- Written during the online residency
I am sitting in front of the screen. There are people with me and also not with me; they are looking at my blurred computerized self and I am looking at theirs. We are pretending to have a meeting together, in that we are having a meeting together while ordinary life is happening all around us, pressing in on us, so that it is very hard to keep to the agenda. Behind me, my daughter is crying. Every time I speak, the others in the meeting hear two voices, a dissonant choir – my words and my daughter’s rageful screams.
‘Everything ok? Do you need to go?’
‘No, no. It’s fine.’
The dining table has two laptops: one personal, one for work. A pile of laundry, dry and folded, but still inexplicably on the dining table. A plate with crumbs. Small pots of colourful playdough. Next to the kitchen table is the sofa, the Christmas tree, the television. It is the third lockdown – the one that surprised us at Christmas – and I have spent many hours moving between kitchen, table, and sofa. Occasionally, there’s the park and the shop. Everyone else is the same, the others in the meeting, peering out from their own kitchen/table/sofa set-up. We are all inside. We are all, I imagine, looking inwards much of the time. Too much. The interior world seems as urgent and dangerous as a car hurtling towards us on the street.
I glance at my phone at another news update. It seems to be all happening out there, but it doesn’t feel that way. It is all happening in here: the phone screen in the palm of my hand, my tired eyes, my body hunched over the table. It is like being a dog chained to a kennel, I think to myself miserably. I know the concrete road leading to the playground on our daily walk as well as I know my phone screen: the pieces of old rubbish that line the route, the brown snow-smudged puddles, the grime.
This meeting ends but another one will begin in thirty minutes. I make myself a cup of tea. No. A cup of white wine. It’s been in the fridge for four days. Is it drinkable?
I decide it is. I return to the table. By this point my daughter is playing with the baubles of the Christmas tree. She likes to pull them from the branches, break the little silver loops, and wait for me to retie them, which I dutifully do.
This meeting is different: I must talk about my writing with other writers. It will be streamed on Facebook, something that I did not know was possible until today. The streaming is part of the residency that I am on – a pan-European residency that has become a residency of the mind. I have exchanged Greece for the table, Croatia for the sofa, Slovenia for the concrete road to the park. Still, suddenly, I find myself in a flat, pixelated room of writers. My daughter is destroying the baubles; the writers are speaking about creative process, about projects transformed by the pandemic.
‘I am writing my fourth novel,’ says one writer. And it reminds me that I should perhaps think of writing my first. I’m grateful for the faces on my screen, their voices emerging from far away but sounding, of course, as though they are sitting next to me. They are telling me about writing: I’d forgotten about it. The last months have been of the kitchen-table-sofa variety, where there did not seem to be any space to write without pushing the laundry onto the floor. They were telling me about writing – how it was possible to just keep doing it, even with the lockdown. Even because of the lockdown.