1 month ago

Happy in Lockdown: Embracing the Positive

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There is a quiet revolution taking place in our bedrooms, kitchens, gardens, a revolution of purpose divorced from productivity  

Ok, there is no way to say this without sounding #grateful. I’ve spent hours trying to articulate what I am about to confess without sounding smug, insensitive and worryingly like the proliferating line of influencers trying to inspire us to get fit, write a book, or else just making us feel bad about our stained and slovenly leisurewear as they share Utopian excerpts of their Sweaty Betty quarantine “realities.” Reader, I am not about to tell you to bake banana bread.

I am, however, about to commit an overshare perhaps as obnoxious as the above: I am going to tell you that I am happy in lockdown. That this enforced hibernation, this delicious hunkering down, is not an exile or an imprisonment but a beautiful liberation.

The world keeps telling me that isolation is hard, that this whole experience is something to “suffer through”, “tolerate”, “survive”. Greeting pleasantries have morphed from, ‘how are you?’ to, ‘how are you coping?’, ‘how are you surviving?’ The implication is inherently negative, as if the only options for navigating this new normal are clenched jaws and deep breaths. I know, of course, that this is a sad, lonely, and stressful time – that to hope for more than simply getting through the day is a privilege unthinkable for many.

Still, this is not what I am experiencing and not what I am witnessing around me. Instead, I think it was the hectic kaleidoscope of pre-pandemic productivity that was the time of “just getting through” and this new cocooning, even in the smothering uncertainty of the unknown, is life at its most vibrant. Somewhat bizarrely, I believe that, amidst the upset, anxiety, grief and sickness, there is a binary yet potent potential for growth, flourishing, blossoming.

There is a happiness being found within this new normal.

I wanted to know if I was alone in this unexpected quarantined contentment and so I did what any self-respecting writer would do and took to Instagram, asking peers if and why they were finding happiness in lockdown. The response was, while varying, unanimous nonetheless: more time, more time, more time! came the echo from the virtual ether. More time to return to lost hobbies, more time to sit in the mire of emotions too-long avoided. More time for reclusive solitude, more time for three-hour phone calls and elaborate breakfasts.

This, I found interesting. We don’t have more time – we have exactly the same number of hours we’ve always had, some of us the same workload, many of us even heftier family obligations. The free evenings with nothing to do – we have always had these, we’ve just slathered them in plans, projects and FOMO. Thus, I do not think it’s time that has changed but rather our understanding of it.

We’ve spent years sharpening our days to ensure they always have a “point” – measuring their worth based on output.

Pre-pandemic, time was something to be clocked, used, maximised. It was not a blank canvas to paint our love of jigsaws, directionless walks, or intricately-manicured nails on; time was there to be counted and to make us accountable in a never-ending competition to see who could squeeze most into their day, who could win in the Hunger Games of having-it-all multi-tasking and expert prioritisation. Goodness, even to write the word prioritise now, six weeks into lockdown, feels odd – how sumptuous to have the word temporarily struck from my vernacular!

We’ve spent years sharpening our days to ensure they always have a “point” – measuring their worth based on output. What we are realising now is that there is no point. Not to life, not to this pandemic, not to our carefully laid five-year plans. Time is actually an exercise in pointlessness. “What’s the point of putting on mascara if nobody can see me?” “What’s the point of exercising if I’m going to be swathed in baggy tracksuits for the foreseeable future anyway?”

The answer is, of course, there is no point…if you are doing these things out of obligation and not out of love. This, for me at least, is exhilarating because it disbands the myth of “have to” and instead puts forward a new way of living – the long-abandoned doctrine of the “just because.” Of doing something not because it makes sense or is a worthwhile endeavour but simply because we feel like doing it – because it is the act of doing of that makes us happy, and not the end result.

For example, I have come to the startling realisation that, while I still can’t quite relinquish the dream of one day discovering an ab somewhere around my well-insulated belly button, my seemingly masochistic penchant for 6.30am gym classes is not born out of a hankering for an enviable beach body but rather a twisted enjoyment of wondering, in a pool of my own sweat, if I really am going to have a heart attack. Turns out, I don’t exercise to achieve an end result, I exercise for the slightly perverted pleasure of the act itself. Despicable human as I am, I love the agony of a burpee, I am addicted to the feeling of tendons ripping in spin-class hell, I live for the genuine fear I might actually throw up. It’s a small example but its truth is being felt in many cooped-up quarantines. That the “point” we’ve spent lifetimes chasing is null and void unless it is propelled by love. Not love of result, not lust for perfection but love for the very act of doing, the inhibitionless joy of simply trying.

This is the blossoming, this is the flourishing, this is the seed of creativity burgeoning in the stretching endlessness of isolation. And it is beautiful. The internet is awash with people picking up a paintbrush for the first time, of once-upon-a-time Home Economics students taking up embroidery again. Friends who previously professed to being unable to boil an egg are now baking prolifically, rejoicing in whatever creation emerges from the oven, no matter how dubious. We are preparing extravagant meals, becoming adventurous in the garden previously overlooked, contacting the friends we’ve spent years being too busy for. Some of us, instead of taking up new things, are learning to let go of old – the relationship we don’t feel happy in, the job that doesn’t satisfy, the lifestyle that cannot fulfill us. And then there are those most addicted to the rush of perpetual productivity (me), who are finally leaning into the art of doing nothing, of learning that time isn’t something that can be wasted or maximised, that sitting in stillness or reverie or sadness is not failure.

You see, I have been so hell-bent on accruing a career and a life of meaning that I mislaid the joy of doing for a while. As a writer, I had formed the unhealthy and frankly exhausting habit of believing every experience needed to be mulched into fodder for a story – every thought or opinion I had was only worth exploring if it could be commodified into a sellable wordcount or article that might just be my “big break.” I have slowly been sliding into a mythologised reality where my writing only holds value if it is read by others and in this slip forgot the fun of writing for writing’s sake. COVID-19’s harsh reminder of just how brief and unpredictable life can be, has me remembering this again. Thus, my isolation, which would normally see me frantically formulating pitches to “get my name out there” or working on “building a portfolio”, “online profiles”, “community engagement” and all of those other terms I loathe but are apparently necessary, is instead being spent writing stream-of-consciousness online diaries to a small circle of blog subscribers. Just because. Because it makes me happy. Because it is what I love.

This is the quiet revolution taking place in our bedrooms, kitchens, gardens. A revolution of purpose that is divorced from productivity or output and instead married to the instant gratification of joy – a letting go of ‘I should’ and replacing it with ‘I feel like’. It is a revolution based on the simplest truth, that, as Nick Laird once wrote, ‘time is how you spend your love.’

Vive la révolution.

@earnest_ethereal

For more of Holly’s writing, visit www.ernestethereal.com

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