Alone with my thoughts

Isolation, it’s a word we’ve all come to recognise a little too well of late. Covid has forced us all to understand what it means and has tested our ability to deal with being isolated from friends, family and the world at large. It’s not until we’re faced with the loss of freedom that we realise what we’ve taken for granted. It’s not that we necessarily use our liberty to the full when it’s available, but the loss of it stirs a strong reaction that can manifest in feelings of deep deprivation.

Photo by C Salem

It’s human nature to want what we can’t have; it’s a principal that drives our consumer economies. We’ve been programmed to strive for things beyond our reach. So, when we’re deprived of basic human rights, like freedom of movement, freedom to socialise in person, we’ll often fight tooth and nail to get it back, especially when that loss of liberty has been enforced by law. Most of us, however, believe in the greater good and are prepared to sacrifice part of our freedom for the larger society in which we live. I tend to rationalise that my sacrifice is still my choice as a member of a democratic and free community and so I retain some power over my own freedom by opting to obey the rules for the sake of everyone.  

Photo by Fernando Zhiminaicela

If these last years of intermittent isolation have taught me anything, it’s that not everyone has the same liberty to lose. It made me reflect on those who live without freedom of movement, populations governed by despots and dictators, authoritarian regimes that run roughshod over people by force. They use violence and intimidation to control the masses. In these places, it’s dangerous to have even freedom of thought. Despite the Covid restrictions, I’m grateful that I live with the kind of liberty some can only dream of.  

Photo by Efes

There are others who also suffer from isolation and lack any freedom of movement and they are more prevalent than we’d sometimes be prepared to admit. I’m thinking of those among us who are isolated through age, mental and physical disabilities, or just plain loneliness. For many, isolation comes out of fear, fear of meeting people, fear of not being able to cope, fear of not fitting in or of failure.  

…just plain loneliness

Photo by Steven Hwg

Loneliness and social isolation often come with age. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly a quarter of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. As we get older, we can find ourselves living alone, we lose family and friends for all kinds of reasons and we are more prone to sickness and chronic ill health. And we don’t necessarily need to be isolated to feel lonely, it’s common for loneliness to be felt even in the midst of a crowd.  

Image by Graehawk

I have to admit that I’ve never felt lonely; alone yes, but never lonely. I’ve had wonderful, loving family and friends around me all my life and never had time to feel lonely. Isolation is a different matter, I think everyone feels alone or isolated at some time in their life, when those we care about are not around to confide in, or when decisions are to be made that can only be made alone. And being alone or isolated can be a deliberate choice; everyone needs space to meditate occasionally, to take stock. When I look back at my working life, at times it’s been too hectic a ride. Time alone was always at a premium. Now I have the time to pursue the things I love to do, I find that they’re often lone pursuits like writing, painting and photography. I enjoy immersing myself in those activities but I have to remind myself to emerge from my studio every so often or my wife will come looking. Friends find it funny that I have a door bell hooked up from the house to the studio so Christine can buzz me when it’s time to eat. I think I’d starve if she didn’t. 

Time in my studio; a welcome kind of isolation

There’s another aspect of self-isolation that comes with age. I think we sometimes chose to be more isolated as part of a decluttering of our lives as we get older. We appreciate a simplification of our once busy lifestyles and do this by limiting our interaction with others to the extent we have in the past. We choose instead to spend time with those we really care about and less time with people we have no interest in and doing things that don’t matter. Time is more precious as we age, and while I long for a time when isolation is once again a choice and not a requirement, I do appreciate my time alone with my thoughts, and to just watch the world go by. 

Photo by Raymond Revaldi

Alone with my thoughts, and just to watch the world go by

Escape to the Country

It’s been a while since my last blog. My computer crashed and had to go to computer hospital. Thankfully, my friend is a doctor and though my faithful Dell showed no evidence of a virus, the poor PC had to undergo radical reconstruction surgery. Like me, it’s getting on a bit and needs these regular updates to keep it going, but thanks to Doctor Whizz, my ageing Dell is now running like a spritely newborn and performing its duties with ease.

Photo by Annca

Speaking of viruses, I for one have had enough already. So far this year we’ve had devastating fires and pestilence; thankfully we live on a hill because it’s been raining nonstop for two days and floods are now imminent. I’m waiting for a plague of locusts to descend on the Southern Highlands and eat all our veggies from the garden plot. It’s a year of biblical events and I need to escape!  If only we could just fly away to some paradise, far from the Covid crowd and just chill. “You’re a writer,” I hear you say. “Just use your imagination and you’re on an exotic isle somewhere.” True, but I’m after the real thing, a warm breeze tickling the hairs on my skin, the fragrance of frangipani wafting in the night air, the rhythmic crash of waves against the rocks as a full moon rises. I want to sip on a tequila sunrise and watch the stars twinkle above the ocean, a steel band playing Kokomo at the beach bar in the background. D’oh! You’ve got me doing it, haven’t you; that imagination thing?

Photo by Rick Lee

Imagination is a powerful mode of transport. With travel options at a premium right now, I like to look back on times when we were able to venture far afield and to savour the precious memories I’ve accumulated. It’s a good time to take out the old photos and videos and relive the adventures of years gone by, and to dream of journeys to come when better times return. They will return.

Photo by Rick Lee

For now, we have to make the most of what we’ve got and memories can serve up a vivid escape from the day-to-day reality of this awful pandemic. I’m looking through my thousands of photos, one and a half terabytes of priceless moments, thankful once again to Doctor Whizz for making sure I had backups before Dell went down.

Photo by Rick Lee
Photo by Rick Lee
Photo by Rick Lee

A snap of local children takes me back to a village in Vanuatu, a stark moonscape image brings me to the rim of a volcano on Tanna. When I see the sky reflected in rice paddies, I’m transported back to Bali or the world heritage village of Shirakawago in remote Japan. A short video of a cigar maker takes me back to a steamy night in New Orleans, listening to live Jazz until dawn in the French Quarter. I can smell the cigar smoke in the humid night air as I enjoy it over again and pledge to return one day.

Photo by Rick Lee
Photo by Rick Lee

Red sands glow in the United Arab Emirates, while the sight of rolling hills in Tuscany brings back the smell of pecorino cheese in the village of Pienza, pizza and red wine at a trattoria in Florence. These captured moments can be as real now as they were at the time. It’s that imagination thing again.

Photo by Rick Lee

There are other ways to escape confinement. Think local. There’s more than we imagine right on our doorstep. Unless you’re unfortunate enough to be confined to quarantine, in lock-down or isolation, a walk in the park can be just as therapeutic, a walk in the country even better. There’s something about nature that automatically provides an escape. It’s hard not to live in the moment when surrounded by such beauty. Even a garden can provide a myriad of distractions, there in every detail observed at close quarters. The veins on a leaf, the petals of a flower. The iridescence of an insect’s wing.

Photo by Rick Lee
Photo by Rick Lee
Photo by Rick Lee

It’s deep into winter here in the highlands. I’m watching trees thrashing in the wind and raindrops hanging like tears from empty branches; not the best time to go for a walk. But, from the window of my cosy office, I can see the first daffodils are splashing their brilliance on a miserable grey day, a show of hope, a sign of brighter times to come. A Crimson Rosella is fighting the wind to cling on to a branch and a Kookaburra, fluffed up in a ball of feathers, is waiting for a worm or a lizard to stir in the leaf litter. Spring is a month away but there’s a promise of better times in the air, times when we can emerge from isolation and travel this wonderful earth once again. Until then, I’ll open up the album and use my imagination to escape to the country. Any country will do.

Photo by Rick Lee

    

Any country will do