The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a sniffed-out candle. – Albert Einstein
Fear not, my blog silence was not due to anything dramatic. Sure, a certain amount of pandemic fatigue, to be expected after weeks and months of it, with no end in sight. But I’ve tried to stay calm and soldier on as there wasn’t much I could do about it.
With so much time suddenly on our hands, my husband and I have decided to concentrate our efforts on the garden. It’s quite a large garden (three times the size of our old garden) that has been neglected for the last few years. I.e., there’s a lot to do so we’ve been working outdoors every single day.
My new routine: write for a couple of hours in the morning, go for a walk, work in the garden for the rest of the day, then read a couple of hours in the evening. I suspect this will be my new normal, at least this summer.
I was too exhausted to take any pictures, I just snapped a few with my cell phone. This is one of the birdbaths, surrounded by forget-me-nots. They’re everywhere, together with lilacs, lilies-of-the-valley, and honeysuckle. No hardship working in the garden then, as you can imagine!
So, stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. This video is about 20 minutes long, but please believe me, it’s worth the time!
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. This is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art. – Toni Morrison
As always, books are comforting. Both to write and to read. To give away, to loan, or to borrow. To read aloud or listen to. A shelter from the madness outside. Consolation. Oh, the “sweet serenity of books” as Longfellow puts it.
I write a bit, I delete a bit more, I pause, I stare through the window at the rough sea and the white clouds of surf. A blackbird jumps back and forth on the grass, looking for worms. The cat suns herself, lazily licking her paw. I write away the virus, the anxiety, the madding crowd.
Since my house burned down
I now have a better view
of the rising moon
– Mizuta Masahide (1657–1723)
Amid the alarming corona reports, fake news and yes, fear and anxiety, Masahide reminds us that beauty can be found everywhere, even in challenging times. We only need to pay attention.
So, take a break from your busyness, look around and see the world as it were new.
As for whether this is the last time we will hear a new Bob Dylan song. I certainly hope not. But perhaps there is some wisdom in treating all songs, or for that matter, all experiences, with a certain care and reverence, as if encountering these things for the last time. I say this not just in the light of the novel coronavirus, rather that it is an eloquent way to lead one’s life and to appreciate the here and now, by savouring it as if it were for the last time. To have a drink with a friend as if it were the last time, to eat with your family as it were the last time, to read to your child as if it were the last time, or indeed, to sit in the kitchen listening to a new Bob Dylan song as if it were the last time. It permeates all that we do with greater meaning, placing us within the present, our uncertain future, temporarily arrested.
Nick Cave, the Australian singer, songwriter and front figure of the rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, on a question about Bob Dylan’s latest song in his Red Hand Files (where he answers questions from fans).
I don’t really know when or how it happened, but my safety cocoon has now been activated. Right now, I don’t want to see more news, more corona statistics, or more quarantine advice. No new exciting films or this cool series on Netflix: corona has added enough excitement in my life.
What I do want is a remote control to turn off the world for a while. Or at least pause it. That’s what corona has done with our old world, put it on pause. Or shut it down completely? The future will show which. I wonder how this period will be called in the history books. We have the Great Depression. Maybe the Big Pause? The time when everything stopped all over the world, more or less.
What is clear already, I think, is that this is a marathon. We’re in for the long haul. It’ll take us some time to get through the unknown and the scary, and one of the most important things is mental health. It’s no secret that isolation and worry eventually will take its toll on the healthiest person. So, we have to find a way to get us through this long trial … should we call it the great unknown maybe?
People hoard food and toilet paper (toilet paper? TOILET PAPER? really?), but what will carry us safely to the other side is not full pantries, but hope and courage, confidence and perseverance, optimism and tenacity. And a lot of patience. We simply need mental fitness.
Today’s challenges are borne by hope. We must believe that there will be a life after corona, a good life, although it may look different than today. The most loving gift you can give your loved ones is hope, the best medicine in corona times – until a vaccine is available.
As Alexandre Dumas said: All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope.
Endurance is a marathon of hope.
So, stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh.
Taking my own advice, I continue writing, despite alarmist media reports, gradual movement restriction in Sweden and my own distraction. Creativity is hard work at any time, not only during a pandemic. So, I sit down every morning, turn on my computer and start typing.
I’m writing a short story at the moment. I was working on a novel but decided to pause it for a while. With a story, I can (hopefully) be done quickly and that would give me a feeling of accomplishment. It’s also good fun writing it, and fun is a good thing these days.
The funny thing (see what I did here?) is that I had completely forgotten about it. I had a few loose ideas, but I was working on a different thing at the time, so I just wrote them down and saved them in a “Writing Ideas” folder for later, and then promptly forgot about it.
