Blog

During each residency, guests will publish blog entries through which the interested public will be able to track their journey through the locations included in the project.

Rebecca Thomas: Isolation: Reality and its Consequence / Arwahanrwydd Gogoneddus

Isolation: Reality and its Consequence

 

‘Everything feels a bit more normal now, doesn’t it?’

A reoccurring conversation – with friends I’m seeing for the first time since 2019 and co-workers who are semi-strangers but whose living room walls are bizarrely familiar. I work in higher education, and in this sector everyday life certainly feels more ‘normal’ with the return of the office and the lecture theatre. But this normality is also different to what came before. 

Zoom/Microsoft Teams/Skype are all now regular features of my life, the most used applications on my laptop. There’s no disputing their value – I’ve ‘attended’ conferences in America without having to leave my desk, I’ve been able to continue to ‘see’ my family during the lockdowns. In a strange way, I feel closer to my friends than ever before. To chase a career in higher education is to be frequently uprooted. The friends that I’ve made after more than a decade of working in various universities are scattered around the globe – in England, America, Germany, Norway, Italy. Although we promise to stay in touch, life is complicated. Until recently, infrequent messages were the norm. But like so many others, during the lockdowns we adopted a more rigid Skype schedule. A schedule that remains fairly fixed, in its frequency if not in its organisation. I can admit – with only a hint of embarrassment – that this technology has transformed my social life. When I published my first book last month, it was to Zoom I turned to celebrate. 

But there is another side to the story. It was at the end of the winter teaching semester that I realised I’d lost the ability to concentrate. Perhaps that’s too self-judgemental: I had lost the ability to give a task my undivided attention. More specifically, I’d lost the ability to give meetings my undivided attention. It is far too easy for the mind to wander during an online meeting. There is the temptation to answer a few emails, the temptation to check social media… I am guilty of being semi-absent. Not that my mind is being put to good use either. Answering an email takes twice as long and no good comes from scrolling. There is a price to pay too: being semi-absent is exhausting, the headache that follows hanging up a zoom call a fitting punishment. I’ve started to notice the impact of this side effect on life beyond the online meeting too. My mind likes to roam. An afternoon of hard work on a particular article or paper will be followed by a dramatic leap in another direction. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course: I have a stack of interesting pieces in the works. But I also have a stack of interesting pieces vying for attention on my desk. 

And so, as I embark on a two-week writing retreat in Ljubljana, my first task is to switch off Zoom/Skype/Microsoft Teams and give my mind the opportunity to re-learn how to be fully present.    

*

I have spent a lot of time watching the birds in Ljubljana. They came to introduce themselves on my first morning in the city. I had left Dane Zajc’s apartment in search of coffee, following the river to the centre of the old town. I reached the triple bridge as the bells struck nine. Morning routines were in full swing, and a steady stream of people making their way from the station. On the other side of the river, activity was more subdued. Beyond a few delivery vans, the otherwise pedestrianized streets were empty. I felt like something of an intruder – the city wasn’t yet ready to welcome strangers on this morning. I was sitting outside the cathedral with my coffee when the first bird came to investigate. Having decided that I was passable company, it called on its friends to join us. They weren’t shy: at my feet, on the table, on the chair opposite, on my empty notebook. 

I’ll freely admit that I felt a little lost during the first few days. Not literally – Ljubljana is an easy city to navigate. I’ve only lost my way once, wandering the wooded paths of Tivoli Park. My fault entirely for ignoring the very clear signposting of a gentle slopping path and choosing instead to follow my instincts up a steep alternative path, only to discover – inevitably – that the gentle slopping path was the correct way to reach the top of the hill. Rather, it was my mind that was a little lost, jumping from one idea to the next without fully committing to any of them. This residency was a new experience for me: I had never before had a full fortnight in which to do nothing but write. My first novel was written in daily half-hour chunks before bed, my first literary essay in the car on the way back from Scotland (with thanks to the driver for their patience and to GPC: A Dictionary of the Welsh Language for developing such an effective mobile app…). Minutes stolen here and there. And so, I was ridiculously excited by the prospect of a full fortnight of such minutes. But anxious, too. This was precious time that couldn’t be wasted. What if the page stayed stubbornly empty? What if I had difficulty sleeping and couldn’t focus during the day? The second was ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I had to keep reminding myself that no time spent thinking is a waste. That’s the advice I would give my students, but advice, by its nature, is easy to give, harder to follow. And so it was a challenge to surrender the desire to squeeze words from every single minute. I found a favourite café – a relatively quiet place with comfortable seats overlooking a park. There’s something less daunting about a blank page when set against some background noise. The birds were there every day. Sometimes perched on the back of the chair next to me staring intently across the park, without any obvious purpose to their supervision. Sometimes hopping across the table. Sometimes planning to steal a biscuit (fortunately they never took any interest in the coffee). Slowly I granted my mind the freedom to choose its own direction. 

Today is my last day and one of the birds has ventured closer still. It sits on the top of my laptop screen, its nails clawing the edge of the plastic. We stare at each other. There is something quite judgemental about its look. Not that I mind. The bird isn’t judging the words on the screen beneath, after all, only my decision not to buy a cake of some sort for us to share.  

