• Natalie Fellowes

Ikigai

Updated: 6 days ago

Q: Memories define us. Psychologists warn that a lack of memorable events during the lockdown may lead to false memories. What if by the end of this you couldn't tell which of your memories were real and which were false? Would it change who you were? Would you come out as a different person?


(You may need the help of a looking glass to see beyond the woods...)


CHAPTER ONE: FRAGMENTS


The clouds linger. Appearing aimless in their pursuit. An important signifier of time drifting. Floating by. Slowly. Gathering in clusters. Then transmuting into rain.

Falling down on to the earth. Drip. Drop. On to my head. I feel it falling onto my cheek, mottling with the sweat from the bike ride. My legs tire. I pause and let myself coast down the hill.

I catch my breath. Breathe in the smell of her, as I wrap my arms around her body and pull the duvet covers over us.

Blank white. The paper in front of me as I sit in class, waiting for inspiration to take as the clock ticks on. Others around me are deep in their examination papers and I feel my anxiety spiking. I close my eyes.

The sea undulates. Deep blue waves billow in the sun and I bury my toes in the warm sand. I feel content.

The smell of freshly cut grass over the sounds of the lawnmower as I run to my father and beg for a bagful of the green shavings to build my den.

My first flat, ready for adulthood. Toaster and kettle. Linda McCartney sausages.

I stare at myself in the mirror. In my suit, tie and trainers, going for my first job interview. My stubble shaven. I brush my fingers through my slicked back hair. I look good.





The realisation that there’s not going to be a graduation. Ever. That one moment of transformation ripped out of my hands. My rite of passage no longer my right.



Outlines of previous posters faded by sunlight dot the room. In my parents’ house. Living with them and my younger siblings. Escaped once but somehow catapulted back. Living under lockdown. 24/7. Nearing 365 days. On loop.

Fluorescent lights flash in my face. Pounding beats. My limbs move in time to the music as I stumble on the dance floor. A cute girl smiling at me, getting closer as my heart races. I need to get out of here. Withstand temptation. Go home.


You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

Breaking news. Youth unemployment rate. 11.8% pre-Covid. I feel my heart race, breathing tightens, my mother calls me for dinner.

Black and white stripes of the road markings. Helping an old lady cross the road.

Mobile phone bill. In my inbox. Knowing that I can’t even pay for that. I inhale and feel the smoke melt my conscious. The fug lingers.


Then clears as I take my VR headset off. A kind female face smiles up at me from my laptop. Hope you enjoyed your experience with us, she says.


I have no idea what’s going on. Where I am. What day it is. I simply shrug.


The face continues to smile at me. Please log back in tomorrow, same time and we’ll continue with the treatment, she declares in her mellifluous voice. Please read the T&Cs again and tick the box, she continues. Thank you for participating in the governmental programme to neutralise lockdown mind trauma. You are another day closer to qualifying for a vaccine. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

Matt closed his laptop and headed for the shower. Drip. Drop. On to his head. He lingered under the torrent of water, motionless. He felt the confusion bristling under his skin. He’d been in lockdown for so long, he couldn’t remember which memories were real and which were false any more. He felt himself slipping away. Uncertainty taking over. Unsure of himself. A ghost of his past self.


He used to be so ambitious, had such big dreams. Believed he had the mettle to succeed. Then the wind had been taken out of his sails. Not his fault. The stars had misaligned. History was repeating itself. He wanted to recover his lost self, drifting somewhere out there. Still there. Not completely gone. Did he have a choice? He needed to get out there to join the economic stream but to do so, he had to give in to this brain numbing. Just because he had a little mental wobble. A little panic. A little anxiety. Nothing unusual for his generation now. It was part of their make up.


Matt stepped out of the shower and looked at himself in the foggy mirror. What should he do? Lose himself in order to find himself or stay lost forever?




Chapter two: The Mnemonic


[SOFT MEDITATIVE MUSIC FADES IN]


GIRL: Hey.


BOY: Hey.


GIRL: Did I wake you?


BOY: It’s fine.


GIRL: I was just calling…to check in, see how you were.


BOY: I’m fine.


GIRL: I was worried. You seemed so…so agitated, last time we spoke.


