Guest Post #9 Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of another world is a new feature on my blog where I welcome fellow writers or bloggers to talk about their experiences of Covid 19 and lockdown. I wondered whether other creatives felt like me – that another world was possible and could just be glimpsed once we were forced to stay still. I’ve had a great response and each week I will be publishing a post written by a guest -sharing their thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears during this strange and unsettling time. This week please welcome Suzie Ankers to The Glorious Outsiders. Suzie is a member of my writing group (Chasing Driftwood Writing Group) and is currently working on her debut novel, a thriller. The stresses and strains of lockdown prompted her to write the following poem.

My Daughter Turns Fifteen

It approached like a dark circling tornado,

Full of the threat of violent destruction and menace,

We watch the news in nervous anticipation whilst around us other deny its very existence,

We become doomsday preppers gathering our medications and food to withdraw from society,

Then we wait and life for a while, continues unabated.

Two weeks later and the landscape of the world has changed,

The once busy shopping centres lie empty as a silent killer stalks their aisles,

Our airports and ports keep inviting further unbidden guests to our homes and families,

The doors to my own business remain resolutely shut but my shame escapes,

There is a huge sorrow and fear in the air as my colleagues prepare the NHS for its onslaught,

They are being sent to war without shields and weapons,

Those low paid workers are now the new heroes of our society brought to its knees.

I watched your silent anguish as everyday you swallowed pills which you knew increased your vulnerability,

Whilst your brother and sister railed against the injustice of their false imprisonment you had no such complaints,

The creases in your forehead an indicator of your climbing anxiety,

The news spews forth the dire nature of the battle we have entered into and the fact that we are unprepared,

As we watch our prime minister, an expectant father, now fighting for his life,

I guess you wondered if this is what Corona had in store for you.

Fortunately, the storm abated,

The blue skies of summer heralded the way of greater freedoms, but we didn’t realise we were in the eye of the storm,

Still you hung back and waited until we could at last change your medication,

Fearful of the very thing that makes us human, social interaction.

Your brother left for university,

He partied his way to newfound freedoms,

I saw you watching and shaking your head and yet there was resigned joy in the fact that he had managed to get some semblance of normality,

Beneath that we held a knotting fear in our stomachs,

Would he pay for wanting to be like everyone else?

What risks would he have to navigate in his future career as a Physiotherapist?

Your sister, the most sociable of her family had missed groups,

As soon as she could she reclaimed the reigns of her social life but guided her horse skilfully around the hurdles of the new rules,

Even she was chastened by the virus for wanting normality,

Her boyfriends brother tested positive for Corona after returning from holiday and we missed out being in contact by a hair’s breadth,

I questioned my boundaries and yet I knew this is not the summer she sought,

She had plans of festivals, illicit alcohol, boys, and music. Parties on the beach.

Instead she got family time and more family time,

Yes, we tried teaching her to drive but how could we replace her peers?

Finally, you return to school and I am so proud,

You are the only child in your class to wear a mask,

I see the worry though in the dark circles around your eyes,

I hear the anger as they confirm cases at school and still walk around the corridors without masks,

I sense the rising frustration that people are not taking things as seriously as you believe they should.

I watch you attend your first interview wearing clothes that make you look like a middle-aged woman,

I realise what a warrior you have become and how you have had to wear an old head on young shoulders,

My heart swells with pride as you patiently explain yet again that you wear a mask to keep vulnerable members of society safe.

The interviewer nods yet I wonder if he really understands

I lie in bed at 3am unable to claim sleep worrying about the future,

That’s when my husband holds me and I hear his heart beating deep inside his chest,

It marks the rhythm of time passing and I think how we have made it this far without arguments and together,

He whispers to me that I am a good mama but not even I can protect my children from the air,

My heart does a somersault and my eyes search the ceiling for answers that just are not there.

Thank you so much to Suzie for sharing her words with us. Suzie’s bio is below.

Suzie joined the creative writing group a year ago. For her the act of writing is akin to the joy of reading and transports her into another world. She has three teenage children and works as a Therapist supporting children with Autism, ADHD and Sensory issues. She lives with her husband and children plus their energetic cocker spaniel named Beau. This piece was inspired by her daughters return to school post lockdown and it proved cathartic to write down all her anxieties.

