The isolation diaries | part 8

For someone who can happily chat away about almost anything, I am surprisingly not a great lover of small talk. This aversion to gentle conversation is likely the reason I find it so challenging to start every single blog post; I’m prepared to sink straight into the depths of topics that are tugging at the curtains of my mind, but I don’t know where to begin.

It feels wrong not to include some kind of salutation to ease into more poignant thoughts – like wildly flicking open a book to an unread page and processing the words that are printed halfway down. The lack of context is confusing, however attempting to position some background as a prefix to intended messaging is difficult.

This is probably a cultural curse of politeness, feeding a fear of being viewed as rude for asking full-on questions or seeming too intense, and I bet it has something to do with women being brainwashed into thinking they have to be nice.

It also explains why my introductions are never just one paragraph, and actually why my posts are far longer than I originally intend for them to be. I’m doing it right now, ironically, by lengthening what was supposed to be a diversion from writing an opening line into a monologue about how much I hate doing just that.

Lingering on formalities about the weather or trivial anecdotes seems to be a distraction from real, juicy conversations; the kind that my mind will return to caress and mull over years into the future, the kind that change perceptions and challenge me to contemplate other people’s opinions. It’s very unlikely I’ll remember a fleeting exchange about how someone spent their weekend (sorry) and I hate that awful hesitation between swapping pleasantries and falling into a natural rhythm, or needing to suddenly steer the subject in its planned direction.

Of course it’s necessary, but I really struggle with the concept and feel myself becoming self-conscious. As a teenager I was confident and patient in conjuring up irrelevant schpiels, but as I slowly realise the delicacy of time, the subconscious desire to reserve it for hearty chats that evoke raw emotions and encourage voices to ricochet quickly back and forth, grows stronger. I have no problem handling the weight of a silence, but find it’s only worth it during a long and comfortable talk.

The same notion applies when writing letters, which I have been doing a lot during lockdown. I love the old fashioned, romantic ambience of selecting a pen and creating the first indent in a crisp white sheet, much like crunching the heel of a welly into untouched snow. There’s an honesty in having nowhere to hide errors – no backspace to rely on to rethink a sentence – and so stories are inevitably told by the curves of earnest handwriting and ugly scribblings out that litter the page.

A letter in this day and age though is practically a shrine to small talk. If anything desperately urgent needs to be relayed we pick up our phones and connect instantly, so all that’s left to fill a blank sheet of A4 is a collection of musings, stories, and rhetorical questions that will remain hanging in the air unless the recipient decides to reply through the same medium. The unpredictable, physical, time-consuming process is cathartic, and the joy of peeling open a parcel to find a note from a loved one who has dedicated a slice of their day to putting their thoughts down on paper for you is unparalleled.

I am still embarrassingly getting to grips with the whole mailing system as tragically it’s relatively new to me. Birthday surprises are either delivered in person or ordered through Moonpig, and on one occasion where I actually sent a card, I realised shortly afterwards I’d forgotten to put the address on it. Thankfully my awareness has improved and the only minor mistake I can recall of late is missing the name off an envelope (luckily I got the destination right and it made it).

The money I’m saving on commuting is now being delegated to stamps and trips to the post office, but the small fortune spent on parcels to friends and family is irrelevant compared to the tingle of happiness I receive in return to their reactions. I’ve initiated a book swap with one close friend and think this is such a rewarding method to keep the chain going.

Usually when we message someone there’s a purpose rooted in the action: a request, or a plea for advice or a need to express a sentiment. Regardless, small talk is again depended upon to pave the way for the ability to achieve this. Maybe it’s something I need to accept and work on, letting go of my whimsical restlessness towards meaningful encounters and finding peace in lighthearted discussions.

A friend mentioned the other day how strange it is that humans are so obsessed with holidays and I’ve been contemplating it ever since. Why are people so thirsty to escape their lives for a week and pretend they don’t even exist, coming back miserable and riddled with dread to resume them again? The friend asked why some dislike their ‘normality’ so much that this mentality beckons and causes them to flee as many times as possible during the year.

