Cognitive Dissonance

How can it be so sunny outside and yet so dark? We are living in a state of prolonged cognitive dissonance. Reopening after lockdown and quarantine does not mean Covod-19 went away, magically. It is still there, travelling in droplets on air. Not that you would notice by the way some people behave. Consequently, Ireland is now stalled in Phase 3 of the Roadmap. Everyone will be required to where masks in shops from tomorrow. But as one friend said during an outdoor, socially distanced tea party, “I wish they had just told us to do it from the very beginning instead of making everyone just make up their own mind.”

Minds can be very tricky things. As my husband has said at times, “the mind is not your best friend at times.” We rationalise actions that may not be in our own best interests. Which can be summed up in the definition of cognitive dissonance, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

Any quick newsclip confirms that we live amidst collective cognitive dissonance. Did I not see an unmasked traffic warden on the main street in Enniskillen chatting virtually shoulder to shoulder with a passerby this past week? Even with signs reminding everyone to socially distance two metres? Behaviour like that had me sprinting to the getaway car without my hard to get items I had on my list. I could do without.

Pandemics are never sprints. They are marathons. This one is unique for a generation raised on vaccination. Sudden death may take form in random violence, but rarely by illness. Even our most terminal diagnoses usually involve heroic attempts to stem the drowning tide.

This week’s Sunday poem is a reminder from Lockdown. The poem was shortlisted in the Fish Lockdown Poetry competition. In case you thought that the virus has disappeared just because shops are open for business, here is a reminder. Lockdown was hard. Safely emerging from our cocoons is even more difficult. I was incandescent this week when it was reported that there were Texan tourists roaming around the Irish countryside who failed to quarantine for fourteen days before touring around. Small business owners, with a duty of care to their employees and an eye to their already exorbitant insurance costs, turned them away. But why should they have to have been put in that position in the first place? The new minister for Tourism got a sharp email from me. North American tourism may be (have been?) a big wedge of Irish economy. But a single asymptomatic, infected tourist getting tipsy, ignoring social distancing in a pub and lustily singing rebel songs could take down half a small county in Ireland. What were they thinking? (The airlines, the tourist, the government trusting people to do the right, uncomfortable thing, when people think they can go back to the old way of doing things.)

See how the mind can sometimes not be our best friend?

Our world has changed. Change is uncomfortable. The longer people continue with the collective cognitive dissonance the old normal way of life recedes and recedes and recedes. The discomfort – and far worse – remains the daily reality for millions.

Have you a fever? Do you cough?
It is really very tiring waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We unlearn our helplessness by training ourselves
with endless YouTube tutorials. We remember, vaguely,
how to sew and cook without a recipe book.
Though what shall we substitute for an avocado?
We queue and are let into shops two by two.
We are re-creating The Ark in our new Anschluss.
In the supermarket we cruise the one-way aisles
where no one makes eye contact.
It is very tiring to have to sanitise all your groceries
along with our worry and uncertainty. Inside, we lifestyle
our bunker’s décor for diversity, celebrating our make do and mend
individuality.  The avocado, grown from a pip, fails to fruit.
It droops and quivers on the windowsill each winter.
It is really very tiring despite all the sleep I get
in ten hour shifts. I dream of Sleeping Beauty, her castle.
I feel climbing in my chest its choking vine.
And when I awake, I feel tired.  I feel tired
all the time.

Stay safe. You may not be comfortable with the new normal, but adapt and survive as they say. Mask up! Keep up the social distance!

covid19 mask up!
Mask up! Keep your distance!

Photo by tam wai on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Hymn to Life in Lockdown

I need to give you fair warning. The prompt for Day 25 is long and complicated. It did not give me much scope for compression. It also asks you to pack a lot of various elements into a single space. “The prompt, which you can find in its entirety here, was  developed by the poet and teacher Hoa Nguyen, asks you to use a long poem by James Schuyler as a guidepost for your poem.” I invite you to click on ‘here’ and see the vastness of the spec. You are welcome to count up how many I managed into the poem. It is, by necessity, long. I am posting a bit later because, yes, today is a laundry day. I have been jumbling my routine slightly to relay between first draft, admiring husband’s handiwork at putting up the new washing line, washing items, hanging out, and then cracking on to second/third draft. The title is an echo of James Schuyler’s own ‘Hymn to Life.’ I plead for the reader’s patience. It is a lot of words for me.

