Solitary mind: The company I keep

Solitary mind: The company I keep

Another day in lockdown.

Recently, I changed from my ‘around-the-house’ tracksuit pants into my ‘good’ tracksuit pants and put on a bra beneath my top and ambled off to the supermarket, incorporating my permitted hour of daily exercise with some essential shopping.

The little pot plant I bought, alongside the bread and juice, was not essential. Nor was it particularly beautiful or glamorous or exotic. It was small – easy to carry home – and affordable. It was nice.

I bore it back to my place in triumph and wondered why I felt so pleased with it. Was my life now so lacking in novelty that a cheap pot plant stood out as the highlight of my month?

The little green thing sits in front of me at my table while I write this. I still like it. I think it looks cheerful. My landlords are nice people, but they won’t allow me to keep a pet. That’s a shame because – oh! – how I long for a cat right now.

I live alone, which I treasure for its quiet and autonomy, but I always knew that lockdown would be a challenge for those of us living alone. The only other humans I see every day are those at a distance, masked, on my daily walk. For the other 23 hours I must content myself with pixelated images on a few Zoom calls for work or voices piping out of a phone. My bungalow does not have a socket for my TV aerial to plug into, so I can’t even access the outside world on the small screen. My remaining connection to the community is via Twitter, along with the odd work email. And while Twitter certainly giveth in the form of gifs, images, links to articles, and threads – ranging from the nerdy to the erudite – it taketh away in the form of snark and wild-eyed misinformation campaigns against the public health messages that are keeping most of us safe and driving the numbers of infections down. I don’t know which is more shocking – the recklessness, bordering on nihilism, with which some people want us to fling open our doors, tear off our masks, and cram ourselves back into malls and shopping centres, or the fact that this is being driven by an unholy union of the lunatic fringe, some parts of the mainstream media, and the major political party in opposition. So, right now, my connection into a world of digitised chatter and current updates comes at the cost of me feeling safe.

So, it’s just me, my lonely and alone mind, and my little plant. In the absence of cats and people, I think I just bought it to have another living thing with me in my home.

Pot of Geraniums Paul Cezanne
Pot of Geraniums by Paul Cezanne

But at least I support lockdown and feel I understand the rationale behind it. I wonder what drives the loonies, the intemperate trolls railing against lockdown rules. I mean, why throw a tantrum over wearing a mask? I suspect that what is confronting for people right now is the idea that while ‘risk’ is out there in the form of the virus, every single individual one of us is also a risk factor, a potential source of contagion – resulting in damage or death – for others. While the more sober thinkers in our society undertake to mitigate themselves as a walking-talking source of risk, weaker minds choose to be offended at the idea that they are the yuck factor and, subsequently, project and perform.

As the weight of my solitude presses in on my mind – sometimes enjoyed, sometimes dreaded, often just tolerated – I wonder how peculiar have I become in the last few months? Lockdown has constrained my physical ability to roam, and my solitary existence means that I have almost complete freedom to indulge my whims in the privacy of the home in which I must stay put.

How strange have I become? There’s no one around to tell me, except for my little plant, and it does not do feedback well.

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