Day 49 and there is a sense of an ending of some sort as I write here tonight for we are on the cusp of moving from the containment of lockdown into something different. Initially we strained against the restrictiveness of our lives at level 4 but over the weeks we adjusted to the straitjacket, recognising that it was pivotal to our success in arresting the spread of the virus. Then as the weeks passed and case numbers dropped we began to accept the situation. Now we are losing the safety harness and moving into level two, uncertain of how our lives will be under the loosening of conditions but knowing things will be different. It is confusing for the human brain trying to process this amount of change and drama over a very short and intense time period. One thing is certain though. It will be noisier out there and the roads will be busier. But we don’t really know what lies ahead.
Tonight is the seventh session, the penultimate, of the journal course, ‘In Extremis: Writing a Journal in the Time of Coronavirus’ and I feel a small grief acknowledging that the camaraderie that has been forged in difficult circumstances will be broken next week. It won’t be the end. The writers will form their own journalling group and continue to meet monthly in the virtual realm but my teaching will be done. I am amazed at what has been achieved over the past seven weeks. Tonight one of the writers spoke of the ‘audacity’ implicit in the expectation that we would work creatively in the Zoom forum and build connections, as eight disembodied heads each in our small rectangular box on the screen. Yet something did blossom out of adversity, a generous sharing of experience on the page made possible through the genuine warmth and support of each individual. This group was fortunate to have two psychotherapists on board who were able to shed light on the stages of our response to lockdown from the initial shock and numbness — they described being in a state of suspension — and then as our government and public health professionals took command and began to contain the virus, there was a gradual easing of our fears. People need to feel a degree of safety before they can articulate their experience. Then the feelings will out and the words will flow.
Over the weeks we’ve listened to a range of emotions— pain, anger, rage even, ecstasy, sadness, nostalgia, joy, confusion, appreciation. This group has laughed together and sighed. More than once tears have sprung to my eyes. We’ve enjoyed actress Elizabeth McRae reading some of the selected excerpts from the greats of the literary journal pantheon. Tonight her reading of Australian journal writer Kate Llewellyn’s The Waterlily: A Blue Mountains Journal, the actress giving voice to the writer’s joyful, free-wheeling stream of consciousness flow, was an absolute delight. We’ve waded into the realm of ethics and grappled with the big issues and written eloquently about ‘the things that are closest to my heart.’ We’ve witnessed one writer, a proficient journaller from way back, reading a portrait of a partner and been touched and enriched by the expression of tenderness. The writers have stepped outside and penned their observations of nature at the end of day, the magenta flowers of an amaranth in a potted garden on a deck, flowerheads bowing in the fading light… I will miss all this.
A part of me wants to cling to the fellowship of the group and also to the safety of lockdown. We are moving into new territory and the way forward is unclear. Even the politicians and the policy makers seem unsure of the rules. Some conditions change by the day and through the day. We’ve jumped from a maximum of ten at any gathering to fifty permitted at a tangi. It does feel a little like we are embarking on an experiment. The Waitakere Hospital infection might be a time bomb ticking. I really hope this next stage succeeds.
All this brings me to a decision as we move into alert level two and an easing of the conditions of lockdown. I will write this journal every second day. My commitment to chronicling life in the time of coronavirus remains but I have a sense that my life is going to get busier in other directions. Only today in a video chat my grandson raised one finger and said, ‘One more sleep, Mormor until I see you.’ My isolation began before level four because I’d been in contact with people who had returned from overseas with a sore throat. It is nine weeks since I last saw him.