Olive trees, white paint, and a pandemic

We have two olive trees in our back garden, in pots. One has its first black olive ever, the other is dead. It fell over too many times in the wind, slipped adrift and with its roots too often exposed to the winds, could not muster the strength it needed to survive. 

It’s still outside in the garden on its side. I haven’t the heart to remove it. Besides there are tiny green bits of moss that have rooted around the surface that please me. 

I like to be reminded that life and death coexist. As if I need reminding in the middle of a pandemic. 

I have a friend and every time we talk on the phone she says, let’s not talk about the pandemic. But invariably, towards the end of the conversation, one or other of us will slip in some question about which hand sanitiser to buy, what mask to wear or what do you think of the new rules?

The new rules that bind us to our homes as never before. It’s tedious because it’s everywhere. Ubiquitous. As ubiquitous as the time in my life when I served carrots with almost every meal to the point my husband now calls carrots ‘ubiquitous’.

It’s part of the human condition to talk about the things that ail us; the things that surround us; the things that make us happy, sad or otherwise. Our health, the weather, whatever viral theme floats along in the online world, including this pandemic. 

Until it happened, we could not have cared less. But now. Wow. Now we pay attention because our lives depend upon it.

In like manner, I find myself irritated by my generation’s frequent conversations about how much we’re relying on the digital world these days, for our work, for our human connections. As if it needs further analysis. 

Perhaps it does because it’s a change and change needs attention. But it’s hard to get to grips with what things mean when we’re in the middle of them. 

I watched a movie last night about the artist L.S. Lowry, about the life he led caring for his lonely, sad mother in Pendlebury, Lancashire. A woman who could not get over the fact that she was not living the life she’d imagined she’d live, a quality life away from Pendlebury so lose by the mills in the early 1930s when she saw herself as made of superior stuff. 

Disappointed in her husband; she was disappointed as well in her son, despite his paintings, which to her were so much wasted space. Except for one painting of yachts that her son had painted for her many years earlier. Not until a neighbour admired the yachts, a woman Mrs Lowry also admired because she wore fine clothes and was a kindred spirit. Until this woman admired Lowry’s painting, his mother saw his work as without merit. 

‘Underneath every picture is the colour white,’ Lowry said. White, blank, open and empty. ‘I paint what I see,’ he said. ‘I paint what I feel.’ Such simple notions from a man who painted sublime images against much opposition, in the absence of his father who left little but debts and his over-demanding mother whom Lowry spent all his time trying to please.

There’s something tragic about these stories of children who can never leave a parent’s side. A son who grows up at home and never leaves. Never finds a partner of his own, always wedded to his mother. 

It gets to me, unsettles me, especially when it’s obvious this mother is working to keep her son glued to her by two things:

One, her constant insistence he must never leave her. She needs his care.

And the other, her constant undermining of his goodness and capacity. 

Parental envy of children is insidious, and it happens more often than we like to admit, literally and figuratively. 

During this pandemic for instance. The older generations lamenting the fact that we only have technology to hold us together and an insistence that it’s an inferior medium from what we enjoyed in days gone by. 

Inferior to the radio and newsprint. Inferior to the television even.

Why must everything be digital? some lament. And decry the young folks who swim around in their digital soup with ease comfort and satisfaction.

It’s not good for their brain development, they insist. They won’t be able to write by hand. They’ll lose all those basic skills. They won’t be able to read a map. 

The list of all the things the young won’t be able to do is endless. When in truth they wheel around us online with such alacrity, it’s breathtaking.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all wondrous good in the digital world, the world of spammers and scams, the world of fake news, the virtual in preference to the so called real, but my goodness, it’s here now. 

It’s here to stay and we getter get used to it.

For one thing, this pandemic has forced us to face our need to slow down, to stop hopping over the world like minions following one another on the trips of our lifetimes or tripping over to London for a half-day business meeting. 

One thing the digital world has allowed is a way of negotiating our distances while reducing our fat footprints, and at the same time keeping us closer together.

And yes, like everyone, I too miss the actual presence of my children, the people with whom I work, and friends, the comfort of being in a room with real people.

This will return but our digital life will not go away and long may it live until the next revolution in evolution comes our way and we begin to rely on other methods to survive in a world that increasingly needs our help to reduce our impact. 

