Productivity pressures during COVID-19

If you’d have told me 2 months ago that I was going to get 8 weeks and possibly more of free time to write and do whatever I want, I would have jumped at the challenge to bash out the next King Lear. I’m only talking about King Lear above all the other plays because everyone keeps banging on about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine…

But now, 7 weeks in, I find myself feeling disappointed. Not because I haven’t written, but because I haven’t pushed myself to write about other subjects I care about. This whole COVID-19 crisis has made me so angry, mainly due to the government’s poor response here in the UK. Everyday I think about writing something about it – my drafts folder on my blog is full of unpublished things I’ve written in the heat of the moment. But for some reason I’ve found that writing about politics and COVID-19 is so hard, I lack clarity when I write, and the ability to form a coherent argument. This is something I did over and over again whilst studying history at university, and because of this – I feel I should be able to do it with more ease.

I’ve been loving writing book reviews – but anything beyond this has been impossible. And I’m annoyed as I could have used this time more wisely – but the words just won’t flow. There are so many things I feel I want to say about COVID-19 but don’t know how to say them. With pushing back my MA for another year, I feel I ought to be ceasing every moment to write and expand my horizons but I lack the confidence to pitch to other media organisations and websites. Why would they want to hear from me? Why is my opinion or outlook any different? But at the same time, I know I could be using this time to work on it. And I know what I have to say does matter too. Self doubt is a real thing, isn’t it?

I keep telling myself it is ultimately fine, as I am still writing and thinking about what I want to write, even if I’m not always getting pen to paper. Or fingertips to keys, however you want to look at it. Being unproductive, and lacking the will to write is ultimately okay – the pressure we put on ourselves can outweigh the energy and creativity that we initially have. The pressure can manifest itself in self doubt, anxiety and lack of motivation – and that’s definitely what I’ve been feeling at the moment. I know I need to be less hard on myself, but it is easier said than done. And I know I don’t need to write the next King Lear(it’s not even the best Shakespeare, lets be honest…)

Image: Pixabay

COVID is here to stay, I don’t think we’ll be only living with it for the remainder of the year, but far beyond. It will become the, “new normal” as they keep saying, thus, I’ve got to get over this writing barrier. Maybe it’s my distance spent from the mental challenge that academia used to bring. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because we are in the middle of a global pandemic not seen on the same scale since 1918, and it is really really hard to motivate yourself to do anything meaningful.

There’s so much pressure in the media and online to make something of yourself during this time, to lose weight, to get fit, to write a book, to bake – and it’s hard when your outcomes do not live up to these false expectations. Because it is not just “free time” it’s a hard time – where everything we have been used to have been taken away from us. Where we cannot access those small comforts we once had, and where our days lack the routine that working life usually brings.

On a serious note – the pressure to make something of this time is real and felt by many. It’s something that I need to shift to the back of my mind and not let cloud my passion for writing. But at times like these, which are very unique and surreal, it is hard to do, and this should be spoken about more. If anyone says to me, “what did you do whilst in quarantine?” and scoffs at my lack of achievements, then they must be the biggest superhero in the world, as this is one of the hardest times – and we shouldn’t treat it as a pathway to guaranteed productivity. And guess what? It’s actually okay to not be doing anything. Especially if that means we take that pressure off ourselves.

What we do with out time isn’t some kind of productivity competition over who can achieve the most – and it is easy to see it as this, when we are all spending more time on social media, which portrays life through a golden haze. But it is a time where we should banish the ideas and pressures behind “productivity” all together. It’s a word that is constantly bashed around in media and academic discourse, but once we free ourselves from its reigns, we may actually find ourselves better off.

Isolation: day 17

Taken during an isolation evening walk

In the UK, we are over two weeks into isolation. The weather has been nicer than ever and the temptation to go outside even greater.

I have found myself feeling increasingly anxious at the prospect of even going outside for my daily exercise as the virus takes more and more lives. Every time I come back from my daily walk, or run, I get paranoid and find myself washing my hands more than once and detol spraying my watch, phone and glasses. It’s strange, as I’ve only just started to feel like this and I think it is because of the sheer volume of deaths in the UK, and the fact there’s no routine testing for ordinary people.

I thought by now I would be in some kind of routine, but I’m not. I thought I would be filling the hours with all the things I usually don’t have time to do. I rarely find the motivation to do much in a day, but sometimes I have extremely productive days where I do so much. I have been reading a lot and have recently become accepted as a Reedsy reviewer – you can follow my page here.

I am suffering from what I think is hay-fever or the end of a sinus infection (which I am still on antibiotics for) and every sneeze or slight cough and I worry I’ve got the dreaded COVID-19…

I took a whole day off my phone this week and enjoyed it. I now feel even more pressure to be on my phone, replying to messages and reaching out to people and I just find it too much sometimes. It made me feel more relaxed and calm when I didn’t have my phone buzzing in my pocket. I found the lack of Instagram scrolling invigorating and generally just felt refreshed. I have very much been sucked into my phone during isolation and it can’t become a habit.