 

Arwahanrwydd Gogoneddus

 

‘Ma pethau’n teimlo’n fwy normal nawr falle?’

Sgwrs gyfarwydd iawn erbyn hyn – gyda ffrindiau rwy’n eu gweld am y tro cyntaf ers 2019 a chyd-weithwyr lled-ddieithr sydd serch hynny wedi dangos cryn dipyn o’u papur wal imi. Rwy’n gweithio ym myd addysg uwch, ac yma mae bywyd bob dydd yn sicr yn teimlo yn fwy ‘normal’. Rydw i nôl mewn swyddfa (weithiau) ac yn ôl yn yr ystafell ddosbarth. Ond mae rhai pethau wedi newid hefyd. 

Mae Zoom/Microsoft Teams/Skype yn rhan ganolog o’m bywyd bellach. Does dim dwywaith bod y manteision yn pentyrru – rwyf wedi ‘mynychu’ cynadleddau yn America heb orfod gadael fy nesg, ac wedi gallu parhau i ‘weld’ teulu yn ystod y cyfnodau clo. Mewn ffordd ryfedd, rwy’n teimlo’n agosach at fy ffrindiau nag erioed o’r blaen. Mae bywyd yn ansefydlog yn y sector addysg uwch – mae’r syniad o ymgartrefu mewn man penodol yn hollol estron imi o hyd. Ac ar ôl dros ddegawd o weithio mewn amrywiol brifysgolion, mae’r ffrindiau rydw i wedi eu casglu ar hyd y daith ar wasgar – yn Lloegr, America, Yr Almaen, Norwy, Yr Eidal. Er inni ymdrechu i gadw mewn cysylltiad, mae i fywyd brysurdeb anhrefnus. Tan yn ddiweddar, bodlonem ar negeseuon anghyson. Ond fel nifer o bobl eraill, sbardunodd y cyfnodau clo sesiynau sgeipio rheolaidd. Ac er bod ein gafael ar yr amserlen haearnaidd wedi llithro, parhau a wna’r cyswllt. Gallaf gyfaddef heb gywilydd gormodol fy nyled i’r dechnoleg am fywyd cymdeithasol. Wedi cyhoeddi fy llyfr cyntaf mis diwethaf, ar Zoom roedd y dathlu.

Ond mae ochr arall i’r geiniog hefyd. Roedd semester dysgu y gaeaf yn tynnu i derfyn pan sylweddolais fy mod i wedi colli’r gallu i ganolbwyntio. Efallai bod hynny braidd yn rhy feirniadol: roeddwn i wedi colli’r gallu i roi’m holl sylw i’r dasg wrth law. Yn fwy penodol, roeddwn i wedi colli’r gallu i roi’m holl sylw i gyfarfod. Mae’n rhy hawdd o lawer i’r meddwl grwydro mewn cyfarfod ar-lein. Ceir temtasiwn i ymateb i ambell e-bost, temtasiwn i fwrw golwg ar y cyfryngau cymdeithasol... Rwy’n euog o fod yn lled-absennol. Dim bod fy meddwl i’n gwneud dim byd o ddefnydd chwaith. Mae ateb e-bost yn llyncu dwywaith yr amser arferol, a ddaw dim budd o sgrolio. Ac mae’r pris yn uchel: gwaith blinedig yw diffyg canolbwyntio, a’r cur pen wedi diffodd galwad Zoom yn gosb briodol. Yn ddiweddar, rydw i wedi sylwi ar y sgileffaith hon yn heintio agweddau eraill o’m bywyd hefyd. Mae fy meddwl i ar grwydr beunyddiol. Mae’n ymroi i brynhawn dwys o waith ar ryw erthygl neu bapur, cyn penderfynu neidio’n ddirybudd i gyfeiriad hollol wahanol. Dydy’r arfer hwn ddim heb ei fuddiannau i fod yn deg – mae gen i bentwr o waith diddorol ar y gweill. Ond mae hefyd gen i bentwr o waith diddorol yn cystadlu am sylw ar fy nesg. 

Ac felly wrth imi baratoi am breswyliad ysgrifennu yn Ljubljana, fy nhasg gyntaf yw diffodd Zoom, Skype, a Microsoft Teams, a rhoi cyfle i’m meddwl ailddysgu sut i fod yn llwyr bresennol. 