Sunshine Through The Fear

We are nearing the end of Lockdown Week 2 and with no idea how long this will go on for, we push on, day by day, tentatively and with hope. I have so many things whirling around in my head that by the end of the day I’m always a bit emotional. As always, the best thing for me is to write about it.

Days have taken on a new reality. A sort of unreality. Surreal and at times confusing. At other times, it feels like the new and established normal. Humans are nothing if not adaptable. It’s hard to believe that a few weeks ago the corona virus was still something we felt we could hold at arms length and generally ignore. Something on the news, something vague and distant. It didn’t take long for the truth to catch us up. It was like hitting a brick wall. There you are then. No hiding under the bed. This is it. The new reality sees many of us jobless and forced to stay at home as much as possible. Unable to mix with our friends or family outside of those in our own houses. Real, normal life has changed beyond recognition. And we all go along with it. Day by day.

I blogged last week about the positive aspects I hoped could possibly come out of all of this and I still stand by those. At the very least, this forces us all to stop. To pause, to breathe, to think. I know I can’t be the only one considering the ‘old’ aspects of my life and wondering which ones I miss and which ones I don’t. But as the death toll escalates at an alarming daily rate, I am also choked with fear.

As my husband leaves the house every day to risk his life, we stay at home. We don’t have to set alarms, so sometimes we lie in. We do PE with Joe Wickes or we run circuits around the garden. We divvy up snacks for the day and my 5 year old sells them in his little shop. We start schoolwork around ten and as my older three are well, older, they sort themselves out which makes me luckier than most, only having to home school one child. And what a child…His light, his laughter, his love, his wide blue eyes and infectious giggles are steering us all through our days.

I work with children ordinarily and used to be childminder so I was never going to struggle too much with homeschooling. The second week has been much easier and we have a good routine now and my little boy has been so good for me. There is far less bribery this week!! I really feel like my little boy is saving my sanity, instead of eroding it as I feared he would.

He soaks up everything I show him or tell him. He whizzes through his phonics and his maths. He loves writing independantly and he told us this very seriously today, pencil poised above paper. I love writing, he said. I could have cried. He completes the literacy tasks sent by school. We usually have our dog walk and exercise around 11am and this always involves pretending to be in a zombie apocalypse. Home for lunch. He loves the forest school, art and science activities the most. We have made natural mandalas, clay faces on trees, sit spots, stone cairns and nature colour wheels. His enthusiasm and his simple, spontaneous joy make me feel like I can do this. And we are doing this. Like everyone else. Day by day. Because we have to.

There are aspects I find tough. I am used to being alone and I love being alone. My normal week would involve a lot of driving around and a lot of running writing classes and groups and a lot of working on the laptop. But I am finding ways around this. I am ensuring I have at least two long baths a week, usually with a glass of wine and a good book. I make sure the little one is entertained by the others so I don’t get disturbed. Trust me, this is essential. I need time on my own. In the evenings, since we signed up to the free Netflix trial I have been indulging in TV time with the rest of the family and so far we are onto Season Two of Stranger Things and loving it. It’s nice to find something we can all watch and enjoy together. Shared experiences are vital to get through this. After that I shut myself away in my room and get on with writing. I edit what will be the next release and then I work on fresh writing in a notebook. It saves my sanity and keeps me me.

The daily death toll is something that my husband seems keen to keep an eye on. Part of me would rather not know. I do not have the news on throughout the day as I do not want to scare the kids. I guess my husband has a vested interest in knowing how bad things are getting due to the fact he is still out there working through this. But it is terrifying. And if I pause long enough in the middle of everything to think about it, I feel the fear like a shard of ice that stops everything. There are death tolls for every country, infection rates, survival rates, advice on how to avoid it. Every now and then it hits you so hard…Everything has changed and will probably never be the same again.

But you can’t let fear rule you. You can’t stay in bed or sit and cry all day. All of us are discovering how resilient and adaptable we are and we should be proud of ourselves. Me? I’m discovering or maybe rediscovering how joyful and positive it is to be around a young child. Working in the garden the other day I noticed all the changes there…The clay faces we moulded onto the fir trees, complete with feather headdresses and stones for eyes…the chalk rainbow on the driveway…the glass jars filled with magical potions… the chalk mural on the wall…the army den constructed around the swing-set…the sit spot at the far end brightened by the primroses we planted up there…the beautiful mandala we made on the picnic table…and I smiled, almost cried if I’m honest. One day everything will start up again…school and work and driving about and there will be less time for outdoor art and science experiments in the garden.

