Day 55 and life is feeling more normal although the moment I expressed that thought I stopped and reconsidered, ‘Wait a minute. Normal on this side of lockdown is entirely different from the everyday habits of life before coronavirus arrived and tipped the world upside down.’ A normal day for me, now, involves not driving anywhere in my car and doing lots of walking. Scaling the steep incline onto Takarunga this morning and walking under the oak trees on the northern side, past the graveyard with its sloping tombstones, then circling round to see the harbour bright and the city shimmering, the bridge a dull silver skeleton to the west, I thought this is now my new routine, this very special activity woven into the fabric of my working day. If I could continue in this way, the days filled with writing and research and interspersed between the work, the time for walking and thinking and quiet reverie, I would be happy. More than happy. Can it be this way? Has the time in pause opened up new possibilities, new ways of living, helped us reassess our priorities? Might we go forward in a slower and more thoughtful fashion, might we tread softly on this earth taking care of the planet and ourselves, living each moment more consciously? For me lockdown has highlighted what is necessary for living well and what is absolutely not. The consumerism and the chasing after false dreams these activities no longer seem like a good way for me to occupy my time. The trick will be finding a balance that works for each individual. I know I still want and need the sociable element. This past weekend filled as it was with reconnecting with friends and family has been good for the spirits. Tuning in to how a small child sees the world is manifestly important to me at this point. Having been denied this human contact for what feels so long accentuates all that is precious.
There are routines from the old life that I hold dear. I felt this last night when I took dinner to my friend who lives near the Manukau harbour and we re-established a routine developed over the summer where we dine together on a week night and then, quite often, watch an independent movie together. Last night as I stood in her kitchen chopping up a pear and spinach and fennel and capsicum salad, shaking up a dressing with vinegar and mustard in the yellow brilliance of her splash-back that shines with the brightness of sunflowers and the Mondrian blue door bright against the white of her walls, I felt happy. At one end of the bench sat the completed jigsaw of Georgia O’Keefe’s famous 'Poppy' painting, its glorious red petals, the smoky black of the flower's interior glowing in the space. The bench at that point drops down to a lower level. It was made that way to accommodate her grandson when he was small. He could stand on it and do science experiments with his Oma.
My friend is from the Netherlands. She was a potter earlier in her life. Pieces of her work are scattered through the house; they sit on the floor, hang on walls, there is a very beautiful clay bust of her daughter’s young face that I love that sits in a niche in her bookcase, in her garden there are urns and bowls filled with water for the birds. Out her back door she has filled a large area with hundreds of grey river stones. Here and there amongst the small dry riverbed she has placed a pot. This friend has a wonderful aesthetic sense. Every surface of her home holds interesting objects, books, and assemblages. Last night I sat at a low table peering through a magnifying glass she’d placed near the opened page of a giant book, looking at the individual forms of hundreds of red ibises packed in close together in Venezuela. She bought the book by aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand as a treat. A double page will remain open for long periods for her to enjoy at her leisure.
My friend is also a poet and a researcher and completed her PhD on a group of revolutionary Dutch poets, when she was in her seventies. We became acquainted through our love of writing. It was a writing school with the dynamic Cathie Dunsford, held in the School of Fine Arts building at Auckland University in the summer of 1992, that brought us together. Over the years we’ve shared many experiences. For a long time her home was the meeting place for our writing group. I remember one summer evening with the French doors open onto her courtyard garden the five of us sat and watched, in the fading light of dusk, the pale yellow flowers of the evening primrose opening. The bud advanced slowly and silently. Its movement was delicate, shy almost. We sat quite still, it was so quiet I could almost hear the plant breathing, entranced by the wonder.