200 days of solitude

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Yesterday marked the 200th day of lockdowns in Melbourne since the beginning of the pandemic. The solitude of lockdown has a rhythm, and despite the shrinking of our worlds to 5km life goes on. It is surprising how much still happens.

I wake at 5am to a dark silence interrupted only by the occasional sound of snoring from the great yellow hound languishing on my bed. 

I suppose I will have to make the coffee again, I think. Sometimes I say it out loud and wonder how I might teach the dog to do the task. Though, I suspect even if Harper knew how, I would still be the morning barista as I would lose patience with her indolence before she with mine.

I make coffee and breakfast. Chicken and vegetables for the dog, muesli, yoghurt and an orange or tangelo plucked from my tree the day prior for me. I climb back into bed with my hoard (the dog will have to get up for hers). 

My plan is always to write, but often I become lost in news stories about COVID, vaccines, politics and the destruction of the planet, or find myself falling blindly down some social media rabbit hole. My morbid fascination with all this unpleasantness so early in the morning confounds me. Though perhaps it is not so surprising considering some of my reading as reflected in my book reviews. My father keeps suggesting Thomas Hardy and Jane Austin to cure my macabre tastes in literature.

It is hard to know whether my staccato concentration is a consequence of social media or COVID brain, but I often become frustrated by it and apply additional effort to focus my concentration, congratulating myself for putting pen to paper and bleeding ink across the page (or screen), even if it is only 200 words. This blog generates a rigid moment of writing discipline each week that I am grateful for having imposed on myself, as even in my laziest writing periods this weekly ritual keeps me engaged.

Mornings are the most precious part of my day. They seem to me always to be filled with hope. 

I leave the house with the dog just before dawn. The first kilometre of our morning sojourn traverses a quiet road running up a north-south ridge. To my left I catch glimpses of the sky burning shades of yellow, orange, pink and red from the sun rising behind the mountains to the east. I spy the occasional ringtail possum crouching in a tree as if enjoying the event. To my right, the  blinking lights of Melbourne gradually fade as the sky brightens. I am transported along this enchanted path by the morning chorus as it shifts and swells and rolls with the growing illumination. I am absorbed and in awe of the beauty around me.

Away from the stories of pestilence, conflict and climate change it is easy to find great pleasure and meaning in the small things of life. An emerging flower augers the coming spring, the pure joy on my dog’s face as she wallows in the muddy waters of the Yarra and explores the bushland, the sight of Tawny Frogmouths roosting high up in a eucalypt. The ninety minute walk is a fortifying elixir and the most precious part of my day.

Lockdown life, the new world order

I adapted quickly to the new world order, and confess that other than missing my family and dearest friends, I have been quite content living the homebody arrangement the COVID crisis invited (though I would prefer the lifestyle without the crisis). The biggest challenge during lockdown has been that my writing time has been haphazard. When I physically go to work, the commute provides a perfect window of structured time for writing and instilling a new routine has presented some challenges around work commitments and life chores.

I have been working on my writing, if not my manuscript. You might call it legitimate procrastination activities. Everybody is online now, and there has been a plethora of offerings for writers. Here’s a few I’ve participated in to stay in touch with creativity during lockdown:

  • Sisters In Crime set up a YouTube channel and have been running a regular Murder Mondays discussion with crime writers as well as moving their other offerings online.
  • Yarra Valley Writers Festival is a new event local to me this year that didn’t let a little lockdown hold it back. They went online and presented some terrific session with a range of Australian writers.
  • I have continued to enjoy write club with crime writer extraordinaire Candice Fox on Facebook. While I haven’t taken part in her live Wednesday morning sessions due to work commitments, I have been replaying write club during my free time each week for some inspiration, to hear what she has to say, and do a bit of writing to the sound of Candice tapping away on her computer. I’ve always liked Candice’s writing – big bold characters and a unique Australian voice, and write club has been a lovely way to get to know the person a bit. I’m now quite taken with both the woman and her writing and she’s very generous with her time and knowledge. This week a comment that really resonated was: ‘Sometimes you don’t feel like it…just set yourself up to do it and try, and don’t give yourself a hard time if it doesn’t happen…’ (her advice worked, I wrote this post whilst watching a replay of her write club this week).
The Tempest, Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery
  • I’m a bit of a writing workshop junkie, and have been doing the Australian Writers Centre Crime and Thriller Writing with LA Larkin via Zoom for the last four weeks. AWC has a solid track record of producing excellent writers course and this one has not disappointed. Courses are a great way to keep your brain connected to your creative projects when you are struggling to actually write – particularly when they set homework as this course does.
  • Despite the global COVID tragedy, lockdown has resulted in some terrific creative opportunities for writers, including ones we may not have had access to otherwise. Newcastle Noir went on line this year and I also bought a ticket to Thriller Fest in New York City, which would not have been possible if they were not forced to go online.

As the world slowly reverts back to something more like it was before COVID, I hope that the online writing opportunities continue to some degree, particularly for those we might not get to otherwise.

Main image: Lockdown, Clunes, Victoria