I’ve never been one to laze on a poolside sun lounger all day (hangovers are the exception to this rule). If I’m visiting another location I’m eager to immerse myself in the culture and inhale the vibrance of exploring history, local traditions and trying new food. Some time off to relax is important, but typically I find myself returning home more exhausted than I left because I have been busy upholding the pace and excitement that occupies my everyday. Obviously I look forward to time off, but I bring my authentic self along for the ride so the bumpy transition in-between seldom effects me.

As traditional trips abroad are surely off limits this year I am hoping that the opportunity to travel within the UK will still be feasible. I’ve longed for an excuse to discover the cities I have yet to tick off my list and roadtrip around Scotland for years, but the enticing destination of another country has taken priority.

The impending cancellation of festival season has hit me hard. I’m not in any way questioning the decisions, as they are absolutely right. It would be ridiculous to proceed with any mass gatherings, and concerts are a perfect breeding ground for spreading disease. I’m not complaining either, because that’s an insincere attitude to have when people are dying and suffering a lot worse than me not being able to party for four days in a field.

I am, however, sad about it. After my first experience in 2014 I have attended at least one every summer. Festivals are my equivalent of a holiday resort (although I definitely don’t go to them to rest) and the gap in my calendar is proving hard to ignore.

On the other hand, as my wise friend said, I should appreciate the value and wonder of my life as it is. I don’t need to wait for a weekend in August to celebrate music, put on a funky ensemble, lather myself in glitter and dance with friends. I have the choice to indulge in these special characteristics every day (over Zoom at least).

I have been tentatively adopting clothes that were reserved for events into my daily outfits, and the positivity that radiates from this slight alteration in dress code is magical. Obviously I won’t be rocking a sequin playsuit to the office when it opens up again, but for now bright accessories are getting me through. Plus, there’s no doubt my friends will be having a campout to boogie the night away when lockdown is over, whether it’s at ‘real’ festival or not.

Somehow it escaped me that last week was Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK (perhaps due to the British political news swamping our feeds, but let’s not dissect that right now), but I wanted to mark it as I try to do every year.

Staying afloat of mental health issues is fucking tricky as it is, let alone when you throw a global pandemic and lockdown restrictions into the mix. Under the circumstances it is tempting to slip into negative habits, or be triggered by the relentless uncertainty, tragedy and fear that is circling us.

Everyone is impacted in unique ways, however if I am fighting to stay in control of my wellbeing whilst nestled in a safe family home and thankfully a secure financial situation, I can’t imagine how horrible it must be for those who are living alone, have lost jobs due to Coronavirus, or do not have adequate access to support.

I really feel like there should be more measures taken by those in power to remind us of the resources that are there to help when we are suffering, rather than promoting unhelpful messages of solidarity (it’s not solid when some politicians clearly think their needs are more important than those of the citizens they are meant to represent- oops, it just slipped out).

So if you are struggling with mental health currently or at anytime, please know that you are not alone, my inbox is always open, and there are so many organisations out there to help you. Here are some:
Beat – eating disorder charity
Mind – mental health charity (with a helpful section on dealing with consequences of Coronavirus)
Samaritans – suicide prevention charity
Young minds – children & young people mental health charity
OCD action – OCD support charity

I am investing energy into being especially forgiving of small mishaps or lapses in concentration I may have right now, and crossing my fingers that this infusion of self-inflicted kindness will seep into treatment of myself in the future.

Last Wednesday I took the afternoon off because the weather was predicted to be delightful (which it was) and I craved a tiny window of freedom on what should be a busy working day. I was keen to clear my head by briefly blocking out the fuzzy white noise that encases every interaction these days like enamel to a tooth.

Let me tell you, it was more needed than I could ever have known. I took a dip in the river and didn’t touch my phone for hours, welcoming the disorientating refreshment of getting lost in time.

It’s occurred to me as it nears almost three months that my house has become my full-time office, that I am a lone worker. While socially I depend heavily on the punctuation of calls with friends, I am thriving in the total concentration of solitary tasks.

At university I never realised why I disliked joining friends in studying at the library, or detested the burden of a group project. Now I understand it’s because I am effortlessly preoccupied and lack the willpower to engross myself in urgent activities when the option to procrastinate is nearby.

