Does my nose look big in this?

Braving this brave new world.

Strictly “Mask4Mask” on our fortnightly grocery run. My new double chin must be from the compulsive baking.

Adventures in going nowhere

A few things that have provided an antidote to those pangs of anger/frustration/anxiety/fear/guilt this month:

  • Watching clouds

  • Stories to Wash Hands By”: 20 audio stories, each 20 seconds, from the timeless and timely podcast, The Memory Palace

  • Jacinda Ardern’s press briefings (a soothing reminder that, in certain parts of the world, competent, compassionate and smart leadership actually does exist)

  • Is there anything more calming than egg whites dribbling through your fingers (sorry vegans!), slicing onions with your sharpest knife or squishing a garlic clove? Samin Nosrat’s cooking manual, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has been a joy-filled godsend, as has the NYT Cooking app (try its walnut tart — a decadent winner)

  • Birdsong: The skies are alive with full-throated chirps…. Is that because it’s springtime in California, or because it’s quieter — or am I’m just paying more attention? Perhaps all three?

  • Writing awfully bad poems in honour of the US’s National Poetry Month

  • Re-reading travel writer Pico Iyer’s wonderful (and wonderfully short) book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, based on his equally engaging TED Talk — about the journeys we can undertake when sitting still

  • Playing Othello

  • Scrolling through pics of this French farmhouse on Dezeen, and day-dreaming about future stays with Perfect Hideaways

  • Listening to Spotify playlists, including Gqom Power House and Coffee Table Jazz (which notwithstanding its twee name, is a terrific compilation of mostly hard bop jazz); for when I’m truly in a tizzy, I play Weightless, which was composed by Marconi Union in collaboration with sound therapists with the aim of reducing anxiety (try it, and let me know if it makes a difference)

  • Noise cancelling headphones (perfect for drowning out that Zoom meeting happening in the neighbouring room)

  • Netflix’s Sex Education, which took a while to get into but has turned out to be abundantly warm, funny and smart; I can’t wait till the next season drops

  • After a bit of an hiatus, finding my way back to a regular meditative practice, with a little bit of help from Sam Harris’s Waking Up app/course

What’s been helping to keep you on even keel? (And, if you’re not on an even keel, that’s perfectly understandable, too!)

Wise words

Part 1

From Antony Osler, Zen practitioner/teacher and wonderful author:

[A]mid our great uncertainty, we can come to know the fragility and impermanence of this life; to know our essential interdependence; to know the cries of parents and children and make them our own. We can discover once more our aliveness and our humanity, the flicker of genuineness. And, in the stillness of the breath, we can soar beyond self-fascination into the intimacy of never being alone.

  • Read the rest

  • Read my review of Antony’s book, Mzansi Zen, and my piece about visiting his home, Poplar Grove farm (as well as other quiet places in the Karoo), for Wanted magazine

Part 2

From Alain de Botton, philosopher and The School of Life founder:

“We will — one day — recover our freedoms. The world will be ours to roam in once more. But during our collective confinements, aside from the obvious inconveniences, we might come to cherish some of what is granted to us when we lose our customary liberties. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the world’s greatest thinkers have spent unusual amounts of time alone in their rooms. Silence gives us an opportunity to appreciate a great deal of what we generally see without properly noticing; and to understand what we have felt but not yet adequately processed.”

  • Read it all

  • Also, read Lessons in Constructive Solitude from Thoreau from NYT (thanks, Erin!)

  • { A major caveat: for medics/essential workers and/or those with small children or sick family members, it’s likely that solitude, silence and stillness are unimaginable luxuries right now (or, at least, in very short supply). More power to you, and vasbyt. <3 }

Books, pods, blah, blah

It’s a sign of the times (or at least of my fragmented news-guzzling attention span) that I haven’t managed to finish a single book this month. How about you?

Still, I’d like to give a shout-out to three books which, in recent years, have been a source of comfort and inspiration (I wouldn’t box them into the dreaded “self-help” category, but each do inspire new ways of thinking and living):

Podcast listening has wilted significantly since travel ground to a halt (soz! my brain struggles to multi-task in the kitchen…).

  • I did, however, finish listening to the excellent Floodlines, a podcast about the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from The Atlantic. A painful, devastating and riveting reminder of another time, not so long ago, when the US federal government bungled the response to a major crisis

  • The Last Sound”, the latest episode from Invisibilia, is a richly moving meditation on listening, the meaning of silence, and the fragile ecology of sound

I’ve got a batch of books on the way to my nearest Post Office and plan to institute a weekly digital sabbath. SO, I promise to (try be) better at reading Non Internet Things next month….

A helping hand

It’s not exactly a stimulus cheque or bailout, but I’m hoping these might prove helpful:

For all of us: Bathe in the (virtual) woodsA guide on how to tap into nature’s soothing qualities while stuck indoors from the wonderful Sarah Duff (subscribe to her newsletter about connecting with nature)

For freelancers: The Professional Freelancer newsletter is a trove of advice, resources and invitations to pitch

For creatives in the USA: A comprehensive list of grants and other resources to support you in the months ahead, compiled by Creative Capital

For creators and venues, everywhere: Kickstarter’s new Lights On initiative allows you to use the crowdfunding platform to help weather the current crisis

And how you can help

  • Support your favourite charity: (obvs only if you’re able to)

  • Support your local farmer: In Cape Town, U-COOK is delivering boxes crammed with delicious ingredients from local, small-scale producers; in the USA, why don’t you sign up to a CSA or go to your nearest open air farmers’ market?

  • Support your local indie bookshop: While it obviously depends very much on what restrictions are in place, why don’t you see whether your local offers curbside pick-up or postal delivery (after all, Jeff Bezos is doing just fine); OR you could support the Joburg Literary District’s awesome crowdfunding campaign

  • Buy a voucher to use at a local business: in SA, you can do this on the Say Siyabonga platform; in other cases, you can purchase directly (I’ve gotten one for Upper Bloem, my favourite Cape Town eatery… lord knows when I’ll next be able to eat there, but right now that doesn’t matter)

Meanwhile, on TONGUES

Interviews with:

  • Artist James Delaney on Joburg as inspiration, and the nuances of transforming public space

  • Russian-Canadian artist Stacie Ant on working in 3D, and algorithms as the new curator

  • Petrogirls’ Ren Aldridge on rootlessness, and art as activism

“Ostriches at The Wilds” by James Delaney

You’ve made it to the end of my monthly-ish dispatch. Keeping in touch is more crucial than ever before — but, because I hate social media, I started these missives using old-fashioned email instead. Replies are always welcome and appreciated. (Especially if they contain juicy gossip, fiction recs, sheshwe masks or hand sanitiser recipes!)