As I write, Ireland has today commenced a six-week period of restrictions under the Plan for Living with COVID-19. The assigned Level is 5 – the highest. We’ve been here before, though the concept of levels had not been devised at that stage. But this time, it feels a little different for me.
I found myself feeling under pressure across the summer to create something. That, as a writer, I needed to document this extraordinary time in the way I knew how. I did write. But it came in fragments, and they were either straight journal style pieces, or wild bursts of memoir which were abstract in the extreme. Nothing about what I did felt orderly. Like it was moving towards anything, not least a body of work that could be brought together into something tangible and coherent. It didn’t possess a consistent voice. There was no form to it in structure, around when or how often it was written, or the length of any individual piece.
I can see now that these were visceral responses to what I was experiencing, and on reading back over them, I find them personally fascinating. They embodied fear, the unknown, instability, insecurity, loneliness, exhaustion, and the loss of freedom, because I did. The journal pieces may have been my subconscious attempt to make sense of things in a day-to-day reality which was so unlike anything I, or anyone else for that matter, had ever gone through. The abstract pieces, a guttural roar.
Seven months on, I have adapted to living in the different way required of all of us to ensure the safety of ourselves and others. But now, instead of attempting to force creativity, make sense of any I could manage, or mourn the lack of it, I feel more ready to consider a creative response which I hope will fulfil a number of needs over the coming period.
Having thought about the most difficult thing about living with COVID-19 from my own perspective, I realise that it is a way of life which, albeit essential, inhibits many of the ways of being that are integral to how I negotiate life and the world. That is, through freedom, independence, spontaneity, change and progress. I have discovered that the effect of having things which feel innate and part of who you are either compromised, or removed altogether, is that over time, you come to experience the opposite. As a consequence of not being free in the usual sense, you feel contained. Your independence gives way to reliance. Spontaneity suffers through the need to plan, and the capacity for change is minimal because so too is progress.
These, I must stress, are not complaints. They are observations of a personal response to an altered way of living necessary to ensuring our collective safety. I consider all of the above sacrifices which had to be made. But it is also important that we can express how we feel about it all.
Having gone through the tightening, loosening and retightening of restrictions over the last seven months, Monday’s confirmation that Level 5 would be invoked for the entire country from today evoked an emotional response in me. Once the announcement was made, the prospect of another six weeks within 5kms of my home saw me jump in my car and drive to somewhere I knew I wouldn’t be able to see as of Wednesday at midnight. It was pouring rain as I transitioned from the dark outskirts of Dublin city to becoming encased by its neon lights, beaded on my windshield between daubs of sodden sepia buildings. You can live a lifetime in a place, but never see it more beautiful as when you know you are saying goodbye to it, albeit temporarily, and through your car window.
Climbing under the blankets on Monday evening would have been an entirely acceptable and justifiable response to the latest news. But it interested me that my urge this time round was to do what I could within the restrictions imposed at that time, and savour it. There’s no doubt that it was in itself an emotional reaction, but I began to wonder if my creative response might be different this time round too, as the tears had quickly given way to a certain determination.
Within this desire to walk out into torrential rain on a Monday evening and hit the road was a need to capture and give voice and movement to each of the compromised parts of me; freedom, independence and spontaneity being the obvious ones, but progress and change were in there too.
Tuesday saw the germ of an idea develop as we approached midnight on the following evening, and with one hour to go, at 11pm last night, I knew that I felt ready to try something new within the strictures which awaited us.
On researching astronomy, astrology and the planets for a recent work of fiction, I became fascinated by the history and idea of Fixed Stars. They once appeared so to astronomers and philosophers who long believed they did not move. Later discoveries revealed that this was, in fact, not true. Stars were not motionless, and had their own trajectories and momentum. What particularly resonated with me was the enlightening perspective that things may appear static when, in fact, they are not. Further, that movement can be imperceptible and only visible through close and dedicated attention over a prolonged period of time, to those prepared to observe it.
As I considered this over the course of this week, I found that there is hope in thinking of stasis as perceived. I wondered then if there was something I could do in this six-week period that might allow me to feel and experience those things which are curtailed, and challenge the prospect of stagnation. If I might create a fresh, new space where freedom, independence and spontaneity could live, and from which change and progression could be cultivated.
I thought that perhaps the creation of something new each day across this time would serve to challenge my perception of my own stasis, and inspire forward movement by bringing something new into the world that didn’t exist the day before. I looked back at my previous response to COVID restrictions, and saw that the creation of imagery was prominent, as was writing, unhindered, in short bursts. And so, this time round, I am going to bring both together with a combination of my photography and writing.
What will I capture? What will I write? What will I learn? What will it look like at the end of it all? Who knows.
Given that freedom is paramount with this project, the only restriction I am imposing on myself is that both image and writing must be created in the period of high level restriction beginning today, 22 October 2020. Even this introductory piece was written on this, day one.
Everything I photograph and write as part of this will be created in the spirit of complete spontaneity and liberation at a time when neither can reach fulfillment in the elements of our lives in which they would normally appear.
Each piece will come together to form part of an overall body of artwork entitled, There Are No Fixed Stars.
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As I finish, the six weeks lies ahead unphotographed and unwritten. It’s both daunting and exciting to put this idea out there, and to see what will come of it. My hope is that anyone who chooses to view or read each piece might feel that they have found something new and stimulating in the today with the promise of more tomorrow.
There Are No Fixed Stars
Day One – A Creative Response to Now
Day Two – Suspension
Day Three – From the Perspective of the Dahlia
Day Four – The Writer at Dawn