Some people embraced the New Normal early on. Others railed at it. Still others pointed out that what is now normal is really weird. Which got me thinking that this may always have been so. Darwin observed that species adapt to survive. Under pressure, some humans adapt more easily than others. But was the old normal really so ‘normal?’ It may have been the routine or the convention, but viewed with de-scaled eyes was normal not a little bit weird?
I am reminded of my first visit to Belfast in December of 1980. The Hunger Strikes were happening. There were armoured military vehicles patrolling streets. An armed squaddie in full combat dress walked the shopping precinct. If you wanted to park your car in a Control Zone you needed to leave someone in it to prove that there was no bomb threat. During the Christmas sales a tightly permed elderly lady dressed in a twinset frisked me before I could enter Woolworths to buy a teapot. She ran a metal detector over my then boyfriend. The Europa hotel was behind metal hoarding, fending off the next bombing.
All of that was normal for residents of Northern Ireland during the 1980s when I vistited. But how weird does it sound to you? After thirty years of living with an eye and an ear for potential threat, how weird must it have felt to see the gradual dismantling of the military presence stand down. There goes the fortified police station in the border town. Up go a block of flats in its place. Even though that happened in 2013, nearly fifteen years after the Belfast Treaty was signed.
So, here we are in these chaotic times. Chaos is our new normal.
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!
Are you feeling tired, too? It is taxing to figure out all the new details of our new normal. I feel like a tortoise just beginning to stick its head out from its shell after a long spell of hibernation. I am also locomoting at tortoise pace. Like me, other friends have noticed feeling tired. Though it might just be that the whole world is feeling tired. It’s been a pretty stressy few months.
It takes energy and imagination to re-vision how you are going to work while taking into consideration that your very breath – an explosive laugh, a sneeze, a cough, a sung note – could fell a healthy person into a clearcut forest. A lot of folk still not cannot get their heads around that they could wreck that kind of devastation when they don’t feel sick at all. But they can. And they still do.
I realise that it is easier for introverts to stay away and stay in, especially when they have beautiful scenery to look out onto and a garden to sit in for carefully placed socially distanced tea parties. But it also takes energy and imagination for introverts who earned most of their income from freelance teaching to figure out if they have any career mileage left. Because I love my 70 year old husband and am taking no chances with exposing myself, and therefore, himself, to havocking pathogens. This week, I have had many light bulb moments, some really inspiring zoom meetings and telephone conversations, and some typing time working on proposals, chiselling out what might just be my new normal working life.
It is exciting, but also very, very tiring. I needed a Sunday lie in.
It can be really tiring creating a New Normal. How is your’s looking? Feeling edgy? A bit like a cliff hanger in a serial?
We are all fledglings these days. We can learn a great deal from nature. Certainly with cocooning we have more time now to carefully observe nature in our New Normal.
Just eleven days ago, as Ireland began Phase 1 of our Roadmap to Returning, my husband discovered a nest of baby blue tits in the cavity of some concrete blocks that had lain fallow during lockdown when some hard landscaping work had ceased. Tony, being a Franciscan at heart, immediately began to create a fortress to make sure Mama Bird could get in and out while our cats were not going to be allowed to indulge in any serial killer instincts. This Sunday, we can announce that they have flown the nest. Also, there is only one starling that is still rooming in the eaves over my writing space. The fledglings have begun to go out in the world, though Tony reports that one of the baby birds has been visiting him and watches him while he works in the garden. Perhaps the bird feels comforted by Tony’s protective presence.
We are all fledglings now. Cautiously, for essential tasks, we admit strangers to our homes. And then, if you are me, you spray every surface they could potentially have touched in the process of putting in copper gas pipes so I could make dinners. All delivery people and installers are masked, but it can be hard to stay with them in a heat wave. Well, for us, anything over 21C (70F) is a heatwave. We are languishing in afternoon temperatures rising to 24C this weekend.
Which is why I am posting the Sunday Weekly poem a bit later than usual. I am a shade plant. Though I am not really a morning lark by nature, in hot weather if I am going to be anything other than a slug, I have to perform essential tasks like the long(ish) dog walk, as well as some housework and garden weeding and watering before I reach melting point at 11am. We have a breeze today, so I made it to 11:30.
