Extraordinary Times call For…

opened-book-near-ceramic-mug-176103

…whatever is right for you.

For some of us, this means carrying on as near to normal as possible. I work from home anyway and I am self employed, the pandemic has caused a big chunk of lost earnings in the form of festival bookings and workshop bookings, but thankfully most of my ‘bread and butter work’ is done from my home, online. I am still running my online workshops which, touch wood, even in a market in which everyone is now teaching online out of necessity, still appear to be popular. I am still mentoring writers. Not much, then, has changed in my working life, except my husband who is also working from home now, is putting me to shame with his strict routine and enthusiasm. I have seen a version of him, the work version, that I haven’t really seen before. Work-Husband is a very slick, confident person who ‘gets things done’ and is keen to motivate his staff.  He has gone to great lengths to make sure his staff and their jobs are secure, that they are safe. I’m very proud of him. However, he is making me look like an utter slob. Last week the computer went mad while he was trying to work on it: it wouldn’t stop writing FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF and I was able to diagnose it immediately as a crumb stuck in one of the key pads, as this happened to me a lot. “You eat over the keyboard?” he asked, incredulous, and suddenly I realised that yes, yes I do, regularly, while still in my PJs. Some days I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my hair or washed my face. I am the slob writer cliché when I wanted to be a smart writer in her lovely office cliché. I am going to make a real effort to be a bit more professional from now on. I love that my husband is here, it’s so lovely to have someone to talk to, and to share in the little details that are part of my world.

For the first week or so of these strange times I did have a little meltdown – my play was cancelled the day before I was going down for the final preparations. It was very disappointing. But very understandable, and then I watched the festivals I had secured paid reading slots at cancelling one after the other and the festivals at which I was running workshops, workshops which were already fully booked, cancelling.  And my husband’s work took a sudden dive (the company my husband works for print exam papers, so you can imagine the very sudden drop in work when exams were no longer needed) and although the company is robust, it won’t stay robust forever, like most places there will be redundancies and who knows how far away that is.

I stepped back a bit, because I just felt suddenly as if everything was completely pointless. I did some bits and pieces in the garden, got used to the new normal as my neighbours took advantage of family time and good weather in the garden, and DIY projects and playing games and drinking and eating outside in the good weather and what have you. I will admit it did feel like being on the outside looking in, as I don’t have a family, and then felt I couldn’t just sit in the garden with my tea and my laptop to work. Children will be children. And these are strange times in which everyone is worried about their families and the awful fear of them dying. At least I don’t have to worry about my children dying in the pandemic, on account of my daughter being dead and me having no other children. But I’ve still got an immunocompromised mum to worry about and family members with severe asthma too, who work in the health services. There’s a whole mix of emotions and difficulties for everyone and we can’t ever know what’s going on in other people’s lives.

We are keen to make sure my mother in law who is far away in Derby is supported. My husband is an only child, and she, and my husband, suffered the loss of her brother, our beloved Uncle Rod, who had been beaten so severely by robbers at his home in South Africa that he later died of his injuries. That was a big loss in their lives, in our lives and horrible, horrible circumstances. Rod wouldn’t have hurt a fly, he was gentle and loving and welcomed me into the family. Always ready with a glass of wine and a hug, was Rod, and we will miss him immensely. It’s hard not to be able to get to the midlands and support my mother in law directly with this huge loss, and then also in the pandemic, as she’s in her mid seventies and we don’t want her going out. But I’m pleased that her neighbours are rallying round and she still has her Virgin wine delivery, which is something I wish I had if I’m honest.

For some people, coping with the lockdown and the general anxiety and the watching and waiting will mean finding ways to take control, to fill the time with plans and projects. NaPoWriMo couldn’t have come at a better time for those people, and the people on my course are even more enthusiastic than usual. I have a very pleasant two hours on a morning reading their work and commenting and checking in on them every single day, and it is genuinely one of the highlights of the day. At the beginning of April I decided to take a facebook break, except for, obviously running the closed FB groups for the course, and also occasionally posting in my Facebook Author Page. I have a lovely community of friends on Facebook, but right now it feels quite oppressive there, and it makes me a bit anxious. I decided to have a look at what is important to me at the minute and started to factor into my planner not just some complete social media free days, but days in which I could work on my own writing. I have been working on my novel, and have made huge progress with it this week. It’s slow going as it’s historical fiction and needs a lot of research, but the research is wonderfully absorbing, and I am very much enjoying disappearing into my characters and becoming other people. I also started working on a new pamphlet this week, using NaPoWriMo to kick off the poems and make some notes.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep me occupied, I am  judging the Paper Swans Single Poem Competition and would LOVE to see your poems, so get submitting!

My big message this week, then, is to not worry about what the right thing to do is at the moment. Especially when it comes to writing, even if you are normally working from home, this will have an impact on you and your work. This is unprecedented, these are extraordinary times, there’s no right or wrong way to behave. And there is always going to be non pandemic stuff going on underneath the obvious worry, inconvenience and stress.

This week I ended up turning to old friends on Fertility Friends where I knew I’d find solid support. I’m worried about the pandemic, of course, but I’m also quite upset that on what would have been her tenth birthday, a big milestone, I will now not be able to spend time at my daughter’s grave. We won’t be able to partake in the rituals that are part of our grief, part of us saying out loud ‘you are not forgotten‘ . We will still do something together at home, but there will be no gifts for her on the grave, there will be no flowers or the ritual tidying of her grave site (which must just look awful right now as I can’t get up to tend to it) and it is unsettling. This year I had hoped to do something special, because ten is such an age, isn’t it. Double figures. Such a long time and yet, no time at all. Not being able to do that has left me feeling quite emptied out and generally low about it. I will write her poem, as I do every year, and I will remember her, but all the physical stuff, which I find soothing and important as a demonstration of our love for her, non of that will happen. It seems such a small thing to complain about, certainly where survival and caring for people and not travelling etc is involved it is insignificant, non essential to visit her grave. But it is essential for my heart. Her birthday will be swallowed up by this and I fret about her being forgotten. I can still fret about that and feel compassion for those who are being directly effected by the extreme worry of the pandemic. The two are not mutually exclusive, and that’s something to remember: it’s ok to still have other worries, it’s OK to grieve for other stuff and to feel sad about cancelled plans and changes to your life.

These are small things, in the grand scheme. We are healthy, we are in no immediate danger, we have a simple but cozy home and quiet areas to walk and we have each other, and I am loving having my husband here right now. Perhaps this will end up being something to treasure, in a strange way. My heart goes out to the people who are facing danger, those putting their lives at risk, those with serious health conditions, those who are worrying about their loved ones.

Thank you to EVERYONE in the NHS, and a big shout out to my ex colleagues woking in the labs, I applaud you.

Whatever you choose to do, whether it is PJs 24/7 and Netflix in a drip, or business as usual, dressed to the nines and with rigid plans in place, do it because it is what works for you, not because you think you should. I shall be back in a week or so to launch the next online course for May, I hope you’ll join me then.

 

Stay safe

 

x

 

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