What do you write when you can’t think?
We’ve been in quarantine since my wife and son got back on the last flight from England. The borders have since closed, curfew has been declared, we live off rice and tinned fish and pray for a vegetable delivery. For me, life is basically the same.
On a normal day, I hide from my children behind a bookshelf and write. I come out for meals. I rarely leave the house unless someone makes me, and I don’t miss it now that it’s gone. This month I’ll earn more money than ever, and yet I’ve stopped. There is so much to write about that I just can’t.
It’s not that I have writer’s block. I have reader’s flood.
Refresh and be exhausted
The lure of the unopened tab. The promise of the unrefreshed feed. It’s a siren’s call, except you never go down. You just keep spiraling.
I check Twitter in the morning, I read the news while with my kids. Worst of all, I do it when I’m supposed to be writing, looking for ‘inspiration’. Before there was a natural end to it, I’d run out of things to read, but now it’s endless. It’s like flipping through a hundred channels on TV. Once you reach the end, it makes sense to start again.
By the time you read something, something else has happened. By the time you write, everything has changed. I don’t even know where to start, so I never begin.
I just open the tab. I refresh the feed. I’m exhausted.
The anxiety before the storm
Anxiety is not good for writing. Anxiety is not knowing something, it’s that constant searching, scanning, scrolling for an answer or some relief. I don’t even know what to call this feeling. Is it anxiety, or is it grief?
Every day feels like the calm before the storm, and I keep looking out the window for clouds. And every day they get closer.
This thing was so far away, it was academic, it was in China. Then it was in Europe, then — in a blink — it was here. It’s like that moment when you’re at the top of a roller coaster but it hasn’t started to fall yet. I hate that moment. I used to just look at my feet. In all the souvenir photos it was just the top of my head.
To know anything is to be worried, to be anxious. But how do you communicate that? My mind is going in a million different directions. How do I make it go in a line?
What goes here I don’t know
What do I even write here? Where does this go? The only comfort I have is that perhaps you feel like me. The news has gone from something that happens to other people to something that happens to us. Though our borders are closed, we are closer in experience than ever. The wave comes for us at different times, but we’re all bobbing in the same flood soon enough.
The other people in quarantine
Then, of course, there are the other people in quarantine. My family. While we’re physically distant from the rest of the world, we’re effectively one petri dish at home.
Our children are toddlers and, while they understand coronavirus better than the US President, they still don’t understand much. They just know that their routines have changed, that they cannot touch their grandparents, and they hear everything we say. So they’re crankier. More difficult. Or maybe that’s just me.
Whatever it is, I’m not used to it. The result of physical distancing is that the solitary and homebound are suddenly surrounded.
Is this an article? Does it say anything? I don’t know. I just want to publish something and get it out. Sometimes I can distill feelings but I don’t think I’ve done that here. I don’t even know what my feelings are. I read all day but absorb nothing. I think all the time and conclude naught. I go through countless feelings and end up numb.
So, the end. I still have writer’s block but this is an adequate word count and I’m done. I’m finally going to open another tab and spin out for a bit. It always feels like it’s going to end somewhere, but it never does. Life on the other end of an exponential curve doesn’t feel like going up. It just feels like falling down, falling such a great distance that it doesn’t feel like you’re moving at all.