With the recent sunshine beaming down on the UK, I’ve been finding myself outside a lot: reading, writing, lounging, listening to music. I cover myself in lightweight clothing, and head into the garden. I watch the breeze brush through the bushes, the blossom drop in a puddle around the trees. I get to wear the summer tops – my favourite tops – that I haven’t worn since August. And cardigans and summer scarves and hats and sunglasses. I coat any skin peeking through in sun cream. (Being pale has turned me into a sun burn hypochondriac.) The smell reminds me of childhood beach days, and the sheen on my skin reminds me of last summer and my perpetual, sun cream-induced shine as I travelled through Europe. I like the way the sun hits my cheeks – it reminds me of the highlighter I normally wear.
I curl up on the bench or spread out my picnic blanket, and settle down with a book or a magazine or a song. I’m currently reading The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. Sometimes it’s too confusing and I reach for Vogue instead. The other day, I just laid and listened to Lorde’s cover of ‘The Ladder Song’ by Bright Eyes. And then I listened to the original. And then Lorde again.
I pull my hat over my face as the sun moves across the sky. My sunglasses slide down my sun creamed nose as I look down at whatever I’m reading. I never realised until recently how many birds must live nearby; their tweeting has been the soundtrack to these languorous afternoons.
It’s strange to be feeling summery in April. Last February, we experienced a similar heatwave, and I remember lounging with friends on the grass at university as we ate our lunch and made excuses not to return to the library. We soaked in the sun’s rays as we chatted about global warming, about how awful it truly was to be sitting there. I think I got slightly sunburned, pale skin unsun-creamed and naive to the power of March’s heat.
What’s nice about feeling summery in April, though, is that it’s letting me finally unwind. Summer has never been a period of responsibility for me, and I itch to make the most of the sunshine. One thing I find incredibly difficult to do outside is look at my laptop or my phone. As in, it is literally very tricky to do with all of the sun’s glare. It’s nice to get some downtime from screen time.
I’ve been caught up in a strange desire to be productive. I say strange because, in our parallel reality – the reality without a pandemic – I’m still on holiday from university. Especially this weekend, Easter weekend, I would have caught the train home from Cambridge, taken a break from exam revision, and spent time with family. The virtual replacement for next term is also yet to begin. I have no work to do. Without exams looming, my craving for productivity feels somewhat misplaced – as if my body expected library time and is uncomfortable on the sofa.
“I get to wear the summer tops – my favourite tops – that I haven’t worn since August.”
It isn’t really strange that I’m feeling this, though: ‘productivity’ has been dominating my social media feeds for weeks, reminders of what I should be doing, how I should be improving, and which new skills I can now learn for free whilst we’re all bundled up at home. In the last week, this has been matched by calls for an end to ‘toxic productivity’, a bid to stop corporations from capitalising on our listlessness, confusion and self-doubt.
I have, of course, been falling into this trap of ‘toxic productivity’ in an attempt to gather a semblance of normality. I ordered new books to keep my mind sharp. I took out magazine subscriptions to catch up with the interests I’ve been neglecting, the slow journalism I so love. (It’s nicer, at any rate, than reading the news.) I started running to keep my body from shutting down. I’ve been getting dressed everyday so my favourite clothes – the clothes that make me feel good – still get worn. I’ve been obsessing over career prospects, feeling miles behind, writing and scrapping speculative work experience applications to send out once all of this is over, fearful that I’ll never get the chance to even send them.
I do all of this as if to mimic a normal world: to keep busy, and to keep ticking things off my self-imposed lists. I’ve been desperate to find a purpose in all of this uncertainty, terrified of being purposeless and facing up to what that means: Without purpose, will I cease to exist?
It feels like that sometimes – like if I stop reading or writing for a day, I’ll start to lose myself. Being physically away from university makes it harder to convince myself that I’m still a student, easier to succumb to the belief that it was all just another vivid pandemic stress-dream. Without an end date to this frozen reality, it’s hard to keep believing we’ll ever melt back into normality.
Other times, when the sun is shining and the birds are tweeting, it’s easier to accept this stasis and just lie down.