‘Great’, said the people, ‘shielding is terrible but at least you’ll be sealed in. you’ll be really able to ‘get stuff done’, you’ll be the shutterstock photo of productivity, scribbling away, steaming cup of coffee – no, turmeric tea – to hand. You’ll be wearing glasses, even!’
‘I don’t wear glasses.’
‘No, but in the photo you are,’ said the people, and by people I mean the idealistic voice in my head.
‘But I have a 5 year old to look after’
‘That’ll be great, too!’ said the people. ‘He’ll be acquainting himself with nature, independently making dens in the garden, exploring twigs. You’ll come together for meditation and a wholemeal muffin and he’ll put himself to bed. In the meantime – you’ll finish all the ideas floating around in your head and start new ones – podcasts, plays, poems, prose – you’ll generate all the pees!’
Need I point out that the idealistic part of my mind was inaccurate in their prediction? I feel little sense of failure – more a battered pride, like a defeated rugby player, as I write this down before you. I did write some monologues and did a couple of fantastic workshops (more later). We did a little bit of home learning most days and on some days we only watched one film, which has become the seal of academic excellence in our house. My son has returned to school thinking that dollars are our national unit of currency from the amount of America he has imbibed, but that will be lost over time.
Childcare aside, I cannot avoid the image of the blank page which has loomed large during lockdown life. The blank white page is what writers have in common (along with crushing self doubt). And of course, the people (the idealistic voice) thinks that a blank white page is a brilliant bedsheet to doodle, to scrawl, to play on.
Now that my son is back at school, there is finally space to contemplate the blank white page – but there is nothing to fill it with. And now, when I need them most, the people are quiet, watchful, aware of the buzzing and droning of a million tiny other voices gaining momentum on my feeling of potential and positivity, ready to cut it off at the the legs. I walk away, think, and by think I mean watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for a bit.
Problem is that there’s been no stimulus for the LONGEST TIME. As a shielder, I’ve missed tuning into the overheard dialogue of the outside world; the initimate breathless chat of 2 joggers, the abrupt tone of an old man on a mobile phone that he doesn’t trust, the odd triangulated conversation outside the Pound Bakery. Not the stuff that’s already been turned into a line for an actor to say but the raw stuff, the fucking ridiculous things we say, I say, every day. I miss human contact as well of course – I’m not a psychopath – but I really miss the source material provided by being outside.
As one door closes, another one etc etc. I’ve been fortunate to have regular work coming in and I’ve taken proper advantage of the online goodies offered by great writers in the form of online workshops. A session with Jenn Ashworth organised by Arvon reminded me that, yes, now is weird, and yes, lowering one’s own expectations is also good. Also, as a substitute to those snatches of overheard dialogue, go on to messageboards for inspiration. Replace your ears with your eyes and trawl Reddit or Mumsnet for character ideas. You’ll miss the nuances of accent and emphasis, but you’ll have a pool of anecdotal inspiration as big as the universe.
From Anna Jordan’s fantastic workshop with Without a Paddle Theatre, I’ve thought about being a bit less precious about the blank page. It doesn’t have to be neat, it’s not a Personal Record of Achievement (Remember those, anyone?). It’s a living document, so fill it with notes, lists, automatic writing. It doesn’t have to be a script. As soon as you make a mark on it, you’ve made a mark.
And from a Q and A session with Simon Stephens, hosted by Up ‘Ere productions, I learnt a most reassuring thing. Writing is not just sitting at a desk, being the shutterstock photo. Writing is also thinking, walking around, reading, watching films that are relevant to my WIP or made by a creator that I admire or want to learn about. So even though my life over the past 4 months has been smaller and more compressed in scope, it has not been empty. that being said, I don’t think I can justify watching Minions as part of my research process.