Nothing happening, very slowly. A definition of minimalist electronic music, ambient if you will. Also life in lockdown. How many weeks, now? The schadenfreude of seeing other countries returning to lockdown. Better not to suffer alone. Dangerous to boast about doing well. Contradictions produce stasis. Staying up late playing Word Collect until my eyes weep with fatigue. It’s chewing gum for the mind, but I’m hooked on the slow upwards creep of my “IQ”. Proving the brain still functions by putting it to work on something trivial and meaningless. Slow decline of IQ. I’m getting grumpy. Turning off mobile data to circumvent the ads, turning off the tv to avoid watching Rome burn. Resenting the creep of technology into every crevice of life, appreciating world straddling chats. Paradox with every meal. Freeze frame.
Your letter arrived as I was starting work on a record review. It nudged me out of the slightly prosaic place commercial writing seems to have carved out. That sounds negative; maybe it is. After seven years of blogging and two of paid music writing there’s a rhythm, a beat I can call up fairly easily. But there is less ‘me’ in the writing. Eventually we run low on stories, I guess.
But then, unexpectedly, tales reappear (re-mixed and re-issued) and we are gently shaken, perhaps stirred. Quoting back words I’d written years ago in response to your own writing, via the connecting tissue of a sharp-eared listener certainly took me by surprise. Not your generosity and appreciation—those attributes permeate your blogging; indeed, are its heart—rather, reading what I’d written. The urge to create in response was strong and I started writing a notional piece for Lonely Keyboards. Some day we must discuss the exhibitionism of blogging, or perhaps creativity in general, but for now, here is what was written around 10:30pm that night…
We watched War of the Worlds, eating pizza out of the box. Friday evening down time. Greasy fingers and grubby Tom Cruise carrying his daughter around. Shared a bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc (the parents) and leaned into the edge blurring gift of poison. Somehow the end of the world seems less diverting these days. Ms Connection retired soon after the boy, both tired. Tiring times. Scary times, which we ignore by reciting statistics that do not comfort. Noting places worse off than here; higher figures, more deaths. Tom was taking his daughter to Boston, mostly on foot. I thought about my blog friend in the city people say is a little like my own and wondered if I would ever travel again, after all this hiding from an alien virus. Shook myself. There’s a music piece to write for the paying gig, an album I know so well I could write without listening. If the tinnitus continues to worsen, that might be the end point; a bottom-feeding Beethoven. Mood can take a nosedive, unexpectedly. This afternoon I was excited to be making a Click and Collect pickup from a multi-story carpark. Only novel thing this week. The band I’m writing about started in New Zealand, arty and eccentric, and broke through (to commercial success) with easier, catchier songs on their 1980 album. Be simple, be accepted. Wine’s finished. If I have a liqueur it will full-stop the writing, or at least semi-colon it. Tom’s daughter screamed an awful lot. Mrs Fanning, could you ask your daughter to scream please? Wonderful, she has the part. An incoming email distracts. An acknowledgement and expression of gratitude from the Boston fellow-writer I’d been thinking about earlier. Giving back something I wrote six years ago. Do I recognise that person, six years younger and at least six aches fewer? More arty and more articulate? Reflections on the glass being three-quarters empty are a speciality of the house. Yet this is a thing of beauty, appreciation circulating the globe. This is connection, between people shackled yet perhaps not. These are ripples, that spread and touch and seed new life. This is thank you to a deaf universe.
That should be the end, but it isn’t. I’m pasting the words into WordPress and bustling to take a photo of the pizza box because that is all I can think of for the feature image, when the sound of moaning distracts. It’s coming from our bedroom. Ms Connection is the source and she is not good. It’s a carbon copy of an attack that happened earlier this year while we were in the rental and it scared the bejeezus out of me. What to do? We agree to call an ambulance. Two young masked paramedics attend; calm, competent and firm in their recommendation to take a ride to ER. I rush around collecting a few things and bundle her into the van. Hands against the glass I mouth, message me. The paramedic nods; the patient is too distracted to notice.
Waiting up until she is cleared, I settle in to watch a rubbish movie I’ve recorded onto the hard drive. Another DC bullshit superhero story and a part of me is yelling ‘garbage!’ at the screen, but silently so as not to disturb the boy. He got up after the ambulance left, reassured by my calming report but unsettled by the sound of a parent in distress. He goes back to bed, I return to the film. It fills a couple of hours until I can go collect her at 2:30 am.
Saturday was a recovery day, except that I’d booked to collect some plants for the rear decking. We need a screen, more for the neighbours than us, so a shrubbery is called for. Driving out of the contactless carpark, some kids in a nearby vehicle laugh and point. I have a small forest in the car. I grin and wave through the fronds. That afternoon the hard drive with twenty years of family photos dies. The boy’s entire digital life from bump to 180cm, sitting in an inert metal box. Until I can get out and about, there’s no way of knowing whether that pictorial record lives.
He mooches along in lockdown, the boy. Ticking off school work with mature efficiency and a minimum of fuss. He’s amazing, really, though he doesn’t like to hear how much I admire him. Fifteen is an awkward age. But I want to do something with him and wander into his room. The door is open; reading on your bed is a teenage universal, I think. Browse the games on his shelf. Gloom. That sounds eerily appropriate for the world at present. Have we played this? Nup. And he’s had it a year and a half. This afternoon, I say decisively. Yep, he agrees. You read the instructions, and explain it to me. OK.
