Pandemic Productivity

Reading time: 3-4 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): Another slice of homemade cake (go on, treat yourself)

Lockdown has the potential to be a time of unparalleled productivity. Less distractions. More time. No FOMO. It has been said that Shakespeare wrote not only King Lear or Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra—but in fact all bloody (pun intended) three—during the plague pandemic of 1606. Four hundred years later, during the coronavirus pandemic, I, on the other hand, have written approximately, well, nothing much at all. I did write one blog post, at the end of April (a cracking good read, let me tell you), but with a grand total of nine hundred and sixty-three words, though each expertly selected and utilised, I don’t think it can be considered quite the same accomplishment as that of my thespian forefather.

The thing is—I have simply not had the inclination to write. Apart from in my journal in the wee hours when I cannot sleep (the result of which I do not wish anyone, myself included, the horror of reading). In fact, I have lacked any inclination to do many a normal activity during this unsettling but, let’s face it, equally tranquil period of time. Perhaps it is because of a lack of inspiration. A dwindling of social engagements causing a depletion of any interesting base material. Perhaps it is because of all of the internal, and increasingly external, discussions about big and scary topics such as life and control and sovereignty and racism. And Bill Gates. If it’s all still such a muddle in my head, how on earth am I supposed to write any of it down with any sort of eloquence? (That’s a rhetorical question, to myself; I’m still in the figuring-it-out stage.) Or perhaps it’s because I’m lazy. A state of being that I’m almost becoming comfortable owning. (As in: you own dat, girlfriend.)

I have had some non-literary-excellence achievements, though: I have completed two jigsaw puzzles (the first since around twelve years of age), and I have baked not one but TWO BLOODY DELICIOUS cakes (my first time ever!!!). A feat I am inordinately proud of, and clearly modest about. But the jigsaws have been dismantled and the cakes consumed. So what have I really got to show for my time spent indoors? Merely slightly more dexterous fingers and a COVID-19 waistline?

Perhaps a better way to quantify my quaran-time achievements is through looking at the thoughts I am unpacking, the conversations I am having, and the way I am treating others and myself. I mean, if my daily candle-lit bubble baths are anything to go by, I’d say I’m doing pretty darn well. Not sure the couple living below us would agree, whose bathroom gets leaked on every time our tub drains. But, you know, swings and roundabouts. I am beginning to try out meditation. I am journaling more. I am entering into those aforementioned uncomfortable conversations with a willingness to learn as opposed to a one-sided view with which to preach. I may still not always communicate my thoughts or frustrations or confusions in the best or most sympathetic way (something I have always done with greater ease via writing, with more time to think, than in conversation, with less time to edit), but I am trying and, hopefully, improving, and that can only be a positive.

But maybe judging everything on a scale of productivity or achievement is where we are all going wrong anyway. I have not written King Lear or Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra during the lockdown. But what is the problem with that? Am I a machine in a factory? Do I always need to be productive? Maybe the most important thing I’ve discovered during this quiet time is that productivity is not the holy grail. Headspace is constantly telling me to just be, after all. Which leads me to ponder: is a pandemic the ideal habitat for productivity, or is the constant pressure to be, or often simply appear, productive a pandemic in itself? I’m not sure. But it’s food for thought, definitely. And great served on the side of a slice of homemade cake. (Carrot, if you’re curious, with a slathering of coconut cream.)

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Twenty twenty

Reading time: 4–5 minutes
Reading accompaniment(s): a slice of homemade cake or chocolate chip oat cookie

2020 has been an interesting one to date, I’m sure you will agree. What with Harry and Meghan renouncing the royal family and all. I can’t think that there have been any other cataclysmic events this year? I guess it’s all been pretty quiet in newsland since Boris took over last summer to #GetBrexitDone. It was going to be a simple in and out jobby, no? Or maybe that was just with his fiancé. After all, getting Brexit done was, and is, the most important development that the British people await. I mean, they voted for it. It is the will of the people. It is democracy at its purest. It is…oh, wait, aren’t some more pressing matters currently taking centre stage?

