A Moment to Reflect

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

I had not planned to resurrect this blog in this way, but then one could argue that the government hadn’t planned for this situation either.

And I am no Daniel Defoe nor Samuel Pepys documenting the plague, nor Pliny the Elder looking out on Mount Vesuvius.

Historians say that we may be living through a period that future students will divide into before C-virus and after C-virus, but the beauty of history is hindsight, and we do not have that yet. Only this morning, I was speaking to my Year 6 students about reading a text set in the Second World War. The vantage point of the reader of course, is that they know the ending of the war. The protagonist is living through the period, and although writers writing about it now can take advantage of their own hindsight, and build in clever insights for their unknowing protagonist, for a writer living through it, such as Anne Frank, the book becomes even more poignant.

One thing that has diminished for me already, (hopefully temporarily), is focus. My normal writing day would be to throw myself into my current text, either as editor or as writer. The days at the moment are a conundrum of news bulletins, cancellation emails, school contingency planning and a spouse (with loud conference calls) working from home. Not to mention the anxiety spiralling from an utterly uncertain future, and concern for elderly relatives. For a writer, whose work is an immersive act of imagination, this new situation will warrant some adaptation. For a publisher, looking at a novel that may be published in two years hence, they may wonder what will be the new normal – what will people want to read post C-virus?

It is particularly apt/ironic/spooky that this virus is forcing certain obligations upon us. In a time when so many are worried about climate change and the lack of action by political leaders, the sudden grounding of aeroplanes and reduction in air pollution may feel like an extraordinary answer to the saying ‘be careful what you wish for.’ And at a time when we were so worried about the isolating effects of social media, the forced social distancing and isolation we have to endure may seem even more ironic.

More ironic still is that this ‘isolating’ technology will actually be the only way to bring us together during the crisis. Although the dangers of its surveillance and data-mining are not going away.

We must also embrace other pursuits we may have let dwindle. With less traffic outside, when we open the window, we are more likely to hear the birds singing. Our government have warned us to social distance, but outdoor exercise is encouraged. I can see the daffodils blooming, the grass looking greener, and the magnolia budding next door. As I type, a bee is banging against the window and the plants shiver in the breeze.

There is also room now for boredom. Or for thinking, for creativity. Whereas before C-virus, time was pushed to rush here, or rush there, to see this and that, now is the time to slow down. Newton made a start on his theories of gravity, calculus, and optics during his plague isolation period. Shakespeare wrote King Lear during his. I would argue that neither had three children home from school and a husband to feed (and so, no, my masterpiece will probably not come during this time), but it is surely a time of reflection for us all.

And then of course there’s that other great pursuit: reading. Why do you think Lauren Laverne asks guests on Desert Island Discs which book they’d like to take? There is a reason that libraries in prison are mandatory.

Reading reduces stress (proven by our esteemed scientists). In enforced isolation, perhaps we can all embrace the books. I hope to share with you lists of children’s dystopian fiction, current reads, and more over the next few weeks, but here are some ideas to keep you stress free during the weeks at home.

Install a schedule of quiet reading time for the whole family. Twenty to thirty minutes a day (instead of the normal commute/school run), in which each member of the family sits and reads for pleasure. No newspaper, social media or other doom-mongering. Choose an escapist novel, a fascinating non-fiction narrative, that classic you’ve been meaning to read. Everyone in the family takes part.

Then also, later in the day perhaps, read aloud. Choose a family book – something that will appeal to everyone. Each family member gathers to listen. Have a designated reader, or take turns. This reading will gift your your own family book club – you can talk about it over the many meals you’ll be forced to take together. 

Reading is good for the soul and the mind. Because in amongst all of this – there has to be some good.