What we can sensibly and joyfully do

Dog looking out window

What we can sensibly and joyfully do

April is the cruellest month. Easter weekend mocked us with blazing sun and, at least here in North London, fiercely white blossom billowing in whorls off the trees like cartoon snow. One house played the Mexican hat song on repeat for most of Easter Monday and the residents of our block blinked at the sun on their balconies, drink in one hand and phone in the other, trying to be lit and still see their loved ones on Zoom. Trapped in their houses, people tried to find ways to feel free. 

Then on Monday came the inevitable news. Another month of lockdown. There is a relief to certainty, and while no one was really expecting anything, it felt like there was a collective holding of the breath, a gentle wondering whether something might change. I didn’t cry as I did at the first lockdown announcement, but that doesn’t mean anything. 

Like many people I guess, my mental health comes and goes. Some days are good, some bad, some hours good and some bad. We are experiencing a global cycle of grief, with all it’s  recursive, looping eddies of emotions and micro-emotions. Anger, apathy, surprise, resolve, happiness, and around we go again. All this compounded by the lack of what is most precious when you are grieving: human contact. It is hard under these circumstances and largely alone to construct a narrative of self, a story that holds everything together. And even though I know it is unnecessary, I think we all feel we need one, a coherent up-to-date answer to the earnestly-asked ‘How are you doing?’

This came to the fore last week in a meme: ‘If you don’t come out of this without a side hustle and a new skill, you’re doing it wrong’. This idea in various forms bounced around the internet causing more than a little controversy. ‘You have time!’ Said one side. ‘Use it to do the things that you are always promising yourself you’ll do!’ ‘This is trauma!’ Said the other side, ‘Let people have their own reactions.’ ‘It’s just sitting at home,’ said the first side, ‘Unless you are in genuine danger, it’s just a staycation!’ ‘People need a chance and space to grieve. Don’t add guilt on top’. ‘Effort and challenge will make you feel better.’ And so it played out in various forms on news feeds for a couple of days. I have to say I vigorously agree with both sides, and thinking two things hurts. 

Because right now we all want hard and fast answers and solutions, and they don’t and won’t come. Hardest, most complex and most necessary is forgiveness and compassion, both for others and for yourself. There is (weirdly) so much to do, and social media highlights and foregrounds those who are throwing themselves into the fray, making the best, doing extraordinary things. It leaves less space for those who aren’t coping right now, who are feeling claustrophobic and useless, unable to get up. Or however else they are feeling.

Heather put it well as we were discussing balance this week with the Nursery team. ‘What can we sensibly and joyfully do?’. Sensibly because we are all feeling the feelings that we are feeling right now and there ain’t no controlling that, joyfully because there is no point adding shame on top of it all. ‘What can we sensibly and joyfully do?’ is a hard question, and one that requires a lot of thought and honestly to answer. But right now it might be the only question that matters. 

As a team, The Nursery agreed to start online shows this week (18/04/2020) and online jams next (check our Facebook for both), cautiously and without over-committing. We have had some draft plans about what we might do. Some of it will happen, but not all. That is ok. We don’t know where we will be, or how we will be. 

This is probably not, in the end, an improv blog. But then again maybe it is. I am learning again  this week those tough lessons of empathy and theory of mind that improv teaches so well. How, as Phillip Larkin puts it “We should be gentle to each other, we should be kind”. We should do so however our minds and hearts are reacting to this situation. And, when we can’t look each other in the face, that is a conscious and daily returning effort. 

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