from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Lonesome George and the Cowboy

Lonesome George

June 29 I enjoyed Nike in Katerini’s account of sleeping with an owl and a snake by her bed.  In her culture, these are choices full of classical meaning.  In my own more prosaic world, I do not instinctively turn to such mythical objects when in need of guidance or security.

I was raised in a Protestant denomination.  Methodists focus on words, whether spoken, read, preached or sung.  They do not employ three-dimensional symbols to embody spiritual verities or to keep us safe from Bunyan’s lions, dragons and darkness.   I do, nonetheless, keep two objects on my desk to guard my endeavours, albeit of an altogether more humdrum nature.  

The first of these is a small, carved, wooden tortoise whose provenance I have long forgotten.  I explained the connection between this animal and the lot of the long-distance writer in the entry for April 29.  I have an engagement with tortoises beyond the ownership of my pet Herodotus (Nike may note that I was stretching for a classical association).  Ten years ago, whilst still a university manager, I was sent to give a keynote speech at the remarkable Loja University in central Ecuador.  The organisers arranged for the speakers to visit the Galapagos Islands before the conference started.  There I met Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island giant tortoise, just two years before his untimely death at the age of 102.*  It is one thing encountering a tree that has survived over centuries, it is quite another gazing eye to eye with a creature that has moved so little and seen so much over so many years.

My second penates is quite different and much slighter.  It is a mass-produced, 6.5cm high plastic model of a cowboy, six shooter in each hand.  I don’t know where I found it, but it speaks to me at some unconscious level.  I must have owned such a toy as a small child.  Now it stands at the opposite pole to my other desk guardian.  The tortoise represents the slow daily slog that all scholarly writing requires.  But I have read book after article after manuscript where the routine has overwhelmed the inspiration.  Each page represents a dutiful journey between evidence and interpretation, all true, all hard won, but lacking any spark in either the prose or the argument.   It is far from easy to sit down day after day and attack the project, putting to flight mediocrity of thought or writing.  My cowboy with his guns reminds me of that requirement.

So it has been during the pandemic.  The tortoise element has not been so difficult.  For those already living in semi-lockdown, surrounded by sufficient creature comforts, the prohibition on movement has not seemed a practical problem.  The real threat is avoiding the descent into the Slough of Despond which faced Bunyan’s Christian.  Deprived of the stimulus of events, travel and fresh company, it becomes a challenge to generate the spark of energy and creativity during a day that begins and ends in the same place as the one before. 

I have to find the six-shooter in me, up for whatever drama and danger I can manufacture.

*In February of this year, naturalists claimed that after all they had found thirty near relatives.  Too late for George.

Susan D from Ottawa, Canada: COVID time – a reflection

14 June

I feel time is playing tricks, behaving like an elastic band.  Time seems to have stretched out: it feels like forever since we were enjoying ourselves in Paris.  Now each week dissolves, leaving hardly a trace.  I have finished my nightly meetings with Alec Guinness in his “positively final appearance”, but a bit from the December chapter stuck in my mind. “The days, they say, are drawing out. All that strikes me is that in spite of the slowing up of time, the weeks gallop apace; Sunday comes sharp on the heels of Sunday.”

At first, it seemed that enforced isolation would have one positive aspect.  Time without without socializing, shopping, travelling or hosting travelling friends would free up time to address some of those things one can always find a reason to leave for another day, month or year.  There is the basement, never sorted out after moving, and the perfect thing to do during the winter months of which Canada has so many.  Then there is the idea of learning and doing something new – writing a children’s book based upon a doll that belonged to my daughter.  When rescued from the garbage and cleaned up, he looked just fine as the main character for a story – perfect for spring creativity and increased energy.  Spring would also be a good time to address some landscaping at the front of the house, of which there is really none.  And then there are all those bookcases full of books, in fact, a whole library of unread books, good at any time of the year.  However, there is another side of COVID confinement – no cleaning help.  Now too much time is filled with cleaning a rather large house, and Monday comes sharp on the heels of Monday as the dust rolls down the halls and the cleaning cycle starts up again.  No new tasks get taken up.

Right at the moment, time seems to be collaborating with its colleague, the weather.  Early summer arrived with 30 degree days several weeks ago, but down jackets have been donned again, and tonight the temperature will descend to 6 degrees.  As Ontario has begun to open up further, although cases are still not falling consistently, the weather seems to be intimating that it is April or perhaps early May in COVID time, and too soon to be tossing aside so many precautionary measures.  I read a comment today that COVID is very young as a virus, mere months old, and we have hardly gotten to know it.  Nonetheless, the more than three months of self-isolating feel much longer: time is still playing its tricks.

from Megan in Brisbane, Australia: a Greater Purpose

April 10. Events have taken a turn!  My design-a-day has been adjusted and now accommodates a Greater Purpose, the existence of which can be traced to a single pivotal moment arising from the virus restrictions: my grandson posting his first video and his challenge to the family members.
These are the developments – he continues posting his videos, but now my youngest grandson aged 6 (yes, six) is making and posting his own videos. That is how much he was enthralled by his cousin’s creativity. They are delightful! Our challenge is to do something new, to look at the view, to help Mum with the weeds, do puzzles, and when doing your schoolwork, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I admit that, in the early hours when I can’t sleep, I watch all these videos over and over again. My battery is on permanent red alert.
Another of my grandsons has now decided to write a novella! So every day for an hour, we have a chat about plot, characters, suspense, description, dialogue, he writes and we convene the following day. So you see the Greater Purpose. But there’s more.
Someone on the family group, adult or child, quite spontaneously sets a daily challenge – a brain teaser or a word puzzle, cryptic clues to find deeply buried solutions – which keeps me busy in ways I didn’t dream of when I set about my design-a-day. How things can change from one day to the next. As has been proved in a more global context .
What will you create today? How will you express your creativity?