It would be for a week, said Virgin Media – a week before my new modem would be available and meanwhile, long (technical) story, I could not use the old one in the interim period.
No bother, I thought. I’m a practising artist. I might even get a lot more work done when I’m not making comments on other peoples’ latest creations; getting sucked into plucking images from Instagram postings onto my Pinterest boards or, reacting to the various Whatsapp Lock-down video highlights of Trump, Brexit, Stormont, Obama, Biden and the Cuomo brothers, posted by a handful of my self-quarantining friends pontificating and protesting in their perfectly valid chattering clusters.
In a normal pre-Lockdown world, though – being without an Internet connection at home, would have been a whole other ball-game, with local libraries, cafes, pubs, Arts’ Centres, Colleges and even friends and neighbours I could drop, willy-nilly, into to piggy-back for free onto their Wi-Fi.
Four days in, it began to hit me.
I’ll be honest. Battening down the hatches, switching on the electric blanket and going into hibernation- with the occasional forays to the kitchen for a coffee and tinned soup respite felt vaguely appealing.
I suddenly had no access to my Office Word online course and the ZOOM fitness class I had followed faithfully every morning for Lock-down months.
I couldn’t shop online in my usual pre-Xmas dribs and drabs for presents and I right-royally missed Black Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Timing was suddenly everything.
I had an art fair coming up and two bisque-firings to get on with. I was making large quantities of Christmas angels because my larger Lock-down pieces were scattered throughout three galleries – including a pop-up one in a shop window in Bangor – and I just needed ceramic grunt work, nothing that required too much analysis – to be getting on with.
So – I did. I emerged from the studio after a six-hour stretch, the kiln firing up for the next 48 hours, feeling virtuous, stiff and starving, the lack of Internet a mere dot on the horizon.
And, then nothing. I went to sleep. I slept deep. I woke up at 4 in the morning – wide awake, insomnia pulsing through me, reached for my phone, without thinking, read the ‘No Signal’ icon and stared into the darkness. I started to think. Things were still manageable.
The weekly Landmark seminar I had covered. I was ZOOMing online at a friend’s house one evening a week, which was kind of fun. She and I were both in a ‘bubble’. God – this Covid lingo tripped so easily off the tongue, these days.
There were 200 global participants in this particular seminar, which was dealing with Money and our relationship to it – and it was throwing up some interesting conundrums.
I had made lists of where money had appeared in my life since childhood – how it came as objects, rather than currency, how my dad and uncle always unpeeled their cash from a money clip and steered away from banks; how easy it was to spend my student grant from my first account, using a bank-card like a magic wand and how easy it was to glide through this abstract world until I ran out and of the necessity of cash in my hand to make my world go around again.
That’s what this felt like, I thought. Having no internet felt like having a bank account – but with no bank-card.
However, it felt curiously liberating to suddenly have no standing in the world; to go off-grid and have a bona fide excuse for not returning calls and emails.
I had used up all of the Data on my phone on the first weekend during an on-line Ceramics Congress sited in Korea, Italy, Spain, England and India – boy, did all those global clay-building demonstration videos ever burn up data!
So, mysteriously – BUT not surprisingly, I now couldn’t make or get telephone calls.
Family and a few friends knew what was happening so nobody was panicking….yet.
I could die in the next few days and get a by-ball for at least a week.
I lived alone. My son was in a flat across town. My potter-daughter was in America. My partner lived across the river. We were incommunicado. Getting on with things. Meeting up after the art-fair. No way was he dipping his quarantining toe into that public affair!
There was a surreal post-apocalyptical feel to my days.
I ate. I had an Epsom bath. I made a bed up for the PHD student who was coming to rent an upstairs room in February.
I wrote a busy-sounding ‘I’m looking for work’ message to Universal Credit, my new employment buddies, who were aiding and abetting my computer up-skilling shenanigans and then, virtuously sent it – knowing it might be days before it actually arrived.
I then weeded the front steps, between the cracks; emptied all of the out-of-date jams, pickles and sauces from the larder, washed them and filled up the glass recycling bin.
I changed and washed sheets; cleared the kitchen counter; the cupboard under the sink, washed the bathroom floor and the floor behind the bath – which I hadn’t seen since it was re-tiled a year ago.
The house began to have a different, cleaner, emptier echo to it.
I cleared the table in the den, changed the light bulbs in the lamps and hooked the laptop to the printer. I started to write. I wrote all of this down – knowing I was just scratching the surface….I mean, the money thing? That was a whole fresh rabbit hole I’d just unearthed.
My father used to take the miniature paintings I made, (as a teenager) and give them away to his lorry driver friends – like little party favours. He once threw my entire Bunty comic cut-out doll collection-meant for an elaborate landscape collage – onto a bonfire, right in front of me – admittedly I’d burnt two of his lorry tyres prior to that. It was Halloween – a long, other, story…
Was that why I had such a hard time putting a decent price on my work?
Well, now, pull up there, missy….
There was plenty of other stuff piling up to think about.
And then – it kind of struck me. I was Thinking. There were several conversations going on in my head. It even ached a little. I hadn’t been thinking like that since…I hadn’t been questioning deliberately since…. had my synapses blazing with questions and theories for…
months?…no, I tell a lie….years.
The Internet had taken me out of myself, distracted and wrapped me up in bright mind-numbing, time-stealing, shiny pieces of information; gossip, scandals, stranger-than-fiction-cute cats, dogs, dancing parrots, amazing essential kitchen, garden and building gadgets and washed me in a technicolour miasma of Ted Turner-tinted movie snippets that sucked me deeper and deeper into an electronic algorithmic entertainment vortex…
Now there was a thought. This Internet deprivation was triggering an awareness of all my sins of time-waste, omission, lack of motivation.
Christ – this felt almost evangelical.
Had my internet/social media over-usage been depriving me of vital intellectual oxygen?
So – I started to write. I was onto something. I felt euphoric….light-headed. This was hard-core.
I had to get this down, deconstruct, analyse…realise…..formulate….
I hit Print….nothing happened. It only worked online. I hit manual. The light flashed up.
I was fresh out of ink.
Annemarie Mullan is a Ceramic artist in Belfast. You can follow here on Instagram.
Her work can be seen on the walls of Bank Square Belfast, in the CraftNI Gallery in Belfast, in Cowley Gallery in Derry and in a pop-up gallery on Main Street in Bangor (beside Caffe Nero).