It's been a celebratory sort of day. There's a bit of a festive mood in the neighbourhood. Even Ernie down on the waterfront was decked out with balloons and a special party outfit, and further along a collection of critters were perched on their chairs on the front lawn with a table of celebration and a sign saying 'Hooray for Level Three!'
Tonight at 11.59pm New Zealand goes to Level Three which, for most of us, isn't a whole lot different although everyone we spoke to on our walk today is looking forward to visiting the drive-through for burgers and fries. I am pleased that so many hospitality businesses can get back to serving food and drink even if it is via Uber Eats or curbside, at least they can get some income happening - and by the sounds of it, they will be busy.
I am not such a huge fan of McDonald's but almost think I should go up there to buy coffee just because I can. One freedom has been restored during this time when so many have been taken away, even if it is a drive through and a fleeting pleasure.
I won't be writing every day now because the total isolation is over and that was the deal I struck with myself: I would write every day of the lock down ... but I will keep up some posts now and then so don't despair! We're not out of the virus woods yet.
I'm trying to think of what we have learned during this heavy lock down period. Here's a few things that spring to mind:
Resilience: few, if any of us, have ever been told to stay home for over four weeks but by golly, we've done it.
Joy in simple things: I cannot tell you how much seeing Ernie's different scenes every day has meant to us here in our little bay.
An appreciation of how lovely this place really is: this is something I hear almost every day from the people we meet; how lucky we are to live in a country of such natural beauty. For once, many people have had the time to enjoy it fully.
Taking time: to chat with neighbours I never knew were there, to sit and watch the waves come in, to have some insightful conversations with my walking buddy Pam who has so many stories and wisdom to share.
Unexpected freedoms: walking down the middle of the street without being run over by cars.
Pam calls that her 'wonderful wide footpath.'
Nature healing itself
I keep seeing news reports about the changes that are happening around the world because we have ceased many of our global operations while countries wait out the pandemic.
Smog has decreased, animals are roaming about more freely, the waterways and the oceans are cleaner, I see schools of fish out in our bay almost every day, something I haven't seen all summer, what with all the jet skis roaring around ... People can see the Himalayas from India for the first time in 30 years.
Can we say it will stay this way, that it will get even better as nature does what she can to restore an equilibrium always threatened because of us? I don't want to get all heavy here about the environment but I find it fascinating to read these news reports. Nature healing itself.
The effect we have on our environment has become startlingly obvious because we have come to a standstill. We are walking and bicycling and so decreasing exhaust emissions. Manufacturing has been slowed and the air quality is better. Many of us are working from home, lessening pressure on roadways and infrastructure. No recreational fishing and the fish have come out of hiding. Less litter on the streets because we're littering at home these days, and almost all of the airplanes are parked up so goodness knows how many tonnes of carbon in the air we're saving there.
Maybe when we come out of this we won't use our cars quite as much and we'll keep up the exercise regimes we've refined over the last several weeks. We'll bike to work rather than taking the car or bus.
When we see what a difference we've made by staying home, how beautiful things are, maybe we'll think twice before throwing the cigarette butt out the car window or dropping the plastic bottle in the ditch.
In an earlier post I wrote about a lady in our neighbourhood. We were worried about her because she lived alone, always had her curtains pulled and didn't come out much.
I did her see her out in her driveway once, smoking a cigarette, and asked if she'd like to join us on our walks, and on that day, she did.
As we walked, she told us that the lockdown has been hard for her. Her sons called her on the phone but of course they could not come by to visit. 'Sometimes I feel as if the walls are closing in,' she said.
When we parted company, I said that if she wanted to walk with us again, just to be out in her drive round 2pm and we'd come by. She said OK but we haven't seen her. The curtains are drawn again but the sliding door out to the deck is often open and we can hear the radio.
Yesterday I went for an earlier walk by myself and she was out in the front yard. When I came by, she smiled and we had a chat over the fence.
'I went down big time,' she said. 'I couldn't see how I was going to get out of this. The work I used to do, well, I've realised that I'm not going to be able to do it any more, at least for a long time, and by then I'll be broke.'
She said she came very close to the edge, what with the loneliness, not being able to get out and do her job (which was very social and one that she enjoyed), losing her community supports and family connections.
'I knew all I had to do was stand out on my driveway every day at 2 o'clock and you and your buddy would come by and I could walk and talk - but do you think I could do it?'
I knew what she meant. Sometimes it's all too hard, even making that one step out the front door can be impossible, too scary.
'So I had a long, hard think. I thought about my other skills, what else I can do, because after all of this isolation and virus stuff, we're going to have to be resourceful, think of new ways of doing things.'
She has decided to do gardening for elderly folk who love their lawns and plantings but can no longer tend to them as much as they'd like to. Through her community contacts she knows she can get started with a small number of clients. She has the tools and a car. I noticed that she had done some tidying in her own garden, potted a few cuttings in colourful containers and she's working on a mosaic set into the garden path.
I could see her energy and enthusiasm. She'd cottoned onto something that she could do, a practical idea for work when we are set free. I suspect many of us will need to be thinking this way as we grapple with a 'new scene', recognising those skills and strengths we have but haven't used yet, unleashing our imaginations to think around, over and above the usual.
'It's quite exciting,' she said. 'All I could see was dark negatives, but then when I let up on myself a bit and did some thinking, I felt brighter. I can do this. I know I can.'
So .. do we change, or stay the same?
Will 'same' be enough?
Last night I attended a Zoom presentation given by Jan Haworth, a survivor of breast cancer and well qualified facilitator who now provides courses and support for others experiencing cancer. Last night's talk was about anxiety after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Jan said dealing with daily anxiety was like trying to push a beach ball under water. It's really hard to do, it keeps popping up, and sometimes it gets away from you altogether. And it takes a lot of energy, time and effort that we could be using for other things.
We all know anxiety and how that feels. Jan's presentation was geared towards those of us who have experienced breast cancer because we know that old mate Anxiety pretty well. It really raised its head with a vengeance at the time we first heard the news, and it is still a companion because we get anxious about cancer coming back, anxious about how breast cancer has changed us.
And these are anxious times. The days are real breeding grounds for anxiety and I'd say many of us are having interrupted sleep too, awakened by thoughts of uncertainty, about what will happen to us when the world does start to turn again.
