There are so many pieces being written about the lockdown, that I think it has all been said. But often I need to write to understand more about what is happening, as a way to think about it with socially distant but emotionally present others, so ….
The word ‘lockdown’, in its simplicity /crudity doesn’t come near to capturing the complexity of the situation. I want to try and think about contexts, a recurring theme in most of my writing about psychotherapy, and about perception.
One of the great attractions of sketching is the way it makes me look more closely at what is there. I assume I know what a pile of books looks like until I try to draw it, and discover that I need to look again and again as the shapes, tones, proportions, colours reveal themselves to me. We all make so many assumptions of ‘knowing’.
We knew, for example, that it wasn’t possible for most people to work from home: we knew that the local pub sold alcohol, not eggs, milk, and fresh vegetables: we knew that traffic and rush hour was unavoidable: we knew it was impossible for political decisions to be made quickly – and so on. But now we have to look again, ‘knowing’ and living it differently.
What I hope we can see more clearly, apart from the incompetence and arrogance of the government, is that the people we need to keep us alive and functioning are not the highly paid elite but the medics, nurses, carers, shop assistants, delivery people, refuse collectors, volunteers, neighbours – most of whom see little financial reward or recognition when times are ‘normal’. Then they are conveniently overlooked in a contemporary political/economic context where money goes to money. This distorting haze of ‘normality’ has been blown away to reveal how our society is largely sustained by its low paid and under valued members.
Our priorities have been reordered, or exposed. We see a capacity for compassion, co-operation, altruism, and neighbourliness. We discover a mutuality and interdependence that is ‘normally’ hard to recognise.
Being locked down has made us see the importance of being outside and discovering that the bird song is rapturous when it’s not drowned out by traffic. The countryside is recognised as a precious resource, at last. My neighbours, who have lived there for over thirty years, have never been out for a local walk before and tell me how lovely it is!
Getting outside is a privilege rather than a nuisance and we see things that we have never noticed before…and are in danger of losing.
We see too the sharp divides between those with space and gardens, online access, food delivery systems and all those without. Lockdown hopefully enables a clearer vision of the inequalities and injustices of the ‘normal’, both nationally and globally. Even more hopefully, it might enable us to question and challenge the ‘normal’ political and financial decisions that sustain such inequalities – but we will see.
Back in my own version of this lockdown, there is little traffic, a lot of dog walks, friendly encounters at a distance, endless zoom meetings, online classes – and a sense of space and calm that is new. It has surprised me – I thought I already lived a calm life! I hadn’t appreciated the powerful influence of a context in which traffic, pollution, time and financial pressures, daily struggles getting to work or school, health inequalities and social hardship can shape and colour everyone’s existence. It’s obvious now I can see it!
But of course there is another layer. I wonder why I am not using this space to get on with my various printmaking projects, all very active before the lockdown began. I’ve kept up with the sketching – more than usual – but not printmaking. For me, printmaking is a long process, from making the plate, proofing, sorting paper, inking up, printing, to finally cleaning up. At a time where there is so much space and opportunity, I find I don’t have the patience.
A sketch can be done in 20 minutes, with no cleaning up. There’s some underlying anxiety that keeps me from concentrating for much longer than that. So living through a global pandemic turns out not to be so calm after all! This garden, this street may be quiet and peaceful, but the bigger context is awash with distress, panic, pain and helplessness. It washes through all of us and we cannot after all, shut our eyes to it.
Having our eyes open can reveal the wonder, beauty and compassion, and also the distress, cruelty and injustices around us. The worst outcome seems to me to get back to ‘normal’ and turn a blind eye to both.
And I was here all the time! Same phone number too!Hope you are well in these strange times.
I saw you from the car, I saw you from afar.
I parked in a rare spot. Jump out and trot.
Looked in the hairdresser, the newsagent, the wine shop, the charity shop.
Shops! You were never for sale!
Now I find you, years later, on an internet trail.
Thanks, Chris – yes, anger . . . for myself, I hardly dare go there at the moment: a sense of towering but impotent rage. There was a splendid interview with a fired-up-angry Philip Pullman in yesterday’s Guardian (by Alison Flood, titled, ‘Ministers should face charges if Brexit politics slowed PPE’). I found it very heartening. What we all do ‘afterwards’, though . . . ? Whatever ‘afterwards’ turns out to be . . . ?
Hello Pam. Yes, I think the lockdown has made privilege even more obvious. In my own privileged position I find I am getting quietly, very angry -more than ever. Deciding how and where to put that anger to good use is something that I hope becomes clear.
Good to hear from you Ruth. Yes, if only we can learn something generous and co-operative from all this!
Thanks for this, Chris! When it arrived in my Inbox, I realised that I’d been waiting for it . . . only this morning, I was video-talking with a friend over WhatsApp and musing that I was interested to note that I haven’t done any of the ‘serious’ reading that I imagined I might do during this time, a bit similar to your not making prints. I’m reading various things, in short bursts, but not really getting stuck in . . . some restlessness; insufficient focus, concentration, application . . . it’s possible that, if the weather had been cold and wet for the past four weeks, I might have been reading more; as it is I’ve spent enormous amounts of time pottering in the garden – and very pleasurable it’s been. But today I find myself ‘up to date’ with everything in the garden (until the next round of weeding and dead-heading) – I don’t thing that has ever happened in my life before. So now I have to make some different kinds of decisions about how I structure time today, tomorrow . . . it’s an interesting process. Being retired, on a public sector pension, in a house+garden that’s paid for, in a nice location . . . is an enormously privileged position from which to be able to find all this ‘interesting’.
Hello from Suffolk Chris. I share the inability to pursue sustained commitment for very long in any one direction. Tiredness and a sense of ‘weight’ seem constant companions… no doubt the outworkings of the anxiety you describe. I am hoping though that I have identified a way back into singing regularly… not an online choir, but realising I have recorded accompaniments to a set of Italian songs that I’v e always loved singing. So, clue for me there… something not too much like hard work and something that gives pleasure. Marvellous you’ve kept your sketching going. No painting etc for me since week 2 when everything just closed (galleries, planned exhibitions etc)..There is quite a lot of talk on the radio about in the longer term, will we have learnt some lessons and keep our need for flying, etc etc down to a minimum. How I do hope so!
Thank you! The one you can’t see the title of is Lorna Doone – struggling with that one for the book group. But ‘Tin Man’ was wonderful I thought.
An excellent, thought-provoking post, Chris. Good to see that you have assembled some quality reading material for the lockdown.