BOY: I did?


GIRL: I mean, there’s nothing to feel embarrassed about.


BOY: I’m not.


GIRL: Maybe it was me. Maybe I pushed you too far.


BOY: It’s fine. I’m fine.


GIRL: Good.


Her voice trails off. Awkward pause.


GIRL: So your parents told me that you were getting on well with your treatment.


BOY: My parents?


GIRL: Yeah, they’re so pleased.


BOY: You spoke to them?


GIRL: Of course.


BOY: But…


GIRL: They’re so happy that you’ve agreed to it…


BOY: When did…


GIRL: And that you might get on the list.


BOY: The list?


GIRL: Yes, for the vaccine. Remember?


BOY: I think so…


GIRL: Everyone is so pleased.


BOY: Wait. I’m not sure I…


GIRL: They don’t like seeing you hurting. That day…after the party…remember?


BOY: Party?


GIRL: You know…


She laughs softly.


GIRL: It’s ok. They say that our brain tries to protect us from trauma. It’s normal to try and forget it. Wipe it out.


BOY: I’m not.


GIRL: Cognitive dissonance they call it. It’s when…


BOY: I know what it is.


GIRL: Of course.


BOY: What party?


GIRL: Your girlfriend’s.


BOY: How…


GIRL: Such fun. That amazing cake you got for her. Vanilla frosting was it? So delicious. And the rockaoke band. Everyone dancing….everyone singing…


BOY: You weren’t there…were you?


GIRL: The smell of fresh cut grass, just like the one you used to use in your dens.


BOY: What?


GIRL: In the air…


BOY: I’m not sure I...


GIRL: It’s ok. It’s normal to feel like this.

BOY: I’m not feeling like anything…


GIRL: It’s part of the treatment.


BOY: Look, I need to…


GIRL: Don’t give up now.


BOY: I’m not giving up.


GIRL: When you had your breakdown that night…


BOY: You said that last time but…


GIRL: So you do remember.


BOY: Only what you’ve told me.


GIRL: That’s good. That’s a start.


BOY: But the party? You never said you knew about the party.


GIRL: So glad that you’re doing the treatment. It will help with your anxiety if you continue with it.


BOY: Did I really agree to it?


GIRL: Of course.


BOY: Doesn’t sound like something I would do.


GIRL: After the party…you agreed.


BOY: I did?


GIRL: You said you never wanted to feel like that again. So angry, confused…so out of control…


BOY: I did.


GIRL: You’re doing so well.


BOY: Thanks.


GIRL: All part of the service.


Another awkward silence.


BOY: So…what now?


GIRL: I’ll call you again tomorrow.


BOY: OK.


GIRL: Same time?


BOY: Sure, not going anywhere. Lockdown remember?


GIRL: I remember.


MALE VOICE OVER: Today’s radio play was brought to you by The Governmental Programme to Neutralise Mind Trauma. If you are needing to self-heal, visit www.lockdown.gov.org


[SOFT MEDITATIVE MUSIC FADES OUT]


SFX: GOVERNMENTAL SOUND MNEMONIC


Matt turned off the radio. What a weird ad. Hairs on the back of his neck rising weird. Sounded just like the conversation he had had yesterday with his therapist. One which had left him confused. Discombobulated. He looked outside. The clouds swirled together in a hazy dim. Was it day or was it night now? He could no longer tell.

In his personal lockdown, it was getting harder to tell what was real and what was not. The VR treatments allowed him to control how he remembered his life. Then planted new, positive memories but… He stopped. Was he really in control? He wasn’t sure any more. He remembered feeling so out of control once that he would have taken any life-line that was coming his way. Like these calls. He knew they weren’t real. A figment of his imagination. His need to make sense of it all…Covid-19, the lockdown, his various rites of passage being washed away.

The one thing he did know was that this was a chance for him to recreate himself. Use the concept of memories to his own advantage and control his redefinition. So what, that he had a little breakdown? You can always fix things.


[UPLIFTING MUSIC FADES IN]


He knew he had to put himself back so that he could help others. Be true to his ikigai, his purpose in life. He just had to work out how. Someone once told him that you are the curator of your own memories. He now had to determine what that was to be. So Matt, he said to himself, what memories are you going to plant to create Matt 2.0?