Otherwise, like the parasites we are, we will overcome our host planet, expose our roots to wind and rain, go back to the basic colour white of Lowry’s pictures, or the bare-rooted tragedy of my olive tree and die out.

Olive trees are like camels.

The power went off during the night and all the clocks have stopped, the ones that operate on mains power. There must have been a power surge, which is ironic given the fact that it’s New Years Eve.

Even during the holidays I like to know the time. I woke with a start to a blinking digital alarm that flashed 12.09 at me repeatedly and then went in search of the time. My wristwatch still works.

I had intended not to sleep too late in order to find space to write before my 10.30am appointment with the physiotherapist. Later today my husband and I also have our annual check up with the eye doctor.

My husband thinks he needs new glasses. He hopes he does because his lenses are scratched and he wants to justify replacing them. I think I’d be happy to keep my glasses as they are, but if I need new ones then I will go for it. I love to be able to see clearly.

A message just now on my mobile phone from my third daughter to let us know she is on her way home from Adelaide, or ‘Radelaide’ as she jokingly refers to the state next door to ours. She is leaving now.

I will worry subcutaneously all day long until I see her safe and sound at the end of the day. It is an eight-hour drive and she travels with her girl friend, the two of them share the driving. Long distance driving is always dangerous, but they made it there, as she messaged me two days ago, a good trip except for the locusts.

The locusts are out in plague proportions in various parts of the country because of the recent rains. The drought had kept them in check until now. It is terrifying for the farmers and can be dreadful for our crops.

I have finally begun work on my tax, another annual event, which I despise and next week I have my two yearly pap smear at the doctor’s. For me the Christmas holidays become a time for annual events, physical check ups, house cleaning and reconciling my accounts.

I put off these things until the end of the year and get straight into them the minute the last bauble is off the tree. I have already returned our Christmas decorations to their boxes till next year.

It is too early I know but the olive tree we keep in a pot and brought inside to decorate this year was beginning to look dry even though we watered it periodically during its confinement indoors.

To me olive trees are like camels, they go on and on without water, but I am not sure how a camel would fare indoors and I am sure olive trees need sunlight, not shadow twenty four hours a day.

My children are old enough now not to fuss too much when the last of the Christmas cheer disappears.

They are forward looking, the young. Already they are in New Years Eve mode. Not me and my husband.

We joked last night over dinner that it has been some ten years since we last went to a New Years Eve function and then at the millennium, and ten years again before that. When we were young we would not have been seen dead not going out for New Years Eve but these days we prefer to stay at home.

At midnight we will go out to the front of our house and stand in the middle of our street, which is normally busy with traffic, and look over the crest of the hill towards the city and the fireworks that go off in the distance.

Every New Years Eve our neighbours, a widow and her thirty five year old daughter who stays at home because she has chronic fatigue syndrome, come out onto the street and we greet one another, hugs all round for the New Year and we watch the fireworks and ooh and aah at their splendour until the last light fades over the horizon.

Then we retreat indoors again and start the climb into the next year, which is an odd number this year, 2011 and as I have said elsewhere, I do not like odd numbers. The year 2009 was a poxy one for me. I hope 2011 fares better.

I have been struck once more by the artificial highs and lows that erupt inside of me during my time in the blogosphere, the degree to which I can feel so captivated by events in the lives of my fellow bloggers that I am brought to tears in some instances or alternatively driven to states of annoyance or great laughter elsewhere.

The Internet is such a powerful medium for drawing us in. No wonder some people lose themselves in it. I imagine that the experience in blogdom is one step away from the experience that some people enjoy within second Life.

I had tried to go there once – for research purposes, I reasoned – but something scared me off, something of the virtual and limitless sense of space and ‘freedom’ it seemed to offer. I felt a bit like a potential addict walking into a gambling casino, terrified at the thought that I would soon become hooked and then I would no longer have time for anything.

I have my blogging tendencies under control by and large but any further forays into alternative realities and I fear I might never come out into the light again. I would be like our Christmas olive tree trapped indoors forever more. And that would be the end of me, I fear.

I would dry out and lose my leaves, my branches would crumble and I would become a wandering waif lost forevermore in the ethereal life that is the Internet.

Pardon the mixed metaphor. Trees do not wander.