Notes from a Pandemic: Uncertainty

I’m feeling uncertain today about a lot of things, inner and outer.

Whether to go further inwards into books, meditation, yoga and writing or to engage and ‘stay outside’ with video calls,social media and news. The instinct goes towards both; swinging wildly back and fore; the desire to sleep a lot or the anxious ceiling staring hours of not sleeping, the calm mindfulness of presence or worrying about the future, the act of eating everything in the cupboards or having no appetite at all, of there being enough space in the flat for two and not enough room to even breathe alone, the fear of an unseen enemy and the desire to run outside shouting, ‘come on then, let’s get it over with.’ The yin and yang of it all. The balance of that.

A feel sometimes as if I am nosediving into nostalgia; re-reading old notebooks full of yearning and potential, feeling the empty space at my side of all those who have gone already, re-feeling things. Wanting to go home in the truest sense of hiraeth, that inexplicable longing for a place or moment in time that no longer exists; a time of safety, of grandparents and estuaries, sepia photos and bikes with stabilisers, playing in the garden and believing the stories we were told; before we knew better, before we knew that we we should have known better.

And curled around that. The deep peace of having arrived at this moment as I am. Of being here now and having to accept what is and what will come. Falling back into it. Trusting. Noticing small details; watching the birds each morning and evening over the rooftops; a flower has opened purple petals and is reaching for the sun; the voices of friends; the rise and fall of my cats breathing and the softness of their fur; a heartbeat –  mine or his that means we are still here. The feeling that all that has been lived has been lived well because I have learnt, survived, adapted and forgiven.

The simple act of putting of one foot in front of the other, no matter what is behind or in front that we as humans we are capable of; even after great loss or even with great joy; one breath, one step at a time – leaving or arriving or simply resting on the way home.

 

© Carys Shannon, September 2020. 

Notes from a Pandemic: Outside

Going out. I’m going to leave the flat for the first time in three weeks. I can’t believe it has been that long; between working online, checking in with loved ones, reading the news, reacting to the news and sleeping a lot it has all gone by in a surreal, sometimes peaceful often anxious whirl.

Today is the designated day for buying more food. We made a list and checked if we really do need to go out. Talked about the difference between needs and wants. There is caution for ourselves and others. I read an article today about the importance of masks in reducing transmission of the virus. I tell my partner that it feels important to wear one. He listens to my regurgitation of a morning spent reading articles and checking scientific notes and agrees.

There’s a video on YouTube about using just two elastic bands and some material to make a mask. I stand with him on our balcony, the sun shining on us after a week of rain, folding material and laughing at various bad attempts. And this is it – the strange normality that we all have in the moments when we are not thinking about the virus. Human moments. I make a mask out of a pink pillowcase that ends up looking like a ridiculous bottom stuck onto my face. We fall about laughing. Our life here is about reusing and recycling, constantly discovering new ways to consume less and give new life to things we have; we are used to being seen as poor when in fact we feel richer for it. And here we are making masks from old scarves because people are dying, because we don’t want to die ourselves or cause any one else to; yet here we are also laughing and taking a picture because we look like we are going to hold up a petrol station. This is it –  balancing on a thin line between knowing and being.

Ready to leave the house I am wearing, a new improved mask, gloves and hair tied back. I slip on my shoes outside the door and leave my slippers at the ‘disinfection station’ we’ve set up by the front door: a bag for our clothes when we get back, box for the keys, phones, credit cards etc; slippers ready to head straight to the shower. My glasses steam up; the mask feels heavy and the gloves make my hands sweat.

Then I’m outside. Out listening to nothing but birdsong in the city centre. I cross the central plaza. It is completely empty. It is both the set of an apocalyptic film and a peaceful dream. The sound of the birds is wonderful. I can almost forget why my breath is misting behind a cloth mask. I pass a woman with her shopping trolley at a respectable distance. Two women trot through the square in high heels, estilo Córdobesa; wide tan trousers, cream shirts and glossy blond locks; they seem like ghosts from life a few weeks ago. They’re not wearing masks or gloves and eye me pityingly; don’t they know that the virus doesn’t care about beauty or social status?

IMG_0807
Plaza de las Tendillas, the central plaza in the city, deserted during quarantine.

