When lockdown was announced in March, my usual rituals came to a halt. No dancing, no gym, no social gatherings…It was just me, members of my household (also includes the cat) and access to the internet. As I was browsing through my feed in social media, one post caught my attention. The team behind a book event I attended just weeks before and thoroughly enjoyed, the London Writers’ Salon, were opening a virtual space at 8am for writers to write in community and work on their projects for an hour in silence. I had nothing to lose as I would be awake anyway but not quite ready to start work. So I signed up for the Writers’ Hour and turned up on the second or third day. My life has not been the same since. It’s now September and the 8-9am BST slot is still a sacred time of the weekday for me. I sit down and write – the good and the bad – and the day brightens up.
This is a common experience I share with so many faces over a video conferencing platform. I leave my camera on and will curiously peruse into their realities: impressive bookcases, frames on walls, maps on walls, florescent notes on walls (!), potted plants, brews on standby, scratching heads, stroking chins (own or that of a beloved pet), the odd passer-by in their household who breaks the uniformity of focused writers in front of their screens, writing by hand, typing, and head bobbing to music; indoor spaces (sofas, bedrooms, offices, kitchen tables and coffee places) or outdoor spaces (in the garden, in a car, on a houseboat, on a ferry, up a hill and up a tree). If anything, writers are creative with their choice of meditative contemplation on how they observe the world.
What started as a means to try and find some structure in uncertain times, has turned to be the re-discovery of a missing jigsaw piece, that bit of the puzzle that fell in between the gaps of cushions of a cosy armchair, alongside the TV remote, loose coins and some biscuit crumbs. Even more than that, I had finally given myself permission to do what I always wanted but never felt brave or talented enough: to simply write. Although I started this blog as a way to encourage myself to actively write and post, the London Writers’ Salon has been the turning point for me. I am learning to explore more forms, trying my hand at this and that, listening to, and feeling encouraged and inspired by other writers.
Writing is a muscle I am learning to use. I am getting used to its aches, ebbs and flows of inspiration, overcoming the fears of publishing the next piece with that voice that says, “If you write a blog post that’s not as good, they will find out you are a fraud. You might as well give it up now”. That voice of self-doubt is perhaps the worst because it comes from the same place where words just want to burst out and paint the page with colours. That voice that talks down at you and clouds your bluest sky days. That same place that also cheers you on when you press the publish button and share your work with the world. A place of juxtaposition, where both disquietude and wonderment reside in the same creative soul. The simplest, and yet the hardest, thing to do and be – to write and to be a writer.
There has been another spellworking upshot from joining the LWS. Like any other writer, I really enjoy reading. That is, I used to really enjoy reading but after years of feeling nearly burned out, I no longer possessed the ability to read a book from start to finish, to devour them. The thing that gave me so much joy was also giving me so much heartache. I’d even put books in boxes and stored them away, even those books that shaped and named my anger and passions. It’s true, I boxed up the Brontë sisters, Austen, Atwood, Pessoa, and even Kafka (my literary twin, as we share the same birthday). Not quite able to fully give it up, I would on occasion step into a bookshop, as I would into a church, for quiet contemplation and admiration for orderly structure (I have an aunt who says that every time you enter a new church, you get to ask for three wishes – I wondered if the same could apply to bookshops?). Despite my Catholic upbringing, I no longer attend mass but I can appreciate the spiritual significance and uplifting sensation that comes with it. The amount of faith that is deposited in one such place can move us whether we’re believers or not. I do that with bookshops. I am spiritually moved by them. I can worship them again by getting books. Lots of books!
That feeling of finding comfort in words has slowly returned. I am reading again. I am curious again. I am learning to be brave. I am naming each emotion as they pass through my mind and body. I am expanding my vocabulary. I want to know the name of each thing, each hue, tint, tone and shade, each living being…I want to name the tree whose sound of quavering leaves I have grown to love during my walks to the park (it turns out to be poplar trees). I am naming each fear, each thrill, each joy. Nameless things can be scary so they need to be named; naming scary things is empowering. Ingested, metabolised and secreted – out it goes! We create myths, fairy tales….We are storytellers for that reason. Words are powerful. Words move, words stir, words can cause earthquakes in your soul. Stories matter. Our stories matter, especially.
As a procrastinator, I take time to write. It has taken me ten years to sit down and write again. So, yes, I am a very successful procrastinator! But somehow knowing that someone else is watching me write, just as I am watching them write, seems to work. I beat my streak with this collective of creatives and I shall forever be grateful. Without the warmth of tango embraces to ease the uneasiness of current events – as well as failed promises to fully de-clutter, or to cook more – I found myself joining a great writing group. Little did I know that a fortuitous book event in February would ultimately shape my experience of lockdown and reawaken a dream of old. I discovered a new outlet for my creativity AND a new tribe to boot!
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.
“Time is up. What happened out there?” At the end of the hour, the snug bubble we were in is burst and we are back from the wilderness into our own space, having caught those thoughts in butterfly nets, crystallising them and letting them dance on the page for they know where to land. Trust the words as much as they trust you. Dance if needed. Let it happen out there, in the wilderness of your thoughts. Do it alone or do it with company. Whatever you do, just write. I am now. And I am not alone…