(Not) Writing in the time of Covid‑19

woman's hand against a window with rain outside

Here’s the thing. We’ve been in lockdown for over four weeks now. It’s not total lockdown. We’re allowed outside to get groceries, medicine, supplies. To go for walks and runs so long as we maintain the 2-metre distance rule. But to just “be” outside, to sit on a park bench and soak up the Toronto spring sun that’s finally starting to appear, to grab a coffee mid-way on your walk and sit in the café window watching the world go by, these are no longer. Things that I took for granted, that we all took for granted.

People are restless. They’re angry, they’re sad, they’re confused. They’re unemployed and waiting on government cheques so they can pay their rent. They’re baking banana bread and having virtual happy hours and crying themselves to sleep at night.

The first two weeks, I was up and down, alternating between hysterical laughter and maniacally planning all the things I’d do with so much free time, then sitting on my floor sobbing as I watched news footage of health workers in all their PPE gear. The tears stopped at some point – I don’t really remember when. Hours turn to days turn to weeks in this weird limbo we’re living in right now, where time has no meaning and I wake, sleep and eat based on the position of the sun coming through my windows.

I want to write right now. It’s all I want to do, to put words to paper, to wallow in creativity. Writing has always been how I make sense of the world. But over the years I’ve let my writing slide. No time. Too busy. And now with all the time in the world, I can’t. I’m staring at a blank Word doc, unable to craft even a paragraph. The novel(s) that have been in my head for years stay in my head, I can’t seem to form the words.

And then I remember, one day this lockdown will end, and instead of feeling relieved at the thought, I feel panicked. That I didn’t do enough with my free time, that I didn’t finally use this time, this precious, precious time, the thing I’ve been asking for for years, so that I could write like I always said I would if I didn’t have to go to work, or wasn’t just so damn busy. We’re all always so damn busy.

Is it bad that sometimes I’m enjoying quarantine? I feel guilty for the joys coming out of it – sleeping late, wearing sweats every day. I feel lazy and also guilty for being lazy. I remember that there are hospital workers and grocery clerks and delivery people risking their health while I sit at home, day drinking wine and bored from too much Netflix. I feel like an asshole.

I opened my laptop today with the intention to work on the novel I said I would write. The novel I’ve long wanted to write. And after three hours of re-writing the same sentence, of checking my Facebook messages, of perusing my bookshelf for “inspiration”, I started writing this instead. I had to purge the thoughts haunting my head. I didn’t start this with any kind of intention, no direction, just pure stream of consciousness. Ever read The Artist’s Way? Know morning pages? Like that, but in the afternoon and with a keyboard.

When I write, place is always key. It’s what sets the tone, where I find meaning, what inspires me. Places reveal the stories, not the other way around. Hell, it’s why I was a travel writer once upon a time – doesn’t travelling feel so long ago? So maybe that’s the problem. Right now place is my 600-square-foot apartment, and I can’t find the story inside here. Except for this story that I’m writing right now. About sadness and loss and frustration and happiness and guilt. That’s not really a story, though. It’s just the emotion, no plot. There is no plot right now, apart from staying home, staying safe, staying healthy – how many times have we said those words to someone since this all began?

The good thing is at least these words are flowing out of me – I’m not even thinking, just typing, not going back and self-editing. I don’t know where this essay (is that what this is?) is going to go. This is how I want to be writing right now, how I want to be using this “free” time that we’ve been given, to produce a chapter, a blog post, an article, to produce anything that’s “real work” and instead, all I can write is self-absorbed navel-gazing about poor me, stuck inside with no creative inspiration while people are fucking dying.

There are so many articles about how we don’t need to use this time to be productive, how it’s okay to feel lost during a global crisis, how it’s okay if a pandemic doesn’t motivate you to finally master your yoga poses or read your entire home library. It’s okay and I know it’s okay, but I still feel dread that I’m going to come out of this without something creative and amazing to show that I was even awake during this weird state of limbo.

And that’s what’s so hard to say out loud. Maybe that’s why I’m suffering total writer’s block right now: the pressure to use this time, to make this purgatory have meaning when passion projects feel so self-indulgent. And then life will go back to normal, and I’ll once again say that I wish I had endless hours to write, to finally write, and I’ll be angry that I didn’t use it when I had it. I’ll be angry at myself because people are working to save lives, to feed communities, and I’m sitting on my ass. There are all those memes going around about how our grandparents and great-grandparents had to go to war and all we have to do is stay home, so don’t fuck this up. What does it say about our go-go-go A-type brains that literally doing nothing, as a solution to protect our communities, feels so hard, feels like such an affront to our sense of self? Is that just me?

I’m not trying to find any meaning in writing this out, just trying to make sense of the conflict in my own head and heart. To write the only thing I seem to be capable of writing right now, in the hopes it’ll clear out the cobwebs. To put it out into the universe: if you’re a creative struggling to create art right now, I hear you. If you’re enjoying living on pause and feeling guilty for it, I hear you. If you can’t tell some days whether you’re sad or angry or anxious or happy, I hear you. If you can’t watch the news reports anymore because they hit at such a deep-rooted all-consuming fear for humanity, I hear you. If you’re trying to exercise and keep in touch with friends and eat healthy and come up with a goddamn business plan, and are scared what it means about you if you can’t do any of these things, I hear you.

If you just need to rant, to let it all out stream-of-consciousness style, to scream onto the page, to release your mental demons, to question your own sanity, I hear you, I hear you, I hear you.

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

2 Comments on “(Not) Writing in the time of Covid‑19

  1. Thank you for writing with such honesty. I think a lot of us are feeling and thinking the same way.

  2. Well said Tammy.
    I’m not a writer, or creative, but I feel those same pressures to make use of this “gift of time”.
    You’re not alone.

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