At the supermarket, there is a man sitting in the doorway. A usually busy street with a bar across the road is simply filled with a silence that makes our presence together the more obvious. I say hello, he asks if I have any change and I’m sorry that I don’t and explain that we have to pay by card now. He nods and smiles. I feel like a privileged idiot. He is wearing gloves and has a bag beside him. I think of offering the pair of medical gloves I have in my bag and again feel silly. I could offer the apples I just bought. It is rude not to offer anything but I’m nervous about offending him and end up just hovering nearby as a young man arrives trailing two Shih Tzu dogs. He stops to tie them to the railing and the older man calls out to him, ‘I’ll hold them for you.’  ‘They’ll bite you’ he says and I wonder if it’s true. The older man says he doesn’t mind that he loves dogs, so he is handed the leash nonchalantly. He pulls the dogs closer to him and begins a conversation with them. The delight on his face is beautiful to see. He reaches out to touch the black and white dog and as promised it snaps at him baring its teeth before they both begin barking and yapping as only small dogs can. It makes me laugh and he laughs too. ‘Be careful.’ I call out to him, my voice hidden in folds of thick cloth. He looks at me and shakes his head as the dog rolls over and lets him pet its belly. He is in a world where only he and the dogs exist in the pure joy of this interaction.

The young man comes out of the shop. He’s carrying a large can of energy drink which he pops open with one hand. He takes a cigarette from behind his ear and lights it before grabbing the lead, ‘Cheers mate, see you.’ He calls out, music blaring from a mini boom box on his belt as he struts off. The older man is still smiling and watching the dogs as they go around the corner.

There is a thought I’ve had many times since quarantine began – it begins with ‘What about…’ and there is an endless list; homeless people, victims of sex traffing, abuse, domestic violence; all the way to animals abandoned by their owners. I feel guilty that I don’t have the answers.

I pass the bus stop near our flat and there are three women sat waiting, they all wear the same blue and white polo shirts with the brand of a cleaning services company on it. They are in their late fifties.

Outside, it doesn’t take long to feel the inequality of it.

 

Notes from a Pandemic: The Beginning

It’s day 7 of the national ‘lockdown’ here in Andalucía, Spain. Life changed overnight as the rise in cases of the Covid-19 virus caused the government to act quickly and announce legislation for new national measures to protect citizens and residents.

Even typing that sentence feels surreal. I’ve lived in Andalucía for nearly seven years and I’m lucky enough to call the city of Córdoba my home; yet, I would never have imagined that I would be sat here, having been sent home from my teaching job with all my books and equipment, waiting with my partner to listen to the President’s speech.

A week earlier, my students had been regaling me with stories about the virus. The teen groups were especially scandalous and no sooner would they sit down in the classroom than they’d all want to start talking about the latest news they’d read or heard. They were excited, something was happening somewhere and they’d all had new mobile for Christmas so now they could follow the news; but at that point it was still far away enough for it to be the kind of threat they were so used to seeing in films and series, one that wouldn’t touch them. How did we all get so naive?  A capitalist system of growth, growth, sell, sell, pushes us all on and gives this false idea that if we all have things, if we all have work, if we can all have all the conveniences that we desire, if we are all productive and striving then – what could touch us? Now we have the answer.

And we are all at once so human that we are forced to recognise our fragility and for most of us this is terrifying.

The mood here in Spain is one of social responsibility, #quedateencasa was quick to appear on social networks. The President talked of solidarity, unity and collaboration. There is a large police and military resource here to enforce the new legislations should it be needed, although generally people are scared and seem happy enough to be at home if they can (People who aren’t able to work at home and frontline workers are still going to work) I’m very ‘happy’ to be at home and lucky to be able to continue teaching online for the moment at least. No one knows where this crisis will lead us but there is a definite mood here which is – we’re all in it together – and that is reassuring.

We’re all learning things each day as the quarantine continues; whether it’s how to navigate your family relationships, hearing birds in the city for the first time or deciding what is the difference between needing and wanting something. There are lots of online posts about the earth needing this break, Venice’s canals are running clear, people are finding time to switch off and reconnect. We use stories to make meaning and we need some meaning right now.

I thought I’d start this blog series #notesfromapandemic to reflect on being here in a flat in Córdoba with my partner and two cats in the middle of a pandemic; of being scared and yet at the same time having normality and more quiet time; and all the thoughts and feelings that this throws up. I’d love for it to become a conversation with other people about what we are all feeling and thinking; what we are afraid of and how we’re dealing with it; what’s different and what’s the same and what this means on a human level for us all.  If you feel like talking  – leave a comment – write a response – what we have at the moment is connection.

Wishing you all good health,

Stay safe and calm.

Carys x

Listening
I’m Listening A Case for Empathy by Carys Shannon 2013