I think the best thing I can do right now is soak up the sunshine from my little lad, from all of my children, from everything bright and green and alive around me and use that to keep going and keep smiling. Embrace this unexpected pause in normality and use it to breathe again, to assess life, to appreciate love and to build it all up stronger than it was before.

What’s keeping you going through these strange and scary times? Feel free to comment and share!

Salainis

I had learned already many of the Outland methods of communicating by forest notes rather than trust to the betraying, high-pitched human voice.

None of these was of more use to me than the call for refuge. If any Outlier wished to be private in his place, he raised that call, which all who were within hearing answered.

Then whoever was on his way from that placed hurried, and whoever was coming toward it stayed where he was until he had permission to move on.

Home Schooling Day 1; is bribery okay…?

Today was our first official day of home schooling. As I write this, the Prime Minister has announced total lockdown of the UK, so things are changing fast. With three asthmatics in our family, we were not planning to leave the house other than for dog walks, so this won’t affect us too much. Husband works in a supermarket so he can still leave the house to do that.

Anyway, back to home schooling. If I’m honest, it’s something I have always been curious about. I hated school when I was a kid and would have loved to be home schooled. I considered it when my eldest child was struggling in Years 9 and 10 but thankfully she got over the issues she was having and we didn’t have to look into it too much. I run two writing clubs for home educated children and I often envy their lives. They seem to do so many fun and educational things and all at their own pace. Often before coming to my club they would have had guitar lessons or horse-riding, and after it might be discussion group or philosophy. They are all lovely, well-rounded and relaxed children so it obviously suits them well.

As for me I love the idea of it and but have never imaged I’d have the patience to teach my own children all day every day. It’s nice to have a break from them when they go to school! But here we are. Life has changed dramatically in the blink of an eye. I think that’s the hardest thing to get your head around. We all feel a bit shocked, I suppose. This time last week I was tired from a very busy but typical Monday. This week, I am tired from schooling my 5 year old all day!

My older children, aged 12, 15 and 17 are quite able to get on with things themselves. They have work sent to them from school or college and I trust them to work through it. It’s the 5 year old’s learning I’m now responsible for and yes, I was daunted, and yesterday I felt horrible all day, panicky even. Today was better because we were busy. Less time to think or doubt yourself!

My 5 year old is a typical little boy of that age. At school he is a delight, perfectly well-behaved and very keen to learn. At home, he is noisy, attention-seeking and at times quite demanding as well as over sensitive. We all adore him, don’t get me wrong, he is without a doubt the funniest and sweetest person in our household. But we can all agree with a roll of our eyes that he is exhausting.

So, armed with masses of helpful links which have been splashed all over Facebook since school closures were announced, plus activity booklets we printed out, writing books we already had and the stuff school sent home…I planned two weeks worth of timetables and today was Day 1.

How did we do?

Pretty good if bribery is okay!

It went a bit like this;

‘You’ve got to get dressed now so we can do PE Joe on YouTube,’

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘Well, you sort of have to. Its good for you, it will be fun. We are all doing it together. Come on, get dressed.’

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘After that you can run your own snack shop and sell the snacks?’

‘Okay then.’

Result! Me, the 12 year old and 5 year old spent twenty odd minutes jumping around in front of the laptop with the excellent PE Joe. I enjoyed it. 5 year old did pretty well but had his eye on his snack shop the whole time. This was another brilliant idea from Facebook. I chose some snacks and told them they could ‘buy’ two to last all day and the 5 year old could sell them from his little wooden toy market stall. He loved this.

He then did art with one of his sisters outside. Another win. He made a rainbow to hang at the window. Something all the kids are doing to cheer people up. We followed this with free time, or ‘discovery time’ as they call it at school. To placate him from moaning, his sister let him play Happy Wheels on her laptop. Snack time, then I did his phonics with him. This took 5 minutes because he’s pretty good. But I had to bribe him again because he really wasn’t in the mood. I can’t even remember what I bribed him with but it worked.

