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… what you wish for

A year ago exactly, we spent the week on a road trip in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. An amazing voyage, yet I remember feeling sad about missing spring in London. Sanoop had just obtained his UK visa and moved here from Singapore, and then I/we were away for a chunk of March (Nigeria), ALL of April (US, India), and most of May (Stockholm, Seattle, Erfurt, Berlin). I loved and felt grateful for each of those very different trips, but I also quietly lamented the fact that I/we were missing out on what would have been Sanoop’s first spring here. Well, we’ve got that now, and, albeit slightly different to what I’d imagined, I know I’m grateful to be waking up next to Sanoop here in London every morning. Fewer cultural experiences, fewer picnics, fewer excursions across all of London, lots more concerns about the world around us — but also plenty of lovely time spent in our beloved flat, in our sprawling, charming village, and on the lush, blooming Heath.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Yes, right now the world does need a vibrant, clever, funny reimagining of Pride & Prejudice centred around modern Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in Afro-Latino roots, skilfully balancing cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady, healing, and reconciling magic of first love. Read Ibi Zoboi’s gem of a quickly read novel, Pride, if you’re at all curious about the connections between social expectations of the early 1800s and modern day gentrification (and pastoral England and hipster Bushwick). It’s so enjoyable!

Morning run soundtrack

Chirping birds, barking dogs, the occasional ‘morning!‘ shouted by fellow runners (a rare thing in London, it’s something that’s become a more frequent thing with the lockdown), and some favourite songs on loop: Polly by Moses Somney (Monday), Taylor Swift’s Lover (Tuesday). Wednesday: Lilah’s 30 min interview, a bonus episode of the FT’s Culture Call podcast, with Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel, which is like a big hug. They talk about resilience — and modulating fears, resourcefulness, traumatic growth, restoring joy, invisible enemies, the fragility of human existence, prolonged uncertainty, resident fears being activated, perspective gained from belly laughs and social support, repair, the continuity principle of storytelling, organic growth of community, doing vs being, keeping camera on for the purpose of someone seeing you in your life, minimising guilt — guilt that turns into taking responsibility and care for others is good; all other kinds of guilt are not, slowing down your nervous system, and reclaiming lost pleasures. Thursday: People, I’ve been sad with Christine and the Queens. Friday: Blinding lights with The Weeknd. Saturday: Garrett Kato’s lovely new single, Moon. Sunday: break. I usually cover a distance of everything between 4 and 8 km; I’m not really holding back nor pushing myself, just going with what feels good. Between bursts of jogging or sprinting, I do lots of standing still to simply feel my heartbeat, treat my lungs to large servings of the cool, fragrant air, and take in the beautiful, crisp sunlit sights of carefree birds on glistening ponds, tail-wagging dogs of all breeds, lush meadows, trees, shrubs, and beds of sprawling forget-me-nots and bluebells. Happening between 6 and 7 am every morning, it’s one of the tone-setting highlights of my day.

Physical exercise

Fixed routine

  • Waking up with the 5 Tibetans and sun salutations every single day
  • Repetitions of all or some of these exercises: squats with dumbbells, various arm and shoulder exercises with dumbbells, a 3-minute plank, with the latter minute as side planks, pushups, pilates pushups, reverse pushups, oblique bicycle sit-ups, and whichever other exercises I can think of on the fly. I really want to keep up some version of this until I can go back to my local pilates studio, and keeping the combination simple makes it physically and mentally hard to ever be too exhausted or busy to do it, and I can always build on the routine if I feel up for it …
  • Those daily runs around in fresh morning air on the Heath — track or trail, or a combo
  • My friend Ahilya’s ‘body sculpt’ class on Saturday mornings — excruciating quad, glute, core, and arm exercises, followed by a delicious body scan and stretches, along with her other overseas friends, based in the US, Belgium, France, Tel Aviv, and Dubai. She’s teaching on zoom from her home in Singapore, sweet and energetic, able to give everyone feedback via video even when demoing and cueing. So good! And good to hear her voice 🙂
  • Another friend’s Sunday yin yoga class, weekly as well, and such a soothing end to the week / preparation for the week ahead. Sanoop and I do it together, mats next to each other in the yoga room, close to dozing off in each of the blissful poses
  • 1-3 daily strolls on the Heath or to pick up groceries with Sanoop

