Updated: Oct 19, 2020
When I was a little girl, I used to run away. Not from home, but if we were out in a park, for a walk in the woods, then I’d bolt. Out into the wilds.
There’s something of that little girl in me this summer. It’s August in London and although the tourist spots are thronging as ever, my patch of south London, not far from the river, is quiet. The roads are empty, there are seats on public transport (praise be.) My flatmate is away for two weeks, leaving me with responsibility for her houseplant.
I’m in the middle of moving from one phase of work to another, downsizing and selling a small business and doing more freelance work and writing. While that transition unfolds, I’m finding my schedule strangely free. Unlike the usual juggling-act of keeping a business, freelance work and a masters course all on the go, I have some whole empty days in the week.
I’m not alone in rushing about everywhere in my normal life. It’s well-documented that we live in a culture and age of busy-ness, wearing our jammed schedules like a badge of honour. The Victorians thought the Industrial Revolution heralded the age of mechanization, and that working hours would go down accordingly – ha. While many of us now work more comfortable office jobs than those who undertook heavy manual and physical labour, we still work excessively long hours, largely for the profit of others.
It’s quite a shock to be alone for long periods of time. I always think that I’m used to working freelance, to being by myself. But I’m used to busy days filled with calls, meetings, a constant juggling act. Whereas right now, whole days sometimes stretch before me, often with no fixed task, or just one call.
And what’s happened is strange. I feel like parts of myself that I don’t know so well are a bit more noticeable; childish impulses, feelings and less-recognisable sensations. It’s like the breakdown of my schedule has resulted in a more free-flowing, rather less contained version of myself, melding more into my surroundings and letting myself feel whatever it is that comes upon me: joy or grief, confusion or ennui.
I spent an hour last night looking out the window at the foxes in next door’s garden as they ranged about and played. My usual schedule would probably constrain me, force me to question whether there was something I should be doing, a duty or care. But this August of space is allowing me to break all the (internal, made-up) rules about what I do as an adult.
I live on the edge of a heath, and one of my favourite activities of the past few weeks has been to feel the impulse to stride out onto it, and see where my body takes me. Just like we all need time off in the week to re-balance, rest and nurture the parts of our lives that are ours alone, so on a broader scale we need seasons where we can run off into the woods or fields. I’m not so different from the little girl who used to run away when she could; and getting in touch with that side of myself again is rather a joy.