by Hazel Anna Rogers
I have felt very alone of late.
These years have been tumultuous — both personally and on a global scale — and there is something unsettling about the stillness I find myself in today. The nights are growing oh so dark and the mornings slowly becoming coated in a thin layer of dusty frost, which thaws when the first rays of sun burst through the fissures between the chimneys of houses to spread warmth on the lawns and yards and patios.
It is difficult to sit with myself sometimes.
I find myself resorting to distractions, movement, anything to avoid thinking and feeling what I feel in those moments. It is often pain, and grief. I am mourning my old self, my old acquaintances, my old life. Though most of the time I feel wholeheartedly disconnected from the flames and friends that I once had years ago, there is, at times, a sort of resurgence, whereby I feel such devastating grief at the pit of my stomach that it is all I can do not to cry out in sorrow.
I do not have many friends, these days.
But if I attempt to think soundly and logically about this fact, I find that I am glad to not be who I was, with whom I was, doing what I was. I have changed so very much in these last couple of years, and these are changes I would not exchange for the weak bonds and bitter relationships that I had before.
My partner has moved to London, and I am soon to go too. I recently noticed that a mouse is living in my shed. I have had mouse issues before, though they were resolved without my doing anything at all. However, once, a particularly desperate furry fellow decided to eat a good few mouthfuls of the natural hand soap I have beside the kitchen sink. He must have been foaming for days afterwards.
So as to deter my newly discovered little grey friend from entering my home, I have been putting out small lumps of homemade sourdough on the window ledge next to the shed. These morsels are always gone after a few hours. Quite a decadent offering to give a mouse, I know, but I simply cannot finish a whole loaf of sourdough all by myself. I try to, but it is nigh impossible without gorging on the stuff (which, of course, I do occasionally).
When I am alone for long periods of time, I find myself reverting back to an old way of living and thinking about life, though not in a negative or regressive way. The pensive hours I spend in silence here are rendered bearable, and almost blissful, by romanticizing them in different ways.
I have been hiking up to the golf course up from Fiveways (Brighton) to watch the sun rise over in the east. I nearly missed it this morning, as I was up there too early, but, just as I was walking back down past the children’s playpark and the tennis courts, I saw it piercing through the trees. It is a wonderful thing to witness the buttermilk and pomegranate hues of the sky as the blinding sun moves into them. There is a certain poetry about it.
Another thing that I have been preoccupying myself with is the creation of my own foodstuffs. After years of on and off attempts at being ‘zero’ waste or at least fairly self-sufficient (with regards to industrially made foods), I have found great pleasure in making things that I would habitually buy. Tofu is lovely example of this. How satisfying it is to soak the beans overnight, then to come downstairs and go through the processes of blending them, milking them through a nut milk bag, then cooking the milk before one curdles it to produce the delicious curds that in turn are pressed to create a block of tofu. I don’t quite know why, but making such things as tofu, which seem so unachievable, is a rather extraordinary thing. I am cooking a batch of soy milk on the stove now to turn into tofu. The sweet smell of the beans cooking is warming the house in a lovely way.
I have just pressed the tofu. It is an arduous task, and one that that I don’t really have the right equipment for, but I have managed to process two delicious slabs of tofu that are now resting on the side ready to be fridged. Perhaps I’m biased, but I do believe that this tofu is a million times more delicious than the storebought versions.
I have also made my own sauerkraut, which I might taste today for the first time. This is an equally enchanting process as tofu, involving the fine chopping of cabbage, beetroot, and garlic which one then mixes with salt, massages, then presses down into a container so that the vegetables produce their own brine to preserve themselves in. It has been about a week now since I made it, and I have had to routinely ‘burp’ the creature so that the CO2 build-up from the fermentation of the vegetables is not too strong (as this could cause unwanted explosions). I like burping my sauerkraut. I like to thing that I am taking care of the thing, somewhat like a baby (but without the sleepless slumber).
I recently re-potted all of my plants too, and they are finally growing properly again. I did feel some shame when I pulled them out of their original pots. The poor roots were flailing out from every crevice they could find, or were crammed in hair-like bunches at the bottom of the container, knotted and matted. Some of the root systems were so densely packed into their spaces that I almost had to cut them out of their plastic nursery pots. I hope they’re happier in their new pots. To make a more nourishing and fulfilling soil for the plants to sit in, I went into my garden and picked up some of the putrid brown apples that I didn’t manage to use from my tree, and I put them into a bucket. Some were so fermented that they broke up on my gloves as I held them. I then mushed all the apples together with some cheap soil I bought a while back and some random plant food liquid I found in my cupboard mixed with water. My kitchen floor ended up being covered in soil and detritus, but it was nice to sit in my long flowered with my hands in the dirt, mixed and pushing and sprinkling and pulling.
These are cherished moments to me. The moments I spend accomplishing tasks with no-one to tell me that I must. Is this adulthood? This sense of responsibility which seems to endow one with purpose in life. I don’t know what it is about these short winter days, but building and working and cooking and making have made me feel much less alone. I understand that not everyone has the time to engage in these tasks, but I think that putting aside a small part of one’s day to create something new and exciting can make the winter feel much less cold and dark.
I plan to find some stray wood wherever I can and use these to build a trough to put herbs in for my new apartment. I thought it might be nice to have fresh herbs (and maybe some vegetables) through the dark winter, but I’m not sure how feasible that is. I am finding it difficult to embrace this peace before the storm (specifically before I start studying again in January). I am sure that I will be envious of this former self, of the Hazel that spent her days cooking and making and reading and walking and swimming and playing piano. I intend to do all of the above when I am studying also, but the fragments of the day during which I can do them will be much shorter. I am happy to embrace this new chapter of my life, and it feels good to think on who I will be come this time next year. I find it much more productive to think on these things before the New Year bombards us with the necessity of a new beginning. One can begin again anytime that one wishes, be it a Monday in March, a Friday in August, or a Wednesday in November.
On the subject of loneliness and lack of friendship, I picked up my partner’s copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations a couple of nights ago. It was an especially dark night, and I felt very sad and very, very alone. This particular meditation stood out to me like a light urging me onwards, urging me to ignore the tribulations that others bring me and instead spend my time working on the things that I can control: my health, my work, and the beauty I choose to find in this here wonderful life.
‘No thought is wasted on what other may say or think of him or practise against him; two things alone suffice him, justice in his daily doings and contentment with all fate’s apportionings.’
You take care.