So how do we cope with these thoughts?
Feeling anxious is a normal response and it can be some comfort to know we're all in this together. You're not the only one trying to hold down the beach ball. Talking about it can help too. Even just a word or two over the fence each day with our neighbours makes my walking buddy Pam and I feel better.
And here's that word 'structure' again! I know that every day round 2pm I go for a walk. If it's a fine-weather day (and even if it isn't), I look forward to getting out, leaving my work desk (which can be a source of anxiety), having a two-metre-away-chat with Pam, discussing the events of the day and how we're feeling. Routine can alleviate those lock down feelings of loneliness and not knowing quite what to do with the days.
Information reduces anxious thoughts about the unknown. That's how it can be with cancer. Even if it's information that ain't so flash, at least you know and it removes the fear of uncertainty. We have plenty of intel about this bloody virus: what it is, what happens if you get it, how to get tested, etc etc.
Keeping well and mentally healthy! Walk, cycle, jog, work outside, dig holes and plant things, build something, take the dog for lots of walkies, watch Netflix whenever you want and don't skimp on the potato chips and beer (although they say we should keep alcoholic intake to a minimum, well, OK).
Don't beat yourself up about these feelings you're having. A lot of the time I'd think to myself, 'Pull yourself together!' but now I am being gentler. I recognise the feelings, the things that make me anxious. I try to understand why, what is this about? Then I try to find a way to release that beach ball and let it float away.
Easier said than done sometimes, especially now when we have so many extraordinary things added to our usual pile of anxiety-generating issues.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures though, so why not reward yourself with something nice, something different and special. True, we don't have the usual range of options but it could be something as simple as 'today I will give myself the afternoon off' (if you're working from home), or making a trip to the grocery and adding Tip Top Cookies and Cream to the trolley, or taking a folding chair to the beach with a thermos of tea and some chocolate chip biscuits to just sit in the sun and watch the passing parade. Spend precious time with the kids, revel in the way they see the world: beautiful, shiny, glistening and full of adventure and things to explore. Get down on your knees, build sand castles and crawl about with them, see what they see.
Take time, breathe in and out, look up and look down. I know, I know .. sounds crazy .... but give it a try.
Yesterday the weather was simply divine so Ernie here decided to do some kayaking in the front yard at his beachfront home. What a brilliant idea, I thought to myself, and I almost hopped in to join him.
Right now we are prohibited from kayaking in real water because if we get into trouble, that means a call-out from the rescue people which would heighten their risk of exposure to the virus.
I really miss going out in my kayak.
Our bay is perfect for this activity, with the shelter of the cliffs, plenty to see underwater as one drifts along, and if you really want some action, paddle out beyond the point and get into the swells and 'high water' ... well, actually not much rougher than in the bay but it feels adventurous.
I miss this kayaking gig because when I'm out there, I'm really calm and at peace, if one can say that. At peace meaning my thoughts are stilled, my breathing is even, I relax with the motion of the boat on the waves and I'm aware of the world beneath the sea, the creatures doing their aquatic thing, probably looking up at me peering down and saying, 'bugger off.'
My only concern is getting to where I want to go (out to the point), sitting there a while and looking up and down, then getting back before the wind gets up and blows me halfway to Rangitoto ... oh yes and I'll often have a snack with me, a drink and some crackers or such, so I like to sit out there and have that.
I do want a reprieve now from all of the COVID-19 thoughts that whirl around us daily so I am really missing my kayaking.
I have stopped watching the daily 1pm televised press conference with the Prime Minister where the latest statistics and suspicions and confirmations about 'spread' are revealed and in the evening, I've taken to singing out loud when they start talking about the lack of PPE and how many businesses may go under. It's not that I am insensitive to these things - far from it because, having worked in transport and distribution for years here in New Zealand, I am not surprised by how hard it is to get product in a national emergency from A to B in a country where you could drive from one end to the other of the North Island in a day (well, a long day) and how this absurd distribution problem is still depriving our front line workers of the gear they need to protect themselves. And of course, businesses going under affects us all.
So there is a rant from me. Suffice to say, I have had enough of the virus news. My walking buddy keeps me up to date and the people we meet on our travels like to discuss what they've all heard. I am pleased though because trends are so positive, we are getting there, but I need a break from the relentless media and their continual thrashing of all that is difficult and hard and tough and the bad behaviour of some of us during this time.
Make room Ernie. I'm coming with you.
... write about the weather.
Today is one of those bright and fine weather days that you do want to write about: the sun is bright, there's a cool wind blowing in, enough to warrant a polar fleece vest over one's T-shirt. It predicts the cold winds of winter, that's for sure.
The sea is a mild blue, somewhere in between the gentle colours of summer and the deep, hard blue of winter. The Gulf islands have taken on a greener hue, the rain has made a difference, turning them from the desolate, desperate dry brown we saw over the summer.
I cannot see any clouds at all from where I sit - the sky has a milky softness, brighter on the horizon and deepening slightly to what I used to call, when I was little, a 'lemon-meringue pie filling' blue (not sure why I did that - maybe it was something about the smoothness of the lemon filling, the way it filled every part of the crust, a delight to cut into and eat ...).
There are a lot of people out today. The weather brings us onto the street and beach, the kids are back on their skateboards and playing touch in the road; home handy-men are hammering their nails and the lady over the road is trimming her lawn with an edger. My neighbour has just headed out to do her grocery shop.
'I needed to get out,' she said, 'and shopping for food is the only thing we can do - at least the weather is nice while we wait outside in the queue.'
The older couple I see most days - he is on a walker and she steadies him - are on their way down to see what Ernie is up to at the beachfront house and I must confess, I am curious too and will venture out soon to check it out.
At least we will always have the weather. Some things never change in spite of viruses and wars and riots and world calamities. Sometimes the weather is the cause, but we won't write about that here because today the weather is clement, kind, soft, gentle and we can feel it sustaining our spirits for another day at least.
I think fine days are expected for a while yet and that is good.
Ready for another level
Yesterday our Prime Minister announced we would remain at Level Four (i.e. solitude) for another week and then at 11.59pm on Monday next week we will go to Level Three.
