The New Normal

By Bonne Meekums

By the time you read this (from June 1st 2020), people living in England can, unless shielding, meet with up to five other people, provided we socially distance, are in an outdoor space, and if we have to nip in to use the loo wipe everything down afterwards. Yay! Too bad if your family live in Wales or Scotland, and you are just across the border. You’ll have to wait a bit longer.

I have heard many people talk about ‘the new normal’, since lockdown began here in the UK on 23.3.20 – as if it is a thing we can see, and touch, and pull off the supermarket shelf. Yes, I’ll have one of those, thank you. But the new normal is an elusive thing, ever-changing – like the British weather. Although, the strange thing is, that even the good old bad British weather hasn’t been normal, has it? Spring 2020 has been unusually warm and sunny, almost as if there actually is a God up there controlling it all, taking pity on us poor stay-at-homes. 

I didn’t write a word, for several weeks into lockdown; I was too anxious. I had just got to the point where I was beginning the rewrites on my second novel, when I went to New Zealand at the start of this year. Whilst there seeing family, I was also promoting my first novel, A Kind of Family, released the day I landed (7.1.20) by Between the Lines Publishing. My rewrites went on the back burner. I returned mid-February and got part-way through them, but abandoned them once lockdown hit.

It’s only in the past week I have started sleeping anywhere near normal, for me – which is to say, in bursts of two to five hours, get up to go to the loo, go back to sleep for another two to five hours. For about nine weeks, it was a case of: fall asleep immediately due to sheer exhaustion, then sleep for anything from half an hour to an hour, after which, sit bolt upright like a toddler in summer time, ready to join the Wide Awake Club. I did all sorts of things in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep: make a hot drink, answer emails, read a novel, clear stuff out. It was during this time, that my study began to look like somewhere I might actually want to spend some time. I got rid of old bits of paper and cobwebs, with equal zeal.

I am one of those people who has got fitter during lockdown. Once I was over the dreaded virus (or whatever it was I had – at that stage, tests were unavailable to ordinary folk like me), I slowly but surely increased my hill walking distances. It became an obsession. Must. Walk. Every. Day. At first, most people seemed to get the idea of social distancing on the paths near me. People for whom the idea of walking was previously tantamount to torture seemed to discover the joys of tramping along the bridleway. Others got on the bike that had been hiding in their shed or garage, covered up and ignored. Dog owners who previously had let their pooches do their business in the back yard suddenly discovered the mutt provided a great excuse to get out for that all-important one daily exercise. And then there were the runners, often two abreast as the more experienced of the two selflessly set a deliberately contained pace. 

But then, I started to notice that some people, increasing in number daily, seemed to have a death wish. A runner would fly past my shoulder, almost touching me. A cyclist would whizz past, without warning. A couple would steadfastly hold hands, spreading out across the path. My anxiety went through the roof, as I rushed out each morning to beat the crowds, heading for remote moorland. 

When I wasn’t walking, I was overwhelmed by the explosion in online opportunities. Webinars, MOOCs, zoom yoga classes, video chats, streamed concerts. I had a massive attack of FOMO, so I signed up for everything – and missed most of it. 

Eventually, I realised something wasn’t quite right. About a month in, around the time my study began to look like it might actually be a good place to be, I worked out that I didn’t need all these zoom opportunities, and what’s more, much as I love and need to walk in the hills, I was perhaps being a teeny bit OCD about donning my boots. What I needed, was a bit of alone time with my words. And so, dear reader, I wrote. I needed to get back on the rewrites, and finish the job. Once the lightbulb went on, I ring fenced time for writing. 

The change in my anxiety levels was immediate. It was such a joy to be back in my protagonist’s life. Finally, I had an epiphany about her voice, which led to a sense of ‘fit’, and a hope that this might be something I could pitch to agents. And so, I have very recently begun the querying process. This will, I have no doubt, result in a staggering string of rejections (one so far and counting), but at least I am back in the saddle. I have also submitted a couple of flash fictions, one of which has been accepted and published, by Reflex Press. That provided a much-needed confidence boost.

So, maybe there is a new normal, after all. A kind of I-Ching version, in which the only certainty is change. Writing might not be your thing. Walking might not be your thing. But one thing’s for sure; you don’t have to join in everything, just because it’s there. Sometimes, just waking up and breathing is the best feeling in the world. It’s an experience that has been denied to almost forty thousand people in the past few months. Maybe the new normal needs to be simply living, and living simply. I’ll sign up for that one.

Link to Bonnie’s published novel:

Link to Bonnie’s recently published Flash Fiction: 

After I Do by Bonnie Meekums

Find her on twitter: @bonniemeekums

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