The ‘Joy’ of Constraint

(Not to be confused with The Joy of Sex, The Joy of Painting and The Joy of Cooking…)

BEOWULF with Grendel head (Illustration 1910)

I imagine you know what ‘joy’ means, but ‘constraint’ is trickier isn’t it?  The dictionary definition is a ‘limitation or constriction’. Which could be unpleasant or, I’m suggesting here, sometimes liberating. (Oh and I love that picture above of Beowulf!)

In these days of the Coronavirus, everyone is finding their lives being constrained in one way or another. Whether it be the rules about how far you’re allowed to travel, what places you’re able to visit and how many other people it is safe and legal for you to meet. Tough times.

Where does that leave us? Staying home, keeping within a small, prescribed circle of contacts, and not venturing too far beyond the everyday. That could be a nightmare. However, it doesn’t have to be.

If you usually work in an office, with all the travel and work rules that that entails, suddenly working from home will require both self-discipline and rigor. Those aren’t bad qualities, but that can require a breaking down of your previous work methods. You no longer have the office to monitor your day and offer the teamwork an office environment can have. (If you don’t usually work at an office, substitute ‘office’ with your usual work environment.)

If you usually work from home, like many writers and artists and freelancers, you’ve already faced the working from home demon. The one that doesn’t notice or care if you’re in your pyjamas at 3pm but still expects you to get your work done. It’s the same grinning demon who only slightly raises its eyebrows at you playing loud music while you work and you taking a break to watch an episode of your favourite comedy show while eating cereal. It’s all about Getting The Work Done! Obviously, that’s a best case scenario. But sometimes best case scenarios are all we can hope for. Along with changing our everyday routines, I wonder if being constrained in how we live our lives could actually help us grow as people?

Not commuting means gaining hours of your life every week!

Not going on holiday could mean saving money and the planet by not doing long journeys.

Being settled at home with family, by not being out at work so much, can allow for nurturing better relationships.

For some people, the nature of their jobs does not allow working from home. Appreciating the amazing work of core staff, healthcare workers, teachers, delivery people, police, and so many others, who are often overlooked. This is another reason why I think individual ‘constraint’ of ordinary living can actually be a  positive thing. It makes us look around us more clearly and be thankful for the good things we still have.

The final word on the ‘constraint conundrum’. It only works for as long as we can see it’s necessary and useful. A bit like doing Haikus?

Here’s a haiku by Kobayashi Issa (b. 1763) and one that I feel that fits with working from home:

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

Kobayashi Issa


Other times, you might want to move away from that to epic poems. Something meaty and exciting in readiness for when the Coronavirus recedes, which it will. Something like a great warrior’s story?

 Here’s the start of Beowolf, an Anglo-Saxon epic poem:

Lo! the Spear-Danes’ glory through splendid achievements

The folk-kings’ former fame we have heard of,

How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.

Gutenberg.org     If you want to read more click on the Gutenberg link!

1 thought on “The ‘Joy’ of Constraint

  1. Hah, an appropriate post for me to read after having visited Sutton Hoo, thank you! And I loved that Fuji haiku! I’ve found joy in reading and blogging during lockdown without the guilt of feeling there were ‘better’ things I had to do — so in some ways no constraint at all! Though I’ve missed lots, obviously, like family, friends, musical activities and so on. 🙁

    Liked by 1 person

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