Ernie and his mates gave it a thumbs up - this house on our beachfront features Ernie doing something different every day.
Sometimes he is fishing off the boat (on its trailer), other times he is reclining in his tent. I look forward to seeing him on our daily perambulation and the lady who organises Ernie says people do make special walks down to have a look.
I applaud her for giving us this bit of fun each day.
So, Level Three. Exciting? Hmmm, but great news for some businesses. Not a lot will change for most of us as Level Three does not mean we can roam free. We are to stay put mostly, keep working and wrangling the kids at home if we can, extend our bubbles just a tiny bit to let in maybe one more person or two, maintain our social distancing, keep our travel regional and essential.
OK - pretty much as expected - and as my walking buddy Pam said today, 'I think our PM made the right call, although there will always be those who don't think so.'
I would not have wanted to be in her shoes yesterday. I have enough trouble deciding whether to give Betsy-cat a tin of fish or a tin of beef food for dinner.
Life will rock on for those of us not involved in the construction industry, or manufacturing, or forestry, or early education and schools (although there is ongoing debate about whether it is right to open up schools so soon, but attendance is voluntary and an option for parents who are returning to work).
The mood of 'rock on' hasn't been helped by the heaviness of the weather: again, today is low grey clouds, a smattering of rain now and then, no wind to speak of, and it's chilly too. On our walk today we saw very few people. Most are shut up inside, probably trying to figure out how they will manage another week of current restrictions and then a further two weeks (at the moment anyway) at a-bit-less-than-current-restrictions.
Most of us want to fly the coop. We want to leave our village, meet friends for coffee, just hop into the car and go off somewhere different. You never know how much you miss something until it is gone.
For now, I will have to console myself with the daily walks and the occasional trip to the grocery store. It's not my top pick for a place to visit, but right now, it's thrilling. I get to drive the car and it leaps and roars when I start it up, as if it too cannot wait to be unleashed.
Down girl, down.
Missing the music ...
The photo is from happier times, at the Bay of Islands Jazz Festival last year, playing with Denise Puppyn and the Jazz Factor Band.
Right about now I'd be practicing up country songs with Ricochez for the Paihia Country Music Festival that would've been held in early May - and then we'd have the Bay of Islands Jazz Fest in August. Both have been cancelled and quite rightly too, in view of the COVID 19 virus.
So many events have been cancelled, with rescheduling uncertain, and this has been tough for musicians and music-lovers alike. From the big festivals to the weekend gigs in pubs and restaurants, even our local Dairy Flat country music, rock n' roll, blues and jam nights, not to mention live music at parties and weddings and all manner of private occasions .. all suspended, for now.
But that hasn't stopped the music, no sir - we have plenty of online sessions and musicians singing, playing, teaching, sharing, all live and happening - fantastic. The world is, at the moment, one big online musical community.
Because there is no doubt at all that music is a universal language. Doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, music gives us a common platform to share, enjoy, create, listen, dance, cry, and laugh together.
During this time of solitude, my belly-dancing friend puts on her outfit and practices her moves every morning. It lifts her spirits, it's joyous, she says, and it's great exercise. The young drummer down the road from me hits the skins every day without fail at 4pm, regular as clockwork and you can tell he's enjoying himself. I've been spending some time behind the kit too, just keeping my hand in so I don't lose my edge (such as it is!).
There ain't nothing quite like being there though, feeling the bass beat coming up through your shoes, watching the performers connect with people as only they can, the crowd rockin' as one to the music. People having fun, enjoying themselves in a total, all-encompassing way.
And I know when I'm playing my drums in a band, I'm not thinking about work, or lack of money, or what to have for dinner, or how down I felt that morning over some little thing or other. I'm right there with the music, in the game.
Yep I will miss the country festival with the people line-dancing to our songs, singing along, those who come from near and far to enjoy a weekend of great music and fun. I'll miss the glasses of cold beer after a full-on gig and a debrief with the band about how it went. Even the not-sleeping-nights-in-a-strange-motel-room seem OK today.
I'll take it all, thank you.
The comfort of pets
I've written so often about my old cat Betsy and the now long-departed Little Boy who so terrorised her but was such a dear companion for me. Little Boy was the one who used to wait for me at the bottom of the stairs at night, like a worried parent, greet me with his usual loud howling, and then walk up with me, all the while telling me about his day and telling me off for being so late home.
"He waits for you because you are his food source," a friend once said, and while that may be true, I like to think that he missed me and was overjoyed to see me again.
So many people are walking dogs during this lock down period. I've never seen half of them of these furry buddies and wonder where they are during 'normal' times. Perhaps they get walked after dark, or early in the morning, but they are all enjoying the extra attention now.
Pets give us routine: they need to be fed at certain times, and cared for - walked and groomed and given flea treatments, their bedding cleaned, taken to the vet if need be. Right now, canine pets are also offering us the exercise opportunities we need. 'Take me for a walk! Several in fact!'
Such need is good during this time when days lack structure and we must tend to the wants of someone other than ourselves, a small creature who is dependent upon us for its food and shelter. Doesn't matter if it's an Irish wolfhound or a budgie, our pets give us responsibilities.
And they are a comfort too. Most evenings Betsy-cat and I settle in to watch TV or read a book and sometimes she will get up from her soft blanket on the couch, walk over the small table beside my chair and nudge my arm, simply wanting a pat and some kindness. Then she'll go back to her bed and go to sleep.
During these times of isolation, a pet can be a sweet companion, sitting with you while you read, talk on the phone, or do your work, a friend who will not judge or think ill of you when tears of loneliness come or anger born of frustration bubbles up. They share the good and the bad times, enjoy most everything and take as much delight as you do in the feel of sun on skin, water on bare feet, and wind in hair.
A process of zombification
The description of a 'zombie apocalypse' has been applied many times to our lock down here: empty streets, neighbourhoods devoid of the usual sounds of habitation, a feeling of fear in the air that you can almost cut with a knife, and a growing sense of zombification (i.e. the process of turning into a zombie. Collins online dictionary also says a person who watches too much TV could gain the look of emptiness, possession, or zombification. That would probably be most of us right now ).
I was talking to a friend this morning and she told me about her recent visit to the supermarket. It was pretty much the same as mine; people standing in silence, several feet apart in the fug of early morning, a drizzle of rain coming down from a heavy, grey sky, shuffling forward every now and then as more were let in to do their shop. 'It's like the walking dead,' she said.
