Thoughts from a distance
Less than two weeks into self isolation, and I find myself overwhelmed like many others. The news and social media streaming in non-stop, data visualisations searing into my brain – here's what happened, here's how it'll go, here's how it's hitting us hardest, here's what you should do, here's what you should stop.
But much of the advice is positive and makes sense, it's what we need at this time. And adding to this wave of support and courage around the world, many businesses are trying to make the indoors bearable for us all in new ways. Last night I joined an online pub quiz streaming from London, set up by a brewery that would otherwise carry the event out at its pub. A few of my self-isolated friends and I connected online, and voila, we had our team. It was fun, good to talk, necessary to talk – especially about trivial facts that have nothing to do with COVID-19. I left tired, but having laughed a lot, and sufficiently distracted.
Another friend who's doing her teacher training had done a yoga class with me via Zoom in the afternoon. And yet another friend in Portugal is offering yoga classes at various times to fit the likes of Europe and Australia. Two friends, and two initiatives I'm very grateful for.
In bed I started texting a friend back in Australia about some troubling news I'd learnt about a mutual friend – because of all the economic hurdles around the world right now, she has to fly back home, ripped out of her life on the spot. Her new job couldn't let her start in April anymore, and that meant not being able to financially survive. Packing up five years of life, love and growth into two bursting suitcases, sharing the news briefly with a handful of the people she knows and loves over the phone, as she tries frantically to find someone else to take on her lease. And getting on a plane the next day, unable to say goodbye to any of them in person, or to the city she feels most at home, herself, in.
I know it's a common story of late. And I know it is by far, not the worst of what some people are enduring right now. And that she's lucky to have options and support. But it is still a sad story, one that seemed to flatten me properly amidst all the drudgery unfolding, because it was close to home.
Some feelings arose out of this: with the sadness, I felt some guilt. Like it was silly to let this get me down. Don't I know how good I have it too? Don't I know there are people working overtime on the frontlines right now to get through this. And what are you doing?
I think guilt might be something many of us are feeling, for various reasons right now. Guilt about going outside to pick up a distanced coffee, guilt about buying 3 cans of beans just in case. And while some of it is ridiculous (toilet paper won't save you), a lot of it is just little ways we are coping, or figuring out how to cope and process with all of this unknown.
Maybe we should go a little easier on ourselves. A little gentler.
I think the same goes for connecting with everyone and keeping busy and distracted. Yes, this is key, and all these distanced initiatives – local takeaway, cinema films to your home, virtual museum walkthroughs, dance parties, cooking classes, meditation, social media concerts that might just make the difference between an artist staying afloat or not – are amazing and do bring joy.
But don't feel the need to be in all of them, to connect every day, to keep cultured, finish a book a week, learn a new language, become a master baker, or plant a whole garden for Spring. Because well, that can be overwhelming too. Or at least, for me, and some other people I know.
Texting my friend in Australia, I felt a familiar tiredness creeping in. The one where I know I'm doing too much when I should be resting. How bizarre, I thought, that I could still manage to feel this way, without really leaving the house. My usual desires – to check in on everyone and make sure they're okay, often before checking in on myself; and to keep productive, have been on fire the last few weeks. Somehow I'm still, personally, burning the candle at both ends.
There's something to be said, of course, for the incredible ways people everywhere are uniting and stepping up (and out onto their balconies) to tackle the blues and uncertainties of this together. And for the many, many ways we are still able to keep busy and connected if we want to. That's the positive of our very digital lives, for sure.
But there's also something to be said for actually allowing ourselves to s l o w d o w n – if you need to. And let's be honest, many of us do. It's a lesson I have learnt, and have to relearn often.
And nothing like a looming lockdown for the benefit of humanity sets that idea in motion.
So amidst the online pub quiz (which will become a weekly fixture with my friends for the foreseeable future) and mad baking, I'm going to embrace what this is – an invitation to slow down, a respite, a meditation, a time to hit pause, even for a moment. A time many of us wish for regularly.
I'm actually going to pick up a book and just read a few pages. I'll still practice Norwegian, and likely make some progress, but I probably won't master the language yet, and that's ok. Maybe I'll even make the space to write more. And then I'm just going to try do do less, to reflect a little more, and drop out of the rat race some.
Do what works for you. Embrace the space for productivity and creativity when it's there, and settle into it gently if and when it dissipates.
To be truly quiet, giving everything a rest, without any interference at all, is one of the greatest art forms. A little break from all activity helps you to inwardly detach.