08 Jul Easing
I’m trying to work out how I feel about the lockdown easing.
Funny word, easing. They use it in the rag trade; easing in sleeves so they sit smoothly in the armhole and there’s no unsightly puckering. Or driving; easing out of a parking space or the inside lane to merge into a gap in the traffic. It can all be effortless and safe. The word itself slips easily off the vocal chords, vibrated from the throat to arrive gently at the lips and be uttered with cheeks slightly squeezed almost into a smile, which seems appropriate. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
Easing lockdown isn’t working like that for me. Of course, it’s partly to do with health and safety. There’s a lot more room for doubt with the new easings and it all feels like a bit of a muddle. More risk assessing to do which is never easy because everyone has a different take on risk depending on… Well, all sorts of things, I suppose: health ‘conditions’, age, inclination to optimism or pessimism, propensity to bury head in sand, desire to go back to how things were, or not … I could go on. All very confusing. It was somehow easier when the ‘rules’ were clearer. Personally, I’m not changing the habits of my recent lifetime, at least not much.
But there’s something else. Is it a bit churlish to admit to having enjoyed lockdown when so many people have been so pained by it? I feel I should apologise. I know – apart from the age and health stuff – how very, very lucky I am. And that I probably need to keep saying that for a long time to come. And I haven’t enjoyed it all, obviously. Going out things, for example, like the possibility of going to the theatre even though we don’t go that much. Not being able to see, touch and hug family and friends has been a bit like going on a crash diet and having to leave out every single one of the tasty and nutritional foods. So that, at first, you feel hungry and have cravings and then, rather horribly, you kind of get used to it. Which is a way to cope, I suppose, but can’t be a very good thing.
But the falling away of time commitments and the easing of some of the burdens social life imposes – planning, organising, agreeing dates, changing them, getting tickets, deciding menus, cooking unfamiliar quantities and endlessly shuffling things around in the fridge because it’s too small, trying to be sparkling company even though you sometimes feel under the weather, exhausted from all the prep or from the journey or from not sleeping well last night or wondering about when you’ll get home, or how – has been a bit of a relief. It also used to feel frantic some of the time, arrangements piling up and leaving a feeling of constantly having to catch up with oneself but never quite managing it. Gosh, that all sounds very anti-social. Or late middle-aged. Old even. Or both. Or should that be all three? I’m trying to be honest here. And I do know other people who feel the same way.
Those other people are mostly women. I think we feel these burdens most, at least that’s true for many of the women I know. A lot of us have a sense that we have to meet everyone’s needs, have all the solutions, be flawless. It sometimes can even feel competitive – which is strange because most of the women I know have outgrown being competitive with one another (if they ever were) and have arrived at the sunny uplands of taking pleasure in one another’s talents and successes. But it’s difficult to let all the other stuff go. We’ve been doing it for years, generations of domestic emotional labourers stand behind us and their DNA has long flowed in our bloodstreams. And I’m really not having a go here at men. In any case, I know there are exceptions. I’m talking about women. It’s structural or cultural or generational or whatever; deeply ingrained in all of us. Though the younger generations seem to be pushing hard against it. Good on them.
That’s where lockdown has been a bit of a revelation. All these strains and pressures that have felt so quietly, routinely, inescapably burdensome seem now, in the strange light and unexpected quiet of these last few months, have been revealed to be just silly. Try to let some of it go. It is possible. Do I sound like I’m trying to convince myself? Maybe so, like I said, it’s ingrained. But when you take away the frantic what’s left is the stuff to really treasure, the connecting. I’ve noticed it in different ways. It’s been a joy to find my social networks seemed to migrate so easily to screen in the early weeks when that was all we had. They felt enriched in a strange way because we talked more directly about life and about our dreams and our anxieties and had the time to gift to one another. And now, the catch-up chats online have been amplified to meetings in the park or the back garden with a thermos flask or on a country walk with a picnic lunch. It’s all been so pleasurable. And simple.
So, lockdown is easing. Not much changes here at home for now apart from the garden, the park and the walks. It’ll be good to get back to being with friends and family, to hugging and holding each another without being scared we might catch or give something life-altering or fatal. But when it does ease later and it’s safe to return to more of that old social life, I’m going to remember all this. Keeping things simple, not overcrowding life so that there’s easeful time, for talking, for connecting.