The game involves each player having a family grouping of odd and macabre characters. The goal is to reduce their self-esteem until they die, with the winner being the one with the lowest self worth. You gain points by having a picnic and lose them when bears attack you. I’m up for this. We’re ready to play, later than expected but keen. Except the atmosphere in the house has changed. Ms Connection’s mother, slowly descending towards the big sleep, has died on the other side of the world. It wasn’t unexpected, but it is a sea change. Something seismic shifts when the second parent dies. The boy and I hover, unable to help but ready and willing to hug. Play the game, she says. We play as she watches from behind the breakfast bar, making dinner. Gloom. The irony is laid on with a shovel. It’s surreal, and we laugh, shaking our heads at each other.
I propose the Simon Pegg film Paul for evening entertainment. It goes down well.
After the others go to bed I want to write, but I’m tired and a little dazed. I remember a poster I saw in a shop back in the mid-seventies.
I try to take one day at a time
But sometimes several days attack me at once
Brushing teeth, I look at the face in the mirror. So conscious of ageing, diminishing; the undertow of depression tugs strongly sometimes. I shake my head at the bald bloke with toothpaste dribbling down his chin. There is this family trio in a warm house; there are friends across town who will be there after lockdown; people to connect with around the world whether you see them or not; a child who replenishes wonder every day. And of course, wine and music.
Looking up through the frosted glass the moon is three-quarter full.
Here in Melbourne, a bustling metropolis of some five million consumers, sorry, citizens, we are back in Stage Three lockdown. That means the only valid reasons for leaving home are work/education, exercise, purchasing food/essentials or medical appointments.
But what it really means is ON-LINE SHOPPING.
The joys of buying stuff on-line are so obvious we’ve integrated them into our lifestyle now… not needing go out (or even dress), the thrill of something arriving you don’t remember purchasing, returning items damaged in the post, the brilliant ideas that surface just before the second bottle of wine runs out… it’s bliss. And with interest rates this low, you’ll scarcely notice the monthly card repayments.
Wanting to spread the joy around, I’ve been purchasing little surprise gifts for some of the people in my life, and feeling a quiver of excitement as I imagine their delight when an unexpected pressie arrives (contactless!) on the doorstep.
My partner, commonly known as Ms Connection, has been loving the new electric coffee machine we acquired. So have I. The magic of pushing a couple of buttons and getting a cafe-style latte in moments obscures the sight of the metal espresso machines sitting forlornly by the stove. And that lovely white-noise shooshing sound as the milk heats entirely drowns out thoughts of landfill and profligate wasting of resources. It’s all good.
So I found a boutique coffee pod seller called Bling Beans and ordered a dozen different coffees, both leaded and decaffeinated. But to add some fun, I got them to empty all the various flavours and styles into one mixed box and omit the colour coded ID chart, so Ms C gets a lucky dip. To add to the excitement, if she has more than one shot of full strength coffee in a day she turns into an amphetamine squirrel so there’s a touch of Deerhunter roulette here too.
The other purchase was equally thoughtful. One of my oldest friends, who I met up with for a last supper the day before lockdown, told me a sad story. He was limping as we walked to the cafe and when I asked about this latest ailment (which is what old bastards do when they meet) he explained, with a degree of embarrassment, that he had injured his toes. How? I asked. He looked away and muttered something unintelligible, but I persisted. After all, this was someone who totalled his ankle after walking out the back of a camper van while staring at a compass to see where the sun would rise. So I persisted, and was rewarded.
“I couldn’t find my toenail clippers,” he said. “There were some wire cutters handy and I thought, being a simple builder, now that’s a good idea. But the bevelled edge of the pliers and the distance between my eyes and feet made it trickier than I thought.”
“I sliced a bit off two toes.”
So I found this really neat kit and ordered it for him. It’s called Big Bloke’s Nail Kit and has a cutter, a trimmer and a buffer. They even threw in some fingernail clippers for free. He’ll be rapt, I know.
I’m working on a couple of home-based ideas to entertain the boy as well. I saw this on social media and had a good laugh, so I thought I’d re-arrange his newly organised library (sections for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, General Fiction, Myths and Legends, Dr Who, etc) into one long line of books ordered by height from largest to smallest. He’s scored an extra week off school due to the second wave of COVID, so that should keep him occupied.
With a little imagination and a credit card, lockdown can be fun.
It’s become so close, so secluded. Don’t mind the latter, but the crowding of life into a few modestly sized rooms is claustrophobic. Turn left for the work desk, right for the stereo, straight ahead to the canteen. I started distance therapy (providing, though I have a receiving session zoom scheduled). Two screens connected by electricity and radiation of some kind. I put on headphones and stare at the glass, straining to read signs that have suddenly changed font and size, listening to tones that are familiar yet different, noticing intrusive wonderings. What room of this person’s dwelling are we in? It is a surprise to realise that for all the detailed descriptions of lives and feelings, we never talk about wallpaper. About furniture. About working from bed. Have they gone silent or is it a screen freeze? What am I missing? Anxiety ripples like a chill breeze. A friend wrote that he’s teaching his eldest to cook, just in case Mum and Dad get ill. Jeez, we’d be in trouble, I think. Then realise the boy has done a couple of terms of Food Technology and has more in his repertoire than Dad. More skill. The son should surpass the father, as the sun outshines the moon. The moon, the big full Easter moon. How do people cling to medieval belief systems in a time like this? A desperate bulwark against despair, against futility, against vulnerability. I had a meltdown yesterday; yelled at the builder. He didn’t deserve it and the shame was intense. I want to buy him wine or beer or something to ease my discomfort. Water under the bridge, he says. But I need to say a tangible sorry and decide I’ll go out early tomorrow to the liquor supermarket. The house is still now… my son coughs in his bedroom. Our street is still, infrequent cars startle as midnight approaches. The city is brooding, compliant but edgy. A teenaged girl was fined by police while doing practice driving with her mum. You are too far from home, they said. Too far from home. I go outside and commune with the moon before bed.