Journal #6 – some thoughts about lockdown and personal responsibility

Jounral, pandemic, lockdown, thinking, monkey, worries,
Photo by Juan Rumimpunu on Unsplash

Hi out there, anyone who’s still following this blog after a pretty long period of nothingness. Lockdown life unfortunately for me has not been a blissful reflective period of copious spare time to grow vegetables, do jigsaws and write a novel. Like lots of folks with kids and caring responsibilities, I’ve had more to do, more stress, less help and less support. So – blah. I’m not going to whinge about it, but that’s why there’s been no posts – nothing here and not much over on Everyday Radical either (although some limited progress is being made on the novel, excerpt here from ages ago if you’re interested. Key development – it’s going to feature a dog called Daisy).

Anyway, the boy is back at nursery school this week, so to celebrate I thought I’d write something. All the writing guides tell you to write every day, even if it’s just a journal or stream of consciousness ramblings, and I would love to make this happen – I’m considering doing a super-organized block schedule of our daily routine to maximise time available (#5amWritersClub is a thing, folks).

But I mainly wanted to write today about some thoughts on the pandemic, to try and make these thoughts GO the FUCK AWAY, so I can think about some other stuff. (This is the reason for the picture of the thinking monkey, by the way. He won’t have whatever thought he’s having for very long, and it won’t turn into a ruminating, teeth-grindingly anxiety-inducing worry. He’ll just think about where he might find a banana, then go and find the banana and eat it, then scratch his bum).

So, this pandemic and lockdown situation is pretty rubbish for everyone, I think it’s safe to say. Even if you have no money or health worries and have a big garden and loads of time to develop a skill or enjoy your hobbies, it’s got to be a bit lonely unless you’re a total misanthrope – and even if you don’t miss people at all, watching the death rates climb must induce some sadness, or the fear of the disease must induce some anxiety.

My main feelings of late have been confusion and powerlessness.

First, the confusion. There are opinions everywhere, zillions of column inches and social media posts where every individual is convinced that their own view is right. We locked down too late and not hard enough, the schools are re-opening too soon, there’s going to be a second wave, the government are more interested in the economy than they are in saving lives, everything is completely fucked and we’re all doomed. Or – it’s no worse than seasonal ‘flu, we shouldn’t have locked down at all, lockdown causes more suffering and death than it prevents (people scared to go into hospital for serious but non-Covid things, or not wanting to over-burden the NHS so leaving it too late with Covid symptoms, the increase in domestic abuse, mental health crises, loneliness, depression and anxiety in older people hastening physical deterioration … the list is long). Or – it’s all a conspiracy and death certificates are being falsified. The whole thing is a man-made virus to make money for big Pharma by forcing everyone to be vaccinated. It’s all down to 5G. It’s a complex ploy to corrode our personal freedoms and we are on the way to becoming a totalitarian regime. {NB – I don’t agree with all of the above-stated views – obvs. You can guess which ones I do agree with in the comments if you want.]

It’s all quite interesting to me, as someone who is interested in politics and people and healthcare. But I don’t actually have time to research this stuff properly, and I’m not a virologist or an epidemiologist so I’m not going to pretend to have an expert opinion on the R value or the death statistics or the relative risk of lockdown vs. herd immunity. And, fundamentally, does it actually matter what I think? Is Dominic Cummings going to call me up and ask me my thoughts on lockdown easing strategy? No, of course not. (One opinion I will own up to is that he should have bloody resigned, and that he is running the show, and that he’s an arsehole – and that’s not a word I use very often). The government are in charge – I didn’t vote for them, but what actual power have I got to oppose them, really? Petitions don’t work, protests don’t seem to work. Thus, the powerlessness. And the subsequent attempts to LET GO of the worry about the things I can’t change.

I can only change my own behaviour. I can wear a mask in the supermarket if I think it’s a good idea. I can’t make you wear one. I can decide to stick to the social distancing rules. I can’t force my neighbours to do the same. I can only make a decision about whether to shop them (I decided not to, incidentally). I can decide to send my kid back to nursery school, based on my assessment of the risks and benefits for our family. It’s none of my business what you decide to do with your kid and I won’t bitch on social media about people who make different choices.