A Hymn to Life in Lockdown
This is my new routine:
I wake, grateful, and take a few deep breaths.
Go visit the toilet. Then heed the plaintive pleas
of hungry cats. I let the dogs out for their pees.
The kettle boils for my tea. I pick up my rosary beads
and then say seven decades of
"All shall be well. All will be well.
All manner of things shall be well.
We are enfolded in Holy Mother Love."
All the while picking at those beads restlessly.
My mind strays to ways of obtaining things
I want to eat, but are not available within
two kilometres of me. I see some jackdaws
pick at the suet balls as a golden light plays
on the willow tree. In the distance, I hear
some unidentified feathered species go cheep-cheep.
It is sunny. The sky is a clear blue, which means that
it must be a laundry day. The washing machine
is bust, so I hand wash in the kitchen sink.
I put socks on my hands like mittens and suds them up
for the new routine twenty seconds.
I gauge my strength.
Not a day for duvet covers or sheets. It is probably
a day for knickers, socks, tea towels. And maybe
scrubbing the husband’s garden denims.  I am reverie-ing.
Time to get some writing done. This can take up
a few solid hours before breakfast. Or lunch.
Before the distractibility of social media. Then
I walk the dogs.
It is 2,500 steps to the holy well
and back again. I call in to chat with the
statue of  Mary, tell her the news, say my please
and thank yous.  Also, if she can hold the hands
(metaphysically, you understand) of the dying
since nobody else can. The flower posy before
Our Lady is still fresh. The purple tulips
and grape hyacinths seem to be holding up
though the pale narcissi is withering.
On our way back home
I count all the new species that have popped up
overnight, like the dog violets.
I BAAA!  back at a cross mother sheep
whose little lambie has strayed too near
to the road’s hedge.
Our neighbour’s dog Susie barks
at their boundary line. This gives the old dogs
their daily excitement.
I wave up the hill to the neighbours
and we yell across twenty meters.
I carry on. What’s for dinner?
What can I make that I actually want to taste?
Now I put on my magic piny to innovate
recipes while washing a mound of crockery
that’s accumulated. My hands are rough
and dry. I am out of hand cream.
Will organic coconut oil do?
Conceive a menu, immune system boosting,
as well as tasty. Will tuna casserole be a win…
or shall I bake cookies?
No – nutrition first. Dessert last.
In the kitchen I flick through You Tube
audiobooks of Golden Age crime
and videos on tarot. I ration the news
for well before dinner.
Thereafter, I ring my friend in England each night
just after 8. She finally has had her pneumonia jab.
They were out of stock last winter.
She’s feeling flop. I sympathise.
She tells me the odd comfort of a nurse
in full battledress and riot shield mask
for one who had been at the barricades
in the 1970s and 1980s.
After ringing off I settle down  and think
maybe some comedy is the remedy…
find Vicar of Dibley. But that only reminds me
that poor, daft Alice is dead
(the actress who played her that is).
I begin to knit or start stitching 
some  hand sewn face masks from patchwork off cuts. 
I send them off
in envelopes to so many hot spots.
My brother in Brooklyn answers his phone
"Corona Central."
How many ways can I say
"I love you." 
Is the orange with white spots too jokey
or not camp enough?
This is his second plague.
I feel like once again
some angel has brushed rusty ram’s blood
on the lintel of our family’s door.
This is my new routine.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Finding an image to put with this post was a bit of a challenge. There are so many images. In then end, this coffee mug saying ‘Begin’ spoke to my condition. Image is a Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Le Weekend a la Lockdown

The prompt from NaPoWriMo Day 18 would have us thinking about Saturdays. That, inevitably, invites a contrast between before lockdown and what a weekend means now that we are in lockdown. Because without external cues, we might lose track of what day it is at all. My husband had to check with me a couple days ago. My reply was that I checked on my tablet everyday to keep track.

Our optional prompt for the day also honors the idea of Saturday (the Saturdays of the soul, perhaps?), by challenging you to write an ode to life’s small pleasures. Perhaps it’s the first sip of your morning coffee. Or finding some money in the pockets of an old jacket. Discovering a bird’s nest in a lilac bush or just looking up at the sky and watching the clouds go by.

I figure I have written a good deal of poetry about small pleasures. They feature largely in our life out on an acre and quarter in West Cavan and give it much of its rich texture and rewards. Again, to quote the husband who says (ironically), “Another fine mess you got me in.” Which is a Stan Laurel line.

One of the features of our life in lockdown, and semi-retirement, is to have self-imposed routines. So my topic zeroed in on a new feature in our home routine of the small pleasure kind during lockdown and staying at home. My husband is very fond of cake, but when there was a dearth of flour and eggs early on in lockdown I brushed off some of my American cookbooks and returned to my native tradition of cookie baking. There is more bang for your buck in terms of ingredients. Also, they last a whole lot longer in this house.

The poem that finally emerged in my notebook and got tarted up when typing up, does steal a phrase from Stephen Colbert’s “A Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” I daresay he hasn’t trademarked it (yet) and I hope I will be forgiven for snatching it to go in the final stanza.

Le Weekend à la Lockdown
There is no bustle or rustle of thick newspaper.
The supplements have grown thin, though remain rich
There still remain some weekly landmarks to savour,
because if it is Saturday then it is time for Kitchen Witch
to wave her magic spoon, take her shift as shaper
in cookie dough of flour, sugar and butter.
Will it be this week orange and cardoman? Or vanilla?
Coconut or chocolate? Or peanut butter?
What’s left in the cupboard to set out in tray flotillas
of sweetness in a world that is full of bleakness?
Reading those headlines when we can get newspapers,
there is just one story. There must be some uniqueness.
Quarantine-while, millions get up to all sorts
                                                       of at home capers.
But if it’s Saturday, then here in my home
                                                     I am a cookie baker.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Rai Vidanes on Unsplash