She also observed plenty of toilet paper. 'And you know why that is? Because when someone sneezes, every body s**** themselves.'
Quite so. She also mentioned there were 25kg bags of flour on the shelves because there was such a shortage of the usual packaging which is imported from China. Interesting times indeed.
The feeling of zombie-ness is an insidious thing. It creeps up on you. This morning was dark and rainy so I just went back to sleep. Even Betsy-cat did not persevere with her early wake-up screeches. She gave it a go, then pitched it in and went back to sleep as well. When I did get up, all was quiet and silent in the neighbourhood. I think everybody had the same idea. Let's sleep in late.
This lock down isolation thing is wearing everybody down. We are hanging out for a change. Yep, we'll take Level Three thank you. Even though it is still pretty restrictive, it's better than this and might just give us the kick we need to snap out of this lethargy of the undead.
Watching too much TV can sure do it, numbing the senses and mental processes. Netflix is making a killing and I am demanding much from SKY and TVNZ but then we are supposed to. As the weather becomes colder and more inclement, the process of TV zombification continues apace.
Never met a stranger
As promised, our Prime Minister outlined what Level Three would probably look like and while there are significant and positive developments for many in the business sector, not much will change for others. We're encouraged to remain in our bubbles although we can allow a few people close to us to enter, and we can go up the road to drive-through McDonalds. Maybe my sushi won't be too far away now!
It was all good news but the PM would not give anything away until Monday when we will know if we can have a few more freedoms, or we will stay longer in our solitude. All I know is, I wouldn't want to be making that decision.
So yesterday Pam and I gave all of this a thorough going over during our walk and we came to the conclusion that for us, personally, not a whole lot would change for quite some time. So what will I miss the most? Going out to a pub, going for a long drive someplace to visit someone or stay overnight, being able to fly down to the South Island to visit my sister (no non-essential travel allowed even under Level Three, apart from going to work or kids to school) ... things like that.
As we were walking, we passed by a house on the beach front and an older lady was coming out eating an apple.
'May I walk with you?' she asked, joining us anyway and of course we did not mind. The three of us took up the whole road, two on the curb sides and one in the middle, and we strode along looking very purposeful indeed. The photo is of Pam in the middle and our new friend on the lawn.
Our new walking companion had heard the news too and noted that hair salons were not going to make the 'essential services' cut on Level Three, along with many other businesses, cafes and restaurants/pubs in particular.
'I am desperate for a hair cut,' she said, fluffing at her curly hair and I agreed that I was too, tugging at my shaggy locks that are looking pretty scruffy now.
'I'll just have to do it myself,' she said.
Braver than me, I thought, but said with such practicality and self assurance that I am sure she'll manage.
The rain drizzled down so we all sheltered under some dense trees along a walking path in the reserve. Another lady came by with an umbrella low over her face and we gave her a hell of a fright.
'What are you doing lurking in the bushes?' she asked.
She joined us for a while too, all of us keeping our respective social distances, scattered about amidst the rain-dripping trees. The rain stopped and we walked on, depositing our apple-eating walker at her drive with a 'join us again if you like'.
'Who was that lady?' Pam asked as we walked on home.
'I've no idea,' I said.
'Well, these days, we never meet a stranger,' she said.
How true that is. And mighty fine it is too.
What will Level Three look like?
Today we'll find out what a Level Three restriction will look like and on Monday, we'll know if the country will move to it.
Level Four has been pretty full on, and we've been in our bubbles now for almost four weeks. The majority of people have been diligent about following the rules: we've stayed at home, made trips to the grocery, gone walking and biking near our homes, done everything we can to limit our movements around the place.
But now businesses are getting antsy, and quite understandably. They want to trade, get some money rolling in even if it's just take-out orders from their restaurants or more online goods for sale, and some continuation of the wheels of industry.
My neighbour said, 'I just want to be able to go out, get a coffee and buy some clothes.'
And fair enough. We miss that freedom that we take for granted - being able to jump into the car, go out, have a nice sweet treat in the cafe, pick up some winter gear at the shop. Yesterday I was plagued by a desire for sushi; sometimes I'll pop up the road and buy some for lunch and of course, I haven't been able to do that and I got quite pissy yesterday because I wanted sushi and could not have it. Harumph.
Those little freedoms, the meeting-up with mates over a beer or two, driving out to the West Coast for a different type of walk on a wild and wind-blown Muriwai Beach and a howdy-do with the gannets in their colony, maybe catch a movie or two, and of course sushi ...
You don't know how much you miss 'em 'til they're gone, and people want to get back to work, to school, to the everyday. We want the structure back, we want to be at certain places at set times.
For those of us whose livelihoods and way forward are not at all clear, we want something we can go on: some information, a bit of reassurance about the future, anything that we can use to start rebuilding lives that have been turned upside down and shaken all about by this global crisis.
Today we will receive information, an idea about what comes next: on Monday we will know even more and let's hope it's good news for all of us.
Moods can change like the weather
My Mom was very tuned in to the weather. She liked to sit outside on the deck in her folding chair, next to her potted flowers, looking at the changing skies, pointing out clouds of interest. As long as it wasn't raining or too chilly, she'd be out there.
If the skies were full of heavy, threatening clouds, she would look up and say, 'Ominous nimbus' and she had a real thing about thunderstorms. They fascinated and scared her in equal measure. Mom was born and raised in Florida, home to some of the most ferocious lightning and ear-splitting thunder so she had a healthy respect for these frightening storms and their fierce intensity.
Mom had an uncanny ability to predict the end of summer, a meteorological talent that used to really upset us. Before we could detect even the smallest discernible change in air temperature or a mellowing of that white-hot summer sun, Mom would tilt her chin upwards, gaze at the clear blue sky, and make her pronouncement: 'Summer is over.'
And she would be right. As if on cue, the days would cool down, the rains would come, and before we knew it, we'd be throwing wood on the fire. We dreaded her announcement.