I struggle, though, to escape from the feeling that I should be DOING something about it. I think it’s the slightly dysfunctional hero complex that a lot of people who’ve worked in the public sector for a long time carry around with them – I spent 15 years trying to fix my little corner of the NHS, and now I feel like I can’t fix anything.

I was hoping that the process of writing this all down would lead me to some profound conclusions, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. So I will try to be like the thinking monkey, and just have a thought once, then let it go, and eat a banana instead. And maybe watch the news a bit less often. And think about what means of protest are available to us, beyond whinging on Twitter about Dominic bloody Cummings.

I’m going to try and post some more poetry soon, so give the blog a follow if you’d like to get an email when that happens. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week – who knows?

Peace and love x

Pandemic poetry #1

Slow

Down.

There’s nowhere to rush to.

For once, we’re not late.

Because

Nothing

Is

Happening.

What will it be like to wake up from this dream state?

To hear the aeroplanes overhead again

And watch the traffic standing still.

Until then, small one,

Just us.

On time, for once.

** Before you bite me, we were outside very early this morning and we didn’t touch anything or get closer than 2m from anyone else. We are in UK so not in total lockdown. Yet. Also, I know his coat’s too big.

Journal #5 – beans and bogroll – anxiety in the age of Coronavirus

Photo by Kien Cuong Bui on Unsplash

How’s everyone doing? Got enough beans and bog roll? Feeling dismayed at the panic buying? Feeling worried about the Government’s “strategy” and the number of ventilators we may or may not have?

I’ve been struggling, I must admit. And I am writing this mainly just to get my thoughts out, but if it helps anyone else then that’s great. I want to put a big sign up somewhere, maybe a banner along the top of the BBC News channel, which says, “It’s ok to feel anxious in anxiety-provoking situations!” It’s normal. It’s ok to want to buy all the nappies and formula so that you’re sure your kid will have some. (It’s not ok to actually buy them all, then sell them on eBay at a hugely inflated price. Obviously. These people are despicable. It’s also not ok to use this as an opportunity to tell people they should have breastfed or used cloth nappies instead. FUCK OFF). It’s really hard to only buy one pack though, if there are more there and you can afford more.

Which brings me to this horrible, gut-wrenching thing that I’m realising. We are SO privileged. We have a reasonable stash of food in the house. My husband will get sick pay if he gets ill. He has a knowledge job, so he can work from home and still get paid (I might kill him, though). I feel queasy when I see empty shelves, but I can’t imagine how queasy I would feel if I was a single parent on a zero hours contract, with school-aged kids and child care challenges, living week-to-week. You can’t get a supermarket delivery slot for weeks, even if you can afford to buy supplies. So what the fuck do you do if you haven’t got any food in and you need to self-isolate? How do you pay your rent if you can’t work, either because you’re ill or you have to look after your kids?

It’s hard not to think about this stuff – but what can I do to fix it, really? I can’t change who the PM is, I can’t change government policy, I can’t irradicate poverty. I can do what I can in my community (which isn’t much, with a toddler in tow). I can make plans to keep us all safe and sane in the event of lockdown… (serious question – in the event of lockdown, does wine count as essential supplies?)

I’m setting small self-care goals to try and improve my own health and fitness and give myself something positive to focus on. I took my vitamins every day last week! Yay me! I am trying to drink more water, get my 5 a day, get more sleep. All of these things make the anxiety easier to manage. I actually feel quite positive today – but the week is young, my husband is working from home indefinitely and I am expecting nursery school to close any day now. So watch this space.

Meanwhile, I had a heart-rending email from one of my favourite musicians, Emily Mae Winters, cancelling her spring tour due to continuing uncertainty. Self employed folks, particularly performers, are REALLY going to struggle when all their work dries up. If you can, buy some music online (via Bandcamp, maybe), or if your data plan allows it, stream the fuck out of your favourite artists on Spotify or Apple Music so they get some revenue coming in. I am trying not to think about what’s going to happen if this goes on for months, and how many of my favourite humans are going to struggle, how many of my favourite local businesses are at risk. So – while you can still shop, shop local too. Just only buy one pack of pasta, please.

The ghosts of Valentines past

Image by Bianca Mentil from Pixabay

Scrolling through Facebook memories on Valentine’s Day is an interesting pastime. It’s easy to forget how much life has changed over the years, and interesting to remember the loves and losses of the past.

