I’ve been self-isolating for a whole month now – to protect my elderly parents living in the village – and life in the Shed has fallen into a kind of gently anxious routine. I try not to look at my diary, which is filled with events, readings, signings, gigs, parties, meetings, festivals, charity galas, interviews – all of them crossed out, of course. Some of them will be rescheduled. Today should have been my paperback launch, the start of a three-month book tour. A part of me still wakes up expecting to have to catch a train to a book event, a festival, a TV show. After thirty days of this strange limbo, I’m still a little surprised to be here.
Instead, and for the first time in years, I have an actual daily routine: an early-morning run, before the rest of the village wakes up; then food preparation; breakfast with my husband, then writing time, gardening time, internet time, Zoom and Skype meetings for the SOA and the ALCS, FaceTime with my daughter; planting; seeding; watering; Netflix in the evenings. In twenty years, I’ve never had such an ordered, simple, predictable life – except for the obvious, of course, which brings its own daily surprises. I’m very aware how lucky I am in comparison to many: I have a space of my own, and a garden, and access to open countryside. I have a local greengrocer who delivers essential food supplies. I’ve started to find pleasure in things I would never have thought of before – the arrival of a fresh vegetable box; a chance conversation on Twitter. Tidying cupboards pleases me now: my sock drawers have never been so ordered. I try not to worry too much about those things that are beyond my control: the health of my friends and family in Italy, France, or America. So far – at least as far as I know – I have not yet lost anyone who is close to me, although there have been some narrow escapes. I try not to dwell too much on this. The crisis is far from over.
But I am actually writing too, although many of my friends tell me they are finding it hard to concentrate on work. I find that work is what anchors me; gives me something to cling to. Tea helps – and so does wine. Fortunately, we have plenty of both. Other people have other ways of coming to terms with this new reality. I’m writing blog posts; chapters of my new book; articles for the papers. It’s really the first time that writing has seemed to me almost like a full-time job: before this, so much of my time was taken up by touring and publicity.
And this month, I’ve finally got round to putting together my #TenTweets on writing into something that’s starting to look like a book. It’s going to be available pretty soon for you to download, with, hopefully, the chance of a nice print version sometime later this year. More news of that as it breaks, but for now, a few words for the ones of you who may be feeling lost or disconnected in the face of current events. I get it. We don’t all thrive on balcony singalongs. Some days are better than others, of course, but on the days when all you want is to go back to bed and watch Netflix under the covers until the world goes back to what it was, know you’re not alone in this. We can’t always face each new day with a smile, or start a new language, or transform our bodies in twelve weeks, or bake artisanal sourdough bread. For some of us, just carrying on is a daily act of courage. If this is you, remember this:
Are you afraid that what you do doesn’t matter? Don’t be. If you help just one person, save just one life, make one sad, lonely person a little happier and less lonely, then it matters. Even if that person was you.
Stay safe, everyone.