I’ve been enjoying long and ridiculous baths, where I lay in the warm water for over half an hour reading my book. I’ve been making myself proper coffee in the mornings using the blend we have at work – I took a whole bag of beans home when we closed to save the waste. Enjoying that first coffee in the morning is my favourite thing. If isolation has taught me one thing, it is to slow down and be more mindful of myself and activities that I am doing.

There’s some more stressful things going on in my personal life which I can’t get into. But it’s all very complicated and I feel very out of my depth with what I am dealing with but I keep having to remind myself that it doesn’t need to all be done immediately…

I’ve been writing in my journal nearly every day, usually in the morning but sometimes at the end of the day. I write about how I feel, the news and anything that comes to mind. I love the physicality of actually writing and putting pen to paper, but also like the slow release of mental tension it brings when I write down my thoughts. I even did a sketch the other day!

So, just a round up of things I have been enjoying during this isolation period (that you might too) :

  • Long baths with lots of bubbles and a book
  • Reading (anything and everything) BUT reading the news once a day, if that
  • Proper coffee and slow mornings
  • Writing in my journal
  • Social media breaks
  • Herbal tea in the evening (pukka vanilla chai is my favoutite at the moment)

I hope you are all okay and maintaining a positive outlook, and are also physically well. Stay safe!

My next book review will be, Machines Like Me.

Violet xxx

Isolation: Day 6

The sun is setting on another beautiful day here in the UK. Ever since Boris Johnson announced a full lockdown there has been nothing but clear blue skies and endless sunshine. Is nature trying to tempt us?

So I have spent the past 48 hours inside, the longest consecutive time that I have spent inside for a very long time. Even at University, I always made time to be outside, whether that was walking to the library or taking time outside for lunch.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the virus. It’s strange that something utterly invisible is the biggest threat to the world right now. It’s strange how it is impacting every part of our lives, even if we personally aren’t affected by it. It’s there but it isn’t. It’s in the air that we could possibly breathe and on the surfaces we touch unconsciously.

I’m not finding the isolation too tough but it is only the sixth day. Luckily I am not alone and live with my partner, although we have our tiffs through being together 24/7, if I was on my own I think I would find this a lot harder. I would be completely trapped with my own thoughts, with little in the way of distraction.

I think a lot about the people who are on their own and who don’t have people to talk to. I hope they are okay and not suffering. When this is all over, I think we will have other epidemics to deal with, not a disease, but loneliness, anxiety, depression, OCD and the rest. I worry that this virus will shatter our NHS even more, so that when the time comes when it is all over, we won’t have anything left to treat other problems.

On the other hand – I think this experience will give room to fixing a lot of pre existing failures in our social and welfare system here in the UK. Those in higher powers will hopefully realise that sick pay should be on the agenda for everyone regardless of employment type, that our health service is not fit for purpose and needs massive reinvestment, but that access to healthcare is a universal right that should not be disputed. We should not have to pay for our own suffering.

As we spend more time inside, the environment is exposed to less pollutants. There have been many reports across the UK of clearer skies at night, due to less noise pollution. Nature is having a break from being constantly suffocated. In the coming weeks I think we’ll see even more results. This is something that needs to be taken seriously once this is all over. Do we really need to use our cars for journeys which are perfectly walk-able?

So what have I been doing for the past six days?

Not a lot actually. I have found it hard to get myself to do things due to lack of routine. I am enjoying the lazy mornings and slow starts but have found these are inhibiting my productivity. I don’t often get round to doing anything until after lunch and then I have little motivation. But, I have been reading a lot and writing in my journal. If there is ever a time to keep a diary, surely it’s now? I have been out for a few walks in the sun (my daily exercise allowance) and me and my partner have even managed to do a few home workouts together – my legs are still recovering! Next week I hope to kick myself into gear a bit more and make the most of the free time.

Hoping that everyone around the world is okay and those who have taken the time to read this post are well. Look after yourselves. 🙂

Violet.

My top 3 Classics to get you through isolation

As our lives suddenly become filled with more empty hours it is the perfect time to read! Reading the classics can seem long and arduous compared to a quick page turner, however, now is the time. These are my top three classics I think are well worth reading! Let me know if you end up trying them.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847

Jane was never plain! Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre follows the life of a determined young woman who has had all the odds thrust against her. Published in 1847, the book immediately portrayed a new type of heroine. One that rose beyond her ranks and respectability, to try and pursue the man she loved..

Jane grows up in an orphanage and is exposed to endless childhood cruelty. However, she doesn’t let this shatter her pride or spirit. As a young adult she works as a governess at Thornfield Hall, Mr Rochester’s residence. Jane spends her time looking after the children there, all the while gradually falling in love with the mysterious Mr Rochester – she knows this is a type of forbidden love, due to her social standing. However, Jane naturally has an air of independent spirit thanks to her upbringing – this soon leads her into uncharted territory.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will…”

Secrets start to haunt Thornfield Hall and all the while Jane is torn between staying there to be close to Mr Rochester, or leaving to pursue her own safety. Will she get to be with the man she loves?

