OK, maybe not that short, really.
But I’ve been feeling an increasing pull to write, over the last few weeks. What strange days we live in. Days of never-ending time at home, and children frustrated by self-directed learning at an age not conducive to this. Days of constant video-conference calls, and frustrated colleagues feeling pulled in multiple directions, often with the company of similarly frustrated and anxious children. Days of closed schools, and masks worn in shops. Days of heatwave April, and autumnal June and July. Days of nothing to do, but exhaustion nonetheless.
I’m reading Moon Mother, Moon Daughter at the moment. Trying to find moments of peace, of stillness within, in the midst of constant demands on my time, my attention, my energy. My daughters, now nearly nine and not-long-12, need me. They miss their friends – even their schools – and the increasing independence that they’d just begun to discover, particularly since being in different schools after the elder moved to secondary, leaving the younger to step into her own space, in a primary school vacated by her elder sibling. They miss travelling around, seeing new things, having friends over. They miss the farmers’ markets, the walks on the Cathedral Green, the sea and associated doughnuts.
I miss quiet. I miss quiet in my mind. I thought this quiet was in short supply before the UK entered lockdown. I got the bus home from work three times a week, taking about an hour if you count the walk from the office to the bus stop. I sat on the bus, watching the light fade and wondering how I could get more time to think, to be on my own, to listen to my thoughts, and to remember who I am when no-one wants anything from me, no-one needs me for something. Now I look back on that time with envy, as it feels as if my every waking minute consists of people needing things, expecting things, wanting things.
I admit it: I am feeling hugely sorry for myself. Recently, the Man took the girls on his regular walk around the block, which, where we live, means about four miles in the Devon lanes, surrounded by tall banks and wild flowers. In many ways it’s a lovely walk, but for me the best part was that it meant for the first time in four months, I was in my house, on my own, and no-one wanted anything from me. I didn’t even mind the fact that it was in working hours and thus I was actually working. Just having the space to finish an email without being interrupted, to actually complete a sentence in the manner intended, felt like an enormous weight being lifted. I put music on, and lit some incense (courtesy of the lovely Dilliway & Dilliway, one of my favourite Glastonbury-based shops). I remembered how it is to be alone, and how quickly that memory returned. I have always enjoyed time on my own, and ye gods I am missing it now. I have just about managed to instigate having a bath nearly every day, where I shut the door, lock it, and relax into whatever book I am reading. Sometimes I light a candle; sometimes I take a glass of wine with me. It helps, but it’s not the same as truly being alone – knowing there is no-one else in the house, and won’t be for some time.
I feel there is work to be done, so acutely. I keep reading about the space that lockdown has offered people – the chance to go inward, and to reflect, and process, and grow. For me, it has felt just the opposite – constant outward demands, and talking, talking, talking. The Man is angry and frustrated. He misses our time alone, dwindled to nothing now that the girls are going to see their biological father one at a time (a massive improvement for them and also the first time we have simply put in place something they really want, despite their biological father’s objections) and there is no school and no socialising. He deplores their continued contact with their biological father (and I fear thinks the worse of me for continuing it, though there is little I feel able to do about that, and I am also aware that that may well be my own fear speaking rather than his actual feelings – I am a great projector). He is angry with the world for the COVID-19 situation, and angry with the electorate for placing us in the hands of Boris and his cronies. He is angry not to live in Scotland, where sanity seems more evident, and angry to live here, in a county he does not favour, and a house that he finds frustrating and depressing at the moment (old houses = ongoing maintenance and work, and when one is at a low ebb, this is particularly soul-eroding).
We make progress. Earlier in the lockdown, we began to paint the front of the house – choosing colours for ourselves, and moving away from a paint scheme we’d never liked. Grey for the render, and a bright blue for the window frames and the door surround, with the double doors left stripped and waxed to reveal the many lives those doors have known before our time, orange, red, yellow, green all coming through as careful sanding stripped away the years. We replaced broken solar lights in the courtyard with some cheerful fairy-coloured bulbs, strung amongst the wisteria. We paint, inch by inch, the forest-swallowing woodwork of the garden room’s structure, cursing the builders who did such a bad job even as we try to improve it, and appreciate the luxury of such a space. I teach the girls new recipes, encourage them to try these on their own. We make bath bombs together, and body scrubs, and felt bowls in which to keep treasures. We find two new familiars, tiny black kittens to heal the holes torn in our hearts when the Hecate-cat left us, in February, unintended victim – we hope – of an anti-freeze spill, somewhere out there in the big wild unknown. We laugh as the kittens chase each other, a tumbling mass of paws, fluff, and purring. Sometimes we argue, bitter words pouring from us, from souls too exhausted to censor those things we should not say to each other. We soften, try to reconnect, reach for each other. Remember we are not each other’s enemy, though sometimes difference may do a good impression of enmity.
The garden is vast, and unmanageable. Brambles thrive, and nettles. Sometimes I feel good about this; sometimes, overwhelmed. We have created a space for sharing, where creatures go about their lives unseen and untroubled. But we have also created a space for guilt, where I judge myself harshly and long for more time, time to bring order to the chaos and the sort of garden One Should Have If One Has One’s Shit Together.
Today, cobwebs make me cry, and the feeling that the list is always growing, always longer, is heavy and exhausting. I could work twelve hours every day and still not clear my tasks; my employer acknowledges how hard things are, and suggests that we’re not expected to be as productive as usual while we have children to care for, and yet the list gets no shorter, and the projects only grow.
I know it is not all shit. I know that this too shall pass, and I will feel less tired, less depleted. We are fortunate, and lucky, and privileged. We are a contradiction in terms – living in a developed country with clean water, and feeling utterly alone and overwhelmed while doing so.
I shall try to write more regularly. To find my space here, on the page.