Day 102 in the time of coronavirus and tonight it is blowing a gale, the wind gusts so wild and brutal it feels as though the world is ending. The mournful sound of the air whistling under the eaves sets my heart aching. As it seeps through cracks in window frames, curling round me, clutching at my chest I find myself shivering. Outside, through a blur of running water the night is pitch black. At least we still have power and I can put a heater on to warm the room and there is the glow of the lamp softening the table where I work but still it is a harsh night.
I’ve been having trouble sleeping these past nights, waking with a sudden jolt and then staying awake with a torrent of thoughts occupying my mind. I know what is happening here. Recently my timetable has cranked up and in the rush and hurtle I’ve lost my equilibrium. While I know it would be unbearable to be forced back into lockdown I do almost miss the slow, slow, slow creep of time in lockdown when my car was out of action and the day was punctuated only by a walk around the volcanic cone, sinking into the beauty of the hour. I will not romanticise about that period but there is a feeling of nostalgia when I remember the solitary rambles and the gentler pace.
The other night when I woke at 3am I simply could not slide back into slumber. Round and round in my head went a pile of silly things, and the more I thrashed at them trying to solve the quandaries, speak to them, comfort them, the bigger they got. It seemed my brain simply wasn’t interested in being soothed. No it was off on its own powerful and seductive and increasingly mad narrative train. Money. That was one. Am I going to be able to change my spending habits, meaning curb them, or am I going to squander my precious settlement? Can I trust myself? The apartment. Am I going to overspend on renovations and find myself poverty stricken in older age? The financial trainer, I am working with, has estimated my budget for the rest of my life and told me if I adhere to it I won’t run out of funds until I am 100. But I DON’T WANT TO LIVE TO ONE HUNDRED. I’m not even sure about heading into the nineties. Yes, if you have wonderful form — a body that is strong and fit and not prone to illness or general health issues and yes, if you have a mind as sharp as a tack until the very end, then of course it would be fun and interesting but more often than not, it seems to me, the decade of the nineties is instead a time of loss; loss of faculties and functions and liberties and comfort. I’d rather take a pill. The writing life. That was another worry and though deep down I know I am going to be fine with plenty on the go and plenty to look forward to, still I feel like an animal licking my wounds while I adjust to the loss of an important project. Then pain. Back pain. The same as usual only worse, feeling as though a bus had run over my frame. And next, my son in Sydney. I really do need to rein in my worrying in this regard because he seems fine and when I speak aloud my anxiety he finds me annoying and undermining. I think this is me in the time of coronavirus wanting him near, wanting to keep a protective eye on him, wanting the world for him, wondering if the creative life isn’t just too, too hard and whether he’d be better off coming home and finding a job in essential services. I’m not the only mother in this position, with a child overseas, also longing to see him and hug him and finding the difficulty of visits between the two countries an unexpected challenge.
There is something else rumbling below, like a sound with a sharp edge playing continuously and it this troubling sense of disquiet. It’s with us now, felt across the world, in a solid way, every day. I don’t think there is a person on the planet who is not affected by the consequences of the pandemic. Every person I have listened to recently has expressed it, this feeling of having been pushed into a place that is uncomfortable. Waiting for something. Someone said, ‘We’re in the eye of a storm, waiting for it to break.’
How do we carry on then? For me it is adhering to simple routines, keeping them going, while trying to stay present in each moment. After the night of bad insomnia the book I reached for was 'The Miracle of Mindfulness' by Thich Nhat Hanh. There is a simple message in the opening pages of this book and it is this. When you turn your consciousness to the present moment and sink into it, the world stills, your heart beats steadily, your breathing relaxes, your mind slows. He also says this, ‘When you are doing the dishes, you are doing the dishes.’ He says, ‘When you are walking in a green park. You are walking in a green park.’ Paying attention to this step and the next step and the path beneath you and the trees and foliage beside you absorbing them, being in harmony with your immediate surrounds, keeping to this simple principle of being present, your life is just right.
Today while walking along the beach at Cheltenham with friends, my eye on the sea, observing the antics of the wind surfers out on the dark channel daring and playing with the powerful air currents I saw a surfer lifted high, a black figure whipped from a dark sea, pausing in mid-air above the churning water in a moment of exhiliration. Next time I wake in the night, I'm going to try and do the same.