[UPLIFTING MUSIC FADES OUT]


SFX: GOVERNMENTAL SOUND MNEMONIC




Chapter three: The awakening


The smell of green. Angular but sweet. Fresh grass in the wind. Matt closed his eyes and remembered. The wet mulch of the lawn cuttings. Malleable and yielding. The childish excitement of receiving the green bag, then elation doubling by its transformation into a cushion seat for his precious den.


The grey curls on the side of his mother’s face. The gentle wrinkles that hint of the undulating nature of life. Grateful to the lockdown for allowing him to spend more time with her. A tug in his heart as he remembers…the smell of her perfume, her gentle embrace, the feeling of pure safety.


The duality of charm and wit, mingled with true intelligence. The assured sparring of words in a discussion, a balestra of reasoning, a negotiation won. Matt relishing being at the top of his game. In the office.


Fade to black. Wait. Office? The endless furlough. The never-ending recession, morphed into depression. Depression. Companion of anxiety. Blood brothers in this attrition of the once lusty economy.


The lethargy. Virtual vampire fangs down his neck. Why was this lockdown so tiring?


Matt inhaled. He was meant to be planting positive memories for his own ‘cognitive restructuring’ but his anxiety kept navigating him towards the negative. Get back on track, he told himself. Get back to the Matt 2.0.


He took his VR headset off and ruffled his hair. What’s the matter, asked a soft voice? Matt shook his head. Do I qualify for the vaccine yet, he asked? Pause. What vaccine, responded the voice? You know the one, the reason I’m doing all this. The growing anger in his voice palpable.


The voice paused again. As mentioned before, there is no governmental programme to neutralise lockdown mind trauma, she said. That’s just in your imagination, created by you to protect you from reality.


Matt tried to digest the information. What reality, he asked? Another pause. The voice finally answered. The breakdown caused by the anxiety of lockdown. The overflowing of false memories, overwhelming you, overtaking reality. The mind created the governmental programme and vaccine as your wishful thinking.


The voice continued…


…let me tell you more about your true reality…a second peak, a further lockdown, for the last ten years, riots destroying everything, global economy collapsing…unprecedented, unfathomable, untreatable. Then the pivot, the new normal, the age of Aquarius.


We now live in a world mediated by VR. Your bodies running on Economy-7 with limited energy, limited fuel, limited waste as part of the governmental furlough scheme. Connected to a network of brain machines while your body sleeps.


Matt glanced down at his hands and his still youthful body, unsure of the difference from the last time he looked. The voice smiled. That’s the VR effect. You’re connected up right now.


Matt put his hand to his face and felt the familiar curvature of his cheeks. In ‘reality’, Matt lay on a clinical bed, tubes in his arms, connected to a life-maintaining machine, ECG line bumbling on low, VR headset over his eyes.


Your mind has never been healthier, continued the voice. Never happier. You’re finally living your ikigai. Your purpose in life. Helping others. By sharing your visual traumas and anxieties. So that they can experience the rolling nature of life. The balance. The yin and the yang. In order for them to always remember. Never forget what the world went through in 2020. The tipping point year.


Why tell me now? Why today, asked Matt?


It’s time, the voice answered. The dawning of a new age. Of awareness. Of inter-connectivity. Where we move together as a community, consider the oneness of all beings, come together. Put self-centred thinking behind us. Evolve. It’s finally time for humanity to come out of its chrysalis and start again.


Matt’s eyes blinked open behind the VR headset. His hand, timeworn by ten years of isolation, pulled the headset off. A pretty smile looked down on him.


GIRL: Hey.


BOY: Hey.


GIRL: Did I wake you?


BOY: It’s fine.


GIRL: I was just checking in…seeing how you were.


BOY: I’m fine.


MALE VOICE OVER: Today’s radio play was brought to you by The Governmental Programme to Restart Humanity. If you are needing to self-heal, visit www.lockdown.gov.org


SFX: GOVERNMENTAL SOUND MNEMONIC


Painting by Grace O'Connor

http://www.grace-oconnor.com

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