11 years ago, I was apparently “glad I’d had no expectations”. I’m just going to confess that I had to look at my CV to work out where I was in 2009 – I was in Plymouth, moderately unhappy being single, but working 100,000 hours a week, surfing and riding lots of horses at weekends and making the best of it.

9 years ago, I posted this absolute gem: “bollocking bollocking bollocks to valentines day”. SO grumpy was I that I even omitted the capital letters. Five people liked that post, four of whom I had had intimate relations with (in previous years, not in the immediate prelude to that post). Hmmm.

The following year, 2012, I posted a picture of an ostentatious boquet of roses that my boyfriend had arranged to be delivered to my workplace (not easy in a massive hospital where your office used to be a shower room). He unceremoniously dumped me three months later with no reason or explanation.

2013 – a Grumpy Cat meme. “You make me a better person: we must break up.” (I’ll come back to this one…).

2014 – another cat meme. I’m not even going to replicate it here, too boring. Two photos of my cat (one of him sharing my Marks and Spencer steak). And a whingy status about being flooded and unable to escape the village (I lived on the edge of Dartmoor at this time. Alone. Except for my cat. Am I painting the picture here?)

2015:

“Roses are red / Gender is performative / Mass-market romance / Is heteronormative” —Stefanie Gray (Facebook attribution – can’t find this poet IRL, might be bollocks. Sorry)

Also this:

By this point I’d been alone for a LONG time – functionally alone, if not always actually alone. And I was mostly ok with it. Still nursing the ghosts of a few broken hearts, hugely sceptical about romance, holding no great ambitious towards marriage or having babies. Working lots, travelling lots. But angry at mainstream media and culture for presenting the only viable and satisfying life choices as heterosexual, monogamous, economically productive and also productive of more humans.

Valentine’s Day 2016 morning, I had pancakes on a borrowed houseboat in Haggerston with my boyfriend (now husband…), having quit my job, moved to London, gone freelance, fostered out my cat to some friends, and spent the first months of London life basically living out of the back of my Fiesta in various AirBnBs, while commuting to Essex.

Valentine’s Day 2017 – he bought me tulips and we got kebabs. We were living in a rented house in the dodgy end of Stratford. I was about 6 weeks pregnant. And very surprised. Life has this habit of surprising you, is all I can say.

2018 – I think absolutely nothing romantic happened. We had a four month old baby, I’d gone back to work two days a week (that’s another post – a mother’s place is in the wrong, whatever you do, remember that, folks). I was doing a brutal commute, so I shared some wisdom about commuting sins. Maybe I will write a super-original post about man-spreading and scooters in the City another day.

2019 – nothing seems to have happened at all, or I didn’t feel the need to record it or share with the unsuspecting world of Facebook anyway. I think maybe we got a takeaway and had an argument, but I might be wrong about that.

Today, 2020. We (the small one and I) went to toddler music this morning; no major incidents were reported although there was a close call with a tambourine. We’re having a posh M and S ready meal feast tonight and prosecco, after toddler bedtime, to celebrate having survived December, January and this much of February. I have bought my husband two books which I want to read, and told him to buy me tulips. The small one gave me this after nursery school yesterday. Best card I’ve ever had.

Anyway, the moral of this rambling reminiscence, people, is that you can have a clear picture of what your life will be, and be accepting of it, have made your peace with it, be making the best of it. Or even enjoy it for what it is, not feeling the need for platitudes (still haven’t met the right one yet? No, Karen, I haven’t. Now fuck off to Frankie and Benny’s with your boring husband for nom noms and drinkies).

Then bosh, something magical comes along. And it’s all exciting and unexpected, then gradually it settles into normal. And a lot of the time it’s bloody boring and hard work and you talk about money too much and argue about emptying the bins, then you have a kid and you don’t get enough sleep and playing with toddlers is boring and he gets to have nice coffee at work and nothing’s fair about motherhood.

But at the heart of it, it’s what you make of it. All of it. And we make the best of it, me and my brilliant husband. And he makes me a better person. And the good bits are bloody brilliant. And I’m looking forward to a big steak pie tonight. And that’s a lot of sentences starting with ‘And’. And so it goes on, this life.

An exciting thing!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is artsy-vibes-n2rnmaznag4-unsplash.jpg

I mentioned an exciting thing which has happened yesterday… and here it is!

