On March 30, 2020, I wrote a blog about How To Write Memoir During Lockdown.
My advice was only to write if you feel able and not to succumb to Pandemic Productivity Pressure.
I implored folks not to write about anything traumatic when we don’t have our usual routines and people around to ground us and help bring our brains back to the present. I stand by this advice and that goes for reading too. I recently sent a first draft to an author. She had a difficult childhood that has echoed down the years. She is self-isolating and even thought I advised her to think about leaving the reading of her draft until a later date, she said that curiosity had got the better of her. Completely understandable!
A day later she contacted me in some anguish to say that she had been thrown back into the past. She has done a lot of work on her self over the decades, and had professional assistance, so was determined to carry on reading as soon as she could. I suggested she plan to do an hour of reading right before a planned event, such as a food delivery, a phone call or a favourite television programme. I even suggested she put something in the oven that needed checking in an hour. This was so she had an absolute deadline and something to bring her back to the present physically. I’m checking in to see how she’s coping.
Everyone is different of course, and the stages they’re at with their writing, and what they are writing about, varies greatly.
Some of my authors – past, present and those from some classes I teach, have felt able to write. They shared their beautiful writing with me over email and Zoom, and very kindly said I could share it with you.
Enjoy. I know I did. And write, if you like, and not if you don’t.
Warmest wishes, Marnie
I’m self isolated,
I am socially distanced
I walk on empty paths
And look down on a sleeping town
In the middle of the day
Isolated and distanced
In the unfamiliar landscape
My home is my refuge, my keep,
The dog sounds the tocsin
At the approach of strangers
In the unfamiliar landscape
I take photographs to record
A natural, emptier world.
Of breaking buds and noisy birds
Under a clear April sky
In a natural, emptier world
Anxiety is my black point
Lending edge and piquancy
Finding the white eases
Knots of defensiveness
I should be in the Highlands
Surrounded with mountains
Watching ospreys and guillemots
Freed from my daily round
Waking to a northern sunrise
Instead I am at home
Freed from my daily round.
Finding strength in vulnerability
While others toil in the real world
Unsafe and socially engaged
As Susi attempted to get the essence of each memory onto paper, the years slowly peeled back. She felt as though she was being sucked backwards through a time tunnel.
She became lost in these memories, feeling again the angst, longing and insecurity of her teenage years. In comparison, the lockdown present, with one day folding into another, felt insubstantial.
Outside the sun shone but she was barely aware of it. Her mind raced and her fingers hurried over the keyboard in an attempt to keep up.
Only the past mattered to her now.
She smelt again the patchouli wafting around her – it seemed everyone was using patchouli – and mingling with cigarette smoke as she made her way into the small crowd inside the Abbey youth club. The sounds of musicians warming up and testing the PA system promised another great evening as they danced with the loud, excited conversations as the audience waited to hear The Plains.
The band were stars in the local gig scene and the first she had ever known personally. She went to nearly all their gigs but enjoyed it even more when they were sitting around talking. She felt an obscure pride in them, and especially in Chris, the gorgeous lead singer. She thought she was in love with him but knew it to be a hopeless passion, as he just saw her as his kid sister’s friend.
Lyrics from one of their songs slowly permeated her mind. She began to sing it quietly, testing out each line. ‘I search at night, dark corners and the light, to find you, babe’, it began. Then the words tumbled out, verse by verse, filling her once more with a sweet, yearning sadness.
She loved that song and had secretly imagined that Chris had written it for her.
She was that lovelorn young girl again.
The song haunts her for days with a gentle melancholy.
She writes out the first verse and sends it to her friend, Jan, who is Chris’s sister. “Do you remember this song?’, she asks.
Back comes the disappointing answer, “No, I don’t.”
“I’ll ask Chris, though”, Jan continues.
A flutter of excitement.
Susi and Chris are occasional friends on Facebook but their conversations are limited to comments on music or politics. She knows that Chris and his band made it big in Australia and still tour occasionally.
A day later, Chris PMs her.
“Hi Susi, Jan showed me the song but I have no memory of it. In fact, I don’t even remember being in a band called The Plains. I’ve written so many lyrics and been in several bands since then. Sorry! Perhaps if you sang it to me, I’d remember it!”
