Guests at the launch concert of Xanadu Online Theatre in September 2020 would have heard this song being debuted. Many people have had an increase in anxiety levels over the past year, but does yours have a name?
Lockdown may have made life smaller for many people, but it made mine bigger.
Unlike most people, I wasn’t that upset when the first coronavirus lockdown began. As far as I could see, it wasn’t going to make much difference to my life. But I was wrong: it made my life better.
As a chronically ill, disabled person (I suffer from the neurological condition (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) living alone in a rural location, I had long been used to spending most of my time alone. Many weeks, if I didn’t visit a shop, I didn’t see anyone. And shopping was becoming harder – I had already begun the transition to grocery delivery before the pandemic. I connected with people mostly via telephone or, more and more as time went on, via the web.
I used social media such as Facebook for two main purposes: to keep up with people that I rarely saw, such as friends from my previous life as an actor in London, and to make new friends, especially within the ME and chronic illness communities. I joined support groups, book clubs and other interest groups; I attended and ran virtual pub quizzes and parties. I also used the internet for solo activities, such as practising and learning languages on Duolingo, and studying everything from Archaeology to Cyber Security. I was well-practised at living life online. What happened early this year is that everyone joined me.
Right at the beginning of Lockdown, some friends and I decided to set up an online school. Ar Líne Le Chéile was small, and part-time, and wasn’t intended to replace or compete with anything that children were getting from their regular teachers – rather, it was to help combat loneliness and isolation. In this it succeeded, and our small class of primary school children had formed great friendships by the time we finished in June. As I was already an experienced teacher, I took an active part in this, the highlight of which was the weekly multidisciplinary lesson where we made virtual visits to such places as the British Museum, NASA and the London Underground. It was a lovely feeling to have my own class again, for the first time since 2008. A side effect of this for me was that my old interest in coding was reawakened by a Scratch class run by another teacher (Philipa Farley, the writer of our Farley’s Philosophy column), and I ended up learning the Python programming language during the month of April when Pluralsight offered free courses for a month.
There was so much life online all of a sudden! Musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and plays from the National Theatre, for example, were available to watch free of charge. I attended an online 80s concert with a couple of friends, who didn’t know each other previously; we watched in our separate homes and chatted via text at the same time. I joined an online choir, and played board games with friends all over Ireland via WhatsApp.
I had an online magazine, Notes From Xanadu, predominantly an arts review, which had been semi-dormant over the preceding five years. I had written a couple of Covid-related articles, and was in the process of revitalising it. Then I had an idea: instead of relaunching as just a magazine, why not do something novel and create an online arts centre? I set the date for the May bank holiday weekend, and got in touch with artists of all genres. Over the four days of the launch we had 20 different features, ranging from writing to opera (world-renowned soprano Ailish Tynan was one of our first contributors) to puppetry. We had visitors from numerous countries on six continents, and have continued to gain new followers and artists since then.
Although I don’t generally manage to get out much, I always do something for my birthday, whether that’s a restaurant and/or pub visit, or a small party at my house. I decided not to let the virus stop me this year, and organised my first audio-visual virtual party. I had guests from as far apart as London and New Mexico, and we played games, performed music, chatted and generally had a “night out.” Unfortunately, problems with internet connections kept a few people away, but the evening was enough of a success for me to decide to develop a theatre as part of the online arts centre.
On 23 September 2020, Xanadu Online Theatre was born, with a launch concert/variety show featuring artists from three different time zones, and an invited audience from countries stretching from Finland to the US. Unlike other similar ventures that have begun since Covid 19 gave us the New Normal, which use Zoom and other such platforms, this theatre is embedded in the Notes From Xanadu website and uses the open-source software Jitsi, which very much fits ideologically with the values of the online arts centre.
As part of the launch concert, I decided to perform a short scene with an actor friend in New York, Ash Reddington, and thus I found myself practising my craft as an actor for the first time in almost 6 years. I have since set up an in-house theatre company, and we are having our first show in December. Thus, as a result of the virus, I find myself where I thought I would never be again – in the rehearsal room, preparing to act on stage in front of a live audience.
This is the first in a series. Watch out for accounts of other people’s positive lockdown experience in the coming weeks.
Have you had any fantasies during lockdown? They’re completely harmless, right? I know Futzy and the Bitch have a strong marriage, so I’m not worried about them at all.
Following on from previous columns, where I had a bit of a moan about lockdown, I’ve decided to focus on change and being positive about change. I’ll also alter my style a bit for this series. Slightly more serious – but only slightly.
We’ve all had to change – whether we like it or not, whether we wanted to or not – over the last while. Change is difficult. Alongside the change, I’ve personally gone through varying cycles of emotion that range from utter despair and anger to acceptance and joy. I have had to maintain being mindful throughout, as the negativity can take over quite quickly.
One of the tools I’ve used as part of my mindfulness practice is the ‘Wheel of Life’. What is the Wheel of Life? The Wheel of Life is a tool that is widely used in coaching circles, to simply benchmark where we’re at against where we’d like to be in certain areas of our life. I use it as a personal accountability and development tool. It keeps me on track, and from wandering down rabbit holes where I can get lost for days or months at a time. You can adapt the concept to suit yourself and your own needs.
Before we get into the practicalities, some history first. Some like to say the original, original concept came to us through Buddhism, however, the original concept originated with Paul J Meyer, the founder of the Success Motivation (R) Institute in the 1960s.
The original wheel, with six slices of the pie, looked like this:
You’ll note the sections were labelled:
- Financial and Career
- Mental and Educational
- Physical and Health
- Social and Cultural
- Spiritual and Ethical
- Family and Home
The more modern Wheel of Life is usually subdivided into 8 sections. These are, commonly:
- Business and Career
- Family and Friends
- Personal Development
- Fun and Recreation
- Contribution to Society
My wheel of life is very similar, except I would have ‘Physical Environment’ in place of ‘Contribution to Society.’ This doesn’t make me a cretin who isn’t interested in society. My contribution to society runs as a natural thread throughout my interactions with society; I don’t feel the need to actively measure this or set goals for it. However, my physical environment is very important to me for various different reasons, so I prefer to measure this.
If you want to focus in on one area and break it down into other sections, the Wheel of Life can be used that way too. Some people use it to assess themselves in each of the roles they play in life, such as partner, manager, parent, sports coach, teacher, etc. Try and keep your set consistent when designing it.
The Wheel of Life is used in two styles: pie and spider web. When we use the pie style, we draw a line to mark how far up the slice we are, whereas with the spider web wheel, we can plot points on the slices as if it is a graph. Both result in the same messaging, though. Personally, I use the pie style, keeping it simple.
In the next part of the series, I’ll look at how to get started: identifying what an aspirational 10/10 is for us in each of the categories of the Wheel of Life, and how we benchmark where we’re at now. I look forward to sharing more with you in the next column: showing you how I use it in a very practical way, from longer term goal setting that then translates into small, daily actions that I take to reach said goals. Through this, you’ll get a glimpse of how I managed to maintain a semblance of sanity during lockdown, even though our lives were turned upside down.
As a small teaser, you might want to try this online assessment: https://wheeloflife.noomii.com/
Ash Reddington is a talented Irish actor, writer and filmmaker who is based in New York City. In this short comedy film, her character Svetlana goes window shopping in Manhattan during lockdown.
You can find out more about Ash at her Backstage page.