“Nothing is the same, yet everything is the same” – @verbisan on ordinariness in a time of crisis

A very special feature on the blog by guest contributor Lynn Blair. Lynn is an Ayrshire-based lecturer and writer who home-educates four girls. She has been published in numerous anthologies by the Scottish Book Trust and Mother’s Milk books. You can read more of Lynn’s work on her Verbisan blog, as well as follow her on Twitter (@verbisan) and Instagram (@verbisanpix)

It happened quickly, didn’t it; this falling into the void between two worlds, the one we’ve been happily inhabiting and the next part which is unknown and unimaginable? We tumbled into liminal space over-night. One day, it seems, I’m settling into a new home, preoccupied with paint colours and when I’m likely to be able to afford to have the ‘80’s explosion of a carpet removed – and the next I’m using anti-bacterial wipes on a loaf of bread and imagining what would happen if I wasn’t here. I always imagined if there was to be a crisis, there would be time to prepare. I’d be able to steel myself for what was to come. I’d at least be able to stock up on pasta and toilet paper.

I don’t have any answers. We’re all just muddling through. I’ve started and stopped writing this piece so many times, rolling my eyes at what I’m trying to say and at the same time carrying on because it feels important to at least try. I do know how you feel though. The joy one day, to wake up and find that the sun and the spring have arrived in the garden, followed a few hours later by time spent on the verge of tears which spill unseen in the quiet minute it takes the kettle to boil. We’re all doing this. You’re not alone. Human beings are not meant to live with constant threat and the underlying, ever-present stress that exhausts us. This isn’t a place we’ve visited before. There’s a shadow walking amongst us and it will leave, but not right now: perhaps not for quite a while.

Here’s the thing I’m fascinated by: the sheer ordinariness of where we find ourselves. How can it be that there’s a threat out there when we have the dishes to wash and food to cook and children to entertain? The change is huge, but I’m at home. Nothing is the same, yet everything is the same. I can be aware of the illness and death all around me, yet still feel happiness. I hope it’s the same for you, and I hope you don’t, for that time you’re happy, feel a second of guilt. Life really does go on. That’s the point of it. And since life has become a confined thing, yet infinitely precious, we’d better get on with something, don’t you think?

In the first few days of staying at home, I saw timetables on social media: 9am – Yoga. 10am – Learn German, that sort of thing. Was this what we were meant to be doing? Replacing one routine with a self- improving other? I mean, if that’s your way of coping, then I admire your determination, truly, but I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if all you do is get dressed, cook a meal and find one thing to laugh at in a day. Now is not the time for bold ambitions. It’s enough, surely, to notice what we have, what we love and what we need and look after that?

I don’t know about you, but right now, I need to play and create and experiment and it feels more than something to occupy myself with: it feels like a necessary rebellion. It’s a life force in the face of something deadly: up yours virus, I’m scratching my pencil on this paper and you can disappear for a while. Playing, making a mess, seeing what happens – it all occupies us and keeps us moving and breathing and focussed. The other day I made a cake out of a rogue tin of grapefruit I bought by mistake. I’ve grown a rowan tree from a torn branch placed in a gin bottle. I’ve got sunflowers planted in old Pot Noodle tubs and lemon balm seeding in a pink teapot. I’m shooting basketball hoops and juggling three stripy balls and sitting in a potting shed staring at the clouds and feeling not one iota of guilt about ‘achieving’ or ‘being productive’ because that belongs to my other life and there will be time enough to go back to that.

Random things: I’m noticing every note of the Bach Cello Suites. I’ve begun collecting images of grey dappled horses, just because I loved them when I was small and I’m seeking out new things to listen to: the sound of rain on a houseboat in Vietnam, or an opera I’ve never heard of. Why not? I have time. My world can grow larger as it stays inside four walls.

I’m noticing and making a point of doing so. I know I’ll see the crows walking up the middle of the road at 7am, beneficiaries of the lack of traffic. I wait for the red kites to fly over each day and I know that the female sparrow is building her nest in my chimney with white things only. There’s a bee the size of a Brussel sprout darting around our street and a blackbird whose song I’ve fallen in love with. We’ve painted rainbows on our windows, and we wave to everyone passing. Tiny connections: sudden smiles. Tonight, I plan to watch a film that’s three hours long and eat too many crisps. I’ve been looking forward to it all day.

You get the idea. The trick is to keep moving and to keep curious. I’m no Pollyanna. I miss my life. I miss Glasgow more than I ever thought I would and despite my new-found skill of making do with what I have, I know that I’ll fall on a kaleidoscope of lipsticks and new notebooks as soon as I’m let loose at the shops. I want overpriced coffee and sticky donuts from Tantrum and loud buskers as a counterpoint to this time without.

I have to wait though. This is a re-set; the strangest of pauses and I want to embrace it properly, because if we’re fortunate enough to have our health and that of our family, there’s a chance for good things to happen in this time and space too. And on those darker days – well consider this your permission slip to do whatever makes you feel okay – trashy films and crisps allowed.

Design and photo credit: Lynn Blair

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