30 April 2020

Growth mindset


On the boat

In a lockdown, the past becomes whatever you want it to be. What do you remember. Sat on a longboat south of Birmingham, I drink coffee while the girls drink juice. They are wearing lifejackets and I am in jeans and a shirt that are tight because I have been gaining weight for the Spring. I can't stop eating. Outside of the picture, somewhere, are Yoko and her father. Yoko spent the night in a B&B and I slept miserably, hot and claustrophobic on a narrow bench, six inches separating me and my father-in-law all night, while the three girls slept in the back of the boat. I kept worrying something would happen, the boat would sink, that my father-in-law would need something or do something, and the night went on and on. I can make a list of three or four moments from the trip, looking at the pictures. I don't remember the rest of it.

The days come and go and I wake up every morning with a brief moment of forgetfulness. What had been dreams and what had been real. I dream now, every night, that Yoko is somewhere else, and I am back in high school or at work or in Japan. My watch buzzes me awake and then it is all there again. Yoko is sleeping next to me, the grey light is coming through a crack between the curtains that we never manage to close completely. It's still lockdown. We still don't know when it will end. We don't know what the end will look like.

The girls wanted to watch home videos and there was one of us in Torremolinos, in Spain watching the sunrise, before Mia was born. I'm on the edge of the video, once sitting in a swing looking out and once, holding Mei in the distance. Yoko and the girls are playing and I am watching quietly, unhappy, aren't I. Or another video of us driving through America in 2012 for my sister's wedding, and as the shot pans to the back, to the girls full of excitement and energy, you can see me and hear my music playing. I'm listening to No Knife, and I am trying, I realise now, to recapture something of being young, of driving all day or night to some show and yet, here I am in this situation, with three kids and my wife, my PhD mostly done in England with no clear future ahead of me and no way back to the past. I chose to listen to all these emo bands, like I was articulating some seventeen-year-old's feeling, even though I was 30. I can't tell what I was thinking — I was trying not to think anything.

The girls bubble and live on — it's a kind of grace. The sun too is a kind of grace, the warm weather which last year was a sign of global warming, of the climate crisis, seemingly put on hold while something else burns metaphorically for a while. I am unhappy now, I can say that without worrying about the consequences. I can tell you why and can even tell you about the past, all the things I've wanted over the years that never happened, how on that longboat trip I had thought Yoko and I might have a night together away from the kids with nothing on our minds but each other. Of course, that was a ridiculous thought, it was never going to happen, but I had it anyway, I still wanted it. I still felt I wanted it.

When you can name something, when you can say what it is, you gain power over it. I write endlessly, for years and years I have been, about how words give structure to feelings and experience. How categories, how naming things creates and solves problems. You pull out the map you've drawn and point to a place: it's here, but here is still just your drawing, some impression of some place that never will be real. Another day ticks by, so what if you can articulate your feelings. 

02 April 2020

Sickness and Health

Cotwolds

The weather is turning now, or it should be turning. I look at the forecast for Sunday, when I'm planning to run my marathon early in the morning, when I can social distance myself from everyone and run slow and heavy alone. It's going to be warm, almost. What is a summer that you watch through the window glass. What will any of the future hold. We were worried about the singularity last year — now, I just want bread flour and arborio rice.

We took a trip to the Cotswolds in January 2012. Naomi had Scarlett Fever, she was quite ill. It was an illness that I didn't think people got anymore, and could barely believe, but there it was. That year was the final year of my PhD — we had just had Mia and I had the sense of being up to my neck in water, with it rising, standing on my toes, wondering how much more was coming, when I would go under. We planned this holiday for January because it was Yoko's birthday, but the trip made less and less sense the closer it came. Still I had made the plans and stubbornly refused to cancel — I had done this before when we went in our honeymoon and Yoko was ill, but we went anyway. We couldn't lose the money, could we. That was the one thing we couldn't lose.

The car wouldn't start on Tuesday night. I had packed up the reusable shopping bags and taken a list of things to buy at the supermarket. There was still something in the battery, but not enough for it to turn over, and I opened the door of the house shouting in that the car wasn't starting, I was stuck. The lockdown goes quickly from being annoying to be a crisis — what if we don't have a car anymore, what if the car has a flat. A neighbour came out to help and it took five tries to get it to work, and then it turned over and I physically felt the pressure leave me and I wondered why I ever took something like the car starting for granted.

I promise now to never take it for granted, but it's ridiculous. Like how I said a prayer, a kind of prayer, when I put the key in after shopping and willed with everything I had in me that the battery wouldn't be dead again. Please. And it started and I thought again, I will never take this for granted, and of course, I will take it for granted.

When I was younger, I got pneumonia once. I remember very little about it now, except that I felt something from my parents I don't ever remember feeling again. It was a kind of love, now as I think about it, that a parent feels for a sick child. A prayer even if you don't pray — a will, that sheer will for your energy to flow out of you into your child to make them well. Take me instead of them, even if it's ridiculous, even if the child is not that sick, but you think it, don't you. You think stupid things when you're scared. I remember getting a shot that was big and necessary and I remember my father holding me. 

Most illnesses you survive, of course. Even Scarlett Fever and when you look back at the pictures, depending on what you want to remember, you can remember what you want. I don't know what I want to remember now. I have wanted forever to be positive, to put a positive spin on the hard times, all the hard times, there have been. Each year there was something, wasn't there. We made a practice of not telling the truth because it was too hard. I keep wanting to cry, I'd been crying weakly, pathetically before the lockdown. Now, there is no context for it. I wake up from a dream about a world that doesn't exist anymore. I was on a plane, and I wake and think, oh there are no more planes. It was just a dream. 
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