Mom was also sensitive to the changes in mood that weather could bring. Sometimes damp days would make her sinuses 'get excited', cold weather often gave her chilblains, and day after day of grey skies would bring her down - not a lot, but enough that we'd notice. I remember when I left New Zealand to live in Seattle, Washington, the seemingly endless rain that had a relentless, steady way of falling almost did me in. I wasn't used to the seemingly infinite dreary shades of grey, black, and dark green of the Pacific Northwest: I was used to bright sun, blues skies, and rain that came, did it's thing, and then buggered off.
At the start of our four-week stay-at-home, the weather was grand: day after day of sun and warmth, little or no wind, the sea all those gorgeous shades of green and blue, white-winged gulls flapping about, and people out enjoying it all.
The last few days have been colder, rainy and squally, this morning is low-cloud grey with some drizzle and once again, a cold westerly blowing up the Gulf and my feet are cold. People are hunkered down. They're not coming out much. Our neighbourhood is like High Noon before the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Yesterday we were met with less optimism from our officials and more deaths from a nursing home 'cluster', families unable to see their loved ones before they died or gather for memorials and funerals, unable to say goodbye. The greyness of the day and the chill of the air reflects the communal sadness we feel. The mood is low. We're tired. I suspect most people in my street are still in bed and I'd like to be.
So let's face it. When the sun is out, we can get out, and we can handle things better. The brightness brightens our mood.
When it's not, things feel bleaker, the news feels grimmer, and the rain feels colder.
Maybe the sun will come out later on today and the daily TV briefing from government at 1pm will bring some good news.
I hope so.
American poet Emily Dickinson said, 'Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all.'
I like this image of hope as a bird perched inside, singing non-stop, even through the darkest nights of the soul.
The progress of the virus has certainly given us some bleak days. We feel for the people who are so ill in hospital and mourn those who have died. The news we receive from other parts of the world is far worse and challenges one's concept and belief in hope.
Every morning a bird sings outside my window - more than one actually - they're a constant presence in the trees and garden. What would the world be like if their songs were silenced? So many songs, each unique, individual, celebrating the promise of a new day. Really Jane? Come on ... the birds are just getting cranked up for their daily activities, feeding and hanging out. They aren't celebrating anything.
But we are.
Yesterday our Prime Minister indicated we had turned a corner which was a very hopeful thing to say. The end of level four may be in sight and of course, the tunnel and light thing sprang to mind because it is a good way to describe it, traveling through the blackness of a tunnel and then there's the gradual lightening, a dim, barely perceptible grey that brightens as we draw nearer and closer.
I feel that's where we are now here in New Zealand - there's some brightness, some hope that we will soon come out of our isolation tunnels. Our spirits are lifting, just a little.
Yesterday when Pam and I set out for our daily walk, the lady I wrote about in an earlier journal entry - the one who has kept very much to herself with curtains drawn - was standing out in her driveway. As we passed by, Pam said, 'Would you like to join us?' There was no immediate reply but then she stubbed out her cigarette and said, 'Yeah, OK' and she walked with us (each of us keeping our distance, just so you know!). When we parted company with her, I said that we usually walk at the same time each day and if she wanted to come, just to be out in her driveway at that time and we'd collect her.
'You are nice people,' she said. 'I would like to walk with you. It'll give me something to look forward to in my day.'
A light at the end of the tunnel.
Even the birds are doing it
Even the birds have been doing their part during our enforced social distancing. We've all been trying hard and it hasn't been easy. But seems like everyone I talk to, including my walking buddy Pam, is getting tired, drifting through the days with just the occasional wing-flap of energy.
Today is blustery with squally showers. Perched up here in my writing place I have a great view of the beach, the sea, and the people walking about. Even the passing showers and vigorous wind are not keeping people from their daily exercise.
We're getting close to starting week four of our isolation time. Last night I heard a real commotion going on in the street, a group of young kids running up and down the road, screeching, yahooing, shouting, and banging on cooking pots with what sounded like large metal spoons, letting off steam in a big way.
I felt like joining them, charging about under cover of darkness by the light of a near-full moon, shrouded by clouds, giving a cooking receptacle a jolly good thumping. That's one thing I enjoy most about drumming - being able to thump a percussive instrument with a wooden stick. Lovely.
Not that we're all resorting to violence. Far from it. I can only guess that the parents of those kids were at the end of their rope, having been through an Easter Sunday with young ones hyped up on chocolate, finally sending them out with pots and pans to run about the street making noise. It didn't last long. All was silent again in about five minutes. I thought it was great.
Many of us - including me - thought we'd spend this time far more productively than we have. I thought I'd get stuck into writing my third book - and that I'd be halfway through the first draft by now, writing up to six hours a day, keyboard burning hot. Hasn't happened.
But you know, that's OK and I am not beating myself up about anything. I am going with it. We will soon be tasked with getting life back on track, returning to some sort of work, children returning to school or more home-schooling for some, the wheels of industry will begin to turn again, albeit slowly for a while. On our walk yesterday we met a lady who is an early childhood teacher and she said she'd had to learn a whole bunch of new skills during this period - she now uses Zoom like an old hand, and has mastered the art of spreadsheets.
I suspect a lot of us have learned new ways of being because we've had to. We've picked up some knowledge, acquired some skills, completed some things we never thought we would, and goodness knows we've had time to marvel at just how adaptable and strong we can be when the need arises.
Best of all, by staying up on our posts and keeping our distance, we've managed to put a rope around the spread of this bloody virus menace in a way that has the world taking notice.
Good on us.
Talk about isolation ...
... and you can also talk about loneliness.
Pam and I were out walking on the beach yesterday. We've had some super low and high tides the last few days and Pam says it's because the moon is full and wow, is it ever. I've stepped out to look at it several times. It is the brightest I've seen in ages and I wonder if that's because we're not polluting the atmosphere as much with car exhaust and other airborne things. I could sit out on my lawn in my folding chair and read a book, it's so bright.
So we took advantage of the low tide for our beach walk. When we first arrived, there were several walkers, alone or in small family groups, some dogs on leads. When we turned to walk back the other way, everyone had disappeared, as if taken up by an alien spaceship, so quietly and stealthily, we hadn't noticed a thing.
When I took this picture of Pam and the empty beach I felt that twinge of loneliness we feel from time to time, a kind of panicky feeling that I was on my own, no one would be looking for me, no one would know if anything happened to me, I would just disappear. It lasted for a moment and then I walked on up to join Pam and we continued our walk and chat.