Random: whichever virtual classes I’ve got time and energy for. While it’s lovely that SO many are doing zoom classes and Instagram live streams now, it’s also a little bit of a jungle and a stress factor. I really want to support small boutique exercise studios’ online initiatives or my colleagues teaching their passion project-based yoga or hiit classes via the online version of our office gym, but only to the extent that it doesn’t become too much of a tech and time juggle … and also, we almost always come back to Yoga with Adriene, as she just really knows what she is doing 🙂

CamSnoop super power cleaning

‘The great thing about not looking forward to anything is that you look forward to cleaning the house,’ Sanoop says as he twirls the vacuum cleaner across the bedroom floor, just after we’ve changed the sheets, put on a batch of laundry, and opened all windows to let in some fresh morning air. What I thought he meant was: in the midst of uncertainty, cleaning, which neither of us usually loves, becomes something to look forward to — for one, it’s an event, and, on a deeper level, there’s the therapeutic, nourishing sensation of clearing the space that we inhabit, making it as safe and comfy as possible. The satisfying element in seeing dust disappear into the vacuum cleaner or dirt being swiped away by a citrus-scented rag. What he really meant, though, is that when you’re forced to live in the present, you can only be excited about what’s happening now, and right now, as he said it, he was cleaning. We’ve put it on our calendars as an alluring-sounding recurring event: CamSnoop Super Power Cleaning. Every Wednesday morning. Our only shared calendar event these days, besides video call dates with mutual friends. His job is to vacuum all over and to clean the floors. Mine is the other stuff. He is actually looking forward to something, though, whilst vacuuming: the moment of turning off the power. Silence. Me too. As much as it feels good, cleaning, it also reminds me how incredibly spoiled I am and how much I really appreciate and miss our cleaner, who usually visits when I’m at work, leaving the flat magically clean upon my return from the office.

Behavioural changes

At work, at home, in everything I read and listen to, everyone is brewing up thoughts on the possible and impossible longer-term implications of Covid-19. How do the experiences of the past few months affect us, for better and for worse, and how might we prepare for waves 2 and 3 of the current virus, and for potential future outbreaks? Until there’s widespread protection ( from a vaccine, which is 12-18 months away from being generally available, and from fast testing and effective contact tracing and quarantine), fear of infection will limit in-person contact through … maybe … 2021, with immense knock-on effects on how people get around, spend their time and money, and on the health of small, medium, and large businesses in most countries in the world. And once communities start to go ‘back to normal,’ we’ll see immediate, transitory, and sticky changes. Some questions that keep popping up in my mind are: what will this huge disruption mean for the whole idea of where you need to live in relation to where you work? Work culture, work/life balance, commuting culture, travel culture, property prices in certain areas, why people live where they do, work where they do. Will we see a boom in digital nomad lifestyles, eventually pushing surfers and hippies out of tranquil areas, which they’ll eventually establish elsewhere? Who is missing their commute? What about those who’ve lost their jobs, or for whom it is a living nightmare to be working from home or generally stuck at home — how are / will they all be coping? What about the environment — pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across the globe as we try to contain the spread of the virus. Is this just a fleeting change, or might it lead to longer-lasting positive results? What about restaurants, shopping, events — will people go crazy when we’re allowed back in the world of real-life entertainment, or will we stay at home with our newfound cooking skills and delivery services, video calls, and live streamed classes, concerts, talks, and celebrations? Will it all level out? Will people want more or less physical contact. Oxytocin. I think I’ve been taking it for granted. When people have been saying that they miss hugging their mums or friends, I’ve been thinking, smugly, sadly, that I thankfully have been used to only getting those very infrequently over the past nine years, but I may not have thought about how important the daily hugs from Sanoop are. if I lived alone, I’d probably miss human contact more, no matter how introverted I think I am.