A remarkable novel for its times, and one I loved reading very much. It is on the one hand, your classic, Victorian Gothic novel, but on the other hand, a complete re-working of its traditions. It’s a tale of an ordinary woman’s search for love and companionship and attempt to break down those traditional barriers. Never take for granted Charlotte Bronte’s use of a strong, female protagonist, it was way ahead of its times, and her execution is breathtaking.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939

This may well be the ultimate American novel. Set during the disastrous American dust bowl phenomena, this novel follows the Joad family, in their struggle to make a living and stay afloat in troubled times.

The Dust Bowl refers to a series of storms that severely damaged the ecology of the Great American plains in the 1930s. Happening during the aftermath of The Great Depression (1929), it had long-lasting disastrous economic and social affects. Most importantly, it was not just an environmental disaster, but one that impacted the lives of many Americans who lost their agricultural lands and livelihood. Many Americans had to leave their homes in the search of a better life – and this was a promise that was more often than not, never fulfilled.

Told in blisteringly beautiful prose, Steinbeck outlines the many implications of the Dust Bowl and its influence on your average American family. The Joad family are forced from their homes to travel West in search of jobs and an income to feed themselves. Taking it day by day, the Joad family struggle to find enough to eat and make ends meet. The prose unreservedly describes the obliterated landscape as the family travels West, making it a reading joy, despite the troubled circumstances.

What becomes obvious throughout, is the falsehood of the American Dream and that great promise that if you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded. Steinbeck critiques this very ideal and thrusts to the forefront the very real struggles experienced by many American families during the 1930s, as they made their journey West in the hope of a promised future.

“…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Beautiful and harrowing, this is a must read and one that will stay with me forever.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

A timeless classic which I’m sure is on many people’s favourite lists. Again, this novel does not shy away from critiquing the false promises of the American dream and that importance of wealth that has been emphasized throughout American history and culture. Wealth has often been heralded as the one marker of success and ultimate happiness, but this novel exposes the human realities of pursuing this dream with a blind capacity. Endless wealth for Jay Gatsby, can never equate to a lifetime of pure happiness.

Told in myriads of beautiful prose containing metaphors, genius symbolism and expert crafting of character, this is the one novel that made me fall in love with literature. Its timeless message is one that makes it so significant and enduring, but it is in the crafting of the novel whereby it is so special.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Jay Gatsby appears to have it all. He lives in the biggest mansion known to man, right next to Nick Carraway, who has arrived to New York in search of his own American Dream. Nick meets Gatsby and is naturally entranced by his persuasive and endearing persona. Through Gatsby, and his cousin Daisy, Nick soon gets involved within the millionaire lifestyle that thrived in the 1920s. Lavish parties, fast cars, and an abundance of alcohol soon appears to be the norm.

But Nick knows this is never sustainable. Known as the unreliable narrator to Gatsby’s pursuits, Carraway uncovers the falsehood of the American Dream to readers, in his subtle critique of this lifestyle and the events he experienced with Gatsby.

In the end, Gatsby realises it too. But too late. It is a tale of impossible dreams, love, and an unsustainable lifestyle that is more corrupting than it is fulfilling. It is a novel I unashamedly go back to again and again, each time finding something new I love and admire.

Self Isolation: Day 1

It’s a beautiful March day, the sun is shining and I have spent most of the time indoors wishing I could go outside and enjoy the sunshine. However, the nature of our current reality prevents me from otherwise. So says the traditional Chinese verse, “May you live in interesting times…” We certainly do.

It was an interesting week at work, in some ways busier than ever before, but in others, such as my commute into work, quieter than I have ever experienced. I sat on the train yesterday and did not encounter a single person all the way to work, only noticing three people get off when I did. The station was empty as well as the platform. One day last week, the center of town was absolutely thriving with people – it almost felt like a pandemic wasn’t on the cards. People were buying everything they could, and fast.

I am now facing my first official day at home which feels very strange. I live next to a school, which has obviously closed its gates. On a normal weekday you can hear children playing in the school grounds and the school bell sound when lessons are due to start. There’s none of that now. The sounds of cars and buses have been muted into the distance and it’s strange to think we do not know when normality will return. Or when it returns, what it will be like.

Like many, I await 5pm when Boris Johnson is due to deliver his daily update. Will it contain useful information this time? Or more of a reiteration of what has been said before? Will it give us more answers or questions?

I believe a full lock-down should be enforced as the measures at the moment are not enough and they are not being followed. People are still travelling for leisure, shopping for non-essentials and loitering in mass groups. Until isolation becomes mandatory, the virus will continue to spread. It is a sacrifice we should all be willing to make to protect as many lives as we can. The virus is still not being taken seriously enough and that worries me.

Although isolation poses its many challenges for me – no real time outdoors (living in a flat with no access to a garden), no going to the gym or to work, it also renders itself to opportunities. I can use this time to read without guilt and write all that I can, as long as isolation doesn’t take too much of a toll. For now, the possibility of having more time is desirable. However, who knows how I will feel in a few weeks, or even days?

Hoping you all are staying healthy and happy in these difficult times. 🙂