Slow Down, Sit Still

Summer wanes, the end of a season in lockdown. It’s been weeks since I wrote on here properly, barring a piece I did on the NC 500, and the Summer of discontent in the far north. I spent the holidays wrapped up in the cocoon of family, not venturing far, taking small steps around Caithness. Most days, I woke early to write next to a pot of coffee, scribbling out poetry in the morning light as it streamed in through the patio doors. I did some more work on my first book, and my second, and wondered if someday, someone might enjoy reading them. Each afternoon, we would go for a walk, or a short outing – mostly content with simple, easy things. Each week, I went for a sea dip, we visited family, I scoured the bookshelves, we ate from the barbeque. As restrictions lifted, I sat with three friends in the garden, drinking wine as the bunting I’d hung flapped around in the summery evening air. In our little burrow of introverts we bustled about in our own worlds – happy to be apart, as long as we were together.

The Summer of 2020 was unusual, special – and unique.

Now, with Autumn in sight, the kids are back to school, and the house feels strangely quiet. My husband still works from home, corralled into a spare bedroom, but mostly the daytime hours belong to me. I miss the kids, I miss homeschool, I notice how shrunken the days have become, punctuated as they are by school runs and fixed mealtimes. Some days I miss the unexpected freedoms of lockdown.

How strange that the words ‘freedom’ and ‘lockdown’ can ever exist in the same place.

I feel tired a lot – these last few months have been uncertain and fatiguing. My teenager’s gaze is beginning to reach higher than mine does – as he hurtles towards puberty, I think I am experiencing puberty in reverse. I discover that this is all part of being in your early forties, but shhh don’t tell anyone, us women aren’t supposed to admit to getting any older. Insomnia, aching joints, the odd mood swing conspire to give us away though. Darn hormones. I wonder, was it better, or worse, on the way towards?

Summer Solstice 2020 Caithness

There are happy scenes, as one of my short stories is published in a national magazine. A piece I wrote about my Nana and Uncle Iain is published in a community paper, too. I write a poem, a sad one, about the North Coast 500, the spark that led to the post I mentioned earlier (not a sad post like the poem though). We visit Badbea, the Caithness village on a cliff edge where displaced families were sent during the Highland Clearances, and wonder about a parallel of rising economic orders – one unsustainable tourism, the other sheep. I pick up more litter than normal on my daily walks, a sudden flurry of wet wipes and face masks, all making me wonder if we’ve learned anything these last months. I have to remind myself that I am a Positive Person, who sends Positive Things into the world. Social media abounds with conspiracy theories, Project Fear talk, unwittingly sending other types of fear into the universe. My feeds are filled with too many pictures of overflowing bins and the remains of discarded camp sites – I know that protective change is necessary.

I hit snooze, and step away for a while.

It’s time to alter the direction of my gaze.

I read fifteen books, accidentally falling into an odd dystopian phase as I devour every unread publication on our bookshelves while the library remains closed. Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale – perhaps, in hindsight, not the best choices for an unusual year like this. When the library reopens, I am given Our House is on Fire by Malena and Beata Ernman, Svante and Greta Thunberg, an urgent, demanding book on climate change. I realise that a word which keeps presenting itself to me is ‘sustainable.’

It seems that our never-ending quest for growth, consumption, bigger, better, more, has come at a very heavy price.

If these last few months have taught us anything, perhaps it’s that we need to slow down and sit still for a while.

Sometimes, the world speaks out to us.

I wonder, have we done our best to listen up?

To think about what we can do individually, collectively, in our communities, in the way we live and the kind of values we adopt and advocate.

Not them. Not they.

Me. Us.

Listening. Learning. Seeing.

Asking ourselves: ‘what can I do?’

Perhaps it all starts with focusing our gaze.


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