Susi is overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment. Her face is hot and her palms and feet have gone clammy.
She’s been so consumed by the past that it didn’t occur to her that what she felt as monumental to her as a teenager had meant less to others who shared those times with her. And now, they’re living their lives and not delving into memoir and those events might as well not have existed.
She is unmoored for days.
On Not Going Out… well almost.
We are into our fifth week of self –isolating.
In the beginning it seemed like being on holiday, then it seemed like Sunday every day, then it got serious.
Because of our age we were advised not to go out except for a daily walk. Our road became a cocoon, with neighbours doing our essential shopping. I was told that ice for a gin and tonic was not an essential. I don’t agree with that.
My best shopper, Fiona always cheerful, is a nutritionist so I get comments about my food choices.
’You do know that bananas are full of sugar don’t you,’ she tells me, when I ask for two large bunches of them.
‘Two bags of spinach please Fiona.’ Again I am given advice that too much spinach causes joint problems.
I have done two online shops. My full basket can disappear for no reason. Somehow I get it back again, no idea how. I include shopping that my next-door neighbour has requested. She likes posh stuff, Roquefort cheese, maple syrup, blueberries and scented ironing water.
I heard that you could drive a distance as long as you were going to walk as far as the drive was. I suggested to Gary that we drive to Thorpe to take some rusks and cheese straws I had made to my friend Danny Staff. Gary wasn’t convinced, but I said the car needed a run out and it would do it good. That did it.
When we arrived Danny suggested that we walked through the cut to look at the sea. When the sea came into view I felt a sharp physical pain, not the pleasure I had expected. Seeing it reminded me of how difficult I found not going to Thorpeness was. We turned back and headed for the car. We did stop by the lake. Two swans flapped up to us. There were no boats out. Gary thought it was eerie. I was glad to get in the car and drive home. I mentioned this trip out to my son.
‘Think of what you can do Mum. Don’t dwell on what you can’t,’ he said.
I know, but on a low moment I think of the lost summer days with the family.
If I am glum I feel guilty because I am so much better off than others, but I am human. I miss my family, the grandchildren and greats, the cinema, fish and chips on the beach, the Station pub, and browsing in bookshops. I miss walking down the road and meeting friends and Thorpeness, which for a few months of the year, it is perfect in the sea. We are coming up to that time. I try not to think of Thorpeness and the sparkling sea, the cafe, sitting by the lake, oh stop it.
Two days ago I thought I would spend a peaceful a day doing some gardening. I went outside returning straight away to tell Gary that we must have had heavy rain during the night, as the bottom of the garden was flooded. He realised that he had left the tap on and the pressure had blown the hose lock fixture off the end of the hose, which in turn had broken the connection.
The phone rang. It was Carl who lives in the house on the slope behind our fence. He was worried that as his path was flooded we had a main’s leak. Gary told him what had happened.
‘It is an age thing,’ Carl laughed.
That did not help Gary’s mood. He is feeling much aged as at eighty he is the oldest man on the road and young people are doing our shopping.
Carl commented that the water didn’t matter, but he did mention on the following day that his path was still wet.
An advantage of this lockdown is finding things in the cupboard I had forgotten about and being challenged to find a recipe to use them in. I found a bag of green lentils and a recipe for vegetarian shepherds pie that said 400 grams of lentils were needed. I peeled and chopped the ingredients and added them to the pan with the washed lentils. Glancing at the recipe again I saw in small faint print, the word tin. Oh dear, it was a 400 gram tin of lentils needed, not 400 grams of lentil, such a difference. For supper we had lentil pie, which Gary finished the next day, (I couldn’t face it again) and what wasn’t eaten got thrown out for the birds, but they were not keen either.
For us self-isolators, our world has slowed down. There is no hurry to the days, with everyday being much the same. I am reminded of the long hot summers of my childhood and teenage years. I now know why they seemed so long. They were not filled with constant outward rushing activity.
I like the way that people have time for one another and there is a greater sense of community. When we meet other walkers we stop and talk, from a distance of course.
When my son rang this morning he told me that my grandson, 12 year Ben had said to him.
‘Nannie is lucky to be surrounded by a large garden.’
That’s about it Ben. I am a lucky lady. It just takes some getting used too. That is all.
26th April 2020