By Rosemary Lord
Did you notice how small our world became during the Covid-19 lock-down?
For those of us in California it’s been over eighteen months of confinement, and it’s not over yet. We were prohibited from travelling, other than for emergency/essential needs. We were discouraged from meeting anyone, other than those we lived with. For those of us who live alone – too bad! In case we caught or spread the Dreaded Disease.
Our in-person Writers’ Conferences were cancelled. First the Left Coast Crime Conference in San Diego was cancelled March 2020, just after I’d checked in!
Even last month’s ‘Blood on the Bayou’ Bouchercon Writers’ Conference in New Orleans, was cancelled at the last minute.
Our hardworking conference organizers must have wept as years of planning were wiped away. But you can’t keep writers down for long. We always find a way… They came up with various creative online offerings.
There was no travelling to meet other writers or to research places for our stories. We stayed home, becoming ‘shut-ins,’ locked in our own little castles – be it one room or a whole rambling house. We were still ‘confined to barracks.’ We didn’t drive – there was nowhere to go. People had everything delivered. (Cardboard box-makers must be making a fortune!)
Lives the world over changed. We became resourceful. We helped relatives, friends and neighbors. We re-evaluated our world. But the fear the Media shared, became pervasive. It was – and still is – difficult to escape.
But, as writers, we had our own escape – into our private, isolated writing world. Some writers flourished, with no distractions, completing novels, articles, scripts – all sorts. Other writers struggled, unable to concentrate. I wrote some, but not as much as I wanted.
I read a lot more. Most of us did. Unable to get the creative juices flowing and seeking diversion, I found something quick and easy, re-reading “Eats, shoots and leaves” – which I’ve written about before. It’s Lynn Truss’s witty book on sloppy punctuation. It still made me laugh. Just what I needed. Lynn Truss bemoaned the fate of proper punctuation, claiming that it was an endangered species, due to low standards on the internet, email communication and “txt msgs” She explained, “Eats shoots and leaves” is a joke about pandas. They eat (bamboo) shoots and leaves – and not, by the simple addition of an errant comma, a comment about a violent criminal act. (Although pandas can give a very nasty bite.)
Then there’s Michael Caine’s interpretation of a line in a script that read, “What’s that in the road ahead?” By adding a simple dash, Caine had his fellow actors in fits of laughter when he announced: “What’s that in the road – a head?”
Or the Australian take on bad punctuation, taught in schools as a way of making students remember the grammatical rules: “Let’s eat Grandpa,” sends Aussie kids into helpless giggles with such a picture. But it’s not a cannibalistic suggestion, merely the absence of a comma in a sentence that should read: “Let’s eat, Grandpa.” That’s why Eats, Shoots and Leaves became so popular, reminding us of school lessons that seem to have vanished in today’s hurried world.
So, my lock-down reading provided some laughs, and I learned a lot of new things. (Just don’t get me started on Social Media for Dummies, or U-Tube attempts to teach me ‘techie’ things with my computer or Social Media. Urgghh!)
But at least I discovered a terrific search engine: DuckDuckGo – where you don’t get followed by advertisements and constantly besieged by sales pitches for something you were looking up.
My reading veered from my usual research about Old Hollywood, to total escapism. Mysteries in far off places: Peter Mayle’s The Marseille Caper, Victoria Hislop’s The Island and Rosanna Ley’s The Saffron Trail – to name just three. Clearly a theme here: my yearning to travel again!
Unless you’re half of a writing partnership – we write alone. Although, when I’m immersed in my writing, I’m enjoying a world with all sorts of characters – so I don’t feel alone. Our writing community is filled with a smart, imaginative assortment of writers. But this long, lock-down was different. And as much as we did Zoom Meetings, phone-calls and Webinars, we missed that personal interaction, spontaneity, the regular Coffee Shop meetings sharing our latest pages and new ideas. We missed meeting friends – especially the hugs. Waving at the end of a Zoom meeting is not the same.
So now, as we venture out again, we are cautious. Driving any distance, after eighteen months of only running local errands, was most disconcerting. The intrepid journey on not just one, but three, freeways, took me back to learning to drive when I was seventeen – in a clunky old Morris that would not go much faster than thirty miles an hour. I was right back there on that quiet English road, holding my breath until I reached my destination. I found going to a shopping center almost overwhelming. Where did all these people come from? I’d got used to the quiet isolation of my apartment building. But I wasn’t alone. We had stopped interacting with each other. Stopped those lovely unexpected meetings of friends and acquaintances we bumped into on the street. We’d not been out on the street for eighteen months.
But I discovered that friends and family were going through the same thing. The enforced isolation was more difficult than many of us realized. Not wanting to make light of kidnap victim’s suffering – but many people appear to be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
We’d learned to keep ourselves ‘safe.’ Our world had become so small. Walking out again into the big, brash, noisy world was scary. It was tempting to run back inside and close the door. But, adventurers at heart, we writers have stepped back into the fray. Into that great big, bright, scary world again, that’s just waiting for our participation and our imagination. Hey, World, we’re back!