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IF WE STOP (3) // Zahra Dallilah & Julie Tomlin

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

In a series of numbered written dialogues Call Centre correspondents Zahra Dallilah and Julie Tomlin respond to their own prompt: If we stop: Flourishing. Nourishment. Lockdown.


We are not blank pages when pandemics come.

What was already scrawled on me, the days and nights of wondering how to kickstart life after the one I had was catastrophically blown up. The times of despair endured and the aching sadness weathered leaving me with a deep sense of knowing about what I needed, what was appropriate for the time I was in.

And March 2020 wasn’t the time for lockdown, however collectively it would be experienced.

And so, out of sync with friends, with the city, I packed clothes for as far as I could imagine, said goodbye to people I loved and those I cared for and l retreated to an estate, an estate on land that is uniquely owned, land trussed up in a Capability Brown design that is just beginning to sag, to let loose the cords of restraint and allow the trees, the ground to breathe, to be real.

The memories I gathered were of lying on the ground, staring at the branches of the trees overhead, laughing out loud at the wonder of it all. I swam in the lake, felt the strange magnetism and weight the water affords, I stared at the stars, walked and sat barefoot - always barefoot - hoping to get to know the land and its story, to know its longings, its dreams.

I’ve stood at an until recently hidden well, walked among the trees that seem to have the knack of calming and stilling, picked herbs, drunk nettles and cleavers and red clover and St John’s Wort. I’ve weeded and pruned apple trees, picked onions and wild garlic, feeling the joy of being, of doing with my body some of the things it was made to do. I’ve carried wood, used an electric screwdriver for the first time, begun to learn about straw bale building.

And through it all, the memory of the moment, the feeling I had, the knowing in my gut that I had to leave stayed with me for the five months I was away.

I was pleased that I was attentive to that sense of urgency and didn’t heed the other voices, the ones telling me I was being over dramatic, that I should just put up with it, that I had put up with worse, that leaving was weak, selfish, individualistic. And while the coming months weren’t easy - living as I was with 50 or so people in a reversal of social isolation, I was grateful throughout that I wasn’t alone.

We feel it in our guts, we sometimes trust our guts, and in Japanese Hara, as I learnt poring over the website of the Selfish Activist, our guts journey through the generations. Gut health may also prove to be part of the story of corona virus; it affects people’s susceptibility to the virus, the inflammatory reactions rooted in the flora of our beings.

Modern neuroscience. As modern science is catching up now and beginning 'to recognise that the intestines are in fact a neural network, or rather a brain' we may be paying the price for ignoring it in just about every way.

The irony being that the racism of the government’s response was rooted in:

1) “What does it matter if a few black and brown cleaners and TfL (Transport for London) staff die along the way?”

2) “We don’t trust Asian wisdom or intelligence so we couldn’t possibly heed their advice”.

Someone said to me the other day:

“They’re really on it with public transport now, there’s hand sanitiser in every train station and everyone’s wearing face masks.”

To which I responded:

“Oh cool, sounds like South Korea in February.”

Intelligences such as those associated with the gut were disdained by Charles Darwin and early scientists who valued the clinical, straight line intellect of the mind and believed that the intelligence that they associated with women and native cultures, connected them to a way of being that was more magical, more attuned to nature, but also imminently lesser way than their own.

How do we nourish our guts, a different way of being, a different way of life?

How do we stop ourselves from living a life that someone else has imagined?

[your mate Adrienne again?]

Can we tumble through the veil and shake ourselves free of the contortions imposed on us and naturalised, made to seem inalterable, that there is no alternative?

Can I write myself into a different space, the space of the letters, the space where words pulse and live and become, where life is full of potential, of beginnings?

How can we keep ourselves in these spaces of third nature, the spaces of the ruins, of the knowledge that all is not well?

How do we summon up alternatives, not just sit out the show that insists it must go on?

Image: Andrew Wilson


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