All We Have is Now

Leave March in March. The last month has felt like a decade, February and January weren’t great either. But this is a new quarter. So let’s not dwell on what came before.

The situation we find ourselves in is beyond our control. We can’t change it. We can only make the best of the minutes, hours and days ahead of us. Try to find something to hold onto that brings you joy. Remember that neither good nor bad things last forever. All we have is now.

This changes everything

One day we will have this virus under control. Maybe that’s six months from now or maybe it will take longer. And when that happens we will be in a recession. Businesses are already folding and more will follow. The stock market appears to be in free fall. People will lose their jobs, their businesses, their houses. These things are already happening and they will probably get worse.

The gouvernment will try to put things back together. They will try to go back to the way things were last year. The economy will be prioritised above pretty much everything else. Back in Business will be the slogan. We will be asked to make more sacrifices to try and rebuild the world as it used to be. But should we?

It’s not just the economy that is being changed by this. People are being changed as well. In the west we no longer live in a protective bubble, sure that nothing can truly harm us. The safety net is gone. People who have never needed social aid are having to ask for it. People aren’t sure when this is going to end. We are losing our “innocence” and that is going to be the biggest change.

Going back to the way things were is impossible. The society of 2019 isn’t sitting there waiting for us to get through this, it is gone forever. We can’t go back to it, even if it was something worth going back to. We have changed and that means we aren’t going to settle for things being the way they used to be.

I don’t know what that’s going to mean. I don’t know what the world of 2021 is going to look like but I know it won’t be the same as the world of 2019. It can’t be. How can we possibly go back to cutting NHS funding when we’ve all seen how much we rely on it and the people who work in it? How can we go back to questioning a living-wage for people who work in supermarkets and as couriers when we’ve seen that we need them to keep us alive?

Things are already changing, the only question is what we want them to change into.

Weekends

I have been working from home every day for the last few weeks but this is the first week my kids have also been off school. As we aren’t allowed to leave the house we have a unique problem of how to define a difference between the weekdays and the weekend. I am not sure why it seems important to do this but it does.

There will be differences: I won’t be sitting in my office from 9 until 5 so they will see more of me. We are also unlikely to attempt the sort of formal home-schooling my wife has been doing for the last week. But other than that?

We will watch some films together. I might finally get out for a run. I will do some gardening. But we won’t be able to go out anywhere and it’s only now that it really hits me how much we are losing there.

I have always been more than happy to stay at home to work. Sitting in front of a computer is the same wherever I happen to be doing it. It’s also very rare that we go out in the evenings. On weekends we used to go out; to the cinema, for meals, to the park, for long walks. Now we can’t do any of that.

It’s going to be a strange experience. Oscar is already asking about going out and despite how much fun he’s had in the garden, Jude is also starting to get bored. And really, this is only week one of complete lock-down, we have a long way still to go.

Make it Easy

There is too much going on right now. It was my intention not to write about the Coronavirus here but how can I do anything else. Even if I don’t mention it directly, it is safe to say that it is in the background of everything I think about at the moment. How could it not be? Going out of my way to not refer to a major current event that’s affecting the whole world would be extremely obtuse.

Having said that…

At the moment everything feels like a struggle. My natural inclination seems to be to scour the internet news sites and social media as if doing that will keep me and my family safe. What I should really be doing is writing and reading but, however much I enjoy those activities, they offer medium/long term rewards whereas surfing the latest breaking news is instant gratification (albeit with a heavy dose of medium/long term anxiety).

Which is why I am doing my best to make it easy to read and to write. The two fiction books I have on the go at the moment are short story collections and the non-fiction book is about writing. I am also reading them in digital formats (which is uncommon for me lately, but certainly the most convenient format) so they are available on my phone as well as my Kobo reader. I am setting myself limits for when I can check the news and trying my hardest to stick to them. I don’t succeed as often as I would like.

This situation is hard but I am determined not to fall apart and go back to my bad old habits. If I can’t make the progress I originally wanted, I can at least not make it any worse. I am doing my best to make it easy to make the right choices.

Don’t Go Crazy

This might be my last post specifically relating to the Cornovirus outbreak because it’s time I started following my own advice.

Since my Digital Declutter post in May last year I haven’t blogged. I have been trying very hard to cut my internet use and media consumption back. I have been successful for weeks at a time and I have felt a lot better about everything. I was still doing this when the virus started leaving China and making its way to Europe so I was slow to pick up on what was happening. Even as Italy prepared to lock its doors I was under the mistaken impression that it wasn’t really going to impact me.

