I should be in Montréal right now. I planned my next research trip over the winter. I booked my flight in January and reserved a room at a centre for female refugees and recent immigrants, where I would be conducting interviews this week. But like everyone else, my life went on pause in March.
I have postponed my trip until next May. A whole year of waiting, and there isn't any guarantee that next May will be better. Yet I am hopeful that the situation will improve, especially in Montréal, which has been gravely impacted by this virus. I search for updates on the city frequently and take notes about how COVID-19 is affecting the city's inhabitants, especially those in the NDG neighbourhood, where my next book is set in the present day.
On the surface, it seems like now is a great time to write the next draft of my novel. With no social obligations, we are extolled to develop our creativity and make lemonade out of lemons. Our goal should be to rise from the ashes of self-isolation with a new skill, invention or creation. Social media oozes with proof that people are putting their newfound free time to good use. And maybe some people are. For the majority of us, however, the past two months have been emotionally draining. Just getting through the week takes every bit of energy we can muster.
It is hard to tap into your creativity when you are tapped out. When you are emotionally wrought, just the thought of staring at a blank screen adds to the anxiety. Writing fiction is an emotional task. I feel what my characters feel. I have to live the experience with them, to get inside it. Perhaps this is why I prefer to write first thing in the morning, before I talk to anyone, read an email or even turn on my devices. I arrive at my desk, a clean slate emotionally. Fresh from a restful sleep, I am able to transport myself into my fictional world.
These days, I am bombarded with thoughts and feelings within seconds of waking. The emotional baggage of COVID-19 is like wearing shackles. The second you move, you are reminded that they are weighing you down.
Life has changed. My aunt died in a long-term care home recently. Alone. In spite of the fact that her children and any number of relatives were only a few kilometres away, aching to see her and say their goodbyes. We cannot grieve together as a family. We cannot comfort each other, except through phone calls and video chats.
We are learning, each day, how to cope with our new reality. Some days, I accept that which I cannot change. Other days, I struggle with the unfairness. Most days, I rise and fall then get back up again. Occasionally, I am able to write, but I am forgiving of myself on those days when I want to but come up empty-handed.
Kindness and compassion are our saving graces in this pandemic. We can lighten the load on family and friends through small acts of kindness and compassion, and we mustn't forget to show the same courtesy to ourselves. We won't all learn a new language, create a masterpiece or become a five-star chef during our confinement. That is okay. In fact, it is unreasonable to expect that anyone would or should achieve greatness under these circumstances. Let's celebrate the small successes (I finally updated my blog!) and stop clutching onto the to-do lists.
A writer's journey