I can’t be alone in experiencing the coronavirus crisis and resulting lockdown as something of an infringement on my plans. Make no mistake, compared with most of the world’s population, I am writing this from a position of immense privilege. I live in a spacious house, which has a lovely garden, in a quiet area of a safe city in a beautiful part of the world. (Translation: Exeter, Devon.) I am not going hungry; I have not been furloughed.
And yet I increasingly experience this lockdown with a feeling of restlessness and impatience. Not for the holiday I had planned: I said goodbye to that a long time ago. It is more a kind of grief for the loss of doing pretty much what I liked without having to worry whether I was following government advice. A coffee with a friend. A meal in the house of friends. A drive to see my mother who is now very frail and near the end of her life… I lament the life-before, the life-of-no-plans, of making it up as we went along, to live and act spontaneously, exerting my invisible privilege without a second thought.
Instead I am finally beginning to understand what it means to live inside the name I gave this blog nearly two years’ ago: the year of living deeply. I am getting round to reading the things I have owned and ignored for a long time. I am even re-reading some of those things. I am not buying any new music: I am listening to my old music (not always to the gratitude of my family), rediscovering the joy of experiencing it in the format of things called ‘albums’. I have followed through on the promises of sequential Christmas cards and got in touch with my oldest school-friends.
Of course, these are the edited highlights, as curated as my old (now deleted) Instagram feed. It is not the whole story. There have been days when I have been very low indeed. There have been days when I have written nothing, read nothing, listened to nothing but the cycle of old patterns of thought spinning restlessly around the corners of my mind. Along with my craving for new books and music, I am (slowly) learning to let go of some of these patterns. It has not been very pretty.
The hardest thing I have done is to attempt to follow the advice of Franz Kafka, who said: ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ I tried it the other day, with the help of a track I had tended to skip over, Peter Gabriel’s A Quiet Moment (from the album New Blood).
You can listen to it here:
Now, I absolutely love New Blood. But the more I listen to it, the more I find myself looking forward to A Quiet Moment above everything else. Which has really surprised me. It is not as if there is a great deal there: 4 minutes and 48 seconds of nothing. Except it’s not nothing. There is the wind blowing. A skylark. Some distant traffic, followed by a plane. Some more wind. And then what sounds like a combine harvester. That skylark again. And that is it. It isn’t much.
But in a way, it has been everything to me on this lockdown. That someone climbed up a (Solsbury?) hill with some recording equipment and sat there long enough to capture it. (One day I had it on repeat. I think I began to detect different movements within it…It turns out Kafka was right after all.) Gradually and sometimes painfully, sitting in silence is teaching me to shed my activist-self for something much quieter and more present. I don’t always like what I see there. Somehow I am learning that this is all necessary.