This is my a second attempt at this article, my first attempt was so morbid and depressing that I found myself grateful that I didn't keep stocks of pills and alcohol around the flat – although I don’t think you can OD on leftover antibiotics!
Well, with lockdown slowly lifting and the promise of reunion with old friends and students, life is much better than it was three weeks ago – when there was barely a glimmer at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. So being in a much more positive mood, I have had time to reflect on some of the skills and knowledge I have acquired while in solitary lockdown.
First and foremost, food. As a former ‘career girl’, I lived on expense account meals, cigarettes, carrots (to counteract the cigarettes), and the hospitality of friends and lovers. When I entertained I hired the auspices of Mary, who cooked and delivered straight to the oven, half an hour before the event, while I ostentatiously prepared the salad.
Now, as a teacher living abroad, I have neither the money nor Mary, and struggle by on Jamie Oliver’s Easy Peasy Pasta, tins of jota and ricet, and weekend restaurant treats – and, of course, carrots. They were not so necessary, as I had stopped buying cigarettes, and only smoked OPs Other Peoples) at weekends.
So isolation provided me with the time and opportunity to experiment with ‘easy’ Asian, Indian, Italian and Korean recipes – with mixed success, and much pot burning. In desperation, I learnt about the 18-minute rice cooking method, and I have perfected the art of exotic salad making. I use nuts, strawberries, avocado, asparagus, chickpeas, onions, baby tomatoes and kale and my piece de resistance is my unique blend of dressing using grated horseradish, lemon juice and parmesan. I have learnt to eat healthily, using up all my ingredients in either salads, smoothies or stir-fries. Had I stuck to this diet, I would be slimmer and sleeker, but unfortunately, I have become chronically addicted to chocolate and currently, I’m trying to wean myself down to one bar every two days – but it's difficult.
Secondly, I have used the extra time to indulge in my passion for writing, getting as far as a book proposal, rehashing it and now stuck in a mire of self-doubt. However, in the quest of furthering my, as yet, undiscovered literary skills, I embarked on and completed an inspirational course on screenwriting (www.futurelearn.com) and I am now trying to adapt my short story of an adventure in the Nicaraguan outback into a screenplay – I am currently stuck at the ‘beat sheet’ where I have to list the dramatic events in sequence, but I intend to do this after finishing this. Concentration is an ongoing problem. I have already paid for a 150-page feedback report from one of the educators on the course in September, so I am financially motivated. A positive side effect of this course was having to study various films, and screenplays – many of which I hadn’t seen, and which proved to be most enjoyable, some even uplifting and most importantly I learnt to download films. I have l already chosen the actors for my oncoming film debut – Olivia Coleman and Paul Mescal. And on a more modest level, I am writing articles like this again.
Thirdly, introspection on a grand scale. Perhaps too much, but so much time alone enforces reflection on friendships, love affairs, career, life achievements (or lack of them) the past is alive and kicking and tends to dominate the conscious, manifesting in vivid dreams. The present is in a kind of suspended animation, and the future uncertain to put it mildly. I have found the prevailing atmosphere pensive, verging on apprehensive as I perform my daily cycle along the river. Few return my cheerful ‘Dober Dan’, each lost in their inner world, although yesterday, there was a definite improvement and people in cafes and bars were smiling, almost laughing – until they saw the bill!
I have been alone, not necessarily lonely, but I have found the lack of freedom of choice difficult. It makes you re-evaluate friendships, at home and abroad, and hugely appreciate the small acts of kindness shown by some kindly, and often unexpected souls – a distanced bike ride or walk by the river, a basket of homegrown vegetables and the delivery of delicious home cooking. These small actions are cherished, never to be forgotten. No amount of Skype or WhatsApp airtime can replace the proximity of living beings, be it a dog or human. And most importantly being able to see the light in the eye, so lacking in remote conversation.
It's going to be strange meeting up with ‘friends’ who have not been in contact and trying to adjust to one’s new perception of friendship and life in general.
And last but definitely not least, I fear I am in great danger of falling prey to the ‘nocebo effect’. The ‘nocebo effect’ is the opposite of the placebo effect. In other words, while the placebo effect heals, the nocebo effect harms – both without any pharmaceutical grounds for healing or harming. Both effects prove the mysterious, but the undoubted mind-body relationship, which shows how the power of the mind has considerable power over the healing or the harming of the body. A fact that can be biochemically measured and proven quantitatively in terms of enzymes, hormones and cellular change.
In the case of this pandemic, we are all in danger of catching the nocebo effect, especially if we regularly follow the news on the now ‘deadly coronavirus’. It has mutated from nasty flu to a very nasty flu, and now it’s commonly described as lethal. Statistics abound, with no comparisons or context, with the sole objective of increasing fear and trepidation (and thus lowering the immune system). After a rather acrimonious discussion with a medical friend, who himself, is medically compromised, he succeeded in not only in making me feel selfish for my desire to earn my living again (as I am sole earner), and my need to commune with living beings, other than the untalkative ducks and swans whom I see daily. And worst of all, he infected me with his very real fear of death by corona. The outcome of this discussion was that he (inadvertently) made me drink two glasses more than my self-regulated two glasses of Slovenian vino and chain smoke ten cigarettes in two hours while reading the doom-laden articles he sent me to substantiate his argument. So yesterday morning, after fearful dreams of open coffins floating down the Ljubljanica I woke with a headache (slight hangover), coughing a bit (after my unaccustomed cigarette intake), combined with an overwhelming feeling of dread. And started rewriting my will.
Only the thrill of speaking to my favourite author, Dervla Murphy, and listening to her calm wisdom across the airwaves, was I in the mood to leave my will unfinished and to cycle across the city to my friend in Bežigrad. Ljubljana was Like a scene from Sleeping Beauty, I joyfully observed the mass of happy faces in the awakening city and the atmosphere changing from pensive to peaceful.
There seems to be the saplings of hope appearing, but beware all ye who abandon hope – you may fall prey to the incredibly infectious nocebo effect. Just remember the end is nigh!