This week, here in Belfast, the Lockdown regulations began to lift a little. We’re now allowed to meet a few friends as long as we remain outdoors and keep a safe distance. Some businesses are beginning to re-open and there’s every possibility I might soon be drinking a coffee I didn’t prepare myself for the first time in almost three months. After so much time spent on my own, inside, I have to admit that the possibility of all this newfound freedom feels a little overwhelming. It’s not just the safety aspect that’s concerning me, though I’m sure we’re all a little anxious about being in close proximity to people again. I’m more unsettled by the prospect of breaking my new routine. I’d just begun to get used to this strange schedule - ordering my day around reading, writing, exercise and rest - now everything’s transitioning back into another version of the new normal. I’m not sure how well I’m coping with this.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Timequake, the world temporarily malfunctions and skips ten years back. All Earth’s citizens find themselves condemned to repeat the previous decade, automatically making the same mistakes and experiencing identical experiences all over again. After some initial anxiety, the world quickly becomes used to the timequake. The problems only really begin when the repeated decade ends and freewill kicks in. The citizens of Earth have become so used to the new regime, they can no longer cope with autonomous thought and action. Vonnegut’s point is a timely one, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot these last few weeks. It’s amazing how quickly we can become used to almost anything. It took me less than two weeks to feel almost comfortable with this strange, restricted way of living. I shouldn’t be anxious about a return to some semblance of normalcy. But in a way, I am.
The future is such an unknown element right now, there’s a certain degree of anxiety attached to contemplating anything further away than tomorrow morning. However, if I’m honest, most of my fear isn’t concerned with what I’m about to experience, it’s more focused on what I’m about to lose. I’ve been writing seriously for fifteen years and I can honestly say I’ve never once had three, almost, uninterrupted months in which to focus upon my work. There’s always been a job to consider or a project pressing or a degree to complete. I wouldn’t want to repeat the last three months - they’ve been incredibly stressful and oftentimes upsetting - but they’ve also been one of the most creative periods of my adult life. In some ways I found it liberating to be forced to rest, to stay home and step out of my frantic work schedule. It was as if was being given a license to focus on my writing for a few months. The idea of transitioning back into a world where I’ll be juggling work, travel, social and caring commitments is a little daunting. I’m not sure if I’m ready to come out of hibernation yet.