We had garden time then, playing with the dog, digging up nettles around our ‘sit spot’ and planting primroses. He mostly marched around with a massive stick, scaring the dog and getting shouted at by his unimpressed sister. He likes the ‘sit spot’ though; an idea I came across after signing up to Forest School activities. The idea is you create a quiet, peaceful place to sit and observe the world, practice mindfulness, that kind of thing. Not sure he cared much about mindfulness, he just asked if he could bring cars to play there and I said yes. As for me the sit spot is now my favorite place and I use it often…

His best part of the day was definitely the science experiment which was in one of the booklets I printed off. You just put raisins in lemonade and watch them go up and down, but he LOVED it. He loves stuff like this, so of course we added marshmallows and pasta which didn’t go up and down and we talked about why the raisins did and I learned something new… I got him to draw and label the experiment and then I let him have an ice cream float. (Yes, another bribe…head hanging in shame…)

Is it me or does this look like a Dalek?

Free time again (I swear every activity we do lasts about 5 minutes??) and he found a movie to watch. I wanted to get writing and spelling ticked off so out came the bribery again because he was really whinging now. If he did a bit of writing in his book he could have his second snack….if he then came on a dog walk with me, I would bring biscuits.

I mean, I’m not offering him much, but it’s still bribery right?

He wanted to play zombies on the dog walk but I really didn’t have the mental energy. I felt too much like a zombie myself. Of course more bribery came up…if he kept going, when he got back he could play Plants Vs Zombies on my phone…That worked for us both to be honest, because I escaped to the sit spot with my book and a coffee. Bliss!

So, I think we survived our first day and I even gave him some more biscuits at bedtime for being such a good boy and doing so well. We have some maths and computing planned tomorrow plus two lots of art and some forest school stuff. I’m looking forward to it. The other bonus so far is that because I’m in his face so much, when he gets free time, he does not want to play with me! That’s not how it usually works. He’s usually terrible at playing by himself!

All in all, I feel positive, despite the blatant bribery. Whatever works, right? And like I predicted in my last post, I’m sure many parents already have increased respect for teachers who do this every day with thirty plus kids! It’s different with my writing clubs because I love writing so much, anything that involves writing is pure joy for me.

If you’re home schooling for the first time, how are you finding it? Any highs or lows so far? Any tips?

And Just Like That…Everything Changed

I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing such a mixture of emotions right now that it’s genuinely overwhelming. I’ve got fear and anxiety dipping and rising. I’ve got humour coming and going. I’ve got excitement about the challenges ahead and the thought that maybe, just maybe, this situation will somehow bring some good and make us change the way that we live. I’ve got determination and a kind of let’s just get on with it atttitude popping up from time to time. Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to cry. I am so grateful for so many things and at the same time unable to really absorb all this, let alone plan. The uncertainty is definitely the most stressful element of it all.

For me, the answer lies in writing. Always. Ever since I was a kid I have written to help me make sense of the world around me and the emotions I am feeling. I don’t often really know what I think or feel until I write it down. So, here I am, soaking up the latest news that UK schools are to close indefinitely this Friday due to the Corona virus outbreak.

A few weeks ago I barely gave the virus a second thought. I think a lot of us ignored it. It was like all the other things we were supposed to be afraid of right? SARS and Bird Flu, Swine Flue, Ebola and Zika virus to name but a few. The biggest things worrying me were climate change and the turmoil that would possibly arise from Brexit.

It was something happening in another country to other people, and that attitude shames me now. Because now we realise, don’t we? How bad things can happen to us too. To any of us, anywhere, at any time. We realise now how scarily fragile everything truly is.

Last week, as the virus started to dominate the news, as other countries started to go into lockdown, it still did not feel real. Until I went into my local Home Bargains and could not buy loo roll. I had enough at home but was mildly surprised and amused to view the stark, empty shelves. I wrote about it on Facebook and I think most people were feeling the same. Well, isn’t that a bit annoying and strange?