When it finally did hit me I fell back on my old patterns of using the internet too much, listening to news radio and, basically, trying to inhale as much information about the situation as I could. Unsurprisingly, the weeks that I have been doing so have been very stressful. And the question I find myself asking now is; was I really worse off when I didn’t understand the full implications of what was happening?

Perhaps, but I’m not sure it’s as straightforward as that. Maybe it would be better to ask whether I am better off checking the news every fifteen minutes than I would be checking it once or twice a day? I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

Most of the news I’ve read and watched about it isn’t actionable information. Which means that the only outlet I have for it is panic which doesn’t do me or the other people around me any good. And it is quickly driving me back into the old unfortunate habits that I’d hoped were behind me.

My solution then is to check the news twice a day; once mid-morning and once when I have finished work for the day. That should give me everything I need to know about what’s happening and it should reduce my levels of stress. What it means for this blog is that I am going to try to write about other things, things that I was thinking about before this all started and will still be thinking about long after it is all over.

Stay safe out there.

Try to make the most of it

This isn’t a good situation. It seems like half the world is locked away and none of us knows what the long term impact of that is going to be. Personally, I’m not even thinking about that as most of my concerns are more immediate; what happens if someone in my family catches the virus?

But on the bright side I get to spend more time with my family every day. I get to eat lunch with my wife and children every day. I feel more a part of the family than I do when I spend two hours a day sat in my car by myself. And whatever the next few weeks may bring, I want to enjoy that and make the most of it.

It’s Not The Apocalypse

I have read a lot of post-apocalyptic books and watched a lot of movies. I’m sure you have as well. That’s probably one of the reasons why I’m finding the news so distressing at the moment; because it all looks so familiar. But if that was the only issue then I think we would be okay and we would see a lot more people behaving like reasonable adults. Unfortunately, we also have a lot of experience of modern news reporting to go on.

We all saw what the media did during the Brexit campaign and during the most recent election. Until recently we could see it happening in the Democratic Primary in America. We know that the media isn’t presenting us with an unbiased factual report of what is going on. They are using the same attention grabbing techniques that they have always used, the scare tactics and rhetoric. Unfortunately this seems to be creating two courses of action:

  1. People refusing to believe what they are being told and carrying on life as normal.
  2. People believing that the world is going to end and panic buying toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

Neither is a good response, but I can’t blame anyone for either. This is what the media does now and no one trusts it. Either we assume they are over-inflating the crisis, or that they are deflating it. There’s no real way of knowing which one of these it is or if, in this rarest of moments, they have all decided to start being professional journalists and are reporting things accurately.

There’s no short term answer to this and I’m not here to tell anyone what to do. My advice would be to listen to the doctors and nurses who are working on the front line and have first-hand experience of what is going on. And, while it’s probably a good idea to play it safe, can I suggest that if we run out of toilet paper in the shops we have probably already run out of something much more important.

A Solution to a Problem It Created

As we prepare for a likely lock down in the UK, social media is playing an important role in getting people organised so we can support the elderly and vulnerable. I am part of a WhatsApp group in the village making preparations for this and, although I am not on Facebook, I know a lot of other volunteers are being found there. It’s fair to say that, without social media, we would just be a number of well meaning people who wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. However… and with network technology it seems like there is always an however, social media is one of the reasons we are in this situation to begin with.

Things were already changing, I suspect, when social media came along. Sixteen years ago, when Facebook first started, we were not living in idyllic communities where everyone knew everyone and we all looked out for each other, that chad been going away for a long time. People were already moving away to live and work in different places, lives were already changing, but without the ease of keeping in touch with old friends there was still an incentive to know who your neighbour was and to have some kind of connection with the people you physically lived near. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

Now I could live quite comfortably without knowing the names of my neighbours, let alone what their needs might be. Now it takes a formal organisation to get help to older and vulnerable people whereas once it might have just been something we knew and did. Social technologies are playing an important role in mobilising help, but if they had never existed in the first place we might have kept hold of the old connections we had to our physical environments.

It’s a complex situation and during this crisis it’s too late to do anything about it. Idealistically I am apposed to those tools, but I am more idealistically apposed to letting my neighbours starve, so it’s a question of degrees. But my hope is that, once this crisis is over, it gives us all a chance to reflect on the way we have been living recently. That it reminds us there are real people in our local communities and that we are a part of those communities. I hope that when this is all over we don’t lose the connections that we build.