I have never before had the urge to research the difference in definition between epidemic and pandemic. If I’m totally honest, I thought both were a fancy way of saying “widespread disaster”. Which in many ways they are. But their specificity is not something to be sniffed at. Or indeed used haphazardly. We are, quite officially, in the middle of worldwide pandemic. And with a comprehensive understanding of what precisely that means, things become really rather scary.

To be fearful of a disease is nothing new. But to be fearful of the not-even-physical close contact of any family member, friend or passer-by in the street is like nothing, I believe, ever experienced before. Those of older generations muse that the current climate (though, alas, not the sunshine and rainbows) can only be compared to that of the world wars. When food was rationed, uncertainty was rife, and fear was part and parcel of everyday life. There was an enemy, there were heroes, there was a front line. There was a sense of all being in it together. There was substantial loss of life. But in the situation we find ourselves in today, we are on the same side as the enemy. We are, in many cases, the enemy. Or, perhaps more accurately, are housing it within our selves. Though, it doesn’t come looking for us in shooter planes or via hand grenades; it presents, instead, quite casually, as a high temperature and a new, continuous cough.

I seem to be on a journey (gotta love a spiritual journey) of many different stages in my relationship to and understanding of the coronavirus, sometimes on a daily-changing basis. Incredulousness, peacefulness, confusion, clarity and inquisitiveness all feature heavily. The whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and ponderings and political press conferences has rendered life before the outbreak an elusive haze in which I can barely remember how things went. How things worked. How easy everything was. How one could dash. Oh the time when one could dash! Somewhere, anywhere… the destination is neither here nor there, the enviable fleetingness the fond, but now distant, memory. Now one must plan. One must take plastic gloves. One must ensure that one’s business is essential and less than an hour in duration. And one must NOT FORGET THE BLOODY EGGS.

Sure, there are a lot of inconveniences to life as we now know it. Not to mention the stress of having to re-imagine your WFH routine now that your other half is too working from the kitchen table. But I have also discovered a kind of beautiful serenity in this time. And I believe that this is thanks to our individual and collective ability to see more clearly what is truly important, without all of the distractions and deliberations and, dare I say, dashing of pre-isolation life. I mean, is it simply a coincidence that perfect sight is referred to as twenty-twenty vision?

Not that I wish to undermine or diminish the distress and trouble caused to many as a direct result of this situation. I have friends on the front line and pregnant siblings scared shitless for their safety. I have furloughed friends who are struggling without any sort of routine. I have parents and other self-isolating relatives whose only contact with other people is through screens or windows or the reflection in the glass of the microwave door. And I have a dodgy, dongle-based Wi-Fi connection making the weekly virtual pub quiz a trifle bit infuriating. But out of adversity, if we are to believe a certain Mr Benjamin Franklin, comes opportunity.

Without a regimented and incessantly documented 37.5-hour routine thrust upon us each and every week, we are able to envision and experiment with our own take on day-to-day life. The fact that this concept seems – to probably the majority of the western world – a far-fetched fantasy is, to me at least, absolutely terrifying. When did we become so conditioned to the nine-to-five that not doing it was unquestionable? Who even came up with this eight-hour satanic ideal? (Apparently it started with the Industrial Revolution and became widespread in the 1920s following the lead of Henry Ford, which, though at the time was a reduction in hours, was underpinned by the logic of more free time equals more spending equals more profit for Henry Ford. Gah.)

Imagine waking up without the dependence on an alarm, or indeed the need for an alarm to wake up at a reasonable hour, because the lack of sleep accumulated due to the use of an alarm has vanished with the dissipation of Dolly Parton’s classic. Are you still with me? It just strikes me that – if you are lucky enough not to be suffering from the virus, or tending to those who are – we now have a golden opportunity to re-write our scripts. To – shock horror – plan our own days. Make our own routines. Look for what’s really important, and simply tend to that. For me, it boils down to happiness. And my search is at all systems go.

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