It’s the first day of the lockdown in South Africa and I just wanted to write and see how you are.
Don’t expect too much from this letter. Everyone else seems to have so much to say about everything that’s happening, but I’m afraid I don’t. I have fears and misgivings like everyone, I feel resolve like everyone, and just like most people, I have questions to which there aren’t yet any answers. But truthfully I don’t know anything and have no special expertise to share. I feel no compulsion to lecture anyone or advise anyone, and please banish me from the tent in the middle of an Antarctic snowstorm if you hear me demanding the right to walk my dog, or publicly excoriating people for wanting to walk their dog. I feel no great urge to boast about my quarantine virtues or trumpet my quarantine rebellion.
It’s too much and I want no part of it, but I’m writing now because I do hope you’re feeling okay. Everyone deals with big moments in different ways. Some are angry, some are scared, some virtue-signal and others act out, some are grateful for authority, some chafe against it, and we’re going to have to find a way to embrace it all. Over the next while we’ll be learning a lot about ourselves and the people closest to us and they’ll be learning a lot about us. I think we’ll need to learn to forgive each other. And mostly we’ll need to learn to forgive ourselves.
I don’t know how you’re planning to get through these weeks, but I’m going to try be kinder to myself. I know that sounds the kind of thing pampered rich folk say, which causes all right-thinking people to yell, “Actually, maybe try being a bit harder on yourself, you self-indulgent baby!”
Maybe. But I think we’re most self-promoting and self-aggrandising, most insensitive and boorish and unkind when we are most unforgiving of what’s happening inside us. It’s very difficult to break patterns of thinking and acting when we’re caught up in the hot flood of everyday life, each moment leading to the next with no steady place to stop and stand, but what we’re being given, whether we want it or not, is the opportunity to stop and think, to break habits and form new ones, to decide for ourselves what’s an essential service in our lives and what we can do without.
But already I’m sounding preachy and holier-than-thou, and oh my God, I don’t want to do that. I’m honestly just writing to say that I love you all, and I appreciate you greatly, and that although I don’t have much to say today, I’m going to write shorter letters, more frequently, and if I think of any nice things, I’ll share them with you.
Here’s my list of things I want to do this antentwig that I don’t normally do enough of. I probably won’t get them all done, or even most of them, and that’s okay.
- I want to see as many actual sunrises as I can manage.
- I want to make a jigsaw puzzle.
- I want to read a big, long classic 19th century novel that requires much immersion and unbroken attention.
- I want to catch up on my correspondence.
- I want to write morning pages every day.
- I want to download as many of my old columns into the archives of this website as I can.
- I’m going to redo my 21-day elastic band challenge.
- I want to try getting into some opera. They say if you sit still and listen to it enough, you can get into it. It would be nice to be a guy who likes opera, or who at least knows that he has tried.
- I want to read all the articles saved in my Pocket folder. Do you use Pocket? You should (getpocket.com).
- I want to play some card games again. I used to love playing cards.
- I want to finally write my book.
- I want to come out of these three weeks speaking much better Greek than I do now.
I’ll write to you very soon – please write too – and don’t spend too much time on social media.
With very warm and fond embraces