These weeks in lockdown have seemed to slip away so quickly, each day passing to the next with a speed strangely at odds with the stretching hours of sunlight. Before we knew it, the summer solstice was upon us, a tipping point in the balance of light and dark, where the world gives the night a new blanket, and tells her to unfurl it inch-by-inch across the sky. Here in Caithness, it barely gets dark at all, a fact borne out by my insomnia, which seems intent on waking me up to gaze out at a world of early-hours twilight. I watch from behind a raised curtain, nervous of waking my dog and unleashing a frenzy of night-time barking on the street. I try to record it all in my mind, filed into that bank of scenes captured only with eyes, saved for the words they might offer me later. Right now that is mostly how I like to capture my life – through the quiet pictures in my mind. I have much less desire to post on social media, and most days, I’m happier to measure the value of my experiences inwardly, on my own terms. It seems that lockdown has made my life smaller, and I am more introverted than ever. As the world starts to unfurl again, will I ever open up?
I resonate with my friend Andrea, who wrote recently that social media was killing her creativity. I identify with this too, being the type of person who can only hold a certain amount of information within the limits of my brainpower and imagination at one time. Every now and then I need to declutter, to let my default mode network (the curious area of our brain that goes into ideas-generating mode when we are doing nothing) loose on the world. Between homeschool, home work and all the information that’s ‘mandatory’ right now, these past few weeks, it’s felt like something’s had to give.
Alongside this, I’ve been struggling with some of the things I’ve seen on social media lately. I’ve made the mistake of reading ‘below the line’ sometimes – thereby ignoring my personal boundaries around absorbing the comments on certain types of posts. On occasion I’ve seen things that have troubled me, that have come from a place of scarcity, that have suggested there is only so much of certain things to go around – things like empathy and compassion; bounded by the impression that we cannot care about one thing if we already care about something else that’s happening. This reminds me of my feelings before I had my second son, when I worried that I could never love another child in the same way I loved my first. When my second son arrived then, did I love him any less than his brother? Of course not, because my love was infinite, in the same way that empathy and compassion are infinite things. We have an endless supply of them all within us, yet for me, the ‘soundbite’ culture of social media often deprives us of this nuance of experience and gnaws away at our layers of humanity. Over recent weeks, I’ve had to back away from this type of content and my own exposure to it – to stay in a place where my senses are alert, and the door to my heart is open wide. As time goes on, I think perhaps the biggest skill we can foster in life is empathy – that ability to internalise someone else’s experience, knowing that awareness and understanding are often the first small steps towards change in the world. For me lately, social media has not been the place to find those things. Whilst I keep looking for them, I occupy myself with what I can control, focusing on my stories and my reading; trying to find value in the words I can offer to the page.
And so I head to the sea, where I’ve been meeting a friend twice-weekly since the first easing of lockdown. To say we go sea swimming would be an exaggeration – ‘chatting in water’ is more akin to what we really do. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of the water, though, wrapping itself around you like silk, cold enough to make you gasp as you enter. I read once that the most challenging part of cold-water swimming is the moment you submerge your heart under the water – an organ that understandably, wants to protect itself from the icy fist of a freezing sea. This is certainly my own experience, and I still feel nervous until I’ve dipped my shoulders under the surface, pausing for a second to check that my heart is still beating.
And it is – full of the things that are wide, and open, and infinite.
And I am untethered.
Just like that new blanket of summer, unfurling its way across the sky.