*

Roeddwn i wedi gwirioni gyda’r adar yn Ljubljana. Daethant i gyflwyno eu hunain ar fy more cyntaf yn y ddinas. Chwilio am goffi oeddwn i. Gadewais y fflat lle roeddwn i’n aros (cyn-gartref y bardd Slofeneg Dane Zajc) a dilyn yr afon i ganol yr hen ddinas. Wrth i’r clychau ganu naw, roedd y drefn feunyddiol ar ei hanterth. O sefyll ar y bont driphlyg yn y canol, roedd modd gweld llif o bobl yn tyrru i mewn o gyfeiriad yr orsaf. Yng nghrombil yr hen ddinas ei hun, mud ac anweledig oedd y prysurdeb. Tu hwnt i ambell fan yn dosbarthu nwyddau i fusnesau, roedd y strydoedd a neilltuwyd i gerddwyr a beicwyr fel arall yn wag. Teimlais fy mod i’n tarfu braidd – doedd y ddinas ddim eto yn barod i groesawu dieithriaid. Ond roedd yr adar wrth eu boddau. Des i o hyd i’m coffi ac eistedd ar fwrdd tu allan ger y gadeirlan. Bron yn syth, daeth yr aderyn cyntaf i’m cyfarch. Rhaid mod i wedi pasio rhyw brawf oherwydd estynnodd wahoddiad i’w ffrindiau ymuno. Doedden nhw ddim yn swil. Wrth fy nhraed, ar y bwrdd, ar y gadair gyferbyn â fi, ar fy llyfr nodiadau gwag. 

Gallaf gyfaddef fy mod wedi teimlo braidd ar goll yn ystod y diwrnodau cyntaf. Ddim yn llythrennol – hawdd iawn oedd dod i adnabod strydoedd Ljubljana. Unwaith yn unig es i ar goll, ar lwybrau coediog parc Tivoli. A hynny yn lled-fwriadol gan imi anwybyddu’r arwyddion clir yn fy hebrwng tua’r llwybr cymedrol ei ogwydd er mwyn dilyn fy nhrwyn i fyny’r llwybr serth i ben y bryn, cyn darganfod yn anochel mai’r un cymedrol ei ogwydd oedd y llwybr cywir i’r copa. Ond roedd fy meddwl yn gwrthod setlo, gan neidio o un syniad i’r llall heb ymrwymo i’r un ohonynt. Doeddwn i erioed wedi cael pythefnos cyfan i ysgrifennu o’r blaen. Ysgrifennais fy nofel gyntaf mewn pytiau hanner awr cyn gwely bob nos. Ysgrifennais fy ysgrif gyntaf yn y car ar y ffordd nôl o wyliau yn yr Alban (gyda diolch i’r gyrrwr am ei amynedd ac i Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru am ddatblygu app mor dda ar gyfer y ffôn...). Byddai’r geiriau yn cyrraedd y dudalen mewn munudau wedi eu cipio yma ac acw fel arfer. Ac felly roeddwn i wedi cyffroi tu hwnt i reswm gan yr addewid o bythefnos cyfan o’r fath funudau. Ond roeddwn i’n teimlo’n bryderus, hefyd. Doeddwn i ddim eisiau gwastraffu yr un ohonynt. Beth petai’r dudalen yn aros yn ystyfnig o wag? Beth petawn i’n cael trafferth cysgu a ddim yn gallu ffocysu gyda’r dydd? Proffwydoliaeth hunangyflawnol yw’r ail, wrth gwrs.

Rhaid oedd atgoffa fy hun nad gwastraff oedd yr un funud a dreuliwyd yn meddwl. Dyna’r cyngor arferwn ei roi i fyfyrwyr, ond natur cyngor yw ei fod yn hawdd i’w roi, anoddach i’w ddilyn. Ac felly sialens oedd ildio’r frwydr i ddal gafael haearnaidd ar bob un funud. Des i o hyd i hoff gaffi – lle weddol tawel gyda seddi cyfforddus yn edrych dros barc. Mae rhywbeth llai brawychus am wynebu tudalen wag pan mae yna ryw fath o fwrlwm cefndirol. Roedd yr adar yno bob dydd. Weithiau yn clwydo ar gefn y gadair drws nesaf yn syllu’n feddylgar ar draws y parc, heb bwrpas amlwg i’w goruchwyliaeth. Weithiau’n sboncian o gwmpas y bwrdd. Weithiau’n cynllwynio i ddwyn bisgïen (doedd ganddyn nhw byth ddiddordeb yn y coffi, wrth lwc). Yn araf daeth y rhyddid i’m meddwl grwydro i ba bynnag cyfeiriad y mynnai. 

Heddiw, ar fy niwrnod olaf, mae un o’r adar wedi mentro’n agosach fyth. Mae’n eistedd ar ben sgrin fy ngliniadur, ei ewinedd yn crafangu’r ymyl plastig. Edrychwn ar ei gilydd. Braidd yn feirniadol yw ei olwg. Dydw i ddim yn meindio. Dim y geiriau ar y sgrin oddi tanno mae’r aderyn yn eu beirniadu, wedi’r cyfan, ond fy mhenderfyniad i beidio â phrynu rhyw gacen i’w rhannu. 


IMPRESSUM

 

Sandorf - publishing house founded in 2008, engaged in Croatian literature and literature in translation, and in a wide range of books in humanities.

 

Center for Research and Promotion of Urban Culture (CIP) is a non-profit association that has existed for twenty years. Established in 1998, it operates in the areas of culture and art, urbanism, youth mobility and social dialogue.

 

Editor in chief: Ivan Sršen

Managing editor: Jana Smrekar

Editorial board: Matko Abramić, Thanos Gogos, Sena Zereyak
Graphic editor: Nikša Eršek

Website maintenance: Nabukodonozor d.o.o.

 

 




 

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