No, You Don’t Need To Use Isolation To Write A Novel

Photographed by Eylul Aslan
If lockdown were a woman, she’d be a middle class young professional with around 300,000 Instagram followers. She’d be posting about finally writing that novel that’s been running around in her brain since she was 19, planning her career pivot from marketing to travel blogging, getting really into meditation, undergoing a complete spiritual transformation, learning Italian and finessing her banana bread recipe, all the while learning to nail the plank position so she’s end-of-lockdown-body-ready.  
Can you see her? In every picture she’s smiling. Occasionally she posts a throwback of herself revelling on a deserted beach or at the top of an inexplicably photogenic mountain. 
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Everything about her has been optimized but that’s not enough. There’s always more that she could be doing. The process of perfection is her life’s work. She doesn’t sleep in, she squeezes every last drop out of her permitted hour of outdoor exercise. Compliance is her constant state. 
In a caption underneath a photograph of her looking out at a sunset in India on holiday with her long-term boyfriend last year, she notes that William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton did some of their best work while the plague wrought havoc throughout England in the 1600s. 

Everywhere we look, we are being encouraged to optimize a global pandemic. To use it as an opportunity – not to mourn the senseless loss of lives, of our freedoms and, however temporarily, of our futures but for self-improvement. 

It should come as no surprise that everywhere we look, we are being encouraged to optimize a global pandemic. To use it as an opportunity – not to mourn the senseless loss of lives, of our freedoms and, however temporarily, of our futures but for self-improvement. Even our loungewear is supposedly in need of an upgrade, if the countless emails I'm getting are to be believed.
Only this morning did a friend who is currently experiencing serious COVID-19 symptoms such as a headache, upset stomach and aches all over her body call me to say she feels "guilty" for being so "unproductive". 
"You’re not being unproductive," I said, "you’re sick." 
"I know, I know," she replied, "but I wanted to use this time – you know – organize the house, think about setting up my own company… I never take time off because I’m sick."
But there will be time. All we have right now is time, in this strange and uncomfortable new normal. 
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It feels as though lockdown is fostering the sort of toxic clock-watching you often find in office environments. There’s an irony in the fact that when, for so many of us, our ability to be productive has suddenly been taken away by circumstances beyond our control, we still feel the need to account for our time. Perhaps it should come as no surprise. 
Study after study has shown that women feel more guilt than men. Researchers have found time and time again that we feel guilty no matter what. When we are at work, we worry about what we are not doing at home. When we are at home, we worry about everything we did not do at work. We have been internalizing shame since our fictional foremother Eve ate that cursed apple, and living with the mental load of her spectacular fall from grace. 

There's an irony in the fact that when, for so many of us, our ability to be productive has suddenly been taken away by circumstances beyond our control, we still feel the need to account for our time.

Guilt is a congenital part of being a woman; we are born with it. That’s why the modern commodification of women’s ambition and achievement has been so seamless. Via the marketplace of social media, #GirlBoss culture in all its various iterations tells us that the more we have of both, the faster our stocks rise. We participate obligingly only to find that we look nothing like the glossy girl we followed last night on Instagram, rather we have become the literal embodiment of the Cruella de Vil "me trying to excel in my career, maintain a social life, drink enough water, exercise, text everyone back, stay sane, survive and be happy" meme. 
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This is no different during lockdown. If anything, the pressures on us seem to have been turned up. The majority of people who are not key workers are at home. They have more time on their hands, more time to scroll, see what everyone else is doing, measure themselves against it, find their own life lacking and wonder: If you didn’t write a Pulitzer-worthy book and get shredded during the great coronavirus pandemic of 2020, were you even there at all? 
What if there is no need to use this time to do anything? What if it’s a gift that we don’t have to do something with? We didn’t earn it, we certainly don’t deserve it, nobody wanted it. So do whatever makes you feel good. I, a writer, will probably write because it soothes me. But if you’re not a writer then please don’t feel the need to take a leaf out of the unfinished book I'm contractually obliged to complete. 
If sitting around scrolling performs the same function for you, embrace it. If cooking vats of pasta and eating it with nothing but butter is a balm, lean into it. If you’re lucky enough to be quarantined with a partner you want to have loads of sex with, do that. If you want to spend every waking moment on Houseparty, go for it. If you don't feel like smiling right now, it's okay.

What if there is no need to use this time to do anything? What if it's a gift that we don't have to do something with? We didn't earn it, we certainly don't deserve it, nobody wanted it.

Self-improvement as we experience it in our capitalist society is always about productivity and never about true enlightenment, pleasure or fulfillment. Working out how to "be better" at being a woman has somehow become a project we all feel compelled to sign up to. When you stop to think about it, you realize that it’s really only about spending your money in order to perform better in a capitalist system. Now, the economy which drives that system has effectively been cryogenically frozen for as long as this crisis continues. 
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We’ve been told that we live in a world where there are two kinds of people: strivers and shirkers. We’ve had it drummed into us that there’s nothing worse than being idle. But this crisis has forced us to stop, to stay home. It has shown us that, when all is said and done, a complex pathogen really doesn’t care how hard you’ve been working or how much you’ve achieved. 
The futures we had planned for and worked towards are on ice. Unless you post about it, nobody is going to know exactly what you did with this time, so turn it into your own period of rest and relaxation as much as you possibly can. Do what makes you feel good. 
And if you’re still feeling guilty over a situation which cannot possibly be your fault, itching to account for every moment of your day or produce a work of great importance, just think about this: Isaac Newton spent the plague in isolation at his family’s country retreat, neither he nor Shakespeare had to juggle Zoom calls with childcare and it’s fair to say that neither of them was worried about whether they’d still have a job at the end of it all. Give yourself a break.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.

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