I’m finding writing without walking impossible. I haven’t written a word for years that didn’t get walked first. Now, in these weeks of lockdown, I’m finding that short permitted walks can produce enough for occasional blog posts, but not for the sustained logical academic writing of my utopian PhD. The work I’ve taken on and which seems so potentially useful now, when so many of us are thinking of better lives for afterwards. The academic reading for it is not at all hard. Getting lost in other people’s thoughts and theories is a fascinating pleasure. So it’s not that. Nor is it an old-style fear of blank page writer’s block. The pages aren’t blank. It’s adding to them in more than stuttering starts that’s the problem.
So I’m sitting here in the early morning sun on our back step in Wavertree, the back step of the house we’re supposed to have left by now, thinking about what I might do. Thinking immediately about walking, always my first instinct. To put my boots on, walk and think, like I’ve done for years. When I’ve walked far enough I always find that walking produces thoughts, then the thoughts get written down. Until now.
Now, when what is required of me is to find a new way of this thinking and writing. A whole new method of doing what walking has always done for me, now walking is so limited as to be of little use beyond mental and physical exercise. Because I don’t merely walk, do I? I stop sometimes. Sometimes for long times. On park benches or walls, in coffee shops or cafés, in galleries, cathedrals, bookshops or anywhere else I can find a seat. Like the lovely and so missed Bluecoat and its city garden. All my quiet places.
So I need some new quiet places for however long this now is going to last. Now all my usuals are either closed or are places where I can no longer stop because of the virus. And these new quiet places will have to be mostly inside. Inside our home and inside me. Even our allotment being more about permitted exercising, now this has happened.
Going deeper then.
This morning, before I came out here to write this, my regular weekly email arrived from Laurence Demarco in Scotland. An eighty year-old living on his own who sends out weekly updates of social action in Scotland, always prefaced by what’s often the most valuable bit, his own reflections on life and the living of. This week his thoughts have arrived at Stoic philosophy in the ‘Meditations of Marcus Aurelius’ from 2,000 years ago:
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength…Very little is needed to make a happy life, it is all within yourself, your way of thinking…Death smiles at all of us, all we can do is smile back.”Marcus Aurelius
Lawrence later quotes the Irish novelist Sebastian Barry, writing about Marcus Aurelius:
“He advises not to rail against misfortune but to use all of yourself and self-possession to breast it…Troubles are a constant, a given of life. The weapons against them are courtesy and compassion, and to do the work that has been alloted to you. The comfort of Aurelius is in his calm certainty, whispered in your ear.”Sebastian Barry
That’s my thinking for this morning begun then. How to do the work that has been allotted to me? Helped by a 2,000 years ago Roman Emperor and the weekly thoughts of Laurence Demarco. It’s a start, together with writing all this down.
Now I’ll go and find some new quiet places.
Read Laurence Demarco’s weekly articles here. You can sign up for them too. Big thanks to my friend Janet Barnes for telling me about him years ago. I’ve been reading and valuing his words ever since.