Ireland tends to feel shorted on summertime, but this year of lockdown has seen long, long periods without rain, lots of sunshine and now, temperatures that are warmer than we are used to experience at this time of year. The hawthorn blossom is spent and the elder is flowering early. A friend also noticed that the orchids we have around here seem to be out earlier, too. The springtime palette of purples and yellows is now yielding to the pinks of celine, lupin, foxglove and snapdragon. The rose Galway Bay has bloomed. The mallow, which had self-seeded all over the place in the poorest of conditions, is flowering early, too. Summer is looking very magenta pink this year!
Because it has been a busy week, with bursts of social interation with trades people, as well as unaccustomed heat, I have cut myself some slack on the Sunday Weekly Poem front. I have written a tanka again this week. Summer has come in. We have lots of work to do and have to pace ourselves through it.
How do you keep track of which day of the week it is if you are not working a regular job, at home or otherwise? What routine is part of your Covid 19 New Weekend Normal? One friend confessed that she ordered out for takeaway food each Saturday. Partly it was to take a break from cooking. Mostly, to have some kind of marker in the week that was regular. Although getting a takeaway these days means collection is by appointment and a masked and gloved person slides your order to you on a tray. It feels faintly illicit. For me, now that NaPoWriMo is done, it is getting back to my Sunday Weekly post. That is my New Weekend Normal.
Ireland began Phase 1 of its Roadmap to Reopening last Monday. Although there was an initial rash of more people stopping and having a shouted chat from the lane to us in the garden, things have slumped back to the quieter rhythm. It is as if now that we have had a little ration of other faces different from the ones we have been looking at for the last two months and more, that we have crept back to our old cocooning ways. That Ireland’s two month drought, which coincided with the Call to Cocoon, broke this week, does not mean there is a rush for tiny outdoor tea parties. At writing, there is a storm, heavy rain for sure, but also really blustery wind over 40 km an hour. So this weekend the weather has us indoors.
The New Normal also means that every diary date that has been noted in January is cancelled. This Saturday I was scheduled to give a Mindfulness Walk in the Cavan Burren. On Sunday we should have been fine dining at the MacNean Restaurant, celebrating our niece’s 28th birthday. At this point, I am looking forward to FaceTiming with her and thinking that, all being well, we might get to see her August 11th! As for the Sunday lunch, I shall have to hope we can get a 2021 slot.
Though I have to say that the Phase 1 of reopening seemed to unlock my ability to tackle re-writes, to edit individual poems for the manuscript that has languished between adjusting to our Covid19 New Normal and the diversion of daily poem writing for NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo. Anecdotally, I learned that many people had difficulty concentrating in the early days of Stay in Place. Although in many respects our lives did not change radically, it is often the subtle readjustments that throw us. Like when your cooker goes kaput and you are cocooning. For the first time ever I have invested in White Goods by looking at a photo of shopfloor model and paid by credit card over the phone. The delivery on Monday should be interesting. Nonetheless, things are shifting. The energy is subtly different.
Here in Ireland
This week, we opened the windows a crack.
So suddenly things felt a whole lot more people-y.
Though news travels tractor pace
up and down our lane, more cars passed
Monday, May 18th, and people didn’t just wave,
but pulled up, hand braked, to shout out catch ups.
Surprise that our neighbour next door went back to hospital
was it two weeks ago now. Shock that the cocoon funeral
actually had shoulder-to-shoulder pall bearers!
But the craic is the director has six family members on call.
There were pickups of garden cuttings set out on our wall
with shouted debates on how to avoid cultivation errors.
Just when we could have invited a friend round
for an outdoor cup of tea sitting two metres away,
the two month drought broke. The great wind
that might wind up being called Ellen blusters.
The willows are bending over at their waists
performing hourly ritual prostrations.
We remain in.
Cocooning prior to Covid-19 meant a time to go within, to regroup and recharge. It is especially sacred time for introverts to take time out when things just get too people-y. Here’s a poem I wrote before our current context. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/10/24/cocoon/.
Given the re-writes, the jigs and reels of submission guidelines, the brief fever of flash fiction writing this week, I am going to offer a tanka as the Sunday Weekly poem today. In terms of reopening from cocooning, I feel as if we may have cracked the pupa, but I feel like a very dozy caterpillar. The weather turned heavy this week as the low pressure system approached and a number of us (myself included) have felt zonked some days.