Day 59 in the time of coronavirus and I have languished inside today. This past week has been challenging at times. Then on Thursday I had the flu vaccine and unusually, because normally I sail through them, I have felt miserable ever since. At the time I said to the nurse, ‘Did the needle go in? I didn’t feel a thing.’ I knew by nightfall something had happened because my arm ached. A walk with my friend yesterday was marred by a splitting headache. I’d hoped the chilly air and our fast pace along the shaded pipeline to view the lower Waitakere dam would push it away but it got worse. Throughout there have been muscle aches. I can’t remember feeling this exhausted. I noticed on the phone this afternoon my voice was reedy and the man I was in conversation with could hear it too and it embarrassed me.
And so I have drooped and flopped about. There have been spurts of activity on the computer trying to keep abreast of the never-ending cascade of emails followed by periods spent reclining on the bed reading the biography by Sarah Gaitanos of Shirley Smith, the extraordinary feminist lawyer and human rights campaigner who represented gang members never able to pay for her services and the wife of left-wing economist Bill Sutch who was charged with espionage in 1974. I’m up to the gripping description of his clandestine meetings with a KGB agent and First Secretary at the Russian embassy in Wellington and the terrible shock to his wife when the police turned up late one night and raided their home. The search continued until morning, with her making them cups of tea, while her husband was held at the police station. Imagine her feelings. Years and years of living alongside a man, her husband, and not knowing his very big secret.
All through my reading, knowing this was a perfectly legitimate activity, part of my own research for the biography I am embarking on, I felt impatient with myself for being a layabout because I’d had a plan to begin cataloguing material for the biography today and hadn’t done a thing about that. Where did the term ‘layabout’ come from? (I’ve just looked it up. Coined in 1932. Another way of saying an ‘habitual loafer.’ Now ‘loafer’ where did that come from? I could go on here.)
Is it just me? Am I a peculiar person or do others suffer from something similar, this need to be constantly productive fighting the need to rest when the body is crying out ‘for goodness sake give me a break and let me lie down’? Is this the affliction of a freelancer, a problem that develops out of the boundaryless-ness of the work schedule. I remember when I was working to my publisher's tight deadline on the book 'The Writing Life' and how it necessitated a relentless work regime that spread into the weekend and late into every night. Did the bad habits start then?
It’s more likely this way of being was inculcated a long time ago in childhood. My mother was an exceptionally hard worker throughout her life until MS slowed her. Even before she returned to teaching I have memories of the long days she put in on the farm, working hard at keeping an immaculate home, windows shining, silver sparkling, surfaces dusted and polished, baking in the tins, she filled the preserving and jam jars with every kind of delicious fruit and froze peas in summer, she knitted, so neatly, her dressmaking skills were legendary, everything she did was finished to perfection. Sometimes though she looked terribly tired. I think I am like her.
When I did venture outside briefly to peg washing on the line something lovely happened. A monarch butterfly whisked past my cheek. I watched its flight path, upwards, twisting, pirouetting like a ballerina on one foot and settling finally on the orange flower of tecoma capensis, Cape Honeysuckle. I continued gazing at the spectacle. Wings opening and closing, like a very precious illustrated book, the hinge swinging wide to reveal the illuminated beauty of the interior until it whispered away, soaring out in an arc into the blue.