This is my tabla de inversión. I keep it in my writing room to stretch my back after too many hours sitting at my desk, staring out of the window (the view is temptingly distracting: Mt. Teide, the highest mountain in Spain and the second highest volcano in the world). It also gives me a chance to turn problems on their head and look at them from a different perspective.
Notice the photo on the wall in the background: a windsurfer suspended upside-down above Ho’okipa (Maui), mid loop. It reminds me of this passage from my novel: TOO CLOSE TO THE WIND …
“The wind was kind to me as I launched. I powered through the shore-break, celebrating by throwing myself into a forward loop. The world turned arse over tit and I landed still planing. Yeeha! It was something of a breakthrough moment. For one heady moment my life was turned on its head and suddenly it seemed more bearable from that perspective.”
As we look for a chink of light in these dark days, it’s important to stay flexible and think out of the box. For example, we might find that social isolation is an opportunity to get ‘Back to Basics’ and rediscover forgotten skills, hobbies, values: Cooking, DIY, Conversation, Reading, Writing, Making Art, Music … Our dog, Gizmo, has his own take on this (cartoon by my wife, the artist: Nikki Attree):
Sunday, 29th March. The clocks went forward today (or was it back? I can never get my head around this). Whatever. I’ve always thought it was a bonkers idea. I mean, BRITISH SUMMER TIME … in March? … wtf!
If, like me and our dog, your daily routine is set in stone, then it’s just one less hour of sleep, really. I try and get out of bed before 8am, unless severely impaired (by excess Sangria the previous evening, for instance) and it’s that much tougher if it’s only just getting light outside. It usually takes me, Nikki, and Gizmo most of a week to adjust.
When the clocks go back (?) again in the autumn it’s no better. You’d think that I’d get my hour of kip back again. But no. Gizmo wakes up when he sees daylight and insists on his pre-brekkie walkies, whatever the clock says.
So I drag myself out of bed, get dressed (relatively simple here: shorts, teeshirt, hoodie if it’s cloudy), grab dog plus lead, head out of the door … and stop. What have I forgotten? Keys—check. Sunglasses—check. Ah yes: my phone and driving license / ID, in case I’m stopped by the police. We’re allowed to take the dog outside to do his business, but the police have been stopping people. Nikki sometimes takes Gizmo’s pet passport with her, to prove he’s really our dog and not one we’ve rented just to allow us to go for a walk.
It would normally be quieter than usual on clock-moving Sunday, but this morning is, of course, exceptional. Week three of the lockdown begins today. The silence is eerie, the feeling of isolation total. It feels as if overnight all the humans on the planet have been abducted by aliens, leaving just me, Nikki, Gizmo and the seagulls. Alone. Perhaps this is how El Médano was in the Good Old Days: no airplanes, no traffic, no tourists, no surf shops—just a few fishermen and camels (yes, historically true) …
And then a police car goes past, as it does every morning at the same time—as measured by the clock.
We’re all like dogs. We need our routines. They give us freedom. Because freedom can only exist within a structure that allows you to appreciate it. Freedom is a state of mind. Imagination is escape. Creativity is therapy.
In these dark days, when borders are closed and we are locked down in our homes, I try not to think of myself as a prisoner … but if tempted to do so, I think of the prisoners who have endured longterm confinement: Nelson Mandela, Anne Franks, Gregory Roberts* … They survived by escaping via their imagination and creativity.
(* You might not have heard of Gregory Roberts, but his is an interesting story … He wrote his novel: SHANTARAM three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions. It’s 933 pages long and a bloody good read).
One challenge that Nikki, and her fellow artists face is running out of art materials. When lockdown was announced with just a few hours notice, we rushed out to stock-up on food. She never thought about paper, paint, canvasses, sketch pads etc. Now the local Chinese shop and papelería are closed.
Thankfully, an online search reveals that the art shop in Los Cristianos will still deliver. Phew! Nikki shares the good news with the Arte in Tenerife Facebook group that she set up: https://www.facebook.com/groups/488660071536915/
We writers just need a laptop (or, at a pinch, a bit of paper and a pen) to keep scribbling (as I discovered while waiting in line to get into Mercadona) and, of course, our imagination—which, again thankfully, is freely available. If you follow Socrates’ advice, you’ll know where to look for it.
Some people have been quoting the Gaia Principle and talking about the Corona virus as a manifestation of the planet fighting back, rebalancing, attributing it to “the cosmos and its laws” . Some mention God. But you don’t need to invent cosmic entities. Just look to humans themselves …
If humans over-exploit the planet for a few centuries, they produce phenomenal economic / technological growth, but eventually they reach a tipping-point when it becomes counter-productive. At that point, less selfish behaviour becomes more-and-more necessary for survival.
Humans are in constant flux—a feedback-loop between selfish & communal behaviour, war & peace, exploitation & conservation, consumption & creativity … But things only tend to change radically when there’s a crisis. Humanity needs a deadline.
‘Human nature’ = a constant rebalancing between periods of growth and optimism … spilling over into selfish exploitation … leading to pessimism … leading to a crisis (war, famine, disease, climate crisis etc) … followed by a rebalancing … leading to optimism …REPEAT INDEFINITELY
You don’t need to bring God or the Cosmos into it. The answer is in all of us: “Know Thyself”.
So, I don’t believe there’s a causal link between, say, global warming and the virus. If there is a link, then surely it can only operate the other way round: the virus might result in an economic slowdown, less tons of CO2 emitted, and possibly even a change in attitude (paying people a universal living wage / retainer not to work, or imposing a global carbon tax, might become more popular long-term strategies).
This crisis is fuelling a fascinating debate: a collision of cold, hard, scientific / politico-economic analysis vs emotional, spiritual / philosophical / moral arguments (not to mention humour). These are entirely different, often conflicting ways of looking at the human condition and the meaning of life; two tribes, often with mutually exclusive values. Both are valid, and necessary, imho.