I am not alone. I see people every day and people check in with me but the sight of the empty beach and Pam standing there like a solitary sentinel gave me a chill and took me back to a time when I was so very lonely I didn't think I'd survive: in my early twenties, living overseas and away from home for the first time, far away from my usual supports and family, a small studio apartment in a city that was often grey, damp, cold and rainy, friendless and foreign. That, to me, was loneliness and isolation.
Do we give much thought to the people who are so alone during this time? Those who live by themselves, perhaps don't like to go out much, are shuttered up inside, watching the rest of us walking, biking, laughing, talking within our social distance bubbles. It's easy for the grey shawl of loneliness to wind around our shoulders.
There's a lady in our street. I see her now and then. Sometimes she's sitting out on her deck, having a smoke and I wave and she waves back. I haven't seen much of her since we've been staying at home. Her curtains are drawn almost all day even though the weather is beautiful, the sunshine bright. She listens to talk back radio. I thought I saw her the other day, walking on the beach in a pair of old track pants and a heavy jacket even though the day was warm.
She was alone, head down.
Becoming more mindful
The first thing I do when I get up each morning is open the curtains to see what the day is like.
My view is of the sea and Rangitoto, and my front yard and trees. I can tell at a glance what the morning is like and today was calm and clear, as it has been for several days now.
However one thing was different. I heard something off in the bay that sounded like gurgling water, almost like a river flowing over rocks. That's odd, I thought. I opened the window wide and could definitely hear something unusual out there.
By this time Betsy-cat was adding her breakfast howls to the mix so I gave her some food and then went out on the deck to have a closer look at the sea.
Right off the beach there was a huge conflagration of little fish - would've been thousands - all leaping and flapping about, making the sound of rushing water. I was tempted to go down to the beach for a closer observation but thought, well, I'm in my pajamas and slippers ... but would that really matter right now when the world is so bizarre anyway.
The sound of the fish carried right around the bay and there were other gatherings further out of larger fish that were leaping out of the water, silvery in the sunlight, having a good old splash around.
I realised that under 'normal circumstances' (that is, rushing to get out of bed, feed cat, have shower, get dressed, get to work) I may not have noticed the odd sounds of the fish jamboree going on, and if I had, I might've not paid any attention.
On our daily walks I notice more and more people on the beach, some bring their chairs and cold drinks or thermoses of tea. Many are just sitting, looking, enjoying the sights and sounds and the warmth of sunshine. Of course all are observing the rules of 'social distance' unless they belong to the same 'bubble'.
Are we all slowing down to the point that we are actually seeing things, I mean really taking time to watch, notice, feel, smell .... Because the future is so uncertain are we living more 'in the now', the day to day, the hour to hour, minute to minute? At first there was a lot of anxiety over the future, now we're settling down a bit, perhaps more accepting of how things are, there's not much else we can do anyway so why not enjoy what's right in front of us?
And there is a lot to enjoy. Be in the moment. Indulge your senses. Take it in. Find some happiness, even if only for a little while. It's worth its weight in gold.
A good energy
I've written before about my friend Jane McPherson (the sex therapist). She's very wise and comes out with some very memorable statements. One classic was 'trees don't care what they look like so why should you?' and another is 'always wake up with a good energy.'
Betsy cat and I have woken up with a good energy today. We seem to have shaken off yesterday's lethargic state of wanting to recline on the fainting couch and now we're all action.
Betsy was on the roof at daybreak. I heard her up there watching the sunrise. She uses the ramp I set up for her, making it easier for her to enjoy one of her favourite activities. But that wasn't an end to her energy. We came down to work, as per usual, but she was soon off and into the bush, climbing about with the vigour of a youngster, perching on the retaining wall, watching the birds and the bush activity. She blends into the natural world so well, you may have to search the photo to spot her sitting on the post.
I am feeling better today, restored especially by the news from our Prime Minister yesterday that things are looking up. She is cautiously optimistic that at the end of our four-week lock down, we may be able to get out a little more, some services may re-open. But it's still very much 'wait and see' and she thanked us all for doing our part during this difficult time.
That raised my spirits because the last two weeks haven't been easy for anybody and we've done pretty well, apart from the 'covidiots' who have let us down by breaking their bubbles and spitting on people and doing all manner of irresponsible things.
As my Mom would say, 'There's always someone ...' How true.
Anyway. The day is bright, the rainy squally weather from yesterday has blown over, it's cooler this morning but the sun is out, birds are singing, all is calm and still in the neighbourhood apart from the runners and the dog-walkers.
Good days, not so good, and bad. That's life, as they say, but getting up with the 'good energy' can sure help put a brighter spin on things.
My walking buddy Pam and I see each other every day. I've been chatting with my next door neighbour as he's been out working on his property the last few days. I 'see' friends too, online, or we talk on the phone and a common theme seems to be emerging.
We're all getting tired. Are you?
And it's a funny kind of tired. My neighbour next door said he usually gets up at 6am every morning for work and now he's struggling to get out of bed before 11am. Another friend I spoke to yesterday said he feels 'lost', wandering through the days like a 'wraith, a shadow of myself'. A writing colleague and I shared an online whiskey last night and she said she feels just exhausted.
I have this increasing need that I am trying to suppress: I want to lie down, read a book, and fall asleep on my fainting couch (yes, there is indeed such a thing, a couch for ladies to recline when feeling faint, has a high back at one end, as you can see in this painting).
Betsy cat has now adjusted to the time change ( we went off daylight saving over the weekend) and she now starts her wailing wake-up call right on time at 6am. Usually her howling is something no sane person can sleep through but now, I just turn over and go back to snoozing. She eventually goes away but always returns about half an hour later with increased vigour.
So I am running late for work.
On our walk yesterday, Pam and I were keeping our social distance and having our conversation. At one point she stopped and said, 'Do you think people aren't smiling as much?' Indeed, some of the people we passed did not say hi like they used to. The exuberance and chattiness so apparent shortly after the lockdown is dissipating. The weather has turned grey too. Some rain, heavy clouds, a cold southwesterly wind.
