“Imagine you’re in prison,” I suggested, transatlantically, to my unhappy sister, knowing at once that it was the wrong choice of image. But too late, so I ploughed on. “Think of yourself in your small cell, with bars at the windows – after the first shock you’d look for things to do, little routines. You might make friends with a spider or – a rat – or something. You might, um, invent an exercise routine that required – very little room – and get really, really fit. You might turn flagstones into hopscotch – there’s bound to be a bit of chalk sort of lying about, isn’t there? Maybe you could make a chess set out of – um – tiny bit of paper – and – ”
“But I don’t play chess.”
“No, neither do I. But if we did – ”
“But you wouldn’t be there to play it with me, would you? Even if you played chess. Because I’d probably be sharing a cell with the female equivalent of Jack The Ripper.”
Afterward, I realised a better metaphor would have been the desert island. “You are Robinsonia Crusoe, and you have been shipwrecked – or possibly set ashore by brigands – I’ve never read the actual book – on a Beautiful Desert Island. That’s just what three months, or possibly months and months more, forbidden to leave the house because of some piddling little plague is like. And what would you do on your – um – Canadian desert island? After the first shock you’d look for things to do, little routines. You might teach yourself to swim underwater, in those warm, clear, tropical seas. You might observe the glossy turtles and their midnight mating rituals. Make copious notes, publish a paper someday. You might make a set of drums out of coconut shells (having eaten the delicious fruit and drunk all that lovely milk first). You might – ”
We were discussing coping strategies. She has a few strategies, but not very highly developed. I have a few strategies, but am somewhat exaggerating their effectiveness. Tell the truth, I’m probably as unhappy as she is. What presses her depression-buttons is being stuck indoors, unable to get away from The House where she had to watch her husband die, rather horribly, not all that long ago.
What presses my depression buttons is a phobia, or neurosis. It’s being afraid of running out of things, of “not having enough”, of scratching around, in increasing desperation, for the things I have less or less of. I tell myself it was probably Mum’s fault – something to do with breast-feeding, all those years ago! In normal circumstances I work round this neurotic fault line and pretend, even to myself, that it isn’t there. I buy two of everything. I store stuff. I have visions of the far-too-many cats starving to death before my eyes, and having to watch, and having to decide whether to starve myself to death at the same time, rather than watch, and …
Well, so now you know. It’s daft, but now I’m not supposed to go out because of the “underlying health condition” (not that I’ve had the NHS letter, which according to the “conditions” list, I should have qualified for – which is also winding me up) so the permitted expedition to the supermarket, with its straggling “spaced” queues and trolley-disinfecting stations is a risk not really worth taking. But worst of all, there are no slots at all left for online supermarket ordering. The whole system has – temporarily, one hopes – ground to a halt. It’s not that I need anything at the moment. It’s that I couldn’t get anything – I’m in an alleyway with no exit to it, pursued by gun-toting cops. At this point, panic begins to set in. The starved cat, starved human fantasies start up –
So, that’s my demon, or at least, the particular demon this situation is feeding. I suspect everyone, over this whole silly little hillside at the edge of the sea; over this whole country; over this whole shut-in world, is coming face to face with their own.
Nevertheless, one is coping, as Her Majesty would say. (Poor old Charlie – even he’s got it.) One is Soldiering On. I’m trying to take my own prison cell/desert island advice and have started on a range of projects. They are very long term projects, and so hopefully will outlast the current crisis. I think it’s important not to be focusing on the short term, somehow. I like the idea of continuity, beyond this. The idea is to have more projects on the go than you could do in one day. But you imagine you might do a bit of them each day, and in imagining you give yourself things to look forward to.
So, this is what I am doing, or about to do:
Patchwork quilt, English paper-piecing method, hand-sewn, tiny stitches. So far I’ve designed my basic block, and made one up. Was greatly helped by some Over 50s Life Assurance bumf through the door – exactly the right weight of paper for the templates.
Reading. At the moment, At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor (not the one with the eyebrows and Richard Burton – the other one) for, I think, the third time. It’s one of those rare books you keep finding something new in. Next, I think, Villette.
Also, Dickens’ Hard Times. About 20 years ago, grasped by a sudden obsession, and being better off then, I bought the complete set of Dickens. Cheapish paperbacks, of course, not leather-bound, gold-embossed, marbled boards, etc. A parallel reading project – Dickens plus something else.
Origami cranes – one a day, for no other reason than I have a batch of origami paper to use up, and I can only make cranes. Maybe I could string them, and hang the strings up in the front window pour encourager les autres.
Writing – I have four exercise books full of unused flash fiction ideas.
Really complicated dishcloths – all those knitting patterns I looked at and thought – what the – ? I tackled the first repeat of “Crocus Buds” today (not quite as horrendous as “Shapely Diamond” at the back of the book). I actually got it right, but then momentarily lost concentration watching politics at the same time, dropped a stitch and couldn’t retrieve the situation. Pulled it all off the needle. Cast on another 45 stitches –
And so on. And so forth.