Last week, the continuation until at least the end of March of the lockdown, which has been in place in England since the start of the year, was announced. Many people are feeling jaded and worn out by the constraints and hardships imposed by the lockdown and are struggling to maintain their well-being and mental health. While others are trying to cope with the direct impact of the coronavirus on themselves and their family and friends. I have written before about the power of writing to transport me away from the pressures of everyday life [see ‘Feeling extraordinary at ease‘ on January 8th, 2020] and to help me order my thoughts [see ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘ on May 2nd, 2018]. These posts were inspired by reading books by Natalia Ginzburg and Sylvain Tesson. I have just finished reading ‘A Fly Girl’s Guide to University‘ edited by Odelia Younge in which Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan writes about ‘times when my mental health was bad…writing became a solace and a friend’. In the context of institutional pressures, racism and exclusion, she describes writing about her feelings to help her to feel and listening to her own voice when nobody else would. I was reading the book to gain an appreciation of the experiences of woman of colour in a university; however, I think Manzoor-Khan’s words are relevant to everyone, especially when we are locked away and can only meet with much of our support networks via our computers and phones. Tim Hayward, in the FT in January 2021, wrote a deeply moving and insightful account of his experience of fighting coronavirus, including ten days on life support, and concludes by reflecting on how writing the article helped him handle the trauma. Of course, you don’t have to write for a newspaper, a book or a blog; although writing for an audience does focus your mind, you can write for yourself or friend and in doing so you can keep learning, take notice of your surroundings, and connect with people which will hit three out of five of the ways to well-being.
At the beginning of September, I assumed significant new responsibilities and have had to rethink some of my priorities, including the weekly posting of this blog. My decision to continue writing posts was influenced by a book I was reading at the time by Natalia Ginzburg. In ‘Little Virtues’ she talks about her vocation as a writer and how when she sits down to write she feels extraordinarily at ease. She worries about being misunderstood and claims to know nothing about the value of her writing. These comments are made early in the book and much latter she writes ‘that at the moment someone is writing he is miraculously driven to forget the immediate circumstances of his own life.’ I can confirm that this is sometimes true for me and that writing can transport me away from the pressures of everyday life and, more recently, the stresses associated with my new role in the university. So, I intend to continue to carve out time to write weekly posts even though, like Ginzburg, I am dubious about their value to others.
I had been queueing slowly up the steps to board a plane thinking about nothing in particular when, as I stepped into the plane, one of cabin staff said to me ‘Are you getting ready for winter?’ I looked at her somewhat perplexed because it was only September, and she pointed to the book that I was holding ready to read on the flight home. It was ‘Winter’ by Ali Smith. It is a novel with much to say on many issues.
One of the central characters in the novel, Art writes a blog and someone challenges him to write about a real thing, something that he remembers happening and not a blog thing. He describes a real childhood memory and when it is suggested that he should write about it, his response is he could never put something like that on-line because ‘it’s way to real’. I have some empathy with Art, because it can be difficult writing about your thoughts and memories for anyone to read. However, I have noticed that the readership of the blog goes up when I do write about such things [see for example ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘ on May 2nd, 2018 or ‘Depressed by exams‘ on January 31st, 2018]. So, if people are interested perhaps I should do it more often.
Another passage that resonated with me was about age. The narrator is her sixties, which I will be soon, and comments that ‘You never stop being yourself on the inside whatever age people think you are by looking at you from the outside.’ I think that this is true but perhaps difficult to reconcile with consciousness being an accumulation of sensory experiences [see ‘Is there a real ‘you’ or ‘I’‘ on March 6th, 2019]
I wrote this short annual report in anticipation of being on vacation this week. However, as my editor commented, it is ‘a bit of a non-blog’ and so I have written a second post for today that will be published a few minutes later.
The painting in the thumbnail is by Peter Curran and shows a view of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral that is almost the same as the view from the seat at which I usually sit to write this blog. The blog is read world-wide as shown by the distribution of visitors to the blog during 2018 in the temperature map in the graphic below. The weekly readership dropped by 60% at the beginning of April 2018 after I deleted my Facebook page and cut the link between Facebook and this blog (see ‘Some changes to Realize Engineering‘ on March 28th, 2018). However, I am pleased say that the visitor numbers have recovered; and last month’s visitor numbers were only 4% lower than the corresponding month in 2017. So many thanks to those readers that stayed with me, or found the blog again without using Facebook. While, I enjoy writing ‘to make life more fruitful’ to quote Sylvain Tesson (see ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘), it is also encouraging to know that people are reading the blog.
For those of you that enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing, there have been more than 330 posts since the first one in July 2012 – that’s a huge archive for you to browse, if you have nothing else to do. Happy New Year!