The wheat people are getting ‘fit’ not ‘fat’ and reading Moby Dick. They are clearing out cupboards and making banana bread. The chaff – moi – are looking out windows, scrolling whatsapp and walking in and out of rooms.
I cannot concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. I pick up books and put them down. I start writing sentences and abandon them. Even TV, which can usually send me into a weekend long trance, is doing nothing for me. I start shows and give up after ten minutes.
I am getting absolutely nothing done beyond eating, sleeping, walking and talking to friends on zoom. I now live on zoom. My flat is just a background to zoom.
I saw a post on Instagram by psychotherapist by Paula D Atkinson which said that when faced with trauma, grief and powerlessness people tend to fall into two camps – they either OVER FUNCTION and get mega busy doing everything or they UNDER FUNCTION and come to a complete standstill. She says that neither is wrong or right. It’s just how it is.
I have been beating myself up about how under functioning I am. I have a book to write and I’m not doing it. I have what seems like the perfect opportunity to hunker down and yet I cannot sit at my computer. Everything I write feels irrelevant and pointless.
Then I read a post by Nick Cave which made me feel better. Cave has a beautiful site on which he answers questions from fans. Saskia from London, who presumably has seen all the posts about how King Lear was written in a lockdown, asked how to be creative in this time.
Nick’s answer was surprising. He wrote that he did not plan to use this time to write a new album or work on a book: ‘Suddenly, the acts of writing a novel, or a screenplay or a series of songs seem like indulgences from a bygone era. For me, this is not a time to be buried in the business of creating. It is a time to take a backseat and use this opportunity to reflect on exactly what our function is — what we, as artists, are for.’
I wonder if, as well as wondering what ‘artists’ are for, this is also a time when we ask what humans are for. What is our function, our purpose? What matters? What doesn’t?
We live in a society that worships Getting Things Done – but maybe for some of us this is not the time for that. ‘Perhaps, it is a time to pay attention, to be mindful, to be observant,’ Nick writes.
I went for a walk yesterday afternoon and it was one of those perfect cloudless days we’ve been having since this started. I did a long lap of the park and just before heading home, I stood still and looked at the blossoms and luminous green grass and kite flying in the distance. The sky was a hazy blue, with no planes to mark it. There was no sound except for the squeals of children and the sound of footballs being kicked.
It felt like a kind of utopia.
On the way out, I saw a dad standing by a big oak doing a dance routine with a little girl in a rainbow dress. She looked like she was in heaven. So did he. I imagined that that moment of parental love is more more important than any unanswered email.
Of course, this is all very nice but without medical staff, teachers, supermarket workers Getting Things Done we’d all be screwed right now.
My sister remarked that while half the nation is taking time to smell the roses and be with family, the other half is working for amazon delivering scented candles so that people like me can have deep and meaningful thoughts. Never have I felt the inequalities in the world as much as I do now. Never have I been aware of how much I have.
So what to do with all my privilege? I am giving to foodbanks and put my name on lists to volunteer, along with thousands of others. I feel ashamed that I have not been volunteering before now. I had time. I am a single woman who can work to her own schedule. I feel quite mortified by how selfish I’ve been.
Oh well, that can’t be undone.
What to do now, that’s the question.
My new guru, Nick says: ‘there are other forms of engagement, open to us all. An email to a distant friend, a phone call to a parent or sibling, a kind word to a neighbour, a prayer for those working on the front lines. These simple gestures can bind the world together — throwing threads of love here and there, ultimately connecting us all — so that when we do emerge from this moment we are unified by compassion, humility and a greater dignity. Perhaps, we will also see the world through different eyes, with an awakened reverence for the wondrous thing that it is. This could, indeed, be the truest creative work of all.’
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