For those of us who write, being in isolation isn’t too much of a problem. You shut yourself away, call up the Muse, and by hook or by crook, get your 500 words done or whatever your target is. Sometimes the words come tough, but you push on through. You’ve made your voluntary commitment to be alone and work.
Now that Covid-19 has struck us, isolation feels like a whole different thing. On the face of it (and I hope I’m not sounding flippant by saying this) those who work in solitary creative fields should be able to carry on despite living in what is a once in a generation pandemic, the sort of thing historians will be evaluating years from now. It’s an extraordinary situation – bars and restaurants closed, people advised to stay indoors, and working from home is the new norm. Public gatherings are not recommended, people should stay 6 feet away from each other when outdoors, and those over 70 or with underlying health conditions shouldn’t be going out at all. All of which is a huge hit to the economy, and the likelihood of a full-scale lockdown isn’t too far away.
So, unprecedented stuff. With millions now isolated at home, talk turns to how to stay occupied, and writing is near the top of the list of activities to get through the days. I’ve seen many say they are starting a diary to record the times we are living in for posterity. Others talk of learning a new skill or reacquainting with an old one – letter writing, poetry, and drawing are popular ones I have seen.
But I fear these well-founded ambitions are likely to remain unfulfilled. On the face of it, spending hours at home frees up time to get loads of writing done, but for me, this is the first work I’ve done since the outbreak. I think this is because the whole situation is pretty terrifying. I live with my elderly father, who is in the high-risk group of catching the virus. He’s fine, and has pretty much been indoors the last week, but I’m anxious about him nonetheless. And the everyday tasks are proving more difficult. I’ve spent two fruitless shopping trips trying to buy toilet paper thanks to the stockpiling idiots, and these setbacks play on the mind. I’m very conscious of not coming into close contact with others on these trips, and on the whole outings are somewhat nerve-wracking. My sister lives abroad and I worry about her too. So when I’m at home I want to escape with a Netflix show to take my mind off things rather than try and write, which feels like a huge task at the moment. This is without turning on the news and getting a daily dose of worry as the worldwide case and death numbers continue to spiral. Low-level anxiety is not conducive to anything, let alone good writing.
I appreciate this comes across as a first-world problem when our heroic NHS workers are putting themselves on the line every day. I wanted to take a break after the first draft of State Line, and I am having one. Maybe I will settle into a better mindset as the weeks pass, and I can at least do some editing of previous drafts to keep ticking over. I guess we all have to bear in mind that this global pandemic is something none of us have ever experienced before, with its inherent dangers and restrictions. We’re all feeling our way forward, trying to do our best. It will still be there in the morning.