I am one of the lucky ones, I know. I am a freelance writer by day and a freelance writer by night (those are just the hours). I have workaholic tendencies and so, to prevent myself from burnout, a few years ago I started volunteering a day or so a week at schools. It got me out of the house, it broke up my work week and I met and volunteered alongside some people I consider my colleagues and friends.
Then COVID-19 happened. It didn’t happen to me so much as happen around me. The volunteers were recalled and I found myself back home working seven days a week, pulling all-nighters to get commissions in by deadline.
It’s not that I work long days. I spend an unquantifiable amount of time on Twitter reading every take and link about COVID-19 and then another unquantifiable amount of time reading anything that’s not about COVID-19. I watch Tom Holland perform ‘Umbrella’ three times every time it comes on my feed. I estimate I have spent as much time on Facebook (which I loathe) in the last month than I have since I joined. I answer every email and WhatsApp message straight away. I spend way too long comparing delivery deals on fruit and vegetable boxes.
In between, I work. My three main clients are still active. One is a PR agency whose business has swung all different directions in the past few weeks. Some of its clients have pulled their PR whereas others seem to be in the right place at the right time. Another is a not-for-profit peak body in an essential sector that commissions me to interview and write about its affected members. A third is an institution which – bizarrely – still wants me to write website copy about its gym facilities even though it is closed for the foreseeable future. The marketing budget has already been allocated, it seems. I say ‘yes’ because I’m afraid of what I’ll lose if I say ‘no’.
Here I am with a steady income, watching all my freelance peers and colleagues in the arts sector lose their livelihoods in a matter of days and I’m scared? For the month of 17 March to 17 April, the top expenditure on my credit card is charities and causes. It is survivor guilt as much as it is solidarity.
While everyone is revelling in extra ‘reading time’, I’ve not picked up a book in a month because the main catalyst for my reading is commuting.
When we do our fortnightly grocery run I want the comfort of the familiar but our favourite items are all sold out. We try new products, different brands, with some chagrin.
I have never cooked so frequently. I have never resented it so much.
I have never listened to so much new music, tuning into FBi Radio more frequently just to hear something of the outside world. But I have never craved repeating an album over and over so much as now. On high rotation: Six the Musical, Hamilton the Musical, Fiona Apple’s ‘Fetch the Boltcutters’.
I have never needed my herb garden more than now. That patch has never been so bare.
And, as much as possible, I work. For sitting at my desk alone and quiet in the middle of the night is the only thing that makes me feel normal these days.