A New Writing Project // January
I started writing by months last year, as we entered a lockdown that still persists, albeit in a different shape to how it began. I suppose it was partially therapeutic, writing through the strangeness of it all, but it was also a way in which I could see – remind myself – how life simply continued. My kids kept growing, work kept going, my husband and I ticked over into a whole decade together. This sense of life being on hold, held hostage by an hysterical, undiscerning virus wasn’t the experience I was necessarily having, or at least, it didn’t adequately describe what this really feels like: water, remember, beneath ice keeps moving. Writing out the bits and pieces of our days, as the lockdown tightened, the weather worsened, as my 36th birthday came and went – it has become both a way of preserving the ordinariness in the extraordinary and a way of parsing out all of the strands of thought that aren’t necessarily connected to the pandemic. Because, even as almost every part of life is currently dictated by the pandemic, the water keeps moving and I with it. New years begin, new eras, that would have with or without the virus. As my kids reach the ages at which my earliest memories begin, I find myself at a point in my life that feels very much like I am opening a door into a room in which I have already been – as a child. Now I am there as a parent and as we go about our days, I am distinctly aware they will remember this, this right here, right now. As a result, I feel compelled, more than ever, to ruminate on my own childhood and my own memories, in light of what I now know as a parent. I once read – and wrote down, the scrap of paper is on my desk – a quote from Judith Barrington: the memoirist both tells the story and muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of her current knowledge. Perhaps that is what this project is more about than preserving memories of pandemic. Or perhaps the two are now strangely inseperable: I don’t know, I suppose I will find out.
Initially, I thought I’d just publish each monthly essay here, but then I thought, no: at the end of the year, I shall collate it all and publish the essays together, as a collection. An essay a month through the course of my 36th year on this planet, a writing project to keep me going. But I thought I could publish a little monthly excerpt here as a way to hold myself accountable (which is how I have used this space as a writer so often over the years) and as a way to, hopefully, give you something enjoyable to read.
So, here is the first excerpt, from January.
My childhood best friend’s sister had a saying typed on a piece of paper and stuck on her bedroom wall. Today is the day you worried about yesterday and all is fine. It always struck me as quite mature, but perhaps that’s because she, at two-and-a-half years older than me, was awfully mature. (She worked at the posher department store of the two that took the most floor space in every shopping mall and wore clothes from it that seemed impossibly refined.) I thought about it, often, through the whirl of high school and the oddly anxious days of my twenties in which things seemed weighted with the expectation everything was a stepping stone to the moment life would reveal itself (one’s 30th birthday, according to all pop culture narratives I came of age with). I used it to calm myself when big days came about, when anticipatory stress stole sleep. Tomorrow always comes and things never seem as bad in the morning. That has always been somewhat true. And yet suddenly, it isn’t. Today is the tomorrow I worried about yesterday and all doesn’t seem fine at all. Doable, of course, but not fine. Today is the tomorrow I worried about yesterday and it feels repetitive, confined. It feels just like yesterday. It feels like tomorrow will. It feels like no one actually knows what they’re doing and yet, at the same time, my social media is full of people who seem to know better, know more. These people are panicky or judgemental or all-knowing or simply disappearing into the abyss of self care that demands you buy cashmere loungewear and journals. Perhaps this is adulthood; the cladding of conviction so unshakeable in youth and your twenties, seems to fall away as the world shows you how little you know. Or perhaps it’s the pandemic playing out on a heating planet full of people at the end of an era that is being exposed for its devastating failures and we’re all desperate for a new cycle to begin, a rebirth. Perhaps they’re one and the same.
I’m 36 today. It’s -1 degrees and the sky is white. Mid-winter, mid-pandemic, mid-thirties. The family cat chose today to shuffle off its mortal coil and, as my mother-in-law so wistfully put it, handing me purple tulips from a safe two metres away, my birthday is now its death day. The children made me a chocolate cake under supervision of their Dad, who has never made a cake before and is inexplicably nervous about baking. I listened to the stress from upstairs, as a whole egg, shell and all, went into the batter. My four-year-old’s soft soccer ball which he is very much not allowed to kick inside, knocked over a bottle of wine and, like arterial spray, it arced up over the kitchen, hitting the most unreachable of surfaces with tiny ruby dots. A bottle of Sekt arrived from the neighbours, a collection of spring bulbs with their hopeful green stalks from a new mum friend. Later, a dear friend dropped off a ‘box of summer’ – beach sand in a jar, salt spray for my hair, a bottle of white wine. The first birthday I spent in this country was my 26th. In the decade since, I’ve spent several birthdays at home, in the heat of high summer, the cicadas starting their relentless song at dusk, the wine cold, the tennis on. The birthdays I have spent here, at the tail-end of what everyone agrees is the worst month of the year, have always felt a bit funny, as if they’re fake, a stunt birthday, or something done for a laugh, like Christmas in July. But. The Sekt, the bulbs, the tulips, the summer in a box. Each year, I am reminded by these people who think of me, who remember me, these friends and neighbours, my family here – this is where I am now. In case I forgot, in case I feel, sometimes, like I exist in the crevice between two places, this is where I am. The roots wiggle their cold feet beneath the frozen ground.