by Catherine Murphy
Last Thursday, the Oldham Writing Group had its first online meeting. After some initial technical issues and a delayed start so that we could go outside and clap for the NHS, eight of us logged onto Zoom. Bonnie’s face was startlingly large, Jacqui was clothed in mysterious gloom, Wendy spoke from behind a black square. We managed to master the tech and talked for over an hour before we ran out of steam. The group discussed the impact of these strange times on our writing and earnings. I’m not an earner (yet!) but have found my attitudes to living and writing much changed over the past few weeks.
I dream more and pay my dreams more attention. Images, art and music mesmerise me. I ponder on poetry and see connections everywhere. Now that I’m not physically in an office surrounded by people, I’ve slowed down my thinking, taking time to investigate and shape ideas and opinions rather than being expected to be verbose and insightful on demand. I’ve established stronger contact with my thoughts and feelings.
This morning, I woke up with these lines in my head:
Far, and somewhere more
Here, and sometimes sure
I have no idea what those lines mean but they feel true and have struck a note inside that I feel I have to explore and interpret. I feel like I’m slowly waking up.
What resonates with me now isn’t what resonated a few weeks ago. I turn off the TV and go outside into the garden to sow seeds, smell the earth or listen to the birds. I recall thoughts and ideas from books I haven’t read in years and dig them out to revisit and rethink. I’ve picked up A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, and A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. They’re helping me repurpose my attitudes to space and writing.
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.
My usual ‘Room of my Own’ has turned into a home office where I spend most of my waking hours working on a laptop, so it’s no longer the sanctuary it once was. That threw me for a while. I couldn’t bear being in there a second longer than necessary or having to hunch over yet another laptop at the end of the working day. I stopped writing, but Hemingway wrote anywhere, and he did it with the tools he had to hand.
“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
The whole of my house equates to Heminway’s ‘Paris’. I have a jar of pencils and a notebook and have taken to writing in whatever nook or on what garden bench I fancy. It doesn’t really matter where I am, the scratch of graphite on paper is what transports me into Woolf’s ‘Room’ and shuts the door. I’ve picked up the plot of the ghost story I was writing and begun scribbling again. But has it changed?
I’ve not said the ‘C’ word once in this blog, but you know it’s there – that deep rumble from under our feet fuelled by the daily death count. It says the same thing to each of us, but we interpret and react to it in different ways. Some people defy government advice and host BBQs; some hunker down with hoards of stockpiled dry goods like survivalists; others take to social media or work or their families or baking or exercise or their pets. As writers, we’re writing about it whether we intend to or not. How can we not? Even if our work in progress doesn’t relate directly to the pandemic, who we are and how we view the world has changed so our writing must too. The words we select, the ideas we dream into chapters or verses, the plot points we find important will all contain a hint of this time, because that’s where we are and that’s what we do. We draw on our experience and we translate.
It’ll be interesting to see how these weekly blogs reflect our reactions to the impact of COVID-19. Each member of the group will take a turn at writing one. It’ll also be fascinating in the future to look back on the work we produce during this period to see whether we can detect where the virus has touched our work.
The next Zoom meeting is on Thursday 23 April at 7pm. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow us on Twitter at @WritingOldham for latest updates.