THE BOX OF BEAUTY
ARE WE GOING TO BE ALRIGHT?
Further Reflections on Locked Down Days
Outfoxing the Fox
In my garden, I’m waging war on foxes. I’m furious with them.
Fox cubs have ransacked the flowerbeds! Night after night. Displaying flagrant disrespect for all my hard work. I’m upset and disheartened. It feels like a violation and I take it personally. Day after day I replant wild cyclamen, crocus and grape hyacinth bulbs, berry red and butterscotch heuchera, urging my plants to hang in there and not to give up hope of taking root.
It’s my own fault really. What did I expect? The freshly dug soil, fragrant and aerated by the warm autumnal air, is just too tempting for them to resist. I’ve created perfect digging conditions: an adventure playground and they are revelling in it.
My neighbour tells me that at this time of year the fox cubs are mercilessly thrown out of the den to fend for themselves and master survival techniques – including the art of den-building – hence the burrowing shindig.
But I am not feeling any pity for the foxes and am using every cunning trick to deter them.
I’ve spent a small fortune on super-strength wild animal repellent. I’ve strewn the beds with strong smelling lavender cuttings, prickly hawthorn, rose and brambles, in the hope that these measures will keep them at bay. But my efforts are all to no avail.
According to a friend, the best deterrent is male urine. It’s the testosterone, you see. It’s my last resort, and hopefully, my ace in the hole, which will outwit these wily creatures and so I’ve politely prevailed upon the male members of my family to donate their urine to sprinkle over my garden — A natural, humane solution to the problem.
It occurs to me that my small wrangle with the foxes (and please don’t misunderstand me, I am a pantheist, I am nature-loving, and want to live in peace and harmony with man and beast!) has parallels to life. There’s always strife to contend with. Man versus fox versus man versus the virus. All of us vying for our rights; for control; for justice; for protection; for survival. We antagonise each other. Misinterpret actions or intentions. Emotions boil over. A bit more love wouldn’t go amiss.
During this pandemic, the essence of what it is to be human comes to the fore and is thrown into clear relief: we’ve observed and perhaps experienced every aspect of human behaviour and how we react to a threat.
It’s interesting how we, as individuals, families, as a society, deploy self-protection mechanisms to keep us from harm: social distancing, shielding, wearing face masks, shutting down economies. I wonder if all the effort and sacrifices over these past months have been worthwhile or do we need to learn to live with the virus in our midst? I’ve no doubt we will bring it under control eventually. Maybe we shouldn’t view the pandemic as a battle to be fought. In the end, a natural order will prevail, and it will evolve at its own pace whatever mankind does to rush it along. At the end of the day, the virus will be defeated, and we’ll think we’ve won.
Inside my bubble
For me, the spring lockdown has an internalising effect: a retreat from the entropic uncertainty portrayed in the media, and the concerns of the wider society, into my own inner world of peace: a microcosmic bubble where personal angst still exists, but where there is an overriding sense of calm.
Refracted light permeates the fragile transparency of my bubble-world. There’s an ephemeral quality in here. I’m living in a rainbow, experiencing the season’s awakening, flowering, ripening; dispersing an entire colour spectrum: vibrant spring yellows and greens, steeping into harebell blues and violets and boiling hot summer pinks, burnt oranges, rosehip reds.
Sometimes the light retreats, blotting out the colour, and it’s very dark. I know that this state is temporal. The light always returns.
The birds have flown the nest
An August malaise; a listlessness.
In the woods.
There’s a lull.
No birdsong. Just an occasional trill.
The stream trickles and wind ruffles leaves.
Change is in the air. Autumn is approaching.
It’s time for me to return to work.
A New Perspective
I am back at work and it’s as if I left on the Friday and have simply returned after a long weekend. On the face of it, everything appears the same and yet there’s an incongruity which is hard to pinpoint. I have the feeling that for the last five months I’ve been suspended in a beautiful iridescent bubble – a dream world. And now the bubble has burst, and I’m plopped back into reality again. I’m am not sure how I feel about this.
Back on the hamster wheel and I’m regaining my London pace. Pounding pavements back and forth to the college: my daily workout.
From rural back to urban again. My office outlook has returned: the view of my serene garden from the back bedroom window has been replaced with the urban hustle of Shoreditch. Except it’s not the usual bustle. The traffic and people are scant as most continue to work at home. On the train, face coverings must be worn at all times, although the train is virtually empty. The City is deserted; the buildings remain uninhabited. It’s eerie.
Is this a “new normal”? Do we want to return to the “old normal”? I’m not sure. I’m wondering how to make sense of it all. I sit on the train and Google “perception” and “reality”, and “the physics of bubbles” to try to rationalise this new world to which we are adapting and my experience of it. Or is it the same world that it has always been? It baffles me. What I do know, is my bubble was also my reality – a blessed, sunshiny time during which I drifted with the unfurling season.
But now I’m in the reality outside the bubble.
The Art of Alignment
Mid-September. A time of realignment. For a fleeting moment there’s perfect balance: equal day and night. Harmony. Yet the perpetual vacillation between darkness and light – from one extreme to the other – persists.
The seasons have switched and there are bleak days ahead.
It doesn’t escape my notice that the brunt of the first wave has transpired pretty much exactly between the spring and autumn equinoxes.
A time of flux brings disquiet. The human response to the pandemic has, of course, seen a range of contrasted, sometimes counter-opposed reactions. It’s been an emotional seesaw of ups and downs, highs and lows in our attempts to process and deal with the situation.
Fear and courage; isolation and togetherness; vulnerability and strength; compliance and defiance; compassion and animosity.
