When the first lockdown was announced in Ireland, I met it with a mixture of dread and wonder. My 43 year old brother Rareș died very suddenly in January (from what I am now persuaded was a COVID-19 related heart attack — at the time the virus was generally assumed only to attack the lungs), and I was back in Ireland just a few weeks from his funeral in the US. In the midst of this grief, I couldn’t help noticing, like so many people, some unexpected energies, which, apart from their political or economic implications (who would be out of work, how we would get by, how would the houseless be protected), had a consoling influence over my senses and nervous system: the calm of the city, a sudden interest in every lane and alley within my 2km radius, the incredulous joy of my dog Seamus at the fact of everyone being at home all day, a creative/nesting impulse that fueled both clearing out of junk and making space more accommodating. Time seemed suddenly unhitched from the instruments used to measured it: 2019 receded into the deep past, while the present simultaneously crawled and bolted. And the future — plans to travel, especially — just dissolved. “Once upon a time we had time…. and now we seem to have lost it,” writes Catherine Keller (you can read more about her in my previous post).
That period was instructive in at least one notable way, in that it’s made me realize how important it is to mark time. To feel that there is an architecture to it, in order to make sense of what is happening within it. An American friend with an Irish name who lived for a long time in Belgium suggests that this is a common feature of migratory lives; when one can’t reliably make a home in physical space, one learns to do it in time. That feels true to me, and I also suspect we all feel this to some extent in this age of blurred boundaries between work and life, especially for those who do self-structured (often: unstructured) labour. There was a time in 2013, when I was living in a village in Cumbria, writing freelance for commerical directors in Los Angeles and New York, going to the village pub every Friday (although I am not strictly a pub-goer), and a church service in the next village on Sundays (although I am not strictly a church-goer). I went to the pub for the reliable banter and getting to know people through repeated exposure to their stories and conditions; and to the church primarily because the act of walking the mile there and back, of sitting in that drafty stone building with 10-12 other people, sometimes recognizing a hymn out of the depths of my childhood, it all made up something like a load-bearing post, holding up the frame of the week, as in a house. I could move a little more freely in that house because I felt something was supporting the weight of the roof.
Which brings me to this proposal to write something for every one of these six weeks of Lockdown 2.0. Six weeks. Six prompts. Feedback possible. Maybe we have an informal reading somewhere at the end, when the restrictions ease. But a “product” is not a requirement.
How this will work
- Every Thursday, I will post 3 things, i.e. a song, a short film, a poem, a piece of visual art or a short essay, to engage eyes and ears and imagination. These will probably be unthemed, except to the extent that they will be some of the tender mercies I myself need right now, and, as this period connects those of us living in Ireland in a common experience of time, I want, for myself, to explore contemporary music, writing and images from Ireland. Following that, an invitation to write something. I will also include some guidance (probably mostly from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, a book recommended to me very early in my writing life, and which I read inexplicably late, now a trusted companion, along with Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, recommended by a friend more recently).
- I invite you to set aside 20 minutes to respond to the prompt. This is acknowledged by many as a manageable length of time in which to write some words. If you get into a flow and want to do more, by all means, go for it. I am committing to 20 minutes because if I commit to more, I won’t do it at all. If you know yourself and you know you won’t write anything unless you commit only to 10, or 5, or 2 minutes, there is NO JUDGMENT HERE. If you’re having so much trouble getting started that no words are happening, lower the time.
- There is no pressure to share. However, if you benefit from sharing, here are some options:
a) share on social media with the #6x6_2020_ie and find each other.
b) if you want feedback from me, I am happy to do it for a small fee. Decide at the start if you would like feedback on 3 prompts for 30 Euro, or all 6 prompts for 60 Euro, payable by PayPal (you do not need an account; I can send you an invoice) and let me know at seamusfeathers2017 at gmail dot com by Monday 26 October). Send a maximum of 1000 words of your writing to seamusfeathers2017 at gmail dot com by midnight on Sundays, and I will turn it around to you (probably!) before the next prompt.
- No Zooms. And if you don’t want feedback, this is all, of course, free. This is not to undermine the very serious workshops on offer through some of the writing centres; if I were conducting a workshop at that level, I would work/ charge more–as I say, low stakes, low labour, low cost.
- Maybe we have a reading at the end of it all, safe and distanced, outdoors in a park, with mulled wine and hot cocoa?
Things consoling and inspiring me this week:
1. This song by Villagers/ Conor O’Brien.
2. This poem by Paula Meehan, “The Island, A Prospect,” and the “Salt Bowls,” by Ruth Lyons.
a.) Respond to any of the three things I shared above. What does it make you think of? What does it make you feel? What does it remind you of? What does it make you want to do/ see/ be?
b.) Describe a perfect day. One you’ve had, or one you’d like to have. What would you be doing? Who would be with you? Where would you be? What would you eat and drink? How would it feel/ smell/ taste/ sound/ look?
Some writing guidance from Natalie Goldberg (links downloads a PDF): “First Thoughts”
Feel free to share with anyone in Ireland who might be interested. Happy scribbling.