It is almost one whole year since the pandemic started to take hold worldwide, and since we entered our first lockdown. How the world has changed since those early days! I wrote a tweet about it a few days back: ‘does anyone remember how strange it felt the first time you went out wearing a mask?’ – Now it’s second nature. Hiding behind masks. Hiding behind walls. Locked down and locked in with my writing. In some ways, it’s the perfect set-up for someone who enjoys writing and is not altogether comfortable in social situations. Perhaps this is a little dangerous for people like me…
The biggest frustration of lockdown for me has been the restrictions on travel. I’m never happy staying in one place for too long, though the restrictions are teaching me much about being grateful for the moment, and the place in which I live. More time for meditation, reflections (such as these) and more one-on-one time with my family. This is all great. But perhaps it is sometimes a little too great.
Right now, I don’t have to have much contact with the outside world: I dress how I want, I write when I want, I don’t have to interact with anyone I don’t want to. That’s all well and good, but it’s not real life, is it? I’ve had social anxiety issues my whole life: my worst nightmare would be to be dropped into a party full of people I don’t know, and then to have to mingle and make small talk. These are the basic life skills that many people take for granted, but for others such as me they just don’t come naturally.
I used to drink to ‘make myself more sociable.’ Anyone who’s had experience of this knows the law of diminishing returns: it works fine for the first 2-3 drinks, then follows the descent into blithering idiocy. I stopped drinking 18 months ago, and this, combined with working in an office, was helping to boost my social skills: I no longer needed alcohol as a crutch; I was being myself and I was ok with that; and most people I knew were ok with that too. Anyone who wasn’t ok with that didn’t matter. I was making progress.
Then the lockdown happened.
I doubt I’m the only writer with reclusive tendencies. After all, it’s impossible to write in a social situation: writers need solitude in which to do their work. But always being isolated is not good for anyone, especially writers: how can we write about a world we do not experience?
The other day I was introduced to some of my husband’s friends and I just clammed up: I felt this panic and it was horrible because I felt like all my progress to becoming a more sociable human being had been lost. Once the opportunity arises to socialise, I must take it, however hard it might be initially. Or else I might become like the subject of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 1:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
It’s quoted out of context (Shakespeare was talking about the need to pass on our best qualities to our children) but I think it also applies to the practice of writing: ‘self-substantial fuel’ can only burn for so long. So, as I prepare for the children’s return to school, I also prepare for my own return to ‘the real world…’
Wish me luck!