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I have a rather extensive pile of TBR books languishing on my shelves and in my various e-readers (which I prefer for nighttime reading as I can take my glasses off and pretend to be young again). My cunning plan (thanks Blackadder) was to plow through a bunch of them while we are all quiet and then be able to make the fateful decision – keep or share? Clear out the deadwood, reclaim some shelf space…

Instead, I’ve been watching endless streams of movies. This does allow me to embroider and do other things – like inexpertly knit socks again and again…(Do you know the word ‘frogging’ as applied to knitting? It means pulling the knitting back to repair mistakes. More experienced knitters can catch up the line where they want to. I end up having to rip the whole thing out and start again. This makes me intensely want to do another hobby.) (But I recoil from crochet as I actually FAILED my crochet class, the poor teacher wandering off and bringing me larger and larger and larger types of yarn and needles thinking I couldn’t see what I was doing…so that’s out.)

imagesImagine. Me, “brain the size of the universe” (as Marvin would intone, gloomily) unable to master simple knot-tying! It doesn’t help that I hang out with a group of sweet but extremely competent and creative knitters and crocheters who whip off cabled loveliness and multicoloured charted knits with ease…They kindly ask to see what I’ve made. There is NO WAY IN HELL I am showing them my lumpish monstrosities. I have no idea how I can blow a simple garter stitch, but if you see me wearing a knitted scarf, I beg you to avert your glance and not look too closely.

But I digress. All of this frustration means no reading, and though audiobooks are lovely for mysteries and thrillers I can’t see listening to Proust…and he was on my must read list. This is a perfect time for digging into these famous tomes – Montaigne’s essays, Proust, Dante…no one is interrupting my thoughts or making, in fact, ANY NOISE except the cat who comes by to whine now and again. I can safely wallow in the written word.

That is if I can push my anxiety over the destruction of the world to one side.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 9.49.19 PMA wise friend once told me about the three circles in which we live: the inner one, ourselves, over which we have the most control; the middle one, over which we might have influence; and the rest of the world, over which we can do little or nothing about. As I get older and wrinklier, I realize that that middle circle is becoming thinner and thinner, and I am left with only myself to regulate and a world to watch.

God knows I try to widen the middle. I’ve been working with my old alma mater, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, on a project about the world reactions to Covid-19. It involved cleaning a variety of databases. My eyes refuse to cooperate and my MS lack of short term memory means I have to scan back and forth more than the average bear to check on details. I suspect I was more of a hindrance than a help. Now I just dip in for projects that don’t involve so much scanning, tugging my forelock at my betters as I do. My studies were so long ago…

All of this is slightly discouraging. Trying to keep up with things is a challenge. Showing people your work is often soul-destroying. Add the ongoing news of a WORLD GONE MAD, and it seems impossible.

9ac5f4a6c63ee2c2de1777a45469d94166bbb51aPerhaps it is time to open Proust, read what a man with nothing on his hands but time (and perhaps a few madeleines) was able to write and think about. He was the king of social distancing, and look at how productive he was! He wrote about love, and loneliness, and people. Those things we are struggling without.

Maybe he has a clue for self-regulation, for wrapping ourselves in a layer of security and allowing our minds to relax into free-thinking. I find myself muttering, “Of course, he had help!” Like Thoreau, who pretended to be all alone while having maid service and regular meal preparation… But never mind. Deep thoughts. Deep thoughts.

If Proust fails me, I can always head to Dante’s Inferno and frighten myself with eternal damnation. That’s gotta make today sound better. Right?

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One thought on “Seeking meaning in this isolation, or which book should I read next?

  1. Good read. I am having trouble concentrating on reading and my selection isn’t as cerebral as yours! I have been enjoying watching movies on Netflix and over the air TV plus many, many comedies to help me laugh. I will also perform small tasks that require little brain power or play solitaire (with real cards). I like the circle analogy. Being an introvert and borderline agoraphobe, I find myself embracing solo creative activities like doodling with my new set of magic markers. I can forget about crocheting for now but will save that as an activity for the colder months. Stay well. Stay safe.

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