A few days ago, two years later, I was looking for something else and came across this file titled “The Author”. I had absolutely no idea what it was. I opened it, read the couple of pages it consisted of and, not to sound my own trumpet, but they were good! With a few funny twists thrown in for good measure. So, I grabbed the file, got to work and ended up in that creative bubble where everything seems far away, even the coronavirus, and the world is warm, and nice, and fuzzy.
1) Always carry paper and pen with you and jot down any idea that you get. You will not remember it later. I’ve placed small blocks of paper and pens strategically everywhere in the house, and in my pocket when I’m out. You could argue, of course, that you can use your smartphone, but I favor paper and pen. I just enjoy leafing through the pages, slowly, back and forth, for the incommensurable joy of the unexpected connections that sometimes may jump at you from the pages.
2) Use a folder to organize these loose thoughts so you can easily find them later. Whether the folder is digital, or analog doesn’t really matter, it only needs to suit your organizational system. You do have one I trust?
Then let them marinate for a while, while you can carry on with your ongoing projects. You can come back any time to look for some ideas when you’re stuck or ready to kick off a new project.
Chance, or fate, or just the butterfly effect may sometimes lead you to the end of the rainbow too. All you have to do is trust your creative genie.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh.
“Novelists are not only unusually depressed, by and large, but have, on the average, about the same IQ as the cosmetics consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.”
I find solace in this Kurt Vonnegut quote in my moments of doubt, struggling with a text that doesn’t resemble in any way the picture I have in my head. I continue hammering at the keyboard, hoping to reach that exhilarating state when everything becomes possible.
From Suzanne McConnell’s book, Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style.
While other countries in Europe are under a lockdown or the freedom of movement has been much limited, Sweden goes its’ own way. The elementary schools, kindergarten, and shops are still open, the limit for permissible meetings is 500 people* and there is no mandatory curfew. However, more restrictions apply almost every day so it’s likely we’ll see more movement constraints eventually.
* A few hours after writing this, the limit has been set at 50 people.
Some of the museums and theaters have already closed on their own though, so my husband and I went to Millesgården last week in case it would close too. And right it was because Millesgården closed as well – the day after. We saw the announcement when we returned home.
Carl Milles (1875 – 1955) was a Swedish sculptor. Millesgården, that he designed and built in 1908, was his home and is now a museum with Milles’ antique collection, sculpture garden, and art gallery.
This is my favorite sculpture of Carl Milles. I probably have hundreds of pictures of it, I never tire of photographing it.
The garden is inspired by Italy’s Mediterranean gardens and it’s a work of art in itself. Carl Milles and his Austrian wife Olga, an artist herself, spent the winters in Italy that both loved.
My husband and I both love Millesgården. We used to visit it very often as we’re annual cardholders and it lies 10 only minutes from our home. During our seven years in Switzerland, these visits were one of the things we missed most, and we were looking forward to them when moving back to Sweden. Unfortunately, the corona pandemic put many things on hold, Millesgården visits included.
But life goes on and even the coronavirus will eventually be contained. When Millesgården will open again, you can be sure we’ll back in a heartbeat.
In the meantime: stay healthy, stay safe, stay calm and wash your hands. And don’t forget to laugh.
One thing that seems to be spreading faster than the coronavirus is fear. I’ve stopped checking social media and the internet in general to avoid conspiration theories, self-appointed pandemic experts and doomsday prophets. I sometimes browse both
for a few minutes (who am I kidding?) for a couple of hours, and it scares me (pun intended). Every time. Fear is now tangible. Palpable. Everywhere.
There are a lot of questions and few answers.
How long will this virus keep the whole world in its grasp? Will there be a vaccine? Will I or my family get sick? What happens with the economy? My job? Will life go back to the normal, ever?
Fear is normal, it’s a complex survival mechanism that serves us well. Living in a constant state of fear is not. Scared people are dangerous people. You never know what they’ll do, how they’re going to react when things get worse. When the reptile brain would simply take over and overwrite common sense and decency.
Others may become completely paralyzed, like deer caught in the headlights, incapable of action.
F. D. Roosevelt knew this. Here’s what he said in 1933, in the midst of another global crisis.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, from the speech at his first presidential inauguration on March 4, 1933.
Another Roosevelt, Theodore, laconically advises us what to do:
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Yes, fear is normal in the middle of a pandemic with so many unknowns. But we should not give in to fear. As I’m writing this, the sun is shining over Stockholm in a cobalt blue sky and the birds twitter, drunk with spring and sunshine. This too shall pass.
I found the poem below in Tim Ferriss’ newsletter from Friday. A poem speaking of fear and despair, but also hope and resilience. Take a break, take a deep breath, take the time to read a poem and just pause this whirling world for a moment.
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
– Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM*
March 13th 2020
* The Order of Friars Minor, also called the Franciscans, the Franciscan Order, or the Seraphic Order, has a postnominal abbreviation OFM.
Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh.
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