Diary of a Booker Winner (in waiting) – 9



Social Distancing

Virtual Imprisonment – (if you like a slice of melodrama with your hyperbole. I mean, we are only being allowed out once a day for exercise).

I don’t know if this is common to many writers but in better days isolation has often been something I’ve fantasised about. Belief along the lines of if I had the time and no distraction then I’d definitely have the discipline.  Maybe writers have always been or sought to be isolated social distancers. Maybe the impositions of the current day should be seen as an opportunity not an imposition?  

Sadly no.

This is not the case.

Fantasy and reality are often very different things. And we should always be careful what we wish for. These are dark days. Days of concern. Days too precarious to be welcomed or embraced. Desperate days.  

These are different days. And with every new normal comes a new set of paradigms. For example, we no longer have sport to distract or to give shape to the week. I was reminded today of Morrissey’s tune declaring Every Day is Like Sunday.  Lyrics with new resonance. How many of us have already begun to lose track of the days? So many of our routines now suddenly ended or exposed as fragile fabric falsely presumed to provide permanence.

Maybe there are no excuses for some choices however. We still have some autonomy. There are choices I’ve made this week that could have been wiser. Netflix still has a firm grip and the upper hand (a new season of Ozark has been released as well as a weekly Better Call Saul). I praise and curse that company in equal measure.

(I definitely did not need to re-watch the first 8 seasons of Trailer Park Boys.)

But similarly, these are days when we definitely don’t need to add to stress with too large a dose of self-loathing. Let’s be kind to ourselves and not judge too harshly – let’s write a list of our successes.

Here’s my writing related achievements this past week:

I finished reading My Name is Lucy Barton (an interesting and subtle style which I liked – a kind of somewhat-show but definitely don’t tell and hence let the reader expand the text much further with their own imagining).

I also began reading The Essex Serpent (it’s too early on to give an opinion on that one).

And I did have a flick-through The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms where I happened upon a page where there was explanation offered re the differences between pornography and literary erotica. I smiled at their suggestion that “pornographic writing tends to be narrowly functional and often physiologically improbable.”

I also discovered upon further flick-through that a poetaster was “a writer of verse who does not deserve to be called a poet, despite his or her pretensions; an inferior poet lacking in ability.”

That seemed a bit harsh.

Whereas a poete maudit sounded much more honourable – “a French phrase for an ‘accursed’ poet, usually a brilliant but self-destructive writer misunderstood by an indifferent society.”

It was arguably unfocused writing related activity but it gave me some respite from hypnotically watching the news and wondering if Sir Dyson could indeed succeed in designing new ventilators and saving the day. Or worrying about the whole world scrabbling (and probably behind the scenes squabbling) for the cruelly limited supplies of WHO approved PPE and efficacious testing kits.

And now I’m wondering if it’s a far better use of focus to remember that necessity is the mother of invention and that a side effect of any war is that it can set imagination free – in the desperate search for solutions come extraordinary flashes of inspiration. People step up and show great resourcefulness, selflessness and bravery.

There’s hope.

And always a place for optimism.

H. B. O'Neill

H. B. O’Neill is a London born writer inspired by the City and its myriad opportunity for comedy, pain, drama and adventure. He is a prize-winning poet and short story writer, a screenwriter, playwright and author. His much-anticipated novel According to Mark is due to be published soon.

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