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A lockdown diary of sorts

I curate Rosenstock & Rosenstock, an Instagram site which features photography by US master photographer Ron Rosenstock and text by renowned Irish poet and haiku master Gabriel Rosenstock (no relation to each other).

Gabriel Rosenstock however is my father and so I’ve received a haiku in my inbox every day for as long as I can remember. Like an apple a day, in our family, we get a haiku a day. I received my first camera, a Pentax K100 from Ron as a teenager and a love of photography was born. Gabriel and Ron have collaborated together for over 20 years. More recently I requested if I could create simple wall art using their images and text and so Rosenstock & Rosenstock was born.

When we started our project enthusiastically in January 2020, there were whispers of a virus in far flung China. Images of Wuhan came later and never in a million years did we expect by March that we would be in lockdown.

Our planned meeting in Westport, Co Mayo to discuss the project details further just before lockdown in March was cancelled. Instead it turned to panic as Ron sought to book the last flight out of Shannon just as Trump shut the borders. We postponed that meeting until May when Ron was due back in Ireland. How naive that seems in retrospect.

A second home to Ron, he has been travelling to Ireland since 1971, attracted to the unique light that comes from having four seasons in one day. His mentor and teacher Paul Caponigro first convinced him to photograph the Emerald Isle to capture that rare light. Ron does not only photograph Ireland however. From Iceland in the North, to Peru in the South, he has travelled the world and captured its fragile beauty.

I chose one of those beautiful images, taken in Morocco to kick off the project on the 1st of January 2020. With Gabriel’s text, very Paolo Coelho like in its messaging, I thought we were off to a good start, adding some upbeat words on Instagram.

‘It’s 2020. Follow your path, have faith. It’s going to be a good one’, which certainly proves the adage, one never knows what lies around the corner.

Each week I posted an image with accompanying text. Described on Instagram as:

‘…an offering of calm in a world of chaos. A mindful moment to draw a breath and pause’

I posted images to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, International Women’s Day, the first day of Spring. Our first post mentioning Covid was on the 12th of March, we decided on a calm image as the news cycle was in a frenzy. The previous day the WHO had declared Covid a pandemic.

A few weeks later and our world had changed hugely. Lives had been lost, jobs had been lost and we awaited with bated breath for what was yet to come.At the same time creativity was booming as musicians played for us from their garages, authors read their stories to us from their living rooms and illustrators taught our children to draw from their home-studios. It seemed like home schooling was going to be a doddle as everyone was throwing fun ideas around. We were baking like we would never run out of yeast and we would never put on weight. We were all drawing rainbows and hanging them on our windows. This was of course only the first lock down. There was a coming together and community feeling like a huge communal bear hug. Our project felt like a tiny contribution to that big tapestry. As even churches in Ireland closed down to the public, this image seemed to say it all.

Soon the initial lock-down adventure became stressful as unpaid bills piled high and the novelty of children at home from school two weeks incredibly became six months. My mind was soon racing. Luckily, I felt partially cushioned or cocooned between my two cocooners. They started to rub off on me.

Ron’s approach to photography is zen-like: his photographs come from within, from what he calls the transcendental source of creativity. His mentor was Minor White, one of the American greats of photography. White said “When you approach something to photograph it, first be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence. Then don’t leave until you have captured its essence.”

Gabriel would have a similar zen approach to writing haiku. His mentor J W Hackett spoke of the interpenetration between the poet and subject. The famous Japanese Haiku master Basho would have taught ‘To write of the pine, become One with the pine’

Was I chanting zen-like and talking to pine-trees after liaising with the photographer and the writer each week to agree on our post? Gladly not, but I did learn to switch off RTÉ, BBC and CNN every so often and sit out in the garden with my book and a cup of tea — to switch off the voice of worry about the pandemic and the piling bills. Taking a mindful moment. Breathing deeply, quietening my worries.

We posted a video to Instagram on Good Friday of Gabriel reading the haiku from his front door in lock down.

‘from a vast loneliness,

a voice reaches the heavens . . .

he is risen’

That one seemed like one for posterity. An Easter very different from others in living memory. A video my children might show their children.

With 5km travel restriction in place we all yearned to travel again and reminisced of travels past. Later, when the 5km lifted we realised we would be staying on our little Island this year. It would be the year of the staycation and people started planning for such. The image of the boat below resonated with many.

