📚 The notes 📚
I know that what I’m going through is in no way unique, and that I’m incredibly lucky to not have contracted COVID-19, or to be suffering from a serious medical condition. There are lots of people who aren’t so lucky, and I do not want to in any way overplay what I’m going through compared to them. However, I wanted to share how I feel, because in my experience sharing these things has been cathartic for me (selfish, I know), and it’s also sometimes been helpful for others. It’ll also hopefully go some way to explaining the mixtape too.
The first week that COVID-19 started to feel real in the UK, I was working on a pitch, so I was distracted. The only thing different from usual was the media coverage, and the fact that we’d sent the rest of the agency home. After we’d pitched, I started working from home, and the second week (my first full week working from home) was pretty manic again. Schools and colleges closed that weekend, so my daughter and Shiv were both now at home full-time. Between home-schooling and entertaining our daughter, and trying to find a way to balance Shiv’s college work and my work, it was pretty mad again. Client calls, team calls, Zoom, Teams, Skype, (what felt like hundreds of) documents written, Houseparty, whole agency town halls. It was mad. My adrenalin had barely slowed from the pitch week. Then the weekend came, the vague novelty of working from home had worn off, the lack of the structure we’d had in the week kicked in, and the restrictions of what we could do dawned. It all became very real.
That weekend, the government put in more comprehensive restrictions, and all of a sudden I could only leave the house once a day. So I started going for either a run in the morning, or a walk in the afternoon. The runs helped (and continue to help), but the afternoon walks were odd. People avoiding each other was strange. The lack of traffic – overhead or on the ground – was really bizarre. The lack of noise (other than birdsong) was staggering. It was a true example of Freud’s the uncanny. The mixtape this week opens with birdsong, because I always try to incorporate as much music as I’ve listened to each week into the mixtape – and birdsong has been on heavy rotation.) You might’ve also noticed the mixtape image – that’s the album cover from Steven Julien’s album Fallen (great album) – which was shot on Southend seafront. That’s where I run, and where I go for my afternoon walks. I wanted to try and share those walks with you – and the mixtape is, in a way, a sort of elongated soundtrack to those walks.
Over the course of a few days I started to feel more and more melancholic. When I originally wrote this set of notes, I thought melancholy might’ve been the wrong word, but despite my empathy for what a lot of people are going through, I’d consider myself and my family incredibly lucky. My sadness feels more existential, and what I’ve realised is that the source of my melancholy is the uncertainty of what’s going on. You see, I’m a create of habit. I have mild compulsions around my habits (I wouldn’t go as far as OCD, but it’s the same ballpark), and when my habits are broken, I find myself with a sense of unease. Despite loving the idea of Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan (so much so it’s tattooed on my wrist), uncertainty can drive my anxiety sky-high. I’m usually a very chipper, glass-half-full type that almost-always sees the upside, and most of the time I can find a route out of my own malaise. But on these walks I just couldn’t see the finish line.
So I decided a few days ago that instead of trying to force myself to be more positive (the very Northern ‘pull your socks up lad’ approach), I would let my soul settle a bit with it. On my walks I listened to Miles’ Birth Of The Cool (one of my favourite feeling-low albums), and I let my mind wander into any thought; however melancholic or dour. I let myself cry. I wallowed. I spoke to those close to me about how I was feeling. It felt like turning a slow-release valve, and it helped. I realised that what I needed was that very release.
The sound of Miles’ trumpet on Moon Dreams reminded me of how art makes us marvel. Creation brings to light beauty, goodness, and truth, and at the very heart of society, is the love of creation. We all yearn to make something. Whatever that looks like. This train of thought reminded me of a quote from the German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder, who said that “culture is the lifeblood of a people, the flow or moral energy that holds society intact”. Every moment of creation – whether something as grand as Miles’ cover of Glenn Miller’s Moon Dreams, or something as minuscule as me writing this letter to you today – is the creation of a set of symbols that combine to create something (hopefully) that’s valuable. That when combined adds something to culture. I love Alan Fletcher’s The Art Of Looking Sideways, and something that always sticks with me is the idea that a symbol is an explicit experience of an implicit meaning – and what excites me is that now there’s an incredible opportunity to create a million symbols that convey everything that we’re going through now, much better than I have here. I hope that the art that emerges from this time dominates how we think of now, rather than remembering it for social distancing and stark headlines.
I still have a haze of melancholy over me, but I’m slowly finding a way to turn it from something that lingers over me, to something that I use as a platform for creating something – anything – positive. This, I suppose, is one of my first steps to that.
From awful situations, beautiful art arises. For every bust, comes a boom. With every night, follows day. Goethe said that “talent is developed in quiet places”, and this is the quietest our generation has ever been – something beautiful must surely follow.
Culture is what keeps us together. Art is the communication that fuels culture. Love is the tinder that sets it alight. Love Will Save The Day ❤️