A few days after that I went to Tesco late at night, figuring that was the best way to get what we needed. My husband works in a frozen foods supermarket and he was reporting empty shelves and panic buying there. That night at Tesco I started to realise how strange everything had become. The shop was busier than it should have been at 10.45pm. There was no loo roll, no medicines, no soap or handwash, no pasta or rice, barely any tins or packets. I still got most of what we needed so I wasn’t too worried, but it did start to sink in. This is not going away. This is just going to get worse. We are heading towards lockdown, school closures and job losses. Oh shit.

Still, Monday morning rolled around as usual. No change there. School run and work. Busy, busy. No sign that anything was going to change too much in our day to day lives. That day I did make the decision to stop my fortnightly adult writing group until further notice. It’s my least frequent group and I make the least money doing it. Enought people had said they wouldn’t be able to come due to the situation, so I decided to pull the plug. I thought that would be it. But by Tuesday afternoon I had recevied an email from one of the schools I run an after-school writing club at informing me that all after-school clubs were cancelled until further notice. My other school followed suit and I then found out the museum I hold two writing groups at was closing, so those had to be cancelled too.

I wouldn’t say I panicked exactly, but I started to stress about the financial side of it all. Would I have to refund people for the sessions they had paid in advance for and so on. The more I thought about it, the more sad I felt. I’ve spent so long building up this little business and it’s really only been in the last year that things have started to take off for me and make some real money. However, I didn’t feel too sorry for myself for long. I started to think about all the time I would now have to read, write, learn to play the guitar and garden.

And then today, the news we had all been expecting. All schools, colleges, nurseries and so on are to close doors this Friday until further notice. I’m not exactly stressed about it. I am actually quite looking forward to spending more time with my children and I am determined that my 5 year old, in particular, sticks to the same school day he is used to. I am determined that he will have fun. It’s going to be a challenge for us all, but the schools have been absolutely amazing, with the constant updates and reassurances and I am sure they will be sending lots of resources our way. So now I won’t exactly have much free time, but it’s okay. We have a new challenge to adjust to and humans are nothing if not adaptable. We also have a remarkable ability to look on the bright side and make light of things. I think we will see alot of that.

I am of course anxious about food and medicine supplies. I stocked up on our asthma inhalers and hayfever meds this week, just in case. Paractemol is like bloody gold dust now! But we are in a luckier position than some. As long as he does not fall ill, my husband’s supermarket job should be secure. He is utterly exhausted though. They are run off their feet and dealing with very abusive customers at times. We live in a semi-rural location, with only one neighbour. We have a large enough house and a very large garden. I am extremely grateful for my hens and ducks who are all laying very well at the moment and I am putting the extra effort into the vegetable garden. I fully intend to put the kids to work out there too most days, as I feel like now more than ever they need to learn these skills, in case anything like this happens again.

It could be worse. We are lucky. The government is talking about help for the self-employed and for renters, so there is hope there too. I am going to be sending out weekly writing prompts to the children who normally attend my clubs and I am going to post daily ones on my business page for the writing company. I hope to figure out how to put online classes/workshops together at some point, but I am now rather stretched for time with the home schooling to get my head around.

My main worry is my 74 year old mother who has a heart condition. Her operation has been cancelled and she is in the vulnerable group. She doesn’t seem to see it that way though and so far has not been too good at isolating herself. This worries me greatly and I have tried very hard to impress the importance of it on her.

Anyway, the way I see it now, our job is to stay calm, stay positive, stay kind. Help each other whenever and however we can and be there for our loved ones. Keep busy, keep active, embrace the arts more than ever, and in my case, write my way through it. If you see more blog posts than normal (I’ve been quiet lately on the blogging front due to the business of life) it’s just my way of working through it and making sense of it. I can’t recommend writing strongly enough for easing stress and anxiety.

My main thought right now is how fragile everything is. How quickly things can change. How suddenly the ground can fall away from under you. It should give us all pause to think, especially if we have ever looked down on those less fortunate than us. Now we are all in a vulnerable position. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, what colour your skin, or how much power you have. This is affecting us all. Because truly, we are all one, we are all connected. It’s just that we have forgotten that and lost sight of it. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned in all of this. That’s also the best we can do, I think. Learn from it. Admit where we might have been wrong. Aspire to change.

That’s all I’ve got to say on it for now, but I think I will be back regularly with my thoughts on this and with news on how my drastically changed life is going! Wish me luck with the home schooling, that’s all I can say!

Stay safe folks. Look after each other xx