Ron emailed me stunning images which I would sift through — not a bad task to undertake at the kitchen table in the midst of a pandemic. He tried hard to find specific images I requested but it transpired that although he had a great filing system for his old negatives his digital system was a mess. He had great intentions to archive his digital system during lockdown but got side-tracked building a fence to keep the rabbits out of his vegetable garden…

When he wrote to me that he was also playing the guitar in lockdown and learning Italian, I thought I can’t be outdone by these cocooners and took up a language of sorts of my own deciding to up-skill in html and css allowing me design our website to sell our creations. I soon found that keeping myself busy helped keep the worries at bay.

Instead of finding the old images I requested for the project, Ron went on a few short walks and took some new photographs on his doorstep which we used for the project. It turns out you needn’t always travel far to find beauty. He also went into the studio and did some work, images of simple leaves. Another lockdown lesson — the beauty of simplicity.

Once I had the image, I would liaise with Gabriel for text. Inspired by the image, it took him on average twenty seconds to compose the text. I would drop off shopping to himself and mum once a week and he would hand me his scribbled haiku and some bath salts oddly enough — which he seemed to keep ordering online for fear there may be a shortage.

On occasion, I would request an edit but more often than not it was perfect first time. The haunting image below by Ron taken in Greenland is a favourite of mine. When Gabriel first wrote the text, I emailed:

‘ Perhaps, It’s too bleak. We are in the middle of a pandemic, can’t you write something more upbeat?’

to which he replied that:

‘We are complex human beings that need to embrace bleakness too.’

I knew he was right and that even on a sunny summers day it was ok to be worried and to feel down. We couldn’t be expected to put on a brave face and smile every day and so I posted the image.

Whether it was the bath salts from Dad or the emails with Rumi quotes from Ron, whether it was sifting through Ron’s images or Dad’s haiku or creating the Instagram posts myself, the cocooners rubbed off on me in lockdown and made me slow down to their daily pace.

Summer allowed moments of reprieve for all with trips to the sea evoking memories of our childhood holidays on this Island. I made it briefly to the Wild Atlantic and a swim in its icy waters reinvigorated me. I was ready for battle with this pandemic again. When Autumn came around the return to restrictions felt déjà vu like curtailing our freedoms once again. I felt blessed that I had the sea on my doorstep for its curative effective. Many felt a connection with the sea in lockdown and the image below proved popular.

Large numbers continued to wild-swim in the sea right through winter and I applaud them. I got in once towards the end of winter 2020 but once was all I could muster the courage for.

As winter enveloped us I lit candles and wrapped blankets around me to create a hygge home. I built fires at night to keep us warm while outside the winter storms crashed about. Some of the storms this winter seemed to create a double lockdown effect. We were locked in due to government restrictions but also on occasion due to the weather. It was suffocating.

As the year came to an end it was a challenging time, Christmas was no real Christmas with strict rules on the number of people one could see and New Year’s Eve was a sober event. Figuratively and literally.

The new year started out bleak too. Figures in hospital with covid soared- did not enough people heed the rules at Christmas? And a new variant arrived from the UK with a far higher transmission rate. A mutation they called it, straight out of a sci-fi movie. We were back to a full lockdown. Lockdown 3.0 and even suddenly back to home-schooling our children. What had seemed intense back in March was now truly testing in the gloomy darkness of January. We had to dig deep for resilience. We had to look within for strength.

Books were a huge solace for me and kept the demons at bay but with even the library closed I soon ran out of reading material. A kind friend, dropped a bundle of her old books on my doorstep one day with a note, unable to come in even for a coffee. A cousin posted me some of her old favourites as she was outside the 5km. And knowing books were my saviour my darling sister ordered a trilogy online for me which would have kept me going a year in normal times but which I devoured in a month. These were the kind acts of generosity that brought us closer. We took the fence down in our garden creating a bubble with our neighbours and we ate dinner together twice a week. They both worked from home. Their friends lived over 5km away and they had no family in Ireland having only arrived here three years ago. Without these dinners their entire communications the past year would have been over zoom. We are now great friends. Boardgames were played and jigsaws were completed and art was made and I hope we will remember that more than the squabbles and the shouting, the stress and the angst. Either way between lockdown I and lockdown III we have all changed. We have all been somewhat shaped by how this pandemic has affected us. Our young children, our teenagers, ourselves, our parents. It has shaped us and it will continue to shape things to come.

A year has gone by since I first posted an image during lockdown on Instagram and while I didn’t keep a journal during lockdown, I now see that in some strange way this project has become a lockdown diary of sorts.

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