A Non-Writer in Lockdown

If I ever daydreamed, over the last busy few decades, it would often be about writing-time.

Something would happen, an unexpected holiday, a prize of a retreat to a remote cottage. Just something whereby I would be gifted some interrupted writing-time. A chance to see what might emerge.

I’ve been writing for a long time, as you may know, but my writing has always been largely defined by the moments snatched to get it done. The work is generally short and spasmodic and a bit quirky and off-kilter. A product of late night scribbling, when the mind naturally turns towards sleeping but is not permitted to go there. I’ve done fairly okay, I think, in the time I have borrowed from all the other more important things. Fairly okay. But, still, I couldn’t help but wonder how it might be if I had just one clean run at it, with nothing else to do, nothing else to take care of.

And then it came.

A little like that story ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ where you get three wishes but the wishes are granted in sinister and disturbing ways. Imagine if there is actually a god and he heard my little daydream about having some time to write. Imagine if he smiled to himself and said, “Right, watch this.”

And, lo, a global pandemic did descend upon the planet and all work and travelling did cease and the whole world gave itself over to isolation and fear, solely to give Ken his little pipe dream of having some time to write.

So, you bet your sweet ass I wrote.




I’ve read all the stuff about how it’s okay not be productive in the eye of the pandemic. That simply getting through each day is an achievement in itself and that it is wrong to berate oneself for failing to produce some new artistic wonder in this ‘time of times’. All very well. But, on a purely personal level, there’s no escaping the fact that the world conspired, albeit in a cruel and unusual manner, to offer me some downtime and the mighty body of work, which my daydreams effortlessly envisaged, has patently not come to pass.

In my defence, I was never idle for any prolonged time. I found things that needed doing and I did them. I rarely resorted to my crutches of books and movies and TV. I did other things and I did them well if sometimes quite slowly. But write? This I did not do.

And then I did… a little bit anyway.

I had been in the middle of writing a slightly-longer-than-usual thing, when the world shut down, and I was stuck on it and there had been quite a bit of sitting and staring at it blankly. And all the while I was doing that, I was becoming aware of Zoom and the new normal of people socializing and interacting via video messaging. I like to think that the stuff I write is usually quite wedded to whatever medium I’m writing for. A radio play of mine will only really work right on the radio and a theatre play will only really work in the live space. I became interested in Zoom and the possibilities of enacting a little drama over it. But I didn’t allow myself to try. I had this longer thing to complete and I wasn’t going to do any other damn thing until I’d done that. So, I sat and sat until, one day, I just gave myself license to write something else. To go where my mind wanted me to go.

And it loosened me up. I wrote the little fifteen-minute Zoom play that is linked at the top of this post and I asked two friends if they would help me out with it. Freya Blendell and Saul Sherrard were both exemplary when they took part in some of my plays back when they were in school. And now they’re in University studying drama and it was such a result to get them on board with this and such fun to work it out with them (via Zoom) and then to let them away at it see what they would do. I’m incredibly happy with what they did. They rode the Zoom wave, which is a slow-curling one, and they let the words fall out naturally. It’s tricky stuff and they made it look easy. Thanks guys. Thanks very much.

So now I’m back on the longer thing. It’s going well. I think it might be fun. It’s a lesson that was learned ages ago, but which needed to be learned again. If you’re stuck on something, do something different for a while and then come back to the first thing after.

So, all’s well that ends well. Some small writing has been done, just like all my other small writing has always been done, and that’s a good thing.

But the elusive bigger writing… the fact remains that the world bent over backwards to give me a shot at it and I didn’t take it. 

I hope I don’t come to regret that too much.


Fles said...

That worked really well: the way they played off each other despite being separated was most impressive - entirely natural - and the inter-weaving of their situation with the play they were rehearsing was perfect, when it could so easily have been clunky.

Having been missing getting to the theatre during lockdown, I really appreciated and enjoyed this. Thanks.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you J. I appreciate that. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Well, it’s not Shakespeare—I know, cheap shot—but, that said, it is contrived and there was no one more contrived that the Bard. When people think of Shakespearean lovers they always jump to Romeo and Juliet (yawn) but this is a much better fit, Shakespeare for the mumblecore generation. The actors reminded me somewhat of John Gordon Sinclair and Clare Grogan in Gregory’s Girl although the dynamic’s obviously different. If I was to offer up a note it would be this: it’s a bit on the slow site. If they are to be viewed as a modern-day Hamlet and Ophelia the sparks need to fly. And that’s probably where you were on a hiding to nothing because Shakespeare is all about the banter, the parrying, but there’s a resistance here; neither really wants to “return the ball” (got to find a way to crowbar Beckett in here somehow); she doesn’t really want to pick a fight and he really doesn’t want to be fought at. But it works and I enjoyed it.

I know what you’re saying about the lockdown but my trouble is I’m really not feeling it. It’s business as usual here. I happen to be able to write a bit at the moment which never hurts but just a steady trickle of fairly decent poetry which is fine by me because I’m a poet at heart; all the prose was just stuff to while away the hours until I could come up with another poem.

But you’re right, writing is an elusive bugger. The words come when they come and all we can do is run with it and hope we don’t drop the ball. I look back on the past few years since I quit work and am so embarrassed by how little I’ve produced when, on the surface, I’ve been gifted so much time and the freedom to simply get on with it. I can’t seize the day but I do seize the moment when it comes and that is the nice thing about poetry; you don’t need six months clear-headedness, ten minutes is usually quite sufficient to break the back of it.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Jim. I agree with your thoughts on the piece. I think it runs at the pace that such a conversation might run but, dramatically, I could have paced it up a bit. Thanks for having a look though. k