It is the best of times, it is the worst of times; it is the age of outpourings of Facebook-fuelled generosity, it is the age of stockpiling, panic-driven selfishness; it is the epoch of global awareness, it is the epoch of fake news; it is the coming of Spring, after a winter of floods and wildfires; it is a fridge full of fresh vegetables about to decay, it is reaching for the tinned beans because cooking takes energy that ran out a geological age ago; it is the era of memes of hope, it is the era of gifs of despair. It is a time of limbo, of contradictions, of explosive numbness. It is Lockdown: week 2.
No commute into work means that my regular Radio 4 news catch-up now only happens during my blurry semi-sleeping morning resurfacings, and so I am getting most of my news from social media and Newsround (which probably actually makes it quite balanced, though knowing The Paleontologist, there’s no guarantee that the Newsround episodes she’s watching aren’t from several months ago). Social media encourages me to luxuriate in the quality time now suddenly available with my loved ones, and I am excited by the change in pace and in focus and in priorities within the Western world. It simultaneously reminds me that there are oceans of darkness around us, of intensive care units filled with fathers, with sisters, with daughters; of those who are desperate enough to flee their homes into this locked-down society because this is still safer for their children than the communities they are leaving behind; of those desperate and unable to flee the homes that are defined as the only safe havens allowed, but where they will never feel safe, be safe, even be able to stay alive if they remain for as long as this may take. Social media shows me that the most stressful and unifying event in the daily calendar is PE with Joe Wicks; it reminds me of moments of joy and light-hearted mockery; I see crafts I would love to try, and games I am happy to steal, and helps me to stop and focus on the pieces of my heart that share this home with me and make the world a better place. It does all of this while making me feel that I should be baking more, and exercising more, and loving more, and gardening more, and singing more, and painting more, and just Being More. It says “Trust your gut. You’ve got this” while your gut is screaming at you that, whatever else you have (and you quite possibly have plenty) one thing you have not got is This.
Things change and change again, flickering between emotions quicker than a five year old gets bored. There are times (though not that many, as the Age of the Introverts has finally arrived) when I am desperate for any kind of adult company, only to find myself switching off my phone later the same day because I’m all Zoomed out. I’ve never hoovered my home this often, and yet I am driven even more distracted than usual by the piles of paper and cobwebs clouding up every corner. I want to spend our days making and experimenting and playing, but I also want my kids to learn independent time-filling control, which they do quite happily, when I let them, with screen time and convoluted games full of arguments and American accents and make-believe relationships that just don’t need me any more. I turn to binge-eating to avoid facing reality at a time when food is scare and protein-rich comfort food is almost non-existent. I seek others to mourn and grieve and despair with when the world I have railed against comes crashing to a halt.
And so I find myself both loving this time of pausing and dreaming and relaxing, and scared and angry and tense about what can possibly end this limbo. I teeter between absolute joy and utter despair. I try to ride this rollercoaster because at least a rollercoaster moves, even if this one moves only in a continuous seamless loop, a snake of time and timelessness swallowing its own tail. A lot of the time I laugh. Sometimes I scream. And always I look backwards, forwards, sideways, anywhere but right in front of my eyes. If life is what happened while we were making other plans, what else can we do to enjoy this limbo life we are all living right now?