Henry Moore in lockdown
They used to say that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. Not at all: it’s a very sense-able thing to do. But does one address oneself as You? or I? Ian McEwan pointed out that the self became fashionable late last century in the self-help universe. But that Freud rattled his stick along the railings of the mind many years earlier (my image, not IM’s, which he might well disown) using mythological and religious constructs to define them. In fact there are many selves to talk to. There is your self and the one(s) others see, but in glorious isolation they can be brought together and talk to each other. Which is what people in solitary confinement do to keep sane, and to keep language honed and toned. Political prisoners are particularly good at it, maybe shooftying from one corner of the cell to another to join in their own political debate. The other day my ego sent my id into quarantine, and then id got her own back sending ego to respond to an email from a theatre, possibly making a mess of things. A more mundane example ‘I’m going to wash up.’ ‘Oh no you’re not.’ Or a combination ‘I hate it when you leave stuff in the sink.’ Does self-dialogue have speech marks I ask my self? This multi-self trope was the subject of a brilliant ten-minute zoom piece from Abbey Theatre Dublin’s Dear Ireland series of shorts, I Know You by Zhi Yi, performed by Julia Gu. A young Chinese born woman dressed up to go out and celebrate St Patrick’s night in New York, talks to a zoomed version of herself on her phone from China, who is telling her not to go to the party without a mask, her American self protesting that she was free to do as she liked. This ten-minute gem carried the contradictions of those counties, and then other countries around the globe where she might have emigrated. The message that we are essentially all the same, slipped down nicely. There’s lots of good stuff on line and I would rather fish in live streaming than the polluted rivers of so much current TV. Except for Devs of course, discovered randomly, as was Love and Mercy a bio-pic about Beach Boy Brian Wilson who suffered the severe isolation of schizophrenia until his energies were channelled by a good relationship and the ejection of a dodgy west coast shrink. In lockdown I pick up beautiful writing, like a character in the film calling Good Vibrations ‘a pocket hymn to God.’ Isolation has been hilariously contorted. At school we were taught that Robinsnob (deliberate spelling mistake) Crusoe was alone on his island, and served by Man Friday (colonialism). A leading TV personality telling us that he was self-isolating then calling down to his wife for a cup of coffee (domestic colonialism). People have been in lock down from one other for millennia.
But isolation in one’s home can be a portal to the real. It’s making me pay attention to that which didn’t used to have it. If you pay something you get a return. Henry Moore inspecting a digestive biscuit may have led to something marvellous, or was he just thinking that bisquee means twice cooked in French? My novella in progress has been full of staccato dialogue, and now that I’m alone with the characters, it’s filling out into more lyrical observation. A dear friend, writer and teacher Anne Aylor, pointed out that each of my characters is very lonely. Only in isolation could I have heard and thought about that, and maybe it’ll swell into a novel as they start to connect.
There is also freedom of expression in isolation. You, One, I (delete where appropriate) can go into trancelike states without bothering anyone. Rabbits freeze in car headlights, as they are more likely to survive if it passes over them, than if they made a dash for it. This is quite healthy behaviour; as RD Laing would have said, a natural response to an unnatural situation, and part of the neurochemistry of stress.
And as for colonel Tom – well, I’ve been walking round and round my back yard calling for the fairer distribution of wealth for weeks now, and no-one’s taken a blind bit of notice. Funny that.