The End of Lockdown

Children in Badock's Wood
A middle way in Badock’s Wood, Corsham

(For those with children going back to school after 6 months at home)

Maybe it’s not a time for writing. Maybe the coalescing of junctioned thoughts gives too much structure to the wisps of ideas. They haven’t been written for so long anyway. The traipsing catalogue of lockdown lent a plan of Things To Get Done around the kids. A slowly circling pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, where each half-blinded attempt lends to ridicule and futility their hope. The beautifully crafted timetable for home-schooling lasted a week. The game-playing on tablets assumed an inverse proportion. Chores became battlegrounds around a finite number of marbles. Material stuff continually moved around the house. The dog got stressed. You want to know what lockdown was like? PARENTS COULDN’T NAIL ANYTHING. The short-circuit in all and every circumstance to a child’s immediate desire: their hunger, their tiredness, the shouting each other up and down, their right to self, their pure entitlement. The hijacking thereby of any prolonged moment of concentration, reflection, consideration – no chance to stare at the world because the world is beyond the shores of your island and doesn’t hear your shouting. The relationship bridge to your partner has weathered some storms, but this time, the stasis necessary for the kids’ laws of motion has translated into brittleness. Being in the business of denied thought, denied conversation, denied chancing your arm, and everything stifles and stalls. Our job has been silence, silenced to each other because you can’t pay attention to the kids if you’re talking.

Maybe it is a time for writing. Maybe the considered attempt to join up memories fills out the picture of lives lived. The photos were taken throughout anyway. The traipsing catalogue of lockdown lent a plan of Things to Enjoy Doing with the kids. A whirlwind cacophony of race-you-to-the-moon-and-back, where the abandon of play lends to ridicule and futility their hope. The timetable included Joe Wicks giving us Fancy Dress Friday for carpet-room workouts. The sunshine assumed a glorious proportion of fields, treehouses, rivers, cow parsley, frogs, Easter gardens and radishes. Chores became shared. Material stuff didn’t matter and we spent less. The dog got loved. You want to know what lockdown was like? PARENTS COULD EXPERIENCE EVERYTHING. The short-circuit in all and every circumstance to a child’s perspective of now: their excitement, their openness, their commitment, their pure youth. The liberation thereby into receiving everything as a gift rather than an interruption – a chance to stare at the immediate, colourful presence of the world right in front of you. The relationship bridge to your partner has weathered some storms, and this time, the stasis necessary for the kids’ laws of motion has translated into deeper equality. Being in the business of shared responsibility, shared loves, shared creativity, and everything expands and inspires. Our job has been steadiness, steadiness to each other because you can’t pay attention to the kids if you’re trying to get one up on your life.

Art’s generous interface on screen

Grayson Perry at Salisbury Cathedral, experienced virtually

Last month I considered some problems around theology on screen. I was drawn in to media discussions about the effects of worshipping differently, in lockdown – and on the communication of theological ideas when such worshipping happens primarily online, via Zoom or Facebook. For a time, I was wholly absorbed with the intellectual grappling of something problematic, and I tried to articulate a frustration, an impatience, with what I perceived as a tendency to overclaim for screen-as-surrogate-presence. I felt that something obvious was being overlooked: the technology, its consumer- and use-value, and the extent to which it is carved in our own Enlightened image of design and functionality.

But as time has passed, the importance of idea-wrestling has faded. The closed-in-ness of the discussion feels alienating, even as I re-read my own position. Here I want to consider the possibility of a more optimistic interface for our dealings with the screen, the thoughtfulness we bring to considerations of art and creativity and interactivity. I’ve been buoyed by various UK programmes on ‘culture in quarantine’: the BBC producing shorter performances of poetry, Jools Holland presenting an introduction to blues on his piano at home, and Grayson Perry’s wonderful Art Club on Channel 4. The undemanding, unaffected, reach of art into our lives and living rooms, into mental states of disconnection and isolation, is quiet but somehow true. The power of the creative gift has the language of a physical gift, a generous and unconditional giving of something crafted, worked, wrestled with, spent on. It is almost alarmingly hierarchy-free: mediated, certainly, but intrinsically without claims of subjugating dominance. It is like a question, rather than an answer. It comes alongside us laterally, rather than meeting us on the perpendicular.

It has been my own experience in lockdown that there is no ‘meeting of minds’ in the virtual sphere, that the space for two-way (or group) communication is strangely anechoic. I’ve joined a few Zoomed seminars for photography, and watched artists talk about their work. But what is said has minimal return, reflections are absorbed, and energy is dissipated. There is no congregation. What is different in the receipt of art itself is the possibility of the work’s (as opposed to the people’s) connection held more loosely. Certainly art’s open-ended-ness has more room here. Perhaps it could be the first foot forward when it comes to thinking about Zoom. It will be a legacy of lockdown, to me, that our lives are made up of so much more than relationships with people, and that when these are minimised, other relationships fill and swell our vision and our hearts. The arts give voice to these, to the relationships we have with our self, the land around us and underneath us, the sky above us, the words we haven’t spoken, the songs we’re still composing, the food we consume, the tools we use in activities, the materials that make up our homes, the humanity of others we don’t know, the enormity of the planet. We are so rich in relationships, it’s just that most of them are silenced by the continual ego exchange with our more immediate fellow man.