“‘Did you say your friends are going out for dinner and then drinks?’ Dee asked from her cotton cocoon.
‘Yes,’ I glanced at the kitchen clock, ‘they will probably be out by now.’
She was referring to my friends from work who had invited me out tonight. Dee’s soft sadness had kept me here. I felt utterly responsible for her and a world in which she didn’t exist and I didn’t look after her, had fled from my imagination. My polite decline had been met with a grumble; the rumbling of misunderstanding. I hadn’t minded. There would be other times.”
– from Dee, a novel I haven’t worked on in over a year…
I planned to write this two weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about Dee since lockdown was declared and we all admitted it would be safer if we hibernated in Spring this year rather than Winter. Lockdown provides the perfect conditions for Dee – both for the novel and for the mental illness. As yet, neither have really happened; which on one hand is marvellous, on the other, a damning indictment of my productivity. And that is exactly what I wanted to write about: how are we using this time of isolation?
Almost everywhere, in TV adverts (bordering on propaganda), on social media and even in conversations with friends, there is an incessant focus on productivity. On proving our own existence to the outside world which we are no longer allowed to venture into unless we respectfully socially distance.
Imagine a boxing ring. In the red corner we have people posting their to-do lists, reeling off what they have achieved in the day and time-lapsing workout routines. Whilst in the blue corner, we have people criticising the red corner, or inspirational quotes reminding people things take time and it is okay to stay in your PJs all day (after all, this is a pandemic). Then, there are those, much like myself, hovering in the middle. Badly dressed referees just trying to make sense of this muddle. To be or not to be productive? To slack, to grieve, or to churn out every project imaginable?
The truth is, isolation will be different for everyone. Yet, as much as we say this, none of us believe it. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t compare ourselves to loved ones and strangers on the internet. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t berate ourselves constantly about what could have been achieved; what we could have done with our 20/20 hindsight. I guess my point is, or rather my plea is, can’t we just stop trying to find the right answer in a world currently full of loss, separation and bungled plans written by aloof, out of touch politicians?
The above has led me to feel that enjoying isolation is dirty. Something over which we should feel guilt. But I won’t lie, the time away from other people has been delightful. And it isn’t because I could label myself an introvert or shy. It’s because other humans are stressful. It’s because our brains are still that of the humans who thrived on survivalist instinct – our biological functions all stem from this – so as soon as you add in every single thing we’ve invented since then, it’s no wonder we struggle. Lockdown has removed many of these pressures and our immediate response is to plug the gap with the sense that ‘productivity’ is something akin to sticker charts and a trophy shelf. Life has become evidence based (pictures or it didn’t happen). And that in itself, isn’t healthy.
So, here’s to the slackers and the time wasters, the grievers and the slow burners, the quiet and the introverted, the workers finding purpose and the people whose lives have changed very little because they are who society deems as key. It does not matter what you have done in isolation. I have enjoyed the sunshine, the time and the quiet. And hopefully, by the end, I’ll have survived it.