Are the cracks starting to show? Is this fatigue the result of a 'slowing-down' of lives that were going full speed ahead? The brakes have been applied and we must now stop, breathe, take time to walk and think and pause? Anxiety can be exhausting and we've had plenty of that lately. Will we all come out of this refreshed, rested, relaxed, ready to go again? Or mentally depleted?
I don't know.
I do know that I am glad of Betsy's relentless routine. There's nothing quite like kids and hungry pets to spur us into action every morning when our own internal structures are slipping a bit.
The lure of my fainting couch is strong and I know I have to devise strategies to stay awake, alert, onto it because we are only halfway through our four-week isolation time.
The comfort of home
I remember the first time I saw our little bay here in Whangaparaoa.
My parents had a house on the other side of the peninsula but it was some distance from the beach. Mom loved swimming and the beach was her second home during the summer - all year round really as she loved to walk along the sand - but her Parkinson's was starting to slow her down. She and Dad decided to find somewhere closer to the water, on the flat, so she could still walk down and enjoy the sea.
One day I was visiting them and Mom and I were out in the car and she said, 'Drive down here, I want to show you this place' and we came down the steep hill, winding our way to the bay.
'This is one of my favourite places,' she said, 'because it's a quiet little bay and there's plenty of bush and birds.'
Not long after that, Dad and I purchased a property here. Way up in the bush was the funky little bach that has become my home, and Dad set about designing and building a house for Mom on the lower part of the section. I'm still in the little house, although it's been added to a bit, and Mom and Dad's house is now my writing studio and workplace.
My family has been here for a long time.
There is such comfort in 'home', having a place where your roots are deep. Home is security during turbulent times, a place of refuge, of family, a 'base of operations' from which we venture out into daily life. Memories of home stay with us. We may have many homes during our lifetime, or very few, and usually there are one or two that leave a greater footprint in our memories.
This place is home to me for many reasons. My Mom loved it and I love it. The connection goes from the heart to the land, the bush, sky and sea, the birds and even the old cranky possum that bangs about on my roof at night.
The comfort this place brings to me during such a weird and unnatural time is immense. I've weathered many storms here. This is the first time I've experienced a pandemic but every morning I am grateful to be here, in this place, watched over by all that is familiar and the lingering sense of family, now gone but ever present in the sound of the waves, the swish of wind in the trees, the bird song, the feel of grass and soil underfoot.
As human beings, we search for meaning in life - we're kinda hard-wired to do so.
We're living history in 'real time' right now - no one knows what each day will bring. There are many uncertainties. We don't get up and get on with usual routines. The rhythm of our days has changed. We're moving to a new beat now, one that might be a foxtrot one day, a slow waltz the next, or a thumping bass when we've just had enough of it all.
And we're looking for the meaning of it - what's going on, man.
Author Emily Esfahani Smith (The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters) , said in an interview with Scientific American, “We’re creatures that seek meaning, make meaning, and yearn for meaning. The question is—how can we lead a meaningful life? The route to meaning lies in connecting and contributing to something bigger than yourself—and not in gratifying yourself and focusing on what you, yourself, need and want, as the happiness industry encourages us to do.”
In her book, author Smith describes how finding meaning is a key to living well, and a part of that involves reflecting on our lives and writing a narrative. This practice can really help during times of uncertainty when we're struggling to figure out how our lives are being changed by external circumstances over which we have little or not control.
The first step is to stop and reflect.
Writing can help us make sense of the world and doing so takes on even more importance when we're faced with a global challenge like a pandemic: what is this all about? Why is this happening? What is going to happen to me and those I care about? What will happen to the world? Will things ever be the same?
Finding meaning can be a process of writing a narrative, telling a story, about those things that appear to be random and not connected at all, and understanding how these experiences actually do fit together. By reflecting on what is happening in the world right now, we can see how the arcs of our lives have already been affected, how life paths have been re-directed down roads we never knew existed, with destinations that are unclear (like driving down a foggy road at night with one headlight).
By writing we can achieve perspective and begin to understand our lives, and our selves, and what has meaning for us. Meaning can be found both in the challenge of global events and in the seemingly mundane hours of the days we are spending in our lockdown period.
Write about it all.
It'll be two weeks on Wednesday that we've been in our 'bubbles', staying home and being good.
Well done everybody - and our PM Jacinda Ardern says so too. We're doing great, even though we've reached the unnerving diagnoses number of over 1,000. Still, compared with other parts of the world, we're doing really well.
Most people have settled into their quarantine, finding things to do, keeping themselves well and sane, and sharing some entertaining things on Facebook (music, performances, madcap ways of alleviating boredom, pets doing weird stuff). I have been looking at drumming tuition videos, trying to learn some new techniques and beats because I really miss my music and my musician mates.
On our walk yesterday Pam and I came across this fellow in the front garden of a neighbour's place. A few days earlier he'd been perched up on the balcony, getting ready to launch into the stratosphere on a broomstick. Here he is preparing to ride off into the sunset on his trusty steed.
Wow, how I wish that was possible right now. To just get into the car and ride. Go off and meet friends for a beer and those delicious curly fries, or drive to a broad, long beach where the waves are breaking and noisy and frothing like bubbles in champagne. Not that our little beach isn't lovely but sometimes I need more energy, power, wind-blown spray in my face kind of thing, waves crashing and rolling, birds riding the updrafts.
Our freedoms have been taken away for a little while and we can hang with that because we need to. More freedoms will be taken - and for longer - if we can't get a handle on this bloody virus.
So in my imagination and memory, I can ride off on my rocking horse, heading out to the greener pastures of the vast prairie, the blue sky an endless canopy. This is not a unique feeling for me because I did have a rocking horse when I was little, along with a six-shooter Mom bought for me one day at the 'five and dime' and a cowboy hat. My sister called me Trashcan Jim for reasons I cannot understand but, undaunted, my rocking horse and I had adventures, my imagination serving me well, taking me to those places I'd seen on TV and in picture books, the Wild West.
Imagination is free and without limits. Use it. Do some writing, create something, paint a picture.
Hop onto your rocking horse and ride on outta COVID Country for a while.
This morning is brisk - a good, strong easterly coming into our little bay, kicking up the blue-green waves with vigour.
