Day 41 and still I’m feeling invigorated by the collaborative writing exercise yesterday and all the enjoyment to be had in letting the imagination run, and by tuning in last night to hear the work of other writers engaged in chronicling covid-19. This was a vast improvement on the weekend when I had reached the end of my tether and was feeling lonely, bored, wistful at the thought of not being able to visit my grandson, wanting things to change. I wonder whether it is like this for other people? The pendulum swings evenly for a bit and then something or somebody knocks it off course and the steady momentum is lost.
There are days here where life feels manageable and even enjoyable and then next morning it all comes crashing down and the situation seems impossibly burdensome and just too hard. That is what I've been noticing in myself but also in conversation with others, they are finding it difficult too. My friend phoned this morning, aghast. The business next to hers had disappeared. She’d arrived at work to find everything in the adjacent building gone. These were her colleagues and friends. I could hear the dismay in her tone. Another friend had been caught up in a major dispute that had tilted the smooth functioning of the family home. I’m convinced the underground rumbling that is coronavirus and the heavy uncertainty it carries with it is undermining our sense of security and making us more labile. Our usual capacity for patience and forbearance is harder to maintain. It doesn’t take much to tip a person over.
The things that have kept me on an even keel these past two precious but possibly fragile days have been the increase in social connection — I’d noticed in the weekend that I’d lost touch with some people and there and then made a conscious decision to change that — mixed with spells of creativity. I’ve been hard at work on my business affairs too getting things done and completing a new budget that I now have to live within. And then there have been the chance happenings.
Yesterday I had the door open to the outside and I heard Professor Robert Beaglehole swish up the drive and turn into the car port in his wife’s cherry-coloured, silent electric car. He got out and I heard a voice from just beyond the door, I couldn’t see him, ‘I’ve been gathering kelp,’ he said. And so he had. Two huge black plastic buckets full of tan and mustard gifts from the sea. They were sitting on the driveway in the sun. The big storm over the weekend had deposited seaweed along the shoreline and he’d been down to the rocks at the northern end of Cheltenham to gather some in. ‘Where will it go?’ I asked. He was planning on putting some in the compost and the rest would be laid onto the raised vegetable beds to rot down. Then he would dig it in.
Tonight on my way back from an early evening walk around the park, I pushed through the hedge, opened the gate and smelt the sea. It was dark by now and the salty smell was so intense, the tide might as well have been at the end of the garden. The kelp is now laid out across the garden enriching the soil. Pausing at the next gate I looked up and saw the house alight with the glow of lamps. The two professors were at work in their separate studies, each of them focussed on their screens and this was the thing that I loved; they were working right through the dinner hour. Turning to secure the picket gate, I looked at the light pouring from the window nearby and right at that moment Robert looked out and saw me. He smiled. This had me grinning as I approached my own door. I had thought I was the only person who worked strange hours, through the dinner hour, on into the night… I’ve always been a night owl but the lockdown has loosened my schedule considerably.
There was something May Sarton wrote about the views she glimpsed sometimes while walking along the coastline at night. It was the beacons glowing in the dark —"there are lighthouse keepers on rocky islands along the coast” — that made her feel less alone. “Sometimes when I have been for a walk after dark and see my house lighted up, looking so alive, I feel that my presence here is worth all the Hell.”
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