Sanoop made a list of what he misses, and then what he’s grateful for — the movement that there is, little things, noticing flowers he’s never noticed before, noticing the new and full moons — which sort of cancelled out the former list. I said that I’m really doing fine; can’t think of things that I really, deeply miss. Sure, there are some things, but there are redeeming / overshadowing / reinforcing factors for all of them:

  1. groups picnics in the sun, meeting friends for meals and walks, and swimming in the lido, but the fact that everybody is restricted from doing it makes it feel more tolerable: collectively missing out is much easier to bear than solo FOMO, even if the lack of socialising does make me worry about anxiety levels and mental health
  2. not being able to go to my local pilates studio, coffee shops, indie wine bars, and theatres, but thinking about whether those and other small businesses are going to be able to survive gives me much bigger cause for concern than my own small needs … I can train, make coffee, drink wine, and watch Netflix at home, and find it almost as (in some cases more) enjoyable
  3. I look forward to when we can go to Denmark to see my family, but the fact that we’ll have to wait a few more weeks is actually ok: we were caught up in a never-ending cycle of travelling … five weeks into this, I’m still super excited about the fact that we’re going to be at home in Hampstead this coming weekend. It brings me so much ease and joy …

Then I speak with colleagues who are either home alone with sick relatives far away or stuck with a spouse and several kids in small Manhattan apartments, and they just want this to end. I understand that.

Freedom

On Wednesday night, my — as of last week — weekly virtual life drawing class focuses on Freedom, as explored through loose, playful sketching with each participant’s — we’re about 70! — own choice of materials. At first, the teacher encourages us to get up and dance around to George Michael’s Freedom, swinging our arms and hips as freely as we can, breathing thoroughly, noticing if there are any tight spots in our bodies, sending lots of love and shaking vibes to those spots if they exist. The model is male — looks like Jesus, as Sanoop points out. As I pin his window to my screens and pick up my pencils, the teacher kicks off the drawing exercises and I feel the familiar creative thrill run through me … the birds are chirping through the open windows, the golden hour light sends cascades of pink and orange onto my drawing paper, and I love every minute of the class. It’s got the same constraints as last week: draw with your eyes closed, with your non-dominant hand, without looking down at your paper, with the model dancing … but the idea is that we let those constraints brush away any fixations on the end-result, allowing us to focus on the process, the act of putting pencil to paper and capturing movement, in the moment. It’s great!

Other drawing projects this week are less abstract, but equally mindful. Yoga poses and barre poses, the latter as part of a commissioned assignment for the owner of the barre studio I used to go to in Singapore. It’s fun — I love it. Getting lost in forms and colours, sometimes with Sanoop drawing next to me, or with him making tea and putting on music as I sketch away.

Earth Day

On the Heath, every day is an #EarthDay celebration, and these days we’re extra grateful for its seemingly infinite amount of new paths to explore, expansive meadows, giant trees exuding their stoic calm and beauty and inviting everyone to take a break in their shade or climb up and chill with some perspective, chirping birds, geese-chasing male swans, fresh, fragrant air, rolling fields of forget-me-nots and wild rapeseed, kids laughing in DIY teepees in the bushes (even the smell of some extra wild grasses seems acceptable), runners being able to jog and sprint with a safe distance to each other and walkers, carefree swimming dogs, panorama view of this city that we miss, folks conscientiously picking up their own trash in a time when no one else has the capacity to do it for them, and the general notions of resilience, resourcefulness, and cyclical vibrancy. It feels like an extension of our living room, a complete … 🌴

Gloucester Crescent

Life sandwiched between the bustling chaos of Camden Town and the leafy tranquility of Primrose Hill — coming of age between left-leaning, idealistic, anti-establishment artists and thinkers in the 60s-90s; a hilarious, tender picture of an extraordinary time in Britain’s cultural history … wonderful family and love story. This second read of the week feels a lot like Emily Dean’s memoir; growing up in a creative, flamboyant, highbrow community in North London in that specific period of time, with, on the face of it, total freedom to roam around and experiment and soak up a rather privileged stream of impressions, but missing some structure in a world where the grownups are like kids, super intellectual kids. Especially their strained relationships with creative genius fathers, who do not know how to be fathers, while their mothers represent the only sliver of comfort and stability. Both of them also end up in the exact same neighbourhood where they grew up, after years of trying to get away, make their own way, battling deep fascination and deep frustration with their heritage, and eventually finding peace.

Mezcal margaritas

On Saturday night, we make mezcal margaritas in the evening sun, and drink them while chatting with my parents on Hangouts. They’re drinking rosé, tanned and joyous-looking from a day on and by the water. None of us can believe we haven’t done this before … it feels just like having aperitifs physically together, and it’s really, really lovely. We talk, clink glasses, and beam at each other for close to two hours, about COVID-19, sailing, summer weather, missing each other, how grateful we are for all being well and healthy, work, life, nothing, everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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