It's the kind of morning where you feel inclined towards housework: get out the vacuum, the mop and the broom, wash a bunch of clothes and hang them out on the line so they flap and kick in a frantic chorus line, then maybe collect some of the dead wood lying about in the bush for winter kindling ... that kind of thing.
Plus we have an extra hour in which to do stuff today as New Zealand has come off of Daylight Saving time.
When I asked Miss Betsy if she would relinquish her place on my lap so I could do chores, she nestled her head more firmly into the crook of my elbow, ignoring the harsh reality of housework and the noise and commotion it often entails. She's never been big on cleaning up and has no intention of changing in her advanced years.
I put off housework. Many of us do. It's not that thrilling nor is it attractive however one is often pleased with the outcome of one's efforts, especially when it comes to clean underpants and sheets, sparkling taps, freshly fluffed up carpet underfoot.
Today I seem to be spending more time on it, taking more care, getting into all the crannies around the house, dusting and sweeping, tidying and wiping and I know this is a response to all that is going on. It is a distraction (remember the importance of 'structure and distraction'?) and when one is busy 'doing something', the mind is on a practical track and spends less time straying into the territory of Pondering and Worrying.
So while I'm not advocating we all do this meticulous housecleaning thing, I do know that scrubbing and wiping and mopping and sweeping and vacuuming (and all of those other words we use to describe such domestic labours) can be very satisfying.
The results are pleasant to behold and being able to clean your home is something you have control over in a time when some of that 'being in charge of my life' has been taken away, albeit temporarily (we hope). In our daily walks I see people perfecting their gardens, hanging out duvets and blankets to air, polishing cars, painting walls, repairing roofs, taking care of things they may have been putting off.
By the time this is over, we'll all have 'house and garden' quality, real shiny cars and loads of clean underpants.
I ventured out today, hunting and gathering for supplies and provisions. It was the first time I'd been out in the car since we were advised to stay at home and it was rather surreal.
I went early, about 9-ish. The streets were almost empty of cars, just a few of us trailing about on similar missions. Plenty of people out walking, young and old, bicycles too. The emptiness was eerie. I cannot describe it any other way. Eerie. Spooky. Other worldly. A post apocalyptic feel.
This continued at the grocery store, our local Pak 'n Save. Silence. People gathering, not speaking, collecting a trolley, given a hand sanitizing towelette from an employee to wipe down the handle, then standing in an orderly queue, winding through roped off areas to the store entrance. No one talking as we were all solo shoppers; no family groups; no couples; the occasional brief smile at someone. That's about it. Plenty of time to watch the shoppers coming out. One young man in black with a beanie, his trolley was full of boxes of beer, about five different brands; a lady came out with layers of eggs; another with the toilet paper that was once an item of demand, now plentiful, and a man loaded down with cleaning products.
Every few minutes they would allow more people into the store - about ten or so at a time - and we would all shuffle forward, maintaining a respectful distance. There was no sneezing or coughing (thank heavens), no nose-blowing, nothing like that. I'm not sure how well that would have gone over with those waiting to get inside and forage.
Once inside, silence apart from piped music (pretty rocky and jolly) and the occasional PA announcement, organising people at the check out. People moved about calmly but with purpose, selecting their items from careful lists, not much comparing and weighing up a decision, just taking and moving on, all the while keeping a distance as best we could, apologising if a trolley blocked the aisle for a moment, everyone courteous but intent.
I saw one person I knew, one of our local librarians. We had a brief conversation and it felt odd to talk in there, almost as if we were doing something prohibited, although this was not the case at all. We both said how much we missed the library and all the books, and then we moved on with a 'take care.'
All of the checkouts were open, very small lines, check out operators separated from us by a perspex shield, each checkout station separated by a perspex partition. All done in silence. Not the usual chatter from the operators, just focus, get this done, get people through.
All fine with me - and all credit to Pak 'n Save Silverdale for organising such an efficient and effective system for shoppers. It was stress free, clear directions, great precautions. These things are so important during times when people are in a state of high anxiety. Well done.
So I am home, loaded with cat food, of course, and plenty of stuff to keep me going for a while longer.
As soon as I had unpacked and sorted and sanitized, I had a much-needed cup of tea and a hot cross bun.
Make that two hot cross buns.
I'm not an overly anxious person by nature but right now I seem to be developing a hair-trigger for anxiety.
The littlest thing is ruffling my feathers - and the big things are really making my hair stand on end .. and goodness knows I have a lot of that because I couldn't get to the hairdresser before the lock down.
Some of my friends aren't watching the news any more because it's just too scary. The scenes we see from New York are truly heart breaking and almost unbelievable: is this really happening? Yes, it is, and of course one cannot help but think, 'Could this happen here?'
Hope not. I think NZ is doing a pretty good job so far but the situation changes daily and it's the uncertainty of it all that creates anxiety.
We're all worried about the virus and, in equal measure, about the future: what will happen to our incomes, our homes and families? How will this situation affect our economy and for how long? How many more big businesses like Bauer Media will close?
Then there are the everyday anxieties: how will I get on at the supermarket? Will I be able to get what I need, and how long will that continue? What happens if something goes wrong with the plumbing or the roof starts to leak? All of these little things that we would normally just get on with and do, or pick up the phone and sort out ... it's complicated now. And all the while the sun continues to shine, the birds keep flying, and the waves keep rolling into the beach. Normality overlaid by a jittery blanket of anxiety.
Yesterday Pam and I had our usual walk around the neighbourhood. The mood was a bit low because people are beginning to understand that this four-week isolation could go on for longer. We started our walk, keeping our usual social distance, chattering away, but after an hour of walking, talking, and listening to others, we were pretty quiet by the time we got back to our homes.
When I got home, I fetched my bucket of garden tools and started cutting back bush and weeding around the front of the house, hauling my prunings to the compost, sweeping up the mess I'd made in the driveway. Lulu, the black cat next door, loves it when I garden out front. She comes over to roll around on the sun-warmed drive, prance about in the clippings, examine my tools and just generally hang out. Then Miss Lulu and I sat up on the deck and had a beer.
Was it the beer or the gardening that lifted my mood?
I think it was the gardening. I was pleased with the difference I'd made with my hard work.
It was something I had control over, something I could do, complete, finish, have a positive effect on and that felt good.
These are extraordinary times..
I'm writing about our