Day 23 of lockdown and a busy and fulfilling day with the very first session of the new course ‘In Extremis: Writing a Journal in the Time of Coronavirus,’ underway this afternoon. Eight bright women, bringing a glorious wealth of life experience and stimulating perspectives to the practice of writing in the time of coronavirus, perspectives we are in need of. When, for instance, I referred to lockdown as an ‘unimaginable scenario’ — even two months ago many of us could not have dreamt this up — I learned this was not true for everyone. Plagues are known in other parts of the world, along with war and bombs. I was reminded then just how sheltered we are here, tucked away from the big world movements elsewhere, on our three small south pacific islands. We lost men in the war, we saw or heard about them coming home faded wrecks of their former selves but we didn’t endure bombs falling around us, the ear splitting noise and flare of fire, we didn’t see whole streets, neighbourhoods, significant landmarks falling and going up in smoke, we didn’t experience hunger and when it was over and the reconstruction began we didn’t suffer recurring nightmares, nor stress responses each time a siren rang out. But this is not to diminish the experiences of people in Christchurch during the earthquakes, nor the very real test the current situation presents to those of us not prepared from birth for such an occurrence. We are all of us working hard to adapt to the strange new world we find ourselves in. We’re doing our best.
Day 22 of lockdown and the big news today was that we can expect to drop from level four to level three by the middle of next week, thus ending a four-week period in lockdown. It seems incredible. We have been in our bubbles for almost a month and we’ve survived and oftentimes thrived. For that we can feel proud. As a nation we‘ve shown fortitude and endless creativity — the craft projects, the bread making, the Easter buns, the gardening projects, parents and children growing their own vegetables and flowers, the new songs, paintings, poems, short films, photographs, the art made from recycled materials, the curators talking and writing about favourite artworks, the opening up of archives, bringing out the treasures for perusal and discussion, not just from galleries and museums but on Instagram and Facebook people have been sharing their own treasures — just a glorious tide of inventiveness to occupy our minds and raise our spirits through this strange time.
Day 21 of lockdown. It was colder today. The clouds had a dull finish to them, spatters of rain came and went. In the scene I have grown to love, contained within the wedge shaped frame between the trees, the band of silver sea and the islands piled above drew in and out of focus all through the day, at times dissolving into sweeping brush strokes — gray, mauve, coral. The very atmosphere hung heavy over the isthmus.
Day Twenty of lockdown and though I wished last night for sweeter dreams they didn’t come. Instead I awoke in the early morning in the grip of a death dream. The death dream comes in variations. In one I am being told I am going to die. In another I am in the process of dying, or, as happened this morning, the doctors are outlining a treatment plan. I was told this would entail the removal of a large chunk of me from under my arm in an operation that would last eighteen hours. ‘But I won’t survive under anaesthetic for that long,’ I cried. These concerns were airily dismissed by the surgeon who continued to patiently explain the time involved in reconnecting and sealing hundreds of blood vessels and sewing me back together again. ‘But I can’t agree to this for the operation will surely kill me,’ I insisted realising with a sinking feeling that either way I was going to die.
Nineteen days of lockdown and this day began badly for me. I woke from a dream of blindness. These dreams and the one where I am being chased by a person intent on killing me were happening fairly regularly towards the end of my old life and continued through the two and a half years that followed. I had hoped that with the future, supposedly, more secure they wouldn’t stalk me anymore. In the blindness dream I am in a perilous situation; I am backing a car down a street at a furious speed and I can’t see behind me. There is a feeling of dread, that I must surely crash; I’m pushed out of an aeroplane and don’t know how far I’m going to fall or whether a parachute is opening above; this morning I was trying to dodge the crazy traffic around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. My eyes in these monstrous dreams are shut tight, wedged so firmly, it’s as though a suctional force is in action that I am powerless to override. I struggle and struggle. Sometimes my eyelids lift slightly and I see, briefly, the terrible scene in front of me, and then they snap shut and I’m engulfed again in the nightmare.
Day eighteen of lockdown and it was a very good day until I lost an entire post about Easter Sunday and the children, my grandson and my niece and their happiness at the extra generosity flowing forth in the time of lockdown, in the form of additional Easter eggs and bunnies and treats popped into people's letter boxes. But It’s gone. The whole entry. And it’s late and I am disheartened. I should learn! The exact same thing happened earlier this week with my Anne Frank post. It was midnight when the screen froze and the writing shrivelled before my eyes, sucked into a hole in the ethernet, forever irretrievable. I sat staring at the screen in dismay and then, because I could not abandon it, I continued working for another hour, until 1am, trying to recreate the original, and feeling that what I got was not as good as the first. I’m not going to repeat the exercise tonight.
Day seventeen, and today I came upon an entry in an earlier journal, dated February 24, written one month before we went into lockdown. I had just moved into this refuge on the side of Takarunga and was facing into a different set of stresses that also felt deeply challenging. In the second sentence of the entry it was as though I’d had a premonition of what lay in store for I referred to the writing as my ‘survival log.’ I went on to describe my nomadic journey since losing my home and how often over the nine months I had thought of and been inspired by a woman who had survived a far more desperate and extreme situation than my own.
Lockdown, day sixteen and again a mix of experiences and emotions. A beautiful stroll in the mellow sunlight, around the rocks between the beaches of Cheltenham and Narrowneck with my walking friend. A pause to enjoy a white Labrador paddling through the bright green sea, grinning. The only creature in the water. On the return we encountered more windows filled with soft toys and the addition of big bunnies for Easter and colourful drawings of patterned Easter eggs.
Day fifteen of lockdown and it has been a day of stresses and antagonisms, a reminder of how things were in a past existence, and how good it feels to be escaping all that, but not quite yet, unfortunately. Why do some men think that in the course of doing business they are entitled to be downright rude and obnoxious towards the very people who are trying to assist them. The day wore on and the vexatious missives flew and the business matter failed to settle and I got a headache when I realised that tomorrow is Good Friday and now I’ll have to wait until after Easter to resolve things. The problem with lockdown is that the days blur and you lose track of where you are. I thought we had another whole business day up our sleeve.
Day fourteen of lockdown, two weeks in and two weeks to go. Maybe. I’m afraid to pin too much hope on a possible easing of level 4 down to 3 in case it doesn’t happen. I made the mistake this morning of reading too many news items on the Radio New Zealand website and quickly became dispirited by the complexity of the situation. A change in the weather has added to my sense of melancholia. Gone are the mellow days of early autumn. Overnight the temperatures have dropped and all day, it has seemed, a battle has been waging between sun and cloud with the dreary gray blanket winning out. Looking over the rooftops to the view of the sea, in the lower portion of the v, the island in the far distance is a palimpsest only, a suggestion on a page, a ghost, that I know is there but refuses to reveal its mysterious self to my eye.