Or, planning for an unknowable future
If you’re anything like me, right now your concentration is shot to pieces. It’s OK to admit that. Psychologically, we’re under great strain – individually, as households, and collectively. We’ve been under this particular strain for weeks now, and there’s no way of knowing when things will change for the better. None of this is OK. And I write all this from the privileged position of, currently, not having been ill myself, nor having lost loved ones.
I have times when I stop and give in to this psychological weight – because what else can I do? It’s OK to want to be still, and quiet, and inactive. But equally, because by nature I’m a planner and a schemer and, above all, a person who can’t abide not enacting those plans and schemes, I have times when I need to be thinking about what I’m going to do to cope. What I’m going to do to fix things. My business is currently not OK. Work has already slowed, and my income looks certain to drop in the short to medium term, perhaps significantly. To some extent I must plan for this outcome and accept it. Be grateful that for now I can afford to eat and house myself, and hunker down. And yet. It is also against my instincts to simply accept. I don’t want to drive myself mad, because so much of this situation is beyond my control. But I also do need, for my own sanity, to find small shoots of hope for my livelihood, and nurture them. I don’t know what’s going to happen – nobody does – but I don’t believe, either, that things will simply snap back to ‘normal’ in a couple of months. The concept of a world unlike the one I’ve always known is one I can contemplate out of the corner of my eye only, for now. But it’s there in my field of vision, and I’m beginning to have the urge to confront it.
In the last few days, I read an excellent article by Lisa Cordaro, which has been widely shared in the freelance editorial community, and no doubt far beyond. As Lisa commented on Twitter, ‘Functioning under Covid-19 is tough enough without piling extra pressure on yourself to achieve.’ I wholeheartedly concur with this. It’s OK to say we can’t do more. Now’s not the time to be feeling we must be on top of our game – reinventing ourselves, skilling up, diversifying. It’s really not the time to be beating ourselves up for perceived passivity or underachievement. It’s enough just to get up if you can, do the minimum that needs to be done, be kind to yourself and others, and leave it at that.
I have bad days and better days, and all the people I live with do too. On the bad days, when nothing is OK, it is a case of getting through one hour at a time, trying to eat sensibly, resting enough, taking the kids for a run on the Green (our garden is tiny), rationing the news, and going to bed early. But on the better days, I do have flashes and spurts of hope and motivation. Ideas, even, for what I might do when things ease, in whatever form that takes. I’ve started emailing them to myself so that when my mental momentum does build, even if only a little, maybe I can start acting on them.
What I’m trying to say is, there is not necessarily a dichotomy here. It’s OK, and none of this is OK, alternating thousands of times over and over in the weird new spaces between sleeps. We need not divide ourselves into the binary camps of those who are utterly pummelled by this, and those who would treat the whole thing like some kind of motivational challenge. We can visit both camps, and pitch our own tent somewhere in between, and still long to just go off and hide out in the woods, forever. Yes, we can and should resist any pressure to be thriving in the face of such massive adversity, especially as so many are left in harm’s way. But we can also allow ourselves to look beyond. Right after reading and sharing Lisa’s article, I also read and shared this, by Suzanne Moore, in which she asserts that our previous way of life is redundant, and we will need to reinvent ourselves. Most days, most minutes, I can’t summon the energy to contemplate reinvention. But some days, for a few minutes, I can summon the energy to imagine a time when I might. If we’re lucky, there will be life beyond; we don’t know what it will be like. Acknowledging that that’s a tiring thought is also OK.
Right now, I’m finding ways of harvesting little glints of optimism. Saving them for later. And I’m working, while I have work to do, in shorter bursts than usual – ten or fifteen minutes at a time, instead of thirty. Not only is my concentration shot, there are children to contend with. But at least, for the first time in a long time, I’m comfortable with relinquishing a sense of culpability or responsibility. None of this is OK, but none of this is my fault. I couldn’t have planned for this, or mitigated against it. None of us could. And that’s OK.
Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She’s still here.