I have been working on crafting my skills as a writer in various different formats recently, and I submitted a piece of flash fiction – which may possibly be an excerpt from a forthcoming novel, in about ten years’ time – to the very excellent collaborative writers’ blog, The Finest Example (the guys who also published my article about “zero waste” as a troublesome concept, under my other writing guise as The Everyday Radical).

And here it is, A King in Darkness. I’m very proud of it and super stoked that someone else thinks it’s worthy of publishing (yes, imposter syndrome having a field day here!) So if you like it, please flatter me and say nice things and share it far and wide!

Photo by Artsy Vibes on Unsplash

Journal #4 – Breaking Cover

So it’s been a while since my last journal post, which may well be a relief to anyone who is reading this. It’s been hard to find time for this, alongside my other blog, some paid writing I’ve been doing, and life in general – keeping a toddler alive, being ill off and on since before Christmas (MEGA dull), all the adulting that is boring but necessary.

But I do like writing these posts, and I want to keep the journal aspect of this blog going, as the fiction and poetry aspect continues to develop too. More on the exciting developments here SOON – but in preparation for said exciting development, I’m planning on breaking cover on this blog, so it’s not going to be quite so secret any more. Something is coming up linked to it which I’m super proud of and want to share with people I know in real life, so – BANG. The clock is ticking for the big reveal (I edited a bunch of stuff yesterday in preparation and pruned my Twitter history… not that I think anyone cares that much, but anyway. Made me feel a bit less twitchy).

Meanwhile, some actual journal-ish thoughts. I am really enjoying reading more books at the moment. My husband has caught the reading bug, so we are spending a few more evenings now reading, rather than binge watching crime dramas, and I do also sometimes read while the small one is watching TV (so fucking shoot me now…! See later in this post for some toddler parenting thoughts!) I have genuine aspirations now towards fiction writing, and I do believe that prolific reading is critical to becoming a better write – so technically I’m working, right?

I was quite inspired by this post from Raspberry Thriller, a blogger I follow, on the books she had read in 2019, and developed vague aspirations towards doing something similar as I go along in 2020. I use Goodreads to keep a record what I’ve read and want to read (guess which list is longer?), as well as follow various authors and keep up to date with what my friends are reading (some of whom are voracious readers, I envy them for having the time…)

So anyway, I just finished this amazing historical novel, part of Alison Weir’s Tudor Queens series, which I will write a review of soon. (I want to do it separately because I need to learn how to do the menu function in WordPress and this is supposed to be my “practice” blog…)

Lastly, I read something on Twitter today which made me cross – writing about things which make me cross often helps to dissipate the crossness, so here goes. There was a guy (a writer – I am following loads of writers at the moment, in the vague hope that one day something I write will go viral) who tweeted that he wished people talked more openly about how difficult it is parenting a toddler, rather than the usual “enjoy every minute” fatuous bollocks. Loads of supportive comments, empathising, making jokes in a sensitive way, sharing examples of horrific toddler antics (like, today my son hit me in the face with a digger), mixed with acknowledgements that the good bits are great (he also sang a whole Winnie the Pooh song with his dad at bedtime last night – cuteness overload) Highs and lows, friends, highs and lows.

Then some helpful person says “just wait til you have teenagers, mate, toddlers are a walk in the park”, or something along those lines.

Just fucking STOP doing this, please, humans. It’s so unhelpful. Yes, being pregnant might be easier than having a new born for some people, but telling an insomniac pregnant person who can barely walk but needs to pee every 20 minutes that they will never sleep again, or pee alone again, once the baby’s born – just why would you do this? It’s never going to make the person in question feel better. Would people do this in other circumstances? Imaging someone telling you they were going for a gall bladder operation – would you tell them that you know someone who had a horrendous recovery and the operation went wrong and they nearly died? No? So why would you say this to someone who’s about to give birth? Imagine a teenager talks to you about how hard they’re finding their GCSEs. Would you say, “suck it up, buttercup, A levels are much worse?”, “just wait til you go to university?”, “just wait til you have to pay 40% tax and work 70 hours a week?” NO, you wouldn’t, unless you’re a tosser. So don’t be a tosser to parents. Please. It’s hard enough as it is without these sorts of empathy fails.

Ah, better now. Thanks for reading, if you’re still here.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash