Hello. This is my first piece in a while.
Tl;dr – not possible. I can’t write a summary because what I want to say keeps changing. Nothing seems right on the page. As a writer, you aim to present your reader with the best possible work, the most coherent, affective piece. I am afraid that I will fail you. It’s taken me nine days to write this. The logic is all over the place. But my editing can’t keep up with real world changes, let alone the tumult of my emotional landscape, so you’ll have to have it as it is now, spliced and forever unfinished.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, I was walking on Ilkley Moor with friends. Someone said something about Coronavirus and I thought ooooooooooh that’s why the nine-pack champagne rolls in Waitrose were gone! I then got on with negotiating the bog and revelling in the scenery, chatting away.
Everything has changed since I was in Leeds, everything.
Since the election….
Hang on. Remember the election? Remember Boris proroguing Parliament? Remember Brexit????
Since Labour’s defeat, I’d taken a step back from political work. I realised I had other priorities in life and this was the time to invest in them. I’ve been applying for jobs, and as usual climbing, dancing, singing and editing my novel. I’d been off social media since December. I hadn’t watched, listened to, or read a single news item from Christmas until mid February when I started going online again. I remember browsing the Guardian website and thinking fuck this shit and going off again for weeks.
I can’t really explain why I’m writing this. It keeps brewing, sentences keep coming to me while I cook, run, and make tea. It feels like years but it may only be two days – since time is not as it was – since I felt what I last felt which I don’t feel anymore. All I know is that walk on Ilkley Moor seems like two years ago. As a writer, I think it’s an urge to document, to draft, to test ideas. Writing helps me think, helps things come together. Like a curry you heat up the next day, I leave the page more joined up and cohesive, I have more oneness when I write.
For me it’s day six, no seven, fuck, nine, see? I’ve been running in my local park everyday. I’ve been meaning to do yoga, but I realised, it would only be possible after I did something: Go round to every door on my street, collecting emails to set up a list. I wrote eighteen handwritten notes in case people weren’t home, and was shitting myself in case people were rude. But everyone was nice and enthusiastic about my initiative to connect people and I felt like a fucking hero. As I walked the twenty steps back home, the ground underneath me felt different. It felt like it did when I skateboarded around this very street thirty years ago, when me and fifteen other kids owned the Close. Somehow it felt mine again. Also I know I’m going to be mates with the lady at number nine because her letterbox is dressed with a handwritten notice Do Not Touch – This is a Bird’s Nest!!! And as we chatted, the robin collected moss for it’s new home, thus distracting us from noting her email address down.
The organiser in me set up the email list because I knew I could use it to build community in the future when this is over. I didn’t think I’d be one of the first to write saying: Hi neighbours, If someone finds some eggs can they buy me some?
Fancy that. Imagine telling any of us just a month ago that it would be a struggle to get eggs. How quickly we adapt. How quickly self-isolation and social distancing have entered our vocabulary.
Everyday I wake up and when our new reality dawns on me: I’m not coughing, good, I don’t have a fever, good. I feel like one of the lucky ones. In the daytime, not much has changed for me. I have spent the best part of a year working from home and I really like my own company. I’ve gotten used to living off shavings from my life’s savings, and I rarely go into town. I have a garden and every morning spend hours staring out into it, birdwatching. I set a schedule for myself, I have a home routine. I do GCHQ puzzles and the Sainsbury’s mag crossword. I cook lavish meals for myself everyday. Scrolling through my phone is not a primary activity.
Yet two days ago I found myself again, an anxious phone addict, grinding my teeth, eyes bulging. I learned the hard way back in 2015 what social media addiction was when I hadn’t yet had therapy, and desperately needed validation through likes and comments to mask the pain and darkness inside of me. When I woke up to the fact that I couldn’t make a cup of tea or manage a few lines in a book without checking Facebook, I quit for a month. The change in me was so dramatic, I wrote two pieces about it, launching this blog. I don’t take my phone to bed, check it first thing, or look at Facebook everyday anymore. I don’t like the person I become when I’m on social media, or what it does to my head or my day. If your mind is now going ‘but but but, my alarm clock/sleep app/the news THE NEWS etc!!!’ you’re an addict.
I’m dedicating paragraphs to this – during this extraordinary moment in history – because it’s important to move through our digital lives with intentionality over this year. Twelve weeks – let’s say twelve weeks for now – might seem like a long time from where we’re standing, but as any addict knows, a year feeding your addiction could pass in a flash. You could miss the Spring. You can piss away three months scrolling through your phone, developing into a nervous wreck, lowering your immunity. Your pre-frontal cortex now has a fantastic excuse – a global pandemic – to convince you that you need to be online 24/7, be up to date with armageddon as it unfolds, and type things about it. And since you can’t meet up with actual people as much you used to, you scroll for hours till your jaw aches. And then the day is gone, and you feel like shit. That was me for two or, I don’t know how many days ago. I’ve nipped it in the bud now. Yesterday I had the best day, because I shut my phone off from 12-7pm and hid it under the bed. I haven’t done as well today but I’m determined to keep my gaze at the sky, at the earth, not a screen. I won’t miss Spring. I hope you don’t too.
The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connectedness. That’s the paradox. You’ll need to stay connected, but the medium through which you may chose to do so, is designed to make you into a zombie. I know many of you will wince at this, but it’s time to start using your voice to communicate with loved ones. And if you spend a lot of time alone and find yourself working from home, you may accidently not talk all day – which has a profound effect on your brain and wellbeing. Talking in real time or via Whatsapp voice message will make you feel less antsy/distracted/lonely if you do it early in the day. Better than a wank. Evenings: Zoom Calls with your crew/family. If you’re not doing this already, trust me, it’ll save your sanity. My uni mates now have a Zoom call alternating 6 and 8 pm every day and there is always at least four of us on it. It’s great. We chat shit and chat Covid. I had choir online last Thursday and it was hilarious. I needed to sing. I needed to laugh.
It’s my evenings I’m struggling with. I’m an evening group activity person. With those taken away from me, I feel nervous as the night closes in. I’m not in a touchy/needy faze of my life, thank god, but the last time I had physical contact with a human was ten days ago and I’m already struggling. I’m used to partner dancing with 20 different people every Monday. I really want a hug.
With regards to this new way in which we live, I make no apologies for being on the Milk It side of the how-to-live-in-these-next-few-month debate. The ‘well excuse me if I’m not writing King Lear/Prison Notebooks during a global crisis!!!!’ commentary, is a fucking cop out by the same people who live online and over-use the word privilage. You know, people who like to shoot down, shut down everything and just criticise others for dreaming outside the Twitter box, or seeing life as it really is. Well fuck em. I’m going to dance starkers in my garden. I wish Bill Hicks was alive. Oh my god, Mark. I wish Mark Fisher was here to see this. Mark, I wish you were here.
Deep sigh. We’re not all going to have the same openings as others and some of us will now be stuck in doors with people we’d rather not be in such close proximity to, day in day out. But there will be *some* opening. The normal is suspended, so do something extra ordinary – something you’ve always wanted to do. Go on a derive, identify clouds from your window, learn a new language. Did you know that 50% of all the world’s bluebells are in the UK? On a global scale, they’re rare, so go revel in them at the end of next month. The National Trust is keeping gardens and parks open so that ‘the nation can relax’, so MILK IT. Have sex on a tree. But when you get home, for fuck’s sake WASH YOUR HANDS.
I wrote that last bit, before the inevitability of a lock down dawned on me.
I’m not glazing over the fact that terrible things are going to happen and are happening. I’m living in an area with one of the highest incidents of Covid-19 in the whole country. Hospitals are already overwhelmed – and the worst is yet to come.
This won’t ring true with most, but there is no denying the last time I felt a bit like this was during the election campaign. For some of us, reality was on pause. Except this time round, I’m sharing that WTF – deep – breaths feeling with seven billion people, not seven thousand. As I sat on the toilet last night with my head in my hands I thought, no wait the last time I really really felt like this, when daily life was deep breaths following waves of MDMA rushes and dark dawning-on-yous, was a week before I got on a plane for Tahrir during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. I had made a bucket list of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to speak to before I got on that plane.
I had a lot more jokes in this piece, but I took half of them out.
I saw the undercooked chicken leg being prodded by Greg’s knife on Masterchef, and thought how can we eat animals? This is nature getting back at us. The birds are my friends, I don’t think I can handle a leg on my plate again.
I started drinking every night and then I stopped. I want to smoke all the time, but I’m stopping myself to preserve my lungs which is stressing me out.
Universal basic income is a serious point of discussion. The supermarkets have written to the government saying please can you stop making us compete? The government is going to pay workers’ wages. Hotels for the homeless. I feel dizzy.
Daily events will keep us on tenterhooks. In contrast, our daily rituals will get very boring, very quickly. Keep washing your hands. Pretend it’s a new religion. You’ve got to wash your hands and disinfect those doorknobs, or our NHS won’t cope when you get ill, which you probably will.
I had so much more to say, swiggles on paper over the last few days, but now I don’t want to say any of it.
We’re all adjusting. We’re all doing our best. This too shall pass.
Each day at a time my friends, each day at a time.