Working remotely I can structure my diary in a manner that complements the hours my brain is most proactive, can better prioritise my to-do list, am not confined by strict schedules, and cannot be sidetracked by overhearing intriguing gossip. I am less aggravated if extra jobs prevent me leaving on time because there is no train to catch.

In a book-related update (it amazes me how quickly I can divulge these on here now as I am whizzing through them faster than ever before!) I have finished reading Normal People and embarked on the series, which is an interesting dynamic as I’m constantly comparing it to the novel.

I adored the writing, although won’t analyse it too heavily as I couldn’t do Sally Rooney’s delicate yet powerfully evocative words justice, specifically the mesmerising way in which the author beautifully describes seemingly plain yet relatable moments.

To be honest, I wholeheartedly demolished it and the subsiding repercussions left me very glum. Not purely because I ran out of delicious chapters to devour, but because the plot was increasingly frustrating and ending on a cliffhanger always leaves me with a sense of unease. Perhaps I’m boring and have little imagination, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for happy endings (sometimes I watch Titanic and stop the film right before the boat sinks so I can relish in Rose and Jack’s euphoria).

I have heard endless accounts of fans preferring the series to the book, and while the chemistry between the two actors is intensely convincing I think there’s an underlying tangle of information that just can’t be captured on screen. The theme of miscommunication is portrayed stunningly and it’s a dream to watch the characters grow, however my heart lies firmly with the book on this one.

In other content news, I have been inspired to scrawl a few poems down during isolation, mainly influenced by the deepening chasm separating me from my boyfriend, and those who are in the same position of not being permitted to embrace their partners because of COVID-19.

I am very much a novice when it comes to poetry, and have only ever shared my creations with trusted friends and Josh himself, although I’m feeling brave (I’ve had a glass of wine) and proud enough of my experiments to debut them here. Please be kind to me! I have long been secure in the style of my casual blog posts, but rarely feel motivated to share any of my other literary quests so I hope you enjoy them.

The first is a love poem I included in an ‘isolation care package’ to Josh, with some wine, chocolate, a private love letter and a guitar pick (we’re both learning to play, one of us more than the other…).

This beauty of a dress haunted me for weeks after spotting it shopping in Urban Outfitters, and after much consideration I ordered it. The original style I had eyed up was in a cream colourway, but the minute I noticed it came in this subtle olive green my decision was set in stone.

Without sounding too cliche, the authority that clothes can empower has been proved to me more than ever while staying in. Let’s be real, 70% of the time I am in joggers and a t-shirt, but this further highlights the impressive mood boost I receive when wearing something that suits me and I feel good in – even if that’s just for a Morrison’s shop.

Yeah, this may be more suited to bridesmaid attire than a dog walk – that’s irrelevant. What matters is the sexy, bold, attitude that is automatically revealed on slipping it over my head. This recognition has reiterated the reason behind my choice in outfits: to benefit me, and only me. Not men, not those around me, but ME (although obviously I sent these pics to my bffs for feedback before posting).

I actually christened this my ‘I really hope lockdown is over before my birthday so I can wear this’ dress, but on second thought, I don’t need to delay it for a special occasion. I do hope lockdown is over by my birthday, though, because I’m a Leo and no one wants to bear the brunt of that tantrum.

I used to hate my arms and would refrain from wearing any item that accentuated them, but have slowly grown to love these freckle-dotted limbs. Sure, they may not be the shape I associate with those in magazines, but they do so much for me and I am grateful for that, and I’m certainly not going to let it stop me from wearing a dress as fabulous as this.

This poem I rapidly typed into the notes of my phone after brushing my teeth while a little drunk one evening. It’s rough around the edges but hey, poems are meant to be sometimes. I’m not sure if it’s just our relationship, but we somehow end up in fits of laughter when observing each other completing the mandatory tooth-brushing routine, so this is a product of lonely nostalgia that surrounds undertaking the chore alone. How I miss these types of mundane moments now – I never knew I would take them for granted.

Hoping everyone is safe & well.

Lily x

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