Maybe now is the time for self-reflection; a collective re-grouping; an opportunity to seek stability and reset our collective composure after all the upheaval of the last few months, particularly as it looks like there is more disruption to come. A second wave. It isn’t over yet. We need to brace ourselves.
I’m no politician, nor am I a sociologist, scientist, or psychologist. I don’t really know that much at all. But within the narrow scope of my knowledge, I do know for sure, that the Earth continues to revolve on its axis at varying degrees. The ceaseless reliability of a dawn and a dusk makes me feel grounded and reassured.
The emotional seesaw will continue to pivot gently or lurch sickeningly: that’s human nature.
The corona seesaw teeters once more, too.
An Autumn Glow
The sun still shines; summer warmth lingers. It’s a golden September. I get to behold the sunrise over Tower Bridge again – one of the few perks of the early morning commute. I exit the station with anticipation: what colour-palette will the sky be today? Each morning a one-off, exquisite surprise awaits.
On the top floor of the college building, I’m opening windows to fill the classroom with “fresh” London air, part of our efforts to ward off the virus and to remain covid-safe. Up here, there is a splendid view of the City skyline.
I pause in my window-opening task to witness shafts of sunlight emanating through thinly draped clouds above the City’s empty towers. The light bounces off the glass and steel: a silver lining. And I know there is hope.
We are living with uncertainties all around us at the moment, economically, socially, and health-wise; but, somewhere in our individual realities joy, colour and hope also reside.
An Autumn Gloom
It’s October and the rain will not stop. It’s incessant.
The clocks have gone back. We enter the darker half of the year.
Despondency deepens as talk of a second lockdown dominates the news.
I stay indoors, agitated; awaiting covid-test results for symptoms I do not have.
The rain persists. The dreich seeps in.
I will not allow myself to be infected by the gloomy mood of a nation, exacerbated by discussions on the radio and in the news: asking unanswerable questions and speculating about where this will all lead and when it will end.
It turns out to be one of the wettest Octobers on record, but today, the 5th November, it’s all mists and mellow fruitfulness as Lockdown 2.0 begins. The sun reappears on cue, hanging low just above the treetops, elongating shadows and imbuing sodden, yellowing leaves still clasping their branches not quite ready to surrender to the inevitable winter chill, with fading warmth.
And so it continues …
An End: In my garden
It’s difficult to pinpoint an ending because there is no ending. This is an evolution.
But for the sake of an ending, let’s finish with the lungwort:
In my garden, the pulmonaria is thriving. It took root from the moment I planted it back in the early spring and
it’s flourishing. There must be something delicious in the soil here in Rusthurst Lane that both the plants and the animals cannot resist!
I’m quietly delighted, and not a little proud that the lungwort plants are doing so well and thus far are honouring the folklore and providing protection from the virus. Maybe there is some truth in the old wives’ tales.
After all, I am still breathing.
Picture: Stephen Linsteadt (USA)
Music: Ben Fisher (England)
Essay: Sarah L. Iles (England)
Sarah reads: Further Reflections on Locked Down Days
Stephen writes about his picture
The Box of Beauty is a reference to the story of “Psyche & Cupid.” More specifically to the task Psyche has to carry out of bringing the box of beauty located in Hades to Venus. She is warned not to open the box, but of course, she does. As a result, she falls into a ‘deathly sleep.’ I see the beauty in the box as representing our Soul.
Our curiosity/desires open the box and subsequently, we fall asleep to the spiritual world and enter the sleep/dream state of this physical world. The painting is us in our dream-physical-world-state.
The large dreaming figure casts a shadow, our dark side, our worldly desires, as well as our depression and feelings of isolation. The dancing figure is our inner child or the part in us that wants to be free and return to our spiritual home.
Dean writes about the project ‘21 Fragments : LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19’
This is the final fragment of 21 fragments. I had the idea of the project back on 2 April earlier this year. I imagined it as being a mosaic, a tapestry, a kaleidoscope of impressions and expressions – bringing together a group of people and having them share how living through this pandemic is / has been – continues to be. I hoped it would be a testament to a challenging and unique year. No one had ever before experienced a pandemic before – and the manifold changes and difficulties such a momentous event entails.
The first fragment went out into the world on May 3. Over 6 months later and I am writing these words to accompany the final fragment. I write them with a deep sense of gratitude for the 27 people who have helped make this project possible. I reached out to them, asking for their help and support – and they joined me on this journey.
I want to thank the 27 special people who have contributed to 21 Fragments – with pictures, music, and words. Their contributions have shown me many different things and given me a sense that LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 has many layers and facets. It is a life and year of challenge, pain, new perspectives, worry, uncertainty, resilience, and profound reflection. Ben’s final piece of music for the project came to me 2 days ago (21 November). He decided to compose and record a guitar instrumental – and called it ‘Are we going to be alright?’
It’s a fair question. It’s a good question. It’s a question I suspect many of us have been asking and will continue to ask. Right now, as I write these words – I feel the answer is yes. Yes, Ben, we are going to be alright.
The 27 people who have sent me films, poems, essays, pictures, and music have been helping me to feel that answer.
I want to thank every one of them for helping me feel this feeling. I want to thank:
Ben, Cornelia, Grant, Ian, John S, John G, Josephine, Karin, Keven H, Kevin T, Kushal, Lois, Lori, Matt,
Nino, Paul B, Paul O, Peter, Petra, Sabine, Sarah, Stephen, Steve K, Steve P, Susanne, Tamir, Trevor
And also a thank you to everyone who has visited 21 FRAGMENTS
Be well – stay safe